A View of Paradise? Daffodils for Wales; What3Plants; Slog and Grief.

“Thank you for the view of Paradise”.

After many years of welcoming complete strangers to this place, are these the most rewarding few words to have been written in our visitors’ book? Many years ago I recall writing a blog post – “Why do we do it?”  Re-reading it for this piece, it turned out to be from April 2017.

That post explored what it is that motivates gardeners to toil so assiduously, and then in some cases, compound the situation by subjecting one’s efforts to inspection by complete strangers who even have to pay for the privilege. For sure, in the case of private gardens opening under the auspices of the National Gardens Scheme as we do, the funds raised from such openings go to support the vital work of several worthy health and nursing-related charities. However, we’ve always seen this side of public opening as a bonus to our endeavour, not the primary reason we do it. Mainly we hope that others can glean something from time spent in this special place, whether that be inspiration, company and conversation, or simply a novel break from the fast and furious reality of life today.

So often the impact of a garden visit depends on the weather and the time of day. We often fear that group visits that have been planned many days or weeks in advance might be wrecked by our very variable weather.

When our largest visit of the year so far, which we’d already had to postpone at snowdrop time since the forecast was dire and we’d both succumbed to a seasonal bug, was re-arranged for yesterday, we weren’t hopeful. We were just ending what was the gloomiest and wettest March in all our years here.

Oh me of little faith!

Connie informed me in her final email, nearly a week before the due date, that her forecast was for sunshine on Tuesday morning.

I suggested they all pack wellingtons or walking boots. The ground was then awash after 331 litres of water had fallen on every square metre of our land during March.

Yet indeed by Tuesday, the weather had morphed and with Monday also being one of glorious sunshine, much-needed preparation had been largely completed, and a gorgeous red sky dawn proved to be a false warning. Whilst chilly after a slight overnight frost, the day was a special one, and we really enjoyed the group of older visitors who’d trekked up from the Gower. I was surprised by Connie’s comment as she arrived that they’d really enjoyed the sense of calm and serenity in the rural landscape, once they’d turned off the main road at Talley, about 8 miles away.

Perhaps it’s easy to take for granted our rural environs and moan about the weather, but on such a glorious day we were delighted by how many enjoyed their visit and even managed the arduous trek up longevity hill, to sit awhile in the shepherd’s hut and enjoy the distant views.

I’ve no idea who actually left the written comment, or what exactly they were referring to, but it reaffirmed to me that the effort involved in us hosting such visits is well worth it. I spent a fair bit of time chatting to a couple of older ladies, who for different mobility reasons weren’t physically up to viewing much of the garden, but still clearly relished the chance to sit at the metal table and enjoy the scenes over the landscape with freshly cut daffodils drifting in the blue glass bowls in the gentle chilly breeze.

It was a memorable morning, and one when the garden finally seemed to be catching up with where it should be. A glance back through the images from 6 years ago confirmed just how much many of the shrubs in the copse have grown. And why for me it’s the potential to create wider vistas and views that excite me more than the individual plant vignettes. We love the individual plants, but they’re really just the raw materials, the paint box, or palette, which we work with. The trouble is that, at least for me, it takes a lot longer for these wider scenes to be painstakingly imagined and realised. Or more often revealed to me by chance, unplanned plant associations. And with the best of intentions, they can all fail if weather or poor light spoil the effect on the day of a visit.

In a way, I’d have loved to quiz the author of the comment about what she had in mind? The view from the shepherd’s hut, say, or the more general experience from time spent in the garden? On the other hand, probably better to leave it as is, one of those positive encouragements that we must be getting something right, and wonderful that we managed to add a bit of enjoyment and calm into visitors’ lives.

For anyone interested in the history of paradise gardens, this link explores its origins and importance in the Abrahamic traditions, and how it became a dominant very formal design concept in the 7th century in Persia before spreading extensively. The idea has recently been explored and re-invented by Tom Stuart-Smith at the new RHS Bridgewater garden. A very special-looking space in the images in the linked article, although the complete opposite of the informal, generally naturalistic style of gardening we indulge in. However the aim for delight and harmony, even in the much more naturalistic space here, is a common one. Even if our style tries to downplay the role of the gardener/designer, rather than promoting a sense of formality, with domination and control of the environment.




