New Year ushers in an early Spring

Friday, January 27, 2012

It's far to early to think that winter is behind us because there could still be a nasty sting in the tail, but I can't remember a January with so much colour in the garden. Snowdrops, cyclamen coum, primroses, daffodils (just a few) and especially our beloved hellebores. It has been good gardening weather too with plenty of time to devote to the battle with bittercress our most pernicious weed that doesn't stop growing and if you let it flower and set seed look out.....! Its best to do this by hand or with a small fork although the only saving grace is that bittercress pulls out easily


Wild Snowdrops in woodland not far from Cilgwyn Lodge


There are a few other weeds too but not on the scale of the dreaded one. I still haven't cut back the herbaceous borders even though it has been tempting to do so. You read all sorts of conflicting opinions about the best time to do this and it all comes down to personal preference and past experience. I take the view that there is a lot of merit in the dead haulms protecting the roots especially of more vulnerable perennials and given that every year we have succeeeded in getting dahlias, some salvias and diaramas through even the most severe winters. It may look untidy, (in frosty weather the frost patterns are lovely) but it works for me.


Weather report

A changeable month with lots of rain, wind in early month, a few cold spells including 2 nights mid month of -5C (making it just 6 air frosts this winter), some sunshine and a max of 13C. No wonder the plants are growing fast.  The nights are getting lighter too which is a great feeling and my sap is rising as quickly as the plants!


Garden Update

Because of all the work I have done in the borders the garden looks as tidy as I can remember it in January. The vegetable garden has been cleared save for late cropping brassicas, leeks and parsnips, ready for rotovating in March (weather permitting). The grass is green and growing away in the lawns and all of the surrounding fields - last year they were all yellow. 

Some shrubs are showing swelling leaf buds, and the flower buds on magnolia stellata and some of the viburnums, all of which flower before the leaves, are also forming. A large cornus mas with yellow slightly scented flowers resembling mimosa is a pretty sight, a full month ahead of its normal bloom time here.

 Emerging flowers of cornus mas



In the polytunnels and greenhouses (so much cheaper to heat than last year - a blessing with large propane at £65 a bottle) there is plenty of colour and we still have a few red peppers to harvest! There are hellebores in flower in pots, some good double primroses from the bellarina range and a real mimosa, acacia baileyana "Purpurea",


The real thing acacia in full bloom. New leaf growth is deep purple if exposed to direct sunlight and is an impressive feature of this cultivar



There are also a few flowers on cestrum newellii, brugmansia sanguinea, alogyne hueglii, and euryops pectinatus a lovely bright yellow  shrubby daisy with grey foliage, all of them raising the spirits on dull days and all for the price of keeping them just frost free and plenty of horticultural fleece on colder nights. The polytunnels can generally stay frost free without heat when the temperature doesn't fall below -2C



Another treaure in the polytunnel  is this tender mallow,  malva bicolour which flowers year round in a little heat



The many overwintering herbaceous plants in the frames and tunnels are beginning to move and as soon as they show real growth it will be time for us to start the major potting on task which on and off alongside other tasks, takes up to 2 months. They have done very well this winter and hopefully there should be far fewer losses than last year.

Seed sowing has started in earnest and all the seeds from the societies we belong to ordered and our own gathered seed sorted and cleaned. I love seed sowing above all else - giving life to new plants and delighting in all the outcomes. You never know quite what you are going to get as seeds of many cultivars and to a lesser extent, species, don't always come true to type. About 250 packets of seed to sow. Yes I know I say it every year, I must be crazy but what fun especially when some seeds notably clematis can take up to 3 years to germinate and another couple of years to flower. Its a bit like Christmas: in a perverse way I sometiimes think the waiting and anticipation are almost the best part!! 


What's looking good?

Obviously the "Spring Garden" along the beech hedge walk and the "woodland" garden, both full of hellebores - over 200 of them all over the garden but mostly concentrated in these 2 areas. A great range of colours, shapes and forms from over 20 years of collecting them - and still we are adding to them but it gets more difficult as we have become fussy!. They now have to be very special before we add them to our collection, either species forms we don't already have or really choice x hybridus forms. There is also a good range of emerging x sternii (argutilious x lividus) and ericsmithii (sternii x niger ), forms raised from difficult crosses in which the leaf patterns and colours are a special feature.


Helleborus x ericsmithii "Winter Moonbeam" showing lovely leaf patination arising from the 3 way cross and "hybrid vigour". It as already a substantial plant after just 2 years. We have one of the early crosses still going strong after 15 years!



The range of Harvington Hybrids now widely available are some of the best and at Batsford Arboretum Nursery last week we found a tremendous red double, the nearest to true red I have ever encountered. I have planted it so that the late evening sun can shine through it and intensify the colour. The consistency and quality of the Harvington range is very impressive and should be sought out by collectors, Another advantage is that they are very competitively priced for such quality plants.


The marvellous double red Harvington hybrid hellebore - don't forget to add the sunshine to the mix to get the best colour!



