The Big Seven O!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Following a series of depressing months I did hope that November would bring us more settled weather and perhaps for a change, a few crisp frosts.

And we duly had some: this is one of the best at -6C  fittingly on my birthday.



Followed by a day of glorious sunshine


In a month when it is more typically "no sun no moon no morn, no noon" to quote from Thomas Hood's famous poem about November, it was of course too much to ask for setted weather 

However we were lucky on 5 November when there was a stunning "Beaver Moon" on a clear, cold night



All the plans I had to catch up on essential gardening work after getting behind because of house painting and polytunnel repairing, went out of the window. So no cutting back the borders, weeding or general maintenance work all around the garden. In a drier interlude however I did at last manage to dig all the root vegetables for storage.

Carrot harvest, Purple Haze, Amsterdam Forcing 3 and the oddity, white carrot Creme Delight, interesting but not a strong carrot taste


It wasn't however all doom and gloom as I had my 70th birthday to celebrate with a series of outings and events. Where do the years go to? I consider myself to have been very fortunate in so many ways throughout all those years,  until recently with my poor health. I also cherish the fact that I grew up in the countryside which has left a lasting legacy all my life. Growing up surrounded by plants and nature it is no surprise that from an early age (6) I became hooked on gardening. I had a small part of the plot at home and a neighbour who was an experienced gardener  spent time with me giving me plants. Incredible coincidence that his name was Roy Gardiner. As Gertrude Jekyll once remarked "The love of gardening is a seed that once sown never dies". You do however need someone like Roy to set you off down that road and I am sure if he was still around now, seeing what I achieved over many years,  he would consider the time he spent with me worthwhile!

 And to celebrate my birthday our dear friends and neighbours Ifor and Catrin found the perfect card for me


And they were up at the crack of dawn to decorate the picket fence which really was a nice surprise.


 And  the path to the house was strewn with glitter!




16 rain days three of them continuous all day, 12 days with sun, 9 frosts, 2 typical misty foggy November days. Min -6C Max 14.7c 

 A lovely sunset after one of the colder days


 First real frost on 9 November which brought to an end growth on most herbaceous plants.





Frozen   Paddock pond  after - 6C on 30th



Garden update

The borders continued to look good with plenty of colour early in the month, until the first proper frost put the show to an end. Just in time I dug up most of the mature salvias to overwinter as stock plants for storing in the large tunnel, where they will continue to flower well into winter. The more woody forms of salvia such as microphylla x jamiensis types, s.involucrata and patens have generally proved hardy here and will survive all but the hardest frosts. Two of the best and most reliable are Salvia "Hot Lips" and S. "Nachtvlinder" with deep purple almost black flowers on a low spreading plant.



The grass hasn't stopped growing although the cutting regime was reduced to once a week until the final cut on 26th by which time the ground was so wet that cutting the lawns was beginning to cause damage. One final winter feed when (if!) the ground dries up is all they will need until the early spring.


A major November task is fallen leaf gathering all around the gardens, much easier the last few years since I acquired a power leaf blower - a job that could take almost day, now completed in just a few hours. Many of the leaves are blown straight into adjacent borders where they can break down and enrich the soil. Where this not possible the leaves are used elsewhere as mulch for more tender plants.

Masses of beech leaves prior to blowing.




 Leaf patterns on polytunnel roof


Having thought that at last work on my tunnels had been finished there were 2 episodes which made me think again. In the small tunnel on the night of the coldest in the month, the heater packed up and the frost got in,  damaging a cross section of the tender plants there. Most seriously affected were plectranthus, begonias and impatiens but there are signs now that some may recover. Note the hardy chrysanthemum in the foreground which lived up to its name



In the large tunnel condensation on the new plastic became a problem dropping large quantaties of water onto the plants below and even onto Kit Kat who has some of his favourite sleeping places there, to the extent that he was so wet it was like he had been out in the rain!! It needed to be addressed because excessive moisture on growing plants can cause botrytis and other fungal diseases a build up of which can be fatal. Fortunately I found a product called Sun Clear which having cleared the excess moisture from the plastic, you spray onto it. It all seemed very simple and has improved the situation, but it has struggled to cope once the frosts began. 



