No January Blues this year

Thursday, January 31, 2019

My News headline at the start of 2018, although not original, was possibly one of the best I have come up with, as it typified what many of us feel at this time of year:- "Bloody January Again!" from a 1960's song by Flanders and Swan. It also reflected how we felt in 2018 with torrential rain for much of the  month, me having started a course of chemotherapy and Moira in increasing pain from her left knee. We now both feel better than we did this time last year with Moira at last walking without sticks for the first time since her operation in September.

Fortunately this month the weather has been generally kind, permitting plenty of gardening work, one of the earliest starts we have had in the garden which already looks very tidy, with just 2 of the largest borders left to cut back in the Paddock Garden, with help from our friends at Farmyard Nurseries to clear away all the haulms.

The Beech hedge walk is always a good place to be at this time of year and is very well advanced with hellebores, snowdrops, cyclamen coum, sarcococca and other treasures just starting 




Just in front of the Beech hedge walk is the red border, waiting to be cut back

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2 days later all the spent haulms have been cut back.


 Just a reminder of what it looked like last summer!


 I liked that pic. so much I indulged myself with another! Hope you like it too.


All good reasons for us to feel upbeat and looking forward to another gardening year at Cilgwyn Lodge, our 43rd here! 

It also helps the feel good factor that so many plants are already in bloom and on milder days there is perfume from a range of winter flowering shrubs. And daylight hours are getting longer which always makes me feel better, being light enough to work outdoors until 5.30 pm, without artificial lights on brighter days. I did read somwhere that between the shortest day on 22nd December and the  last day of January it is 1 hour lighter

 Sarcococca is a superb all year round shrub for more shady and slightly moist areas. It comes into it's own in winter with masses of tiny but highly scented flowers. We have 12 plants in the garden of various forms. I was surprised to read in The RHS Plant Finder that there are 47 species and cultivars currently available. They are members of the buxaceae, the box family, hence the common name of winter box.

I no longer have the name of this one which is long established here.


This smaller form is sarcococca confusa which like many in the genus has berries, black in this case.(Ruscifolia is a good form to look out for because it has red berries  in winter)




Although there have been some frosts, they have not so far been too severe. Rainfall levels have been far less than usual in January and were way below what we experienced in the last 3 months of 2018. A surprise day of snow on the 22nd with a couple of inches cover, was a precursor to what was to come later in the month, with some long range forecasts suggesting that parts of the UK may be in for more colder temperatures and  snow but mostly in the north and east. But the last couple of days were snowy with wintry showers

Cloudy days = 13, sun = 6 days, Rain = 6 days, Snow and hail = 6. Total precipitation = 3.75 inches.

Max temperature = 10.5C on Ist of the month, 7 other days over 10C.  Min= -7C on the last day of the month    11 frosts in all. Very little wind









 One of the benefits of leaving seedheads intact is those wonderful patterns that are formed when snow falls on them.  This is Hydrangea aspera subsp. sargentiana, which I showcased on Gardeners World last summer when it was at its peak of perfection.





We enjoyed some beautiful sunsets and sunrises but unfortunately the recent blood moon was not visible here. It always seems to happen when we get an event like this which was said by experts to be exceptional. Some of the pictures from across Europe on TV news bulletins were quite astonishing. To try and see it for real, I took the trouble to get up at 4.00 5,00 and 600  am. to photograph it but to no avail. There was thick mist and cloud cover and was it cold!!



This was very clever picture that linked a series illustrating the phases that the eclipse went through.


 Back down  to earth!  A sunset picture at Cilgwyn embelished by vapour trails




 And sunrise in Buckingham where we stayed for a couple of days


 Artistic rainbow imitating the shape of the surrounding hills. The grass is so green you wouldn't think it was January


Garden update


After several previous months of DIY work, there were still some repairs and renovations to be done in the garden to paths, sheds and hedges, but most of all to fences, gates and the river bank, all of which were damaged by the fateful storm Callum in October. Some of this is heavy duty or specialist work which we needed help with. It is good to be able to open gates again and to feel that river bank is now secure from future floods  - we hope!




