Ne'er cast a clout till May be out

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The origin of the  old country proverbs may be lost in the mists of time but they still have relevance in these modern times. Many people will be familiar with the words of the proverb in the Headline to this News Item but it has always been something of an enigma. Is the reference to May the month or the may tree (hawthorn) ? There is a correlation between the two as the hawthorn usually flowers during the month but at vastly different times depending on the prevailing weather conditions. This year at the end of a prolonged cold Spring, flowering did not occur until the last week of May so either way it should now be safe to take off your clothes! ("clout")  On a more serious note and this is a gardening website after all, having had frosts in my time here as late as 4 June, I am certainly wary of planting out anything vaguely tender before the month end, and later sowings and plantings always catch up anything sown earlier. This news reflects a difficulkt month but also the first signs of of summer just around the corner. I hope you enjoy the journey.

The native hawthorn at the bottom of the Paddock Garden allowing a pink (unknown cultivar) clematis montana to climb into the upper branches




Twice the monthly rainfall than the long term mean and a much colder month overall than average especially at night when we were so close to a frost on numerous occasions that the horticultural fleece had to come out again. There were 26 nights with a minimum temperature below 10C (6 under 5C) lowest of 2C on 1 and15 May and even 31st had a min of 3C. There were some warmer days with a max of 21C, the magic 70F in old currency. Even then I didn't cast a clout whimp that I am! The shorts are however ready for the first prolonged warm spell we get - like my plants I have to build up to it!!

One plant that has really enjoyed the cool wet May is the Himalayan blue poppy. All those we grow are meconopsis Fertile Blue Group "Lingholm Hybrids. When backlight by the sun they are exquisite.



Garden Update

At last in the second week of the month I completed all the weeding only to turn around and see where I had started 3 weeks previously the weeds had started to grow again!   I fed all the borders with pelleted chicken manure which is the only feeding that most of the herbaceous perennials get all year. Many vistors are surprised at this but I have found over the years that excessive feeding only leads to exuberant leafy growth which is floppy and more prone to pests and diseases, and often less flowers too. The only plants that get exttra feeding on a regular basis are roses and flowering shrubs using a high potass and phosphate fertiliser (like rose food), clematis, lilies and long lived perennials especially hellebores which get a dose of well rotted farmyard manure. Of course all the veggies except the legumes and root crops have regular additions of manure and fish, blood and bone fertiliser my preferred general purpose feriliser. Because we are on acid soil I also lime heavily after potatoes and use calcified seaweed which is a great long lasting  general tonic and soil improver. I can't believe the quality of the vegetables we have harvested since I started using this in 2013 

After a late sowing there has been good germination of all root crops including the problematic parsnips which many people struggle to germinate. Some good brassicas are now in taking us up to late summer with all the autumn and winter varieties due for planting in the next few weeks. Hispi cabbage is ready for cutting now from a mid January sowing in gentle heat. And the first lettuce and radish too - my first memory of growing veg at the age of 6! Two rows of peas up (Hurst Green Shaft the only variety we grow) and no trouble so far with rodents or rabbits - I hope it stays that way with 3 more rows to sow. This way we have fresh peas from July to September 

On the subject of crops what about this - fields of oilseed rape in full flower in fields near Skenfrith, Monmouthshire. So beautifully composed it could be a painting . You just can't take your eyes off that black barn and the track that leads you to it.


I am so glad I delayed planting the potatoes because they missed the late frosts and are growing strongly but will crop later than usual. Hope we don't get early blight this year.

Plenty of flowers on the strawberries which last year we were eating in early  June - mid to late June looks more likely this year. Having struggled to establish raspberries to replace old canes I grubbed out 2 years ago, I planted 2 tayberries, a raspberry/ blackberry cross which is rampant and thorny but is looking good and promising a good harvest of luscious dark berries. At the rate it is growing it will soon outgrow the fruit cage but by that time hopefully the new rasberries will be productive.

In the flower borders I need to continue to fill gaps and to plant out module sown late flowering annuals like nicotiana, rudbeckias, cleomes, cosmos and sunflowers. The wildflower mix I sowed in April has germinated fantastically well and there is promise of some really speciall flowering in the wilder borders of the gardens. It has been so much easier to direct sow than to grow them in modules and plant out iundividually and it will of course look much more naturalistic. I am thrilled that once again this year we should have cardoicrinums in flower in a few weeks time. There are 2 plants to flower for the first time and one which was an offshoot from one of those that flowered last year. (This is one of the ways they reproduce themselves when the main bulb dies after flowering and by all accounts this cycle can continue for many years as the clumps get bigger and bigger) Normally these take 2-3 years, but for some reason this one looks like it will do it iin 1 year. 

