Mid July Update

Nearly a month has passed from the last update, and although Wales is now out of extreme lock down, and people can travel more freely, indoor meetings still seem to be a fair way off.

Hopefully all members have been keeping busy over the last few weeks, but not much information from members has reached me over the last few weeks, (!) which is why I’ve held off posting for this length of time.

(Eryngium alpinum)


Many thanks to Yvonne who sent me this …

Have you heard of Love Orchids? They’re based in New Milton, near Bournemouth. They used to supply the supermarkets, but when lock down came, that all halted, so they started selling direct to the public.

These arrived promptly. They all have 2 spikes, and were well packed. 


I’ve had a request from a member who’s asked me if other Cothi members have had any landscaping work done by Eynon Price based near Llandeilo, since she’s planning a major redesign of her garden. If anyone has any feedback about Eynon that they’d like to share, if they send it to me, I can forward it on to Jane.  Thanks. Cothigardeners@gmail.com


Members may have picked up that some Welsh NGS gardens are now opening, though   with some necessary restrictions thanks to the Covid pandemic.  Here at Gelli Uchaf we hope to have our first socially distanced visitors this weekend after a delay because of changing weather forecasts. John and Helen are also now opening, as we are, by prior arrangement only.

The full list of bookable NGS garden visits are accessible here. Sadly such visits won’t for now have teas or the same amount of social interaction as previously. Equally it will mean that visits are likely to be much quieter and more private, so brilliant for peacefully appreciating the gardens. Plus of course, as before, they’ll help to raise funds for the mainly nursing charities which the NGS supports.

We had our own private guided tour of John and Helen’s garden last week, on a rare trip out for us, and it’s looking stunning and has recovered really well after the late frosts which hit some of the Magnolias hard. We also did a bit of mutual plant swapping – a trade of some Sorbus seedlings from the Hergest trip last year for many perennial delights from John’s garden. Thanks John and Helen. Well worth a visit for any who haven’t been for a while.


Here the rather mixed bag of weather of late has caused challenges with making hay, though the upside to this is the meadow flowers are looking lovelier than ever this year.

Rambling roses which looked stunning towards the end of June have been brought to an abrupt end by all the damp grey conditions, but our apples have never looked as good, and after the very dry spring the foliage still seems to be in surprisingly good shape in spite of the dreary July weather.

The RHS recently posted a great short video on thinning apples. I never used to bother doing this when the apple trees were small. I couldn’t bear losing fruit. But it really does make a difference to the quality of a crop, and also helps to prevent biennial cropping where a tree produces so much one year, it takes a year off the following season to recover. It’s not too late to do this, as this video explains. The other way of looking at it is that you should pick off all the fruit and diseased fruitlets anyway to limit disease in subsequent years, so removing excess numbers now, saves picking time later.


With limits on options for travelling for many people, I thought I’d share a link to Gardening Masterclass zoom sessions. This has been spun out of a physical programme of events which were planned to take place throughout this summer with some of the most well known gardeners and designers from the UK, and further afield. Obviously the physical events have been cancelled, but Annie Guilfoyle and Noel Kingsbury who set up this concept decided to go online with it.

This You Tube link explains more about it, and then switches to an hour long discussion with Fergus Garrett from Great Dixter, widely regarded as one of the greatest English gardens, into how he’s coping with the challenges of the pandemic, and how he designs and creates the amazing displays there. If you can bear the sometimes dodgy video images, where internet speeds are clearly a bit poor, it’s worth a look.  It’s just one of many such pieces currently available, which might give us all an alternative viewing option for a wet July evening.


I shan’t include any video footage of the other 2 honeybee swarms that have moved in over the last month, but the short video clip shows just how much honey bees seem to appreciate the pollen in opium poppies.

This particular stunning form was given to us as seed by Jane and Ivor Stokes years ago, but being a poppy has decided not to appear for a few years now. This year we have just two plants, but the bees adore the pollen so much, that even with just a single flower open at any one time, half a dozen will try to cram in at the same time. Whether the pollen is laced in any way, isn’t clear, but I have discovered that it’s only the pollen they’re after. Apparently all poppies lack nectaries, so don’t produce any nectar.

It’s been estimated that a typical wild honey bee colony will need to harvest about 20 kg of pollen to sustain it over a season, so every little helps. A commercial hive may need 50 % more than this. Since a bee with well loaded pollen sacs will only carry about 15 mg per trip, that means 1.3 million pollen foraging trips per season to collect the weight of pollen needed!  So the more pollen laden flowers around, the better.

We’re just coming to the end of The Bees Needs Week 2020 organised by Bumblebee Conservation Trust. Again, no physical events this year, but click here for more information on how it’s vital we all grow appropriate flowers to help support our pollinators.  Their 5 top suggestions for helping are :

1. Grow more flowers, shrubs & trees

2. Let it grow wild

3. Cut grass less often

4. Don’t disturb insect nests and hibernation spots

5. Think carefully about whether to use pesticides


Finally, as always, it would be lovely to hear 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 Yvonne for contributing to this post.

Mid June Update and News

We’re now over 12 weeks into our Covid induced lock down, and still getting used to life with very limited social interaction, and severe restrictions on travel. Although yesterday the First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford did lay out the first signs of a relaxation, with all shops potentially opening on Monday and outdoor non contact sports being allowed, the 5 mile limit on travel stays in place for now. All hospitality also remains shut down still, though with a hint that this may be relaxed by mid July.

