Few tasks a gardener undertakes are likely to leave a mark in a century or more. Unless you happen to be a part of one of those all too rare gardening dynasties – think perhaps of the Banks family of Hergest Croft. Many trees will have matured or be maturing, but with more novel diseases appearing in the UK on a regular basis, how can you be certain that even an oak planted lovingly will survive the ravages of time and disease? Or even a chainsaw wielding incomer who fancies a garden or landscape makeover?
But I was reminded last week that the humble early spring bulb, can indeed still have impact, even amongst benign neglect over decades. We’d travelled down to the National Botanic Gardens of Wales, NBGW, on a gorgeous sunny Saturday (almost exactly a year after our Wild West Wales Snowdrop post of 2012). The gardens were almost as deserted as a year ago, but again were stunning to see at this time of the year with massed snowdrops and several exotic Mediterranean flowers set off by the glorious backdrop of the white arching girders of the Great Glasshouse, and clear blue sky.
Another Protea, for Rinka and Kevin.
Thoughts? (and thanks to Fiona for spotting this image).
En route there we took in a quick snowdrop detour along the tiny lanes just north of Llandeilo. As we turned the first corner, we spotted that the first snowdrop blanket, which had tumbled down into the ditch below the hedgerow, had been ripped by a digger, presumably working before flowering time, clearing out the ditch. The snowdrops will recover in due course and make the blanket whole again, but a bit further along we reached the site of a derelict property set above the lane with views to the South over the Tywi valley. Last year there was a For Sale board up and not really any evidence of the original building – just a few piles of fly tipped rubbish, and beyond, amongst the dense growth of tree saplings and ivy, masses of snowdrops.
Now a new fence and gate indicate impending development. But the snowdrops are still there, tumbling down the bank.
I’m guessing that they would have been planted well over a century ago. They’re so numerous that I’m also hopeful that at least some will pop up regardless of the severity of any subsequent garden makeover or restoration, such is their natural vigour in our wet climate. Perhaps I should return and leave an anonymous note asking the new owners to salvage or retain a few?
The benefits of possible spring bulb longevity and fecundity were heightened as some of our early bulbs popped flowers out into the chilly February light and air. A hugely pleasing effect has been created from the planting last year of lots (well we thought lots at the time, but now realise that 4 times as many would have been better) of mixed Scilla mischtschenkoana (tubergeniana), and 2 forms of Iris reticulata.
They’re growing on our mossy South facing slope, beneath a mature oak and deciduous Azaleas. Crocus tommasinianus and Cyclamen coum already love this location. In planning the new additions, I’d noticed that the Iris and Scilla both hail from a similar part of the world – the rocky mountain slopes of the Caucasus mountains, Serbian mountains, Southern Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Chechnya and Northern Iran. Click here for some lovely images of what the scenery is like there.
But surely our climate is very different to these regions? Interestingly, it isn’t in fact that different. For sure they’ll be drier and hotter in the summer, and particularly for the Iris reticulata a dry summer rest is important, and being planted deep in rocky conditions – but the steep slope and the mature oak does help in this regard. What really surprised me was how wet some of these mountains can be – up to 4,000 mm (or about 160 inches for the highest areas of the Caucuses mountains, twice the Gelli annual rainfall in 2013) and I guess this is why the Cyclamen, Crocus and Scilla have already proved successful colonisers and survivors on our slope.
We’re still a little unsure how well the Iris will perform long term, but at least one of the first trial plantings from 2 years ago has come back with 2 flowers this year, which gives us hope that we can establish them en masse given time.Frankly, the albeit brief flower show of the Iris reticulata has been so gorgeous, that I think we’ll plant more anyway next year. By chance the 2 cultivars we’ve planted (I. ‘Harmony’ and the darker and smaller blue purple of I. reticulata) flower about 10 days apart, thus extending the season of flower to a bit over 3 weeks.
Our initial suspicion is that the earlier flowering ‘Harmony’, seems to be more vigorous here, and certainly has a larger flower.
I’m sure that as with the wild snowdrops, some of these Caucasian beauties – even if they need a little help with assisted pollination to set lots of viable seed and bulk up in numbers – will still be around for quite some time after their introducers have shuffled from the scene. Although for really good flower displays, some form of slug control is probably necessary to spare both the Scilla and Iris from shredding. The Cyclamen coum don’t seem that appealing to our resident slugs, and the main risk to our Crocus comes from mice, voles or squirrels. Cayenne pepper or my usual watering can applied deterrent, seems to help on this front, if applied at the first signs of damage.
What a boost to have these brightly coloured blooms lifting the spirits so early in the year.