Cardiocrinum giganteum with emerging flower bud already over 3 feet tall



The moist Paddock Pond edge is ablaze with candalabra primulas of various kinds, trolliius, iiris sibirica and some superb hostas in what appears to be a vintage year so far. They are revelling in all the rain and the cooler temperatures. 

Pics of the pond edge next month when the iris are in flower

Hosta "Frances Williams", divisions from a plant of first purchased in 1986 and still going strong. Agood slug resistant form.



Hostas in the rockery outside the conservatory. The white medio -variegata in the front is the wonderful "Lakeside Love Affaire" What a great name for a lovely hosta


Finally I am just about keeping ahead of all the jobs in the nursery thanks to all the pricking out and potting on that Moira has done this month. Just as well we have plenty of plants as we are now selling them at the Myddfai Community Hall and Visiitor Centre, in addition to visitors to the gardens and at the talks we deliver across South Wales.

Just opposite the Hall is the Village church. There is a tradition in the part of Wales to erect elaborate archways decked with greenery and flowers. Old timers in the village have told me that Lloyd George spoke  on these steps during an election campaign. No Tv or social media in those days!




What's looking good?

Despite the slow start to May the bearded iris were no later than usual and have put on a tremendous show. After flowering last May I spilit the large clumps, replanted single fans and fed them with bonemeal . It appears to have worked wonders. Some years ago we had an unforgettable visist to Monet's garden in Giverny, France. The bearded iris were at their peak lining walkways in their multi coloured hues and scenting a warm May day with a delicate but unmistakeable vanilla perfume. I was hooked and at the Courson Flower Show the next day I bought my first bearded iris from Cayeaux, a world leader in iris breeding. I still have that pale blue iris, which has been split so many times that I have rather too many of them, so I am slowly starting to gather more cultivars and extending the range of colours.



Aquilegias as always, and whatever the weather, can be reiled upon to flower profusely in May. How long that will continue is in some doubt now as cases of a new disease, aquilegia downy mildew, have been reported in the horticultural press. It is not clear how widespread it is  but the main concern, as with most instances of plant speciific  forms of downy mildew, there is is no cure. For more information go to

 Most of my aquilegias are grown from seed gathered in the Gardens and you get some amazing differences with seeds from the same mother plant as in this case



The slow growth and plenty of rain has encouraged plants to build up their roots so that when they have broken into growth it has been impressive, particularly in foliage plants like hostas which look absolutely fantastic. Some clumps appear to have doubled in size which is most notable on the smaller forms in the rock garden outside the conservatory. The opportunity to take many pics. of pristine hostas was good timing because I was asked  in March to contribute an article to the 2015 edition of the Bulletin of the British Hosta and Hemerocallis Society. We now have around 300 hostas in the gardens sounds a lot but there are in excess of 4,000 registered cultivars worldwide and many more unnamed forms.

Whilst waiting for the flowers to come in quantity there was time to concentrate on the part that foliage plays in the appreciation of plants. It can be all to easy to ignore but flowers come and go whilst foliage provides substance and impact for most of the year. Particularly in Spring early foliage emerges in a wide range of  shades through all the green spectrum to bronze, yellows, and glaucous blue, Diiferent leaf forms and patterns add to the overall impression and I took so many pics that I can feel anoither talk coming on!

 Rodgersia "Irish Bronze" does what it says on the tin, and stays this wonderful bronze shade until turning green late than most other forms we grow. It has made a large plant 4 feet tall and 5 feet wide.



Podophyllum "Spotty Dotty" a highly sought after and expensive shade lover. Justified when you look at that unique foliage



The prehistoric gunnera recovering after being severely frosted in April. The largest herbaceous plant you can grow outside in the UK 



An even earlier plant which came to me as dryopteris namegatae


  And from the sublime to the ridiculous our 40 feet beech tree showing the tracery of black branches against the newly emerging leaves. Even David Hockney a great tree painter would struggle to improve on this.