Regrettably, with this in mind, July’s meeting with Helen Warrington has also now been cancelled. Elena (who very frustratingly, currently has no computer access thanks to a BT mess up) has asked me to pass on that she’s currently thinking that as an option for August, with further relaxation of travel restrictions in the offing, it may be possible to hold some sort of arranged-at-short-notice outdoor event to replace what would have been our summer social event…

Watch this space for updates as we get closer to the time, and keep your fingers crossed for the weather.

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Many thanks to Elena for sending me this information on what’s clearly been a big summer lock down project for her and Andy in their garden :

I have been planning this pond for a while and ‘lockdown’ has provided me with the opportunity to ‘get it done’!

Last month my neighbour, James, used a mini digger to scrape off the grass in a ‘dead’ grassy area and dig the pond, well not really a pond, more of a dry riverbed ending in a puddle 🙂
James then provided and put down the underlay and pond liner for me … it’s amazing what some people have in their shed, sorry James, workshop!

I then proceeded to fill it with stones from our river – thank goodness for empty dog and pig food bags… I filled these and Andy trailered them up to the house.

Because I chose to site the pond on top of a rubble dumping ground, I had to create bog areas (mini ponds) around the main pond for boggy plants, some of which I purchased from Jan and Phil at Rhoslwyn Plants. I can report that they have had a fantastic spring witnessed by loads of empty shelves!

Thanks to my visit to Farmyard Nursery last month, Richard was able to produce a pond pump to create a mini waterfall. I repurposed some of my pottery efforts to ‘tune’ the flow to good effect I think. You will have to visit to judge for yourself!

Tina, John and Helen and Brenda supplied me with pond weed and tadpoles and thanks to them my pond is now attracting birds, and bees for a drink. Andy identified a nuthatch! and soooo exciting, the first frog has taken up residence this week.

I have been trying all sorts of plants in the very shallow pond, propped up with stones, and Brenda and I have a started on a grocery purchased watercress challenge to see who can actually get it to grow in the pond! Yes she has a new pond too, come on Brenda, show us your pond!

As you can see, I have been having fun, even resorting to planting Hostas in hanging baskets, quite fetching I think 🙂

My only real problem with the pond is that as fast as I ‘arrange’ the stones to hide the liner, my little next door neighbour, Charlotte, comes over for a visit and happily throws them into the pond – well that is what stones and water are for, bless her!

Meanwhile, Andy has been busy in the polytunnel growing food!

While I have not been able to see you all, the garden really keeps me connected to you. That rose from Gwenda… (after a bit of ferreting, Julian and Fiona think that’s it’s called “Goldfinch”, and is a modest sized rambler, with almost no thorns – they have one too – thanks to Gwenda!).

… the ‘lifted’ canopy idea from Yvonne, that Achillea from Ann Large, the woodland plant (name still to learn) from Fiona and Julian. (Daphne bholua…) My pond has sooo much of Cothi members’ advice and generosity associated with it. The baby Gunnera from Angela and Martin a few years ago, that has been split twice and is still huge. Yeah, I know the baby Gunnera (split number three) beside the pond, in an artificial bog, will grow too big, but what the heck, it looks so lovely and tropical and connects me with my roots. Thank you all, you lovely Cothi Gardening people … see you soon!

Maybe for an open air meeting in August if Mr Dreadful oops, Mr Drakeford permits.

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Thanks too for this update from Ann and Anthony on their own lock down project this year:

Hi All, I am posting a few photos of our Spring Lockdown Project, which was two raised beds.

In which I have so far planted First Early potatoes to try and avoid potato blight, hopefully we’ll have eaten them all before it strikes! Also Spring Cornwall cabbage – we had an invasion of caterpillars at the weekend, so I spent a few hours removing them, before too much damage was done. The rhubarb had a setback with the frost, but is now looking much better.

Can’t say that for the Rhododendrons, I always have a photo taken on my birthday standing by them, not this year!


Looks like some serious cherry harvesting has been going on at Tina and Derek’s – thanks for the lovely photo …


Meanwhile thanks to Colin for sending me this photo of a Dark Green Fritillary butterfly,  Speyeria aglaja, which he found in the garden. Click here for more on its life cycle.

Meanwhile in our own garden I spotted two exotic looking Scarlet Tiger moths,  Callimorpha dominula . Click here for more and why it gets its name.


With lock down limits on activity continuing for a while, there’s maybe still time to plan a big project for your garden. How about being inspired by the short video below, which some of you may have already seen, and thanks to Richard Bramley for sharing it on facebook – well worth a watch!

It’s headed “So you’ve been in quarantine for 3 months. What have you been up to?… Nothing much…”

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10157145563191957&id=627541956


Finally, after talking about drones sounding like a bee swarm last time, as they head off or back from mating flights I can now offer a comparison, from this Monday.

By good fortune I was able to witness and film the entire process, beginning with “scout” bees checking out a hive all morning (filmed as ten second time lapse photos over 3 hours). Interestingly the scouts nearly all disappear from the hive over the last 4 seconds of this shortened clip (15 minutes of real time). They’ve flown back to direct the swarm cluster, sitting somewhere on a branch to the West of us, to this their newly selected home.

This second clip condenses the whole swarm arrival down, from about half an hour from first arrival, to them nearly all making their way inside. An amazing process to watch and hear – just look at the last few seconds and you’d have no idea of what had gone on before.

 


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 all who have contributed to this post.

Summer Begins Early – Update.

As all members will know there’s still no real hint of when Wales lock down will be lifted for any sort of social gathering, so for now our monthly meetings sadly aren’t possible.

