Harbingers of Autumn

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A disappointing month weatherwise until the last few days of tropical temperatures, but thanks to the autumn flowering plants we have had rays of alternative sunshine throughout the Gardens. Chief contenders for Plant of the Month are asters, cosmos, rudbeckias and salvias which bring so much colour and end of season joy (with just a quiet word for runner beans which have cropped fantastically well).


The Red Border still showing plenty of colour with heleniums, dahlias, cosmos,and asters


A quieter month for us with less visits but the garden talks season has started. Time too to start cutting the firewood for what some forecasters are saying will be another cold winter. If you know our famous woodpile you would be amazed how much it has gone down already but new supplies are coming in or have been promised by our dear farmer neighbours. Incidentally on the Open Day we were presented with a "Green Man" carved in an oak log we had given to a visitor the year before. He (the Green Man!) stands proudly by the front entrance welcoming all visitors to the gardens with his benevolence  and sporting a fine crop of ivy in the traditional way. Given the amount of carving. painting and varnishing it was a generous gesture and very much appreciated.



Cool, wet and very windy at times in the early part of the month with 5 continuous days of rain mid month which raised rivers and soaked the gardens, fortunately just after I had spread autumn lawn feed so the lawns are looking brilliant (untiil I scarified them to today) Fortunately no frost as there can sometimes be in September, lowest temperatures because of all the cloud was 7C and until the last few days nothing above 17C. Best in the current warm spell 21C.  Not as hot as the blessed south east of England but very welcome indeed. With just a few days of sun it is incredible how the Autumn Bliss raspeberries have sweetened up - good news as there are plenty more to come.


Garden update

Keeping on top of the essential jobs like dead heading, weeding, gathering vegetables and fruit (a tremendous crop of Bramley apples from our 2 mature trees) and taking cuttings of many tender perennials such as salvias, verbenas, plectranthus, cistus, helichrysum, brugmansias as well as hydrangeas in variety. It has been too wet to gather much seed and I need to get busy on this in the current dry spell. We have shallots and onions just about dried off in the large polytunnel and ready for stringing and flageolet beans for shelling and storing (sadly all my berlotti beans which were fabulous last year failed to germinate from 2 sowings)


The picture I promised last month. Hydrangea paniculata "Limelight" interwoven with persicaria "Red Dragon" (It is a lovely combination but on reflection the pic does not do it justice!! It is much better in the flesh)



The surfinia petunia hanging baskets which define the entrance to Cilgwyn Lodge in the summer months are fading rapidly particularly the new one we tried this year, a sumptuous blue but which does not appear to have the vigour of blue vein which we have grown successfully (up to 4 feet of fall in some years) and has a wonderful fragrance which the plain blue one does not. We will have to look for another partner for blue vein next year. The basket which has done the best is one of last years baskets - honestly! Not repotted just given masses of osmocote and Vitax Q4 on the surface of the old compost and raided mercilessly for cuttings in the spring it is a revelation of what can be done if you can successfully overwinter these tender perennials.


The overwintered surfinia basket. I am going to try it for a third year with lots of TLC. Please also note the newly constructed wood pile under the verandah - 17 loads in my pick up!


Garlic to plant next week in soil thst has not grown the onion tribe previously to avoid this years problems of onion white rot, and the last sowing of winter salad crops for the poytunnlels. Green cavola kale sown just a few weeks ago is a lovely addition to our daily salads with a very pleasant, mild, mustard taste.

Tomatoes have been good in spite of the lack of sunshine, with Piccolo and Sungold the top performers and best tasting. Blackbirds are behaving themselves and not stealing the crop as they did last year, almost driving me to distraction. Moira has been making soup regularly for Wales in the last few weeks!

All round a good year for veggies with most things doing well especially carrots of which the variety Metro has been outstanding - large and full flavoured carrots with a good degree of sweetness - and little carrot fly. There is no substitute for regular irrigation when it comes to growing vegetables and rain does it best!


What about this for a display? Sadly not mine but the Robinsons stand at Malvern Autumn Show




These are my red cabbage though - aren't they nice?




What's looking good?

