Llansadwrn: Garden Diary 2000
On the 1st, of the New Millennium Year, Patricia picked the last of the chrysanthemums in our greenhouse. Snowshine, a pure white incurving decorate, was the last of the several varieties that we grow for flowering between October and the New Year. Our other end-of-season variety is another pure white reflex Arctic Beauty. Sadly, neither of these varieties is in the current catalogue, but does not matter as we propagate our own cuttings.
The 2nd was dull and drizzly but I spotted some bullfinches in one of the wild areas of the garden. They, possibly 2 males and a female, were seen feeding for a while on snowberry and plum taking buds. For some years we have seen pairs at this time of year and were glad to see them again, as they have become quite rare. Snowdrops, which have been showing green 1-2 cm above ground since December, have not grown much more but are now showing a few spots of white. Early varieties of Narcissus (daffodil) are in places 3-4 cm tall. The ground is very wet and no work can be done at present. In recent gales fallen leaves have blown away from some border shrubs, where they have gathered, but some remain in wet heaps covering some plants and will have to be removed to the leaf heap. When further decomposed the leaf mould will be used for mulching and potting later in the year.
The 9th saw the appearance of first few snowdrops, they suddenly seemed to have sprung up and are in flower in grass bordering the small rhododendron garden at the front of the house. The soil here is slightly acidic and there is no problem in growing rhododendrons and azaleas.
This garden was planted 3 years ago and has proved to be a success. We chose varieties not only for their flower colour but also their leaf shape and colour. This gives a lot of interest at any time of the year. The garden is well planted with snowdrops, which have naturalised in several areas. These, and several varieties of daffodils, were already growing in the garden when we came to live here in 1971. From time to time we do our bit for the future garden and plant some more. Last autumn we planted a patch with some dwarf varieties, these too are beginning to show a little green above ground. The house is the former Front Lodge of a country estate. Records of sale catalogues show that the estate was sold in 1882 and again in 1902. The house seems to have been built, by the then new estate owners, around 1884; we found the date under several layers of wallpaper. The Lodge is not marked on the 1882 documents but is on those dated 1902. A previous recent owner of the Lodge until about 1969, a Mrs Viner had a garden, a greenhouse and kept bees. There was not much left of the garden when we arrived, the greenhouse had rotted and been dismantled and a few beehives were empty and in poor condition. The next owner had begun, but not quite finished, modernisation of the house. What was left of the garden had been more or less destroyed in the rebuilding process, so we had to start again from scratch.A garden is never finished, plants and borders mature and then need replanting. Some things are successful and others not, some grow too large and others not at all. Soon after we moved in Dutch elm disease appeared and many trees died or were felled in at attempt to stamp out the disease. These measures failed and all the mature elms were lost.
Today there remains just some scrub elm and regrowth from a few felled bases. These usually grow for a few years and then they are struck down once more. There has been a lot of natural regeneration in the wood but mainly of sycamore and Norway maple.
The 10-12th has been an exceptionally wet spell, the ground was already wet and there was a lot of runoff from the surrounding fields on to the road alongside the garden. A great spotted woodpecker was heard drumming in the tree quite close to the house on the 13th. These birds are around most of the time; we see them feeding at our peanut feeders. Since the autumn we have only seen male birds, distinguished by a bright red patch on their heads. The females, which do not have a red patch, seem to prefer to feed on natural material. They will now start to put in an appearance and, when nesting, will be more frequent visitors. Eventually, together with the male, they will bring their young to feed also. Also heard today was a tawny owl, just before dawn there was quite a lot of hooting from the large old sycamore close to the house on the south side. although the 14th was a sunny day there was a cold wind and the ground is still very wet so opportunity was taken to do some work in the greenhouse. As the chrysanthemums have finished, still in their 25 cm (10 in) pots, they were cut back to within 10 cm of the soil level. Some were already showing signs of new shoots from the base, the cutting back will encourage more new shoot production which later on will be used for cuttings to propagate next seasons flowers. Also in the greenhouse is a Muscat type grapevine, var. Black Hamburg.
It is the same variety as the very large vine in Hampton Court planted in 1768. We planted ours here in 1976 when we erected the new greenhouse, but it was a cutting from a much older plant grown by Patricia's father in Hove, Sussex. The root is planted outside and the vine brought inside and trained along the length of the house. January is the month when it should be pruned.
Basically this means that the side shoots, which grew last season, are cut back to a bud on the main stem. This job was done and the prunings gathered and, together with the fallen leaves and the cut chrysanthemum stems, consigned to the compost heap. During the day the ground dried considerably and by the next morning it felt firm to walk on and not spongy as it had for the past week. The 15th was another dry sunny day so work could be done out of doors. We have a few grapevines growing in the garden. These are more for decorative purposes as there are very few years that would successfully ripen grapes in this locality. Grapes have ripened in an old walled garden in the Conwy Valley and along the south-facing side of the Menai Straits. The grapes here have produced some grapes in 1 or 2 years, but they have never ripened. The vines were grown as short bushes; this is wrong, as even in northern France the vines are grown much taller. The reason is that it is much colder nearer the ground and the grapes stand a better chance when grown taller. For the last 2-3 years I have been growing and training the vines up to a height of 1.5 m. Today these vines were pruned to their new height, it will be interesting to see if they are more successful.
Flowering in the house this month are 2 species of orchid. The first, a Cypripedium, is a family heirloom. The original plant was given to my grandmother by her son Graham Wright in 1941. He was a bomb disposal officer in the RNVR (Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve) and was tragically lost at sea on board ship sailing in convoy for "the Rock", Gibraltar. Before leaving he safely defused a land mine, which had started ticking, lodged in the rafters of the Palladium theatre in London. He was awarded, posthumously, the George Medal. The orchid has had many family memories over four generations, at present we are the present keepers and propagators. It grows very well in our house and every year, from October to February, are rewarded by several blooms (7 this year). We have several plants, just in case.
The other species, a more recent acquisition, is a Cymbidium. This is a much larger plant and resides on the large south (almost) facing window of our kitchen. The steamy (occasionally) atmosphere seems to suit orchids. Both species are kept here most of the year but the Cypripedium is moved to another room when flowering. We do not have a gas supply to the house; orchids (and some other plants) do not seem to thrive where gas is used.
The birds are singing much more this month. Until now only robins, wrens and great tits have been noticeable but the blackbirds now have joined these. There are several pairs of each around the garden and in the wood. On a quiet morning it is noticeable that the volume of singing has increased. Today, the 16th, these have been joined by 2 male mistle thrushes. After a few trial notes they got down to some serious singing and there were one or two disputes, as territories have to be established. We have had 2 pairs in the vicinity during the breeding season for a few years and they tend to dominate the singing. We usually have 1 or 2 pairs of song thrushes as well, although we have seen the odd one around, they have yet to appear regularly in the garden. Both the mistle and song thrushes tend to nest early and, although losses do occur in some years, the advantage is that if successful a second brood may be reared.