Other planting companions (snowdrops, cyclamen coum (lots of seedlings this year), primroses, grape hyacinths and pulmonarias already in flower) complement the hellebores very well, augmented by recent additions of sarcocca confusa and hookeriana. This low growing beutifully scented small shrub is usually pretty tough but only 3 survived in the entire gardens after last winters cold.


A lovely grouping of cyclamen coum showing the colour variation



A special mention must be made of the Brussels sprouts (varieties "Trafalgar" and "Bosworth") which are in terrific shape and tasting lovely with plenty more to come - and for the excellent leeks which have avoided the onion white rot which affected most of the other onion tribe last summer. Vegetables in store are keeping well giving us a a good choice each day.  Onions in store however are not faring so well because of the problems last summer and we may even have to buy some befroe the winter is out - something I don't like to admit to!! We also have a range of salad leaves in the polytunnels.


Wildlife and nature

Considering the mild January very few frogs have been seen, just a few in the Paddock Pond sitting amongst the lily pads, newts too swimming in the clear water which has not frozen over once this winter. The fish are active and showing after dark in the light of the LCD lights. 

Just after Christmas when there were some severe gales we saw a few cormorants flying over, driven inland by the weather out to sea - we are 35 miles from the nearest coast, Fortunately they did not stop for a fishing trip!

Mice have been active in the tunnels taking great pleasure in nipping of all the emerging hellebore flowerbuds and digging up a few bulbs. Protective measures have been taken.

In the hedgerows and elsewhere there are wildflowers way ahead of their normal bloom times. Celandines, daisies, buttercups and in the bog garden at Batsford Arboretum, some kingcups.



The winter talks season re - commences in February with 5 talks booked and we are looking forward to them with some new venues including the Monmouthshire Group of The Hardy Plant Society. Most requested talk this year is "Designing (Gardening) with Perennials - Colour Schemes fo the Flower Garden" The annual Llandysul Winter Gardening Weekend takes place from 24 - 26 February and I am doing 2 sessions on the 25th with a Gardeners Question Time and a talk on Growing Vegetables. For further information go to

We went up to the Cotswolds mid month to stay with our friends Sylvia and Tony. Whilst we were there we visited Batsford Arboretum and Sezincote near Moreton-in-Marsh. Batsford is a lovely relaxed woodland garden with some good winter interest including a good range of hamamaelis and daphne bholua species and cultivars. Great restaurant and nursery/garden centre.

In respect of the daphne it was interesting to compare the merits of this group. "Jacqueline Postil" is generally considered to be the best of the cultivars but "Sir Peter Smithers" seems to me to be a stronger growing and better scented form. particularly as the two appeared to have been planted in the gardens at the same time. The species form was equally impressive even though the flowers are smaller but there were more of them so the scent was more pervasive. There are two other excellent cultivars with more reddish/pink flowers namely "Darjeeling" and "Ghurka" not in evidence at Batsford but both of which can be seen at Abergalsney Gardens. Not having seen them all together it is difficult to make comparisons.


Flowers of daphne "Sir Peter Smithers" good colour and size and that perfume.....!



The highlight though of the visit to Batsford amongst many highlights was not the welcome provided by the flowering plants, but by the twigs and branches of a magnificient mature acer sangokaku, the so called coral bark maple, in full, bright winter sunshine.


The whole tree seems to be on fire!!



At Sezincote, apart from snowdrops there wasn't much of interest at this time of year from a plantsman's point of view, but the house built of local Cotswold stone in a Mogul style from the late 18th Century that pre-dates the Brighton Pavilion, is amazing and having wanted to see it for many years we were not disappointed.


The main house and orangery 



On a more intimate scale there are some lovely touches in the orangery (the single storey building on the left) like the coloured glass panels in a Gothic archway. Living as we do in a Gothic house it was a delight for us.



National Botanic Garden of Wales

Nearer to home we have taken advantage of free entry in January to the National Botanic Garden of Wales. An antiques fair in mid month was a first for the Garden and saw the best ever weekend attendance of 6,800 visitors - a record. It was great to see so many people there and it is to be hoped they will return again when they have to pay!! as even at this time of year there is plenty to see. Not difficult to see why it was voted the best winter gardening attraction in the UK.


The Great Glasshouse and all the crowds



The Antiques Fair in the Great Glasshouse



The Great Glasshouse showcasing Mediterranean plants from around the world is coming into spectacular flower which is heartwarmimg on a cold winters day. Particular current stars are mostly South African in origin with proteas, leucodendrons and pelargoniums to the fore but for me the star performer is a marvellous aloe in full bloom (I thiought i put the name in my notebook but now I can't find it - old age!)


 The marvellous aloe - a rather upmarket form of red hot poker !




 Cilgwyn Lodge openings 2012

Finally just a reminder of visiting arrangements to Cilgwyn Lodge this summer. We will not be having any garden visitors before August due to the building of our conservatory and regrettably there will be no Open Day this year. The nursery will however be  open from June onwards. For garden bookings in late summer please get in touch as soon as possible. Ther is still plenty to see in the garden then. To  visit the nursery please contact us via e-mail or by telephone just to make sure we will be home be home when you intend to visit.

Happy New Year and Happy Gardening!