Apart from everything already mentioned it has to be the late season performers together wth those early flowering plants that having been cut back in summer after flowering, are sending up another flush including campanulas, hardy geraniums, astrantias and even some annuals like cornflowers and californian poppies. The nicotiana cultivars too are lasting much longer than usual with silvestris, alata, Lime Green, langsdorfii and knightiana, all still flowering well. Repeat flowering roses are responding well to cutting back and feeding in June and some are on their third flush. The David Austin roses in the Koi Pond Border planted only last spring have made terrific growth and we have been well pleased with "Princess Ann"  in an unusual shade of light purple, "Gertrude Jekyll" and "Hyde Hall" having its best year since planting 6 years ago, and one of the lesser known ones -"Spirit of Freedom" with densely packed petals in a cabbage flower form is particularly attractive and vigorous in an unusual shade of pale lavender. Not so happy when it rains a lot as the flowers quickly waterlog.


Rosa "Sirit of Freedom". It's a lovely rose  and very tall at 6 feet plus



Asters are everywhere! From short forms to huge monsters like the 6 foot tall Aster laevis  "Calliope" and many New England asters (the midew free ones) up to 5 feet. As to the New York forms (the mildew prone ones) they are relatively clean this year and 2 of the best amongst a wide choice are "Madge Cato" and "Grey Lady". Aster frikartii "Monch" has been in flower since July and is still flowering its heart out, the lateriflorus group are just getting into their stride, but the cordifolius cultivars are past their peak with "Photograph" having excelled itself attracting many compliments from visitors. Some lesser known forms are aster pyranaeus "Lutetia", aster turbinellus, aster oblongifolius recently acquired from the Derwen Garden Centre in Welshpool, the marvellous retail outlet of Dingle Nurseries and a firm favourite of ours, and aster amellus  "Sonora" a bit more challenging to grow than most asters so we are pleased it came through last winter thanks to sharp drainage.


Aster "Photograph" an avalanche of flowers on one plant



Colchicums are superb in a good range of varieties. They need to be close planted with low growing plants to provide for some support to prevent then from toppling over. Late flowering hardy geraniums and ever flowering viola cornuta (from April to October) are ideal companions.


Colchicum "Lilac Wonder" with geranium wallachianum and hydrangea paniculata "Brussels Lace"



 Colchicum "Waterlily" with viola cornuta alba



Rudbeckias and cosmos are a bit like me, just go on and on and on.......... See it isn't always a bad thing. In the case of rudbeckia sullavantii "Goldsturm" you will know how much we value this treasure because we chose it as the banner image for our website from a large and distinguished list of competing contenders. The reason we did so is because it epitomises all that is best about hardy herbaceous plants (and don't get sniffy over our choice because it is so common and dead easy because you will have my namesake Bob Brown from Cotswold Garden Flowers on your back). I don't know what rating he gives this plant but who cares. It is a ray of pure sunshine from July to October. Neat and tidy, it needs no staking, bulks up quickly, is easy to contain when it spreads as it will do, every last piece you remove will quickly produce a new plant, and the black boss of spent stamens remains well into winter providing the perfect framework for hoar frost. Oh, and did I mention it is bone hardy and "bombproof"? If you are not growing this, WHY NOT!!??


Rudbeckia "Goldsturm" - seen it somehwere before??


PS. Just checked Cotswold Garden Flowers latest catelogue:Bob gives it 8 out of ten. That's good but could be better!!


Annual rudbeckias look and behave more like perennials and there are plenty to choose from mostly in the yellow spectrum, but now including "Cherry Brandy" the first red form. The annual cosmos which are tall growing and flowering in just a a few months from an April sowing are a must for late summer/autumn borders in shades of pink, white and all colours in between including many fine picotees. It is great to see them so frequently in many gardens as they are cheap and easy to raise and give delight when most other plants are starting to fade


Cosmos, red rudbeckia "Cherry Brandy"and dahlia "Karma Choc"



As to salvias I have previously got a bit carried away on this item - but why shouldn't you when writing or talking about plants you love? - so I will just leave you with some pics of my current favourites including Jimi's Good Red again. Sorry- tall and red with shiny green foliage it is a two fingered statement to the onset of winter. As Dylan Thomas urged us all to do in that famous poem "Rage Rage Rage against the dying of the light"


 An out of focus Jim's Good Red - sorry!



Salvia patens "Guanajuato" the blue one and salvia involucrata ""Hadspen" the pink one

both overwintered last year!!



