Rainbow Flowers; On the Make; Heating a Greenhouse with Compost Update (Part 11)

Blog catch up time.

13 days with no rain.

15 days, but for a brief shower which, moving East, arced the landscape with a fantastic full rainbow, exceeding my wide angle lens’ ability to frame it, and provided the image and link to introduce a piece on Iris. More specifically Iris sibirica.rainbow-over Rhydcymerau.jpg 

There is huge variety amongst the Iris clan, and indeed most colours can be found in the petals of these flowers, and it’s partly for this reason that the plant group is named after the Greek goddess Iris from whom the word iridescence is derived.

Mythology has it that Zeus commanded her to carry a ewer of water from the river Styx, with which to put to sleep all who perjure themselves – beware, all parts of Iris plants are poisonous.SDIM8065 (2)

Her association with clouds, sky and water also links her to the formation of rainbows. Indeed the Spanish word for rainbow is apparently, Arco iris, and in another link with the weather she was married to the God of the West wind, Zephyrus. Click here for much more detail on her place in Greek mythology.SDIM8064 (2)

The ‘sibirica’ group of Iris are native to Eastern and Central Europe, although in many of these homeland areas, it’s now considered to be a vulnerable species, largely as a result of destruction of its preferred habitat of damp grassland or wood margins. Having little success with other members of the Iris family, a few years back I acquired a packet of sibirica seed from the RHS seed exchange and sowed them into one of my nursery tyres. At last this year they have performed to delight us with a lengthy show of flowers to one side of our meadow copse walk.SDIM8077 (2)

The images illustrate the range of colours possible, but also demonstrate the other side to home germinated plants – a lack of uniformity in both height, flower size and flowering time. For the gardening perfectionist this may be a drawback.SDIM8080 (2) For us, it is a delightful addition to the general intermingling floral abundance in this newish bit of the garden.SDIM8072 (2)The Iris flowers arrived as the last Pheasant Eye daffodils, Narcissus poeticus var. recurvus were blooming, alongside the white froth of Sweet Cicely, Myrrhis odorata, and have carried on as Linaria purpurea and Saxifrage stolonifera have picked up the baton.SDIM8068 (2) But they’ve gone now for this year, heat dried and shrivelled by the run of warm, sunny days. I’m almost inclined to save and germinate some more seed, since they apparently are a bit moody about being lifted and divided, and having seen huge clumps elsewhere, I reckon the display should continued to improve along this walk for a few years yet.SDIM8069 (2)

The wonderful hot sunny weather at this time of the year inevitably means two tasks occupy much of our time.  And sadly not, as recent garden visitors suggested, sitting on our various garden seats sipping glasses of wine.

Shearing and hay making. As an amateur shearer the results are best described as patchy, and my lack of practice makes me very slow, but fortunately we have patient sheep who can see beyond the experience, to the relief of a cooler summer ahead. Prompted by an amusing and timely birthday card this year from Fiona’s mother, I opted to try sitting down to shear, and this worked surprisingly well in sparing further back issues, which I guess are the bane of any slow shearer.

My previous post went into some detail on meadow management, and as often seems to happen, no sooner had I read and written about Romanian hay making traditions, than Fiona returned with a leaflet picked up in the local shop about traditional wooden hay making tools. A fascinating phone call ensued with Simon Bowden, who it transpired lives a few miles away, but had the distinction of winning the quality class at last year’s UK hand scything competition in Dorset. As well as coppiced willow plant supports, Simon makes hay forks (second from left below) and hay rakes, from selected willow osier stems which he cultivates. Simon can be reached on 07792 236817. Fiona had previously sourced a wooden hay rake elsewhere, but we arranged to pick up one of Simon’s hay forks just in time.Traditional-wooden-hay-making-tools.jpgThe revelation is that it is significantly lighter than a pitchfork, and ergonomically shaped with a slight bends at the base and prongs, to make tossing hay much less onerous, with a lovely touch of a penny piece used as a rivet, where the single wand is split into three.SDIM8129 (2)

The casual observer might question the advantage. But manual hay working is a repetitive, and laborious process. SDIM8144 (2)So reducing the weight of the tool is a huge plus, as Fiona demonstrates above, and below.

Though leavened by working in glorious weather, with stunning views.SDIM8120 (2)SDIM8139 (2)

And it was as I moved across the slope, with wheeling Red Kite overhead, and the cuckoo still calling in the valley, as the sssshhhhhhhssssshhhhh whisper of dry light long grass stems studded with dessicated golden buttercups and pink sorrel seeds, was gathered and tossed or flicked over, that I wondered about how few folk will ever have experienced this simple pleasure?

