Cuckoos, Miners, Nomads and Blood; Welsh Daffodils Updated; Regal Moments

The year’s rushing past. So’s this post. Just do it. Publish and be damned

I walked out early morning to sniff the damp grey air in the first week of May, and to check for ewe noise. There was none. Yet I felt I had to return with the camera and Røde mic. The light may have been poor, but the temperature was benign and I wanted to capture the birdsong on an early morning, well after the real dawn chorus peak. Early May sees the return of the garden warbler, and this most mellifluous and generous of songsters often keeps singing throughout early May days, not just around dawn. A real treat as one works, or even just walks around the garden. For many years we never heard it, just as we never used to hear woodpigeons, which are now an ever-present, often dueting feature of our morning soundscapes.

We’ve never had so many blackbirds around the garden either, and a couple of days ago, whilst walking down the track to collect the mail, we saw and heard the unmistakeable descriptive smacked pebble sounds of a couple of stonechats, resting on the phone cable stretched above the hedge bank.

The garden warbler, (Sylvia borin) is really misnamed, being a very insignificant, small grey-brown bird that as its scientific name implies tends to inhabit open woodland, rather than gardens, where it finds plenty of insects – its principal diet. It’s thus a reflection of how our garden has developed over the years that they now feel at home here. Just like the cuckoo, it overwinters in sub-Saharan Africa and impressively given its small size, flies back and forth each year. The singing is linked to the establishment of territories, on its arrival in its summer home.

However, as with last year, I’m really missing the cuckoo. Fiona thinks she heard it, once, about 3 weeks ago, to the North. The following morning I heard a solitary curlew overflying the house, and heading West. 15 years ago I filmed from beneath an umbrella a wonderful scene overlooking Canada geese on our upper pond in heavy rain, whilst a pair of rival cuckoos called out clearly from close by. They are sorely missed, although if you click here for the excellent British Trust for Ornithology cuckoo project, you’ll read that of 12 tagged cuckoos who left the UK last summer, 10 are dead/presumed dead. Only 1 bird, made it back to Wales in the last week of April – ‘JAC’ left North Wales last summer and to quote their summary of his epic migration:

After spending the winter in the Democratic Republic of Congo, JAC began his long journey back to the UK on 22 February. First, he flew almost 2,000 km north-west to Nigeria and then another 1,400 km west to Guinea, where he spent a month feeding up in preparation for the arduous Sahara crossing ahead. JAC’s non-stop flight over the world’s largest desert came at the end of March, after which he arrived in his next staging area, the mountains of southern Spain… In 2021 he departed on 23 June and in 2022 he left on on 20 June.”

So we still have time to hear one I suppose, although the BTO scientists suggest that this year’s drought and high temperatures in Spain may well have hit cuckoo numbers hard, as they try to feed up and recover after their epic cross-Sahara flight.

Natural life of all forms inevitably waxes and wanes over time, yet some of these iconic seasonal marker species do seem to be on the brink of collapse. Will they be missed, once they finally no longer return?

I guess this question depends on whether younger generations are even aware that they were once common features of daily countryside life. This was brought into clearer focus by another visit by 3 of our younger grandchildren, minus parents, for a few nights just after Easter, which now seems a very long time ago. We didn’t enjoy quite such dry weather as we’d been blessed with for their February visit, but there was much to see and do, and an opportunity to educate these city-based youngsters in the names of many familiar flowers – daffodils, primroses, tulips, dandelions, which they could all recognise and name at the end of their stay here, if not when they arrived!

Fiona laid a typically well-planned Easter egg hunt and I filmed a little of the action. We were both surprised by how they all managed to rush past several seemingly obvious eggs multiple times, before with appropriate hints, they were all found. Perhaps one expects too much from over-excited children, or maybe it’s just that my ability to spot their gaudy foil-wrapped forms has been honed by years of quiet and slow movement and observation of natural scenes. My brain has indeed become adept at honing in on anything slightly different, whether animal, vegetable, or mineral, which clashes with the background patterns and colours.

On a wet day, after Fiona had brilliantly spent time with them assembling and painting some simple kit birdboxes, I asked them all if they’d like to make a short video of their Easter egg hunt from the clips I’d taken. There was unanimous enthusiasm, so we all traipsed upstairs and I opened my trusty MS video editor. Shock-horror, the old version which had been playing up for some time refused to open at all. I was stymied, there was no alternative. This Luddite had to tackle the new Clipchamp offering.

