Our Gardening Year

This is a simple factual record of what we were up to around the property, during the year 2018. It might serve as a prompt to us, as we become more forgetful about what to do, and when. More importantly in the future, it may be an aid to whoever takes over as custodians of this very special property once we’ve left.

The garden won’t stay the same of course in future years – that’s simply never the case with gardens, and things evolve with time. But this record will try to capture some of the practical tips which we’ve learned from trial and error about how to look after this place, and land, in what is sometimes a challenging climate.

This is the unglamorous, and sometimes tedious aspect of living in a place like this. The necessary graft which enables us (and you) to enjoy the views and scenes throughout the year which feature in my blog posts. The photographs and text here reflect this – snapped quickly as a simple aide-memoire often after the tasks are completed, and factual notes.

January Week 1:

Lifting and potting up some of our early snowdrops in perfect conditions – wet ground, and more rain forecast for the next 3 days. I use a homemade mix of roughly equal thirds of our own compost, rotted wood waste, (10 years plus of surplus logs rotted to a red brown friable substance) and bought in potting compost to which a generous amount of coarse vermiculite is added. Some snowdrops may be sold to garden visitors, others can be planted out later in the year in new locations.

Starting on a proper new access path created behind the main block of the tyre garden. Decent paths have become a necessity around the garden as winter weather conditions and wet ground otherwise make inspecting the snowdrops on a regular basis impossible. What to use as a surface is always tricky for our garden where resources and finance are limited. Here we’ll opt for on site produced wood chip, from the autumnal visit of Lampeter tree services to cut back trees from close to our electricity cables.

Cutting back continues with the Verbena rigida stems on the lower copse slope, and by the spiral washing line base. Here too all the Miscanthus needs cutting back. If we’d tackled this before Christmas, I’d have avoided so many leaves being blown off, which makes things look really tatty, and take ages to tidy up. Apart from a bit of hand weeding through the year to remove fine grasses, this area requires almost no maintenance apart from this. The Miscanthus stems always get saved – handy for bamboo stakes alternatives, or kindling.

A delivery of 4 tons of 3/4 inch chippings for the yard arrives from D. Lloyd and Sons at Pumsaint, now our preferred supplier – a family business since the 1790’s – and we begin barrowing it out and raking it level. It’s probably 6 years since we did this before and in spite of being careful about leaf and mud removal, the inevitable gradual silting up over the years had made the lower half of the yard too muddy to be acceptable.

Record and photograph snowdrops in flower throughout the week on a daily basis if possible.As well as keeping a check on whether any need snowdrops need splitting and dividing, if plants show any signs of disease, they are removed and binned (not composted). So far this is a mere handful per season. I always wear disposable gloves to do this, and do it at the end of any snowdrop session. I thoroughly scrub the 2 pronged fork which I use for hoiking out affected bulbs, after finishing this job, and also try to minimise handling of any snowdrop flowers or leaves throughout the growing season to reduce the risks of cross contamination. Apart from when I hand pollinate flowers.

Throughout this time of the year, daily log and wood pellet replacements to keep the house warm are inevitable. In our opinion one can’t have too big a stock of prepared ready to burn fire wood, and kindling.

Week 2:

Fork over the whole of the by now well composted leaves in the insulated compost heap which warms the greenhouse, to the Easterly side. These went into the “reactor” in late October, and have dramatically reduced in volume. See my separate web pages on how this works. Then refill this compost “reactor” with the last big bag of covered chopped leaves, gathered in autumn, and soak with pee from a watering can. Just in time for extra heat for the return of another run of cold weather.

Continue cutting back dead honesty seed heads, and any remaining new growth to allow spring bulbs enough leaf light to grow well. Cut back shrubbery bed perennials. Remove all dead Saxifrage fortunei foliage from copse. This has roted to a wet brown mush by now, and this year removing it showed evidence of mouse/vole predation of Crocus corms. There are 2 or 3 times in the year, this being one, when such predation occurs. Growing Crocus varieties that seed around is really useful to help replace such losses, (many bought varieties set almost no seed, or are sterile so losses like this quickly leads to a dwindling flower display). Whenever I find evidence of such damage I use focused “organic” ferric phosphate slug pellets in these areas. My suspicion is that this gets eaten by the small rodents. Without some form of rodent control whenever such predation appears, growing Crocus in the garden would be impossible. Huge numbers of corms can be eaten very quickly, though the ones growing through the London Pride in this part of the garden were largely unaffected.

