Well over 20 years ago, we needed to chat with Dad about a longstanding family issue, and since my birthday was approaching, arranged to meet him in the gardens of Sheldon Manor, outside Chippenham. At that time the garden was open to the public, and lunches were served in one of the old Cotswold stone barns beside the listed, thirteenth century manor house. I recall a fabulous hot June day, a lovely lunch, a tour round parts of the privately owned house and then a walk around the beautiful gardens. I think the property had been in the same family for centuries, so when hoping to provide a link to it, I was disappointed to see that last year, the house was marketed as being available to rent. There is a separate website listing it as a wedding and corporate event location. But what of the gardens?
Of many gardens visited over the years, this particular trip was a rare seminal moment for us. Probably behind our first trip to Giverny, and another to Beth Catto’s garden, as being our most influential gardening experience in terms of our garden design ideas for this place. It introduced us to the concept of growing climbers into mature trees, since at Sheldon there was an extensive orchard, in which most of the old apple trees were festooned with climbing and rambling roses. A picture of floral abundance and perfume. Influenced by these remembered images we began using vigorous rose and clematis cultivars in this way throughout the garden. One can’t easily instantly produce the effects that such climbers create – it can take decades.
In today’s world, if you have sufficient wealth, mature trees can be plonked into a setting, to create instant maturity, but I’ve yet to see anyone marketing a tree, with say, an established mature Clematis montana growing through it, or a Rosa ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’.Maybe such planting effects are inevitably for the patient, long term gardener? They can certainly provide spectacular floral displays, on a different and vertical plane, through mid-summer foliage, and lift the eyes upwards.
Fast forward nearly a generation, and another garden visiting birthday trip last weekend, saw us taking in the Talley gardens open day. Raising funds for the local community amenity association, it provided a chance for us to drop in on up to 10 different village gardens. We managed 3 beauties, ranging from that of plantswoman Shelley Pike, who has skillfully designed and planted up a garden packed with interest and imagination. Her husband Roger organises this annual event, and in spite of clouds threatening rain it made a great starting point for our adventure. Even better, Shelley is a great plant propagator, so we picked up a few home grown gems.
Next up we passed the welcoming sign to King’s Court, and just had to drop in to explore. A very warm welcome was offered from relatively new owners Andrew and Kate Hill who included some background information on the obviously old property. Apparently the oldest surviving building in Talley, apart from the eleventh century abbey ruins, its name suggests a link to Henry VIIth, who might have stayed here on his route through Wales gathering troops before taking on Richard IIIrd at the battle of Bosworth. Andrew thought the links were tenuous, but nevertheless, the house does date back to about this period of the late 1400’s. Click here for more on Henry VIIth’s connections with West Wales.
At which point I mentioned my Welsh historic snowdrop hunt, and Andrew explained that there was indeed a swathe of naturalised snowdrops along one side of the property. Even better as a birthday bonus, Andrew allowed me to furtle around in some recently dug up soil which contained a few snow drop bulbs, to add some to my collection. A revisit to inspect and photograph the flowers next spring is also now planned. And what a fabulous developing garden for their young children to grow up in.
The final garden we headed for, turned into a classic adventure. Taking the banked and hedged single track road beyond the village, and passing the abbey ruins, church and Talley lakes, eventually took us higher into fabulous remote upland scenery. As the dead end road neared its finish, we spotted a small farm sign and the rough track that led further up the hill, over which storm clouds were gathering.
In our low slung car, we slowly crept up the rutted track between open pasture, but aborted halfway, after the surface deteriorated further, and we worried that the sump might take a knock. As we sat at the end of the track debating whether to leave the car and walk, with thunder clouds building towards Cwmdu, a 4X4 slowly drove down the track towards us. We were told that it was definitely worth a look. So we parked up, grabbed coats and umbrellas, and set off on foot.
Tucked behind the lovely buildings which enjoy fabulous sweeping views northwards, over the Cothi valley is a delightful garden, exploiting all the natural features and derelict buildings in a very imaginative way. A similar story to our own at Gelli Uchaf, this place has seen the house restored, and the garden created from nothing, over many years by owners Karen and David Thomas, though the garden is entirely the work of Karen. Exploiting the several distinct micro-climates which exist around the complex of buildings, and digging out a new carp pond, it’s sympathetically planted and maintained to a very high standard. Needless to say, Karen was on hand to chat about features of the garden, whilst still managing to do some hand weeding, under the watchful and playful eyes of her several attractive Bengal cats.
Karen’s garden at Lan farm, Talley, is open by arrangement for the NGS from June to August, so do think of arranging a visit if in the general area. You will be in for a great adventure, see a wonderful garden, and receive a very warm welcome. (Addendum, in the summer of 2016, Karen and David have spent a huge amount of time, effort and money upgrading their access track, and replacing the cattle grid, so the journey to reach them should now be much less fraught, than ours).