How would you describe that unique sound of dry hay on wooden fork, over baked ground?

Or the smell?

Do get in touch if you’d like to experience it next year. Many hands certainly make lighter work.

Fortunately, a couple of phone calls later, did indeed secure some willing helpers for this year. Neighbouring smallholders, who like us have a requirement for limited hay for winter fodder, joined us and we’re really grateful to Dave, Avril, Theresa and Graham for helping us turn, fill and then share about 150 big bags of wonderful sweet smelling hay. Though we all seemed to work out own way of how we managed the task.

And when it all got a bit hot and tiring, we retreated to the cool of the Gegin and lots of tea, biscuits, cake and jovial banter.SDIM8119 (2)SDIM8118 (2)SDIM8116 (2)SDIM8117 (2)

Interestingly no one seems to manufacture a small hay baling machine which could be drawn behind an ATV, so the big bags are a convenient way of storing and manhandling the bulky finished material. The slope of the field precludes larger conventional hay making machinery, and at least for this year, I was able to skirt round particularly flower rich areas of pasture with the BCS power scythe, to allow subsequent seed collection for spreading around the rest of the meadow, and perhaps our lower meadows too. We also now know from Glyn, the previous owner of Gelli, that the steep slope together with the fact that the field used to have a track going through it, spared it from ever being ploughed or reseeded. Which probably explains why we’re making such progress in returning it to a more floriferous state.

Other recent visitors bemoaned the fact that much of their surrounding pasture has been improved and is now a uniformly ‘P********* Green.’SDIM8142 (2)The white stars of Lesser stitchwort, Stellaria graminea, light up the understorey.SDIM8110 (2)SDIM8125 (2)Whilst evening sun illuminates the scene before cutting.

As light relief from this toil, we returned to our local wild flower Coronation meadow (not it seems a hay meadow), at Cae Blaen Dyffryn, where a variety of spotted and butterfly orchids were indeed blooming in profusion. But photographically it proved tricky to get an image that did justice to the splendour of this upland scene, as the sun moved round behind a line of beech trees to the West of the meadow.SDIM8154 (2)cae-blean-dyffryn-coronation-meadow.jpg Notice how much less dense the grass is in this meadow, than our own high meadow.

Back home in the greenhouse the ‘Tomcot’ apricots have delighted us this year. Fiona has just finished preserving some in vodka and brandy based syrups. In spite of low light levels in May, and a significant number of fruits which suffered from rot at the base, from retained mouldy flower petals  – the apricots seem much more susceptible than the nectarines to this, and would benefit from a further tickling with the turkey feather wand to dislodge petals once fruit set is well developed – this was the scene in mid June.Tomcot-apricots-in-compost-heated-greenhouse.jpg And by June 17th, 3 bowls full were picked.welsh-greenhouse-grown-Tomcot-apricots.jpg

The tomatoes are also well ahead of last year, even before the latest sunny conditions, and this is in large part because I have kept the ‘reactor’ going this year. But I’m increasingly thinking that aside from the heat benefits of the insulated compost heap feeding into the growing area, the biggest advantage of the system is the continual supply of very well composted, weed free potting/mulching compost, that is generated.SDIM8048 (2)SDIM8051 (2)SDIM8053 (2)SDIM8052 (2)Different tomatoes on June 17th – possibly home saved Sophie Jane, Yellow banana and Stupice.

The key to having weed free compost, seems to be as simple as excluding any weeded material with set seed pods from the heap! So we retain our conventional compost heaps for such material and just use chopped leaves, or now, grass clippings in the ‘reactor’ compost heap, along with poultry manure, pee and cardboard.

Finally some more snippets from the garden recently.SDIM8054 (2) Cornus kousa ‘Miss Satomi’.

Much excitement that a second self seeded rose (in addition to the “White dragon” that I wrote about 2 years ago, click here, and which now has 2 of her clones also flowering in the garden) has finally decided to flower. It must have heard my mutterings. Now a good 12 feet up a pine tree, with really vigorous shoots, it was scheduled for removal this year after, I guess, 5 flower less years. But then I noticed some buds.SDIM8170 (2)

And then the interminable wait for the buds to swell.

And a hint of that deep pink on fat buds had me peeling back the petals. Clearly it was a double flower, but what would it look like?SDIM8169 (2)

Eventually, about 10 days ago, the first flower opened. With a hint of pink, it quickly changed to a rich cream, with a very slight scent. But what a flower! And later we realised that it looks very similar to R. ‘Felicite et Perpetue’ which we have elsewhere in the garden growing up through a rowan tree. Except that it seems a little earlier, is more vigorous and with marginally smaller flowers. Which leads me to wonder whether a rose seedling from a parent’s hip can be genetically identical or not? I guess that if it’s indeed a self pollination, then it may be very similar, but not strictly genetically identical.

