Mad March

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Apologies for the delay in posting March News due to problems with our site.

Honestly, you would not believe it! I have just read last years March News and this month has been an exact replica. Only difference is that it has been warmer. We have had no drought here thank goodness but we could do with some rain soon as the rivers have already dropped to levels you don't expect in March.

If you want to know what this month has been like. read March 2011 News! Seriously it is difficult to find much that is different to say. But isn't that like gardening or even life itself? There is a pattern and rhythm to life wherever we live but especially in the countryside where the seasons are more keenly felt. If you miss a point on the wheel in the turning year you can never catch up so the tasks remain the same, affected only by the vagaries of the weather and our own planning. We are really on top of things this year, well ahead of where we usually are and Moira is so pleased that she has has completed her marathon painting efforts on the  house and in the gardens. Retirement makes this all possible but we still wonder how we managed to do all this whilst we were still working.


Weather Report

Only 2 minor frosts to -2C in mid month, little rain and hot sunshine for the last 9 days with a max of 21C. No March winds for the second year in succession and hope we don't suffer for this balmy weather later this Spring


Garden Update

Seed sowing continues with 180 varieties sown already and all the more tender/late flowering stuff to sow during April. We have started the mammoth task of potting on established plants and pricking out seedlings and already space is at a premium in tunnels, greenhouses and frames. Stock management, moving plants between them and outoor benching is a continuous undertaking to ensure we have sufficient space and the right environments for our more delicate seedlings. 


A bench full of pricked out seedlings



The borders have all been cut back and we have started to turn them over and thin/replant those that have become tired or outgrown their space - campanula family, asters and monardas step forward please - some of them are real thugs!! They do however provide new plants for the nursery - that's the beauty of perennial hardy plants.

Parts of the Paddock Garden lawn have looked poor for some time with patches of dead grass. Heavy thatch rather than pests or diseases seems to have been the problem so I spent a couple of days recently scarifying this lawn and carted 24 wheelbarrow loads of dead stuff from just 400 sq. metres. True the lawn looks a bit sorry for itself now but I am assured by a golf course greenkeeper acquaintance of mine that they will be all the better for it. I know it is not particularly fashionable but I do like a good, weed free lawn to set off the borders.


Not a pretty sight - the lawn scarified to death!! Now top dressed and grass seed sown. Hope I will have  better news in a couple of months time. watch this space.



Having turned over the veg garden, the spuds and onions are already in, and if the current weather continues will get the small seeds like carrots parsnips and beetroot sown. Exciting time of year.

 As an old fashioned gardener I am finding it difficult to come to terms with the reduction of peat in growing mediums (potting composts). It means having to rethink watering regimes in particular and I know that many amateur gardeners like me as well as some major national nurseries are finding similar challenges. If current government driven peat reduction targets are to met by 2020. however unlikely that may be to achieve. we will all have to get used to it. What will help us to do so is top quality reduced peat products. In this respect I must say that, even though it varies from batch to batch, the quality of the J A Bowers Multi Purpose Compost I have used this year has been exceptionally good - a nice open coarse mix, including recycled materials and wood shreddings, which like peat drains well but retains some moisture. Early results are encouraging. However I have encountered other peat free products. which have contained broken glass, electrical wires, shreds of rubber, china and large chunks of wood. No wonder the instructions for use of the compost direct the use of stout gloves. I am sure it won't be long before I find something really unpleasant or dangerous.


What's looking good?

It's good to see so much emerging growth on trees, shrubs and perennial plants. The hot weather hasn't agreed though with early spring flowering plants - the hellebores are finishing quickly and the narcissus seem to have been here and gone in no time. They haven't been as floriferous as in previous years. 

I am very pleased however that early euphorbias have done well  and thanks to the absence of frosts we have e.characias wulfeni and e. martinii "Ascot Variegated" currently in flower in addition to e. myrsinites a low growing form which is a very reliable flowerer whatever the weather.


