Summer at last after an absence of 7 years!!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

My cup runneth over and my sap is bubbling as July 2013 brings a month to remember. OK so there was watering to do everywhere every day, but the joy of being able to wear shorts continuously for over 3 weeks and to eat all meals outside in a climate more like Italy was worth all the extra work. And the pleasure of regular dips in Moira's really warm swimming pool (temperature 27C without artificial heating!!)

In our busiest  month for visitors, it was great to be able to welcome them with no worrries about rain or wind and for them to see the gardens at their best. The lawns are lush green, the herbaceous borders overflowing and the vegetables are more than making up for the disappointments of last year, apart from a few concerns about the runner beans not setting yet.

The lush Paddock Garden borders and lawn. On the right is the welcome notice we post for every group visit to the gardens. They are much photographed!


After many months this year when it was difficult to find much to tell you about, this month there is so much I don't think I can do it justice! Well here goes..........



26 days of daytime temperatures well in excess of the magical 21C, Max 30C on 18th and lowest night time temperature 10C on 12 th. Some rain in first few days and towards the end and although we could now do with some substantial rain I can do without it for a little while longer!


Garden update

Vegatables are cropping really well with cabbage, cauliflower,broccoli, carrots, beetroot. potatoes, broad beans, some huge cos lettuce (Lobjoits green) and lots of varied salad leaves. Peas, courgettes and tomatoes almost ready. Carrots grown in new beds and treated with Westland Plant Rescue for carrot fly are vigorous and show no signs of fly, even though they have had no fleece protection this year. Clubroot in brassicas has been a scourge for the last 5 years but plants this year are barely affected by it. I limed the beds very heavily in autumn and top dressed the beds in spring with Calcified Seaweed which is an organic soil conditioner and pelleted chicken manure. The only failure has been with parsnips again (how many times do I hear this when I give talks to clubs) but a second and very late sowing is now growing away well. Celery and celeriac were slow to start with from plants raised under heat in February but with the warm weather and plenty of irrigation are starting to catch up. 

Soft fruit has been exceptional but the berries are rather small because of the dry weather and the fact that many of the plants need replacing, but the blueberries are looking the best ever if the squirrels leave them alone. Some of my raspberry canes are 20 years old and they and the soil need to be replaced.  A job for late autumn before the frosts come.

Sweet peas in the vegetable garden are prolific and need picking or dead heading every day so that they don't stop flowering. The scent is overpowering on warm nights and the colour range some of the best we have had, especially a lovely reddish pink called "Raspberry Ripple"

All the many mixed borders which have reached maturity,  having been planted for over 10 years, are putting on a great show with so many stars it is impossible to name them all. All the border stalwarts like delphinums, lupins, campanulas in variety, hardy geraniums, foxgloves (some great perennial forms including lutea, grandiflora, lantana and ferruguinea), pondside plants especially candelabra primulas, iris, and latterly astilbes, and the sun loving thorughbreds like dark leaved sedums, heleniums and monardas, are doing fabulously well and because of the hot still weather need little staking. (Phew what a sentence!) . We still have some stragglers because of the late spring, namely impatiens tinctoria, dahlias, cautleya spicata and the rather bizarre sight of aquilegias still flowering at the same time as some of  the half hardys, like salvias elsewhere in the gardens. There are just a couple of downsides: the flowers are going over more quickly than usual and the deeper colours especially the reds are fading to pink or orange in the bright, strong sunlight so that the Red Border is not living up to its name, but as a hot border it still looks great!!

Looking up the Paddock garden to the house showing the red (hot) border and part of the pastels border.



One of the red border stalwarts (slightly faded in the sun) is monarda "Garden View Scarlet" 4 foot tall, upright and mildew free - a real "good doer"


I promise this is the last time for a while that I will mention the lawns, but it is not just me saying it, many of our visitors have been very complimentary about them too. I can't believe they are the same lawns that looked so dire in March. More top dressing in August should keep them going strongly into winter.

