New England comes to Mid Wales!

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Even though it is my birthday month, November is probably  my least  favourite month of the year, when it can be difficult to find newsworthy items to report on. The short day lengths,  generally very variable weather, everything looking a mess, a range of jobs that need to be done urgently before winter sets in and the lack of colour does not lift the spirits or the gloom so accurately recorded by Thomas Hood in his famous poem entitled "November" (what else). Go to  to read the full poem. Please accept my apologies but I cannot get the link to work for this web address or the one below for Hardy Plant society.

Looking on the brighter side, I have nonetheless managed to find some items that I hope you will find interesting and informative. 

Surrounding woodlands looking like New England? Fanciful but still very attractive!




Until the last 3 days of the month we had a nice mix of weather, typical of an average  November,  but then we had 3 consecutive storms. Fortunately unlike last month there was no serious   damage. Rainfall was the predominant weather feature which exceeded the average November rainfall of 4" in Llangadog,  our part of Carmarthenshire. December is the next wettest month. 

There were 11 rain days, 10 sunny days and  9 changeable.

Max temperature 15.4C on 7/11, from that date onwards we had 13 consecutive days in double digits. Min Temperature -3C on 27th and only one other date below nought degree C

Rainfall was a total of 5.2". The gauge measures the rain over 2 exceptionally wet days.


 April is the driest month, no wonder we celebrate April showers!!

A particularly wet day!


 The sun did however shine even if the sky was often black and a storm never far away





The frost or beaver moon. Not quite a full moon but the next day it was when it rose a vivid orange but cloud cover spoiled the chance of a "money shot" picture


Garden Update

Almost all the colour has leached out of the gardens thanks to the early, quite severe frosts in October and the storms. The ground is still very wet so it is best to stay off the soil with next year in mind, to prevent treading it down too much, except when harvesting the remaining vegetables, notably the few brassicas. They are still struggling, but there are some quality parsnips which are a real winter stand by.

Savoy Cabbages are a real treat but this is all we have left after a terrible year for them.


Leeks are coming on slowly after a late planting but are now beginning to bulk up. All the rest of our veg is in store - root crops, onions, dried beans and red cabbage.



Beans ready for shelling the big tunnel


 Spot the cat buried in fleece on top of the stored root veg,


Very pleased as always with our salad potatoes the only types we now grow after years of growing many other types. "Charlotte" and "Venezia"  are exceptionally versatile for a number of recipes and make some of the best chips and roast potatoes you will ever taste, not that they are ever recommended for those purposes! They do not mash or jacket well so we have to buy in a few and I must say that the quality of them in many retail outlets leaves a lot to be desired,  scab, splits and funny shapes bearing testimony no doubt to the dry summer which must have been a challenge for those growers who did not have the water to irrigate regulary as we were able to do. Disappointingly I have not been able to purchase anywhere our favourite main crop potato "Desiree"

We are still cropping lettuce, mostly "little gem" and romaine types, some of the latest we have ever had outdoors thanks to that wonderful invention horti. fleece. Not many left now so we will enjoy them until we have to buy them which  rarely ever taste as good.

Lawn mowing has all but finished except to pick up recalcitrant leaves for which the rotary mower is very accomplished piece  of equipmment. 


Most of my outdoor work is now as an odd job man; tasks include repairing sheds and other outbuildings like tunnels and frames, steps, fences, lawn edgings, - like us they are now so old they are falling to bits!!, and the river bank following the flood last month.

And more directly horticulture related, removing all the 500 odd fencing stakes from the 17 flower borders prior to cutting back with a hedge trimmer, all the spent flower stems. The haulms will stay where they are cut to provide some winter protection before being carted away early next year.

Cold frame awaiting substantial repairs as so called marine plywood disintegrated.


 I used to call this the leaning shed of Cilgwyn! as the structure started to fall to bits. So repair was well overdue!


 A gap in the retaining bank needed another railway sleeper which I completed after taking this pic. just before another storm arrived.



Fashioning a new sluice gate to control the flow of water from the stream into the Paddock Pond 


 Time to put up the electric fence to keep otters at bay


 Picket Fence border


The first border to be cut back after Moira had removed all the metal stakes


The stakes are heavy and substantial



What is/was looking good? 

The very early frosts, some quite severe, at the beginning of last month put paid to any prospect of many flowers into November, so sadly there are very few plants now in flower. Often hydrangeas, salvias and asters will keep going for some time but this year they will not be making their usual contribution.

 The remains of one of the Paddock Garden borders.


The loss I most regret is a wide range of saxifraga fortuneii which usually keep going until well into November but were turned to mush before they had a chance to shine. The Dancing Ladies therefore will not be taking their star billing on the stage this autumn. 

In the gardens the fine show of autumn leaves on many trees and shrubs just about saw the beginning of the month and the intensity of the colours was quite staggering. A couple of windy days and most were gone. However the native trees all around us kept going longer. See Wildlife an Countryside in the next News Item.