Euphorbias "Ascot Rainbow"on the left and characiaswulfeni on the right



 Low growing euphorbia myrsinites



In the tunnels the star performers are zantedeshcia aethiopica "White Sail", a shorter form than the type with large lipped flowers, clianthus puniceus the so called lobster claw, a shrub from New Zealand and borderline hardy. and the slightly tender coronilla glauca a scented pea family member.


Zantedeschia "White Sail"



The "lobster claw" clianthus puniceus with its wildly exotice flowers. It is just about hardy in the right spot particularly if grown as a south facing wall shrub as seen at Marwood Hill Gardens Barnstaple, Devon in 2007. Ours shown here needs polytunnel protection. There is also a white flowered form




The flowers on the pieris have been especially good this year and in the warm weather I have been surprised how pleasantly scented they are - slightly sweet with a hint a vanilla.




Outside in a sheltered location is a fine stand of cyclamen repandum, an attractive spring flowering reasonably hardy species form that has clumped up well alongside a cold frame where it started life but has seeded itself around.



I hope it isn't tempting fate to say so but of the 180 or so pots of seedlings there hasn't been a single case of damping off in any of them. This is due in part to being able to fully ventilate the propogation tunnel on most days and perhaps the use of a preventative treatment called Bayer Disease Control which seems more effective that the Cheshunt compound I have used for many years. 


Finally it is great to see the clematis into good growth, with the alpinas and macropetalas now in bud, the first one to flower was C. alpina "Frances Rivis" in a good shade of blue weaving its way through the skeleton of a rhododendron which it shares wiith a silver owl. There is magic everywhere at Cilgwyn Lodge!



Wildlife and countryside

All the amphibians have now "done their stuff" in the Paddock Pond, toads and newts much fewer in number than the frogs. It always amazes me how far such small creatures as newts will travel to get to the pond. We find them almost emaciated all over the garden yet when they get to the water they just spring to life.

Also springing to life are the wood anemones along the shady road verges and river banks, often together with primroses which are having a fantastic year. A few bluebells too at least a month ahead of their normal flowering time.

It worries me that I have not seen a single robin in the garden for at least 2 months. They are usually my constant companions wherever I am working in the gardens. It puzzles me where they have gone. I do however have the blackbirds for company especially my old friend with the mallen streak. He is impossible to photograph so you will have to take my word for his markings.

Probably the wildlife sight and sound of the month was the sight of 2 buzzards mobbing a goshawk - they wouldn't have been so bold had they been on their own. We once witnessed a goshawk take a buzzard in mid air but the lucky buzzard was just too big for the goshawk to carry off and it fell to earth when the goshawk dropped it. The buzzard survived but it was pretty shook up.



The talks season has continued with 5 talks at St Clears, Reynaldston, Kidwelly, Carmarthen and our home club at Llangadog. Enthusiastic audiences and good participation. The most requested talk of the winter was Designing with Perennials, our newest talk which has a great deal of detail in it - far too much for a one hour presentation.

I need to deliver a talk at leat 6 times to get a feel of it and to make amendments (even some great composers did this with their major works - not that I am comparing myself with them!!). I have therefore reduced the slides in my Designing with Perennials talk by 25, because it was just too long and I am in the process of developing an new talk featuring hardy herbaceous perennials in their own right, which with all the practice and knowledge I have acquired over the last 30 years, I should have done a long time ago. The new talk with appropriate title should be ready for next winters talks programme.

On 31 March we went to a Plant Fair held by the Somerset Group of the Hardy Plant Society at East Lambrook Manor, the former garden of Margery Fish, a notable plantswoman. It still retains its cottage garden feel but a cold day was not perhaps the best time to enjoy its charms although there were many fine hellebores still to admire.

The Manor House at East Lambrook



Cilgwyn Lodge Gardens

Although the gardens will not be open to vistors until mid August, the nursery is open for plant sales but please ring us to confirm we will be around when you would like to visit. There is a very good range of herbaceous perennials available and some clematis for sale.