"July the month of summers prime"

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

When considering a  suitable headline for this months News item I suddenly remembered from long ago, some verse of John Clare, the Peasant Poet. He wrote about country ways, nature and his rural childhood who, in the 1827 published a series of poems entitled "The Shepherds Calendar" He was a keen observer of the weather and viewed July in Northamptonshire as the peak of summer perfection in the age when he was writing. Fast forward nearly 200 years however and in the recent past  summers have been more variable in our part of Wales, and from a gardening perspective this July has been disappointing. However it is not all gloom and doom by any means as there is  always something to admire in July even if the unblemished fullness we hope for has not been achieved.  

A rare sight in July was a cloudless sky on the warmest day of the year, graced by the silhouette of a red kite


 By way of contrast whilst we were away in Devon, gales brought down this small conifer which by pure luck caused no damage to border plants



Plenty of rain some very heavy, but also brief sunny spells of a couple of days at a time, none better than in the third week when there was a brief taste of high summer. A particular highlight was the number warm nights we had, which coupled with the rain saw some spectacular growth. Winds generally light. Min 7C on the 6th, max 31.4C on 19th. 11 days above 20C and 20 nights above 10C. Night time temperature on 19th was 22C when I sat out under the stars in shirt sleeves! until 2.30am Am I nuts? It was just so lovely I didn't want the night to end!


Garden update

Weeds and molluscs have been a major challenge for every gardener we have spoken to but we have just about managed to stay on top of them, although some of the hostas have succumbed to molluscs more than I can ever remember.

Good growth in all areas of the gardens but the frequent rain spoiled many of the blooms especially roses, dieramas and hemerocallis.

Roses especially those with cabbage or ball shaped flowers are particularly susceptible


The newly sown lawn loved the conditions and apart from a few patchy areas the seed has taken well. Taking the advice of Robert my lawns guru, I started cutting it after just 4 weeks as it causes the grass to grow more vigorously and that has certainly proved to be the case.


To complement the new lawn and provide another sitting out area I laid a small patio area to enjoy the views to the north and the surrounding borders which had previously  been obstructed by the vegetables I had grown there for 40 years.


Reducing the vegetable borders to just 2, on which it will be possible to practice a 4 course rotation, has not significantly reduced the capacity to grow a wide range of vegetables (except main crop potatoes) which have done exceptionally well in weather conditions that has suited all but the more tender forms. Runner beans are very slow however and the set has been poor due to an absence of bees to pollinate them.

Peas have done well, my favourite variety "Hurst Green Shaft" rarely letting me down except when mice eat the seeds just as they germinate!


 Even better than the peas have been the carrots. For the first time in many years totally fly free. A strict regime of keeping the horti fleece over them at all times, except for maintenance and harvest. You can see my delight in this bunch of "Purple Haze" almost black when cooked and a superb flavour


Soft fruit production was severely affected by the weather but we had a major success with blueberries which was the best crop we have ever had.


The Paddock Pond has continued to stay brilliantly clear with no blanket or duck weed and lots of happy fish that make the water boil at nightly feeding time. The best thing of all is the wonderful show of waterlilies with Moira counting over 100 in bloom a few days ago. They are almost without exception white,  even though during the 23 years the pond has been in existence we have introduced all the colour ranges available in a variety of cultivars. including the incredibly expensive nymphaea,  "Almost Black" which is so dark you can hardly see it in the water!!!


Late summer flowering plants are on the move with crocosmias to the fore, and the first of the 85 cultivars of hydrangeas in all areas of the gardens. Other favourites like roscoeas, cautlyeas, kirengeshoma and rudbeckia "Gold Sturm" are showing colour in the bud. More on all these next month.

A view at twilight of crocosmias seen through grasses and blue hydrangea "General Vicomte de Vibraye" and by the seat hydrangea Paniculata "Kyushu"


In the nursery my efforts to reduce stock are in evidence with far less plants for sale than I would usually have at this time of year. This has come about by a combination of good plant sales especially at the 2 NGS Open Days at Gelli Mydog and some unexpected losses.

