Never mind “What a Week!” (My previous post). What a fortnight! However I shall ignore the May supershuffle, Wales’ eventual glorious departure from Euro 2016, Corbyn’s challengers, Farrarge’s farewell, Murray’s Wimbledon, the Nice atrocity, and Turkish coup, since I’m completely news blitzed.
But enough of such momentous, or unpredictable events. A post of the more mundane, and local.
At the beginning of July, we opened the fledgling Gelli Uchaf meadows for a few determined folk, on National Meadows Day. A fuller report can be found on the Carmarthenshire Meadows Group website. Click here, It was a rare sunny (and mainly) dry day. Much cake and tea was consumed, meadow flowers and patinas were inspected…… a few butterflies noticed… and a nice bouquet of meadow grasses and flowers picked… which demonstrates the progress made in just 4 years, from flowerless pastures, and mono-culture soft rush…
Shortly afterwards a big birthday saw us taking a mini break to Wells in Somerset to celebrate.
What a delight.
Far too many fabulous gardens and sights seen, but for anyone wanting a stress free holiday with masses to do and see, consider visiting Wells, with it’s cathedral, and oldest inhabited street in Europe…Stepping back in time, or not ? Long may it remain as an off the main tourist route venue, and so relaxing and laid back … Our base with glorious views over the city and more distant Glastonbury Tor, at Stowbury Park, was a delightful luxurious treat……with the best bug house ever, designed and made by Dan, the head gardener and co designer, along with Frances our host, of the recently created 6 acres or so of varied gardens surrounding the house Neighbouring Milton Lodge had equally gorgeous grounds, and outlook,…And we even found evidence of possible snowdrop links between the city, its wells, and West Wales… The recently “developed” Bishop’s palace is a masterpiece in garden design and sympathetic new architecture, combined with centuries of history, and what a location for the local croquet club matches! And to think that not long ago, after issues with maintenance costs of the historic site, it might have been sold off for a superstore development! What a place to pause, sit, admire, and contemplate the state of the world, in the very recently created garden of reflection …______________________________
After a very late start, I thought I should report on my big bag bottle bank area of vegetable growing. This year seeds were first sown in the middle of April, beginning with beetroot, and a decision made to drastically reduce crops to stalwarts which we always use up, and don’t waste. So in order of sowing, just beetroot, lettuce, leeks, carrots, chard, courgettes, and squash have been selected.
The 2 other changes made were firstly to sow all seed into a bed of bought in compost sprinkled between the water filled bottles onto the existing soil, and the seed was then covered with a top dressing of the same compost. This was perhaps an extravagance, but the bags were originally filled with a mix of topsoil and subsoil gleaned from the area cleared years ago for the PV installation, and some of this was of questionable fertility. More importantly this idea was used to reduce hand weeding of the vegetable area. (Click here for more on my concept of sowing between water filled bottles.) The first sowings had the benefit of old windows laid onto the water filled bottles, until seedlings were well established, followed by covering all crops with enviromesh. This approach has been very successful, and. most bags have needed only 2 very light weeding sessions, and crop growth is now so well advanced that any further weed growth before harvesting will be minimal.
The second big change was to get serious with slugs. We try to be as organic as we can, but gardening where we do, with a mild climate and heavy rainfall creates a slug heaven. This winter, with no significant frosts, meant slug numbers were enormous, even in mid February. Research into options led me towards ferric phosphate pellets. Conventional metaldehyde pellets are definitely more dangerous if eaten by other animals, are toxic if leached into water supplies and in addition in wet weather are unlikely to kill slugs effectively. This is because the slugs can’t dessicate after losing their slime supply in response to the metaldehyde ingestion, if there is no hot sunshine to dry them out! The ferric phosphate pellets have organic approval, though there is a question mark over how safe they are to mammals. The slugs ingest the pellets, which have a pasta base, and the iron contained in the pellet is released in their intestine and once absorbed, causes iron toxicity of the slug. They don’t die immediately, but tend to crawl away, stop feeding and then succumb. There is a fascinating and detailed discussion about ferric phosphate, by Bill Meyer, which you can read by clicking here. Bill discusses that things may not be quite so straight forward – there is an issue with whether an unmentioned chelating compound (like EDTA) is included in the pellet mix and whether it is this which makes the inorganic (ferric) iron, available in a form which can be absorbed by the intestine. On balance we decided to try them in selected areas of the garden, but used a commercially available alternative called SluxxHP, which is 3 times as concentrated, and a sixth the price, of ordinary ferric phosphate pellets. We now have sufficient to last us years! It’s likely that if you buy organically grown produce, such slug control will anyway have been used. For us, where the garden is located so close to pasture, and after such benign damp conditions, slug numbers in the pasture are enormous, as an evening stroll demonstrates … Little wonder that the splendid, orange red, and rare Hygrocybe splendidissima Waxcap mushrooms, which I found in clusters in 3 parts of the hay meadow this last week, have such a short survival time…So if the choice is hydroponically grown produce, possibly imported E.coli infected rocket, (click here for more on the current outbreak) or home grown salads, where there is at least a degree of control over how the crop is produced, I’ll opt for the latter.