A few minutes of barely controlled frustration followed before I managed to at least open up a new project on it. Thank goodness I’d tackled it whilst the children were here since the eldest was very quick at having a go and working out how to operate some of the additional features. Needless to say, it’s vastly more versatile than the older version, although it does seem to gobble up memory very quickly, and the computer seems to have generally slowed dramatically since its first use. However, the upshot was that taking it in turns, all 3 managed to import and edit video clips, add text titles and scene transitions, and finally select and add a suitable music backing track. Their finished project was even saved and downloaded in double quick time and We-transferred to both of the older two’s email addresses. All finished just in time for supper in 2 hours of determined concentration, which really did impress me, and there was clearly a huge sense of satisfaction for them all in creating something like this through their own endeavours. Whether they ever upload it for public viewing at any time remains to be seen!


Freed from the shackles of frustration with the old editor’s problems, I’ve completed a couple of What3Plants videos  – firstly of tulips and daffodils on the terrace garden, and more recently another What3Plants moment in the copse where after years of steady spreading, the addition of Tulipa ‘Peppermint Stick’ to the white and blue forms of the (often cursed) Spanish bluebells, creates a real wow effect for a couple of weeks around the end of April and early May. Enjoy them while you can, before the YouTube censors strike them down, after complaints about non-native plants being used in a Welsh garden trigger an AI bot to object and strike out the video – a fate I’ve now experienced sufficiently often with interesting pieces of work by others that I’m very cynical about the current state of our freedom of expression.

Funnily enough, of all the flowers shown in these two clips, it’s the Spanish bluebells which thrill our native bee populations the most. But then that’s the dilemma, isn’t it? Nobody, or not quite so many, gets hot under the collar about non-native tulips, although they really have minimal appeal to our native pollinators. However, it’s the perceived genetic contamination of in-breeding with the native stock of bluebells that’s the real concern for some.



More progress has been made in cataloguing our daffodil cultivar collection this last month, thanks to sterling efforts from Fiona trawling through ancient records of bulbs acquired over many years from multiple sources. My grand idea of growing the new forms in big bags to bulk them up has played havoc with keeping track of which is which after they were subsequently lifted and then re-planted in a hurry much later in areas of the garden, with labels getting lost in the process.

It seems we now have well over 200 different forms, of which less than half have been clearly photographed, but I have at least updated the separate Welsh Daffodil pages on this website with the list of names, and a few more scenic images. In years to come, as with my snowdrop pages, I should be able to gradually work out what many of them are for anyone who wants a name to match a flower. However, you really don’t need a name to be able to enjoy their diverse forms.

I’ve also mused on how I came to call this a Welsh Daffodil page, so with apologies for a slight overlap with last month’s post, here’s the new introduction from the page:

When we bought Gelli Uchaf as a derelict shell (“with potential”) way back in 1993, there was no garden at all. The only garden flowers on the whole site were a few ancient double daffodils in the banked hedgerows of our access track, below.

How could we begin to create a garden in West Wales and not try to grow daffodils, (cenhinen bedr – ‘St.Peter’s leek’), the National flower? But which ones to try, when there are tens of thousands available? Surely Welsh-origin ones would be a good starting point?

But does that mean named daffodils grown and sold as bulbs in Wales? Difficult even to manage this, since there are very few Welsh nurseries selling them in this way – most bulbs sold are imported from overseas. Or named daffodils which were actually bred in Wales? Or even daffodils bred by a Welshman/woman? Living in Wales, or not?

(I’d like to think that in time the unique bulbs above, all slightly different and now beginning to flower in our upper wildflower meadow from seed saved from daffodils growing here and simply scattered onto this land over the last 4 seasons, might be viewed as truly Welsh daffodils. But who knows, and does it really matter? What value does plant nationalism have in our horticultural multi-cultural world? Our insects don’t seem to differentiate, rarely visiting any daffodil flowers, save some of the few species and a handful of named cultivars that we grow. The foliage and bulbs are so toxic that no herbivory occurs save for the clearly well-adapted larvae of the Narcissus fly, and the occasional tough slug. These words in italics are taken to indicate personal musings, not any sort of political debate – just to make that clear for any AI bot, or other interpretation).

As I’ll touch on, the origin of bulbs is a murky subject and not as easy to explore as one might think. Several countries – England, Scotland, Ireland and more recently the Netherlands and the U.S.A. have a strong and often recent history of growing and hybridising daffodils. But what about Wales?