Wildlife and countryside

Red Admiral and Tortoiseshell butterflies much more in evidence lately and a few Small Coppers but no sign of any Commas or Painted Ladies which I am resigned to not seeing this year. A few large dragonflies in the warmer weather but nowhere near the numbers seen in previous years. 


Small tortoiseshell butterfly on aster frikartii "Monch"



There has been an incredible amount of badger activity in the field adjoining the Lodge in the last couple of weeks, Huge swathes of the field has been turned over in the nocturnal quest for worms and other soil dwellers and although I go out late I have yet to see any badgers. Next morning the field is full of birds looking for any tasty morsels left behind. The corvids: crows, ravens, magpies, jackdaws and jays gather in huge noisy numbers and at times the skies around are like a scene from Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds". It's not all tranquil fun living in the countryside!

During the storms earlier in the month there were reports that manx shearwaters, sea birds rarely seen inland, which are summer visitors to the UK, had been blown off course on their autumn migration back to the south seas, a distance of 13,000 miles. They were sighted as far east as Llandovery the area where we live, 60 miles from their breeding grounds in Pembrokeshire. This story reminded me of a similar event in the late 1970's when I found a manx shearwater in the garden and had to resort to my "British Birds" book to identify it. Once identification was complete I had to decide what to do with it. As it was strong and apparently in good health I took it down to the River Towy nearby and released it over the river and it immediately made a course downstream to the estuary. I often wonder if it completed it's long journey to the south seas. Probably in hindsight it wasn't the best thing to do but at the time I couldn't think of anything else. It was however an unforgettable experience in the strangest of circumstances


Visitors and visits

We wrapped up the main group visits season (20 in all) during early September with successful visits from Cardiganshire Horticultural Society, Llanwrtyd Wells Gardening Club and Carmarthenshire Fuchsia Society, just before the bad weather started. These and a few individual visits in the month meant that we were able to send a cheque to The National Gardens Scheme for £4,800 from 994 visitors - by far and away our best year of the 12 years we have been opening.

In 2012 many of our regulars know that because we are having a conservatory bulit some time in early summer we will not be having a published Open Day. We still however will be in The Yellow Book for 2012 for By Appointment visits once the work has been completed. The nursery will remain open from May to September for plant sales so please, in advance, just give us a ring or send an e-mail to confirm we will be here.

We have done 3 talks already to Kidwelly Gardening Club, Newport Gardening Club on the coast in Pembrokeshire in the most marvellous venue overlooking the sea with a full tide and a brilliant sunset, and our own local Club in Llangadog for an open meeting which 3 other groups attended and fabulous refreshments afterwards and in between there was a bit of talk by yours truly entitled "Designing with Perennials - Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden" with lots of new slides which I have been working on for some time. For a first outing it wasn't too bad but there are some modifications to make before the next outing to Pembrokeshire when I will deliver the talk again in late October, A couple of other talks booked on different subjects in October. See Nursery, Talks and Teas elsewhere on this website for the full details of all our talks - we still have plenty of free dates until the end of March.

Last week we went on our usual trip to Malvern Autumn Show which seemed smaller than usual with less plants for sale. Visitor numbers appeared to be less too - the current financial climate seemed to have a bearing on the show. The nurseries in the RHS Halls however put on great displays of autumn colour and veggies with the Edrom Nurseries stand full of gentians a real show stopper.


Plenty of full bags as the day draws to a close



Edrom Nurseries magnificient stand of gentians - best in show again to match the cypripedium orchids in the Spring Show  (see May News)



Just a note for your diaries. Hergest Croft Gardens, Kington, Herefordshire is putting on a 2 day plant fair and apple event on 15 and 16 October from 10.30 am to 4.30pm both days.  Go to www.hergest.co.uk for more information. This is a regular autumn event but usually only a one day show so this year promises to be something special. Our friends Sylvia and Tony from www.shadyplants.com will be there selling their usual great range of shade loving plants and Tony has a large range of ferns just desperate for new homes!

Hergest is one of our favourite gardens, a lovely place with fabulous autumn colour, some great plants for sale and the most important ingredient of all a really good tearoom! A lovely day out before the winter closes in around us and the clocks go back. UGH!!!!!!

 Finally and on a real autumnal note, I woke earlier this week to see from the bedroom window these tiers of cobwebs on the large yew at the entrance to the Paddock Garden. A really breathtaking sight - just like lace on a crinoline. Nature does it best!