The pellets, which become more palatable in wet conditions, are sprinkled in a ‘cordon sanitaire’ around the Big Bag area, and on the wood chip paths between bags. Initially they were used in the bags themselves, and are topped up quite frequently. This is now less necessary as slug numbers here have reduced dramatically. When first used, I noticed that the entire quantity of pellets could disappear from many areas within 24 hours. Whether this was just the result of slug ingestion, or a degree of rodent ingestion as well, I’m still not clear. But the end result of Sluxx HP use, is the most uniform crop growth I’ve ever managed, and after harvesting lettuce and beetroot leaves for 2 months now, I’ve yet to find a single slug amongst the leaves.
Finally, I’m including below another 2 fortnight’s worth of a dozen key plants in our garden’s planting palette. The earlier listings can be found on a separate web page …
1: Rose “Welsh White Dragon” (a home grown name for a home grown rose.) A seedling white single climbing rose found at Gelli Uchaf, probably originating from R. “Kiftsgate”. It flowers about 3 weeks earlier than “Kiftsgate”, seems even more vigorous, and the foliage is much healthier in our wet climate. It has a lovely faint scent and the bees like the flowers, with their clear yellow stamens. The original plant is now doing well clambering into a young Oak tree, in quite deep shade, whilst 2 cuttings are taking off elsewhere. The new stems are very pliable, have a fabulous deep purple hue, and can easily be woven through other foliage. 2: Clematis viticella “Etoile Violette”. The first cultivar of C. viticella to flower with us, it is easy, vigorous and very floriferous. Its’ flowering time overlaps nicely with the earlier C. “Broughton Star”, and Rose Paul’s Himalayan Musk. Provided Clematis are protected against slugs for their first 2 years, the vigorous ones seem to thrive here, even in poor soil conditions, and are cut back to a couple of feet in late winter. 3: Geranium psilostemon. A valuable mid season flowering, large Geranium. It grows to about 1 metre, so will swamp smaller plants, but is fairly easy to remove, and doesn’t spread vegetatively, rather by seed. So it has the potential to be a thug, but it’s useful in many areas of the garden to give vibrant colour at the end of June/early July. After flowering we tend to cut it back hard, to limit seed production. It’s not particularly favoured by bees, unlike several other Geraniums. 4: Rose “De Rescht”. One of our favourite roses, dating back a long time to Persia, or Iran. Tightly double deep maroon/red /purple flowers have the most fabulous scent. As is often the case with strongly scented roses, the flowers don’t last long individually, but lots are produced in sequence, from a medium sized bush. After an initial month or so of flowering, there is usually a lull in late July, before a second wave of blooms continues into late autumn. The matt mid green foliage is very healthy, even in our wet climate without spraying, and it is easy to propagate from cuttings. If we could only grow one rose, this would be it. The petals are fabulous dried for pot pouri, or culinary uses. The petals tend to fall to the ground quite easily, in wet weather, rather than always causing bud rots which happens with many of the more modern “disease resistant” roses we’ve tried. 5: Geranium orientalitibeticum. A dwarf Geranium which spreads with tuberous runners, and will seed gently, but not invasive with us. Low growing, it has marbled deeply cut leaves in different shades of green, and shallow pink flowers with white centres. It does well in pots, and within the garden, but has a fairly brief flowering period. 