Capsid bug continues to be a major pest,  making lace patterns of leaves on brugmansias, fuchsias, dahlias and hydrangeas in particular. I was also concerned last month at the high proportion of hemerocallis flower buds that were infected by the dreaded gall midge, but as the season has progressed the later flowering forms seem less affected and I diligently remove all the infected buds every day (yet another daily task you will observe - it is a wonder I ever find the time to go to bed!!)

On the subject of hems. (hemerocallis) the seedlings from 2010 American Hemerocallis Society (AHS) seed are now flowering and the range of colour, shape and form is delightful. No real stars but some good strong plants to 4 feet and a thrill for me and the mostly amateur American hybridisers who created them. As they were a gift from the AHS they are doubly welcome and I am most grateful to all the donors and hope some of them may be readers of this website.

In part shade and moisture retentive soil this large stand of hems is impressive and midge free with alstroemeria "Selina" and ligularia "The Rocket" for company. Dead heading every day is essential tp prolong flowering



In the contrasting Red Border this tall hem is "Scarlet Oak" in its second decade in the garden. Split 2 years ago it is now flowering vigorously again with the fabulous almost black hem "American Revolution ".  Note the superb asiaitic lily "Black Pearl" on the right.



What's looking good?

You could be forgiven for thinking that I have already covered this heading above but no, there is lots more to come!!As a change for a moment from the sheer colourful exuberance of the main borders, there is a narrow strip under a yard wide and 20 yards long in the House Garden adjoining the open parkland  which every year I carefully plant up as a mini "wildflower" meadow comprising a range of smaller cultivated grasses, umbellifers both annual and perennial, poppies and cornflowers from plug grown seeds, and anything else that nature provides ( usually in the right place!) It has looked really good for 6 weeks already and there is plenty of vigour left for another month or so until it fades away to an almost bare patch of ground again by early autumn.

The relaxed planting on the walk to the Monet seat in the House Garden. The mini "wildflower" meadow is on the left. Annual plants have a vital role to play in the summer garden with their exuberance and natural form and habit.



Another stunning hardy annual is this superb somniferum poppy "Black Peony" which I use in the borders as a spectacular dot plant in several of the borders. It is a role at nearly 4 feet that it fulfills with distinction and it seeds around gently too!



As far as individual plants are concerned the absolute star and my biggest thrill has been the first flowering of my 6 year old erythrina crista -galli in a pot in the large polytunnel. It is a long time to wait but real gardeners know that unlike the quick fix gardening one sees on TV programmes what gives the greatest pleasure are those things  we have to wait for and believe me this one is well worth it.

 The large deep red flowers of the erythrina which twist and curl and darken as the age.



Dieramas increase in number every year and there is a great show again in the sharply drained soil of the Koi Pond Border in the Paddock Garden. Grow them in pots and they sulk and rarely flower but get them into the ground or let them seed around and they flower and multiply vigorously. They do cross readily so don't always come true but who cares? Their arching wands to 4 feet are one of the highlights of the July garden. Interestingly several of our recent  German visitors commented that they don't do at all well there and are rarely for sale. The temptation was too much for some and they succumbed to mine in the nursery! Hope they do well for them but winter drainage in my experience is the key to their survival.

I have rarely taken a picture that does them justice and you must wonder what the fuss is all about. Dieramas are so airy and ethereal that they seem to reflect light making it difficult to capture their unforgettable impact.



Hostas now in full flower (yes I let them flower) are still fantastic and mollusc free, although one or two of them have burnt a little in the strong sunshine. I make sure they get plenty of water as this reduces the amount of scorching. Those around the Paddock Pond are in sunshine for over half a day and never burn because they are constantly moist.

A picture taken in shade of some smaller hostas in a rock garden adjacent to the conservatory. The largest lime green one in the foreground is "Lakeside Ninita" which has doubled in size this year as have many hostas in the gardens



I have planted nicotiana alata, an annual, all over the gardens as I raised so  many from seed. With one exception they are all white. They are a fine much branching plant with wonderful scented flowers in the evening which in the heat have reached almost 5 feet. Nice as they are half should have been green! Annuals like these are treasures for filling gaps left by earlier flowering perennials and with cosmos and rudbeckia to follow on keep the flower power going until the frosts but they need regular dead heading. They are so easy from seed and I couldn't be without them.



