No toads on the roads

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Welcome Spring

After the excitement and mayhem of the frog spawning season last month it has been eerily quiet in the Paddock Pond this month. Normally March is the time for the toads to take over from where the frogs left off but in spite of a mild month there have been but a handful of toads in the pond. In previous years I have walked up and down our lane picking up toads in bucketfuls to save them from the cars and deposited them safely into the pond, many of them clinging in rapturous embrace to their chosen partners! The winter has certainly taken its toll and it is clear now that we have lost all our golden rudd and most of the endemic pond life. In the last few weeks however there have been a few pond skaters in evidence which are always the first to colonise a pond


Weather report


A fabulous month! We thought February was good but March was even better. Mild, little rain, plenty of sunshine and very few frosts. Such a contrast with last year when March was more like winter with heavy snow and severe night frosts. I am sure we will get more cold spells before the Spring is out but it would be nice for once not to get any late frosts. We live in hope!! Sadly one of the few cloudy nights we had was when the moon was full and a large moon was expected because of its closeness to the earth.Isn't that just typical when hoping to see astronomical events!!


Garden update


The fine weather has permitted much activity in the garden. All the dead perennial haulms have been cut back and, although this may not be enviromentally sound, boy did we have some good fires as everything was so dry. This is a 3 day job and so good to get it finished in March. Few weeds in evidence thus far so border weeding is moving on at pace.


Paddock Borders before "the chop"



All vegetable beds were turned over last week and as the ground is so dry and has warmed up we have planted all the early potatoes, shallots and onions, and broad beans started in pots in the polytunnel last month. We have also sown more broad beans for a later harvest, peas, carrots, parsnips and beetroot under fleece.




We made the first cut of the lawns in the second week of March and the grass has greened up well. Only 8 months of lawn mowing left, in some weeks up to 4 times a week! Just invested in a new mower to make sure its up to the job - my old one has expired.

A major job has been re-potting and splitting all plants in the nursery, most of which under cover of the cold frames have done very well. All we have lost are the oriental poppies (as always). some hollyhocks and most annoyingly some of the hemerocallis hybrids I had as seed from the USA last year.

We have continued to sow more seeds in the propagation tunnel and are now up to 250 varieties sown - I am nuts! Very good germination all round and very little damping off which can often be the scourge of seed sowing. The kind weather and the opportunity to fully ventilate on most days has made a big difference. Only need to prick them out, grow them on and finally pot them up and they will be ready to plant out or to sell!!




As if this wasn't enough I continue to look for plants to propagate in the borders which are most requested by our visitors in particular red astrantias, phlox and violas, and anything else which has out grown its space or seeded around a bit too freely. I have recently had plenty of seedlings of lunaria variegata alba, a lovely from of honesty. I find it is best to leave them to seed themselves in open ground and dig the seedlings up, rather than to carefully sow the seed in the tunnel. Plants can be so fickle.


What's looking good?


I hate to say it again but this has been a fabulous year for hellebores and they are continuing to flower like crazy. They do have some serious competition now from a whole host of woodlanders including anemone nemerosa in various forms, pulmonarias. epimediums especially a form new to me e. grandiflora with exceptionally large yellow flowers, and hacquettia epictatis in the variegated form as well as the species all green form.

The narcissus  tribe are well reperesented and are dominated by the cyclamineus hybrid forms from Division 6 including Jenny, Jetfire, Peeping Tom, Jumblie, Treena and Rapture (what a great name for a fairly dwarf form fairly close to the true cyclamineus species form even though somewhat larger).


Narcissus cyclamineus hybrid "Peeping Tom"



The large polytunnel looks good with lots of colour now especially from clematis alpinas and macropetalla, brugmansia sanguinea the red flowered form, euryops pectinatus a yellow daisy family member from Mediterranean climates and the first of the aquilegias.


Brugmansia sanguinea


The vegetable garden is a delight to me: all cleared and ready to grow it holds the promise of all the good things to come, the fabulously fresh vegetables in great variety with all the health giving properties, and the sheer joy of growing glorious food from seed in just a few short months. No wonder that the talk on Vegetable Growing I give to garden clubs has been so requested this winter, So many peope are growing their own veg now. Such pleasure and value in these hard economic times.



An amazing event this week. I keep a few mousetraps primed in the polytunnels to stop mice and voles from eating seeds and seedlings. I catch a few from time to time and a couple of days ago after catching a mouse I threw the corpse into the field. I carried on with chores in the nursery when I became aware of a red kite overhead. It got closer and closer circling the field. It came so close to me I could have almost touched it and saw its eyes and beak in close up - they are seriously large birds! Ever quick in the uptake it suddenly dawned on me that the kite had its eyes on the mouse in the field. After a while I though it had lost interest as it soared higher in the sky when suddenly it dropped like a stone, picked up the mouse, flew off with it in its talons and ate it in mid air. What a performance! They are incredible birds. After this we have told Bojo our cat to watch his back!!

No summer bird visitors yet but they can't be far away if this weather continues. For now we have marvellous displays of wild wood anemones along the river and in the woods, opening their pure white flowers on sunny days exhibiting all the joys of this wonderful spring.


As more evidence of plants enjoying the early Spring:-

A lovely woodlander hacquetia eppactis




and another green flowered plant, an unusual form of primrose, primula polyanthus "Francisca"



and this lovely hepatica having its best year in the woodland garden




Frtillaria melleagris white form - very choice!






There have been 6 talks this month including I am pleased to say, 2 on hellebores, at venues from Clunderwen in the west to Llangynidr in the east. One more left in April before the season comes to an end. Already have a good few talks booked for next winter so if you would like us to deliver a talk to your club or society, please don't hesitate to get in touch.

We had an excellent trip to Manchester earlier this month to see the fantastic collection of species hellebores at Phedar Nursery, Stockport.  owned by Will McLewin. ( He has been an avid hellebore hunter all over Europe (especially to the countries formerly being part of Yugoslavia)  for more than 30 years in the quest of identifying all the various forms of hellebores in the wild and to bring some degree of certainty to naming them. I learned more in 2 hours there than I have in all the time I have been an avid hellebore fan. Needless to say I acquired some good examples of species forms and have more on order. The charm and simpicity of species forms is utterly beguiling, especially an unforgettable form of h. purperescens from Romania with good purplish/lilac flowers and a fabulously dark flower stalk.


Some pics from Phedar courtesy of Will McLewin;

The white form of helleborus thibetanus which I had not seen before visiting Phedar Nursery. We really liked this one! Usually found in the pink form.





Helleborus torquatus - I think! One of the most variable species in the genus




And  finally back at Cilgwyn Lodge, a picture of magnolia loebneri planted for our good friend Joy Stafford in memory of her husband Len.