Sex, Lies and Putrefaction – a talk by Timothy Walker; October Plant Swap and Sale; December Festive Tea

During the Covid-19 lockdowns of 2020-21, the Zoom talks organised by Fiona Wormald in lieu of our in-person meetings were a beacon of light which helped to lift the gloom of the general isolation. This repeated Zoom talk at our November meeting was shown in our meeting hall so that we could all enjoy for a second time what was a fascinating talk with the added benefit of social interaction, tea and biscuits!

Timothy Walker is a highly respected British botanist who was the Director of The Oxford Botanic Garden and Harcourt Aboretum from 1988 – 2014. He is passionate about plants, particularly regarding conservation and pollination, and is the author of several books on these subjects.

The talk began with with a quote from Charles Darwin in his ‘Origin of Species’ where he identified the relationship between the flower and the bee, and how they were perfectly adapted to each other, describing “pollination biology”. One of the many ways in which this was demonstrated was with the orchid, where a visiting hawk moth was able to reach over 12 inches into the flower in order to obtain the nectar. So, it was pointed out, not only did the moth end up with food, it also helped with pollination by dusting itself with pollen as it left which was then transferred to the next orchid it visited.

Pollen grains are different on each variety of plant, and fertilisation will generally only work when pollen of one variety is transferred from the anthers (male) to the stigma (female) of another plant of the same variety. Moving the pollen from one plant to another occurs via animals, insects, wind and (rarely) water. Even slugs can be pollinators (!), but not often. Plants have different ways of attracting pollinators, such as colour and scent, (though some use both, plus pattern); some, such as a number of trees, produce catkins where the pollen is then blown away to hopefully land on another catkin. The birch tree cleverly has a flap on the flower which protects the catkin and opens on landing, thus preventing random spillage of the seed. There are plants which actually inject pollen into the atmosphere. Grasses are almost always blown on the wind with only very few, such as the Canadian Pondweed, using water as a vehicle. Around 87% of water plant pollination is done by animal life, the majority being bees and wasps.

Night-flowering plants (such as nicotiana and night-scented stock) are hard wired to attract (mostly) moths via scent. Again, a short proboscis is catered for with a short pollen tube (or it could be the other way round!). The same theory applies to butterflies.

Birds obviously help with pollination and they particularly favour red flowers, although they also see UV colours; bats help as well, although they are quite clumsy and throw stuff around a bit.

Pollen is a highly nutritious substance and the whole organisation of fertilisation runs on a reward or bribe system benefitting both parties. The fig is a clever example of pollination where the fig flower is hidden inside what is effectively a brood chamber and a female wasp enters through a hole. She lays eggs; the male wasps hatch first and fertilise the unborn female wasps, create exit tunnels for those female wasps to move on to the next fig, and then die. Thus, if humans eat the fig they also eat the poor dead male wasps – not a reward for them but probably extra protein for the human!

Victoria amazonica is a South American water lily, which attracts a beetle of the Scarabaeidae family; it crawls into the flower, eats so much pollen that it gets drunk & is then too confused to remember its way home, eventually leaving the flower only to stagger on to the next one. Hopefully the wife (or husband) doesn’t possess a rolling pin otherwise there will be trouble!

There are, however, flowers that don’t smell good at all (to humans anyway), such as Dracunculus vulgaris, which smells like rotting meat and Helicadiceros muscivorus (or Dead horse Arum, which is probably a clue). These plants are largely pollinated by flies.

This really interesting Zoom talk by Timothy was just as entertaining the second time around, very well put together and certainly educational.


John and Helen’s October Plant Swap and Sale

John and Helen Brooks held a plant sale at their garden Ty’r Maes on a Sunday afternoon in October to raise funds for the National Garden Scheme charities. It was very well attended, with visitors coming from as far away as North Pembrokeshire.

There was a great variety of plants on sale, provided by members of the Cothi Gardeners, and mostly of course by John and Helen themselves. The plants on offer ranged from trees, such as Paulownia tomentosa (the Foxglove tree) through to a great variety of perennials, including asters, geums, crocosmia, geraniums, hesperantha, persicaria, primula, rudbeckia, salvia, and many others. A great bonus of the afternoon was the enormous quantity of delicious cake provided by volunteers along with teas, and the opportunity to chat with other gardeners.

In total the amount raised for the NGS charities was a fantastic £900! This is a reflection of the tremendous generosity of the plant providers, Cothi Gardeners members and other visitors, and we should never forget the hard work that goes into organising such an event, including the refreshments.


Festive Christmas Tea on 14 December

This year the Cothi Gardeners are celebrating Christmas by holding a festive tea at Granny’s Kitchen in Lampeter at 3.30pm on 14 December. Twenty-two of us are attending, and it’s bound to be a jolly (and delicious) event, bringing to an end a year when we have finally been able to hold in-person meetings and celebratory gatherings again. Long may it continue!


Autumn into Winter with Richard Bramley of Farmyard Nurseries

Richard Bramley, here preparing to give his talk, is from Farmyard Nurseries with 3 acres of land and 50 polytunnels near Llandysul, where 90% of the stock for sale is grown outside which helps to produce hardy plants of many varieties.

He is very keen to encourage people to think more about the colour and interest of plants – trees and shrubs can be grown in autumn and into winter.   Starting with Acers, which are not as difficult to grow as is often thought (though they don’t like wind), he showed many of the different colours, shapes and textures that can be provided by planting them. Liquidambar styraciflua, or Sweetgum, is more tolerant of wind though it doesn’t come into leaf until later in the season. Berberis thunbergii, although it is a bit prickly, is particularly worth having because it is so colourful and produces berries and flowers in addition. Also they can be kept at a smaller size if required by hard pruning, without any detriment to the look of the plant.

Winter stems, such as the many different varieties of Cornus, provide different upright shapes with a wide variety of colours and are very hardy. C. alba ‘Baton Rouge’ is one of the very bright red varieties during the winter and again Cornus produce flowers and berries.

