Category Archives: Spring

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:

triffids

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:

camellia

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

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.

wowser

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?

Spring is sprung – maybe…

Ok, it’s here. My snowdrops are over, the daffodils are flowering, the equinox is passed, the Garden Club spring show is on Wednesday: it’s spring. Of course, it’s still $3!!**5% cold at night (we’ve had frosts) and there’s a nasty bite to the wind, but I’ve almost run out of chopped logs so it has to be spring.

And anyway, this has happened. Colour has come back to the garden, and not before time:

chionodoxas

I do love my chionodoxas.

The wonderful chionodoxa carpet, which I feared had been disturbed by the taking down of the rowan and consequent rebuilding of the wall above which it spread, is back. The little darlings have shrugged off emergency tree surgery, gales, demolition, trampling, me helping, men with chainsaws, men with boulders and the attentions of the Hell Hound of Harlech. In fact, I think they’re better than ever. They’re spreading, too.

I love my chionodoxas, and I love my primroses as well. They’re coming out in their hundreds – it will soon be thousands – and they are everywhere.

prims and chio

They’re in amongst the chionodoxas, the daffodils, the hedges. They’re in paths, beds, the lawns, walls. They run riot in the meadow where they appreciate the lack of cutting (in a couple of weeks I’ll be able to see clearly where the paths have been mown in the past by the relative absence of primroses). At present they’re mostly the wild, pale yellow variety…

but then this happens:

coloured primrose

There are more and more of the coloured variants of the wild form, in everything from an almost grey yellow and greyish-pink, through salmon and pale pink to a really deep crimson. They’re not uncommon round here, and the primrose class at the Spring Show always includes a rich range of colours. I was bowled over with them when I first saw them, and I still am. Lovely things.

I’ve a newbie this year: hellebores. I’ve never been really into them; my brother adores them, and I let him fill the vacant hellebore niche in our gardening-mad family. But in recent years I’ve been given some lovelies, all singles, all orientalis:

hellebores

I need to have three perfect blooms for the show (I know I won’t win, but I’m determined to enter), all of the same variety, and they have to float in a bowl. As does my camellia, which is astonishigly still flowering though it’s been at it since November – it is beginning to look a bit ratty, mind. Or the double one is ratty, the single – well, we’ll see.

The meadow is really starting it’s thing, what with the daffs and the prims and everything – oh, the anemones, how could I forget the anemones?

anemones

Mostly deep blue, some paler and a few white. Again, they’re spreading, and I’m so glad they are. Go anemones!

Walking up this way I saw a sort of haze, a blur, a vagueness, over the old bonfire site. Last year I planted it up with some foxgloves from other places in the garden, but that wasn’t it. I even thought it was my glasses. But it wasn’t:

moss flowering

It’s been colonised by the prettiest, softest moss – all flowering away like mad. This is the meadow so I don’t care – and anyway if I tried to eliminate moss from this garden I’d be left with lawns that looked like an outbreak of a particularly virulent skin disease and a nervous breakdown. It’s not going to happen. You have to come to terms with some things. Like the sudden loss of rowan trees. Opportunities, not disasters. And I love the textures of moss. I could have been twisted away form the path of righteousness by winning moss garden classes in the village show when I was a child – and I’m pleased to say there’s a class for them in our show on Wednesday. My one regret is that I’m not either 5 and under or 6–11. Rats.

And it’s sunny, right now, so I’m going out to do a bit of tweaking before I go to work.

colour returns

Or I could just dance around the garden singing ‘The sun has got his hat on, hip hip hip hooray, the sun has got his hat on and he’s coming out to play…’

Watching my hawthorn: tree following, March

Predictably, this month I discovered the disadvantage to following a tree that isn’t immediately accessible. I chose one that I could reach comparatively easily – even though it wasn’t within ten metres of the back door – and I’m still complaining. That’s because of the weather, which has been a little, um, unpredictable. I’m going to have to adapt and take shots whenever I can, because my tree is often above the cloud line.

This, taken a couple of years ago (my hawthorn is the one on the left)

tree and dolmen in mist

was in good visibility compared to some of the recent days. Moody, but not easy. So I gave it a day or two, and shot up there as soon as weather and work (and this ***** cough) permitted.

There’s no sign of any leaf breaking yet, though there are plenty of signs that the sheep have been using it as shelter:

woolly tree

though they usually disappear at speed when I materialise with my camera, and then watch me carefully from a distance. After I’ve been quiet for a few minutes they edge nearer, and by the time I’m finishing they have decided that I might as well be part of the landscape: I pose no threat and am unlikely to have sheep nuts in my pocket. There are no lambs as yet up here, though judging by the size of some of the ewes, it won’t be long; that will make them more skittish, and defensive. People do sometimes walk their dogs around here; I hope they keep them on close leads. I will certainly get defensive if I see any that are not.

Ahem, the tree.

