I love this time of year – the garden is filling out, there are huge changes from day to day and Next Door’s Cat appears to have found an alternative feline toilet (or has maybe just moved elsewhere in my garden, somewhere with less foliage to get in the way). Some of my favourite plants for right now are my selection of ferns, some inherited, some deliberate.

It’s fiddlehead time!

fiddlehead 1

All the labels have been tossed about the garden by several generations of blackbirds, so identification is not easy. I know what I planted, and roughly where, but some things die and others have been moved over the years and some were just here anyway, so if anyone is a fern expert, pleas help!

This beast, I am almost 100% certain, is my Dryopteris cycadina:

Dryopteris cycadina

Very strange. Very prehistoric, even for a fern.

An inherited one now, or is it?

Dim suniad

This is ridiculous. The idea of four-and-twenty blackbirds baked in a pie seems more appealing by the minute. Plus they make a noise like a herd of elephants charging through a forest while they’re doing it – quite startling if you’re not expecting it. I’ve been out there with the list of what I’ve bought over the years, the rough plans I’ve made, the notes and the assortment of discarded plant labels. and I’m still not much the wiser. This year I’ll have another go once they’re in full leaf. Frond. Full frond.


Some were never labelled, of course, because they were just here. Doing their thing in the wet west, growing like mad and looking wonderful. I have a huge collection of Dryopteris felix-mas, but what’s this one, with its distinctive ruby stems? Roger Phillips is no use; the RHS guide doesn’t help.

I suppose I shouldn’t really care; they’re beautiful. Why do I need to put names to them? Because, I think, that’s what humans do: going right back to the Garden of Eden (allegedly). We organise. We label. And, boy, would I like to label some of my ferns. So if anyone knows a good reference book, a really useful website or anything else helpful, please let me know.

and again


On shrubs and going a bit mad

Sometimes you suddenly get a bit between your teeth and do something radical. I think whatever it is has actually been brewing away subconsciously, and then something happens to pull it into the foreground and there you are – with an inspiration which seems to have come out of nowhere. You could apply this theory to great works of art and literature. I’m applying it to the big bed in the bottom garden.


This is the bottom garden, this time last year (I’m about three weeks’ behind). To the left of the red Acer is a green shrub – that’s a clethra (or, according to my spellchecker, a ‘plethora’ – sort-of right there). It’s actually in the bed behind. Just below and to the right of the plethora is a green boringness. This is a Lonicera fragrantissima. Allegedly. Boring as all out – but should be good in spring.

Nah. Lonicera fragrant-isn’t-ima. Out with it!

I’ve always fancied getting a Cotinus coggygria, a red one this time – I had a green one in my last garden. So I set off for the garden centre, necessitating a 16-mile detour due to long-lasting %@1±CCZ&*! roadworks, and there one was. Looked good, decent price. But there was something that gave me second thoughts – would it really show up against the hedge? Would it work with the glorious colour of the big Acer?

I’d already done the detour so I decided to press on – and ended up at Fron Goch, my favourite garden centre and one where you can always get really good, knowledgeable advice. I was briefly distracted by ferns (no surprises there):

Fron Goch ferns

but remembered what I was supposed to be doing (and the fact that I’d recently bought a couple of ferns). So I sought out one of the most knowledgeable staff – I’d suddenly had an idea, and I wanted to run it past someone.

Another Acer. But a different one. Plenty to choose from…

Fron Goch 3

The bed I’m considering is probably the least exposed place in the whole garden, protected by the Great Hedge of the Annual Scaffolding Winge, and the red Acer is a beauty – though it’s approaching the top of the GHASW and heaven only knows what will happen when it reaches the top. Nothing too fatal, I trust. The presence of the hedge is one of the problems – whatever I plant needs to stand out, it needs presence.