There was a lot of discussion about Hydrangeas! The mopheads were described as ‘blocky’, whereas the Lacecap varieties of Hydrangea macrophylla are to be encouraged. Hydrangeas are (generally) enthusiastic growers and do provide colour in the flowering gap, while the H. paniculata varieties can reach up to 18 – 20 ft. Climbing Hydrangeas need to be treated differently at pruning time as they flower from the previous year’s growth but they will tolerate some shade during the flowering season which makes them very useful.

Fuchsia will grow happily into autumn and, although they will tolerate wet,  they do need plenty of light. Chrysanthemum (if cut down in spring) will last into autumn. Lavender, Nepeta, Astrantia and Campanula plus many of the daisy family, if cut down after previous flowering, can do surprisingly well. There are nearly 200 varieties of Aster now which can continue through autumn and the hybrids don’t get mildew, plus they will tolerate some shade.

Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturmwill also last, as will Leucanthemum, Helenium, Persicaria, Autumn Salvia, Kaffir Lillies, Solidago (Golden Rod), Heliopsis and many more varieties of flowers and shrubs, given some care, will reward the grower in spades (see what I did there).

Grasses will give lots of interest in the winter and there are some quite remarkable ones to try. Imperata cylindrica (Japanese Bloodgrass) when planted in a drift looks as if it’s on fire. Panicum virgatum varieties are very varied and do well when established. Grasses are deciduous and demand very little in the way of care, can be easily split, can be grown from seed and some of them flower.  There are endless varieties of grass to choose from now that will provide an addition to the garden in the cooler months.

We thanked Richard and his support act Mabel (his dog) for his informative and entertaining presentation and took full advantage of the beautiful plants which he had brought for sale from the nursery.

Native Plants as Garden Flowers; Invitation to Local Gardening Clubs; Plant Swap and Sale

Native Plants as Garden Flowers – Talk by Bob Brown of Cotswold Garden Flowers

We were lucky to once again hear an entertaining talk from Bob Brown, founder of the Cotswold Garden Flowers nursery. He started by encouraging us to put the right plant in the right place – something we all know but need constantly reminding of! 

The initial list of headings was to outline the bullet points of his talk i.e. Acclimatised & Easy, Invasive, Garden Worthy etc. Bob went on to describe the different types of plants within the headings and started with the Welsh poppy (hurrah!) and we had conversations about the habits of the plant. He continued to describe many different types of plants which come into the native plant varieties including Achillea, seakale, viper’s bugloss, Mullein, Veronica spicata and many more.

Woodland plants were described next and include Aquilegia vulgaris, Allium sphaerocephalon, wood anemone amongst many others. 

Woodland Edge plants  & bulbs came next, such as the lawn daisies, hen & chicks, single Campanula, Colchicum autumnale, Pulmonaria, celandine varieties etc.

Grasses were the next category, including woodland grasses and Bob is keen on using plants needing structural support being grown within grasses, using the grasses as the support. Dogwoods, which look good with grasses, (Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ in particular) are a favourite – he advises to cut them right down in winter.

Ferns of different types were next and his particular favourite, Polypodium vulgare, because it is evergreen in the winter but has died down by June and so makes way for other plants.

Iris types and the different areas in which they flourish came next and we discussed the very smelly Iris foetedissima (roast beef plant) & had a chat then about what the smell actually is like!

Primula varieties, which have been grown here since Eizabethan times, are a good bombproof plant for many areas. 

Roses, particularly varieties of the small Rosa pimpinellifolia ,were discussed, and then many more of the different native plants including the shrubs Salix purpurea (purple willow) and the different varieties of Sambucus nigra (elder), both of which are fast growing and invasive.

We thanked Bob for his informative and entertaining presentation and took full advantage of the beautiful plants which he had brought for sale from the nursery.


Invitation to Local Gardening Clubs

Drefach Felindre Gardening Club and Llechryd and District Gardening Club have each kindly invited all Cothi Gardeners to attend any of their meetings, which are listed below. We hope that their members will also choose to attend our meetings this year and beyond.

Drefach Felindre Gardening Club

All meetings are held at 7.30 pm in the Red Dragon Hall.  Guests simply pay £2 per meeting which includes refreshments.

Open evening October 5th

The speaker is Stuart Akkermans, ‘Cae Hir’: A Welsh Garden with a Dutch History. Light refreshments to follow. This event is free to Cothi Gardeners Club members.

Wednesday, 2nd November 2022 ‘The Gardens at Winchester Cathedral’, Emma Sharpe

Wednesday, 30th November 2022 ‘Biodynamic Gardening’, Louise Cartwright

Llechryd and District Gardening Club

Meetings are held in Boncath Hall, SA37 0JL

Wednesday 12 October at 7.30pm
‘The Treasures of Tadjikistan and Uzbekistan’ with Bob & Rannveig Wallis
Bob and Rannveig Wallis were plant hunting in Central Asia before the pandemic and this illustrated talk starts on the border with Afghanistan and goes via Samarkand and Tashkent to the Chatkai Range. This is the centre of Tulip and bulbous Iris development and also features Fritillaria and Corydalis. Superb photographs and an excellent speaker. Last club plant table of 2022.

Wednesday 9 November at 7.30pm
‘Costa Rica’ with Julian Cremona
Julian Cremona’s brilliant photography brings this small country’s amazing wildlife and flora to life. Dense broadleaf evergreen forest, palm trees, mangroves, mosses, orchids and tropical plants as well as monkeys, sloths, anteaters, snakes and iguanas. Annual Club Seed Swap. 


Plant Swap and Sale for the NGS 9 October 2022

John and Helen of Cothi Gardeners are holding their annual plant swap and sale to raise funds for the NGS on 9 October at 1pm at Ty’r Maes, Ffarmers SA19 8JP.

There will be loads of plants for sale, a lot more than last year, when just about everything went!
There will also be a table of plants that are available for a small donation. These are generally perfectly garden worthy plants that for presentational reasons are not quite up to selling standard.

People are encouraged to bring in plants to swap. Last year some wonderful plants arrived and were seized on immediately.

Tea, coffee, biscuits and cakes will be provided. If you bring extra cakes, that would be great too.
There is no charge for refreshments, but as funds are being raised for NGS charities – donations are always welcome.

A word about parking. We will be using our bottom field, opposite the turn to Ffarmers, for parking and there will be NGS signs up.
The area in front of the house will be available for loading and unloading plants.


