No Place To Hide

A night disturbed by strong winds, and fitful thoughts about what to choose as a title for this post. How to capture the roller coaster of experiences here since my last post?

Carnage. The beast from the East. Arctic. Welsh Alps. Freeze Dried. Survival. Resignation. No country for old men.

All were rejected.

None seemed to quite get me started from my glum state of mind on this bitter St. David’s Day morning.

Last week it was going to be “Painting with Pollen”, since up until 5 days ago the Crocus displays were significantly the best ever in the garden. In part due to little predation of flowers or leaves this year by rodents and rabbits, (see my gardening year page notes for why this might be), and in part because in several areas of the garden a range of subtle colour variations are (or were) creating wonderful patinas of colour. It did occur to me that all my efforts with hand pollinating the earliest flowers, opening before the first emerging hibernating bumblebee queens got to work, was indeed a form of painterly activity – albeit with a long time-lag before the effects of one’s largely random efforts became obvious.

But let me rewind a little further. Last Friday saw another fine ice spike appear in an old rubber tray, simply used as a weight for a tarpaulin draped over a big log pile in our ‘cae efail’ field. I was about to take the tarpaulin off, to give the logs a good extra drying out, knowing that several dry days with strong winds were forecast when I spotted the spike. Why just in one of the water-filled compartments and not the others?

Such are the subtleties of conditions necessary for their formation.

Later in the day I packed my chest waders as we returned to a site for my Welsh Historic Snowdrop Hunt which we’d visited with Jen, the land owner, earlier in the week, only to be thwarted because the population was actually on an island in the river Teifi, which was impossible to reach in normal wellington boots.

A few dry days later, and with water levels down by a couple of feet, and I was able to wade over to inspect the flowers, but not before we’d passed this extraordinary sight in the wood on a cliff above the island.A dead, spread-eagled raptor, probably a buzzard, and possibly headless, with some animal turds carefully deposited on the poor bird’s back.

Feedback from a few people I’ve sent this image to, (many thanks to Nick, Andrew and Colin), speculate that the droppings are probably of a fox, which was marking either its territory, or claiming the bird as a food cache which it would return to later. How the bird got there in the first place is a mystery. If it was indeed headless (and I didn’t disturb the corpse at all), perhaps it fell victim to a peregrine or goshawk, which will often eat the head first, and then the remaining carcass was perhaps found by a fox later.

In any event the snowdrops showed quite a degree of flowering times, and leaf forms.

The following planned rest day was suddenly enlivened first by a Tesco delivery driver, (who we fear had a momentary lapse of concentration, or was texting), driving off our track and into a significant ditch. In the end, 4 different attempts, with increasingly large vehicles, had to be made to haul him out, whilst the track remained blocked. Meanwhile, an out of the blue request for a garden visit, led us picking up Richard Bramley and Ruth, from the fabulous local Farmyard Nurseries, as well as their guest, an Irish galanthophile, Angela Jupe, and whizzing them round the garden in cold, but gloriously sunny conditions, before reviving everyone with tea and cakes inside. And then running them back down the track, past the site of the by then cleared obstruction, and to their cars parked in the village.

It turns out that Angela has a beautiful garden of her own in Ireland, as well as having a passion for both Irish snowdrops and older daffodil cultivars, so we hit it off famously. Do click here and here to see more about her fascinating background and gardening interests. She is currently working on completing a book on Irish snowdrops, which I am now eagerly anticipating.

On Sunday we had another rearranged WHSH visit, postponed from a fortnight previously, when we’d returned from a fascinating, though brief, foray into England, only to have our plans altered by a dog bite wound inflicted on me at another WHSH visit near Brecon. All part and parcel of the tribulations of the itinerant galanthophile!

Leaving the wonderful sunshine, but a by then, very chilly garden at Gelli, just after lunch, this snowdrop site was a revelation in terms of garden micro-climate variations. Barely 25 minutes from us, the old house was dug into a South Westerly facing slope, backed with chunky rocky outcrops which hint at its name. Protected from the vicious North Easterly winds, the conditions in the garden were what one might expect on any normal, warm and sunny late winter afternoon. Even around 3.30 pm, honeybees from the resident hives were flying and visiting both Crocus and snowdrop flowers. Back home, although I’d heard and seen a single emergent, mite encrusted queen visiting our Crocus flowers on February 20th, it has just been too cold for any such activity since. Fortunately, I’d opted to pot up snowdrops from both these forays, into the greenhouse, given the by now severe warnings for colder weather ahead.