The anticyclonic weather has given us a drier spell but it has remained mainly cloudy. The morning of the 19th was typically cloudy and there was little wind. The mistle thrushes were singing from dawn for an hour or more and these were joined later by the drumming of the greater spotted woodpecker. A female woodpecker has now joined the male in coming to the peanut feeders so I expect they will be soon inspecting their nesting place. Woodpeckers have nested in the same tree for some years; this is across the road from our garden. As the woodland hereabouts is all joined-up, it is one habitat to birds and other animals. To them the fact that a source of food and their nesting tree is on different property does not concern them. The blackbirds, there are at least 3 pairs around in the garden and more along the woodland strips, are beginning to show an interest in a spot of singing but nothing to serious at the moment. This has been a mild January and we have not seen the redwings in the surrounding fields, seen in November and December. The solitary brambling, seen here for several days in November has not reappeared. There have been flocks of starlings feeding on the fields nearby. These often come and perch on tall trees bounding the fields. There is much twittering and then they will fly down to feed once more. So far the flock has not favoured our garden as they have in some years. Also feeding on the fields are the rooks. There are several rookeries nearby and on fine days nest inspection will take place. This is a very noisy affair as claims, and counter claims, are made for the best positions. The nests usually survive the winter gales but some are destroyed and most need rebuilding. This work has not yet started.
On the afternoon of 27th we saw a flock of 60 lapwings in a wet field on the road to Llanbedrgoch. This is the most seen since the 100 seen on 3 December 1999 near Rhoscefnhir. There were also some curlews, about 10 on this occasion, larger numbers were seen in the same field earlier in the winter. We do not see such large flocks on the fields surrounding the house. They are drier but also surrounded by the mature broadleaf shelterbelt woodland. Both the lapwing and curlew prefer the more open fields.
A walk around the garden today, the 25th, little or no wind and bright at times. A chance to see how the plants are growing. When we came to live here we brought with us many rooted cuttings of 'heathers'.
At our previous home we had established heather borders which proved very successful. We closely planted them here in swaths of different colour on slopes around the house. In flower at the end of the year was the Erica December Red and through this month the Erica carnea varieties Springwood White and Springwood Pink have been gradually coming into flower. The white is always the first and another the Springwood Red is much later. Also just showing colour, as part of the rhododendron garden is the deep rose-pink coloured Erica carnea Heathwood. This has been planted for 2 seasons and already the plants have a 25-cm spread that will soon join up. We have attempted, and largely succeeded, to have examples in flower throughout the year. The varieties of Erica carnea are easy to grow; they will tolerate some lime in the soil. Our soil here is slightly acidic is ideal and we can also grow some of the calcium intolerant species such as Calluna. Also coming into flower is the green hellebore Helleborus viridis. This is a deciduous plant, which can die back to ground level. In some mild winters some green leaves remain and it comes into flower very early. Rosemary is flowering and potted Pelargoniums in a sheltered corner of the house still have some small flowers. The Camellia is a mass of buds and if the weather is favourable should give a good display later on. The snowdrops have continued to open and large patches look spectacular in the brief spells of sunshine. In the wood there was no sign of any emerging bluebell leaves but one or two patches of recently established snowdrops are doing well.
Inspection of the vegetable garden showed that the purple sprouting broccoli was doing well. It will be a few weeks before it sprouts and we can start picking. The leeks have been a bit disappointing this year, they are rather small but tasty never the less. Recent winds had dislodged netting, used to discourage wood pigeons from eating them, so I attended to this. Our vegetable garden is now smaller than it used to be. As our children
have left home we need less, but the main reason is we find the job of digging and weeding more difficult. So we have reduced its size by a third. We used to run it as a three-plot system, rotating every year as (1) potatoes and roots, (2) peas, beans and salad, and (3) brassicas. This used to work very well and over many years we have suffer little from disease. We are almost organic but do occasionally use some artificial fertilisers. We need very little pesticide application, only the minimum when absolutely necessary. Patricia has prepared the seed list for the season and orders have been placed. We keep our own seed of some things such as potatoes, runner beans and broad beans.
The mistle thrushes seem to have established their claim to parts of the woodland bordering the garden. The 28th dawned wet and windy, a gale was blowing from the southwest with quite heavy rain but this does not prevent the mistle thrushes singing. Perched on the topmost branches they have been singing since first light, occasionally moving to another nearby tree. They have sometimes been called 'storm cocks' and this seemed a most appropriate name for them today. They will build their nests high up in the trees long before any leaves have appeared. Later in the year they return to the wide-open spaces of fields, moors and marshes but at present we have the pleasure of their company.
On the last day, 31st, the first yellow crocus has appeared.
Three buzzards were spotted, flying low around the house and garden on the 3rd, being mobbed by several rooks from the nearby rookery. There are about 20 nests in trees to the northwest of the garden in our neighbour's garden. There is a lot of activity at present at the nests and buzzards are not welcome. On the morning of the 4th it was foggy and there was a strong southerly wind. This did not stop the 'storm cock' singing high in the trees near the house almost before first light. It was to remain wet and stormy for several more days.
On the 8th male and female bullfinches were seen again on the snowberry near the house. We get a good view of this area of the garden from an upstairs window; a pair of binoculars is kept handy so that a spot of bird watching can be done from time to time. I was able to photograph the male bullfinch from the same window. The buzzards returned on the 10th and flew around the garden again, but this time they did not attract the attention of the rooks. They soon went on their way over the treetops and out of sight. After the recent gales it was good to have a calm sunny day on the 13th. Woodpeckers were busy drumming on their favourite 'sounding' branches. As the day was calm the sound was carrying well across the fields and answering drumming, at different pitches, could be heard nearby and from the woodland at Treffos just less than 1 km away. Several great tits and blue tits were investigating the nesting boxes we have on trees near the house and in the wood. We have had several wooden boxes of various home made design and have had a high occupancy rate. A pair of nuthatches occupied the same box for about 7 years before one of the pair died. In the first year I put up the box they were interested within 20 minutes. It proved satisfactory, but only after some slight enlargement of the hole and plastering with mud of several joints in the woodwork! After 2 years of successful breeding the box had to be moved. The tree was diseased and becoming dangerous and as it was very close to the house and was felled. The same box was re-erected on another tree at the other side of the house. This did not deter the nuthatches, they soon found the box and continued to nest there for another 5 years. Sadly, we have not had any more nuthatches in our boxes, the nut hatch box was taken over by great tits. There are several pairs of nuthatches around but they seem to prefer natural nesting places. Some of the wooden nesting boxes have come to the end of their useful life and need replacing. This year we are trying for the first time Schwegler boxes of German origin made of a composite of wood chips, clay and cement. They are said to last at least 25 years! A walk around the garden on the 14th showed that several plants were showing signs of spring growth. In a damp border Primula denticulata plants were showing the first flowers and buds were well developed on the Saxifraga oppositifolia on the rockery.
The first dwarf daffodil, in the patch that we planted in the autumn, has suddenly sprung into flower. Plants of the Welsh poppy, which had died back almost to nothing, have greened up a lot in the last few days. Some of the patches of heathers around the borders are now well into flower, especially the Erica carnea Springwood Pink and Springwood White, while the Ruby Glow variety is just coming into flower. Molehills are being put up in the wood and along the grass verge of the drive entrance.
