One Mad night in May

Friday, May 31, 2019

At 9.30 p.m on a summer like night in  late May, I took a short walk down the lane leading from Cilgwyn Lodge and there was still enough light to see the hedge parsley billowing out from the verges, giving out its  overpowering perfume into the mild night air,  and bluebells and stitchworts still going strong -the real joy of Spring at its best




  A very different scene than what greeted me in the garden a few weeks earlier on the morning of 5 May when I was greeted by a trail of devastation caused by a frost of -3C. Notwithstanding being covered with horti fleece the leaves and flowers of many shrubs and herbaceous plants were badly frosted and a different perfume of rotting foliage filled the morning air. Even hedges showed damage on newly emerged leaves of hardy native plants such as beech, sycamore and hazel.



 Hydrangeas were some of the worst affected in particular the aspera forms



Hydrangea macrophylla



Acers too  This is one of the many that look like it is autumn


Herbaceous plants also suffered like this persicaria "Purple Fantasy" which to bee honest was quite a blessing as it can be quite a thug! A labour free way of doing the Chelsea Chop! Other persicarias suffered in the same way, along with rodersias.



Leaves on some hostas were badly bleached, this is "Blue Arrow"



The Hosta bed by the Paddock Pond got away without damage however.



Lilies took quite a hit




Native sycamore  one of the components of this hedge just up the lane


 This is a 7 year old specimen I had grown from seed



The canopy offered by the large beech tree offered protection to Acer "Orange Dream"




 Ferns suffered too including  adiantum pedatum"Miss Sharples" 



But the tougher shuttlecock fern matteucia struthiopteris was unaffected, again being under the canopy of overhanging shrubs and trees


After looking so good in an otherwise gentle Spring it was deeply upsetting and was a scene repeated in gardens of many of our gardening friends across West Wales, some of whom had even lower temperatures than we did, in a few cases down to -6C!!.  Our friends Bob and Annette  who live right on the edge of the  Gower peninsular,  a few  days earlier had suffered strong salt laden gales from a named storm which severely damaged a wide range of plants even those at ground floor level which appeared to have plenty of shelter, including all their cyprepedium orchids that they have cherished for years and had never flowered better.

Of course we gradually recover from the shock as do many of the plants but it does take time.  I am sorry to start this month's news on such a low key note but there are good things to report on especially flowers on herbaceous plants and shrubs  bursting into flower to lift the spirits. We have all been gardening long enough to know that weather events like this do happen from time to time, remembering on reflection trees we have lost to gales,  and  sharp frosts occasionally in June and August over the years when the whole garden was at  its peak and tender veg were spoiled for the rest of those years.

 A brighter picture presented by euphorbia palustris "Wallenburg's Glorie" one of the few in the genus that happily grows in moist soil and shady conditions. It is accompanied by Rodgersia "Iris Bronze" that had the luxury of horti fleece on the night of the frost


 The woodland garden along the stream bed


Maianthemum racemosum is a beautiful perennial in moist and shady conditions such as this


 White flowers are prominent in many May flowering perennials, trees and shrubs and viburnum opulus sterile can always be relied on to put on a good showing of globular flowers whetever the weather



In spite of what is said above this May has been a generally fine month overall with precious little rain and many sunny often warm days. Low rainfall levels have been a feature of the whole of spring, requiring regular irrigation across the gardens


May weather stats 31 days:- 

Sunny days = 21  

Changeable = 6

Rain days= 4  The Llangadog average for May is 13 days

7 inches of rain recorded with one day of very heavy rain which was very welcome.  2.5 inches is the annual May rainfall here.

 Very few windy days but the wind direction most of the month was easterly which in May is good news for us.



Max = 21C on 4 occasions with 20C on another 4

Min = -3C on 5th amd just one more frost of -1.8C on 12th


 Blue skies and drought conditions were a regular condition








 Showery cold weather was an unwanted visitor at Malvern RHS  Spring Festival


Garden update

Vegetable seeds of root crops sown in March are on the move and transplanted brassicas have established well with first crops of lettuce "Little Gem"and radish. Hispi cabbage is hearting up and should be ready for cutting soon thanks to protection from horti fleece. 