Our plant stall at Gelli. We were extremely grateful to members of Cothi Gardeners for their assistance, a local group with whom we have a very good relationship (Elena and Brenda in the picture with Moira)



What's looking good?

Once again there is a whole range of contenders, the best of which are reflected in the picture gallery below. In keeping with the theme of July Prime this is always the time of year when there are more than at any other time of year.

Asiatic lily "Nerone" in the Red Border


 Lilium pardilinum a moisture loving form commonly called the ditch lily in western USA where it comes from.


A superb red form of martagon lily perhaps my favourite lily type


But wait - what's this beauty? Simply stunning species form lilium leichtlinii. Over 6 feet tall and dripping with almost luminous golden yellow flowers with black spots  on stout black stems. Jaw dropping!


Day lilies (hemerocallis) here shown in the Red Border are not true lilies but have many of their attributes as Kit the Kat appreciates!


Just 2 of the unique forms  forms from seed donated by the generous members of the American Hemerocallis Society. Generally 2 years from seed to flowering plants



 And here en masse are a collection of named cultivars and seed grown forms.



An unusual hydrangea family member is the climbing schizophragma hydrangoides in the form "Roseum". Selected to  quickly smother the frame of a dead rhododendron near the house, it has scarcely reached 4 feet in 10 years! I should have selected the plain white form which is far more vigorous,



Angels fishing rods dierama in numerous species and cultivars are graceful additions to the summer border in a sunny spot and a well drained soil.


 An altogether larger angel is the brugmansia  with huge intensely scented trumpet flowers on a shrub/small tree. Better in a large pot in most of the UK and overwintered in frost free conditions. Angel is perhaps an appropriate name as it is deadly poisonous - ingestion of any parts of the plant will quickly transport you to heaven or wherever else you intend to go! This superb yellow form is almost defoliated by red spider mite which in a way helps to show off the flowers to better effect


Another plant which always shouts summer at me whatever the weather, is the border phlox and although we have a good range my all time favourite is "Blue Paradise" which takes on different shades of blue depending on the time of day. The best time of all is twilight when the colour is the most intense and the prefume at it's best


This evening scented plant and a long established friend is impatiens tinctoria, a tuberous form of "busy lizzie" but nothing like the ones we associate with bedding displays. It is a really impressive plant 7 feet wide and tall. Although fairly tender we have got it through 16 winters with just a deep mulch of leaves from the nearby beech tree.


I don't know if you watch Gardeners World on TV, but  a few weeks ago Monty Don said that he disliked begonias. Now we all have our likes and dislikes which is only natural, but he didn't make clear, with 1,795  species and  countless cultivars, if it was the entire genus he objected to or only particular forms. As is often the case when watching BBC gardening programmes (particularly the RHS shows) the TV came close the being thrown out the window!! Only the cost of a replacement held me back. So for Monty if he is a visitor to our website or anyone else who doesn't like begonias, here are some in flower now at Cilgwyn which may help to change your mind.

Begonia sutherlandii a species gently trailing form.


A begonia rex grown for its stunning leaves in many patterns


 The stunning small tree-like beoginia luxurians with palm like leave and panicles of slighty scented tiny flowers. It was good enough for Christopher Lloyd andBob Brown of Cotswold Garden Flowers gives it 10 in his plant catelogues, so by any measure it must be good


 This perhaps is like more people's idea of a begonia but even then at 2 feet tall with almost black leave and non stop pink flowers it makes a tremendous statement in a nice pot. The plant label names it only as "Big Rose, Bronze Leaf"  A good perennial for me.


And if all these which are tender to a greater or lesser extent don't appeal,  look out for begonia grandis a hardy species form and in excess of 10 cultivars and species variants.


Wildlife and countryside

It has been a difficult month for neighbouring farmers to gather the grass harvest as either silage (most widely practised here especially in a wet summer) or hay which needs at least 4 days to sufficiently lose its moisture content before baling.  Whenever the fields are cut soon after comes the army of crows, magpies and particularly red kites, as many as 18 at a time was quite common this year and the most we have ever seen here.