The absence of leaves means I can see the moss and lichen clearly:

mossy branch

I have been poring over various identification guides, and I’m still hopeless – but I’ve not spotted anything I haven’t seen before. However, I am looking much more closely at the lichens than I have ever done before, and they are beautiful:

lichens

Last year, when my garden sprouted all sorts of mushrooms, people were very helpful identifying varieties. Any guesses? I think this one is a Cladonia, but I’m not sure which one; could be C. coccifera. The trouble is that they are all so similar, and identification often seems to depend on the most minute differences.

How about this?

more lichen

Admittedly, identification is not going to be easy because so many of the lichens have been rather desiccated in the recent winds – not a patch on last year, but bad enough and freezing.

There are signs of life on the ground, though:

foxglovesThere are foxgloves coming up near the tree, in the scatter of stones around the dolmen. Not a lot, but they should be spectacular later on. The stone scatter is quite extensive – the large structure would originally have been covered by a huge stone mound, and these are now spread around the immediate area.

tree and dolmen

(The infill which is under the capstone is modern, but uses some of the stones.)

The tree itself has quite a few stones which must have come from the mound in amongst its roots – that’s probably how it survived the depredations of livestock when it was tiny. I suspect that many more stones have been incorporated into walls and other structures – not recently, because now people understand that you don’t just rob prehistoric remains, at least not when they’re so obvious – but the whole area has been inhabited for hundreds and hundreds of years. Superstition might stop you from raiding a convenient stone mound, but not for ever.

Let’s close with an aerial view, taken some years ago and courtesy of the RCHMW:

Fie;d system

You can actually see my hawthorn on it. Follow the second of the two grey walls at the bottom right, and mentally extend it until it joins the white strip of the first road. There are two dark green splodges just before the road; the top one is my hawthorn, and the dolmen is between them. And you can see a lot of archaeology too. This is the Cors y Gedol field system; there are the remains of Iron Age round houses, and of rectangular Mediaeval farm buildings.

And the gorse is flowering now. Spring?

Daffodils for Dewi Sant

That’s it, it’s officially almost spring. It’s bitterly cold, there’s a sneaky wind off Cardigan Bay, but I can see the hills, an improvement on the last few days, and it’s not raining. And it’s Saint David’s Day, so it really is nearly spring.

Daffs

Rather than break into a loud chorus of Hen Wlad (too much coughing would be involved, due to the arrival of the jolly end-of-winter bronchitis), I thought I’d celebrate my daffodils.

But why daffs and Wales? Actually, nobody seems quite sure. Some commentators think it’s the confusion between the Welsh names for leek (cehinen, pl. cennin) and daffodil (cehinen Bedr, literally St Peter’s leek). Leeks, according to legend, were selected as an identifying symbol for Welsh troops – they were fighting the Saxons, no surprise there – by St David. What is surprising is that St David should be associated with a military context, though – a saint noted for his aceticism and restraint. Budge the legend on a few centuries, though, and leeks are supposedly used to identify troops, notably Welsh archers, fighting in France under Henry V (thanks, Shakespeare).

Leeks dropped out of favour as a national symbol because they came to be associated with odious stereotypes of the ‘Taffy was a Welshman / Taffy was a thief’ variety. So what could work? Well, daffs appear around the same time as St David’s Day – indeed, I’ve just picked my first fifteen and started the annual count – and Lloyd George (a local lad) wore the daff on this day and encouraged others to do so. It’s a recent tradition, and it’s pretty common. Unlike the general wearing of leeks, though several US commentators, including Wikipedia, insist we’re all going around today wearing leeks. Just consider practicalities. And smell. I know which I go for.

And here are some of my finest, from the meadow and previous years – natch; they need a couple more weeks to really get going (and, yes, of course some of them are narcissi… but then strictly speaking, they all are):

The winter list (and a spring surprise)

Every year (OK, for the last few), I get organised. After the great meadow strim P and I walk round the garden working out what needs doing, and draw up the winter list.

winter gardening

It’s all those jobs which have probably needed doing since the previous Christmas, but which have ‘somehow’ not quite been done. It inevitably includes things which didn’t quite get done last year (‘paint trellis’), or indeed the year before that, and things which are, frankly, optimistic (‘bramble remove’) or somewhat vague (‘move slates’  – which slates? – and ‘repair pigsty: ???’).

It’s divided into the three areas of the garden, and is followed by a list of plants. That’s because winter’s a good time to sort out what needs moving and work out where it can possibly go (quite apart from to the dustbin / compost / neighbours), and then there’s the problem of remembering exactly what ‘get rid of that horrible thing by the hedge’ meant. But it’s mainly the structural jobs which get done in winter, apart from weeding of course. We’ve rebuilt steps, dug new beds, erected standing stones and laid paths. This year it was repair time.

The rowan, which had to come down after the January storms last year, ripped apart the wall above which it grew. But we never quite got round to sorting it out – partly because there was a heck of a lot to do at the time, partly because the storms didn’t let up, and partly because once they did finally stop all the bulbs came up and started flowering. So all of last year I lived with a wall leaning outwards at a dangerous angle, entirely held in place by ivy – except when it wasn’t and stones came crashing to the ground.

Now I have this:

new wallwhich comes complete with a convenient shelf for a cup of tea or a pair of secateurs. And, yes, that is the rowan stump – it’s staying put. I can’t get a digger into the garden.

There was a heck of a lot of rubble, some of the little double daffs had to be replanted and I doubt that my chionodoxas will be as spectacular as normal this year, but it’s done. At last. And we found an old bakelite top for a Pan Yan pickle bottle (c. 1920), but that was the extent of the archaeology.

I’ve also now got  a dug-out greenhouse. I should explain – there is virtually no flat ground in either the top or the bottom garden, and the middle one is iffy. The greenhouse had to go in the bottom one, so P had to dig a base into the slope, which he did. The high side was held up with a mini dry-stone (OK, dry-sort-of-stone-brick) wall, which over the years has gradually slumped against the glass. At the back of the greenhouse a prostrate rosemary was so determined to get in that it broke the glass. It needed tackling…

greenhouse wall

So P demolished the old wall, cut the bank back, rebuilt it as a stepped wall – that should be much better – and dug out the back. I’ve now got what remains of the prostrate rosemary in a  pot, but it’s looking seedy. What a shame. Oh dear. Bechod.

What with all of this (most of which has been done with me watching due to bronchitis, but hey ho), I almost forget to look out for lovely things as well. Just round the corner, I have the first wallflower:

wallflower

Right, that’s it. It’s clearly spring; I can put the winter list away!

(Plus the garden is suddenly full of snowdrops and crocuses – watch this space…)

Allium addicts unite…

we have nothing to lose but our marbles. Especially if, like me, your garden may not feel the same way about alliums.

My London garden, my first proper garden, ended up stuffed with plants. As time went on there was less and less of it devoted to grass as I extended existing beds into the lawn or simply dug up huge parts. I had, and still have, a stone urn and pedestal combo (subject of yet more Chelsea haggling, and which knackered the front seat of my Mini transporting it home), and it had pride of place. It was backed by a bronze Cotinus and surrounded with alliums, and it was spectacular at this time of year. So when I moved it north-westwards I thought I’d try and recreate the look.

Hah.

My Welsh garden sneered at this example of metropolitan assumption, and – I suspect – ate the alliums. So I tried again, this time in another place. Nope, though one did grow (and continues to flourish) behind the greenhouse, where I know I did not plant it. Over time, I have come to understand that this garden has a pronounced personality, and that it will do what it wants to do and very little else, and that it will just not tolerate some things. When it comes to alliums, it has strong views.

Ramsons, yes:

ramson

no problems there. And completely independently it will produce tons of the other form of wild garlic, the one with the weedy straggly leaves, which spreads like b****** and which requires either major excavation or the use of Agent Orange to dispose of it. Dispose of it? I’m fooling myself again: control it. Slightly.

But I will not be deprived of my alliums, so I grew some in pots. That worked, and I was pleased with the effect:

potted alliums

which rather begs the question of why I decided to dig them up and plant them out. Admittedly, they’re in the new Capel bed – it backs against the wall of the chapel house next door – which is almost the driest bed I’ve got, and will give them the best chance, but I’ve still only had two of eleven produce flowers. The garden evidently noticed.

It hasn’t, so far, recognised these as an allium:

allium siculum

though it is their first year, and that might change as it realises that Nectarscodosum siculum is now reclassified as A. siculum (evidently my garden is using an old edition of RHS Plants and Flowers when it decides what to reject). I have been warned that these will join in the spread-fest of the wild garlics, but will they? I wouldn’t bet on it. Plus they’re so lovely that they’re welcome to spread wherever they wish, though I may regret this statement.

And, in defiance of the prejudice and in a spirit of wild optimism, I planted some A. christophii in the Capel bed. The stray back-of-greenhouse allium is a christophii, so I might get away with it. I do hope so:

opening...

I find myself stopping to adore these when I should be doing other things, like spreading slug pellets. The flower buds are so huge and fat and promising before they burst, and the individual floret buds seem rather improbable, almost as though they belong in some William Morris-style interior or on the set of a fantasy movie. They’re heraldic, but not a heraldry I recognise; there’s definitely an almost-alien elegance about them.

A.christophii

They look hard and spiky and odd, but they look good here. Which does surprise me, because generally the odd doesn’t work in this garden (Angelic gigas, while fascinating, was definitely a mistake). They’ve opened very slowly – the weather has been, and continues to be, not very good – but that’s just kept the suspense working, and I have found myself really enjoying their gradual appearance. I’ve got ten. What’s the betting that next year I have two, and one of them has shifted to behind the greenhouse all by itself? I don’t care; it’s worth it for this year.

And now it’s time to battle the slugs which, although they don’t much care for alliums, are really, really enjoying the irises. Who knew?