Tah dah!

acer leaves

I think this qualifies. It’s Acer shirasawanum ‘Jordan’, and it’s only fair to say that it was not cheap. But, I feel, worth it. It’s already lighting up that corner,

bottom garden

even though it’s only a baby – there it is, between the standing stones – and contrasts nicely with the darkness of its background  while also working with the red Acer (about eight or nine feet tall, to give an idea of scale – and of the need for scaffolding during the annual hedge-cutting exercise).

The leaves flush pink when younger and in sun:

baby leaves

and it is, interestingly, fruiting:


A lovely healthy plant. And now I have to go and rob a bank or something, but I’m happy. Bit like the Acer, hopefully!

Keep your clouts on (tree following, May 2015)

The old verse / proverb / saying / whatever is something like ‘cast ne’r a clout till may be out’. It doesn’t mean ‘don’t throw clouts at people’ (clouts are clothes anyway) and it doesn’t refer to the month. It refers to the flowering of the hawthorn – or the may tree – and instructs you not to remove a single garment until it blossoms. I’ve been putting on garments rather than casting them off, and also lighting stoves, filling the oil tank, etc. It’s been cold.

We had a warm spell about three weeks ago, and I took myself off to the hawthorn I am following to make sure that I wasn’t missing out on blossom time. I wasn’t; the blackthorns were covered, but the hawthorn was just beginning to show a green haze:

tree and gorse

and the gorse was amazing. The whole area smelled heavily of coconut, rather like a hen party in Spain – a mixture of suntan oil and Malibu.

That was then. A couple of days later the weather shifted and a lot of things seemed to go into a sort of suspended animation in which they changed only slowly. But nothing stands still for ever (OK, arguable, perhaps) and things are shifting again:

hawthorn tree

The tree is now well covered in young leaves. Some, however, are showing signs of damage – I suspect that is from the terrible gales we’ve been having and, particularly, from one which was accompanied by hail. I’m fairly sure that was the culprit as most of the damaged leaves seemed to be on the landward side of the tree – and that was the (less usual by a long way) direction of the freezing gales.

However, it’s definitely picking up – and the newest, freshest, baby leaves have a beautiful red-pink colour as they open, which I have never really noticed before:

baby leaf

and that’s despite us kids snacking off them on the way home from primary school. They were called ‘bread and cheese’, and I’ve found that this is a remarkably common name across huge parts of northern Britain. Some people think it refers to their use as food in times of dearth (which would fit with the timing – this is the ‘hungry gap’ – but seems a bit far-fetched), and others just think ‘it’s a nickname’. Well, dur – nicknames come from somewhere… but where?

almost there

The flowers, however, are still very tightly in bud.

Around the tree, life is going on. The lambs are bigger, more adventurous and a lot less likely to gallop off hysterically as you approach; instead they look you straight in the eye and either stay put or get up slowly and deliberately and wander off as though they were going in that direction anyway. The road surface holds the heat, and is a favourite place to sit and snooze:

road lambs

When I left London, way back in 2002, I opened the window on my first morning here – I was staying at a friend’s place up the hill because the house I’d just bought was uninhabitable – and saw loads of sheep sitting contentedly on the road outside the farm buildings. I instantly realised that I had not made a rash decision, that I was back where I ought to be, in the hills and the countryside and away from all that city stuff. I grew up avoiding sheep resting on the road – not a hazard you encounter very often in south London – and it felt instantly right. Still a sight I enjoy!

This, on the other hand, was something of a surprise in amongst all the sheep:

wild goat

Just the one wild goat, aka gafr wyllt, officially the feral goat. There is a substantial population here (well, on what the Snowdonia Mammal Group describes as the Rhinogydd uplands), but I’ve never seen one this low down – higher up, yeah, loads – or this close either; generally in the distance, moving in flocks. As a child in Scotland we used to go out ‘wild goat spotting’ on summer evenings, and it was something of a result when we glimpsed one in the distance. The population here has somewhat exploded in recent years (there’ve been selective culls), but I’ve never been so close. Never. Amazing.