August Social; Telegraph Garden and Indoor Plant Centre

August – time for the Cothi Gardeners’ annual social event! This year it was held at the Telegraph Garden and Indoor Plants Centre and adjacent Blossoms Cafe in Llangadog. 

Much anticipated by members, the event proved immensely popular and was extremely well attended. Following a talk by Carol from the Garden Centre, and a chance to wander through the Garden Centre and buy plants, members were able to choose from a very varied menu of savoury dishes, as well as the all-important cake, at the Blossoms Cafe. It was a coolish evening after the heat of the previous week, so the cafe felt warm and welcoming, and it was soon filled with voices and laughter as we all caught up with each other and what we had been doing. The general consensus seemed to be that the food was delicious (I can vouch for my Greek Salad), and the cakes looked mouthwatering!

The social was also an opportunity to celebrate belatedly the tenth anniversary (which was actually in 2021) of the Cothi Gardeners Club, and say thank you to Yvonne who started the club back in 2011, providing us with the pleasure of regular talks on the subject close to our hearts and the opportunity of socialising with like minds. Long-term member Donna would shortly be moving away from the area, so on the occasion of her last meeting we all wished her well for the future and settling in to her new home.

Members of Cothi Gardeners listening to Carol’s talk at the August Social

Telegraph Garden and Indoor Plant Centre

Carol has always enjoyed gardening and been passionate about plants.  Whilst working for the National Trust in Wales as their Grants Manager, she used to break the journey up and down Wales by stopping at different Garden Centres en route.  Sadly the experience tended to be the same at every one, giving a groundhog day feeling.  When Carol retired after working for 31 years for the National Trust, she set up a small Garden Centre on space rented from the Works Antiques Centre in Llandeilo.  However, illness and parking/space problems forced the closure of this Centre.  When Carol and her husband Steve moved to the Telegraph Inn at Llangadog, her daughter Lara saw the opportunity of converting the damp and overgrown area behind the building into a garden centre and The Telegraph Garden and Indoor Plants Centre was born. Although in retirement, Carol enjoys helping out and, in total, the Garden Centre in Llangadog now has 4 members of staff.

Running a garden centre can be more complicated than you might think. One of the skills you need is anticipation – for example, you need to be able to anticipate which plants Monty Don might talk about on Gardeners’ World!  Carol gave the example of Lunaria, or Honesty. Carol had plenty in stock, and they had sat happily on their table without a great deal of interest being shown until Monty Don showed some Honesty in his garden one Friday evening, and all the stock went almost instantly. You need to anticipate what plants people will want when, which means being able to second guess the weather, fashions, television gardening programmes, etc. Obviously the ideal would be for people to want to buy plants year round, and the Garden Centre encourages that, but the winter months can be quite difficult in that respect.

When creating the Telegraph Garden Centre, Carol’s daughter Lara designed the area to look like a garden. The wish was for people to enjoy looking round and to relax there, even if they did not buy anything. Certainly the displays of massed perennials for sale in pots look very much like well-composed garden beds.

At the Garden Centre they are very careful about the sourcing of plants and keen to support other local producers where possible. All the trees, decorative and fruit, are raised in Worcestershire. The bedding plants are sourced in Powys, and all the herbs are grown organically in Ceredigion.

If it is not possible to source some perennials, these are grown from cuttings or seed, and in fact many of the plants in the garden centre are raised there. For example, Nepeta ‘Blue Dragon’ was almost impossible to get hold of, but one plant was sourced and there are now young plants of Blue Dragon available to buy. Here Carol holds one of her favourite plants, Calamintha nepeta, which she grew from seed.

The Indoor Plant Centre is also a great success, with a wide variety of indoor plants always available.  This has proved enormously popular, particularly with the younger generation who really enjoy this form of gardening.

At the Garden Centre, they try to be as environmentally friendly as possible, with peat-free and reduced- peat compost always available.  Pots are recycled at the Centre on behalf of customers and charities for onward use. During the course of the year, as appropriate, plants are  divided, repotted, cut back and tidied up and the whole process started again ready for sale the following year. Customers can have their hanging baskets refilled with no charge for labour, only for the plants and compost used.

One of the downsides of running a garden centre is the paperwork, which is substantial. To counter that, there is the pride in supplying quality plants to customers, and there is the joy of propagating,  creating and nurturing new plants..

Carol finished by giving us all some of her tips. When she’s taking cuttings, she dips them first into liquid seaweed fertiliser and then into rooting powder. Cuttings should always be placed around the edge of the pot, and you need to keep them damper than you would think. Vitax Q4 is really good for plants that are looking a little tired and need perking up. Finally, when dividing plants it helps to take some root off; it might look a little brutal, but it encourages the plant to make more.

On that final note, Carol encouraged the Club members to explore the garden centre and the range of plants available, and we all made the most of the opportunity!

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to everyone.

This is a brief post to let you know that our 2022 programme starts next week. We are having the first two meetings by Zoom and then will hopefully be able to have ‘in person’ meetings from March onwards – fingers crossed!

Next weeks’ meeting is on Wednesday 19th January, 7.15pm for a 7.30pm start when Carole Whittaker will be talking to us on “The History, Medicinal Qualities and care of Monarda

These beautiful perennials from North America have been utilised since 2,500 BC by the Native American peoples for their medicinal qualities.  But the history does not stop there!  The talk covers all aspects of caring for these unusual, late summer perennials.

Carole and her husband, Pete, have established a beautiful garden, Glyn Bach, in Pembrokeshire which is home to their National Collection of Monarda. The garden is open through the NGS and Plant Heritage. Click here for their website.

If you would like to join the Zoom meeting and have not received the email with the invitation please contact Fiona at cothigardeners@gmail.com so she can send it through to you.

Monarda Collection at Glyn Bach Garden ©Carole & Pete Whittaker

For the rest of the years’ programme click here. NB we plan on holding our much delayed AGM at the March meeting.

Provisional Programme for Early 2021; Survey about Local Nature Reserve; NGS Gardens Opening in 2021

For any other Cothigardeners, like Fiona, who were efficient enough to mark the diary, you’ll see that today, Wednesday December 15th was due to have been our pre-Christmas get together and lunch.