Thanks to those Cothigardener members who’ve sent me some pics of their plots over the last few weeks. At last we have some rain again, and after kicking off a bit of hay making here already, we can all reflect on the irony of lock down coinciding with what has been an amazing and record breaking sunny spring. The Met Office website has some interesting facts and maps to illustrate just how unusual the weather has been this year. It seems a long time ago now, that a run of quite hard frosts spoiled the benign start to our gardening year and caused a bit of damage to many of our gardens…

Here’s some words from Elena to accompany scenes from her garden in mid May …

All the oaks, beech, ash have also been badly nipped. Not a pretty sight, but so it goes in a Welsh garden!

Frosted Black Lace Elder

Frosted Fern

Frosted Hosta

Frosted Persicaria

Frosted Wisteria.

In our own garden Persicarias seem the worst affected plants too, apart from vegetables growing outside – courgettes and squash were badly damaged losing most of their leaves, potatoes got leaf tips nipped …

but enviromesh, water bottles and woolly mats seemed to mitigate the worst of the minus 3 temperatures, and all but 3 squash plants seem to have recovered and are growing away within a fortnight. Will they still fruit though?

In the hay meadow even some early orchids keeled over, probably because the flowers are about two weeks ahead of normal, following the sunny dry spring weather.

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Many thanks to Derek for this insight into how he and Tina have protected some of their fruit from marauding birds in what looks like a highly organised and impressive system …

With the arrival of Bullfinches this has become urgent – we can cope with the interest and demands of Sparrows, Wrens, Blackbirds and Thrushes, but Bullfinches are real experts!
Our local wild birds are well catered for with the enormous planting of fruit trees and bushes throughout the garden and grounds, but we are being a bit precious about these within the cage.
The fruit is a mixture of old favourites, and some fun varieties, we’ll see how they all get on.
The cage was until recently used to house chickens for a friend, but they are all now rehomed.
It measures 7 metres by 4 metres, is made of aluminium, and was sourced from Harrod Horticultural some years ago.
I have included a planting plan – the Chives and Strawberries are not only welcome in their own right, but of course they encourage pollinators

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Meanwhile thanks to Alison for these photos, showing how nifty Peter has been at recycling an old bed into both trellis work and new greenhouse staging …

 

 

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Meanwhile Sandy sent me these pictures of her amazing Pyracantha clambering over the side of her cottage and covered in flowers  …

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Finally a plant suggestion for members, and then a discovery I’ve made in our garden both related to honey bees.

Ever since a visit to Sheldon Manor in Wiltshire in June nearly 30 years ago we’ve been great fans of growing vigorous Clematis and Rambling roses into mature trees to add flower interest. Since learning a bit more about honey bees, I realise that hives can often struggle to find good food sources in June – the early spring flowers are over, there aren’t many hay meadows left with wildflowers, and later natives like bramble and willow herbs still haven’t begun to bloom.

Enter what I now call the “White Dragon” rose. I found this as a seedling growing in the garden back in 2010, probably coming from a hip of the well know vigorous rambling rose “Kiftsgate” which we already had in the garden. But this seedling when it first flowered produced bigger, earlier, and more scented flowers than “Kiftsgate”, which honeybees and bumbles adore. After noting it had grown shoots over 15 feet long in a year, I planted the still young plant into a rotten hollow centred tree stump, filled with compost which was quite close to the base of a youngish oak in 2012.

This rose has incredible bendy stems, and is almost disease free (unlike “Kiftsgate” or “Paul Himalayan Musk”, which we also grow), with young foliage with purple tints, so it’s easy to train around a wire base, or into a tree, even if it is quite thorny. Once it gets going though, it makes its own way ever higher with no need for help. It roots very easily from cuttings, so if anyone fancies a cutting of this local origin rose this autumn, let me know.

The video clip above is of another plant taken as a cutting from the mother seedling which has now made it almost to the top of the still growing Oak. (apologies for the noisy background). This daughter rose is already making good progress going up into a Scots Pine, and probably now only 8 years old, but must already be producing thousands of blooms over about a 4 week period at “June gap” time. You can see at the top of the plant you’re getting up to 50  quite big flowers per cluster.

The bees completely ignore the other creamy named rose “Alberic Barbier”, to the right, and although most roses produce no nectar, the pollen is invaluable, particularly in this time of seasonal shortage.

The second clip I’m including is to pass on an interesting bit of bee behaviour which has been obvious for the previous four warm afternoons. Up until about 2 pm, the worker bees (all female) have been busy entering and leaving the hive on foraging trips for pollen and nectar. They’re early risers and work long hours. They don’t hang around and are almost quiet as they whizz in and out of the hive entrance. Then in early afternoon, the air around the hive suddenly becomes really noisy. Look closely and you’ll see that bigger bees, with much larger eyes, the male drones, suddenly begin to leave the hive. And they’re noisy. It almost sounds like a bee swarm.

But look even more closely and you’ll notice that they all spend a very short time before flying off, cleaning their large eyes/face with their front legs. Why?

Well these chaps are off to complete the still poorly understood part of the bee’s life cycle that involves them flying into specific “drone congregation areas”. An average of 11,000 drones from tens of different colonies fly out to these specific well defined areas which are typically between 15 and 40 metres up in the sky and about 100 by 50 metres wide and may be a kilometre or more from their base hive.  And they only fly on suitable warm afternoons up until about 5 pm.

Within these areas they fly around expectantly, waiting and hoping for a virgin queen bee to appear on the scene. The quickest 10 or 20 drones will chase her and if lucky will manage to mate with the queen, who then flies back to her hive after 20 minutes or so with enough sperm on board to enable her to lay hundreds of thousands of eggs over the rest of her lifetime in the hive. If the queen flies past just outside the invisibly bordered congregation area, the drones ignore her and won’t chase her.

