Phew - what a scorcher, Mediterranean weather in West Wales

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

3 consecutive summer months,  each getting better than the last. The gardens here look better than I would ever thought possible given the lack of precipitation we have had, and some of the highest temperatures we have ever had at Cilgwyn in 42 years.

Exuberant planting in the Paddock Garden.Phlox, lilium leichtlinii,hydrangea paniculata, buddleja and thalictrum

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The house garden on fire with hydrangeas paniculata and GeneraleVicomtesse de Vibraye highlighted by crocosmia masonorium


I am hoping that unlike the June News, when I thought I had lost most of the pictures loaded into files to incorporate them into the text of News, there will be plenty of pics to convey what a great month it has been. Without doubt, aside from the magnificent flowering of a wide range of plants, the highlight of the month was the visit of BBC "Gardeners' World" which at the time of writing has not yet been broadcast. As soon as I know the date I will let you know. With  a special News update



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Like most parts of the  UK  each day seems to have been a replica of the last and I don'think I have ever been so brown or worn shorts so often! It was a real tonic and made me feel so much better after the treatment I endured during the Winter and Spring which still continues to give me side effects but doesn't prevent me from being physically active most days.

There were 25 days of sunshine, max 28C on 7th (We didn't quite beat 30C) and only 3 rain days and 4 days of  changeable weather.  The fine weather broke on 28th with torrential rain on and off and brighter interludes.there was one and a half inches of rain overnight and early morning on the Sunday.Great for the parched gardens but not for us!

Digging a hole to plant out a stock plant shows how dry the ground is. A crow bar was required!


 Wales looking like  somewhere in Provence!!



Having had so much clear and sunny weather I was hoping that for once a cosmic event could take place without any cloud cover. On 27th there was an eclipse of the moon during which time the moon was due to turn red but apart from TV coverage that was about all I saw, until at just after 2.00a.m. the clouds cleared and I had brief impression of a vaguely pink sky and some turbulent clouds, better than nothing I suppose but the main event it wasn't!!   


 The next evening it was a true pink sky


Garden Update

Watering has been a major task throughout the month,  not only all the protected areas. but most of the borders where I had  recently planted out all my overwintered salvias and new plant purchases which had seduced me!!. The plant nursery trade have reported a fall off in plant sales during July as prospective purchasers have avoided buying new plants whilst the heatwave and drought continued.

After a slow start in April and early May, in sowing and planting out of vegetables, they have caught up wonderfully well and almost all vegetable varieties are well ahead of where they usually are during July.


This is especially true of sweetcorn which has produced some fine cobs with up to three a plant. The tassels are already  dry and  brown usually a sure sign that they are ready to harvest, but peeling back the husks has not yet revealed any ripe cobs.

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The veg plot has had regular watering producing a good crop of quite large potatoes from the salad types Charlotte and Venezia,  which are all we grow now. I promise you Venezia is the best tasting, waxy, golden yellow potato you will ever experience It is impossible to overcook it and it never turns black when cold.  For me it leaves the much heralded Jersey Royals in the shade

Burried Treasure. Digging the first spuds of the year is always exciting - what sort of crop do we have?




This summer goes to show that whilst  you can't create the sort of warmth that we have had, you can replicate moisture by regular irrigation which creates the perfect environment for all manner of plants to perform to their best. So more summers like this one please, and reliable water suplies  provided,  there are no hosepipe bans.  The sheer scale of the garden here makes it impossible to water everything, and a few shade loving plants like ferns and some hostas have really struggled and turned brown. It will be interesting to see how they recover when the rains come. The same is true for the hellebores in dry shade

It is just as well that I have had the time for all the extra work entailed in watering, freed up by the huge reduction in lawn mowing now that most of the grass has stopped growing with large brown patches brown  patches. As you know I love a perfect green sward, but not at the expense of watering the lawns which can be counter productive unless you have unlimited supplies. It can also make the roots of the grass grow upwards, the surface being where most of the water will end up, and make the condition of the lawns get worse.

One place where there is still plenty of water is the Paddock pond and one of the most pleasant jobs on a hot day in chest waders, is to enter the pond to remove the surpless pond weed that simply revels in these conditions and whilst I am about it, to cut off all the discoloured and dying water lily leaves and dead flowers which look unsightly. The fish love the clearer water which makes it easier to see them. The pond is currently full of fish fry from the spawnings  in May and June.




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 Damsel fly Blue Demoiselle in early June

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One of the downsides of a very clear pond is that it attracts a range of predators, this heron looks like it has a yellow crown on its head courtesy of a yellow mimulus!!

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Pests and diseases have made the most of the fine weather, whitefly being everywhere, in particuar the tomatoes in the large tunnel. The encarsia wasps, natural defenders which I applied earlier in the year, have had no effect whatsoever. so it will be back to yellow sticky cards or insecticides.

Poor old tomatoes are having a hard time of it because blackbirds have taken a liking to them. They take the bite sized smaller varieties straight from the plants, but the standard sized fruit are more of a challenge; with these they just peck at them, or knock whole trusses from the plant and devour them on the ground.


The blackbirds have lately transfreed attention to the maturing sweetcorn cobs. You have to admire their ingenuity but not at the expense of a precious summer crop. Capsid bugs are a perennial pest damaging leaves and energing flower buds of a wide range of host plants including hydrangeas, dahlias, fuchsias, brugmansias and even potatoes. There are a range of pesticides available to control them. Some good news is that the hemerocallis gall midge did not persist very long and most hems are now clear with no treatment. And there was a time in June when I was alarmed at the first sightings of lily beetle which we have never had here before, but that too disappeared except for a minor infestation a month ago on lilium pardilinum at the back of the Paddock pond. And finally clouds of cabbage white butterflies have been on the wing throughout the hot weather, decimating even the brassicas  under cover of horti fleece which they seem able to avoid through smll holes in the fleece.