Sadly, that’s been off the agenda for a long time now, but given the ongoing state of restrictions which will certainly stretch into the early part of 2021, Elena and Fiona have made a valiant effort at coming up with a revised possible programme for the early part of 2021, which was to have been filled with a bumper selection of visiting speakers, since it’s the tenth anniversary year of the founding of the club by Yvonne and Colin and friends.

The early meetings for 2021 are now planned to be Zoom events, which whilst not being accessible to all, at least gives the opportunity for some members to interact in a remote way!

For anyone unfamiliar with ZOOM,  you do need to download the ZOOM app in advance onto your device, and you’re then sent a personal secure code, which you’ll need to use to allow you to join the meeting on the night.

We will email anyone hoping to be part of these meetings more details in due course.

The programme, below, is still a little tentative so do please bear with it, and look out for more notifications from Elena when physical meetings or even garden visits can take place again:

Kari Astri – “Water, shade, clay and weeds” – Date to be confirmed.
How this gardener is still learning to embrace and love her garden, (and most of the things that dwell within it).
Many of us don’t inherit a garden that is a blank space. We may have our own ideas and planting preferences, but how the garden develops is also shaped by what is already there. I’ll be sharing thoughts on gardening, planting and some new favourite plants from the last few years spent working on the ongoing project that is our quarter-acre garden in Wiltshire.
Kari has already visited and talked to Cothigardeners twice before in recent years, so we’re really delighted that she’s offered to give us a new talk via Zoom, at very short notice.

Wednesday, 17th February 7.30pm ZOOM meeting
Dr. Lizzie Wilberforce – title still to be announced. Lizzie has over 10 years experience as the conservation manager for the reserves of the Wildlife trusts of South West wales, and is always an interesting speaker, with her background as an ecologist. She’s recently changed jobs and is now working as Nature Reserves Project officer for Plantlife Cymru. We’re very grateful for her stepping into this February slot at short notice.

Wednesday, 17th March 7.30pm ZOOM meeting.
Philip Aubury – “The answer lies in the soil”. Good gardening starts here. Soil improvement, fertilisers and compost making.
Philip’s career started as a Nurseryman, then lecturer, Parks Manager until he finally became Director of Birmingham Botanical Gardens in 1987. He retired in 2007.

Wednesday, 21st April 7.30pm ZOOM meeting
Julian Wormald (from Cothigardeners!) – “Wildflowers, Meadows and Gardens – challenging ideas for more naturalistic gardens.”
This will look at various aspects of wildflower hay meadows – their biodiversity, aesthetics, creation, ecology and management; and contrast this very briefly (since this is a time reduced zoom talk) with currently trendy “pictorial” meadows. Finally, it’ll consider how we can learn from wildflower hay meadows to develop more naturalistic and diverse plant based communities in our gardens. This section mainly focuses on our grass free multicultural meadow terrace garden: how it’s developed over 20 years, is maintained and changes through the seasons.



Lots of ideas for people to think about as our gardens are springing into life.

Wednesday, 19th May 7.30pm ZOOM meeting
Stephen Anderton – “Courageous Gardening”
A fresh approach to gardening. Stephen investigates gardeners’ techniques, ideas and inspiration, in everything, from breeding and pruning to planting and design. He shows remarkable gardens from all over the world and explains how their makers have single-mindedly planned and created exciting effects. The many unconventional ideas on offer here make this one of his most popular lectures.
Stephen is the long-standing garden writer for the Times, as well as a lecturer and author. Trained originally in Drama and then Landscape Design, he worked in historic gardens where, latterly as National Gardens Manager for English Heritage, he was responsible for several major restoration projects. Discovering Welsh Gardens was published in 2009; his official biography Christopher Lloyd, His Life at Great Dixter appeared in March 2010 and Lives of the Great Gardeners in 2018.


For those keen on outside visits, Elena has plans for these possible visits for later in the year when the weather improves – further details to follow :

Helen Warrington, Ty Cwm Nursery – An open air talk at her nursery.
Bob Brown – A visit to his garden for a guided tour.
Garden Safari – Visits to our very own Cothi Gardeners members gardens.

Plus if we’re not allowed back into the hall for a longer period:

The possibility of an outdoor cinema in the grounds of Coronation Hall

A film: ‘Flicker and Pulse – A year in an English garden’

A striking and poignant portrayal of time passing in a beautiful English walled garden. Using real-time and time-lapse footage, the film explores the relationship between the seasons and the plants and people who work within the walls of the garden. The Beeches, Barcombe is an 18th Century house with 8 acres of land and gardens which include the 300 year old lovingly restored walled garden in which the film was shot.


Dr. Lizzie Wilberforce (our February speaker) has sent a link to a survey she’s created on how people view wildlife, and visits they might make to nature reserves – in particular the local Plantlife Cymru reserve at Cae Blaen-dyffryn, click here to view, which is located beside the Pumsaint to Lampeter road. It only takes a couple of minutes to complete, but if you’re able to, do please have a go – it’ll provide useful insights for Lizzie and Plantlife into how much we all know about, and use this lovely orchid rich site. Please click here to complete the survey.


It’s a bit early to be planning garden visits for 2021, given the time of year, and changing Covid restrictions, but the National Gardens Scheme (NGS) has many local gardens due to be opening by arrangement to visitors next year. We’re still lucky to have 3 lovely nearby Cothigardeners’ gardens which will be open to visit under the NGS next year:

John and Helen at Ty’r Maes (April to October)

Brenda and Alan at Bwlchau duon (June to August)

Julian and Fiona at Gelli Uchaf (January to October).

Click here to find the complete listing of gardens in Wales which are opening in this way, with pictures and details of all the gardens involved.


Finally, to finish this rather long post, and as flagged up to members by Elena in her recent email, this is going to be my last post as website manager. 😊👍😢 (Take your pick!)

After 2 years as chair of Cothigardeners followed immediately by 2 years doing the website, it’s time for a bit of a break, and for the club to have a different input on things. You’ll see that I’m going to surface again anyway with a ZOOM talk in April, which I hope you’ll be interested in, and am still going to be doing my own blog and website, but I need a bit of a break from too much screen and keyboard work, which has anyway been increasing for another project.

