2021 Programme Update

This is a brief post to bring everyone up to date with our programme until August this year. Sadly in person indoor meetings are unlikely for the foreseeable future so we are aiming for a mix of Zoom talks and outdoor visits when the weather (hopefully) is better. The latter will be subject to change depending on when restrictions are eased to allow larger groups to meet outdoors. The Zoom talks we have had so far have proved very successful so, if anyone who hasn’t put their name down to participate would like to, please send an email to cothigardeners@gmail.com to let us know so that we can send you the invitation to join the meeting. The next one is in 2 weeks time.

WE ARE IN DESPERATE NEED OF SOMEONE TO RUN THE WEBSITE. It isn’t difficult or onerous so please do consider whether you can help out and get in touch with Elena.


Wednesday, 17th March, 7.15pm for a 7.30pm start. ZOOM Meeting

‘The Answer Lies in the Soil’ – Philip Aubury

Good gardening starts here. Soil improvement, fertilisers and compost making. Philip trained at Birmingham Botanical Gardens and Pershore Horticultural College. He started his career as a nurseryman, then lecturer, followed by Parks Manager until  finally, in 1987, returning full circle as Director of Birmingham Botanical Gardens. He retired in 2007.


Wednesday, 21st April 7.15 for7.30pm start 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 7.15 for a 7.30pm start 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.


Wednesday, 16th June, 2pm

Outdoor talk and demonstration of propagation techniques by Helen Warrington at Ty Cwm Nursery, (Penffordd, Llanybydder SA40 9XE).


Wednesday, 21st July

Social get together (if permitted) details to follow


Wednesday, 18th August 2pm

Outdoor visit to Wild Ginger Flower Farm ( Cwm Gwenllan, Gwynfe, nr Llangadog, SA19 9PU).

An environmentally conscious flower farm and floral design studio. Talk and tour followed by refreshments. Please let Fiona know if you wish to come no later than Tuesday 3rd August.


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.

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.

________

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.

___________

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.

________

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

_______

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 …

 

 

 ________

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

____

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.

Late Spring News from Cothi Gardens and Gardeners

Very many thanks to everyone who’s sent words and photos to me recently.

We now know that Wales will remain firmly in lock down mode for at least another 3 weeks, although garden centres have at last been allowed to open again. Perhaps one of the longer term consequences of the pandemic will be an increased awareness of the benefits of gardening to mental and physical health? Sadly we’ve had to cancel Jim Almond’s June talk now, and still have no real sense of when we can all meet up again, so I hope that members enjoy these occasional posts showing where some of us are spending the majority of our time.

(Allium “Purple Rain” above – a new one we tried planting last autumn – maybe it’ll survive better here than others!)

I’m sure most of us feel really fortunate compared to so many at the moment, to enjoy this wonderful West Wales spring, with oodles of time to spend outside in our own havens.

Thanks to Sally for this recent update from her garden:

The long border at the front of the house was planted up last year with hardy perennials most of which were brought from my previous garden in Oxfordshire and supplemented from purchases from local nurseries and plant sales. This was after several months of digging out years of weeds and grass including one border teeming with Spanish bluebells, hah hah, and also having to have large Leylandii tree stumps ground out to release valuable planting space. One of the previous owners had obviously been a keen gardener as there are some good clumps of Astilbes and some well established Azaleas and Rhododendrons in the lower garden, and a raised brick planter with a Japanese Azalea and Pieris which I’ve cloud pruned as it was very straggly.

In spite of the really wet winter everything has come through, though I had thought I’d lost the 2 Rodgersias I bought at the Cothi Gardeners Plant Sale. But yesterday I spotted a pyramid like leaf cluster breaking through, and also my Nepeta govianana is thriving which I could never get through the cold wet winter clay of Oxfordshire. My numerous varieties of Astrantias and Geraniums are looking really good this spring and I’m also pleased with the 2 clumps of Polemonium ‘Hannah Billcliffe’ which looked very sad last year after being kept in pots for a long time. It’s the best Polemonium I’ve ever grown. The original plant from which I’ve taken countless divisions from over the years came from Hannah Billcliffe’s garden which she used to open for the NGS and that was over 30 years ago! I grew the Asphodeline lutea from seed 3 years ago and it started flowering last summer and looks set to be even more profuse this year.

We’re now working on building raised beds in a section of the previous paddock in the back garden for vegetables, and feel at home with the problems of an open windy site as we used to live at the foot of the Berkshire Downs but at least we no longer live in a frost hollow as well! We’re now on a hilltop ridge with panoramic views looking up to Llanllwni Common on one side and north as far as Lampeter and the hills beyond on another side.

Have taken a photo of my greenhouse this morning teeming with seedlings and plants of vegetables and flowers. The Dahlia merkii seeds which I got from you Julian have all germinated but no dark leafed forms.


Thanks to this update too from John and Helen, with some lovely favourites from their garden in early May …

This is cheating a bit. The Magnolia “Sunrise” is actually in a pot (it’s one of Carol’s that is temporarily living with us), but it provides a nice contrast with the Cordyline and the Euphorbia.  

Magnolia “Susan” (on the left) –  very easy to grow and very reliable.