The “lucky” drones are mortally injured by the force of the act of mating, and fall to earth dying. Poor things…

The same invisibly bordered congregation areas are used every year – sometimes over centuries. No one really knows how the bees find them.

So maybe the drones are clearing their eyes before take off after a day spent inside in the dark, stoking up on honey for the chase, so that they’ll be better able to spot any queens as soon as possible. I doubt if the queen has any time to select her suitors based on how tidy they look …

Anyway it probably comes as no surprise to readers that with the change to cold damp weather today, the ladies are still foraging, though clearly not as much as before, but there’s no sight or sound of the drones, who are clearly putting their feet up inside the warmth of the hive.

Feeding.

And maybe having the equivalent of a good bee natter. But who knows?

__

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 all who have contributed to this post.

Lockdown Update From Cothigardeners

So we head towards May, still firmly in national lock down, and having enjoyed one of the most glorious, quiet, sunny and peaceful springs I can remember. Ever.

Many thanks to those members who’ve sent me some pictures from their gardens recently :

From Derek and Tina a couple of weeks ago:

Cherries pollinated by bumblebees…

Distant hills across the garden hedge

Peaches hand pollinated by JoJo

Why we love spring.


Thanks too for these images and descriptions from Elena :

 Warm weather, Ceanothus and pink walls, almost Caribbean!

Bluebells are having a great year. Anyone else noticed that they have seeded everywhere since last year?

 The white broom in full bloom! Not sure if the yellow one in front has made it through the winter though 😦

Wonderful pop of colour from these. Getting more today in my order from Ty Cwm.
BTW Helen tells me Ty Cwm are having a fantastic year for sales, she is well pleased! Gwenda reports that Roberts are also having a great year and judging by Farmyard’s posts they are too!

The first of our strawberries in the polytunnel. Looks like we will have a huge crop this year!


And also for these from Alison :


And for these from Yvonne:

Here are some pictures from my garden taken last week.

The pink, over the top, flowers of Prunus kanzan are wonderful at this time of year. They follow on from Prunus Tai Haku with its single white flowers.

The unnamed Magnolia which was sold to me as wilsonii, but clearly isn’t. However, the flowers are wonderfully scented and loads of flowers from a young age.

Also, Magnolia stellata flowering well this year.


Evergreen Osmanthus delavayi, coming to the end of its flowering period, but still has lots of small white scented flowers.

Amelanchier lamarckii, raised from seed, has started flowering.

I love the leaves of Cercidiphyllum japonica as they come out, slightly bronze. This small tree has wonderful autumn foliage, smelling like burnt sugar.

Hellebores and Leucojum ‘Gravetye Giant’ still looking good.

The raised beds have been rejuvenated with new boards, and the arch has been installed. Watch this space for more developments.


And Avril’s passed on how her and Dave’s grandson Freddie, has caught the gardening bug young, and has been sowing and growing seeds and selling the plants from their garden in Norfolk to raise funds for cancer research… over £45 raised on the first day!


For those itching to get out and about to look at other gardens at this always exciting time of the year, here are two links to initiatives to bring garden experiences into your homes.

The first, locally, is a new garden blog set up by Joseph Atkin of Aberglasney Gardens, which as yet hasn’t made it out onto their website, but you can access by clicking here.  It’ll keep you up to date with how the gardens are looking, with fabulous photos by award winning local photographer Nigel McCall.

Secondly, the National Garden Scheme has been setting up a whole range of video’d garden tours of gardens which would normally have been opening for charity, but  currently remain closed under pandemic restrictions Click here for more, and also how one can still support the charity’s wonderful work, especially vital in these challenging times.

 


To close, a few snippets from our own garden.

Firstly a Camellia recommendation – Camellia “Les Jury”.

Nearly a decade ago we planted perhaps a dozen named forms of Camellias which we thought we’d carefully researched. They’ve taken years to really get going, but this year has been their best ever. However many, maybe most, have flowers which don’t die gracefully, leaving browning petals. But this one, has always been a star performer for us and largely escapes this failing.

It also seems to flower over a really long period – nearly two months, and even better the new shoots and leaves are tinged with red/brown for several weeks.  Plus it’s doing this in spite of me planting it within a few feet of a mature larch tree. So if you fancied a blast of strong colour, which looks great in any light, but especially backlit in the evening, then why not think about getting one?

OK it’s red, and doesn’t attract any insects, but heck, you occasionally need to make the odd sacrifice 🙂

And now one of the benefits of doing a blog. I thought after all these years, because I was writing this piece, just who was Les Jury? Which after a fair bit of ferreting on the internet brought me to the amazing New Zealand Jury garden at Tikorangi and their multi generational family of gardeners and plant breeding history, which I’d never heard about before. If you haven’t either, then you can read loads about the place and the people if you click here.

It turns out that “Les Jury” was the final Camellia of Les’ breeding programme and a very fitting tribute though we (it turns out) have several other named and AGM Camellias out of this same stable.

Secondly, Fiona spotted this splendid small metallic sheened moth, probably a Green Longhorn, Adela reaumurella, in the garden this week. One of the family of Fairy Longhorn micro-moths, we’ve never seen it before,But it was a real treat to watch as a small group of males sat on the leaves of  Cornus kousa ‘Miss Satomi’, waiting, and almost casting their enormous antennae to try to catch a passing female…

For anyone thinking that daffodils finished weeks ago, some of the later forms like “Merlin”, “St Piran”, “Oryx” and “Trellisick” can provide colour, height and even fabulous scent right to the end of a very sunny April…


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 all who have contributed to this post.

Next Meeting on March 18th Cancelled

Most members will already have received news from Jenny that very sadly our planned meeting next Wednesday has had to be cancelled. We hope that we can rearrange the talk from Marion Stainton for some time next year, and are very grateful to Marion for her understanding on this matter.