For all of you quiet, retiring folk who haven’t yet volunteered to Elena to take over the website, do please give it some thought, and make a positive new year resolution, and tackle a new challenge. It’s great fun, keeps the brain cells working and I’m happy to talk anyone through how it’s done, having done this with 3 other people already, to set up or run their own blogs, and who all got the hang of it in a couple of hours or less.

I’m always here as a back up adviser/problem solver, as indeed are the clever “Happiness Engineers” at WordPress, who are only a click away if anything untoward happens – it rarely does, believe me.

Plus, you’ll have the satisfaction of deciding what to include, and then seeing how many people read or look at what you put up on the web. I see that over the last 2 years, about 1500 people per annum from 42 different countries have seen a little about what’s going on in Pumsaint!

I started our own website as a complete computer technophobe. The fact that I’m still going after 10 years, and well over half a million words, shows how easy it is, and how much I value doing it, both as a way of creating a record, spreading information, and as a stimulus to finding out new things.

Thanks to everyone for looking at anything I’ve churned out over the last 2 years, and for everyone who’s sent me anything to include on this website. Fiona and I send everyone our very best wishes for a happy and peaceful Christmas, and hope to see you soon in 2021. (And thanks to Fiona for creating the wintry images for this post).

What are we all doing in November? In praise of Pruning and Defuzzing.

I’m guessing most of us Cothigardeners  view November as one of the quietest times in the garden. The weather’s often poor, the light levels dim and the days short.

So great to have some pictures and words from Elena showing what she’s been up to …

Been spending my days preparing some new beds … while spending my evenings buried in garden porn … changing my mind constantly about what to plant.

A wonderful moment of evening light reflecting on the last of the autumn colour on our trees, looking across the meadow to the river.

Elena has also forwarded on this confirmation from the NGS Great Garden Party Just Giving Website of the brilliant Cothigardeners’ donations arising from September’s 4 garden parties. Shown below:

A great effort by all considering that the total raised was about £12,000 nationally apart from the amazing effort by the CEO George Plumptre who raised a further £12,000 from a raffle he organised. Very sadly a lot of other parties were stymied by Covid restrictions introduced in mid September.

 


November always seems a time of mundane tidying up jobs with us, before the first of the spring bulb shoots push through which is already happening mid month. But there’s still some autumn leaf colour around, and always valued as being the last leaves to fall.

A Cornus kousa chinensis grown from seed (top); a Golden Spirea, and below some of the Hergest Croft trip Sorbus seedlings, showing signs of great potential autumn colour for years ahead.

But once all the leaves have fallen it really leaves the bones of the garden and the evergreen plants.

What to do with these as they grow bigger over time, and tend to merge as, typically, we’ve probably planted some of them too close together?

Well this stunning garden, below, which we were fortunate to visit in Paris a few years back in autumn and then in early May, had some beautifully cloud pruned Camellias, and a very Japanese feel to areas of it:

(Jardin de Albert Khan, Paris. For such a stunning place, it has a really poor website though! )

So at last after over a decade of slow growth, I thought I’d have a go with a bit of cloud pruning on some of our Camellias , which are at last becoming quite dense foliage shrubs for most of the year, when they’re not in flower, and frankly not that visually interesting like this.

Before beginning any work I found myself back at the website of the amazing  Tikorangi garden in New Zealand, and in particular this article by the owner Abbie Jury” In praise of Pruning”. Click here. 

She quotes the advice of gardener, sculptor and retired florist, David Anyon : He “emphasises that what he does isn’t pruning so much as shaping, to create mood and drama. He’s convinced that if more gardeners got stuck into a little clipping and shaping of their trees and shrubs from the outset, it would help to prevent mish-mashed jungles.”

In turn she also writes the piece below, which struck a chord with us since our garden has now moved past the newly planted feel in quite a few areas. I’m guessing this may also apply to some other members who’ve now been gardening in the same place for quite some time.

“As the plants grow and start to compete for more space, often intertwining and encroaching on their neighbours, the whole effect starts to meld into the mishmash referred to by David.

A very different set of skills are needed to take the garden to its next level of maturity – lifting the skirts of larger plants to expose the trunks, creating layers, thinning, shaping, changing some of the underplanting to meet different conditions for starters.”

She also adds :

David Anyon also refers to what he calls ‘defuzzing’ – removing little twiggy bits and dead bits from branches of larger plants. He sees it as making for cleaner, more attractive trunks and framing small spaces and vistas in the garden. I couldn’t agree more. This defuzzing is, I decided a while ago, one of the most satisfying and fun aspects of gardening. You can’t defuzz in young, juvenile gardens- there is not enough to defuzz. But it has a most rewarding impact in an older garden.

So I’ve just discovered I really agree with this advice! It’s actually a very satisfying benign way to spend an hour or two, even in the poor light and rain of late autumn and early winter, working over some of the denser evergreen Camellias to expose a few bare branches and let a little more light into the lower levels. I guess there are other evergreens which would benefit, though the defuzzing and raising of the canopy works just as well with smaller deciduous shrubs or trees, like Acers, as they get a bit bigger. (Albert Khan views again below …)

So maybe something others might fancy trying out? Rather like thinning apples, it’s a bit of a wrench to cut off healthy stems with developing flower buds, so it’ll be a gradual process over a year or two I guess. But you’re only likely to achieve the sort of gorgeous effect I photographed at Albert Khan below if you do, by allowing light and petals to reach beneath the flower laden branches, and lie amongst the bare trunks.

So a stunning scene of (early May) beauty to reflect on as we near the end of the year. (Many thanks to Fiona for some of these photos from our trips)


It was lovely to hear from Moira very recently that she was able to join Joseph Atkins, Aberglasney’s head gardener,  who has very kindly planted a newish New Zealand cultivar of Magnolia  – Tikitere, in memory of her husband Keith Brown, in the gardens, behind the mansion. In due course a label will record the dedication of the tree in Keith’s memory, so a wonderfully fitting memorial for a great Carmarthenshire gardener and friend of many of us in Cothigardeners, who passed away earlier in the year. Many thanks for Moira’s permission to include her photos:

For anyone wanting to see what Magnolia Tikitere looks like in flower, here’s a glowing short tribute to its merits from Charles Williams, the owner of Caerhays gardens in Cornwall. Click here to view.