Direct sown quasi wild flower seed mixes have germinated well but need regular watering. I have to try and remember where I have made recent sowings and plantings to ensure they all get watered!

In the nursery  there are mature plants to transplant wherever there are gaps all over the gardens. I am particuarly pleased with primulas from our own seeds which are in a wider range of colours than we had last year. We also have some fine plants of deep red astrantia major rubra from seed.

In regard to pests and diseases there is a limited amount of whitefly in the tunnels which we control with spraying. The use of natural predators last summer turned out to be something of a failure.

On lilies there are lily beetles, shiny red insects that regular inspection can root out to crush them between finger nails. I have not yet spotted their grubs, foul things covered in their own excrement. Spraying may be necessary if they appear or there are signs of damage to emerging flower buds which are  particularly prone, substantially reducing flowering. Lily beetles are not as invasive here than they have been for some years further east in the UK.

Rodents, mostly mice, shrews and voles have a taste for emerging peas and sweetcorn, which can devastate a crop in a matter of nights so we need to be vigilant for tell tale signs of uprooted shoots minus the peas. Traps are protected from other wildlife by upturned plant crates. Thrown into the nearby field the rodent corpses are quickly pounced upon by observant red kites.

At last we can now remove all the overwintered tender plants from the tunnels, including salvias, cannas, gingers, abutilons, begonias and agapanthus to be placed in strategic positions all over the garden. This will create the space to move the already potted tomatoes to their permanent postions in the tunnels.

Ponds need constant maintenance to keep on top of blanket weed and associated green water


What's looking good?

All the plants that you would expect to be at their best in late May, that the frost did not damage.

Bearded iris are the archetypal plant for May








 In the last week of the month the early summer stalwarts got into their stride, lupins and delphiniums especially.


 Oriental poppies in deep red are a welcome change from all the white flowers elsewhere. "Beauty of Livermere" is a good doer and has been in this border for over 10 years; a dear old friend.


Seed grown anthirrinums from HPS seed sown a year ago. It was described in the seed list as tall white form! Some whites yes but exotic colours too.- part of the unexpected joy of growing from seed.



 Back to a study in white again!  Iris sibirica "White Swirl" , Zantedeschia aethiopica and primula Japonica "Postford White" growing in the shallow edge of the Paddock Pond.



 The rock garden outside  the kitchen window, augmented every year with new purchases from Border Alpines, always a welcome nursery at Malvern Spring Festival



 Euonymus angustifolius "Quicksilver" now in its seventh year here and much admired for the wonderful foliage and scented lemon yellow flowers in May



Choisia ternata, in flower from late March and untouched by the frost



Cornus "Miss Satomi" is a good choice for a smaller garden or limited space in a border as it is not as tall as the trees and other shrubs in the genus but has wonderful deep pink fowers on wide spreading branches



Good news is that some of the frost damaged aspersa hydrangeas are now putting out new leaves and there appear to be flowers forming in the leaf axils



Wildlife and countryside

As the new lambs begin to go off to market there are less sheep in the fields as farmers attention turns to calving and the first of the grass harvests with good weather to bring it in.



Bluebells have continued to put on quite a show which has been extended by some weeks so that they are now flowering alongside stitchwort making a very pleasing combination.

There seem to be more swallows this year but we have yet to see any redstarts  flycatchers or other summer visitors and certainly no cuckoos that we rarely have here, a real song of early summer that it would be great to hear again  regularly.

In Hergest Croft Garden (see visits below) I was rather excited when I caught a brief glimpse of what I first thought was a ring ouzel, a fairly rare bird for those parts, and one I have never seen before, other than in books. Sadly when downloading the pics with the benefit of close ups I coud see that it didn't have a perfect greyish white ring around the neck. Best guess it was a blackbird with albino markings which is quite common.



Another bird I have not seen for may years was this linnet on our trip to the Gower peninsular


 And this stonechat giving its identity away with its "chit chat" call and bobbing up and down


 Having commented recently that I hadn't seen a redstart this year I found this fledgling bird on the lawn one morning. Perhaps pilferred from its nest and dropped as the predator made off. 