Finally a word on behalf of campanulas a large and perhaps underated group of plants from a couple of inches to over 7 feet that grow in a wide variety of habitats, This one is called "Sarastro" and prefers a little shade in moister but not waterlogged soil. Huge purple bells to about 3 inches.


Wildlife and countryside

There has been manic activity the last few weeks  with all local farmers getting in the grass harvest, mostly in the form of roiund bale silage the whole process taking only a day. When I fisrt came here nearly 40 years ago the vast majority of the harvesting was as small bale hay which talkes 4 times as long. It was a pleasure  recently to see some small bales again being made in the field nearest to us, thanks to the fine settled weather. Farmers do like the portability and convenience of small bales in the depths of winter.

The view of the Lodge field from one of the bedroom windows.


Dragonflies are much in evidence although in a limited range of species, their used larval cases floating forlornly on the Paddock Pond where they will have spent up to 4 years of their lives. Also on the wing and not so welcome are legions of wasps with 3 nests at various points of the house and outbuldings. We have also had a few hornets in the conservatory, 3 times the size of a wasp and if you are unlucky, a sting to match their size!!

Not many butterflies yet apart from cabbage whites and small tortoishells, although there are myriads of moths in a staggering range of species on the humid nights attracted by the halogen lights. I have seen a day time flying privet hawk moth but so far none of the hoped for hummimg bird hawk moths which I last saw here in the hot summer of 2006. They are usually migrants form the near continent if you are lucky enough to see one. 

All the fields are quite brown already, there are few wildflowers and the birds are generally silent in their dowdy post breeding period.

Most of the frogs and toad tadpoles have left the pond and can already be found all over the garden. It must seem like a marathon to them!


Visits and visitors

Our best month for visitors with over 250 people coming to see the gardens either as groups or private individuals. Three from Holland, two from Germany, one from Dorset Group, Hardy Plant Society and numerous local clubs. We are so glad that the fine weather made for enjoyable visits and we are very grateful for all the complimentary comments, cards and e-mails we have received.

Hardy planters can be sure to raid the nursery and appreciate rare plants at bargain prices - not hard to please then!!



And a group picture of our first visit from Germany



Some visitors come in more style than others and we were amazed when a long time acquaintance Paul arrived with his wife Jane  in this Maseratti Spider !! He wasn't prepared to accept Moira's kind offer of a swap with her Peugeot 307cc convertlble!!



For a change we sold our plants at the recent Myddfai Craft and Summer Festival - a lovely event in our nearest village deep in the Carmarthenshire hills.



Royal invitation to Llwynywermod

We have had no time for any visits ourselves save for one very special local one. At the beginning of July we were invited for an evening reception to Llwynywermod, the Welsh home of the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall just 2 miles from us. There was a very generous finger buffet and copious amounts of champagne and Duchy of  Cornwall ale.  It was a very pleasant evening attended by local people and we spoke to both the Prince and Duchess for quite some time. They expressed an interest in the gardens here and the Prince took away one of our brochures. He spoke animatedly about his passion for his Jubilee Meadows intiative and what he is doing at his Welsh home and at Highgrove to increase the number of wild flowers there, especially native orchids which have increased substantially in number and species over the last few years.


Daily Mail

There was one last special moment in a memorable and enjoyable month when the Gardens Editor of the Mail contacted us. She told us that the newspaper has recently launched a new App for its electronic version called Mail Plus, a subscription service, and on Saturdays there is an extra feature in the gardening section where a 360 degree photo of a garden is shown.  She asked if they could show our garden and of course we said yes. A photographer duly arrived all the way from Derbyshire to take the pictures which are like nothing we have seen before but you need a tablet or i pad to view them. The pics were due to be published on 28 July. Having been a finalist in the Mail's 2010 National Garden Competition it was nice to remembered and to be one of the first gatrdens to be featured on their new App. If you don't slready subscribe there is a free 30 day trial available in all app stores or via the  Mails' website at  It seems a very fitting way to end the month. 

I leave you with this beautiful highly scented flower of mandevilla laxa (formerly suaveolens) in the large tunnel. The next leap forward in digital technology is to devise a means of conveying scent !!