 


Finally, as always, it would be lovely to hear from any members about their favourite plants, or things in their gardens as we go through the next few winter months. It doesn’t look like physical meetings will still be possible anytime soon, so if you want to read about other member’s gardens, then do send me something!

Why not write even just a few words – it’s a great way to keep the grey cells working, and send an image or two, preferably resized down to less than 1 MB? I can’t promise to put everything up online immediately, but usually within a fortnight, and it’s another way of keeping in touch and passing on information.

Or use the Cothigardeners Facebook Page.

You can send things to me at:

Cothigardeners@gmail.com

Garden Party Update; Mid Autumn News.

Time flies and a couple of short walking breaks for us in September and early October means I haven’t updated members on the outcome of the garden parties which were held early in September, so here goes!

Elena collated all the information, so many thanks to her for doing this and passing it on, and in the end the four events raised a total of £560, which we all agreed to donate exclusively to Marie Curie since they took such good care of Dave, Avril and family at the end of his life. The sums raised were as follows…

Ros & Mark         £65

Fiona & Julian   £100

Elena                  £165

Helen & John    £230

Given that the total raised across the UK from this NGS conceived event was a little under £40,000, of which a massive £12, 000 was down to the efforts of the charity’s CEO, George Plumtre ( click here for more feedback), this represents a great achievement by our small club, so many thanks to all who were involved in any way. Andy, our treasurer has arranged to make the payment direct to Marie Curie.

As well as the money raised, the events proved to be a most welcome chance to meet up and chat, as some of the feedback comments from those present illustrate…

Having deprived ourselves of human company for almost six months, we accepted the kind invitation to a garden party with a degree of trepidation. With masks and gloves at the ready, we set off on what seemed like a marathon journey of some 20 miles – the furthest we had ventured since March! We were lucky…. the sun was shining, the roads quiet and the houses, fields and woodlands reassuringly just as we remembered. We were greeted by the sounds of cheerful conversation and laughter from small groups of friends. Seeing your immaculate garden, the teas, and super cakes sampled along with relaxed ‘catch-up’ conversations with friends left us feeling more energized than we have both felt for a long time. Jane and Ivor Stokes

Thank you for the very nice garden visit. It was lovely to see your new pond. What a great little get together with good company, food and drinks. Your efforts were greatly appreciated, especially to those of us who don’t get out much! Jenny Long

We have broken out. Thank you so much, we really enjoyed ourselves so much we didn’t notice the time. All the best. Daisy and John Hufferdine

The company of others can be made so enjoyable outdoors in a garden – the beauty of plants and abundant insects – the chat and the afternoon tea – lovely!! Tina and Derek Marshall

It was great to be able to sit and chat to friends old and new and to know that the funds raised were going to a cause that means a lot to us. Your mulled fruit cup was particularly welcome on a rather damp evening! It also gave us enormous pleasure to be able to host our own garden party. It was lovely to be able to have a long chat with friends we had not seen for months, some of whom had barely been out of the house since lockdown. What a wonderfully enjoyable way to do something to help others. John and Helen Brooks

Attending the Garden Parties and being part of small groups meant that we could talk to people more easily. It was so interesting to hear about other
people’s gardens and to learn about their lives and interests. Jane and Stephen Thomley

Thoroughly enjoyed our tea time visit to your garden and grounds with delicious nibbles and warming drinks. Most of all the opportunity at last to see and speak with friends in a safe outdoor environment. Many thanks to you both and a superb effort made by all to raise a significant sum for those who care and nurse us in our hour of need. Ann & Anthony Frost

It was great to be able to host an outside socially distanced garden party, and by doing so raise some useful funds for our nursing charities. It’s difficult to think of a safer environment than an upland Carmarthenshire garden with just a few local guests, and everyone loved the chance to meet up, natter and enjoy a bit of tea and cake out in the sunshine, even if it was unseasonably chilly! The butterflies even put on a great show in spite of this.
We must try to repeat this in the months ahead whilst normal and inside social gatherings remain off limits to help retain our sanity, and create further chances to meet up safely with a few friends. Julian and Fiona Wormald

I even have a few photos from our event, included above, to show that in spite of the decidedly iffy weather at the beginning of September, we escaped with no rain, the sun shone, and the butterflies fluttered.

Though not as dramatically as the previous week, when a Small Tortoiseshell landed on my face, a unique experience for me. Any similarities with the image for the cover of “Silence of the Lambs” are entirely coincidental!


We’re well into autumn now, with leaves colouring up nicely here…

Sorbus “Olymic Flame” above, and Acer aconitifolium below, always being reliable and the first to show…

Along with the always early and dramatic red stemmed Cornus sibirica, between the 2 hollies …

I’m very grateful for the following photos sent in by Tina and Derek to show that they’ve all been working hard in the garden recently …

After a day of chipping …

This mountain of clippings still has to be moved and the 4 bags are all half full

All the willows from here planted 10 yrs ago to soak up the water, were cut down and the chippings are being stored here

I’ve planted a red oak behind the compost – grown from an acorn …

The autumn garden…

Thanks Tina and Derek.


Any ideas what these are, and have you seen them in your garden recently, or indeed ever?

They’re a bit bigger than a honey bee. I’m including them because we hadn’t seen them before, and these were found as part of a large colony just above the beach at Pwllgwaleod, at ankle height on the coastal path walk round Dinas Island in Pembrokeshire last Thursday.

To save the suspense they’re Ivy mining bees, Colletes hederae, a species which only arrived in the UK in 2001 in Dorset and has spread West and North since. If you click here, you can see that it hasn’t really been recorded much up here yet.  The name reflects the fact that they emerge very late in the year and feed mainly on Ivy flowers, but the obvious yellow pollen might have come from nearby flowering gorse.