And there is always the prospect of clubroot rearing its ugly ahead in the brassicas, in this case swede. Just time to make one more sowing for the winter. There is no effective treatment aside from regular yearly liming



What's looking good? 

So much that pics are the best way to show the very best. 

Top of the bill are hydrangeas, 62 plants of which are scattered throught the gardens. Having had some concerns earlier what the impact of the unseasonably late frosts and "The Beast" were going to have on them as late cold winters  did in 2 previous years. But fortune smiled on us and they have been exceptional. There was no evident damage as the result of any  adverse low winter temperatures In fact those stuated in the most open and sunny situations and relatively well drained soil did show some limited signs of scorching of leaves but the flowers have remained intact. With so many of them the impact on the gardens is quite devastating if many of them fail to flower as the result of late frosts when the flower buds are forming.

The star performer has been this marvellous example of h. aspera subsp.sargentiana which is always smothered in honey bees from the local hives


 Hydrangea paniculata "Vanille Fraise" is so appropriately named with flowers of cream and pink - a bit "girlie" perhaps but a masssive impact in the summer borders



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More muted forms of hydrangea paniculata with, in the foreground, one of the many phlox in the garden, a much admired red form "StarFire"

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 Hemerocallis are still flowering well in a good range, one of my all time favourites is this delightful form which came to me as one of my first hems called  Vespers but the current edition of the RHS Plant Finder does not list this form. Searches on the internet did not reveal any conclusive pictures to confirm the name. Who cares?!! it is a lovely floriferous plant  with choice flowers and a delicate perfume



 Several years ago I sowed hem. seed donated by members of the American Hemerocallis Society which were a  range of crosses they had made, in a variety of forms and colours. It was really exciting when up to 4 years later they began to flower, this spider form has huge flowers up to  the size of an adult hand


A true wild hem and long established plant at Cilgwyn Lodge is h. fulva in the double form. Still garden worthy in my opinion

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Lifting the shady area outside the conservatory are a range of large tender plants like brugmansias and lilies not only beautiful to look at but highly scented too. Kept in huge pots year round and rotated with others as the summer goes round

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 Another fine lily in the Red Border which has bulked up very well over the years is l. "Black Beauty" at 5 feet tall


A recent introduction is l. "Kushi Maya" which is a cross between l nepalense and a large flowed form and highly scented.


Revelling in the hot weather are agapanthus in the Koi Pond Border many of which I have grown from unknown seed.

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A new introduction this year is Senecio "Angels Wings" an unbelievable silver foliaged plant for sunshine and good drainage

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When planted in close harmony with drifts of artemesia it creates the just the sort of image so beloved of Gertrude Jekyll, the flow of the 2 plants bringing together other members of the border plantings.

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Crocosmias "Pauls Best Yellow" and Masonorium

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With such a range of hardy geraniums to choose from there are always new ones to choose from, my latest being "Cristal Ice"




Wildlife and countryside

Swallow numbers have increased considerably and why wouldn't they when there are so many insects to feed their offspring. On a larger scale red kites are always in evidence over the Lodge and if you want to see them at closer quarters just a few miles away is The Red Kite Feeding Centre where the birds are fed in the afternoon.


 Close up, especially when set against a cheeky magpie, you can see what large and powerful birds they are.




On the subject of insects there have been masses of dragonflies and damsel flies but not so many butterflies as you might have expected, except of course the dreaded cabbage white

One insect I have been looking forward to seeing for the first time since 2006, is the humming bird hawk moth which seems to be particularly fond of deep throated  salvia flowers which we have in increasing numbers as the summer progresses. I often see an adult hedgehog in the large tunnel along with a baby one, both finding a comfortable bed in a pile of horticultural fleece under the staging.


The surrounding countryside is parched and unnaturally brown and some hedgerow trees are beginning to show signs of substantial stress as the leaves become scorched and continue to fall. In some cases it is disease that causes this, either ash dieback or sadly the resurgence of Dutch Elm Disease closer to home with one long established Wych elm along the garden boundary which was showing symptoms this time last year.


On the farms with the grass harvest all but taken, there is precious little grass for grazing and our neighbour Alun has had a hard time of it taking his livestock from field to field to share out what grass there is and have access to to the river which fortunately is still flowing.


These clever sheep lined up in the mid day shade of a field hedge with one that chooses to stay in the sun - must be a mad dog of an English sheep!! I can say that being English!



Because of all the work there is to do we haven't had many trips out, but recently we did manage to get away when a neighbour treated us to a short break at a  hotel in Buckinghamshire; Hartwell House, in which he has an interest. A superb house in 90 acres with excellent facilities and accommodation. It was a genrous and  kind gesture on his part and a very enjoyable change of scenery as we were pampered and very well fed and watered!

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 And hanging on the wall of one of the elegant rooms was this lovely verse


 Closer to home in Pembrokeshire is Glyn Bach the large garden of friends Peter and Carole Whittaker. They hold a Plant Heritage  National Collection  of Monardas which even on a very soggy day still managed to lok radiant - just like Pete and Carole!

To find out more about this fascinating garden and visiting arrangements go to





 Of all the many alluring monardas in the Collection my favourite, shining out like a beacon on such a dull day, was m."Lederstrumpf" a German cultivar which Carole told me  translates as Leather Trousers! honestly!! 







After completing such a marathon news item in which I am hopefully making up for my poor offering in June, I went down to the large tunnel where this incredible flower of the bulbous plant Scadoxus multiflorus had just opened, like some form of laser light. Incredible.

Good wishes to you all and try to catch up with our feature on BBC "Gardeners' World" and look out for confirmation on this website of when this will be shown.