The cruellest month.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

This April has fully lived up to it's undeserved cruel reputation, for often cold, unprecictable weather. However over the last 5 years it has been one of our best months here, last year recording our lowest electricity usage in any month of the year. This year it has been more like March with 10 air frosts so far which have taken the edge off newly emerging leaves. Thanks to the miles of horticultural fleece we now have (only joking but we do have a lot!) we have saved young growth on all manner of more sensitive plants including acers, hydrangeas, dicentras, the big gunnera, fatsia japonica and the early breaking arisaemas ringens, speciosum and nepenthoides and even the more vulnerable forms of our hosta collection.


Arisaema nepenthoides in  flower the earliest in the garden but rather frost tender. The so called Cobra Lily is generally found from India to the far east tending to favour similar conditions to our our own native arum macualtum (Lords and Ladies),  found in shady hedgerows and woodlands.




 Hosta "Remember Me" one of my all time favourites showing frost damage on the earliest emerging leaves, but newer leaves are fine.


Whatever the weather April always brings blackbirds singing their hearts just before dusk, the sharp smell of woodsmoke, the freshest greens in such variety, a clarity and sharpness of light unrivalled by any other month, the magic of new life emerging and all the good things still to come. "The trees are coming into leaf, Like something almost being said........Last year is dead they seem to say, Begin afresh, afresh, afresh." (Philip Larkin "The Trees") 



A total of 10 nights of air frosts with lowest at -6C on 2 occasions. Some very heavy rain, winds consistently from the northerly quarter, some bright sunshine at times, but no warmth with a max of only 14C. Hard to remember that just last month I was in shorts with a max of 23C - I did say all too prophetically we would pay for such a fine spell of weather!!


 Garden Update

All borders made over (2 weeks of solid work - some major public gardens do this 3 times a year!!), weeded, plants split where necessar and lawn edges trimmed so that the entire garden looks good again with all the promise of the gardening year laid out before us. Now we can get on with some planting out. Tidied up and cut back some shrubs that have grown too large and if you know the Gardens we have had to remove the diseased eleagnus maculatum "Limelight" which stood sentinel at the entrance to the Paddock Garden for 20 years. It has left quite a gap. We are pondering with what to replace it.



Another gap has been created today when I dismantled the pergola at the side of the house where for the last 10 years we have served teas to our many visitors, enjoyed our large tender plants like brugmansias on soft summer nights, and taken many meals throughout the year. It was erected on the occasion of the Queens Golden Jubilee in 2002, and we will be celebrating her Diamond Jubilee in our new conservatory on which work commences next week. It is also as Moira pointed out to me tonight, her Diamond Jubilee Birthday in August which is an even better reason to celebrate our new building. 


The pergola as most vistors will remember it






Going ---






Grass seed sown earlier this month on the scarifed parts of the Paddock Lawn is just starting to show green, at last, and it will be so nice to see the many bare patches covered with grass again. Hopefully some pics.  next month.


What's looking good?

 Lots of herbaceous plants are on the move now, and even without flowers,  the shapes, leaf colours and variety of all the different forms are alluring, but  star performers at present are dicentra"Goldheart" and the huge dark leaves of ornamental rhubarb in the form rheum palmatum Atrosanguineum.


Dicentra "Goldheart" the yellow foliage of which picks up the emerging foliage of physocarpus "Darts Gold" in the background




Rheum palmatum Atrosanguineum - how's that for in your face? and it gets to 5 feet tall! For a big garden and not for the faint hearted



Hostas having just about recovered from the sharp frosts, are at that magical stage when if you ever wondered why you grow them (and we have over 250 cultivars), you would know now. Lovely colours on the emerging leaf scapes and the beautiful shapes of the unfolding leaves. If you have hostas that may have grown too large this is the perfect time to split and replant them, either in another part of the garden or to pot up for sale or to give to gardening friends. I hate to mention the "s" word, slugs and snails, but if you want hole free hostas all season long now is the time to attend to them by whatever is your chosen method of protection.


Emerging hostas in the hosta walk along the front house wall



Nothing moving yet in the veg garden but the peas sown with optimism in the heat of March have been devastated by the number one pest, the humble mouse. Re sowing and pest precautions are necessary. Some consolation is the great purple sprouting still cropping well, the first time it has done so for 3 years.

In the polytunnels it is a different world away from the wet and cold outside and even on a dull day temperatures can easily climb to 20C ensuring rapid growth. It is said that a polytunnel advances the seasons by up to 6 weeks. I can't explain the joy of opening the tunnels first thing in the morning and being greeted with the alluring sweet yet musky smell of of growth. If someone developed a perfume with that scent I would happily wear it, and I don't care what anyone would think about it - they probably wouldn't come near me for a variety of reasons!! The pricked out seedlings, slow at first, are at last beginning to grow away, and some of the large mature plants coming into flower. Coronilla is at its peak now with yellow pea like flowers in profusion. rehmannia elata, the Chinese foxglove revelling in the protection, has started to put on a flowershow that will continue non stop until the frosts.


Rehmannia elata with its exotic flowers. Makes up to 3 feet by the end of summer.



A perennial. but a shame it isn't that little bit hardier although Annette and Andy, friends of ours in balmy Swansea have had one in flower in a pot all winter. Swansea is a great place to grow more tender plants thanks to the influence of the sea.

Just having come into flower and one of those "wow factor" plants, is indigofera pendula, a real eye catcher with wisteria like racemes of lilac pink flowers all summer on a large shrub/small tree which is hardy but you don't get the same flower power outside where it is susceptible to frost. I move our large pot outside in late May when it intigues all our visitors who wonder the identity of the wisteria that flowers so late into the year!


Tumbling racemes of flowers on indigofera pendula, an underrated and unfamiliar shrub



Wildlife and countryside

All about birds this month. First the swallows are back in good numbers, arriving on 17 April. earlier than last year. In spite of all the bad weather - incredible. The pied flycatchers have also returned prospecting the same nesting box in an old alder by the river where they raised a brood last year. They were in for a big surprise as there was a tenant already in residence - a very feisty blue tit who came out to vigourously defend his property. There was an almighty stand off which lasted for an hour or so before the flycatchers gave up. A shame because they are lovely birds but you have to admire the pluck of the blue tit in defending his property. Finally last Friday on the Paddock Pond a mother mallard brought her family of 11 newly fledged ducklings to show them the wider world. A real treat and we watched them for a long time before she lead them off in single file back down to the river where they came from. The ducklings are so tiny but are fast and strong swimmers and seem to float likes corks. All the time they are chattering to each other. Enchanting but they are such prey to predators I doubt if more than a couple will make it to adulthood.


Mum and the babies - no waterwings needed!




Time to go home guys!



Some lovely wildflowers in fields and hedgerows including ladies smock in the wetter meadows and primroses and wood anemones in shady areas along the roadverges together with Jack by the Hedge and Queen Anne's lace, a lovely lacey umbellifer. Bluebells only just beginning to show colour, at least 2 weeks later than last year.



Just 2 talks at the beginning of the month to clubs in Llansadwrn and Bwlch near Brecon. The most requested talk has been "Designing with Perennials - Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden". On 20 May we are at Builth Wells for the Smallholder and Gardening Festival talking at 1.00pm on "My Garden Year". If you will be at the show please come along to meet us. In the meantime happy gardening and let's hope the weather picks up soon.

This weekend we are off to Painswick, Glos for the wedding of Ed, my IT Guru without whose help and continuing support our humble website would not be possible,  and his childhood sweetheart Lisa. We don't know what took them so long! Hope they have a great day and long life together.