The ones you see here are all mated females taking collected pollen down into the burrows which they’ve just excavated and which house their eggs and then larvae. The pollen will feed the larvae as they mature, pupate and then emerge late next year to begin their new cycle. They aren’t “social” bees so only have a brief annual adult existence.  So for anyone with flowering ivy in, or near their gardens, it’s not too late to go and have a look for these recent immigrant bees, if we get a sunny day in the next week or two.

You probably won’t find the males now. They emerge a bit earlier and are ready to mate with the females as soon as these emerge from their own burrows later in September, and then, job done, the males disappear from the scene.


This little bit about bees got me thinking about a photo quiz you can all have a go at.

Asters are often mentioned as a great late season nectar source for insects, which they are, but with lots of honeybees around still in our garden, actually very few ever seem to visit the Asters except on a warm sunny day.  So for a bit of fun how many honeybees are included in the images below?

The answer is 6, with a single bumblebee. The rest are all bee look alike flies.

And  maybe a little easier, on the following 4 images, which has 2 honeybees included, which has 2 flies, and which has one of each?

 

 

Easy, eh? Flies, Bees, and one of each in the last 2 pictures.

 

And if they aren’t on our Asters, then which flowers are they visiting most of the time? Well, mainly the Himalayan Balsam half a mile away in the village, which brings them home with characteristic white dusting on their backs.

But in a recent light bulb moment, I’ve realised that many of their preferred plants, which they do bother to visit in our garden, throughout the year,  originate in the Himalayas or other mountainous Asian areas  –

Daphne bholua,

Skimmia

Persicaria amplexicaulis,

Geranium procurrens,

Persciaria vaccinifolia.

Could it be that these all produce a richer or more nutritious nectar, or produce it in greater quantity under our often cool and wet conditions? Who knows, and I can’t seem to find any work which has been done on this. But perhaps it’s more than a coincidence that the largest of the only 8 species of honey bee found across the world, Apis laboriosa, lives most of its life cycle outside in the elements on huge single slab combs, protected only by a cliff overhang high up in the Himalayas.

For a fascinating recent short video of how the locals actually harvest the honey from these large honey bees, (no Health and Safety here, folks),  together with some amazing scenery, then do have look below – really wonderful!

Meanwhile in a change from our normal autumnal tidy up regime, this year I’m leaving alone anything which the bees will visit, like the Japanese Anemones below, until the frosts take the last flowers out, since they can still seemingly get something of value even once the petals have dropped.


Finally, as always, it would be lovely to hear from a few members about their favourite plants, or things in their gardens as we go through the next few leaner months. It doesn’t look like physical meetings will be possible anytime soon, so if you want to read about other member’s gardens, then do send me something!

Why not write even just a few words  – it’s a great way to keep the grey cells working, and send an image or two, preferably resized down to less than 1 MB? I can’t promise to put everything up online immediately, but usually within a fortnight, and it’s another  way of keeping in touch and passing on information.

Or use the Cothigardeners Facebook Page.

You can send things to me at:

Cothigardeners@gmail.com

Thanks again to Tina and Derek for contributing to this post.

Garden Party Details Update

As promised, here’s the final list of those members who are taking part in the National Gardens Scheme (NGS)  promoted Great British Garden Party by hosting an event to raise funds for the NGS supported nursing charities, as well as giving us a chance to meet with other Cothigardeners after such a long gap :

 John and Helen on Sunday 30 August at 3pm or 4pm (backup date in case of bad weather Sunday 13 September at 3 pm).

Andy and Elena on Wednesday 2 September at 5pm (backup date Wednesday 16  September).

Ros and Mark  on Thursday 3rd September (backup date Friday 4 September)

Fiona and Julian on Saturday 5 September at 2.30 pm (backup dates Sunday 6 September; or Saturday/Sunday 19/20 September).

Everyone who’s contacted Elena about visiting a particular event should be getting an invitation from their party hosts soon with more details, and there are still a few spaces for anyone who hasn’t made up their mind whether to visit.

For anyone who doesn’t know about the updates, the Welsh government Covid statistics, click here, highlight that currently we’re really fortunate to have such low levels of cases in our area (Carmarthenshire 1 case in the last 7 days, and 0 cases in Ceredigion), so these socially distanced outside events held locally are probably as low risk as anything one might consider doing at the moment.

 

Plus Elena has already held a very successful outside party for a limited number of local “shielders”,  which showed how enjoyable a small get together can be, as we head out of a challenging summer and into autumn!

Everyone will be keeping fingers crossed for reasonably benign weather, but it’s probably a good idea to come prepared for an (unexpected?) heavy shower at least with umbrellas and waterproofs.

Hopefully next time I can include some photos of the different parties.

Mid August Update and the Great British Garden Party

Another month, another update, and hoping all members have enjoyed their gardens over the last few weeks. I know that Tina and Derek have, and have been very busy too, with a major clearing out of their big pond. Thanks very much to Tina for sending me these photos of the work in progress.

I think Tina may even have some spare pieces some of her lovely waterlilies available for interested members. Do get in touch if you’d like more details. Tina says:

I didn’t offer before the dredging of the pond because I couldn’t get any waterlilies out – but now we have floating debris and a boat so if anyone wants some small parts of 3 colours of big flowered lilies and masses of the tiny yellows – see before and after photos – we will be going out on the pond from this Saturday when we get the landing stage repaired.
But the landing stage has been mended today -the rain is filling up the pond and we will get the boat out on Monday for a trial and to take out some of the rushes debris – I am delighted with the regrowth of many of the pond plants and know that the moorhen didn’t leave so who knows what we will see.


Members will already know from Elena’s email, that regrettably the club’s committee has decided to cancel the remaining planned indoor meetings for the rest of 2020 because of ongoing restrictions on indoor gatherings due to the Covid pandemic, and the risk of an autumnal resurgence in case numbers. Membership subscriptions from 2020 will be carried forward to cover the next year, and any ongoing club expenses will be met from club reserves.

As a means of at least allowing some club members to meet up, Julian and Fiona had the idea of using the upcoming NGS initiative of the “Great British Garden Party” as both focal meeting points for club members as well as being a way of raising some much needed funds for the nursing charities which the NGS supports. Click here to read more about it, and you’ll see that it’s open for anyone to host a party – you don’t have to already have a garden opening for the NGS.  Although as Elena outlined, each event should be numbers limited.