Ash die back, the disease chalara, is prevalent now the more so the further west you go and is readily noticeable with the bare boughs standing out from other deciduous trees now in full leaf. Parts of England we have travelled to recently are showing signs of it too which just a year or two ago was not so evident there


 An article in a recent May edition of "Country Life" set out some staggering facts concerning this rampant disease: 150 million ash trees in Britain, and the cost of clearing dead and dying trees is estimated to be £15 billion. Chalara is expected to kill 95-99% of the150 millon ash trees.  In the Dutch Elm disease of the 1960's and 1970's almost 30 million elms were  lost. The ash trees will leave a huge gap in the landscape.


 Healthy hawthorns were everywhere thoughout the month, these taking the place of the sloe trees along this lane that I featured last month



Late Spring is a great time for garden visiting, especially when you are looking forward to a break from all the chores in the garden that demand attention; they can drag you down if you let them! So the odd day out re- charges the batteries and takes your mind off all the things to be done at home.

A special  favourite outing in early May is to RHS Malvern Spring Festival which we have attended for 25years or so when a show of that nature  and scale was a real novelty. It has got just bigger and bigger as the years have  gone by and to see everything there is to see you would need to attend all the 4 days of the event! It has changed in other ways too in that we have a feeling there are now less nurseries selling more individual plants, with many stalls selling similar plants. This probably reflects the costs and time to put on a stand at the show. I was reading the other day that even the RHS itself is concerned about this trend

It is still however a good day out in the most marvellous setting,  and a chance to stay with friends Sylvia and Tony who live in the nearby Cotswolds. The pics below give you a flavour of the scale and the range of the show.




 Inside the Floral Marquee which is always our first port of call















It was exciing to be some of the first public to see this display from John Fielding, a long established plant breeder. with many cultivars already to his name,featuring his latest introduction, Ranunculus "Rococo" a cultivar of a mediterranean buttercup shortly to be available to retail.


 Slipper orchids, cypripedium, in an attractive shade of lilac




 Entries in the children's garden competition which were really quite professional.







The former animal sheds at the showground have been transformed to an elegant multi purpose space. Where the animals go at the agricultutral shows I really don't know.





Other visits included Aberglasney Gardens  just a few miles down the road from us, and Hergest Croft Gardens, Kington Herefordshire an hour and a half away,  bothwell worth the trip with so much to admire.




A plasing planting of alliums and anthriscus "Ravens Wing" gave a very good planting idea, something I have already used at Cilgwyn, but not on this scale,  where the anthriscus grows though pink roses



Large groupings of trilliums are everywhere in the woodland gardens.




 Paeonia Rockii - what a superb specimen!!



Hergest Croft











Gardening imitating nature with this lovely combination of forget me nots and white bluebells. a juxtiposition of native bluebells and stitchwort as illustrated earlier in this news item




What a parting was this planting of the gorgeous species tulipa sprengeri on the exit to the car park



Broxwood Court

A plant Fair for a local cancer hospice, at a new venue, Broxwood Court, Herefordshire was the first time we had visited this property. Well attended  with many of our favourite nurseries in attendance. Interestingly the same plants were not evident on all the other stalls!!










 There are some choice trees all over the grounds of the estate, at its best on th day we visited was davidia involucrata, the paper handkerchief tree.




 There are some amazing wood sculptures many featuring owls, all done with a chainsaw by a father and son team. For more about this tremendous skill and the people who create them go to






Another splendid tree in its prime was cercis siliquastrum, unique in the way that it presents it's flowers straight from the branches without any stems. I remember many years ago, being bowled over the first time I saw this tree in the flesh.




At the beginning of the month there was a trip to the Gower peninsular to meet up with friends who live there,  Bob and Annette,  and two other friends of ours Julian and Fiona, for lunch, a garden tour and a cliff walk around Rhossili Bay. Fabulous views all the way across the Atlantic ( well not all the way of course!), the bird life and native flora, very different from what we have back home.














Thanks for staying with this marathon edition

No space for any more news!! even though there was another visit that I will save for next month with some great pics.


Happy Gardening 


Keith and Moira