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.

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.

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.

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.

 

Hedgehogs; Christmas Meal.

Since the last Cothigardeners blogpost, I guess many of us were clobbered with a short sharp night time snowfall …

which, coming in mid November, with leaves still on the trees, caused a lot of branch and other damage around the garden, as well as a few mature trees knocked over by sheer weight of snow. For anyone unfamiliar with it, we’ve found a Draper Tree Pruner With Telescopic Handle invaluable for reaching any branches ripped off a long way from the ground, without having to use a ladder, which I’m always wary about. Click here for more details on this bit of kit.

It has both a lopper and a pruning saw which can be worked independently, and although we don’t use it often, it pays for itself after one such episode. However there’s always still some damage which has to be tackled with a chainsaw really…   

 


Fortunately the snow had all gone by the time Di O’Keefe came to talk to us last month about her wonderful work helping hedgehogs in West Wales. Di began by explaining how she came to set up the West Wales Hedgehog Rescue, and has gradually built up an extensive network of volunteers and helpers, including our very own Jenny, which means that at any one time she can have up to 40 hedgehogs in her temporary care.

Di explained a little about the hedgehog year, mentioning that by November any hedgehog weighing less than 600 g, or easily caught in daytime, is unlikely to be able to hibernate and survive the winter, so would probably benefit from an assessment by Di or one of her team, who can be contacted day or night(!) via her facebook page, click here. 

Di mentioned some of the stresses and diseases, or simply being born later in the year, that can cause hedgehogs to be so light pre hibernation. Di uses rehydration, gentle warming techniques and then supplementary feeding, as well as appropriate medication to revitalise such borderline viable hedgehogs.

Di also explained the normal breeding cycle of the hedgehog which begins after emergence in spring and can typically end up with 6 to 10 hoglets being born, often after several matings with different males. The baby hoglets are born blind and without spines, but these all develop within the first fortnight. Di frequently receives litters of orphan hedgehogs which need feeding every 2.5 hours for the first couple of weeks or so. All being well, they can be moved onto solids shortly afterwards.

Di  stressed that cat food is probably the best food for anyone wanting to feed hedgehogs in the garden, not bread or milk since they are lactose intolerant, and also not meal worms, which are too high in phosphorus.

Their normal diet is mainly invertebrates across quite a wide range – beetles, centipedes, worms, slugs and snails, with occasional bird’s eggs and chicks, and since this diet is similar to badgers, it’s often the case that hedgehogs avoid areas with a significant badger population.

The high turn out for Di’s excellent and comprehensive review of these very special nomadic and solitary small mammals that some of us are fortunate to see in our gardens on an occasional or more regular basis, showed how hedgehogs still hold a very special place in our affections all these years after Mrs. Tiggywinkle was penned.

For more specific information on ways to help hedgehogs in our gardens there’s an excellent summary, “Gardening with Hedgehogs” which you can access here.


Finally a reminder for everyone who’s booked for the Cothi gardener’s Christmas lunch, that it’s on this coming Wednesday, December 11th at the Forest Arms, Brechfa, arriving from 12.00 to 12.30pm. Having decided against having crackers on the table to save waste, anyone who wants to wear festive attire will be most welcome. See you all there, and a very happy Christmas and New Year to all readers.

 


 

Hedgehogs; Christmas Lunch; AGM and Auction; Daffodil Competition at the NBGW in 2020.

As winter seems to have begun with a typically wet start to November and a single hard frost here to take out the last autumnal colour, most of our gardens will be a little quieter for the next few months, but we’ve still got lots of things to look forward to at Cothi gardeners, when all the leaves have fallen.

(Hydrangea aspera villosa, for one day only…)


A reminder that the final talk of this year’s programme is on Wednesday November 20th at 7.30 pm, when Di O’Keefe, who was instrumental in setting up the West Wales Hedgehog Rescue Centre at Cwmann will be telling us everything we should know about hedgehogs, and how we can make our gardens more friendly for them.

A reminder to be careful about compost heaps over the autumn and winter months. In late September 2011, I started digging out one of ours, and found  the sleeping hedgehog above, curled up in it. Fortunately I’d just missed it with my fork, so carefully moved it slightly, only to discover 4 youngsters were snuggled up beneath the mother.


A reminder that this month’s meeting next week 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. Plus you’ll need to bring along your payment for the meal, please. Click on the link at the end of this post for the menu choices.


In January, our first meeting of the year begins with the AGM, on Wednesday January 15th, when amongst other things we’ll outline the excellent programme of speakers which has been arranged for 2020 by Fiona and Jenny. The evening will also incorporate a members’ supper, so do bring along a plate of food to share.