As with my previous observations on snowdrop cultivars, I’ve found it incredibly hard to find any named cultivars specifically bred in Wales, (a strange situation, given its National flower status), so the Welsh Daffodil title of this page simply reflects our attempt to showcase some varieties which survive and bloom fairly reliably here in our wet upland Welsh climate. This excellent article by Catherine Beale, which I only came across in 2023, with more details here, tells the story of a cluster of daffodil breeders who were based around Presteigne, on the very border of Wales and England, in the early C20th. However, many of the daffodils named in this article, don’t seem to be available commercially any more. The most significant of these breeders was Alec Wilson (1868-1953) who bred 371 named varieties, after relocating his collection from Somerset. Presteigne has a small population of about 2,000. He was joined by Dr Nynian Lower (1872-1926), Sir John Arkwright (1872-1954) – the great-great-grandson of the cotton-spinning industrialist Sir Richard Arkwright, and Gwendolen Evelyn (d.1949) all at work developing new daffodils around Presteigne.

Notwithstanding this problem of defining, let alone finding, “truly Welsh” daffodils, we’ve slowly worked towards a selection predominantly based on vintage or heritage cultivars, as well as those awarded an AGM (RHS Award of Garden Merit). This has been further complicated in more recent times by using daffodil names for our annual crop of lambs and then trying to buy examples to plant in the garden.

“Just memories now.

Or slumbering. Soil-bound.

Spring plans already rooted,

For glorious bulbed resurrection.”

We obviously also mainly choose ones which appeal to our aesthetic senses, given the vast range of sometimes lurid and over-double forms available. (Recently acquired vintage daffodils being trialled many years ago, below).SDIM1437 (2)We grow them in trial beds or big bags, in our magic terrace garden, mixed with tulips:

And in borders, or naturalised amongst other perennials throughout much of the garden. Unlike fussy tulips, given the right variety of choices, they will multiply well like snowdrops and all the effort putting them into the ground initially repays with compound interest over many years, in an ever more floriferous display.

As of 2023, we also have a fabulous display area of about 150 distinct cultivars in a Malus and Sorbus copse, featuring trees we’ve grown from seed. This should develop further in the years ahead to be a fascinating area for comparing colours, forms, sizes and flowering times of these wonderful spring flowers, which can bloom from early January to the middle of May. The photos below give an idea of what this area looked like in mid-April 2023:

I should mention, of course, the local Welsh Tenby Daffodil, a species, Narcissus obvallaris, which we also grow. This flowers early, but not reliably. In some years, below, it produces a mass of strong yellow, smallish short-stemmed, and fairly short-lived flowers. However, in other years, hardly any flowers appear from the hundreds of bulbs. So it’s less reliable for extending the season of daffodil flowering into later spring than many other named cultivars.

Click here for a link to the current RHS list of AGM cultivars with basic descriptions. Of the nearly 30,000 named varieties, about 140 have been given an AGM so the choice is still huge. However, many of the AGM varieties will have been trialled in very different climate, rainfall and soil conditions to those found in our garden.


We were delighted that at last in 2023, not the best of springs for garden visiting in some ways, a few visitors even made it up here at daffodil time, something which rarely happens.

Before leaving the subject of daffodils (probably) for another year, after a lovely long, cool, extended season, I’ve pondered lifting and moving daffodils “in the green” again. I did a small trial beginning in 2011, which showed that the effect is similar to moving snowdrops – it sets them back, and if they’re split up, then there’s a definite reduction in flowering for 2 to 3 years, but they do recover. As with snowdrops, One of the best times to do this is just as the foliage begins to die back but still has some inherent strength to it. However, it’s much more effort to dig out a clump of daffodils, where the bulbs are usually deeper than with snowdrops. It’s also easier to re-plant small numbers of bulbs in new locations in the spring before other perennial foliage has established. Finally, it’s much easier to position new plantings when you can see where other daffodils are already growing, rather than taking potluck in the autumn, or trying to work from very detailed photos taken when the flowers were present.

The reasons I think that it’s not a more widely practised garden strategy are several -there’s always a lot more going on in a garden in early May, and there are greater chances of hot dry weather which will adversely affect recently moved bulbs more significantly. And finally, and most importantly, it’s physically much more demanding – both digging them out and then re-planting them as green bulbs. Musing around this for several weeks, I finally hit on a trial plan.