Regular followers will know that we’ve been making the garden more appealing to native insects, and recording the most favoured flowers in this regard elsewhere on this site (click here). For the first time last year we had honeybee visitors regularly through the seasons, and eventually found where we think they were coming from, about a mile and a half away. I’m delighted that Andy Ryan has agreed to site one of his honeybee hives just above the garden at the bottom of our high meadow. So, at dusk a week ago, once the bees had all calmed down and cold weather was forecast, Andy arrived with the hive, a brood chamber and a ‘super’ containing a slab of fondant icing from the bakers in Llanybydder, all tightly bound together with a couple of belt straps. Even in such chilly weather, the bees would be capable of becoming quite irate if aroused.
Carried up into the meadow I’ve temporarily hurdled it off to prevent our inquisitive sheep rubbing against it. So far, so good. A bee has ventured out briefly, but there’s no indication of a sunny day on the horizon to see if the local bees would be interested in all those Caucasian flowers!
As an aside, but with a belt link, I read last week of a nationally organised star count to try to assess the best parts of the UK for stargazing, where there is least light pollution. We reckon we fare pretty well here, so we’re hoping for at least one clear night in the next fortnight when we can go out and count the number of stars visible in the Orion constellation, delineated by the peripheral 4 bright stars which form the rectangle points (2 for Orion’s shoulders, and 2 for his feet) surrounding an angled short line of 3 stars, which constitute Orion’s belt. The constellation is currently to be found, at least when viewed from here, in the South West quadrant of the night sky. The CPRE/British Astronomical Association/Daily Telegraph/ are even offering a prize draw for anyone entering their star count with the chance to win a lovely telescope. I had a primitive go at photographing the stars surrounding the belt a few nights ago with the camera propped on the car roof, and a timed shutter release. What surprised me was the apparent colour variations recorded in some of the peripheral stars. If we get a clear night, I’ll let you know how we fare with an actual count – apparently 10 is typical for the UK, over 30 is exceptional.
My last post ended with spectacular morning red skies and a wheeling red kite. I’m beginning to think that red kites should have some mythology surrounding them, rather like that associated with the albatross (Click here for a lovely blog based summary of the ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the albatross curse and associated albatross mythology).
Red kites clung on in mid Wales long after they became extinct in the rest of the UK, and are now quite numerous. Click here for an astonishing image of just how numerous! But before the red kite sunrise sighting, the previous time we’d heard, though not seen, one was on the morning we killed our first turkey. And the Saturday of the red kite sunrise turned into a bit of a blue, or even black day after the kite’s dawn appearance.
Firstly, one of our Tor ddu Ewes aborted. Since this is our first year’s lambing, this was an inauspicious and sad start, the more so because I needed my veterinary knowledge (not really experience), to help me to remove the first dead lamb. Without becoming too graphic, this was extremely tricky to the point of contemplating at one point whether a Caesarean would be required to save the ewe. The second twin dead lamb followed uneventfully, and fortunately ‘Star’ the ewe, has recovered well.
But the concern this year is whether this abortion may be linked to a disease very new to the UK over the last 12 months, caused by a midge transmitted virus. Click here for more on the Schmallenburg virus, which affects sheep and cattle and can cause deformed lambs and late abortions if the ewes are infected at a particular stage of pregnancy. There is no treatment, but hopefully a strong immunity develops in affected animals. We await the next few weeks with some trepidation.
Later in the day I discovered that an animal had exhumed the buried heads of our 2 turkeys during the very snowy weather, leaving a small hole beneath the Rhododendron catawbiense var. album, and just the remnants of a beak. Not quite the recycling of nutrients that I had in mind, when I placed them here.
Finally, I have to report a dramatic fall off in temperature in my greenhouse heating compost bed was detected on the same day. (Addendum: There are a lot of posts now about how this idea has developed and its implementation. If you want to find the other posts quickly, then click here).
Fortunately, without too much effort, I’ve been able to get temperatures raised again, and the inner zone has indeed been maintained above freezing. Since ‘pride cometh before a fall’ in the sense that my last post on this subject was titled “The Heat Goes On”, I shall delay drawing too many more conclusions until we’re safely into March, but will at least include the latest graph of temperature readings over the last 4 weeks (thanks again to Fiona for creating the graph).
So as a pair of red kites re-appeared this last week, over the copse beyond the otter’s pool, and seem to be preparing to build a nest in the tall trees as they did 2 years ago, I’m not sure whether to be pleased or troubled. Will the curse of the kite revisit? Certainly the skies for the last 2 images are a bit moodier than the previous one.
Finally, a little bit of fuzzy gold, as in Galanthus ‘Wendy’s Gold’, a lovely yellow ovaried snowdrop which is in flower now.
And a native early snowdrop and (probably) pollinating fly. Does the insect relish a bit of extra heat and protection from biting winds on a bitter February day? Is that how the snowdrop entices these insects in?