For the record, the Met Office’s report on March 2023 confirms what a dreadful month it was here. Only 4 days with no rain, less insolation than February as recorded by our PV inverter, (despite longer days, more days, and the sun being higher in the sky), and less than half the reading for an albeit very sunny 2022. Worse was the ten times as much rainfall as the exceptionally dry February 2023. A month best forgotten, save for the opportunities for plant growth and snowdrop moving.

My impression is that many spring bulbs will have had a bumper year for foliage photosynthesis and growth, hinting perhaps at bumper flower bud initiation and flower displays in 2024?

I’ve struggled to find any meaningful discussion of the plant physiological trade-offs between light levels/insolation – low in 2023, high in 2022; water and nutrient supply at the roots – high in 2023, yet very low/dry in 2022; and day/night time temperatures – although temperatures have been on the cool side, there’s been a marked lack of hard frosts in 2023, unlike the very sunny 2022. My guess is therefore that plant leaf photosynthesis can make up for a certain lack of light, and generally cooler temperatures, by not suffering during the first hours of the morning after a frosty night spent in a collapsed and ice-crystal-afflicted state of dehydration.

Next year may demonstrate if my hunch is accurate, and we are blessed with even more fabulous snowdrop and daffodil displays.


As well as using the Pottiputki for planting lots of snowdrops ‘in the green’ in the gloomy March weather, William and I tackled what he calls the “bank of peril” – as opposed to the steeper “bank of death”. On his regular Tuesday visit, when it wasn’t a washout, we worked in tandem on this steep slope. Up until 2 years ago, we’d just let this area go, as a very difficult and challenging space, and it had slowly become a near monoculture of Alchemilla mollis. Great as ground cover, and looking briefly lovely in the rain with beaded water droplets on its leaves, as well as in flower. But I gradually realised that this steep bank could be home to much more interesting, diverse plants with greater insect appeal – the Alchemilla flowers, although heavily honey scented, to my nose, never seemed to attract any bee visitors.

So out they came – not an easy task given their rugged roots, and the bank has gradually been planted up using a technique of working from a ladder, and hacking out a shallow planting pocket with a slater’s hammer. Weeding in a limited way can be carried out at the same time. Last year lots of homegrown Hydrangeas, Persicaria vaccinifolium, Geranium striatum, Fuchsia magellanica, Devil’s bit scabious, and Knautia were planted. Lots of common seeds – Welsh poppies, Aquilegia, and Cat’s ears were scattered from the top of the bank last autumn. And this spring, taking a cue as I often do from nature’s way with self-seeding, we’ve concentrated on lifting, splitting, and re-planting scraps of native primroses, as well as lots more snowdrops. As with other parts of the garden, finding a couple of orchids growing on this unpromising shale bank a couple of years ago implied a fungal network had already been established – the range of perennial plants now growing here act as a trapping network for some of the fallen leaves. Both in autumn from the group of Amelanchiers above the bank, but also right into spring when any strong winds shift the still largely undecomposed oak leaves which have settled in any other beds, around the garden.

Until last year I used to view fallen leaves as a simple valuable resource to be collected from paths and yards for composting into leaf mould. After reading a couple of papers about exactly how leaves decompose in any ecosystem, I now realise that all leaves really aren’t the same, in terms of both nutritive value, and more importantly how quickly these nutrients become available again. And indeed which life forms are involved in this degradation and recycling process. Thus it’s not just fungi with their lignin splitting enzymes doing this vital work, but a myriad of unseen ground/soil-based bacteria, other single-celled organisms, as well as a huge array of invertebrate animals of varying size and complexity. In many ways having a mix of leaves available for them to process therefore allows leaf litter nutrients to be recycled at different speeds through the seasons, akin to the concept of slow-release inorganic fertilisers familiar to most gardeners.

It will make me even more reluctant to clear leaves from any areas of the cultivated garden, and indeed to continue my process of adding chopped leaves to those areas, like the magic terrace garden, which gets an annual meadow-style cut and remove of all aging perennial plant foliage, late in the year.


I struggle to devote as much time and effort to documenting our daffodils – probably because lots happens around early April. Lambing has now begun, weeding and sowing all take time, and the job is always neglected. However, as with our snowdrops, the aim over many years has been to try to work out named daffodils that reliably perform in our conditions, and are therefore useful and reliable to use in impactful larger-scale plantings. Sadly many don’t perform reliably in this way. We’re gradually creating a “display” area, in the Malus/Sorbus copse, where many of those that we trial can be viewed nearly side by side in similar meadow/woodland edge conditions. Inevitably this is a long-term project but has to begin somewhere.