The Rhododendron is probably “Cosmopolitan” – we got it unlabelled in a hypermarket in France. The Magnolia behind it is “Heaven Scent”, which, unfortunately, doesn’t really live up to its name.

The first flowers opening on R. “Horizon Monarch”.

R. “Picotee” – an absolute stunner.

Prunus “Pink Perfection”, living up to its name.

Prunus “Royal Burgundy”. The combination of light pink flowers and dark pink/purple foliage is particularly striking.

The tree Peony is another of Carol’s plants. It gives a real fillip to a rather dull part of the garden.

R. “Gartendirektor Glocker” . There are scores of plants named after German garden directors, a sure way to achieve immortality.

R. ” Winsome”, slightly out of focus. You win some, you lose some.

M. “Elizabeth”, one of the first yellow Magnolias and still one of the best.

A close-up of P. “Royal Burgundy”

Magnolia “Gold Star”. A fairly recent planting, covered in flower buds and growing apace. It will eventually reach 20ft x 20ft. Just hope some of us are still around to see it.


Thanks too for these from Sandy:

My drive. I just love this view, it’s so pretty. With Ollie dog too.

We’ve just put some wood chippings down and its looking better – hopefully less weeds next year.

A new project – we pulled all the hedges up and are reducing the size of the beds. Grass seed is down awaiting rain.


And thanks too for these from Elena and Andy’s garden…

It’s the end of April, but the “February Gold” daffs under apple trees are in full bloom.

Beautiful Beech tree in its new outfit of spring green.

Meg and in the background Patch enjoying the bluebells.

 

The crab apple tree covered in blossom, hope we don’t get a frost! ( Oh dear… Ed!! Minus 3 here last night and all my Squash and Courgettes are squished!)

The orchard in full of blossom under a moody sky.


Elena’s also sent in these ideas and suggestions for foraging…

Weeding loads of this right now:

COMMON CLEAVERS (Gallium aparine)
Also known as goosegrass, kisses, sticky bobs, sticky-Willy, sweethearts and Robin-run-the-hedge.
Roast the seeds and used as a coffee substitute. An infusion of the leaves is said to be extremely tasty with a hint of nuts!
From #NatureoftheBreconBeacons Pesda Press books

More about foraging click here, from Robin Hardford’s Eatweeds website.

FORAGING IN SPRING – BECOME A SAFE, CONFIDENT FORAGER, available to buy as a downloadable PDF from Robin’ website, as well as ebooks and physical books for sale.

Covers the fifteen most common wild plants found in Spring.
Each plant notebook covers the past and present uses of wild plants as food and medicine.
They are delivered immediately as downloadable PDFs. So you can keep them on your mobile device when you go out foraging.
No need to drain your monthly data package. And no need to be connected to the internet.
Each notebook includes:
* MULTIPLE COLOUR PHOTOS of each plant MAKE IDENTIFICATION EASY.
* Discover the food and medicine uses of wild plants.
* Learn the folklore and plant stories.
* Includes delicious recipes.
* Know which part of the plant to use.
* When the best time to harvest is.
* In-depth nutritional profiles for each plant are covered.
* Cautions and contraindications – what you need to know.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Robin Harford is a plant-based forager, ethnobotanical researcher and wild food educator. He has published over 50 foraging guide books.
He established his wild food foraging school in 2008, and his foraging courses were recently voted #1 in the country by BBC Countryfile.
Robin is the creator of Eatweeds, which is listed in The Times Top 50 websites for food and drink.
He has travelled extensively documenting and recording the traditional and local uses of wild food plants in indigenous cultures, and his work has taken him to Africa, India, SE Asia, Europe and the USA.
Robin regularly appears on national and local radio and television. He has been recommended in BBC Good Food magazine, Sainsbury’s magazine as well as in The Guardian, The Times, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph etc.


Of course still in lock down, we’re not allowed any garden visitors, but rising early as I do to try to film the garden and capture the bird song… I sometimes find some uninvited, though very welcome guests, checking up on how the garden’s looking…

Finally, I don’t know how many Cothigardeners know about the Steven Falk and Richard Lewington “Field Guide to the Bees of GB and Ireland” book which was very kindly given to me as a thank you for my time as chair. Thanks to this and the wonderful weather I’ve been able to identify at least 3 new bee species in the garden here this year…

The Red Mason bee, Osmia bicornis, which wasn’t interested in stone work, but has hunkered down in the screw holes of our terrace table…

and gone in for a bit of amorous behaviour on the outside of one of our bee hives…

But obviously didn’t appreciate the close observation, so quickly dropped down…

…  rolled over…

… and fell from view. Well spring’s in the air after all.

And yesterday, and named for obvious reasons, a Sharp-Tail Bee, one of a number of Coelioxys spp. Which species I’m not sure – but they’re apparently all what’s known as “clepto” parasites of the leaf cutter bees. So watch out Leafcutters – the sharp tail is used by the female bee to cut into the larval cell made by the leaf cutter of rolled up leaf pieces, so that the female bee can then deposit her own egg inside.

Always lots to see and learn outside isn’t their?


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.

Perhaps you can all send details about what got zapped by the recent frosts??

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.