Patches of hills can also be seen in some of the nearby grassy fields. The moles are also around the garden and tunnel under the grass of the lawns looking for worms. They rarely put up molehills here but make the grass very spongy to walk on. By the time the first grass mowing needs to be done their tunnelling is extensive in some parts. We have learned to tolerate them and to share the garden with them. By the 19th the snowdrops, which have given such a good display this year, are just passing their best. A few early daffodils are appearing and there are still the crocuses but today, although sunny, it is not warm enough for the flowers to open. The purple hellebore is now well into flower along with the green in the herbaceous border. On the rockery there are flowers open on a dwarf white flowered Rhododendron. In the wood well-formed leaves are out on several seedling sycamores while on some mature trees the buds look quite swollen and green. In the greenhouse a lot of shoots have formed on the now cut back chrysanthemum plants still in their pots. It will soon be time to take cuttings and prepare for this year's display in the autumn. The bottom heated propagating frame, on the bench inside the greenhouse, runs all winter and is full of cuttings including several varieties of fuchsias struck in the autumn. These will be brought on to plant in large earthenware pots early in the summer. The summer season is short here in the northwest and plants do best if brought on in the greenhouse and planted out when fear of a late frost has passed.
The 21st was a sunny and warmer day with the temperature reaching 10.2C. This was what the crocuses had been waiting for and they duly opened their flowers to give us a good display. In contrast the next day was dull and cooler, the crocuses remained shut. A walk around the nearby lanes on the 22nd revealed 3 campions plants struggling in flower, they could be the same plants I have been looking at through the winter. I also spotted two yellow lesser celandines and one dandelion in flower. There was plenty of yellow gorse in flower looking bright in the dull light. I saw several wrens working their way along the hedgerows but there were no other birds of interest. We have seen very few winter visitors this year, as the weather has been very mild. In some years it has been possible to see a hundred or more redwings and fieldfares in the fields along my walk, but none today. More gales and rain on the 27/28th keeping the ground very wet. There was water standing on some parts of the garden and the old 'cricket' field opposite the house had large pools of water on it again. Early morning fog on the morning of the extra day on the 29th was soon replaced by brighter weather. The mistle thrushes were singing well in the treetops and have now been joined by a chorus of great tits with their familiar 'teacher-teacher' calling. We have been disappointed not to have seen any siskins around the garden so far this year. We have seen and recorded them for the past 2 Februarys. Later in the day, our pair of semi resident pheasants were displaying on the lawn.
The 1st of March is St. David's Day, the Patron Saint of Wales. It is traditional to wear a daffodil, or a leek, on this day. There is usually no problem finding a leek, but daffodils can be scarce at this time of year. For the last 2-3 years there has been no difficulty in finding locally grown daffodils as well. The mild winters have meant that there are plenty in the gardens.
The wet weather continued at the beginning of the month so that any work planned for the garden was delayed. On the 3rd early bluebell leaves in the wood had grown to 7-8 cm tall, but new ones were appearing every day. There are plenty of primroses in flower all over the garden their yellow colour contrasting with the blue squill Chionodoxas Glory of the Snow. Despite the 3/4th being the coldest night of the year, with much hoarfrost on the ground in the morning, it was sunny and felt quite warm in the garden, as there was little or no wind. A few honeybees were seen on the heathers for the first time this year.
A local beekeeper has several hives across the field from the garden and the heathers are often covered with bees on warm days at this time of year. They seem to appear on the heathers when the temperature is near 10C. In previous days we have seen several large and a few smaller bumblebees around the garden these have emerged from their overwintering hideaway. They can tolerate much lower temperatures than honeybees and from now onwards will be seen out in all weathers.
A goldcrest was also seen searching for insects in a conifer tree and later a long-tailed tit was spotted. We have not seen a goldcrest since November and a long-tailed tit since April of last year. Both put in an appearance at this time of year and will nest nearby. Sometimes we see small flocks of long-tailed tits passing through the garden or wood but they never stay very long. We have so far been unable to attract either goldcrest or long-tailed tits to our feeders. During the afternoon a buzzard flying too near the rookery was noisily driven off by some of the rooks. In the greenhouse the chrysanthemum stools have produced a lot of new shoots and it will soon be time to commence taking the cuttings. This job was put off, as with the better day some work was possible outside. although the ground is still very wet some tidying up was done in preparation for more serious work in a week or two. On the 6th rooks were seen breaking off twigs from the trees around the garden to renovate their nests. They only seem to break off living twigs from the treetops although there are plenty of similar ones lying on the ground following recent gales. It is probable that the rooks select new twigs because they would be stronger than those lying on the ground. Sometimes, although they have strong beaks, it is quite a struggle for them to break the twig. In the hedge bounding the road past the house the hawthorn (Crategus monogyna) has begun to green-up. Elsewhere the white flowers of the blackthorn or sloe (Prunus spinosa) have appeared. The leaves of hawthorn are produced before flowers whereas with blackthorn the flowers appear first. This gives the hedges the very odd appearance of white and green patches at this time of year. There was a dispute between 2 mistle thrushes on the lawn on the 10th. Territories from time to time are still in dispute. The leaves of snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus var. laevigatus) and elderberry (Sambucus nigra) in the wood are beginning to open and the sticky buds on the horse chestnuts are fit to burst. The smallest of green leaf is also appearing on raspberries. On the rockery there are now several flowers open of the purple saxifrage Saxifraga oppositifolia and in the damp area flowers of Primula denticulata.
By the afternoon of the 11th it had become sunny and the temperature had risen to 11.5C. Lots of honeybees were seen gathering pollen on the heathers, clearly advantage was being taken of the warmer day. The scout bees, seen on the 4th, must have passed on the message that the heathers were the place to be. The grass on the lawns was sufficiently dry to allow a start to the grass-mowing season to be made. An early cut is always worth doing when conditions allow, trimming back the growth made overwinter. Much growth has been made, since the last cut, as grass grows all year here more so because the winter has been so mild. A mistle thrush has been gathering dead strands of the rockery plant Phuopsis stylosa for nesting material. We leave the remains of this plant on the rockery because we know from previous years that the mistle thrushes come to gather it. This usually takes place in the morning and there is much toing and froing from rockery to wood. The bird uses a circuitous route so as not to easily reveal its nesting place. Predators are always around and today we saw 3 jays at the top of a tall tree in the wood. At 10.30 pm we heard two tawny owls hooting and screeching to each other in the trees. They were probably male and female birds but we could not see them, as it was a very dark night. In the greenhouse on the 12th chrysanthemum cuttings were taken for rooting in small clay pots. I use a 50:50 mixture of peaty compost and vermiculite and the small cuttings (about 5 cm cut just below a node, lower leaves removed leaving 3-4) are placed around the edge 4 to a 3in pot. After watering the pots are put in the propagating frame with bottom heat. There was a good supply shoots of most varieties we grow except Snowshine and Olga Paterson. These will be looked for again a bit later on when hopefully some more shoots have formed.