 

Continue pruning/shaping holly “mushrooms” around the garden.

Continue with making steps and the access path behind the tyre garden, and spreading chopped bark mulch, from on site.

2 sessions of manual ditch clearing in our wet meadow with the ridging hoe.

On rare midday sunny occasions, I do some hand pollinating with a small artist’s brush of special snowdrops and Cyclamen coum flowers – there are almost no pollinating insects around here at this time of the year.

Prune apple trees and save clippings for future fire kindling in big bags.

Record/photograph snowdrops in flower throughout week.

 

Week 3: 

Ground conditions are still generally very wet, so pot up some more snowdrops, and lift, divide and move around G. Atkinsii clumps. This is a sterile form and only by doing this division regularly do you end up with a great display in years to come. Always a wrench to do this after a clump has grown in size, but years of forcing oneself to do this is the reason we now have a good display of snowdrops all round the garden!

 

Begin digging out the land drain in front of cowshed. This area of the yard had silted up, become muddy and didn’t drain after heavy rain some 15 years or so from when we installed the land drain. So dug down, power rinsed off the granite chippings and re lay topping off with new chippings. Make a mental point not to store any plant pots on this area in future!

More holly mushroom shaping.

Session of pot hole filling on the access track. And more serious top dressing with road stone of the steepest section of the track. Never a fun job, but only by catching potholes small, and when you can see them after rain, can one prevent them quadrupling in size from vehicle wear within another fortnight .A real “stitch in time” job, and actually quite a good all round workout for a winter’s day.

Record snowdrops in flower throughout week.

Week 4:

Still great damp conditions for moving snowdrops, so lots more shifted and planted singly around the garden. A day trip out to Picton, with Roddy Milne, as part of my Welsh Historic garden hunt, and planting up on return. Lots more photography and recording of snowdrops, though at this stage of the season the emphasis is on getting the photos, and deleting the inappropriate ones. Uploading to the website will come later in the year. It’s a tedious task, but as with much else on this site, once done, it won’t need repeating!

Turn over small compost heaps. Tidy up greenhouse, and remove leaf debris – always tricky to time this one, and often gets missed. Spread out another 5 tons of gravel onto yard as top dressing. We’ve realised that once we’ve done this second ever top up, it’s really important to keep all debris off here – leaf clearance, wind twig fall and vehicle mud. Accumulating organic debris gradually covering free draining gravel areas is inevitable, but with care in this way, deterioration can be slowed dramatically. William’s help with all this physical work has been invaluable.

2 brief sessions with sunshine around noon enabled some hand pollination of both Cycamen coum and special snowdrop flowers.

Cutting back the now dead, and sap free, Euphorbia cupressoides. All Euphorbias are tricky poisonous plants with irritant sap. Tackling this now reduces the risk of skin blisters. Always wear gloves!

Work over the whole of the terrace garden hand weeding and removing any grass, and other classic nuisance weeds – willowherb, bittercress and creeping buttercup. Fine grass inevitably crops up here, but is gradually reducing. Probably birds and rabbits bring in seed. Although it’s quite a big area, it only takes a couple of hours.This is about the last time in the year when it’s feasible to do this as Crocus tomassinianus are beginning to emerge, en masse. It’s also moving into a time of the year, when wearing crocs rather than boots, is very helpful in minimising damage to emerging bulb shoots.

February Week 1 :

Another sunny day to hand pollinate snowdrops and Cyclamen coum.

Finish edging around shrubbery border. Work is still limited to snatched periods when the rain stops. Clean out water barrels in yard, ready for the new year.

Still evidence of very limited slug damage on a few snowdrops, and particularly Sweet William plants in the terrace tubs. With the first Scilla mischtschenkoana flowers, and Iris reticulata flowers emerging in the garden (and these are slug delicacies), the second very light targeted use of organic Ferric Phosphate Sluxx slug pellets is laid out. The previous head gardener at Aberglasney told me years ago that if one got on top of slugs around Valentine’s day (the Valentine’s day massacre), you wouldn’t have a major issue later in the year. Now I’m not so sure, and tend to think that once a slug population has been reduced in a a garden, then regular low key use, when signs of damage are first noticed, is the best means of control. James Hitchmough reckons that slugs will recolonise an area from surrounding locations within 5 weeks. This definitely seems to be match our observations here, where we’re surrounded by damp pasture.