In a very fast moving situation with the Covid 19 outbreak, and with many members either away, ill or preferring not to attend,  regrettably cancelling the meeting seemed to be the most sensible step to take.

Apologies to all, and do pass on this news to anyone you think might have been planning to attend.

With the weather apparently improving a little next week, at least we can all look forward to more time outside in the fresh air, observing our gardens and the natural world, which are blissfully oblivious to all that’s occurring in the human sphere of influence, explode with typical spring exuberance.

And there’s always something that’s benefited from our mixed weather of late.  Edgworthia chrysantha, a deciduous relative of Daphnes, is flowering better than ever right now (below), with wonderfully scented flower clusters on bare branches which apparently always produce new growth in three directions.

A native of South West China (and Nepal and Japan), it fortunately has a more uplifting presence than their recent inadvertent coronavirus export.

Pollinator Research at the NBGW; Murder, Magic and Plant Potions; Upcoming Events;

We enjoyed a really successful first meeting of the year, even though Lucy, one of our two speakers from the National Botanic Garden of Wales, was unable to make it. Abigail nobly stepped in to cover both their areas of research on pollinators, and in addition had to cope with a laptop failure part way through. Thank goodness for Colin and Mark – Cothi’s own PC techies – for sorting it out swiftly so the talk could continue.

Abigial described Lucy’s work trialling several commercial mixes of annual plants to create pictorial meadows, and assessing just how good the various plants are at attracting the numerous different classes of pollinating insects. Actually it seems only a small percentage of the flowers included in most mixes seem to attract pollinators. ( 2 out of 15 species of plants in June; 6 out of 25 species in July; 6 out of 35 species in August). Lucy is hoping to build on her early work and develop her own mix of seeds to have wider appeal to the hoverflies, bumbles, honeybees and solitary bees which we’ll all have visiting the flowers in our gardens. 

Abigail, who is studying for a PhD at Bangor in association with the NBGW has built on the earlier work of PhD student Laura Jones. She discussed her own work on the analysis of pollen samples both in the honey of bees kept at the NBGW, by using DNA metabarcoding of these samples, and in addition looking at pollen obtained from other solitary bees and hoverflies. She’s trying to establish the plants most commonly visited out of the huge potential range of flowering plants grown at the NBGW site.

In addition the NBGW team have also analysed the DNA in pollen found in honey samples sent in by bee keepers from across the UK.

This has highlighted some fascinating information including:

Only 44 plant taxa were found in more than 5% of the honey samples, and only 4 plants were identified in over 50% of samples. These were Rubus species – mainly brambles; White clover; Brassica – above (e.g. Oil seed rape); and the Maleae tribe – e.g. Hawthorn, Malus (apple – below) and Cotoneaster.

There are peaks of different flowering plants through the seasons, as one might expect  – from Acers, Malus and Prunus in April; Dandelion and Gorse in May and June; Bramble and clover in July; and Heather and Himalayan Balsam in August/September. 

As far as honeybees are concerned the vast majority of their food comes from native woodland and hedgerow plants in spring : Willow, Hawthorn, Cotoneaster, Apple and Cherry, Gorse, Sycamore, Holly, Oak, and Dandelion. Hellebores are the most widely used non native.

Other ornamental garden plants of particular value include : Paeonies, Camassia, Muscari, Viburnum, Wallflowers, Ornamental Alliums, Skimmias, Anemone (below), Roses, Flowering Currants.

For more detailed information on the work in this area at the NBGW, please click here.


Our next meeting is a talk by Marion Stainton, on Wednesday March 18th. As always, the hall is open from 7 pm onwards and help with setting up and refreshments is always welcome, before a 7.30 pm start time.

‘Murder, Magic and Plant Potions’

Marion is active in a broad range of horticultural projects for domestic, commercial and community gardens and spaces.  Her interests are in sustainable, environmentally friendly gardening, including pest management, vegetable growing, plant & garden history and the science behind plants and their uses. She opens her own garden in Herefordshire for the NGS. Marion gives this introduction to the intriguing talk title:

‘An arrow tip poison: a witches flying ointment: a murderous potion & deadly poison; addictive; with psychoactive properties; a wine that may help prevent flu; a cause of severe stomach upset & a cure for cancer; one to induce heart failure; another to reduce the risk of heart disease.  These are all properties of plants that can be found in or near your garden, plus quite a few more.  Add to this some myths and folklore and you have a fascinating alternative view of those lovely plants we walk innocently by every day.  You will never view your garden in the same way’.


Some more local events which might be of interest to members:

This Saturday, March 7 th in Carmarthen :

More details on their Facebook page.


Span Arts BIG Plant Sale are delighted to be hosting BBC 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time on Wednesday 25 March 2020, at The Queen’s Hall in Narberth.

The celebrated panel of gardening experts, including Chris Beardshaw, Pippa Greenwood and Anne Swithinbank with Kathy Clugston in the chair, will be tackling the questions put to them by local gardening enthusiasts.

The panel members have been guests of a diverse range of gardening clubs and other organisations; including recording at the top of Mount Snowdon, broadcasting from Buckingham Palace and answering questions from inside Number 10 Downing Street.

Tickets are £4.50 and include a hot beverage and the bar will be open. If you would like to take part in what is a lovely experience, please book in advance by phoning Span Arts 01834 869323 or book online at Span Art’s website  https://span-arts.ticketsolve.com/shows/873619115

Doors open at 5:00pm and recording at 6.00pm until 8.00pm.

Also : The BIG Plant Sale is back again on May 2nd at Town’s Moore Car park, Narberth!