However, it’s not the tree. Here is a small montage of ‘my’ may tree in, well, May (click on an image for a slideshow):

And thanks to Lucy at Loose and Leafy for hosting this meme – without it I’d never have been eyeballed by a wild goat. Bet that’s one of the more unusual results of tree following! (Do check out some of the links to other blogs on her site, tree addicts – people are following a wide range of trees and it’s really interesting.)

Epimedium enchanting!

I have a bit of an epimedium weakness (I like erythroniums too, and many other things beginning with e but not… well, let’s not get distracted). However, my garden eats epimediums, so this year I got a bit radical.


My one remaining epimedium – and I’ve been given epimediums which are an invasive menace elsewhere but which disappear chez moi – is this precious pearl, Epimedium grandliflorum ‘Lilatee’.  I love it, but I didn’t want to see it go the way of all flesh – um, the way of all epimediums – and so I marked its position carefully and let the leaves die back.

And when they did, I potted it up.


One of my friends said ‘I didn’t know you could grow epimediums in pots’, and neither did I. But it’s a tiny one, despite the name, and I thought it might be OK. It came through the winter fine, nice and dormant, snuggled below the soil. Then this spring I began to notice signs of life. I moved the pot to near the back door where I could enjoy it, and sure enough – pow. A really healthy plant. Flourishing, in fact.

Then we had a really chilly night – I had to scrape the windscreen of frost – and I thought it looked a little pinched and surprised, so I moved it into my unheated greenhouse.

I think it likes it.


It’s supposed to be warming up a little, so I might try reintroducing it to the outside world. But while it’s sitting on the potting bench (oh, I’ll come clean – the old picnic table I use as a potting benchette), it’s at just the right height for some epimedium worship.


Those flowers, by the way, are a max of 2.5 cm from spur tip to spur tip. I’ve got another flowering stem to come out, and I’ve never seen it look so good.

Maybe I might invest in a couple more…

Free plants, free plants

There is something deeply satisfying about this time of year, especially if you are a cheapskate gardener like me. For now is the time when friends decide to clear beds of things like extra hardy geraniums and grasses and give the excess away, when divided plants reveal if they have survived the savage process of separation, when cuttings take like a dream. So while I’m not actually offering free plants (the huge number of black cow parsley seedlings I have are not yet hardened off enough),

black cow parsley babies

I am celebrating their existence.

Some things come about as a result of insufficient deadheading, or of deliberate lack of it, and I defy anyone to keep up with removing the seed heads of nigella, aka love in a mist, or eschscholzia, aka Californian poppy. As a result they are everywhere, and as far as I am concerned, they’re staying put:

free seedlings!

I did wonder if the recent dip down into semi-Arctic conditions, especially at night, would destroy them, but no, thanks, they’re fine. Last year my random seed bed was a little disappointing – though only really to me, and only to me because it became dominated by wild carrot, which are brutes. Pretty brutes (bit like some men I could name but won’t, hee hee), but thugs nonetheless, and difficult to eradicate completely (er, ditto…). This year I’m hedging my bets. I’ve sown some seeds directly, as last year, but also sown some in trays and they’re currently germinating nicely in the greenhouse.

(Hm. Some of them are, but I won’t be buying from Plants of Distinction again. Grumble. Nor will I be getting shallots or garlic from Marshalls – doubtless I’ll have a separate rant about then when I get onto veg at some point in the future. That will also take in PoD and their **%£1@Z@ tomatoes, double grumble.)

But my favourite freebies are probably the gifts and swaps. I’ve still got a verbascum which I got from Sara Hillwards (who is also celebrating a gorgeous freebie at the moment, incidentally). Then Karen at Artist’s Garden gave me this lovely hardy geranium

hardy geranium

and a great big chunk of her phlomis,


in exchange for a giant garden bucket/trug full of osteospermums (they like it here, but a bit too much, so I had the odd one, er, odd hundred or so, which were surplus to requirements).