Physocarpus "Darts Gold" has never been such a vibrant yellow


 Stem colour from Acer "Sango Kaku" the so called coral bark maple. With cornus sibirica in the foreground


And the sad remains of the lovely liquidamber battered by storms  in October. As the leader is still intact I have hopes that it will sprout from the remaining branches


 Pieris "Valley Valentine" is colourful even on newly emerging buds.


There are still however a few stalwarts that whatever the weather can be relied upon to put on a show until late in the year, a range of herbaceous and shrubs.

 Mahonia x Charity


 Viburnum tinus is a reliable winter flowering form as are many other varieties of the genus for winter, with fragrant flowers often followed by black or  purple berries





I never tire of iberis "Betty Swainson" which is in flower almost all year from April onwards



 One of only 7 herbaceous plants in flower Verbena "Sissinghurst"


 Seedheads can make a contribution to interest in the border when all else has gone, and  they feed the birds.



In the early years of this century we had several very mild autumns and early winters , so much so that I recorded in 2002, 35 plants in flower all over the gardens. (This year there are not many more than 10!) I kept a record of them all and I well rember that roses were particularly numerous and several lasted until Christmas when we had small bunches on the dinner table. Unfortunately I cannot find the records I made which would have been most illuminating when set against the background of this year.

It is in years like this when the protected areas come into their own, the 2 tunnels and my one currently used greenhouse. All of them heated and some with hot benches, which make them delightful spaces to be in, fully justifying the cost of heating them. The colours lift the spirits on the dullest of days as does the perfume from plants like brugmansias and gingers all many miles away from their tropical homelands.

 Brugmansia  what a treat!


 One of the many choice and wide varieties of begonias  in the tunnel is b. fuchsioides a genus that is really growing on me and is one the largest genus in the plant kingdom with new ones regularly being found in the wild. Recently one the size of the nail on your small finger in a bat cave in S. America.


 All my pelargoniums were cutback earlier in the month and cuttings taken. It is remakable how well they strike at this time of year especially when placed on one of the hot benches.


 New to me this year is the delightful ornithogalum thyrsoides.


 Always the last ginger to flower is "Luna Moth" It seems to flower better when congested in its pot.


 Delicate scented flowers open from elongated buds over a couple of months.


 Part of Moira's succulent bench after a winter tidy up which yielded masses of cuttings shared with members of our HPS Group (See below)



 Wildlife and Countryside

The local fields are full of sheep, hopefuly for our neighbours, all in lamb. An enduring scene in this part of Wales with most of the cattle now indoors.



Little Bo Beep has lost this sheep!


As mentioned earlier the autumn colours on native trees has been fabulous, a show that has only recently come to an end here, although a few stalwarts are still hanging on. This was still particularly noticeable in eastern Wales along the A40 corridor from Brecon onwards which we visited a few days ago..

Memories of autumn colour near Cilgwyn. This Wych Elm turned a rich butter yellow. It looks almost like a designed garden!




Oaks have put on a great show






 You scarcely notice starlings during the summer months and yet with the changing of the seasons, here they are again, their twittering groups putting on an aerial performance the Red Arrows would be proud of - the famous murmuration of starlings. One of the highlights of the back end of the year.

They spend a lot of their time on the ground rooting for food.


 With no warning they all suddenly take off but no aerodynamics this time!



As I suspected last month we did not manage to fit in any more garden visits this month. The weather wasn't always inviting, and as mentioned earlier there is a wide range of jobs to be done before winter sets in. Although Moira is still in some pain, she is gradually recovering mobility since her knee operation, but she is not yet up to a full garden visit especially if that entails a lot of walking with slopes and difficult terrain to encounter. 

We did however have our regular monthly horticultural visit to the South Wales Hardy Plant Society Group meeting in Coychurch, Bridgend where we meet up with kindred spirits many of whom are now friends with a wide and varied knowledge;  some have their own nurseries or have specialisms in particular plant groups and others work as volunteers in local horticultural institutions. All of this expertise is readily shared with other members of the group and I have learned a great deal more about pelargoniums from Sue, a friend who curates the collection of pre 1800 species for the Cowbridge Physic Garden. There is a great opportunity to swap plants and always a quality speaker on topics of interest to a group like ours. Members take turns to give a short talk on their choice of Plant of the Month prior to the main speaker, something I have been pleased to paticipate in now that I am no longer able to deliver talks of a longer duration.

As a member for something like 25 years, I am always banging on about the benefits of being a member of the HPS and one of the best at this time of year is the publication of the Seed Exchange List often listing in the region of 2,000 types of seeds donated by members from all over the country. Freshly gathered and reliably germinating, there are many treasures on offer, sometimes supplied by plant hunters and other members specialising in rare or unusual plants. To find out more about the Society go to So much to enjoy for a £19 joint annual subscription, less for individuals.

We send  all our friends and other readers our best wishes and hope that with winter soon to be upon us there are no more "Beasts from the East" waiting to descend upon us..., and that you get on top of all your winter jobs!!

On a seasonal note a charming Christmas cactus (schlumbergera) I grew from cuttings, 4 to a 3" pot, 2 years to flower in the warmth of the conservatory. Some bigger ones to show you next month.


Keith and Moira X