Seed of tomato were sown a little later than usual. My normal sowing date is the middle of February so the plants will be a little late this year. I always include Gardeners Delight, from saved seed, because they crop well and the taste is always good. The snowdrops have all finished in the garden and their leaves are growing rapidly so that they begin to look untidy. The daffodils should now be at their best but the bulbs this year have not produced as many flowers as usual, although there are plenty of green leaves. This sometimes happens, there are enough to draw the eye away from the snowdrops and the last of the crocuses but are not a good display. The newly planted patch Millennium Star is very good and make up for the lack of the older bulbs. The first Camellia flowers are open; ours is a later flowering variety than some which have been in flower in the area for a few weeks. A later flowering type is useful to have if there are frosts but not this year as there have been very few so far. Our plant is unusual because half the plant has pink flowers and the other a mixed pink and white flower. The plant is low growing and the flowers tend to be rather shy under the leaves, good for frost protection but not for display. Along the lanes near the house on the 17th several new flowers of campion were seen together with more lesser celandine and dandelion. The wall pennywort (Umbilicus rupestris) was growing in profusion on the walls and there were good plants of foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) at least 30 cm tall. Birdsong around the garden and wood is very strong. Patricia spotted the return of a male siskin seen on a peanut feeder. Rather later in the year than we have seen them previously. The mistle thrushes tend to dominate the morning and evening chorus starting very early when hardly light and finishing just after dark. On the evening of the 19th 3 mistle thrushes were spotted in the topmost branches of a very tall sycamore tree. They were perched equidistant in a triangle, one was singing and the other two appeared to be listening! It is unusual to see 2 let alone 3 together like this. The mistle thrushes have in recent days been joined in the garden by a singing song thrush and a blackbird. Both of these are very mellow singers and we are particularly glad to have a good singing blackbird again. There was a very good singer a few years ago, which used to take up position on the electricity pole near the house. After several years he must have died and until now his replacements were not the best singers. This year he is a very good singer and usually gives a good performance from about 4 pm onwards. There are several singing blackbirds in the vicinity and for some reason all appear better singers this year.
The siskins, male and now female, are regular visitors once again. They usually feed together on the peanuts. The male is quite an aggressive little bird and will not tolerate others feeding at the same time even driving off the larger greenfinch. Of course there may be more than a pair but we have only seen the 2 birds at any one time. We sowed nine varieties of sweet peas in pots in the greenhouse on the 20th. The sweet pea is a favourite flower of us both and we cannot imagine not growing them in the garden. Timing of sowing and planting is very important, as the season is so short here. Too early and when planted out they can be set back if the weather turns cold and are subject to bud drop following cold nights, and too late and an early autumn spoils them just as they are at their best. While in the greenhouse it was seen that the buds of the grapevine have began to open. Of course there is no sign of the buds opening on the vines in the garden. Also in the greenhouse at the moment is a small lemon tree. It is a hardy variety Meyeri that can withstand a little frost. We keep it in the greenhouse in the winter and move it into a warm place in the garden for the summer. It produces, although still small, plenty of highly scented flowers in the spring and surprisingly has produced a ripe lemon this year. It took a year to grow and ripen and was picked today; it was excellent in a gin and tonic! The 22nd was a good sunny day and while working in the garden the first chiff-chaff of the summer was heard singing in a willow tree. The buds on the horse chestnut are bursting open and looking like pale green candles on the tree. Several more chiff-chaffs had arrived on the 25th and were busy singing in different parts of the garden and wood. It was another sunny day and the ground had dried sufficiently to allow some returfing to be done around a redeveloped part of the garden. In front of the greenhouse the area was one of our vegetable plots but has now been turned into a flower border. The returfing was to change the shape from a rectangular vegetable plot into a more pleasing triangular shape. The shape also has to take account of the raingauge, which cannot be moved, as it is in the best place in the garden to record rainfall chosen by the Meteorological Office. The aim is to grow roses and as many types of lavender as we can find. Roses are a challenge here and we have chosen some of the newly developed old rose types, regosa types and the climber Zephirene Drouhin both of that grow reasonably well here. Patricia also has cuttings of an old red climbing rose that was grown by her Grandfather. This will be grown on a new fence I am erecting along a path to the greenhouse that borders the new garden.
On the 26th in the afternoon we walked the short distance to the garden of our friends Mari and Gwilym. They have been gardening here at Gadlys almost as long as we have and we often compare notes. Their garden has like ours been developed from an old established garden. Mari has added her own style and edged all the flower borders with dwarf box. This has taken many hundreds of plants over the years and is nearly completed. They also have a small vegetable garden, which has already been dug over in contrast to ours. The woodland is more open than ours is and the ravages of Dutch elm disease and recent gales have increased this openness. New trees have been planted but these will take some years to attain any great size. The former owner planted many hundreds of daffodil bulbs and, in contrast to ours this year, was a wonderful display. Our main mission was to inspect a new primula bed, which had been recently planted. At Mari's request we had grown for her from seed in our greenhouse plants of the primula Cowichan Amethyst and Garnet. There is much controversy about the origin of the Cowichan primrose but a version is that in the 1930's someone in the Cowichan Valley in Canada found a deep purple-red primrose without an eye and with red tinged leaves in a batch of seedlings. The plants are unusual and it is the first time we have seen them in flower. Mari had planted them in a bed with other primroses and primulas and it will be interesting to see how they develop. In our garden we have grown primroses and various primulas for many years. There is no difficulty growing them here, they pop up everywhere. They have hybridised, and from the normal primrose and a deep red primula, we now have many different types. Every spring it is interesting to see what shades of hybrid have sprung up. We also have cowslips, which grow very well, under our conditions. We have them springing up everywhere even in the vegetable plot. These are very useful as seedling plants to give to friends, Mari has had several, and to re-establish in different places in the garden. We are also lucky to have several plants of the rather rare oxlip hybrid, the cross between the primrose and cowslip. Normally this is yellow flowered but occasionally a coloured one appears. The primroses and primulas are at their best at the moment but the cowslips are later. I have seen one or two oxlips in flower these seeming to be also earlier than the cowslip. The fields surrounding the house have, since January, enclosed increasing numbers of sheep and their lambs. The lambing is done in sheds and when born the ewe and usually 2 lambs are put in the fields. The numbers of sheep have, over recent years, increased on Anglesey farms all the year round. In years past they were only seen in large numbers in the winter, being sheep brought down from the mountains and returned in the summer.
A goldfinch was seen on the 28th feeding on peanuts. In the greenhouse the chrysanthemum cuttings are doing well, on sunny days it is necessary to spray them with water so that they do not become dried out. Soon they will have developed roots and this will be unnecessary. Four types of lettuce seed were sown today. We grow green and red Salad Bowl, Little Gem and Frillice. The later is a new frilly variety of the salad bowl type, which we tried for the first time last year. It proved very successful and we have added it to our seed list.
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. 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. 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. 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. 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). 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.