Some garlic chives and a tray of baby black cow parsley went to Janet aka Plantaliscious, as she said she’d swap them for some Stipa tenuissima. Some stipa. Just the ‘odd one’, you understand:


Of course I should have known, given the great Offloading of the Osteospermum. ‘Some’ equalled eight big ones.

I know exactly where they are going (once we’ve dug up some dandelions and snowberry) – round the side and back of the greenhouse. Self-sown foxgloves (another freebie) will stand up amongst them, and with a bit of luck I should have a river of stipa and foxgloves instead of a river of dandelions, valerian seedlings and flipping snow flipping berry, stupid flipping ineradicable thing. Flipping. Ahem.

P. also did some perennial splitting this year, and not before time (I did try, but I wasn’t strong enough; that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it). That’s also very satisfying, but I am clearly going to have a garden full of agapanthus:


I am toying with an idea: breaking up the iris bed, which will need to be dug out and refreshed this year anyway, and replacing it with agapanthus. White agapanthus. Which one of my neighbours has said she will swap for some black cow parsley… and so it goes on!

(PS: I’ve still got some osteospermum, by the way…)

A walk through the woods (tree following, April 2015)

Bank Holiday weekend, and I should have known better. The weather was most peculiar, with a heavy sea fog blanketing the bay and making anywhere fronting it about 10 degrees colder than places inland. Get to about the 100m contour line, and you were looking out over a sea of fog with the mountain tops protruding in a rather unearthly manner – and you were in bright, warm, delightful sunshine. So when I drove up to the little car park I use when I walk along to the hawthorn I ‘follow’ every month, I found it full.

A bit lower down there’s a muddy spot which locals know is actually safe parking, but it’s an uphill bash back to the car park and the hawthorn. Or I could walk through the woods to get to my tree. It was no contest… fancy a walk? walk to the woods The woods are old coppice, at least at the start – they get a bit wilder once you’re through the gate at the end of this path. Just before you reach the gate there are some rather prolific hazels, but I’ve never managed to beat the squirrels to the nuts. streams It’s been dry for some days, but it always takes time for the woods to dry out. Some parts were decidedly squishy, which didn’t surprise me but which did startle the family I met coming in the other direction. They were staying on a nearby campsite, which doesn’t really explain why the mother was wearing stilettos. But, chwarae teg / fair play, she was giving it a go. Good for her. beech mast In dryer parts it is quite clear from the forest floor that most of the trees are beeches, and there were patches of wood sorrel and quite a few celandines. In about another month or so the woods will be so full of bluebells that you can smell them long before you see the first hint of blue – maybe they’ll feature in next month’s post.

The woods are criss-crossed with paths, and I chose – bearing in mind the squishiness – to follow the higher ones. They give occasional glimpses of the hills on the opposite (southern) side of the valley – the woods run roughly east–west – which will soon be invisible behind a screen of leaves. uplands However high the path you follow, though, they all dip down to a general meeting point and run along the river. This is the Afon Ysgethin, and it is just magical. Sometimes in summer I stop work and bring a sandwich lunch and a flask up here and just chill by the river for 30 minutes or so.

There are always things to see – lots of birds like treecreepers and dippers, sometimes a kingfisher, sometimes a lady in stilettos… Ysgethin Parts of this area are an SSSI, which is probably not surprising. The ferns are something else. They grow everywhere, including on the trees: ferns and one, the hay-scented fern Drypoteris aemula, is rare in North Wales (in fact, this is one of the few places where it is found). But this dawdling over other trees wasn’t getting me closer to my followee, so I followed the path back up again to come out of the cover of the trees by the ‘English shelter’, the old drovers’ stop.

Once out in the open, then sun was quite hot and I soon shed my waterproof and a then another layer. I turned back, walking roughly parallel to the woods but above them, going along the single-track road towards the hawthorn. The gorse this year is amazing: gorse and the whole of this area smelled very strongly of coconut – not off-putting though, except it made me think of ice cream, and then of cold drinks and how nice it would be to shed my walking boots.