What about lifting clumps in the green and potting them up briefly, and re-planting later in the year, or even next spring, early on as they and other daffodils come into leaf? The big issue then was finding enough deep pots. Until I thought of our huge annual build-up of 10kg wood pellet bags used to fuel our biomass stove. Roll down the tops, cut a few snips in the base, and take off the corners, and hey presto, you have a tough, strong short-term container. Thank goodness I hadn’t already sent all of them for recycling.

William and I managed about 45 bags in an afternoon this week, with me lifting the bulbs and labelling the bags, and William adding in compost at the base and topping the level up in the bag to the soil level they’d been growing at in the ground. The plan is that they can sit in a secluded part of the garden in part shade as the foliage dies down completely, and then the clumps can be split apart and the bulbs thinned out a bit more, and top dressed with more compost to keep the bulbs deep enough. Some may be kept as is, to assess next year’s flowering potential in situ. Some will be planted into the Molinia/sheep bedding patches of weakened turf recently created in the Malus/Sorbus copse in the autumn. Maybe even planting the bulbs with the PottiPukti? Some will probably be used to fill in spaces in the garden early next spring, just as I’ve done with snowdrops for many years. Perhaps in future, we may be able to have a few bags of favourite and unusual daffodils in flower and for sale during the daffodil season, for any visitors to take home and add to their garden?

Finally, in cataloguing the names, I pondered on the origin of one cultivar we’d apparently selected when we were trawling for ‘f’ cultivars for our 2017 lamb crop – Filoli. I was intrigued by this and tried to google it to find its origin, and discovered the amazing gardens at Filoli in California. This is an excellent website with wonderful photos of the garden displays, and I read that the garden has a significant collection of 37 named heritage American daffodils, with more to be discovered, since like many grand gardens it fell into disrepair, and was only brought back to life quite recently. So there was the answer, I thought to Filoli’s origins – a heritage American cultivar, bred at this site. Except I later read that it was actually bred by an Englishman, John Lea, in the 1970s and named and registered much later, in recognition of the Filoli gardens.

I’d also guessed that the creator of the American estate must have had Italian links, with a name like that. Wrong again! It was developed by William and Agnes Bourn, an American owner of one of the richest California gold mines as well as the water company which supplied San Francisco with its drinking water. He chose the name by selecting the first two letters from the three lines of his favourite mantra :

Fight for a just cause; Love your fellow man; Live a good life.

Not a bad motto, I’d say.


Lambing has finished for another year and with it comes a sense of relief. No more dramas, and although far fewer lambs than in 2022, at least a preponderance of ewe lambs to rejuvenate our small flock. (5/2). Many apparently coloured and mated ewes didn’t go on to have any lambs at all – we’re probably bringing the average age of the flock down in the nick of time. However, all the ewes were placid, and it’s been brilliant to be able to have all the lambs trained up to approach for attention within a month, which bodes well for future ease of sheep handling.

They’ve remained an extraordinarily quiet bunch of lambs, as well. Quiet sheep are contented sheep. The converse, a noisy sheep spells trouble. It’s always worth opening the front door just before bedtime and listening. Usually, the valley is quiet, but a few nights ago there was regular calling from not just one, but several of the ewes. The bath had to wait whilst I checked, and in the torchlight could see that ‘Jamage’ (another daffodil to be bought this autumn) had managed to squeeze through an undiscovered gap and get stuck in the double-fenced boundary bank. Fortunately she was calm enough to allow me to grab her and lift her back over the barbed wire to her mum, with no need to use my walking stick-come-crook.

But I did reflect that it was almost as though the sheep were calling not just for the lamb’s benefit, but to try to alert me that there was a problem. The lambs are really past the point where predation is much of a risk, but nocturnal silence is the order of the night for sensible, vigilant sheep.


Cleptoparasites and parasitoids seem to have caught my attention in recent weeks. Firstly after hearing an excellent talk by Vaughn Matthews to the Carmarthenshire Meadows Group in early May, about Marsh Fritillary (MF) butterflies. I was asked to film and edit the talk, so you can watch it below.