I know a lot of members have already got in touch with Elena with offers of either hosting a get together, or expressing an interest in attending one or more of the garden parties. But if you haven’t replied to her yet and would like to come to one of the  parties, or indeed host one, do reply soon, as September will  be here before we know it.  When Elena has all the details she’ll email us again, and I’ll also try to put the details up on the website asap.

Here at Gelli uchaf, we’re hoping to hold our contribution to this event on Saturday September 5th at 2.30 pm, or if the forecast looks really bad for the afternoon,  (on the Friday before, but looks OK for the morning), then we’ll move it to 11.00 am. If all of Saturday looks bad, we’d switch it to Sunday September 6th with the same time options. We’d limit guest numbers to 8 maximum, and hopefully have a few plants for sale as well as providing a range of Fiona’s scrummy cakes and tea/coffee/soft drinks, and a chance to chat and have a look round the garden.  More details closer to the time for our potential visitors!


I’m sure we’ve all enjoyed some pretty variable weather recently.  On the night of the 11th here, we went outside to see if we could watch the Perseid meteor shower, and were treated to the most amazing silent lightning display in the North eastern sky, which we took to be over Ffarmers way. It turned out the storm was much more distant, over the border in Shropshire. For anyone who hasn’t seen them yet there are some wonderful photos of just how amazing the sometimes orange explosion light effects within the clouds were, on Welsh photographer Karl MaCarthy’s site, which he took 75 miles away from the storm in Tredegar. Click here. 

We’ve never experienced anything like it – standing in total silence in a star filled sky, whilst these sort of pyrotechincs lit up the horizon every second or so for over half an hour plus the added bonus of plenty of meteors. And no midges around on a balmy night to distract us!


Yesterday evening I thought I’d scatter the last few Snakeshead Fritillary seed which I’d saved from our top meadow, onto a section we’d cut for hay about 10 days ago, and in advance of today’s heavy rain. Another fortuitous decision, since as I finished, and turned round to head back down the hill, I saw a fantastic full half circle rainbow caught in the evening light with one of the crock of gold points exactly where all the lightning fireworks had been a week earlier.

Don’t we get some amazing weather round here, all in the space of a fortnight …


Two of the native plants, Knapweed and Devil’s bit Scabious, which we’ve introduced into our terrace garden over the last 2 years have begun to flower well this year. Both being chosen for their time of flowering, from August and then into September, as well as both being brilliant nectar plants for a range of bees and butterflies. Even better, one of the Devil’s-bit Scabious plants, collected from seed in a meadow at the bottom of our track has decided to produce really pale pink/lilac flowers as a nice complement to the blue/purple more commonly seen.


In the 25 years or so of owning Gelli Uchaf, swallows have been constant co–residents with us over the summer months, but perhaps on only half a dozen or so moments have I witnessed them playing feather tag, where usually just a pair, but sometimes more, will chase around the buildings and above the garden with the lead bird carrying a feather in its beak. Then losing it, or letting go deliberately (?), the race is on, given the speed they’re flying at, to see which can grab the lost feather first and take up the challenge. Usually a camera isn’t to hand but this time, in mid July, I was close enough to the back door as they whizzed along behind the house, so grabbed the camera, and they were still playing out over the apple trees and then back around the yard. The beauty of a bridge camera is having the ability to quickly switch to zoom, multiple exposure, tracking focus, low aperture (hence shorter exposure time) and swing the camera up, as they swept above me, before diving in through the barn door.

Game over.

So this is it folks! My only photo to date of swallow feather tag,  and you’ll have to look really closely to spy the feather in the lead, upper bird’s beak, but it is there. Honestly!

However, I’m really grateful to Andrea Gabriel, an American artist who’s captured this special moment perfectly in one of her beautiful paintings, and very generously given permission for me to reproduce “Barn Swallow Feather Game” above. Which communicates so much better than my image and the words before it, of the evident delights and flying skills of swallow tag.

Thanks very much Andrea! Do click here for more of Andrea’s wonderful work, which is also available to purchase on line.

Any other Cothigardeners who’ve seen swallows or indeed other birds playing feather tag, I wonder? Do let me know.


Finally one of my posts wouldn’t be complete without something on insects would it? So here goes…

In a previous post, I’d shown the huge waves of male drone bees returning to the butter churn hive after trips made to the mating aerial drone congregation areas in June. The swarm season now having largely ended, hopefully, and with food supplies available to workers beginning to decline, there comes a time when the colony determines that it’s time to get rid of the vast majority of these otherwise non productive male bees, which require food, yet contribute none to the colony, since they don’t collect nectar or pollen.

I’d read that this process can begin quite suddenly so was really pleased to be able to capture this moment on the morning of August 11th, the same day as the storm, when the much smaller female worker bees begin to grapple, drag and force the drones from the hive entrance. The poor drones, in spite of their larger physical size, can’t seem to resist the onslaught. I’m not sure whether the workers are using their jaws to chivy the drones as well.

Though the workers obviously possess a single use sting, they probably won’t want to use this,  since it might result in their own death, but standing beside the hive allowed me to watch a continuous stream of bees involved in this battle of the sexes in which there was only going to ever be one eventual winner. The set up of my hive with a sloping metal sheet beneath the hive entrance allows the determination of the harrying worker bees to be clearly seen.

The evicted drones will quickly starve to death, or suffer from hypothermia outside the warmth of the hive, and many will be approaching the end of their short life anyway. Yet another facet of the life cycle of the honeybee finely honed to optimise survival of the colony and species, over the individual.

And how, typically, it’s the gals who call the shots and exercise real power in this world!


Finally, as always, it would be lovely to keep hearing from members about their favourite plants, or things in their gardens as we go through the next few months. Why not write a few words and send an image or two, preferably resized down to less than 1 MB? I can’t promise to put everything up online immediately, but usually within a fortnight, and it’s a great way of keeping in touch and passing on information.

Or use the Cothigardeners Facebook Page.

You can send things to me at:

Cothigardeners@gmail.com

Thanks again to Tina and Derek for contributing to this post.