This involved choosing daffodils we liked the look of from bulb catalogues and websites, of which about half were named historic forms, with the others being named cultivars that had won an AGM for garden worthiness. To complicate matters, when we started lambing our small flock, we opted for daffodil names for the lambs, with a different sequential letter of the alphabet for each year. So that created a third line of focus for daffodil selection. We’re onto letter J this year, which might prove to be a bit of a struggle, since although there are over 30,000 named daffodils globally, we have to locate bulbs for sale of the chosen cultivars in the UK.

Heading into the second week of April, there’s an explosion of named daffodils opening every day, so once again I’m behind the curve, however here’s our current list of favourite early-season daffodils for Wales, which seem to reliably thrive in our upland wet conditions:

N. ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’. Weeks ahead of any other daffodils. Reliable, long-lasting flowers – easily 2 months with flowers most years. The flowers are a fairly ordinary large yellow trumpet and perianth (petals). But heck, otherwise it’s an invaluable visual delight for those grey wintry months.

N. ‘Brunswick’. Tall, early, vigorous, floriferous, sets some seed and the longest lasting daffodil flower we grow, excepting the earlier N. ‘R.E.S’. Lovely blue-green foliage.

N. ‘Orange Comet’. Quite a recent chunky N. cyclamineus cultivar, which we only received as a suggested substitute for N. ‘Trena’ (below, which we prefer). But it seems very early, floriferous, and is bulking up very well.

N. ‘Rapture’. Another quite early N. cyclamineus cultivar with very swept-back petals typical of the species. Mid height, so quite tall for a cyclamineus, and seems quite vigorous thus far.

N. ‘Jetfire’. An early mid-height cyclamineus form with distinctive orange trumpets. It has proved very reliable over 20 years, though in some areas has declined recently.

N. ‘Eaton Song’. A lovely multiheaded short, very early daffodil, from Ron & Adrian Scamp. I always mean to buy more, but this year I must, It has a very long flowering season too.

N. ‘Trena’. A very beautiful, early, short cyclamineus, from Ron Scamp. I’ve noticed other nurseries list it as a daffodil but the images show a much shorter trumpet. This has wonderful proportions and is probably our favourite shorter daffodil, though not super vigorous.

Narcissus pseudonarcissus subsp. pseudonarcissus. This is one of the native wild daffodil species in the UK. It takes a while to establish from bulbs which aren’t much bigger than snowdrops, (particularly poor in the second year), but is quite early, attractive to bumble bees, and typically sets lots of seed. These seem to germinate really well with us, just scattered onto our meadow turf in the autumn. We’re quickly (4-5 years!) establishing a population with quite a variety of forms – no real wow effects yet, but just wait and see what another 4 years bring! This makes it all the more strange that most UK suppliers of this native species, list their stock as being of continental origin!

N. ‘Ice Follies’. On balance possibly the most vigorous and floriferous daffodil we grow. Quite a large flower, but it stands up to wind and rain well and sets some seeds

N. ‘February Gold’. Rarely in flower with us in February – more like mid-March in many years. It’s a fairly tall, elegant clear golden yellow, and has the slightly swept-back petals typical of a cyclamineus. Like many of the cyclamineus forms the leaves are a brighter green – less glaucous than lots of daffodils. One of the few all golden yellow daffodils I really like!

If we had to pick just 3 of these for early, long-term daffodils for impact in a Welsh garden, they’d be N. ‘Brunswick’, ‘N. Ice Follies’, and N. pseudonarcissus subsp. pseudonarcissus.

For those who spot the glaring omission from this list of the local native Welsh Tenby daffodil, N. pseudonarcissus obvallaris, there is a reason. We grow a lot of it. It’s very vigorous, very early, and in a good year (below in 2021), it puts on a fabulous display. It’s mid-height, and the foliage is an attractive glaucous green. It even sets some seed. But at least every other year, including 2023, it produces almost no flowers, which is a major failing, and puts me off lifting and splitting some of the huge clumps we have, to spread it around even more.

I hope to have the energy to focus on a few of the lovely mid and late-season daffodils in a later post this year, many of which are very old cultivars which we sourced from Croft 16 daffodils.