Smoke in the valley? No just blown lime after the harvest to sweeten the soil. Alun one of my farmer neighbours had a soil test done this year which showed aPH of 5 !!

After 25 years he thought it was about time to get some lime on.


The number of flying insects of all kinds has been significantly affected by the weather with no summer butterflies, not even the common ones like red admirals and tortoiseshells, no large dragonflies and very few damselflies. Perhaps the most worrying absentees have been hive and bumble bees which has had a significant impact on broad and runner bean crops as they have not been pollinated in any great numbers. This is when self fertile French beans come into their own and ours are only now ready for picking.

Spot this Emerald moth amongst the foliage


And the slimline form of one of the few damselflies seen this year.


The country lanes all around have still not been cut back by the local council and are putting up a great show in white of meadow sweet and tall, elegant umbellifers with the odd variant in a shade of pale pink.


The insect magnet flowers of fennel, an imposing herb we use in some of the herbaceous borders as seen first at Great Dixter


For the first time in some years I had a sighting of a sparrowhawk at rather close quarters as it dashed underneath the verandah not far from where I was sitting, in pursuit of a redstart that had been flitting about in the shrubs close by. I think on this occasion it escaped but it some feat to escape the clutches of such a brave and determined killing machine.

Our major raptor is the red kite, this being one of the 18 we counted over the Lodge Field after the silage harvest. Incredible to think that 40 years ago that was half of all the kites in Wales!




We have really enjoyed  the opportunity over the last few months to go garden visiting on a regular basis, to gardens great and small across West Wales and further afield to Devon. Really inspirational and  occasionally in the company of gardening friends,  full of talk, good humour and a shared passion for plants.

Great gardening friends Liz, Paul, Peter, Moira and Carole lost in the gardens at Aberglasney and deep in conversation about plants!

DSCN3528 Not even seriously wet weather on some visits could douse our enjoyment.

The Wildside in Devon www.wileyatwildside.com

So wet when we visited it was impossible to do justice to this iconic garden

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The Garden House is just 2 miles away from Wildside www.thegardenhouse.org.uk

Moira sheltering under this truly magnificent cornus controversa variegata one of the largest we have ever seen

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 Lady Anne's garden at RHS Rosemoor www.rhs.org.uk/Rosemoor

There are 2 separate gardens at Rosemoor, the established garden (Lady Anne's) gifted to the RHS in the 1980's and the new garden they created. For us the old one is by far the best

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We grow 2 forms of fuchsia boliviana but this form was unknown to us and is the form named Carriere-it just blew us away!

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 Meeting up with the locals in the excellent vegetable garden!

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Marwood Hill near Barnstaple www.marwoodhillgarden.co.uk

The life's work of Dr Jimmy Smart. Lakes, stream garden, great range of trees and shrubs and a National Plant Collection of Astilbes in full bloom. Excellent nursery too.

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Deutzia  scabra, rare, later than most, impressive flowers and good scent

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Moira sharing the view down the valley so beloved by Dr Smart, whose statue now adorns the garden. 

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NGS garden at Rosewood, Redberth near Tenby of friends Keith and Jan. 


An additional attraction apart from the best range of cakes we have ever had at a garden opening, is the residue of Keith's former National Plant Collection of Viorna group clematis. This one is a great example of a species clematis texensis. the so called tulip flowered clematis. At just 1 inch it isn't large but still good to see such a perfect specimen


And this moving text at the entrance to the lovely garden of our friend Jan in Kidwelly


The second NGS opening at Gelli Mydog, Myddfai  owned by our friends Robert and Barry was almost as succesful as their first with just five less visitors (180). To have raised over £2,000 in their first year is a considerable achievement and all those who attended  this year will be pleased to know that their garden will be opening again in 2017.

We have more garden visits to look forward to on a trip to Kent next month. Hope you find some time to get out and about even it is to an NGS garden in your area. There are some teriffic NGS gardens to be enjoyed with ideas, inspiration, teas and plants for sale all in the company of kindred gardening spirits: a celebration of the best of Britain in an increasingly troubled world.


Happy gardening!