Buds on the re-trained outdoor grapevines are on the 1st showing signs of breaking. In the greenhouse the Black Hamburg has already produced flowerbuds which look like small bunches of grapes. The trusses of flowers are well distributed over the full length of the vine so there is the potential for a good crop. In a few days I will prune back the new shoots to a leaf just beyond the flowers. Non flowering shoots will thinned out and the best stopped at about the 4/5th leaf. These will bear next years' flowers. At the ends of the row of vines in the garden we have plants of hop Humulus lupulus and these have already strong shoots. The stems climb the end posts twisting in a clockwise direction, then along a wire well above the vines. They will meet in the middle, this year the hop at the north end seems to have an early advantage and may get most of the wire. The flowers of the hop are, of course, an important constituent used in brewing beer. Most of the trees in the wood and garden, and the shelterbelts around the fields are now in leaf. At this time of year there is a great variety of shades of green and the colours rival the autumn. Many of the trees are in flower, and with the fine weather, quantities of pollen have been accumulating on flat surfaces in the garden. The flowers of horse chestnut trees are magnificent this year, we have several in the wood and one bordering the garden, and there are many more interspersed along the shelterbelts. Perhaps there will be a good harvest of conkers in the autumn. In a corner of the new flower border on the former vegetable plot I have set an old dustbin lid into the ground for the birds. Dustbin lids make handy birdbaths; the birds are very appreciative of water supplied in the garden for bathing and drinking. It is always worth providing water even if you do not feed, but site carefully in the open if cats are around. We now have 4 water stations, 2 in dustbin lids and 2 in water trays which are kept clean and supplied with fresh water. Often, not long after the water has been replaced, thrushes or blackbirds are having a bath! They must keep watch, as they seem to like the fresh water. Work on tilling the second half of the vegetable plot is also completed as the purple sprouting broccoli, seakale and leeks have been cleared. This half of the plot has had a layer of compost on it and incorporated using the MANTIS. On the flower borders, and elsewhere, buds of the Welsh poppy are opening. Patricia has been planting up the remainder of the new border as the outline is settled; I have finished the returfing at long last. This is a busy week as the garden will be open for the NSPCC Plant Sale on the 5-7th. We like the garden to be looking at its best, as visitors are welcome to have a look around. Home-grown plants to be included in the sale have been prepared. In addition we do have a lot of help from members of the local committee (Pentraeth, Llansadwrn, Llanbedrgoch and Rhoscefnhir). Many plants are arriving which have been grown by members and Lynne, from Pentraeth, has been organising the collection of those generously donated by local growers, nurseries and garden centres.
In the greenhouse on the 2nd the tomatoes were planted out into bags of compost laid on the soil surface. For the last 2 years they have been grown in the soil but this year it is bags. I have mixed feelings about this method of culture. Unless the soil can be sterilised, difficult in an amateur greenhouse, or dugout and replaced the dreaded 'tomato sickness' (a soil-borne fungal disease) will seriously diminish crops. I have used bags successfully in the past but watering is a problem. Irregular or over-watering can result in problems including blossom end rot. I am thinking of using again the bottomless pot method. In this method a bottomless pot filled with compost is placed on a gravel bed. The tomato planted in the pot roots through to the gravel that is kept well watered. The plant develops 2 root systems, one in the pot and the other in the gravel. After planting minimal watering of the pot is done so that the tomato roots through to the gravel. Liquid feed is applied to the pot at intervals after 1 month of growth. This system works much better than bags and can if necessary be left several days without watering. Watering the gravel bed is quicker and requires much less care or technical expertise than the bags. Well, perhaps next year! On the 4th 2 pairs of goldfinches were seen together in the garden. They must be nesting here as later one pair was collecting nesting material from the rockery. They seemed particularly interested in roots and spent a long time trying to pull up rather too well attached roots. I think they got some in the end. Since the beginning of the month it has been warmer and much drier. No rain so far so that work can be carried out at any time. I sowed 2 rows of peas on the 6th. We have grown Onward for many years and lately the Oregon Mangetout; you can eat the whole pod when young. For the last 2 seasons we have grown instead the Sugar Snap var. Gem that we find we prefer. Between the rows of peas I grow a row (comprising 3 or 4 lines) of broad beans (saved seed from an old dwarf variety The Sutton). The beans grow well between the peas and, being a dwarf variety, are given good shelter from the winds and no staking is required. I used to use the traditional pea sticks set neatly along the rows of peas; the sticks were functional and looked nice in the row but were always difficult to obtain. I have since devised a system using polythene netting held in an A-frame on metal stakes. It is put in position after sowing and at the end of the season rolled up and stored for the following year. I also planted 2 rows of lettuces that had been grown in the greenhouse in modules and have been hardened off in the cold frame. A row on the vegetable plot is about 6.5 m long. The first day of the NSPCC Plant Sale on the 5th is dry and sunny. This is a big advantage and final preparations start early for the opening at 2pm. Lynne has been busy for a while putting up posters in local shops, but it is my job to put up notices at both ends of the road and outside the house. The weather continued fine and sunny over the weekend and in all over £600 was raised.