Growth in the garden is already quite forward, the grass is long and amazingly green for the time of year, and it is the same in all the surrounding fields. The sheep are going to enjoy it once they are turned out from the lambing barns.

This snowdrop is we think an elwesii cross that no-one has yet been able to identify. Julian a galanthofile friend of ours has given it the unofficial name of "Keith's Korker" To find out more please visit the January 2018 Web News item




 Hellebores in the woodland garden  before and after frost showing how quickly they recover





The bank at the rear of the conservatory with a pleasing combination of winter flowering plants. The centrepiece is  a lime green hellebore which may be an ericsmithii crosss but label is missing.


Even more attractive after snow




The only vegetables we now have in the garden are a few nice savoy cabbages, several tatty sprouts and the ever reliable parsnips which have performed well, are of a good manageable size and very clean with little rust or canker. The variety is "White Gem" one I haven't previosly grown. It is readily available from a range of seed suppliers.


What's looking good?

Not a great deal of choice, what you would expect and mostly plants that I seem to feature in January News items every year, but any colour is welcome. and there are encouraging signs of more still to come; even nicer too when embellished with snow.

Frosted cyclamen coum 


Hellebores are doing superbly in spite of, (or because of perhaps) the summer drought,




The bud stage on an unusual form raised a good fews years ago by our friend Richard Bramley. He christened it a fritillary form. 


 Breeders are always looking for something different; this hellore reflects what many of them are looking to achieve, upward facing flowers and good colour on the outside of the sepals.


More hellebores in different areas of the gardens, groing in 6 various borders. I counted 30 in flower on Christmas Day, and last week nearly 300 



 This is probably one of the most unusual colours and patterns we have here. It stands out and really shines out at you 


 Although I cannot be sure where many of our hellebores came from, most of the collection came from some of the great names of hellebore breeding, including Ashwoods, Farmyard Nurseries, Robin White formerly of Blackthorne Nurseries, Credale Nursery, Will Mclewin, and of course Garden Centres and nurseries.

But the most prized few we have go back to Helen Ballard's time when from about 1988 - 1993 we used to visit her garden and nursery Old Country near Colwall in Worcestershire. Unlike modern times the plants she sold were bare root divisions of mature plants and nearly all of them were named. Widely admired and known as the Hellebore Queen, her stock plants formed the basis of many of the plants subsequently developed by modern day breeders.

This is a Ballard form called "Greencups" her style evident form the beautifully round buttercup shape and clarity of colour


 This an un named Ballard seedling in a lovely pure white that may have been a fore runner of "Ushba" which we used to have but have lost, one of the purest whites you could imagine.



Moving indoors and away from hellebores, into the tunnels there is always something of interest such as Zantedeschia "Glencoe" a very tall form just as happy outdoors to flower late spring and summer


 From S, Africa is Velthemia bracteata grown by me from seed 5 years ago and flowering well every year from large bulbs


The large tunnel a warm refuge for us and plants



Wildlife and countryside

With lambing about to start the fields around us are relatively quiet, just some sheep that are due to lamb later. There is still some good grass for them following the milder weather in the last couple of months.

The first lambs turned out into our neighbouring fields were these Dorset breed on a cold day in the last week of the month.

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 2 newborn lambs in our farmer friends brand new barn


 It is a bit like a 5 star sheep hotel where they can lamb in the dry





Not much going on with wildlife front either, although we did have the menacing sight of a cormorant flying over the paddock pond but fortunately it didn't land. We had a couple many years ago which got into the pond and took a lot of fish.

No problems in the Koi pond where the fish are looking good and fairly active whilst the water remains warmish


The last of that massive crop of cooking apples we had in the autumn are coming to an end and the blackbirds are beneficiaries when we put the faded apples on the hedge opposite - an unconventional but effective bird table. 

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To find more bird activity we paid a visit to the recently opened Bird of Prey Centre at the National Botanic Garden for Wales, just 18 miles away from us. Those of you that regularly read our News items may remember that I raved about this in July last year. It is still as impressive and well worth a visit, being of interest to all age groups.