Which presumably makes it another unique Gelli rose, which is rather exciting. And requires a still to be agreed upon, suitable name. With any luck in another 10 years, it might be looking as spectacular as our R. ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’ which has excelled again this year, delighting us and garden visitors, with its thousands of faint pink double blooms, and delicate perfume.

Paul's-Himalayan-Musk-Rose-Image.jpg We were inspired to plant roses through trees after a birthday visit with my father to Sheldon manor in Wiltshire nearly 20 years ago. (Click here for a link, though sadly no  pictures of the roses now, and the property and gardens no longer seem to be open to the public). By luck we visited when the old orchard, which has rambling and climbing roses growing up through many of the old fruit trees, was at its best. We’ve resisted the urge to plant them through our fruit trees, reckoning that apple picking would become tricky, but any large enough tree here soon gets a rose or clematis planted at its base, to add colour in June, July, or August. They do indeed reward the patient gardener.SDIM8192 (2)On the other side of the meadow copse walk to the Iris sibirica, my plantings have come on a lot in just two years. From this in June 2012SDIM2556 (2)

To this in June 2014:SDIM8083 (2)SDIM8178 (2)Mainly Penstemon ‘Husker’s Red’ from seed, Sweet Cicely seedlings, scraps of Geranium x magnificum, Hespera matronalis (white form) from seed, Geranium sanguineum striatum and now, Linaria purpurea. All seem to cope and compete admirably with growing through, and quickly masking, the fading leaves of hundreds of Narcissi to give a fabulous display. Although this year, I’ve pushed in some simple, bent willow wands to prevent the foliage and flowers flopping into the path.SDIM8180 (2)

Battles with magpies, to reach our poultry’s eggs before they do, continue. Sometimes we’ve found one of the second wave of turkey eggs a couple of hundred yards away in a field.

Trashed.SDIM8026 (2) Sometimes we’ve caught the culprit emerging from the chicken coop which is itself housed within its own motte and bailey of external defences. A recent garden visitor has suggested a cut plastic bag as a protective entry curtain at the coop door. So far it’s helped, though the chickens take some convincing that this flapping screen isn’t a bodily threat.

But one has to admire the skill and patience of these gaudy raucous birds. I’m assuming it was a magpie which very carefully picked out hundreds of Welsh poppy seed capsules from a plastic seed drying tub and placed them neatly to one side on the slate wall top.SDIM8167 (2)Finally, a new and as yet unidentified, but rather fine, beetle scuttled past the front door this week. Thanks to iSpot, I can later identify this as the Red-breasted Carrion Beetle Oiceoptoma thoracicum, which enjoys, as its name implies, eating carrion and certain fungi.

SDIM8196 (2)Whilst bumblebee Bombus hypnorum seems to have enjoyed our latest Centaurea macrocephala flowers.SDIM8063 (2)SDIM7957 (2)SDIM8183 (2) SDIM8201a (2)


14 thoughts on “Rainbow Flowers; On the Make; Heating a Greenhouse with Compost Update (Part 11)

  1. Thank you again for sharing all the ‘happenings’ in your wonderful garden. Loved all the amazing photographs and all the interesting facts about such a wide range of subjects. My ‘meadow’ had one common spotted orchid this year- I was so thrilled- but when we walked through the meadows surrounding Llwynywormwood this week we saw clusters of them! At least my teasels are beginning to spread mostly in our drive though! Enjoy the rain – the gardens need a good drink and then we want more of the sunshine!

    • Hello M,
      Thanks for the comment. We had one spotted orchid as well … but I’m sure with time they’ll bulk up. I wish I had Colin’s prowess and stamina at shearing sheep! We must head up to Llwynwormwood sometime..we’ll never been there or to the special Lady of the Lake, Lake!