(Galanthus reginae-olgae “Tilebarn Jamie”, bought in 2013, and this is its first flower, this week….)

Following on from last year, there’ll be an auction of a few reliable snowdrops, (and it won’t include this feeble fussy species cultivar) provided by Julian, but we’d also like to broaden this a little this year as a way of raising extra funds to help pay for speaker expenses in the years ahead. So if you have any other plants or other suitable books or items which you’d like to be included in the auction – say art or craft work, then do bring it along early on the night to be included.

Items don’t have to be garden related things, just things that others will likely bid for!

The evening will conclude as usual with one of Derek’s challenging quizzes, to keep our brains working well, even in the depths of winter.


Finally, and a little bit further ahead in 2020, Ben Wilde, Horticultural Trainer for the Growing the Future Project at the National Botanic Garden, (NBGW), invites all Cothi Gardeners members to take part in a fun and casual Daffodil competition/ show at the Garden on the 21st March 2020.

The Competition will be free to enter with an entry ticket to the Garden.

The NBGW want to celebrate all things Daffodil and open this event to as many people, so please tell everyone you know about it! All the information is on the Botanic Gardens website.

The awards in the competition will be:

  • Best single Daffodil (Awards for each class [RHS system], and for best in show)
  • Best display of three Daffodils (Single and Mixed cultivar)
  • Best display of 5 or more Daffodils (single and Mixed cultivar)
  • Best children’s display (under 18/15yrs)
  • Most Imaginative display

Most of these categories are self-explanatory, however you may be asking about the most imaginative display. That is because the NBGW want you to get creative and think outside of the box. Why not make a display out of different materials, a mosaic of different photos, or even a Daffodil shaped cake?

Alongside the show, there will be stalls, walks, and talks by local experts and staff. Please pass this on to anyone you feel would be excited and interested in joining in with this lighthearted show celebrating the most iconic flower in the country, the humble Daffodil!


Click for the menu on XMAS DINNER

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    

Previous Meeting; Upcoming Plant Fairs; Last Call for Our Tea Party at Aberglasney

At last some welcome rain, after the spell of very warm dry sunshine weather, which was in full swing for our last meeting. First swallows were flying over the hall as we arrived.  Sadly though our speaker didn’t, but well done to Yvonne, our chairman, who hosted a very enjoyable and interesting Q&A session with wide ranging subjects from growing plants in containers, topical tips and current favourite plants, wild orchids in gardens and wildlife recently seen. It was great that so many members contributed to the discussion and I’m sure we all went home having learned something. Spot the spotted orchid leaf below, one of 16 that have appeared in Julian and Fiona’s garden for the first time this year.

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It was also good to see several new faces who we hope will return to our next meeting, in May,  to hear Steve Lloyd, head gardener from Hergest Croft gardens in Herefordshire, talking to us about plant propagation in a sort of interactive workshop.

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Many members made it to the open day event at Ty Cwm nursery on Easter Monday, when as well as a great range of plants, there were free refreshments, with scrummy cakes at the quite recently opened “Holly’s Cafe”, on site. Helen Warrington who has owned Ty Cwm for 15 years has talked to Cothi on  a number of occasions, and the nursery is located in a small cwm, or valley, in lovely countryside just west of the Teifi valley, 600 feet above sea level,  so the plants have to be tough to survive. Well worth a visit sometime for those who’ve never made it before. The cafe is open from 10.00 am to 5 pm, except Mondays. Click here for more on Helen’s website.

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It’s a busy time of the year for plant fairs and events, and this weekend is the annual plant fair at Rhosygilwen, near Carmarthen. Click here for more details.

The Big plant sale takes place in Narberth on Saturday May 4th, at the Span Arts venue, with talks as well as plant sales throughout the day. Click here for more.

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Bank Holiday Monday May 6th sees the annual spring plant fair at Hergest Croft gardens. Click here for more. For anyone wanting to see what Steve Lloyd, our May speaker has to look after, maintain, and propagate from, a trip to Hergest at this time of the year, is always a delight. There will be lots of plants for sale and lovely lunches and teas on site in their own cafe.

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Finally a last reminder for the Cothigardeners Aberglasney Tea party, on Wednesday May 22nd at 3 pm.  We can’t be certain what the weather will be like, or what will be looking at its best, but the gardens ALWAYS look lovely, and those who came last year know that the tea will be special.

Many thanks for those of you who have already booked in and paid up. The absolute final deadline will be the evening of our May meeting,  so if you haven’t yet confirmed your place, do give it some thought. We hope you’ll be able to join us.