And as a final birthday treat, Karen generously gave us some stems of the unknown saxifrage/sedum type plant, above, with pendulous racemes of tiny yellow flowers, which lit up the shaded base of a wall and has seeded itself around in the garden. Anyone recognise what it is? If so, do let me know. ___
Back home, at this time of the year it’s tricky to select just a dozen favourite plants in the garden at Gelli Uchaf for the first 2 weeks in June, but made easier if one doesn’t include some from my first effort choices, in my last post, where I began describing the plant palette which we’ve developed over the years.
But here are a dozen from early June 2016:
1: Camassia leichtlinii alba. We’ve tried other Camassias in the garden over the last 3 years, and been delighted by how they add height and colour amongst early flowering perennials in May, and tend to mask dying foliage from earlier spring bulbs.Many are natives of North American meadows and seem to like our fairly wet heavy soil, coping with full sun or part shade. Last year we planted a couple of hundred of this white form, hoping to lighten a few areas amongst predominantly spring green foliage. Apart from being favoured bee flowers, for bumbles and honey bees, the white form is a bit taller and seems to flower a fortnight or so later than the blue C. l. caerulea. It also looks brilliant with the reliable, and mauve flowering, Polemonium ‘Lambrook Mauve’, which narrowly missed this selection.
2: ‘The Lakeland Rose’. A recently bred climbing rose, which is meant to reach 6 to 7 feet. We’ve had one for 3 years now, planted at the base of one of my chain-sawed mushrooms. Thriving, in spite of a pretty impoverished site, given the mushroom was hewn from a mature, felled Norway Spruce. Having now settled in, this year it’s been a delight with fairly disease resistant foliage – we never spray our roses, so they have to be tough – and one of the earliest roses into flower. The smallish single delicate pink flowers have a fabulous subtle scent, and seem to be produced in very large numbers. It’s easy to train round this awkward shape, and we’ve got a Clematis texensis ‘Etoile rose’, twining through it. I like the effect so much, I’m tempted to repeat it up some of the other mushrooms. Bees love the flowers too, and it does produce tiny orange hips if not deadheaded – but it’s one of those few plants I love so much, I occasionally nip off the short lived flowers when I can remember, to try to keep it flowering for longer.
3: Honeysuckle, Lonicera periclymenum. We planted a couple of honeysuckle to grow over the slate topped wall outside the front of the cottage very early on, and I have no idea what form they are. But in early June, they flood the air outside the front door with that sublime mid-summer perfume. This year they’re flowering better than ever. Is this a result of severe cutting back last year? Or because of seasonal variations? Or even because of my use of dried seaweed for the last 2 years, and hence some trace mineral supplementation? Who knows, but yet another flower appreciated by many of our garden insects – bumble bees, flies, moths.
4: Geranium sanguineum var. striatum. A variation of the native bloody cranesbill. This is one of our very favourite perennial Geraniums. Forming a low growing mat of small, delicately cut, fine leaves, it begins to produce its attractive pale pink flowers, with deeper red veining, at the end of May and continues for many weeks. It associates with many of our other native cliff top flowers, growing amongst cobbles, or the gravel of the yard, so survives very well in poor soil and sunny, drier locations, and even in our very dry chimney pots – see combination with Erodium below.It seeds around gently, but never becomes a thug, unlike several of its more vigorous cousins.
5: Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’ . A finely cut variant of the common elder, the distinctive black leaves look lovely throughout the year, whatever the weather, with typical dark berries forming in the autumn. But right now, when the pink tinged flowers appear, setting off this very dark foliage, the effect is stunning. This year I’ve seen it paired with a white paeony and pale lilac perennial honesty flowers in Shelly Pike’s, Talley Bryn Heulog garden, to great effect. We prune ours back each year to regenerate it, and to try to keep it a more manageable smaller shrub size.
6: Erodium manescavii. A storksbill, originating from the Pyrenees, I’m surprised that this grows so well with us, but in full sun and in our relatively free draining stony terrace garden, it thrives and seeds around gently. It’s deep pink flowers attract flies and bumblebees. It also copes with the very free draining position at the top of our 3 flower filled chimney pots. These pots, surrounded by Bowle’s golden sedge, Carex elata ‘Aurea, are meant to hint at the unseen furnace of activity below ground with root and fungal interactions fuelling the visual floral display above ground, which all gardeners are focused on. We’ve had 3 or 4 variations on plants to use in these pots. This combination seems very reliable in this role, with the aforementioned G. sanguineum striatum.Unlike many geraniums, this Erodium coexists well with other low growing, spreading plants, never dominating the scene, and if deadheaded occasionally, it will flower continuously for months until the first frosts. Probably because the foliage is more open, and low growing, forming a sort of central rosette of leaves. Its seeds also have the most fascinating morphology, with a corkscrew awn designed to drill the seed down into tiny cracks to aid germination.