On the 7th the warmth had brought out more rhododendron flowers but not uniformly so on all bushes. In the wood the white flowered wild garlic is in flower in quite dense patches. The familiar garlic smell lingers in the air for a long time after walking nearby. On the rockeries more of the orange Welsh poppies have come out, they are very good this year. On one large plant I counted over 50 flowers and there were many buds still to open. In one part of the rockery bank a swathe of orange Welsh poppies joins a large 2-3 m patch of bugle Ajuga reptans. This enjoys a semi-shaded position under a pine that has grown rather too large for the rockery. We are reluctant to remove it at present so have removed it lower branches. Despite this it still looks very well and it has had a reprieve. It is now useful for hanging bird feeders on the lower branches and at present has also the cotton bale. On the 10th I planted 3 rows of potatoes. We no longer grow early potatoes because of the reduced size of plot. This may seem strange, as the first potatoes always taste the best. Our reasoning was that we are particularly partial to a late variety Pink fur apple. We have grown this potato, for several years now, soon after it was re-discovered and again made commercially available. Two rows were the minimum we wanted to grow, that left 1 row spare. In this row we grow a potato which is grown a lot in France, we do not know the variety. It is a mid season potato which grows very well here. For our early potatoes we go along the road to Llanbedrgoch where a farmer grows early potatoes under polythene and every year sells at the roadside. This year we purchased the first available 5 days ago on the 5th! We could not compete with this. The roadside verges along the main roads are now being mowed. This should only be done on main roads this early, and restricted to a strip along the road edge and at junctions. It is too early to cut the banks and country lanes where there are numerous flowering plants and nesting birds. We were pleased to see that a stretch of road near Brynsiencyn had not been cut, because there were early purple orchids growing. It was marked out with stakes, full marks to whoever organised this. We have caught sight of the first spotted flycatcher flitting about. These can be rather shy when they first arrive but are seen more often later on. They sometimes also use the electricity cable to perch on while waiting to catch insects on the wing. Returning to the perch time and time again. One year a pair set up nest in the roof gutter beneath the bathroom window, but they usually nest on a branch of a tree. The warm and dry weather still continues and on the 11th the rhododendrons and azaleas seemed at their best. Most blooms are fully open and we are very pleased with the overall result. Preparations for the rhododendron garden were started 5 years ago and we have been planting for about 3 years. This is the first season in which all the new plants have flowered more or less at the same time. Now that the Plant Sale is over for another year Patricia has been tidying up in the greenhouse. Already thought is being given to what plants to propagate and stock plants are being looked at with this in mind. I have been potting up the chrysanthemum plants, which have been hardened off in the frames. The plants are potted in 10in plastic pots and stood on a solid base path along the greenhouse. It is essential here to have the pots on a firm base as, with the winds we get, unstable pots are easily blown over. I pot up firmly in our own-composted soil and tie in to a single cane. At intervals during the season I will feed with liquid fertiliser. Our sweet pea plants, grown in the greenhouse in tall pots, and hardened off in the cold frame were planted out on the 12th. They are grown in a line up a wire netting on an 8ft high pole structure along one side of the vegetable plot. We spotted the female pheasant with one small chick on the drive near the house. They disappeared into the undergrowth. The 13th is starting the 14th day with any rain. The garden is looking very dry on the surface and is excellent for hoeing off weeds. These dry and die within hours, a luxury we do not often have here being normally rather wet! Soil underneath is still moist; it was not long ago that the soils were saturated with water and most plants are adequately supplied. The lawn grass is growing well and needs mowing at weekly intervals. The grass under the trees, which until now has been growing only slowly, has put on a spurt and now needs mowing weekly as well. We have in recent days once watered the rhododendrons and azaleas, which are still in full bloom. As these are recently planted, and having rather compact root systems, they needed to be kept moist. Rain has been forecast and fell overnight, but only amounted to 0.2 mm, and did not wet the soil surface. The dry surface soil could pose a problem for nest-building swallows and house martins. They depend on mud for nest repair and building. We do not have nests on our house, the birds we see nest in and on the farm buildings just up the road. It is likely that they can find enough soft mud churned up by farm vehicles or in wet ditches bordering some fields. The 14th, the warmest day we have had this year, was a day to enjoy the garden so no work was done. We were pleased to see that a pair of blue tits was making frequent visits to one of the new nest boxes. They were taking in aphids and small grubs collected from the trees nearby to feed their brood. As one of the pair arrived with a beakful, and perched on a snowberry twig, it would make a sound and wait for the other to emerge before entering the box. They did not seem to mind our presence, sitting nearby, as they carried on feeding. The male goldfinches have been singing a lot; one will sometimes perch on the electricity supply cable near the house. It has a quiet but complex and beautiful canary-like song. Plants on our small alpine rockery, on a well-drained steep terraced bank, are looking good. There are several varieties of saxifrage in flower together with roseroot Sedum rosea and alpine Lady's-mantle Alchemilla alpina. Lamb's tail Chriastophyllum oppositifolium has been in flower for a while. This seeds itself readily and is best when it pops up in cracks between the rocks. It enjoys cool partial shade so is possibly a reason why it does so well here. The very hardy thrifts (or sea pinks) Armeria maritima are also just starting to flower. One pink thrift, with its grassy mat, has almost taken over a rock and looks most natural. We also have a pure white variety Alba, but this is not so vigorous. This reminds me that it is time to pay a visit to Point Lynas at the NE corner of Anglesey. This is worth a visit at any time of the year, but is particularly so in the spring and early summer when the thrifts are in bloom. Go there if you can! By the 15th the row of Onward peas, planted on the 6th, have germinated. We have been seeing several damsel flies around the garden. Some have brown bodies and others dark blue. Sometimes we see the larger dragon fly, but usually later in the year. I think we could do more to encourage these by having a pond. A project for the future perhaps! This week has seen several more raids on the rookery by a buzzard. The buzzard seems to have adopted a new strategy. Instead of coming in high it makes a low level approach, but is still spotted by the rooks and driven off noisily usually through the garden. This has been done by as few as 5 or as many as we estimate 30-50 rooks. The 16th has brought some welcome rain, which seems to be appreciated by the thrushes and blackbirds, busy collecting food for their young. During the dry weather they have been increasingly searching under the fallen leaves under bushes and in the wood. Today after the rain there have been pairs of blackbirds and song thrushes quartering the lawns. It is interesting to see where they are taking their catches; there is a blackbird and a song thrush nest in the wide, and now dense, hedge near the kitchen. There is also at least one nest of sparrow and greenfinch as well. This hedge always does well; we call it the 'apartment block', as it is a popular, relatively safe from predators home for so many birds. Originally an evergreen laurel hedge, at the entrance to the former Gadlys estate, had deteriorated over the years and we have interplanted it with the woody climber honeysuckle Lonicera spp. and a creamy-pink vanilla scented Clematis montana a cutting from an original plant from the 1960's and the rosy-pink Rubens. The honeysuckle soon developed, but the clematis have been slow to develop possibly because they like a more calcareous soil. This year the vanilla scented clematis has plenty of flowers facing south towards the drive entrance and there are buds of the Rubens on the north side of the hedge. The 17th was cold and wet and brought work in the garden to a halt. The flowers of the Welsh poppies were looking sad after their good display over the last weeks, the earliest starting to drop petals. They are very robust plants, used to the mountain habitat, and respond to humidity by closing and hanging their flower heads. Given dry and sunny weather again they will, together with any yet unopened buds, give more pleasure over the coming weeks.
Last year, for the first time for many, there were almost no poppies in the garden. Visitors asked, "What is different about the garden?" The plants were there but no flowers. The explanation was that peacocks had eaten the flower buds. A male peacock (we called him Percy) turned up in the garden in April 1996 and was attracted to the bird feeding stations. He became a regular visitor and at night roosted high in the trees. He remained during 1997 surviving the gales, cold winter weather and road traffic, and became quite a character around the area. He was still here in 1998 when, in May, a female appeared. It is likely that someone, who probably thought it a "good idea", introduced the female (we called her Penny). Nature took its course. Of a good clutch of eggs produced only one male chick survived the wet weather and turned up in the garden. The chick survived the summer, including sparrowhawk attacks, and the following winter. In the spring of 1999, the female and male chick, now almost fully grown but without the proper colouring and large tail feathers, were still inseparable. But the female now had other ideas and went off to nest. At least two failed attempts at nesting took place. At a final attempt the female did not return and was not seen again. Peacocks, like pheasants, nest on the ground and are vulnerable to predation by foxes. It is possible that this happened but now seems unlikely. The two males (Percy and Perry) continued visiting the garden nearly every day for food until the middle of January 2000. Both birds came for food one day and they have not been seen again. "Foul play" is suspected, as it is most unlikely that 2 male birds would fall to natural predation at the same time. During the day at any sign of trouble, say dogs, the birds would fly up to the trees. They of course would roost in the trees at night. The peacocks were of interest to many people in the area; some said how they liked them and were now a feature of Gadlys. Unfortunately they were not liked by all; it is probable that they were removed by one means or another. Of course anyone who might know their fate is keeping very quiet about the whole affair! The peacocks appeared to do little damage in the garden; we were always surprised how they picked their way between the plants when hunting insects. They will eat plants, and it was necessary to protect the vegetable plot with wire netting. One plant they took a liking to was the Welsh poppy. Percy would eat the seedpods when ripe, but sufficient seed would fall to the ground for new plants to grow next season. Penny and Perry, however, took a liking to the plant itself. At first all seemed well, the whole plant was not eaten and we thought they were just pecking pieces of the leaves. But what they were going for were the flower buds. We had no poppies in 1999! We are sorry they have gone; they would have featured regularly in this diary.
