Garden Views-04-April 2018

April 2018 will be remembered as a month of very good lambing for us, but a static garden for the first 3 weeks. A combination of time spent with the sheep and little flower progression means few photos this April until mid month. The weather continued to be very cool, and Narcissi took weeks to emerge. Many early ones, and Narcissi bulbs produce flower buds for the following year immediately after flowering, were blind following last year’s very dry and sunny April. Almost no Camellia flowers had opened by the beginning of the month, and really only Rhododendron ‘Cilpinense’ put on a good display in early April.

For the first year ever, carefully planned flower succession broke down, we still had some nice late snowdrops heading into April, and birds put nesting on hold.Eventually a warm two days on April 20th, saw lots of flowers emerge, buds break and the first cuckoo was heard, and Orange-tip butterfly, Anthocharis cardamines, and Dark-edged Bee-flies, Bombylius major, were spotted. Following on from the first swallows flying around our yard on April 14th, at last it felt like the worst of this really long winter was past.

Our final NGS garden open weekend on April 21st/22nd was blessed with mainly dry weather and indeed the lucky folk who booked in for the Saturday, enjoyed the warmest, and one of the sunniest, days of the year. With a sudden rush the garden looked lovely.

Narcissus ‘Merlin’, as always, attracted a lot of interest, but also the Skimmias and Camellias were excelling, with the honeyed scent from the Skimmias filling the air in the lower copse, and honeybees evident in the garden for the first time for 2018.

We ended our lambing with 16 lambs, and the healthiest and most attractive bunch to date. For the first year we’ve made a real effort to spend time with each lamb, and bring all the ewes in at night with their lambs for at least 5 days. Lambing that bit later (this year starting on April 1st) saved us the worst of March’s inclement weather, but the continued cold has meant that grass growth remains very sluggish, so we shall end the year with very little hay remaining – the first time ever that this has happened. At least we “shut up” both of our hay meadows earlier than last year, and so have a fighting chance of making good the hay stocks, always assuming the summer includes a reasonable dry period!

A delight on April 23rd was finding a large number of what look like Heath Spotted-orchids, Dactylorhiza maculata, in our upper hay meadow. I scattered some dust like seed from a neighbour in this field about 3 years, and although the plants seem to be concentrated in just a few small areas, I managed to count nearly 40. Hopefully some flower spikes will appear shortly, if the slugs leave them alone.

One huge benefit of the prolonged very cold late winter/spring, is that slug numbers in both the garden and fields have crashed going into spring, which is great news for plant seedlings trying to establish themselves.

I also spotted many seedling betony plants and even the odd Great burnet, Sanguisorba officinalis, again the result of some judicious seed scattering. Common Dog-violets, Viola riviniana, are now in full flow, and the more delicate Marsh violet, Viola palustris, and King Cups / Marsh marigolds, Caltha palustris, began to flower around this time too.The first Primula sieboldii flowers emerged too. We’ve gradually acquired a selection of these charming cultivars, and we’re trying to give them enough space in our lower meadow copse, to shine. Late April also gave me a chance to photograph the latest additions to our daffodil collection (see separate page for more photographs).

At the end of the month, the PV inverter recording of 346 KWH, was boosted during the last few days of the month to something fairly average, though this figure didn’t capture the low temperatures throughout most of the month, or the often strong cold winds. Rainfall total was 158.2 mm, over 3 times last April’s very low figure. My expectation is that the combined weather effects with many trees and perennials coming into leaf late, should mean that 2019 is a great month for the flowering of many Narcissi, unless May turns very hot and dry, which currently doesn’t look likely.
At least on April 28th a burst of strong sunshine saw the bumblebee queens out in numbers for the first time this spring.