 


Finally I’m including the programme for our neighbouring gardening club at Drefach Velindre FYI, below :

CLWB GARDDIO DREFACH FELINDRE
GARDENING CLUB – Programme for 2020:
Wednesday, 1st April 2020

Garden Machinery & Tools – Teifi Valley Garden Machinery

Dave and Bob from our local company, Teifi Valley Garden Machinery who have been longstanding supporters of the Club, will be joining us to talk about how to get the best from your garden tools and machinery, their uses and how to maintain them and prolong their life.

 

Wednesday, 6th May 2020

Herbs – Andrew Cook, Rhoshill Garden Plants

Andrew will give a talk on herbs and how to grow and use them for culinary and medicinal purposes.  A selection of herbs will be made available to smell and taste during the talk. There will also be a selection of peat-free grown and naturally maintained herbs on sale.

 

Wednesday, 3rd June 2020

Flowers – tips on presenting your Flowers and Plants for the Show – Lisa Cockroft

Lisa has been the Flower Judge at our Annual Show for the past few years and we are delighted that she has agreed to join us to share her tips on how to grow and present your flowers and plants to their very best.

 

Wednesday, 1st July 2020

Evening with Cheese and Wine and – Vines and Wines – Wayne Campbell

Wayne and Sally planted their vineyard at Pant y Ffynnon, Cwmpengraig in 2015. Wayne will take us through all the processes from growing to harvesting and making the wine. He will include some advice to members who make and show wines.

 

Wednesday, 5th August 2020

Seeds: Saving, Storing and Using –  Andrea Sanders, Lampeter Seed Library

Andrea will talk to us about how to save, store and use vegetable, fruit, herb, grains and edible flower seeds.   One of the main principles of the seed library is to encourage more people to save seeds and grow their own food.

 

Wednesday, 2nd September 2020

Getting the Best from House Plants – Mair Howe

Mair (Mia) is a long-standing member of the Club and she will be sharing her extensive knowledge of how to look after your house plants: what to do … and what not to do!

 

Wednesday, 7th October 2020

Open evening – The Gardens at Winchester Cathedral – Emma Sharpe

Emma, a Gardening Club member and former Head Gardener at Winchester Cathedral, will be joining us to share an illustrated talk on what goes into maintaining the gardens and grounds surrounding the historic Cathedral.

 

Wednesday, 4th November 2020

Pruning –  Joseph Atkin, Head Gardener Aberglasney

Joseph is a regular speaker at the Club and we are delighted that he will join us again this year to share his wisdom in the art of pruning.   There will be plenty of opportunity to test his knowledge with your most challenging questions.

 

Wednesday, 25th November 2020

Christmas Buffet and Willow Weaving Demonstration – Justine Burgess, West Wales Willows

Justine will talk to us about growing, cutting and preparing willow ready for weaving and will give a practical demonstration.
2020 Programme of Talks & Events
Wednesday, 8th January 2020

The History and Medicinal Properties of Monarda – Carole Whittaker, Glyn Bach Gardens

Glyn Bach Gardens holds the National Collection of Monarda, a beautiful late summer perennial with a fascinating history and great medicinal properties.  Carole will be telling us more about this remarkable plant

 

Wednesday, 5th February 2020

Annual General Meeting and Cake Tasting Competition

A chance to showcase your favourite cake recipe.  The winning cake will feature as the Set Recipe in the Show Schedule for the Annual Horticultural and Craft Show..

Saving Pollinators

Any other members measure their rainfall totals?

To quote Melvin Udall addressing a group of depressed psychiatric patients in the film of the same title : “What if this is as good as it gets?” By which I mean the seemingly unending rain – it looks like we’ll have clocked up 6 consecutive months with 200 mm plus by the end of February, which we’ve never managed before, whilst I’ve been measuring rainfall here.

So thank goodness we’re all gardeners and can see the positive side of things – brilliant weather for lifting and splitting snowdrops, or even early daffodils. And thank goodness that many spring bulbs seem to shrug off all this inclement weather and look almost as good after storms Ciara and Dennis have whizzed through.

Plus our frogs  clearly aren’t bothered…

But early pollinators really do struggle with this sort of weather, so a reminder that tomorrow’s talk, Wednesday February 19th,  will be an up to date insight into how our own National Botanic Garden of Wales is at the cutting edge of research into what we can do to help pollinators of all kinds. Both Lucy Witter and Abigail Lowe will be talking about their own studies, so do come along and enjoy the first talk of the year.

7 pm for a 7.30 pm start at the hall in Pumsaint.


Has anyone checked their seeds and cuttings from the trip to Hergest Croft gardens last year?

I’m hoping to do a montage of what we’ve managed to propagate, and also forward it onto Steve and Mel for their interest, so if everyone who went on the trip could have a look at any pots they have over the next few weeks, and ideally send me a photo or two, that would be great.

A couple of pictures of some of my cuttings  – Buddleja, Salvia, Hydrangea, Acer all looking good so far…

And one of them even has a label on it!

Happy New Year; AGM Supper, Quiz and Auction.

A very Happy New Year to all Cothi gardeners and readers of this blog.

For any who couldn’t make our Christmas meal at The Forest Arms in December, the photos illustrate how we filled the dining area to capacity, and once again had a brilliant meal and chance to catch up,  thanks to the hard work and attention of George, Louise and their staff. Very many thanks to them all.

So we now dash into 2020, and the gardening challenges of a new decade, beginning with our AGM in about 10 days time on Wednesday January 15th at 7.30 pm, though as always it would be great if everyone can arrive early from 7 pm to help set up tables, etc so that the actual AGM can begin promptly.