7: Nectaroscordum siculum ssp. bulgaricum. An allium type flower. We’ve experimented with alliums in our garden, and generally they don’t perform that reliably, probably because of the wet conditions, as well as slug damage. However, this is reliable with us in full sun, or part shade, returning for many years. It adds height interest to the garden, without affecting the lower growing groundcover. Here the flower buds stand well above earlier flowering Aquilegia vulgaris, and whether sunny or drizzly, the opened flowers are fantastic nectar magnets for several bumblebees and wasps. But don’t try the nectar yourself unless you’re a big garlic fan, since the taste lingers for ages. 2016 saw the often dominant wasps, arriving late on the scene. By then many of the individual flowers, which become drooping and pendulous after emerging from the upward pointing sheath, had already been fertilised by the bumblebees.The bonus feature of this plant now becomes apparent – the flowers swiftly grow back upwards to create clusters of fairy castle turrets, appropriate for our magic terrace garden, which last for a few months. In spite of their long flower stems, they’re very wind resistant, and rarely blow over.
8: Viola cornuta ‘Alba’. A vigorous low growing form of the horned viola, which is very easy to propagate from self rooted layers, as well as seed. It’s easy to dot it around all over the garden. In sun or shade, or even in pots, its small, bright white flowers contrasting with the lovely deep green leaves, combine well with so many plants, and under grey skies often lift the scene throughout the garden. I’ve rarely seen insects visiting the flowers, but somehow they get pollinated, and like the Nectaroscordum, the developing seed capsules then flip through 180 degrees, before eventually splitting and flinging the seeds around. But never a thug, and always enjoyed wherever it pops up.
9: Geranium macrorrhizum. One of those invaluable ground cover plants for awkward dry, shaded places, beneath trees and shrubs, even right up to trunk bases. That’s a mature larch trunk base at the top right corner of the picture below. In 2016 it was a little late into flower, often emerging in mid-May. In shades of whites and pinks, it’s reliably floriferous and perennial, but being of fairly low height, doesn’t create issues for taller early spring bulbs growing from beneath it. When in flower it’s one of the most favoured bumblebee and honeybee flower in our garden – even when growing in deep shade, so is a very valuable nectar source, whatever the weather. Carpeting the ground beneath Amelanchiers, below. It’s also quite easy to pull up, since the spreading stems are very shallowly rooted – unlike many other thug like perennial geraniums. In our wet conditions, such stems will survive and eventually eradicate couch grass if just thrown onto the ground – providing there is sufficient shade. It will also seed around, but is a very useful, benign thug, in the right place.
10. Candelabra Primula. Like P. japonica last month, I’m not entirely sure of the species name for these promiscuous Primulas which we’ve grown from collected seed. Possibly P. bulleyana. A range of orange, red, pink or yellow flowers, many on farina dusted stems, usually arranged in 5 tiers, which open sequentially to give weeks of colour. They add splashes of colour in part shade or sun, wherever they decide to germinate, and unlike the earlier magenta ones described last time, seem to build up a base with several rosettes of leaves, and therefore multiple flower stems. I very occasionally see a bumblebee visiting the flowers, whizzing round a flower whorl like the speeded up hands on a clock, but given the numbers of these flowers we have in the garden, they don’t seem to be real favourites with our insect fauna.
11. Rosa moyesii. An unusual rose, with its distinctive clear red flower colour, and simple single flower form. An unscented flower, but the medium sized shrub which survives in very impoverished shale where it’s growing, flowers reliably over a short period, with the flowers offset by the small, matt green leaves. It is unusual in being hexaploid – having extra sets of chromosomes, and whether for this reason or not, insects of many types love the flowers as a pollen source. Bumblebees appear to buzz pollinate the flowers in an effort to shake off pollen from the stamens. The result of all this insect interest, is that the flowers are short lived, but then go on to produce wonderful orange, flagon shaped hips. The 3 roses growing here in a clump to the left, were all grown from seeds extracted from hips collected from a mother plant elsewhere in the garden.
12. Geranium phaeum. A mid height geranium, valuable for its small, usually dark purple flowers, and leaves with darker blotch markings. Along with G. macrorrhizum, it’s one of the most favoured geranium flowers for small bumblebee species, and occasionally honeybees. Nearly all the plants in the garden are self seeders, but it’s not as thuggish a species as some others – we nearly always allow plants to stay where they pop up, since late May and early June flowers are handy for us, in taking over from the many late daffodils, which brighten these spaces earlier in the year.Occasionally, a nearly black form appears, which are especially attractive, if partnered with a white or cream flower, as above.
Finally, a quick whizz around the top meadow on 18th June 2016 with the Li-on lawnmower in advance of rain today, became a slow crawl as all sorts of interesting things had recently emerged, for the first time this year.Still our only orchid, hanging on in there, and now in its third year, waiting for company.
The first ever flowering example of Eyebright, probably Euphrasia nemorosa, which like Yellow rattle, Rhinanthus minor, is another hemi-parasitic and annual flower which reduces the vigour of grass growth, and thus allows more light in, for other flowers to develop and thrive in a hay meadow.Half a dozen just emerged Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet moths, Zygaena lonicerae.