I made a short YouTube to capture the state of play with the 5 honey bee colonies which went into this challenging past winter with its mix of some severe cold snaps, late spring, and frequent rain. It’s really pleasing that with no interventions or feeding from me, all 5 seem to have made it into spring, and reached what I always see as the critical moment when the pussy/goat willows, Salix caprea, in the surrounding landscape start to provide their bountiful nectar and pollen. Particularly since the two severe cold snaps we had in December and January were bad enough to take out all the Hebes growing here – something that’s never happened before. Cut back to twiggy balls, I’ll wait to see if they shoot again. In the wider landscape, the dandelions and violets are also just beginning to bloom, so the worst is past. The garden’s flowers are no longer such critical food sources for them.

There’s a very interesting lecture from the recent “Learning From the Bees” 2023 international conference, by Gareth John, titled “The Hardest Thing to see is what is really there.” I include this link not just because Gareth describes some interesting observations he’s made about bees creating and using their own upper entrances to hives. This is something I’ve also discovered by chance with “my” colonies”. But also for his philosophical discussion of how we’re limited by our thoughts and words in perceiving and then attempting to interpret natural events from a purely human point of view. The human engineer’s assessment of why his bees have made an upper opening is that the honey bees have got it wrong. Warm air MUST travel in at the base of the hive, and exit through the top. That’s what happens with hot air – it rises. Yet Gareth observes that this isn’t what actually happens in such hives – the bees force the air the other way, downwards through the hive, and attempts to ask why this might be. Well worth a read, even if you’re not that interested in honey bees.

If only to confirm how little we really understand about natural phenomena.


With increasing honey bee activity ahead, and the usual few articles reminding one of the potentially severe reactions to bee stings, we’ve mentally dusted off our protocol of what to do if we do get a sting. This reminded me of the advantages of knowing, in an extreme medical emergency, the What3Words location tag for where our remote property is. For anyone unfamiliar with this, every 10-metre square on the earth’s surface has its unique 3-word tag. Click on the website link to find out how it works. For any location, there is clearly a range of offerings, as you move the cursor around the map or satellite image. Remembering most of them seemed tricky, but eventually, I found one square centred on our hammer-dressed blue-stone seat, which seemed curiously appropriate. Both for this ancient, relocated stone and also for anyone placed in the emergency recovery position, after a serious anaphylactic sting reaction:

Grounded, Passively, Prone.

(Interestingly, the satellite image they’ve used must be nearly 10 years old, I’d guess from the state of the upper meadow pre-wildflower restoration.)

Let’s hope we never have to reference these 3 words in a crisis.

Thoughts of 3 words had also returned to me since I was reflecting on how a powerful visual scene in a garden often relies on the combination of a set of plants. In our gardening style, often just a few forms/species which can be repeated and intermingled. Because many of the best effects here are the result of trial and error or serendipity, it’s likely some of these particular success stories may well be unique – after all just how many thousands of daffodil, tulip, or muscari cultivars are there? I guess one could choose a larger number for such heavenly, if fleeting marriages, but just 3 often seems to be the critical minimum and stray too far above this, and any impact of repetition can be diluted. So 3 it will be.


Example 1: Narcissus ‘Ice Follies’, Helleborus X hybridus, and Pulmonaria ‘Trevi Fountain’

Example 2: Narcissus ‘February Gold’, Helleborus X hybridus, Narcissus ‘Ice Follies’
We often comment on such a particular view that if just one of the plants were missing the real WOW factor would be lost. Yet so often it depends on a particular cultivar flowering at the same time as its neigbours, which can be well nigh impossible to work out from even the best specialist nursery catalogues.

So trial and error it seems to have to be. And if one gets a glimpse of a combination that works really well then maybe years of effort to build up the numbers to make the effect even more dramatic.

The example below is one of my current What3Plants favourites from the garden, which lasts for a good fortnight in most years. Several Ribes sanguineum bushes, grown from cuttings from another specimen in a different part of the garden, which subsequently died. Years later, the Narcissus ‘Ice Follies’ were whacked into the rubble stone slope below and are sufficiently tough daffodils to thrive here, and the final element was scattering saved Muscari latifolium seed onto the evergreen Saxifraga x urbium ‘London Pride’ leaves, and discovering that in just a few years, they were flowering bulbs. Now I just need to bulk them up. So a What3Plants effect long in the making, but a real delight every spring, and one which I suspect could be reliably replicated elsewhere.

We’re just approaching one of the best moments in the garden when just 3 plants, dominate a large part of the garden and reliably create an evolving vista for a couple of weeks. I like this idea, so may well repeat it, and even shift the results onto a separate webpage.