Yvonne reminds members that The AGM is a necessary and useful event for a group like ours, it being a chance to socialise more than at our regular speaker meetings. For those who haven’t been before, and dread AGM’s  – firstly it doesn’t take very long, and, secondly there won’t be any arm twisting on the night, though should anyone wish to be considered for a position at this late stage, do let Yvonne know asap, and at least one week before the meeting please. The AGM agenda is as below:

1. Apologies
2. Minutes of 2019 AGM
3. Matters Arising
4. Chairman’s Report
5. Treasurer’s Report
• Membership fee to be increased to £15 per person per year
• Membership year to be changed to 1 February to 31 January. Accounts year to remain unchanged
6. Election of Officers
Chairman
Treasurer
7. AOB

 

The AGM will be followed by supper (please bring a plate of food to share) and then Derek’s quiz, which in a lighthearted way always checks our brains are still working after the Christmas festivities.

There will also be a short auction of items which are not necessarily garden related, which will help to raise funds to supplement the club’s income. If you have anything you would like to donate, please let Yvonne know as soon as possible.

Donations which have already been pledged are:

Some special snowdrops from Julian
Books from Anne & Philip Large

In previous years we’ve had a really good turnout for this evening, and it’s a great start to the new year so look forward to seeing many of you there.

 

Plant Hunters and Explorers; Dahlia merckii seeds; Hedgehogs; Christmas Meal.

There was an excellent turn out at Pumsaint for October’s talk to hear Neil Barry tell us about “Plant Hunters and Explorers”, and it was great to see so many arriving early to help set things up in the hall and enjoy the pre-talk refreshments.

Neil, who’d travelled up from his home in the Gower, gave us a lively talk and slide show beginning with a reminder of how many of the favourite plants we now take for granted in our gardens, (Buddleia, tulips, potatoes) are all introductions from other parts of the world. Along with a few like Japanese Knotweed and Rhododendron ponticum which were introduced and have since turned out to be more of a nuisance!

Neil began with mention of the father and son Tradescants, gardeners to Charles 1 and 2, who travelled to Russia, Africa and later America, introducing amongst other plants the Sumach and Tulip tree to these shores.

Joseph Banks was another significant figure in the late 1700’s/early 1800’s and responsible for establishing Kew gardens as a significant focus for plant collections and as a sponsor of plant collecting trips. Banks himself travelled to Eastern Canada as well as establishing Botany Bay and is remembered with 80 plants named after him including the genus Banksia, which one can find growing in the Great Glasshouse at the National Botanic Garden of Wales.

Archibald Menzies brought back the first Monkey puzzle seeds to the UK, secretly saved from a dinner served in Chile where they featured as a delicacy, whilst David Douglas brought back many seeds of trees native to North America, which subsequently helped to enrich our landscapes and also establish the UK forestry industry, which before his time only had the native Scot’s Pine and Common Juniper as indigenous coniferous species.

For many early plant hunters the development of Wardian cases- essentially mini transportable greenhouses, revolutionised the success of bringing plant samples back to the UK on what were often lengthy sea voyages.

Another significant father and son combination was that of William and Joseph Hooker who for many years were involved in plant hunting as well as being the directors of Kew gardens. Around the mid 1800’s opportunities to explore China and the Far East began to open up following the Opium wars which led to many more novel genera being discovered.

Robert Fortune continued this process introducing Mahonia japonica and Dicentra spectabilis ( as was!) as well as a star performer right now in our garden, Saxifraga fortunei. In addition he was involved in bringing nearly 24,000 young tea plants from China to establish a fledgling tea industry for the British Empire in the Himalayan foothills in India.

Occasionally very specific expeditions were sponsored – “Chinese” Ernest Wilson being sent out to China to find and bring back seeds of the Handkerchief tree Davidia involucrata. Although French explorers beat him to it, and were the first to germinate seedlings in the West, nevertheless the major nursery firm, Veitch’s, who sponsored Wilson’s trip, still reaped the benefits with seed and seedlings of this, the latest novelty in the late 1890’s.

Many of these early plant hunters enjoyed considerable hardships whilst overseas, and some didn’t return – David Douglas  being found at the bottom of a cattle pit in Hawaii. Neil speculated that his death might not have been accidental. Click here for an interesting read about this, and more about Douglas’ collecting life.

Neil concluded with mention that the spirit and adventure of plant hunters lives on in the UK with people like Mary Richards from North Wales who collected thousands of pressed plant specimens in Africa, in the late ’50’s and ’60’s; Tom Hart-Dyke who was held for 9 months in Colombia in 2000 on one of his orchid hunting trips;  and the well known husband and wife team of Bleddyn and Sue Wyn Jones of Crug Farm plants near Caernarfon. They have collected many novel plant species and cultivars from trips to South East Asia. Click here to see how many forms, for example of  Viburnums (above left V. furcatum BSWJ 5939), to choose just one genus they have collected, and how each one is carefully labelled with a BSWJ number to link in with their records of when and where it was located.

So an excellent reminder of how fortunate we are in the UK not just to have the conditions to allow us to grow such a diversity of plants, but also the rich history of those prepared to risk life and limb to bring them back for us.

At the end of the meeting Yvonne was able to hand over a couple of new kettles to the chairman of the hall committee, as a gift from the club from the proceeds from the plant fair. These will replace the very ancient ones which have seen better days and will help making hot drinks easier and quicker not just for future gardening club meetings but also be available for other hall users.