Eagle owl


And here is a real thing  a golden eagle


It is a massive bird in flight especially when it flies low over the upturned heads of the enraptured (Think about that word in the context of these birds!) visitors. Here he is having a well earned rest with its keeper


 Shortly afterwards they were sharing a joke!!


Just before Christmas on a very mild evening when driving home after dark, there was an amazing collection of night flying moths easily picked out in the car's headlights. I had hoped to take pictures of them but found if difficult to get the light levels right in the challenging conditions of the car lights.

The sheer beauty of all manner of trees  never ceases to delight me at all times of the year. Even bereft of leaves  there is still much to admire with their unique shapes and forms and the fan tracery of the branches in all weather conditions. Reflecting upon this in  the recent spell of mists and snow I recalled the title of a poem called" Trees" , which starts with the words " I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree". As I like both trees and poetry I find this a difficult proposition to reconcile although as a countryman and a plant lover I would have to side with trees!!






 At the National Botanic Garden for Wales there is a display of huge tree stumps of tropical hardwood trees which have a unique alluring quality all of their own 









I did some on line research on this poem which I had only previously heard of thanks to Spike Milligan many years ago who himself was quite a capable poet as well as a zany but much loved comedian and one of the stars of "The Goon Show" (which goes to show how old I am!) He didn't write the poem in question but I have discovered that it was written some time in the mid/late 1800's by Alfred Joyce Kilmer an American writer and poet. The poem starts with that great line but the rest of it has very heavy religous overtones about who made trees which as an evolutionist  does not sit comfortably with me.




It was good this month to have started garden visiting again and to meeting up with kindred spirit gardening friends on a visit to The National Botanic Garden for Wales. Open for all but 2  days of the year there is always something of interest to see and The Great Glashouse which features plants from Mediterranean climates across the globe starts to look it's best from now onwards, and to complement this there are large plantings of snowdrops to admire in the more naturalised parts of the garden. There is also the Bird of Prey Centre which I have already written about.









We have several of these visits to different venues during the course of the year and always end the days with a meal in a nice restaurant and good conversation. For more info about the Botanic Garden go to and find the link to Bird of Prey Centre

A  delayed post Christmas  vist to friends in Buckingham was very enjoyable. it is a lovely drive from Cilgwyn taking in the Oxfordshire and Glocestershire Cotwolds, and is one we have made on numerous occasions at different times of the year.


The roadside trees are adorned with the faded seedheads of Old mans beard, the only native British clematis, C. vitalba




Coming home between Chipping Norton and Stow on the Wold, 2 delightful Cotwold towns, I spotted a signpost to Adlestrop which suddenly brought to mind the name of a poem of the same name, that has been one of my favourites for many years, and the chance to visit the village was one not to be missed. It was written by a lesser known poet called Edward Thomas who was travelling by train from London to Ledbury, Herefordshire when it stopped  briefly at the station in Adlestrop a small Cotswold village. The poem reflects his keen observations in the few minutes when the train was in the staion. It is a wonderful evocation of time and place in June 1914 just a few weeks before the start of the !st World War. It is poignant in so many ways especially the tranquility and simplicity of the age it conveyed before the horrors of that war. Sadly there is a poignant Post Script in that the poet who was aged 37 with a wife and children, had volunteered to fight in the war,  and was killed in 1917, a fate that befell many of our fine poets. 

The main line still runs through the village but the station was closed in 1966 and all the mid Victorian buildings there were burnt down, Fortunately the villagers saved the platform sign and one of the benches. It is now a unique and historic bus stop 




 This steel plaque is fitted to the seat in memory of that station and the poet that captured it in time.



Briefly in a very long news item ( amazing for January!)

 I just remembered one final event for your new diary or calendar. The annual Winter Gardening Weekend in Llandysul, Carmarthenshire which takes place on 15,16 and 17 February. 10-5-00 pm each day.Talks, Refreshments Gifts and plants for sale and a stage set by RHS Gold Medal winners Farmyard Nurseries. Go to

One of the many quality hellebores bred by Farmyard Nurseries that you are likely to find for sale at the event.


We hope your start to 2019 has been a good one

All good wishes and happy gardening

Keith and Moira.