We saw a pair of hares in the field by the house in the evening of the 23rd. They appear in the fields from time to time and we have had them in the garden and wood. They are difficult to spot, unless they move or are close by the window, as they can be hidden in undulations in the ground or behind longer grass. We are lucky to see them so often as they are now quite rare in some places. In recent days we have seen the pair of pheasants but without their chick. We assume the chick did not survive. On a walk around the lanes on the 27th the hedgerows were in places full of colourful pink campions and yellow buttercups. Some of the grassy areas below the banks and walls were disappointing, being dominated by the tall cow parsley. The hawthorn was still flowering and the blackberries, cut back by the mechanical hedge cutters in the autumn, were already producing new growth. Near the end of the walk is an uncultivated marshy corner of a field. Over the years many such damp areas have been drained; I look every year to see if this patch has survived and I was not disappointed. Several patches of the yellow Iris pseudacorus were in flower amongst buttercups. In the garden, in the herbaceous border, we have a rather fine clump of the small flowered blue Iris sibirica. Also coming into flower are several colourful lupins. The 29th was a sunny day and, sitting near the new nest box we saw that the blue tits were still feeding their young. As well as natural food, from time to time, we noticed that they were also bringing crumbs of bread put out on one of out feeding trays. We always moisten the bread, as recommended, before putting it out for the birds. Perhaps if we are lucky we may see the nestlings emerge in a day or two.
June 1st and with a "garden gale" following rain many of the plants are being battered to the ground. The trees, with full canopies of leaves caught in the stronger gusts, are being bent and tested in the southwesterly wind. Some leaves, shredded and torn from the branches, are forming small heaps on the ground. Some leafy twigs broke off and litter the grassy areas. Despite the wind the mistle thrushes are singing in the treetops not minding the wind and rain. During the morning young blue tits raised in one of our new boxes decided to leave the nest. What a day for them to leave the safety of the nest box! One by one they emerged and we could hear them calling in the sycamore tree nearby. The last one seemed very reluctant to leave, but eventually did so. The family kept fairly close together during the day and seemed to be able to cope with the weather. although the wind only reached force 7, not quite a gale in meteorological terms, to the gardener it is a gale. And a gale with rain is bad news as the plants heavy with surface water are more vulnerable to the heavy gusts. The most affected parts of the garden are near the southerly corners of the house, here the wind eddies and speeds-up creating a narrow strip where it is difficult to grow some plants. Some dwarf conifers are affected, with these the damage is done on their lee side, away from the wind. Looking from the southwest they seem perfect, from the northeast they are quite badly browned and do not regrow. The herbaceous border is, in comparison, fairly sheltered and damage was minimal. Just one or two spikes of the colourful lupins were broken off and the foxgloves, just starting to bloom, could be spoiled. Both the lupins and foxgloves are grown from seed and planted out in the autumn. The lupins will perhaps grow on for 2 or 3 years but then need to be replaced. The foxgloves are biennial; it is a pity to see them spoiled after the hard work of raising the plants. We have plenty of self-sown wild foxgloves Digitalis spp, these pop up in unusual places, especially on the rocky outcrops.
The dull and wet weather continued on the 2-3rd so that little work was done in the garden. The wind has lessened and the mistle thrushes continue singing loudly from the treetops. The blackcaps are occasionally singing, but these seem to enjoy sunnier weather. There are a lot of fledged blue tits flying about. Those have joined the ones from the new box from an old wooden box in view from our kitchen window. They are quite noisy as they call to their parents for food. They are paler and have yellow cheeks, not white as have the adult birds. There are also young great tits and nuthatches around the garden. They are still grouped together as families and are brought near to the feeding stations by the adults. As yet the youngsters do not approach the food, the adults take it to them in the nearby trees and bushes. With so many families in the garden it is a wonder they do not get mixed up, perhaps they do! The great spotted woodpeckers have started to bring their young to be fed at the peanut feeders. For some days adult birds have been taking pieces of peanut to feed young birds up in the trees. Now the young are confident enough to come close to the feeders. The youngster will wait for the adult, usually the male, to get the nuts and feed it. In a few days the young bird joins the male on the feeder. It will be a few days more before it gets the hang of extracting bits of the nuts for itself. At this stage the young bird will let nuthatches and tits drive it off. It will soon learn that all others will give way to a woodpecker. One of the young woodpeckers went to look at one of the water trays. It tried to bathe, but was unsuccessful as it stood outside the tray of water flapping its wings and it did not get wet. By the time I had got the camera it had stopped trying, but I caught it drinking. It is easy to spot any species of fledgling birds on the wing; they are still refining their flying techniques. They are also vulnerable to flying into windows. We hang card cut outs resembling predators on the glass, this seems to give some warning but there are sometimes accidents. A young woodpecker once failed to see the warning and flew into the glass. It was stunned but after a little time recovered and flew away. I like to think it could be one of this years' adults bringing its offspring to feed. The 4th was a dry day and the sun did appear from time to time. The lawn grass had dried by the afternoon so opportunity was taken to do some mowing. Inspection of the vegetable plot showed that the lettuces had grown well and the peas and beans were looking good. The potatoes emerged from their earthed up rows about a week ago and have already put on several leaves. The soil is moist and at this time of year quite warm so that rapid growth can now be expected in all the crops. There is still space on the plot reserved for later sowings of purple sprouting broccoli and sea kale. These are again being brought on from seed sown in the greenhouse in modules. There will be room for some more lettuce. Around the flower borders the Welsh poppies are still producing flowers although the seed heads are forming on many of the earlier blooms. A few yellow flowered plants have popped up here and there from the seed we have scattered in the past. The yellow ones do not seem to be so prolific as the orange. We have tried several times to establish a yellow flowered population. In the damp border the candelabra primulas are coming into flower, these are interesting because they continue to produce whorls of flowers up an increasingly long stem. We often have 5-8 whorls of flowers over the season. Also coming into flower is the rare Silene officinalis, the seeds of which we were provided with many years ago to maintain a stock of the plant. It is a perennial, but the plants seem to become moribund and die off after a few years. New plants spring up from self-sown seed and can be transplanted to fresh ground in the garden when necessary.