For any disappointed not to be able to grab a packet of Dahlia merckii seed after Neil Barry’s talk, Julian apologises – they all got snapped up very quickly.  But he does have more available which he’ll bring along to next month’s meeting (£1 per packet for club funds). Julian suggests anyone who has the seeds already,  keeps them in the fridge until late February and then sows the longish black seeds, not the remaining chaff, into seed compost kept in a warm place until germination has taken place. Then grow them on and prick out in a frost free place to be planted out in late spring.  Just like tomatoes really, and they should germinate as easily. You do have to watch out for slugs whilst the plants and shoots are young, but then they grow away quickly and you should be rewarded with similar flowers to these next summer, which as Julian mentioned, are a brilliant late season pollen source for honey and bumble bees. Plus the tubers should be hardy enough to survive in the ground over winter, maybe with a little extra mulch.

Should anyone have any seedlings grow with foliage which is more bronze, or dark, than green; or flowers that look different to these then do let Julian know – there’s a chance there might be some interesting hybrid forms with Dahlia “Magenta Star” which he grows nearby.


A reminder that the final talk of this year’s programme is on Wednesday November 20th at 7.30 pm, when Di O’Keefe will be telling us everything we should know about hedgehogs, and how we can make our gardens more friendly for them.


Finally a reminder that next month’s meeting will be the deadline for booking your place at the Cothi Gardeners’ Christmas lunch at the Forest Arms in Brechfa on Wednesday December 11 th    Click on this link for the menu choices :   XMAS DINNER    

Plant Fair; Helen Picton on Asters; Upcoming Talk on Irises For the Natural garden

I’m guessing all Cothi Gardeners will have received Yvonne’s recent email about the plant fair this coming Sunday July 7th which runs from 10 – 3 pm in the field behind the hall at Pumsaint with refreshments and additional craft stalls inside the hall. This year the fair is being staged by Ceredigion Growers association so there will again be a wide range of plants for sale provided by the list of nurseries who are members of this local group of commercial nurseries. Click here for an idea of what’s likely to be available.

Cothi Gardeners will be once more be providing refreshments in the hall, as well as a plant stall and tombola, and for any club members who haven’t yet got in touch, it’s not too late to help out and become involved – either on the day, or by providing a cake or a few plants for sale. As a certain supermarket says, ” every little helps”, and the funds raised on the day will help with the costs incurred by the club with booking future speakers, and helping towards keeping membership fees down. Plus a donation will be made towards the Welsh Air Ambulance Service. With the current dry weather likely to continue, it promises to be another great day, without the extreme heat that gripped us this time last year.

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For those unable to make last month’s meeting,  we all enjoyed an excellent presentation from Helen Picton of Old Court Nurseries at Colwall on the subject of Asters. Helen gave the background to how her family came to be involved with the running and development of the nursery site at Colwall. The land was initially set up as a breeding ground/trial for new forms of Asters by Ernest Ballard in the first decade of the 1900’s. Asters then were limited in colour range, and Ballard created many new single and double forms, particularly of the New York Asters – A. novi-begii, concentrating as well on producing more garden worthy forms with shorter stems and better flowering which became very popular with gardeners of that era.

Ballard’s business continued to be successful for many years, but as he aged and also lost some of this growing space during the second world war, requisitioned for food crops, he engaged Percy Picton as a nursery manager.  Percy, Helen’s grandfather, had many years experience working as head gardener at significant estates including 15 years at Gravetye under William Robinson, and was able to buy the nursery business from Ballard’s widow in the 1950’s. However this coincided with Asters falling out of fashion with the gardening public.

Percy and his son Paul, managed to keep the nursery viable by diversifying into other plant forms, but the numbers of Asters they cultivated gradually dwindled away with the lack of demand. After marrying, Paul’s wife suggested in the 1970’s that it might be nice to grow a few more Asters, and so the nursery began the long process of building up numbers to their current status of holding over 400 different species and cultivars.

Helen ran through the main 5 classification groups of Asters and several of her favourite forms; how to grow them well, and advice on division and propagation methods.

She also showed photos of the extensive display gardens and how the Aster beds had to be completely reworked a few years ago after disease problems began to weaken the plants.

Helen explained that the Aster display really reaches its peak at the end of September/beginning of October, so perhaps Cothi members who travel over to Hergest Croft for the seed collection trip in late September might like to think about heading on the extra hour to Colwall in the afternoon to see the Aster display?

It was great to see so many members, guests and a few new faces present to enjoy this wonderful talk.

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We’re fortunate to have another excellent talk lined up for our July meeting on Wednesday 17th, when Alun and Jill Whitehead visit us to talk about growing “Irises for the Natural garden”.

Alun and Jill hold a National Collection of Iris sibirica at their garden and nursery, Aulden Farm, deep in the Herefordshire countryside. But they grow many other plants as well, beautifully displayed in their 3 acre garden, which they have created from scratch, over many years. Click here for their website.

They’ll be bringing along plants for sale too.

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We took a break on Monday lunchtime from the hard graft of our annual wildflower hay making to visit Aberglasney gardens. Mainly to see their rambling roses, but as ever there’s so much to see there, and its well worth a trip out if you can manage it soon and catch some of these amazing vistas. It’s always very easy to be inspired here, and pick up some great ideas or specific plant names in this world class garden …

If any Cothigardeners would like some green hay from our meadows, do get in touch with me asap (cothigardeners@gmail.com) – we’ve worked out a simple system for collecting it, and it’s becoming ever more florally diverse.  You simply spread it onto an existing flower poor, grassy area, within about 24 hours of being cut, whilst still fresh. The seeds fall out, and it’s a very effective way of moving an area from simply lawn or flower free grass, to one studded with wildflowers and greater grass species diversity. And it’s much easier than collecting and scattering individual species seeds, which is how I started the process with our meadows several years ago!