Shades of blue make a big impact at this time of year and there are planty of fine choices. I thought I had just about categorised the main players but then in a council car park in Chipping Norton last weekend I was blown away by a magnificient specimen of ceonothus which I think was the form impressus. Almost too intense a blue for the camera to captutre successfully in the bright sunshine. (a new Nikon Coolpix P610 which is incredibly versatile with a 60x zoom, macro to 1cm and bulit in wi-fi and gps to record exactly where the pics were taken. What will they think of next?)



 And by way of complete contrast is theis dwarf viola cornuta: a great value border plant growing in almost any situation, flowering for up to 8 months  a year with scented flowers and long lived  - What more could you want?



The intense blue of corydalis "Tory MP" putting on a celebratory show in part shade



And a stunning hydrangea serrata "Cap Sizun"a recent introduction currently bulking up in the large polytunnel  before being planted outside



 Two other plants I just had to share with you even though they aren't blue!

Papaver orientale "Gravetye Beauty" a superb 4 - 5 foot tall form hence the stake.



This rarity would defy most attempts to name it as is quite unusual - a salvia from Africa with rust coloured flowers on a silver leaved plant. "Salvia africanum"is tender and lives in the large tunnel. It is about 2 feet tall.



Wildlife and countryside

Some disappointing absences in the migrant birds this year with no sightings of pied flycatchers, redstarts or house martins, and only spasmodic appearances of swallows. Herons however are regular visitors to the Paddock Pond which possibly explains why there are so few tadpoles this year after a very good spawning.

A lone swallow looking for a mate


You don't have to travel far by road not to be aware of the  current wildflower show all along most verges, although our local council still has the annoying habit of cutting many of them back before the flowers reach their peak putting our rural county to shame compared with everywhere else we have been in Wales and Eng;land over the last few weeks. One particularly impressive sight near Buckingham for a mile or so  along a dual carriageway (so no pics!) was a combination of field poppies, hedge parsley, stitchwort and yellowoil seed rape  Better than anything we could conceive proving what we know be true - that nature really does it best. Although to be fair to many counciils the recent practice of sowing wildflower mixes  in lieu of carpet bedding has extended the naturalistic feeilng into towns and city centres - and even I am trialling it in the less formal areas of the gardens here.

Hedge parsley or Cow parlsy whatever the local name is for anthriscus just outside the garden gate


Visits and visitors. 

We are now open for visits by prior arrangement from June untill the end of August and for the 16th coninuous year, are supporting the National Gardens Scheme. Please click the Visits tab in the heading to this website for more information.

Just one talk in May to our local gardening club in Llandovery which was a great success, my latest talk entitled "Stunning Summer Perennials" continuing to be well received.

A couple of outings this month to  the RHS Malvern Spring Festival, where the cold dull weather took the edge off the day,




Stunning lupins from West country Nurseries in a "Persian Carpet" flower scheme. " weeks later this same display deservedly won Best in Show at Chelsea



Filming  a superb show garden BBC TV. We counted over 20 staff invloved in the filming!


The other trip to friends in Buckingham included on the way home a stop off at Kiftsgate, a particular favourite of ours. We have never visited at this time of year and it was like a visit to a new garden, the different palette of plants giving totally new perspectives. Immaculately presented as always, a warm welcome from he owners and superb choice of unusual or rare plants for sale especially roses. And what a setting commanding views of Evesham Vale from an elevated yet sheltered position. I can't recommend it too highly to you. If you get the chance  -GO!

The beautiful house sits comfortably in its grounds. It has been gardened by 3 generations of lady gardeners



But it isn't afraid to successfully tackle modern either!



 A huge collection of deutzias opened our eyes to what this underated genus has to offer in the spring garden. Cut back hard after flowering the plants are more floriferous and shapely. This one is "Strawberry Fields"



 This elegant magnolia is a late flowering and highlky choice form: m.wilsonii with downward facing elegant scented flowers on a small tree



And finally news of a Garden Party on 5 July at Glan - Yr -Afon, Pumpsaint, owned by our good friends Anne and Philip. They are members of Cothi  Gardeners, an active local gardening group. The opening is in aid of the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation as one of the members of the Group, Jane, at the age of  just 41, was recently diagnosed with that disease. It is hoped that  the opening between 1 and 6 pm will be a great success and that lots of money will be raised. For further details visit