It’s that time of the year when morning snuggle-ups are brief. I’m out of bed early, and back in late with the regular round of sheep checking. This does have real benefits on a dry day – the dawn chorus is at its best well before the sun rises, and last night at dusk, I caught the unmistakeable silhouette of the hooked beak of a sparrowhawk slip silently from a perch in the big sycamore behind the greenhouse, and glide down into the valley.

Our small flock of hardy Tor Ddu Badgerface ewes is kept outside all year, so checking for signs of imminent lambing means a regular trek around the 3 fields we have them in at this time of year. Lambing didn’t begin well, with our first ewe aborting twins several weeks ago. Worse followed, with her uterus prolapsing the following day, into the mud and mire of March’s meadow. What to do? A needs-must crisis procedure which I shan’t dwell on to spare the squeamish. Her survival chances were poor, but two weeks later she’s picked up and is still in the land of the living. In February, our visiting American galanthophile friends couldn’t believe it when I told them that our annual receipts for 9 sold lambs and 6 ewes last year amounted to just £450. Which nowhere near covers feed, shearing, fencing posts and netting, hay harvesting, hedge laying, and yes all the countless hours of slog to carry out all these tasks. Thank goodness we don’t have to make a living out of an upland farm. It’s an oxymoron. And yet, of course, it is a wonderful side to life here, which is why we’re still doing it.

Things picked up later with another set of twins, both ram lambs, and the day later yet another set, this time even better for us, trying to rejuvenate our aging flock, both were ewe lambs. All seemed well, and both ewes were amazingly calm and seemed to have passed this trait onto their lambs – no complaints there. However, during the late night check, the last-to-arrive ewe lamb was found to have somehow managed to get the length of the umbilical cord attached to the still-only half-shed placenta/afterbirth, wrapped completely around its neck. With a partially fluid-filled amniotic sac weighing it down on one side and acting as a strangulating ligature. Quickly and easily torn and released with bare hands, the lamb seemed none the worse, so it was a shock to find it stone cold and stiff the following morning.

Where there’s life, death’s not far away. Jamage, above, now has no sister, and Fiona is busily milking out one teat to relieve the pressure, and hoping that Jamage eventually gets the idea that there’s a right-hand milk bar available as well as just the left one.

Since then, the weather looks more benign for the Easter weekend, so we’re waiting for what comes next in this annual maelstrom of joy and sorrow, never failing to marvel at the mammalian miracle of internal fertilisation and new birth, with all its imperfect messiness.

Finally, with much delight, a pair of swallows have already returned to Gelli on April 7th. Possibly the earliest we can recall, and are happily chattering inside our barn. Perhaps ensuring the upper barn door is always propped open with a draped vet bed at this time of the year, as well as the presence of their Corten cousins, has helped them home in on us so soon? Having failed to capture them on camera in their first two days here, going out early on Easter Sunday to get a photo of the bank of peril, they chose to pose for me, along with a sparrow – probably the best swallow photos I’ll manage all year.



Finally, I’ll leave you with a recently discovered, by me, classical piece. Richard Strauss’s Alpine symphony. The short clip below features simply the opening two movements “Night – Sunrise”, of an epic tone poem finished in 1915. These begin, and then are reprised to finish, the 50 minute long work. Look at the image, or better close your eyes, and see if he captures a mountain scene at night and dawn in your mind’s eye. What wonderful moody orchestration.

If you fancy the whole dramatic piece complete with cowbells, wobbly metal sheet, and thunder machine, click on this link to a live performance from 1998.

It’s a beautifully filmed and memorable concert celebrating the 450th anniversary of the founding of the Staatskapelle Dresden, one of the oldest orchestras in the world. Their home base, a beautiful building in Dresden, the Semperoper, was originally built in 1841. After a fire in 1869 it was rebuilt, partly again by Semper the original architect, and completed in 1878. The opera house has a long history of premieres, including major works by Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss.

Needless to say, in 1945, the building was largely destroyed again, this time by the Allied bombing of Dresden and subsequent firestorm, leaving only the exterior shell standing. Exactly 40 years later, on 13 February 1985, the opera’s reconstruction was completed. The impressive Italian conductor for this performance, Giuseppe Sinopoli, (who I’d also never heard of before), was the resident conductor in Dresden from 1992 until his sudden death from a heart attack, while conducting Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin.