Close up of Cypripedium orchid flower.

Diary: The garden in April 2000

Logo: Llansadwrn Garden - Meconopsis cambrica, Ynys Môn

April 2000

On the 1st greenfinches have been picking off primrose flowers and leaving them scattered on the ground. We noticed decapitated primroses the first time a few years ago and found that greenfinches were responsible. At first the reason for the birds attack seemed obscure but Patricia has spent some time observing what they do. The flower is picked near the top of the stem then the flower base is rolled around in the bird's beak.Greenfinches feeding on black sunflower seeds. Photo: © D. Perkins. She has concluded that they are extracting the nectar, normally obtained by bees, then discard the otherwise intact flower head near the plant. The numbers of greenfinches have increased over the years, but so have the primroses! The weather has been more like winter than spring. Fog, rain, hail and snow on the 2nd with a temperature during the day of only 2.4C meant any gardening was done in the greenhouse. Despite the cold weather 2 swallows were seen flying low over the 'old cricket field', seen from our west window (see 26th March). This first sighting was several days earlier than in previous years. In the afternoon a passing buzzard came too close to the nearby rookery and came under attack. It was driven off across the fields then, in close combat, a rook and buzzard fell to the ground. They were too far away to see what happened, but there was no sign of the birds when the ground was scanned later with binoculars. The 5th was clear and sunny and when going out to make the weather observations at 10 o'clock I was greeted by the first blackcap of the season singing in a willow tree near the vegetable plot. This tree remained his favourite singing position for several days. He had some competition as another was heard singing near the entrance to the wood. The 6th, another fine day, and the honeybees were out early busy collecting pollen from plants in the garden and goldcrests were chattering in the trees. In the afternoon there was much noise as the mistle thrushes were driving off crows which had ventured too close to their nest. By the 10th temperatures were still below average for April, by some 2C, but more bluebells were coming into flower in the wood. Bluebells flowering in the wood. Photo: © D. Perkins.More flowers of rhododendrons and azaleas are opening, the early white ones have now past their best but there are plenty more to come. If there are no late frosts to spoil them there should be a good showing in a few weeks time. Leaves on the horse chestnuts have opened out, as have some more sycamores. The buds of other species including beech, ash and lime are showing no sign of opening. In the herbaceous border strong shoots of an early peony are about 15 cm above ground, there is still no sign of a later variety. In the greenhouse the tomato seedlings were potted on into 3in pots on the 12th. The last of the chrysanthemum cuttings were taken and put into the propagating frame. Three varieties, Olga Paterson, Gemma Jones and Snowshine had until now not produced enough shoots of the right size. The 36 large (10in) pots in which the chrysanthemums grew during the autumn and winter will now be taken out of the greenhouse to make room for the tomatoes in a few weeks time. The weather continues cold and rather wet and proves yet again that it is no good sowing vegetables too early. It will be necessary to move rather quickly and get the sowing done when conditions are more favourable. The vegetable plot has not yet been dug over! We try to get as much as possible of it done in the autumn so that minimal work is required in the spring. This year, after several years of thought, we have decided to enlist the help of a mechanical cultivator. A MANTIS has been ordered and we await delivery. Gardening has been postponed for a few days as preparations are made for the marriage of our younger son Gordon to Ceri on the 14th. The MANTIS arrived just before leaving for the ceremony in Conwy! On the 15th cattle have started to replace sheep in one of the 3 fields surrounding the house. The ground is now drier and will allow the heavier animals on to the pasture. Cattle are few at the moment; growth of grass has been rather slow this spring because of the colder weather. As an experiment this year we have hung up, for the birds, a small bale of cotton. This seems to be an American idea as the illustration shows an oriole taking the cotton. The first bird to take cotton was a coal tit. Several flights, usually in the morning, were made each day for 2-3 days taking quite large beakfuls at a time. We have also seen blue tits doing the same thing. One was taking cotton to one of our wooden nest boxes the other to another site in the garden. We thought the idea would work here because in other years blue tits have tried to extract cotton treads from washing drying on the clothesline. Although birds took interest in the new composition nest boxes we have been unable to confirm nests in any of them. This is surprising as some replaced previously successful wooden ones in the same position. The first trial of the MANTIS was undertaken on the 21st. A little assembly work is required but good written instructions were provided, as well as a video, in 4 languages. Listening to instruction in a language not your own enabled concentration on visual aspects! No problems were encountered except care must be taken in making up the 50:1 petrol/oil mixture. Here we are now used to getting 5 litres of petrol at a time for lawnmowers etc., but the small bottles of oil supplied were the USA bottles containing 2.6 fluid oz (not the British 100 ml bottles) which needed to be diluted with 3.8 litres of petrol. But I did check and used the correct volume of petrol! It took a few attempts to adopt the right technique; you must allow it to dig itself in before moving with it backwards. I found that a slow continuous backward movement was best, but it jumped around a bit over hard ground. Stones were a problem, our soil is very stony and occasionally I had to stop to remove a stone jammed in the tines. Twice roots had wound around the tine shaft and had to be removed. It coped best with recently worked soil (in the autumn) and least with trodden paths (left from the spring). On half the plot I had spread up to 5 cm of compost, this was well incorporated and is a useful thing to be able to do. It was good where large difficult weeds (nettle, dandelion etc.) had been previously removed. Where annual grass had been left it broke up the plants, incorporated most in the soil and left a scattering on the surface, which dried off in the sun. This was fine where surface planting was to be carried out but was not so good where potatoes were to be planted as plants were further exposed when earthing up. I estimated that it was at least 6/8 times quicker than digging by hand. In the greenhouse seedling lettuce plants have been pricked out into module trays. We find it much more successful to plant established plantlets in this climate. It also means that thinning is not required and weeding easier. Some perennial plants, which have been produced as cuttings or overwintered, need to be hardened off. Today a start was made in putting the fuchsias into a cold frame. For a few nights the frame will be covered and then left exposed until the plants are required. Of course there is always a chance of a frost and if likely the covers can always be put back. This year there has been no problem. For the past 5 years Patricia has organised in the garden a Plant Sale to raise funds for the children's charity the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC). This year it will be held on 5-7th of May. Propagating established plants we have in the garden raises a lot of plants. This work starts as soon as one sale has finished, as it is a year-round job. We know by now or try to guess the kinds of plant people are looking for, but often visitors will comment favourably on a particular plant and ask if it is available. We bear this in mind for the following year and try to produce some well-rooted plants for sale. Lithospermum var. Heavenly Blue. This happened with gromwell Lithospermum now correctly Lithodora Heavenly Blue. It has dark green leaves with profuse gentian-blue flowers. It flowers all summer and longer here, but is best in free-draining lime-free soil like ours here. We have large plants on the rockery, which are always admired, and seem at their best at the time of the Plant Sale. For several years we were asked for plants, but we had failed to be able to strike cuttings. This problem has now been cracked and we are able to produce several each year to satisfy the demand! At present the greenhouse, cold frames and standing areas are bulging with plants as between 150-200 are raised annually. It is a busy time preparing the plants and correctly labelling them. Patricia is good at plant identification, but it all takes time. In the garden at the moment the red rhododendrons and azaleas are showing more colour. Flowers of the hybridised cowslips, showing a range of colours, are well developed where they have popped up in the borders and elsewhere. The early flowering heathers are now past their best but beginning to show new lighter green growth. Flower buds are appearing on the horse chestnut trees, more sycamores are coming into leaf and the buds of beech trees are expanding. Mass of pink saxrifage in flower on the rockery.Showers of bud scales are blown down, when there are puffs of wind, and beginning to pile up on the ground and in the roof valleys and gutters. Rosemary, our daughter home for the weekend, reported hearing bats in the wall of her bedroom on the 23rd. Our house is home to a colony of pipestrelle bats and their roost is in the apex of the west gable wall of the Lodge. Their access is near the peak and this leads into the wall, of stone 2-ft thick, above a little window. She is quite used to the bats, as it has always been her bedroom; and the bats do no seem to mind pop music! The bats use the space as a maternity roost: arriving usually at the beginning of April, spend the summer there, and raise their young. We do not know where they over-winter; it could be somewhere else in the roof space as there are places to which we do not have access. They visit parts of the roof, but I have not seen them there in the winter. It is likely, however, that they use somewhere else. They will also roost in trees, and there are plenty of mature trees in the vicinity and several old farm buildings as well. Last year the bats arrived but departed some days afterwards and we were without them for the first summer for many years. The reason remains a mystery; a theory is that the roost could have been infested with bat ticks making it uncomfortable for them. This suggests that there is more than one roost nearby and more than one may be in use at the same time, summer or winter. This would be an advantage if a roost was unsuitable or there had been disturbance. It is unlawful to disturb bats and special precautions must be taken if work is being done on a house or building with a roost. We are glad they are back this year, and so far, are staying around. Rosemary also said she heard two owls in the trees just outside her window during the night. It is never quiet in the countryside! The hedgerows along the road are, on the 24th, white with patches of the greater stitchwort (Stellaria holostea). Bluebells in the wood. Photo: © D. Perkins.This is sometimes called satin flower or adders meat and is a common perennial herb of woods and hedgerows. The yellow gorse continues to give a spectacular display on headlands and some roadside verges throughout the island. On the 25th 2 fledgling song thrushes, from an early successful nest, were being fed in the wood while a blackbird is just finishing a nest in the hedge near the kitchen window. A pair of goldfinches has been spotted in the garden; perhaps they will nest here this year. The weather is a little warmer and this has brought out more red flowers on the azaleas. The earlier blue and mauve ones have been out for a while. The low growing rhododendron Axel Johnson is also opening its dark red flowers. In the damp border alongside the terrace in front of the east window primula vernalis Guinevere is in flower. A relative of the common primrose it has dark bronze foliage and soft pink flowers. On a walk around the wood on the 27th I saw newly emerging fronds of the broad Buckler-fern Dryopteris austrica and the male fern D. filax-mas are beginning to appear. These are large ferns that die back in the winter leaving a mound of 'frond-mould' on the ground. Also seen were several plants of Hart's tongue fern Asplenium scolopendrium, these like the rocky outcrops or base of a wall and do better if the soil is more basic. The tongue-shaped fronds persist through the winter but they too are producing new growth. The fledged song thrushes also were seen again. April showers continue to make the ground too wet to work on, grass paths are getting very muddy where they have to be walked upon. The bluebells in the wood are now nearing their best; in places swathes of blue are dappled with sunlight as the trees are not yet fully leafed. The flowers of ash trees are emerging but the leaves have not yet appeared. On the rockery the dark pink saxifrage is fully in flower. If allowed this will grow in large patches that can look most spectacular. In the house the last flower of the Cypripedium orchid has finished. There has been a flower on at least one plant continuously during the last 6 months. This last plant with a flower has now been moved to the south kitchen window ledge where they will all remain for the summer. At dusk on the warm evening of the 30th we counted 50 bats emerging from their roost. There have been more in the past but we may not have started earlier enough. Another count will be done later on. The highest number counted, emerging during the summer after breeding, was 175.

  • Visit E.V.B's Victorian Garden at Huntercombe in April 1883

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    Copyright ©: 2000 Donald and Patricia Perkins