6: Rosa glauca. A strong growing rose to about 2.5 metres, with distinctive blue, purple foliage, and pretty single, unscented deep rose pink flowers, produced for 3 to 4 weeks in a single flush. We grow it from seedlings as hedges, and free standing bushes. Insects love the flowers, which are followed by clusters of lovely deep red hips later in the year. 7: Rose Paul’s Himalayan Musk. A very vigorous rambling rose which for its single 4-5 week season of flowering can produce tens of thousands of scented double blooms on a mature plant. Our initial plant has been scrambling through an old hawthorn for about 17 years now, and fills the garden with scent when in bloom. The foliage is never immaculate, suffering to some extent from black spot, but you don’t notice this. Insects enjoy the flowers, although double, and we’ve now got a couple of cuttings doing their thing elsewhere in the garden. Roses like this add a huge amount of flower for very little effort, providing you have enough space to let them rip! Even in a poor, wet season like 2016, the sequence of flower opening still ensures a spectacle. 8: Campanula poscharskyana. A low growing Campanula which seeds into all those tricky dry places where nothing else would grow, and then spreads around with trailing foliage – walls, cobbles etc. Bees love the intense purple blue flowers. Valuable for its time of flowering, and spontaneity. 9. Geranium x magnificum. A vigorous mid height Geranium with intense deep blue/purple flowers. It has a surprisingly brief flowering period with us, but is loved by bees when in bloom. It is sterile so doesn’t set seeds, but is easy to split and move around clumps to bulk up. 10. Iris sibirica. Quite variable in flower, most of the forms we grow have come from seed. Valuable for its beautiful flowers, which sadly are quite fleeting. Individual flowers survive only a few days. It performs quite well for us in part shade and likes our generally wet ground. A good follow on plant to hide spring bulb foliage as it dies down. 11. Fuchsia magellicana “Duchy of Cornwall’s seedling”. We grow very few Fuchsias, and this is our favourite. Worth growing for its foliage alone, with bright red new stems. We cut them nearly to the ground each autumn, and the flowers are then produced over a longish season beginning in late June. Bumble bees enjoy visiting the flowers, and a lot of seedlings are produced. Another plant which copes well with both damp, and part shade. 12. Ligusticum scoticum. Scotch Lovage is a native umbellifer of Scottish coastal cliffs, so I’m not sure why it does well in quite deep shade beneath our mature Larch trees, but it does! It flowers in late June, and has lovely rich green leaves, which turn butter yellow in autumn, and white flowers. Unlike many umbellifers, it doesn’t take over from the masses of seed it produces, in part because slugs seem to enjoy the young seedlings’ leaves. So we grow seedlings on in pots for a couple of years before planting out.
1: Self Heal. Prunella vulgaris. A native that thrives in damp conditions in shorter vegetation and valuable, because of its’ flowering time, for many bees and flies. The individual flowers don’t last too long after pollination, but the short flowering seed head stems continue to look attractive for some time afterwards. It also thrives and flowers in some of our mossy lawns, providing bee food along with white clover, from the shortest of clipped flowering stems, if lawn cutting is delayed for a while.
2: New Zealand Burr. Acaena microphylla(?) We’ve lost the details of which Acaena we have, but it plays a valuable role in our terrace garden, as having roughly equal vigour to mossy Saxifrage and purple bugle, in giving a complete ground cover low mat. It spreads by running stems, but is easy to rip up from unwanted areas. We started off with 2 forms of Acaena. The one with blue green leaves died out very quickly, but this one has bronze green leaves, with small white flower heads in June which mature to vibrant red burrs in early June. Like all burrs, they can stick to gloves and clothing, but it creates a wonderful feature with the flowers of Self heal.
3: Bitter Vetchling. Lathyrus linifolius. Another native flower found in hedgerows and meadows which I’ve introduced to the terrace garden, and meadows. Flowering from early June, it is never spectacular, since very the pretty small magenta/purple flowers are produced singly, along extending stems. But at this time, the foliage takes on a more glaucescent, blue-green tinge, and the seed pods begin to change from green to brown and then a striking black colour before splitting open. It will grow through other plants adding an extra layer of interest, whilst the roots fix nitrogen, and bumblebees enjoy visiting the flowers.
4: Rose “Bonica”. Anyone who only grows scented roses would give this a miss, but it’s one of the most reliable flowering shrub roses here. A bit later than “Rose de Rescht”, it produces masses of clear pink flowers, which look good whatever the weather. It also continues to flower for a long season – sometimes until the first frosts. The colour fits in with many other plants which flower with us in July.
5: Lamium maculata “Beacon Silver”. One of our favourite Lamiums. Fiona planted it along the shaded North side of our apple tree tyre pillars, as ground cover, with insect friendly flowers. It excels here, with the leaves picking up the colours of lichens which are gradually colonising the tyre surfaces. The deep magenta flowers are loved by bumble bees, and the leaves look pretty through much of the year. Even better, unlike say L. “White Nancy”, the itinerant rabbits don’t seem to enjoy its’ flavour, so tend to leave it alone, whereas “White Nancy” gets raised to the ground in spring!
6: Campanula lactiflora “Loddon Anna”, and seedlings. At another time of the year, this wouldn’t feature in our favourite plants, since it is a little messy, and really needs supporting or staking, which we don’t do in most of the garden. But in early July, it does introduce a splash of colour to a couple of areas of the garden, with masses of flowers on stems 4 to 5 feet tall. These easily flop over in rain, but if cut back, secondary flowers will form to extend the season of interest.
7: Purple Toadflax – Linaria purpurea. Whilst searching for a flower to add colour and interest in early July, I realised that this native plant, which grows occasionally in local hedgerows might fit the bill. The favoured locations are apparently walls and dry, bare places – with us it germinates in quite shady spots as well, and the tall foliage and flower stems will clamber through other plants and give purple spires of tiny flowers which the bumbles and honeybees love. Easy to spread by scattering the numerous tiny seeds around, but it never seems to dominate with us, so always welcome wherever it pops up, and individual plants never survive for many years. Its’ pale pink named form, “Canon Went” is an equally good variation of this theme.
8: Foxglove. Digitalis purpurea. Nearing the end of its flowering time in mid July, this is another great cottage garden style plant. BUT! Welcome though the flowers are, it can easily threaten to dominate, with thousands of seedlings, which have such large rosettes of leaves by their second year, that much else is swamped out. At least being biennial, you have a lot of time to remove excess numbers, but of course this all takes time and effort… Nevertheless, the garden without some foxgloves would be much poorer, particularly at this time of the year, and the bumble bees would miss it too. But worth removing before most of those seed capsules have split!
9. Dahlia merckii. A real gem. This species Dahlia from Mexico, with supposedly borderline hardiness, germinates easily from seed – even in the ground, and it seems to overwinter here without specific protection. Light, divided bright green foliage produces very pretty single pale lilac flowers, up until the frosts, if deadheaded occasionally. The flowers are loved by many insects, and because the plants are quite tall, can be placed between spring bulbs and other shrubs, and will flower quite well in even in deep part shade.
10. Rose “Francis E. Lester”. Another favourite climbing rose, with moderate vigour – not quite in the “Kiftsagte” league. The flowers begin to open in late June, and are a soft pink fading to pale white centres, offset by all those yellow anthers. They seem to glow en masse, even under grey skies, and being single are visited by honey bees and bumbles, and have a pleasant, mild scent. Wonderful to send up into a strong tree, and reasonably disease free.
11. Penstemon “Husker’s red”. Worth growing for the foliage alone, this is a purple tinged leaf Penstemon, which seems to come true from seed, and is reasonably long lived. In late June into July the attractive blue tinged white tubular flowers are prouduced in large quantities, and are favoured by many bees. It flowers fairly well in part shade in amongst other vigorous plants like Sweet Cicely and Geanium x magnificum, and performs even better given more space.
12. Dryopteris erythrosora. Difficult to choose just one of Fiona’s growing fern collection, but ferns perform very well with us in our damp climate and in early July, this species is very attractive with slightly orange tinted new fronds, amongst the more generally green palette of the other fern foliage. We now have a zero tolerance policy for ferns in most parts of the garden – they can quickly become dominant thugs, and a real effort to remove a large specimen, but on the North face of our big oak tree, they illuminate an otherwise tricky area. Thanks for reading, and after a day of soaring temperatures, unbroken sunshine and hard labour, we’re hoping for a calmer day of manual baling after clearing much of our hay meadow in record time yesterday …