  2. I did a double take on your rose growing in a tree as I thought it was a single rose bush. It looks stunning but I think it could be a lot of work in the pruning of tree and bush to keep it like that. You certainly don’t shirk hard work, I feel quite tired after reading what you have been up to! I, too, love irises and they do well over here but I find their season short. I have just re-housed some that were getting squashed and I have more to move. They are mainly blue ones so I was very impressed by your self-seeded varieties. Is that an Andrena cineraria or Ashy mining bee on the third from last photograph? Some nest under our big plum tree in the springtime. Amelia

    • Hello Amelia,
      Actually lots of people have never seen a rose grown like the PHM it seems…we haven’t anywhere apart from Sheldon. I’m not sure why, because in spite of your comments we’ve never pruned it in 18 years, save removing the odd branch which flops too low over a path which runs beneath it. I think choosing a suitable strong tree for it to run through is pretty essential though. Don’t know about the bee, or the beetle, but the bee is one I see regularly.
      We feel pretty bushed right now too, which is why I’m thinking about how one might manage hay making in future – its a great communal thing, and I really do think lots of people would love it as a brief experience… but how to find them?? We keep thinking, well that’s all the tasks done and we can have a day off, and then the phone rings …
      I agree that the Iris season is pretty short, but for us the sibiricas seem to dovetail nicely with other plants in this area, and some of the seedlings do send up flowers over quite a long period, but hot sunshine soon sees them off, and the bumbles love the flowers.

  3. Have been enjoying your postings and photography ever since I came upon the link via Carolyn’s Shade Gardens a year or so ago. Your garden and surroundings are stunning (and so is the amount of work to make them so, I can well believe). I look forward to the inspiration sure to come in each new post.

    By the way, you mentioned being unable to find hay balers suitable for small sites. You may be interested in the machines by Caeb International (the website is http://www.caebinternational.it/w/lang1/for_haymaking.html ). I can’t make any recommendation, as I have no experience with them, but the description would seem to fit your needs. You have my sympathies — I had some summer jobs on a farm when I was a teen, and making hay, even with heavy equipment, is hard work.

    best regards from a fan in Reston, Virginia USA,

    • Hello Tim,
      Thanks so much for taking the trouble to write such a kind comment. It does encourage me that a few people all over the place actually look and enjoy what I choose to write about!
      And many thanks for the link about Caeb. In fact it turns out to be a company I’d heard about through my BCS Powerscythe supplier, since both companies are based in Italy. Unfortunately the baler is really pricey, and so difficult (at the moment!) to justify, but I’ve heard that it does do a really good job, and apparently a few have been supplied to local councils for baling and easy removal of cut grass in community areas ( where I guess financial constraints aren’t as limiting), I also found links to a forum discussion started by a Dutch engineer wondering if there was a demand for an ATV driven baler, and the issue seemed to be the power to run the machine, since ATVs don’t have a PTO. BCS also do a mechanised hay bob for turning/rowing up the hay, but I don’t know how much quicker it would be than manual turning, since you have to walk behind the BCS on the slope anyway, which can be tiring if you have a lot of turns to make…
      Best wishes from a sunny again Wales,

  4. Interesting post which as usual gives me food for thought. I’m not sure which impresses me most the apricots or the hay making. I confess we use a man and a tractor to cut our inbye fields, which are fortunately flat with easy access. We don’t cut until September to safeguard our breeding corncrakes and allow a good seed drop. No orchids in our fields yet, but sine we started conservation grazing on the headland the orchids have re-appeared and get better each year. So if the seed is present in your soil it is just a question of time and if you have one eventually you might have more.

    • Hello C,
      Thanks for the comment. Re the apricots, interestingly Dave told me today that his (growing half a mile away in a polytunnel, but same variety planted at the same time) are about a month behind the ones in our greenhouse…which is why I’m so convinced of the benficial effects from the water thermal stores and compost heat input.
      Would love to be able to get the hay processed mechanically – we’re not masochistic, but it’s not really an option on this slope. How exciting to have corncrakes – and I wonder what you do when the fields are cut? Do you make it into hay, or drag it off, or leave it? This year we’ve cut really early because the crop was so heavy after the non winter, and we’re always wary about getting two suitable dry sessions in one year. But yellow rattle is about the only plant to have set seed so soon, which is why I’ve left patches un mown for now. Will cut the birds foot trefoil areas much later, whether or not we can make it into hay. Hopefully when the whole field is more uniform, I can cut in blocks, through the season, so that later flowering plants get a chance to set seed.
      I’m sure you’re right about orchids gradually increasing given time,

      • I wonder if I can squeeze an apricot into the polytunnel? I’ve already decided to put a quince in the fruit cage, so why not.
        The corncrakes winter in Africa, although I’ve now idea how something that looks like a scrawny chicken manages to fly that far!
        The hay is bailed and removed, not much good for fodder as it contains ragwort.

      • Thanks for that. What a shame about the ragwort. I’d definitely consider an Apricot. We got our Tomcot apricots from FP Matthews in Worcestershire, who are an excellent firm – we’ve visited their impressive site. Apparently they’ve specifically bred for a cold weather climate,

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