The dolmen by the hawthorn isn’t the only archaeology up here: the whole area is littered with evidence of previous generations. One remarkable place is an Iron Age roundhouse just below the road, so I took a detour to see if the badger sett nearby looked as though it was inhabited (and if it was, had they damaged the site). It wasn’t, and they hadn’t: round house The dip in the middle is the (blurred edges now, mind) floor of the round house, and the trees are growing out of what were once the walls. The dip at the back between the two scrubby hawthorns would have been the entrance. It’s pretty big and could easily have housed a large extended family. Distracted, again!

But my target wasn’t far off. Five more minutes, and I was confronted by ‘my’ tree – and by a hawthorn that appeared to be almost exactly the same as it had been last month. After a few minutes of wandering around it, I realised that it wasn’t. Not quite: hint of green! Woo! A hint of bud break! Spring!

Thanks to Lucy at Loose and Leafy for running the ‘tree following’ meme, and apologies that this month’s post hasn’t been more about the tree itself. Blame the Bank Holiday, the weather and my ability to be as easily distracted as … well, as anything that is very easily distracted!

Spring sprang (and now it’s gone away again)

It was spring, I know it was. We had the Gardening Club’s Spring Show, so it had to have been spring. But now it’s not. It’s even more &4%%2™T?È$ freezing than it was last week, and I was moaning about it then. But I have these to finish planting:


I know they look like baby triffids – I’m convinced this is how triffids start out – but they’re actually Shetland Black seed spuds, planted in honour of my forthcoming pilgrimage wool- buying opportunity, ahem, trip to points north (I’ve also planted some Juliette in case these don’t appreciate being grown in what is, for them, the tropics).

And we had the show. I didn’t do as well as previous years with my daffodils, though my miniatures did come third in their class:

baby daffs

This was taken so early on that there was only one other entry. In the end the class for ‘species, dwarf and miniature’ varieties was so big that we had to move it onto another table, so coming third was definitely a result. First came some beautiful species daffs – I must, must, must grow some next year. And maybe the class needs to be broken up…

I was ridiculously pleased with these, by the way. Last Easter an elderly friend of mine bought me a little pot of daffs, very overcrowded but gorgeous. We planted them out close to the house, and I thought they might not survive competition with the meadow, the chionodoxas, the primroses, the fritillaries and the Hell Hound of Harlech. But they have flourished, looking gorgeous amongst the sea of blue chionodoxas and contrasting well with the primroses. Plus the HHoH is now tethered to the big cedar at the back of the garden on an extremely short lead following the not entirely surprising demise of my multi-headed daffs after repeated excavation.

I also did well in the ‘flowers not already mentioned’ class, which features everything from huge bergenia (yuk) to tiny scillas. My chionodoxas came first (YIPEE!), and my leucojeums were second – quite amazing that I actually had three almost identical stems, as they have been really bashed in the wind. But nothing for my camellia:


which was thoroughly overshadowed by more spectacular delights, or my primroses:


of which I had to try and select an almost-matching trio. Next to impossible with my lot (but that’s why I love them so much). And I have learned that primroses keep really well – they’re only just going over, a week and two days after they were picked.

My hellebores were outclassed, too, but I was seriously unsurprised: there were some stunners. I rated mine, but – well… I clearly need more of those too.


My main problem, as always with the Show, is getting things to be perfect. I try and garden as organically as possible, which means that things – inevitably – get eaten. What is it that eats hellebores? And can I train Next Door’s Cat to go after whatever it is? Is it, indeed, Next Door’s Cat? I may have to install webcams.

There are some more shots of the show – such a friendly event – on the garden club’s website, here. Yup, there is a certain unity of style – I am now on the committee (didn’t move fast enough) and have been elected Webmeister. Meistress?