A first for me was growing new potatoes for late autumn and winter. The variety I chose was "Venezia" our favourite salad type. Planted on 28 August in 4  deep 35 litre pots in a rich growing medium and placed in the large tunnel, they made rapid progress and I was hopeful of a good crop around Christmas. When the plastic blew off the tunnel, the foliage was damaged and flattened so I decided to harvest them on 3rd of this month,  earlier than planned. And were we delighted with them? small harvest but perfectly formed sweet tubers. A taste of high summer as winter approached.






What's looking good?

Flowering plants being at a premium in late November attention turns to structure and foliage in the garden and the impact that the spent seed heads can make, particularly  when the frost is on them. 

Leaves of cyclamen hederfifolium mingle with those from beech and acer.


 Hydrangea preziosa one of the last to retain colour until the more severe fost came


 Large flower heads on sedums are always welcome as the colour seems to intensify the older they get.



Rodgersias are good late colour in the borders


Hydrangea Annabelle holds its leaves until late winter 


 Astilbe "Beauty of Ernst" has some of the best autumn leaf colour anywhere in the garden over a long period.


 Lamium "White Nancy" fresh silver leaves lift the border.



And the real silver stuff on rudbeckia seedheads is a delight and worth leaving the spent heads for.


 A waterfall of ice on miscanthus



 A lovely contrast between the beech hedge and glacous blue of euphorbia characias ssp. wulfenii which stays in good condition ecept in severe weather


 A few clematis kept flowering for most of the month.


 Clematis x texensis held onto its flowers all month, incredible when you consider that the species is native to south eastern USA


 Lovely seedheads too


 Some roses just keep flowering almost up to Christmas whatever the weather


 Serratula var.seoanei one of the latest perennials here to flower.  Small thistle like flowers set amongst wiry foliage on a 2 foot wide and high plant.



 If there was a prize for the perennial with the longest flowering period  Iberis "Betty Swainson" would surely be a deserving winner. Flowers late spring until the end of the year. Ordinary maybe but great value



Wildlife and Countryside

One of the eagerly awaited sights of late autumn and early winter is the gathering of starlings (murmurations) towards dusk most days.  At present there aren't large numbers and we haven't yet seen the highlights of those magical flying formations, but they have started to gather in the trees. Strange thing is that we don't see that many starlings in the summer months - where do they go to?



Redwings and fieldfares have  come in dribs and drabs, never many of them and difficult to tell them apart without the benefit of binoculors, and they never arrive from northern Europe until the colder weather comes.

Now for a horror story concerning a bird. Kit Kat is a great hunter and catches all sorts of things but he rarely kills them, bringing them into the house and letting them go, leaving me to catch and remove them. A few days ago in the middle of the night I got up for a call of nature. When returning to the bedroom, without warning a magpie flew straight at me and circled the bedroom - Alfred Hitchcock could not have done better. It was not in the room when I got up - where it came from  is like all the best horror stories - a mystery. It took some catching as it clattered around the room and after 10 minutes with my heart beating from the shock and the effort of the chase, I managed to capture it and put it out of the window. Just as I was going back to sleep there was a commotion outside the bedroom window and there on the windowsill were 2 other magpies clattering in that machine gun way of theirs, then they cleared off.

Research on the internet next day revealed that magpies particularly family members roost together and that the young often stay with their parents for up to 2 years. There is just such a roost in the large conifers in the Paddock Garden and my guess is that when Kit Kat took the young bird (I did think it was rather small for a mature magpie) and brought it into the house, the parents somehow tracked it down and came to get it back. The wonders of nature.


An altogether gentler bird is the grey wagtail seen here on the house roof some way from the river where it more frequently seen




Just one outing this month to Picton Castle where there is always something of interest  and for the first time this winter Maria's cafe is open on most days as is the Castle, gift shop and Galleries. A new attraction is the Secret Owl Garden which is open every day.

Boardwalk through the frost decimated gunneras



Bananas in the tropical garden  won't ripen but still an achievement to get to this stage outdoors in Wales.


 The walled garden has many attractions the long pond graced by a tasteful dragonfly being one of them



Unusual and rare plants too like this very large abelia Schumanii still covered in scented flowers which fade to leave a prominent long lasting red calyx 


 Iris foetidissima with attractive berries all winter



 Some of the 27 owls from all over the world in the Secret Owl Garden. They are flown every day and visitors can fly them. A really good and appropriate asset to the gardens amd well worth a visit.







 Exotic agave flower is a tonic on a cold day.