It’s a fascinating project about the re-introduction of these fast-declining, beautiful insects. The project was nearly derailed by the project team discovering several of the collected larvae which were being reared to establish a source for introduction to the recipient site, were themselves afflicted with their own tiny parasitic wasp. The wasp, Cotesia melitaearum, is only a couple of mm long, and it seems to have a role in a healthy colony of butterflies by controlling numbers of the fritillary larvae, which are gregarious and voracious consumers of the specific larval food plant. Since the wasp only uses MF larvae as a host species, it’s probably even rarer than the butterfly, but not so easy to spot!

A week later I was walking along the stream on Good Friday, trying to see spawning brook lampreys, when I came across a short section of bank turf which seemed to be teeming with honey bees. Given that this was hundreds of yards from the nearest hive I was intrigued, so jumped down into the stream to get a better view of what the bees were up to. And discovered that they weren’t honeybees, but a species of Andrena, a solitary mining bee, which had emerged from their typical horizontal tunnels in the exposed soil face of the bank. However, they were not alone. Milling around in the same area were a number of more brightly coloured nomad bees, which are cuckoo bees, or cleptoparasites. These were hunting for their chosen host species’ nest, and then nipping into the tunnel and laying their own eggs, which once hatched would consume the host’s egg and then the collected resources the bee had stored for its own larva. What will later eventually emerge from some of these tunnels will then be another nomad, and not a miner.

The same natural life battle is taking place right now, between the cobblestones of our front path, and indeed on the disturbed molehill soils of the upper meadow. In each case, different miners and different cleptoparasites are trying to compete with each other in their annual life and death story. Without the bare soil the molehills present, the miner would struggle to make its nest burrow. Without the miner, the nomad which doesn’t collect any pollen itself as a food store for its larvae wouldn’t survive.

If I used Pathclear or some other toxic herbicide on our cobbled paths, the miners, and their Sphecodes, or Blood bee, adversaries wouldn’t be able to create viable nests. I suspect this since the mines were never there in the several years when I used such products before I discovered the cheaper and safer option of hot water and salt. Remarkably they seem to tolerate this, though during periods of peak adult bee activity, I tend to avoid treating these areas.

You can probably appreciate from these photos how small the cobbled path nesting bees are – just a few mm long, and although the miner does stop and rest occasionally which makes photography a little simpler, the blood bee is almost constantly on the move, roving between the stones and periodically disappearing down a mine entrance. When I was snapping away, from my standing position, it was more in hope than expectation – I really wasn’t aware that I’d captured any of the blood bees entering tunnels, they were just so small and fast. In that regard, a very similar strategy to the real cuckoo, which can apparently be in and out of a host nest having laid its imposter’s egg, in a matter of seconds.


I’ll finish with a nod to the recent coronation. A typically well-organised and grand event and a fitting one for our new King Charles III. He and the monarchy certainly have their detractors of late. Replace him or them at our peril, is my personal view. I salute him for his service to the nation for so many years and his seemingly tireless behind-the-scenes influence in such a diverse range of activities – The Prince’s Trust, the environment, rare breed preservation, horticulture, organic farming, multi-faith spirituality, architecture, the arts and music, architecture, all things equine… the list seems exhaustingly endless. I was really moved by the formal salute from the processional forces after they’d formed up behind the palace after the return to Buckingham Palace. Spine tingling indeed. The three cheers and then the closing music – a wonderful newly commissioned piece for King Charles III played by the massed pipes and drums. Featuring regiments including The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, The Queen’s Gurkha Engineers and 1st Battalion, Irish Guards.

It only occurred to me after this event that by chance our most impressive Rhododendron has been hitting peak flower around the time of the coronation. It was planted perhaps 15 years ago, and gets bigger and better each year, with just the occasional bit of die-back. The flowers are almost hand-sized, and it thrives in full sun here – probably because this is a relative term in most years, and indeed for most of the year.

And its name? R. loderi ‘King George’. Will it still be here, when the King’s grandson, George, who helped to hold the monarch’s robe train during the coronation, ascends to the throne? Perhaps so, since some forms can live for over 100 years. What a spectacle it might be then.

I’ll finish with another short piece of music chosen from many of the excellent ones which were commissioned by the King for the service, but this was my favourite. A reworked form of Kyrie Eleison, titled Arglwydd, trugarhâ (Lord, Have Mercy), composed by Welsh composer Paul Mealor. And apparently the first time that the Welsh language has been heard in a coronation service. It’s sung by the wonderful Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel. What voice control! What an extraordinary melody and sound!

P. S. We both heard the cuckoo, close by today – May 16th. Hurrah!