By Tuesday, any normal gardening activity was impossible and it was even getting too cold for me to water, in a vain attempt to prevent disaster, a fortunately very few snowdrops which had been planted out the previous week. With William joining us on Tuesday, and the wind at last abating a bit, we had a very productive day both topping our tussocky grass in the lower meadows, even as light snow fell, as well as chain-sawing many old willows which were gradually falling into our stream. I’ve now made a mental note that such late season tree work is valuable both for future log supplies, but also to yield extra twiggy fodder for our sheep, at this time of the year, when grass is very scarce. Although a hardy breed, and lambing late, this year we’ll have to eke out our hay supplies, since at present it looks as though it won’t be warm enough for any new grass growth before April.

The ewes always descend on such material as soon as the saw stops, taking off catkins and buds first, before stripping off the bark. A possible dual benefit is that when such woody material is cut down and spread around the field to aid access by the sheep, it will also provide a short-term temporary shelter and temperature boost for the grass beneath, once growth does eventually begin.

By Wednesday, the last official day of winter 2018, such work would have been impossible. The wind had picked up again, and without surface snow cover the temperature on our terrace was registering minus 14 degrees C at dawn, with our digital thermometer.The effect on most plants in the garden is now so severe that I fear a significant number of fatalities – perhaps even the Daphne bholua which has been a garden mainstay for so long may be irreparably damaged. Even the snowdrops and Crocus are giving cause for concern. Janis Ruskans in his excellent guide to the Crocus genus talks about corms surviving minus 35 degrees C if under snow cover, but succumbing completely, at much lower temperatures without a snowy insulation blanket. The constant wind driven dehydration and freezing, must mean that some of ours are now at risk. Remarkably it’s the Iris reticulata and Scilla mischtshenkoana which are standing up better than anything to this late winter, or now early spring, onslaught.

After about an hour outside with multiple layers, my lips were beginning to develop an odd sensation I’ve never experienced before. With nothing else to do, and the threat of being snowed in shortly, we nipped out to Aberglasney. Again, although cold and bright, the garden lacked the huge windchill effects we currently seem to have here. Crocus tommasinnianus and C. vernus ‘Vanguard’ were looking lovely, and we had a chance encounter with an obviously very serious photographer who was visiting Aberglasney for the first time to photograph their Hellebores. I’d purposefully, and fortunately left my modest camera behind.

Very imaginatively, since the flower heads were drooping as they were back home with us, they’d picked a selection of attractive blooms and were photographing them on a mossy trunk. Pausing to have a brief chat, we discovered that this was indeed the great Clive Nichols, so if you ever see the fruits of this shoot at Aberglasney, do bear in mind the harsh conditions he laboured under to capture any useful photos at all. Click here for some of Clive’s fantastic images. And click here for the recently released results of the latest International Garden Photographer of the Year (IGPOTY) competition, which Clive explained he and his wife had set up back in 2008. Once again, this year, after scooping awards in 2017, 2 images by locally based Nigel McCall, taken at Aberglasney gardens, made it onto the shortlisted finalists for this global competition of stunning garden and landscape photography.

Back home our stream was icing over.

Today, March (1st, St. David’s Day), roared in. Thank goodness our first lambs aren’t due until April Fool’s day, at the earliest.

The kitchen tap dripped to a trickle first thing, indicating a near freeze up at our treatment and filter housing in the barn. Emergency heating was needed immediately. This has never happened before.

The stream has now completely frozen across in places, again never seen before here.The bulb foliage is looking, quite frankly, terminal at least for this year. If the bulbs themselves survive, then indeed they are worthy of legacy plant status.

Some of our sheep refuse to leave the relative sanctuary of our copse since it entails either walking over ice, or through freezing water.

The frogspawn which had earlier in the week become freeze dried at the surface, is now completely entrapped in ice.Yet still the tracks and tail brushings through a light snow dusting on the frozen pond surface, and spraints on the pond bank indicate the return of an otter caught on camera on February 23rd. (Far right of the image below).


Even better today, after retrieving a repositioned trail camera over our stream the images of 2 (in the first image), albeit blurry otters crossing the stream, at about 6.30 am on February 27th. However on our swept access track, sadly another fatality was found, which won’t any more cheerily follow us when gardening activities resume.

Earlier in January I’d begun reading “The Making of The British Landscape” by Nicholas Crane. I’d been amazed by his description of how Britain would have looked just 12,000 years ago. Glaciers filled the Great Glen in Scotland to a depth of 600 metres. Average winter mean temperatures were minus 17 degrees C.

Just 9,700 years ago, in the space of perhaps 50 years, average July temperatures leapt by 7 degrees C. The climate warmed. Britain became, once more, inhabitable.

I’ve commented before how “global warming” has sensibly been dropped over the last few years, in favour of “climate change”. Also, the anticipated effects we’ve been led to expect in Britain have seemed to constantly shift. First, we were told, mid ‘noughties, to prepare for Mediterranean conditions. I planted vines in anticipation of those hot dry summers. Then it was warmer, wet winters, and then warmer, wetter summers too?

Whilst this late wintry burst is probably not exceptional, it does highlight the apparently increasingly volatile conditions we’re having to get used to. Whether from the entirely trivial stand point of a gardening hobbit on a Welsh hillside, or the strategies of a “developed” nation struggling to cope with such ever more challenging conditions, come the crunch, if the weather gets this bad, it seems we are completely impotent, and should consider that there really, is no place to hide.Meanwhile, in the greenhouse, for the first time this winter, yesterday I added a 250 Watt tubular heater to the insulation, water bottles, and now depleted and less warm compost reactor, as a means of keeping the contents, including the lovely Tomcot blossom, frost free, until the conditions improve. Only time will tell how successful this will be.




12 thoughts on “No Place To Hide

  1. A rich and varied post. The -14 C must have been a real shock to the system. It is far colder than anything we have had this year so far. I am sorry to see your crocuses suffering when they should have been in full glory.

    • Hello TP, It is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced – the lack of protection from this wind direction and no night cloud cover being big factors. But things are looking up…its only minus 10 this morning!
      It’ll be really interesting to see just how these bulbs cope – I never paid that much attention to bulb planting depths before, but realise now that using a digging bar to plant, and ending up with some a bit deeper than using a trowel might be a saving grace perhaps?
      best wishes

  2. Hi Julian, I always enjoy looking at your photographs of spring bulbs and it is such a pity to seem them devestated by the frost. However, I’m sure the damage is only cosmetic and that the bulbs will survive.

  3. Sad to see the poor little robin, the frog spawn and your bulbs all suffering from this March weather! Nigel McCall came first with his beautiful photo of the apple tree at Aberglasney in the Bountiful Earth category of the IGPOTY competition. Hope to see your entries there one day. Thanks for a really great post and hope that the next few days brings back the spring sunshine!

    • Thanks Marianne… Nigel and Aberglsaney are both great, aren’t they? They just get better and better and this is really well deserved recognition. I’m afraid my pics aren’t in the same league! But I do keep seeing exciting new things, which is probably why I’m still blogging.
      This cold spell has been really exhausting, though, and so tough for everything outside which can’t escape,
      best wishes

  4. Your crocus and snowdrops were so beautiful this year. At least they were enjoyed by visitors before the great freeze. I am hoping that they will be more resilient than you fear. The weather is so erratic. Poor little robin, those temperatures and wind must have been too severe for a lot of wildlife. Amelia

    • Thanks Amelia – I found another dead robin in our lower meadows 2 days ago – how anything, plant or animal, survives outside in such severe conditions is amazing – it makes one realise that for all our intelligence, when it comes to basics we’re pretty ill adapted as a species to severe cold – without all our mod cons…
      hope you’re OK where you are,
      Best wishes

      • We were spared the extreme cold that people were subjected to in the north east of France but it was very abnormally cold for us for a few days.

  5. You certainly had far more of the cold weather than us here in Wiltshire. Much as I love how snow and frost transform the everyday my heart always goes out to the wildlife trying to survive in such bitter conditions.

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