With the long summer days the birds have the garden to themselves for many of the daylight hours. On the 6th the mistle thrushes, that still dominate the chorus, began singing a few minutes before 4 am. The song thrushes, blackbirds, blackcaps and robins soon join them. It is the best time to hear the birdsong, as the countryside is still quiet. It is too early for traffic noise, as people make their way to work, and the farm vehicles are as yet unused. It is also too early for flights from RAF Valley to have started although occasionally the rescue helicopter has an early call out. On really quiet mornings, with the wind in the south, it is sometimes possible to hear a train on the Holyhead to London railway line, as it passes between the Britannia Bridge and the tunnel entering Bangor. This morning there were none of these and the birdsong was uninterrupted. The mistle thrush will sing sometimes in spells of at least 3 hours. He has short breaks when he looks for food then returns to sing once more. The thrushes do not need to forage for food all day, as do the smaller birds, especially the tits and wrens. Being able to catch and consume larger prey, such as a snail, gives them more time for singing. After a mixed day of a little sunshine and showers the sky cleared in the evening and it was sunny. After sunset the sky was still quite light and the mistle thrush finally stopped singing at 10 minutes past 10pm. By the 7th there has been a change in the occupation of the airspace over the garden. Gone are the rooks having raised their young in the nearby rookeries, off to distant fields where they can be seen, a hundred or so hunting for food. In their place are the chattering house martins and swallows. Spectacular fliers around the treetops, or sometimes lower around the garden, catching the profusion of insects that are now available on the wing. Most nesting sites are just up the road in and on old farm buildings and near neighbours have had swallows nesting in their garden shed. We have often wondered why they did not nest here. There was therefore great excitement when a pair of house martins was seen flying up to the south gable. A look outside revealed that they were putting mud on the wall at the highest point under the overhang. We thought it a little late in the season to start building a new nest, but they persisted most of the day. In succeeding days not much progress was made. Some days we did not see them at all, then they would return and put up some more mud.
The runner beans, raised from seed sown in the greenhouse, have been hardening off in the cold frame and are ready for planting out on the 10th. The 8ft tall bamboo canes have been waiting, set up some days before, in a double line on the vegetable plot. Bent towards the middle of the double row they are tied with a self-tightening knot to horizontal canes with a continuous length of polythene string. The beans are put along one edge of the vegetable plot at the top of the slope facing almost south and do not obscure the light from other crops. They are alternated each year with the row of sweet peas. In this way we have found that soil fertility is maintained, the beans fix and accumulate nitrogen in tubers in the soil.Disease is also minimised by this method. The current position of the row is fairly new; it used to be on the lower plot near the greenhouse now transformed into the new flower border. The beans were planted out and, as it was a windy day, it was necessary to tie some of them in to the poles. This is normally unnecessary, as they are self-climbing, twining themselves up the poles in an anti-clockwise direction. Also planted out, next to 2 rows of shallots, was a row of sea kale beet (Fordhook Giant) raised in modules. This is a very useful vegetable as the leaves can be taken on a cut and come again basis. It will continue producing new leaves well into the autumn, and after standing the winter produce a flush of leaves giving an early crop in the spring. The last of the rhododendrons in the garden, an orange flowered deciduous type, has just about finished. We have had rhododendron flowers continuously on different varieties since the middle of March. After flowering they look untidy for a while but already some are producing new fresh looking leaves. There are still flowers on some of the naturalised Rhododendron ponticum in the wood and along the shelterbelts bordering nearby fields. Another "garden gale" on the 12th as winds circulated around an unusually low depression to the northwest of Scotland. Winds here were gusting to gale force during the afternoon and into the night. The wind eased next day and a damage inspection revealed that many of the runner beans had been untwined and had to be retied. A few sweet peas, with broken tendrils, had been dislodged from their wire supports and also had to be tied back. The chrysanthemums, recently tied in to their canes, survived without damage. Some of the roses are flowering well, especially the Zephirene Drouhin, and were little damaged by the wind. In the heather borders Erica cinerea is beginning to come into flower. In contrast to other Ericas in the garden this looks almost dead during the winter. Now it has come to life and is the only variety in flower at the moment, but there will be others later on. On the 14th a female sparrowhawk made an attack on 2 woodpeckers at the peanut feeder under the conifer near the house. although the attack was, as usual, very sudden both birds were quicker and flew to safety. This is the first attack on woodpeckers we have seen, usually it is on collared doves and, being much slower off the mark and in flight, are usually caught. The sparrowhawk was still around on the 17th and was seen twice being driven off by a flock of swallows and house martins. Also around is a pair of ravens, with their distinctive deep croaking calls, sometimes perching in tall Scots pine trees across the road near the house. In the evening, while still quite light, a tawny owl was being noisily mobbed by blackbirds.
The 18th was a really warm still day. From early it felt warm and the garden was buzzing with insects. On the rockery banks large patches of orange and red rock-roses were in full bloom, as were the prostrate white and larger pink coloured Cistus. Before 8am these were covered by bees, both small bumblebees and honeybees taking advantage of the pollen and nectar before the flowers dropped later in the day. Both flowers are of the 'flower for a day type'. Each day, for several weeks masses of new flowers are produced and then the petals drop by the afternoon. Fallen petals on rock-roses are not very obvious but the larger Cistus petals are easily seen scattered on the soil. A French rock-rose Halimiocistus, a hybrid between Cistus and Halimium spp, edging the border dropped its white petals on the lawn. This is the nearest effect we have of the Cistus that EVB referred to in her garden in January 1883 at Huntercombe Manor. The rock-roses seem tolerant of wind (and said to be of salt also) but the larger Cistus are vulnerable, their woody stems tending to break in strong winds. Another favourite of the bees is Phuopsis stylosa that is a mass of pink flowers. This is the plant which, after dying back in the winter, is gathered by mistle thrushes in the spring for nesting material (see 12th February). At dusk on the evening of the 20th tens of brown medium size moths were gathered on flowers on sage bushes in the garden. The sage is now in full flower and, during the day, looks very spectacular. Obviously it is also a big attraction to moths at dusk. They gathered on the sage bushes for several nights when the weather was warm and still. There were some bats flying about between the trees but disappointingly like last year, after a short while in residence in the house, they left again. I would really like to know where their other roosts are located. In the greenhouse on the 27th there were good trusses of tomatoes on all of the plants. In previous years I have had problems with bud drop on the first trusses leading to loss of early ripe tomatoes. I put this down to the occasional drop in temperature on a clear night following a warm day, a similar thing happens to sweet peas in the garden. As the greenhouse is constructed of aluminium, good for strength and long-life, the temperature drop is enhanced. It does not seem to happen as much in wooden greenhouses. I have got over this problem by running the electrical heater, with the thermostat set at 12C, well into summer to catch these few occasions. Normally the heater does not come on and the fan just circulates the air helping to minimise attacks of Botrytis and other diseases. The hot chilli pepper plants (Hot Mexican), an essential constituent in stir-fries and chutney made in the autumn, are now about 0.5m tall in their 15cm pots and are covered in flowers. The cucumbers, an all-female F1 variety Diana we are trying for the first time, are doing well and producing the first small cucumbers. I grow these on the bench in 30cm diameter builders-type black buckets in a 50:50 mixture of John Innes No 3 potting compost and an organic based compost. The still green grapes on the Black Hamburg are swelling up nicely. Some further pruning back of non fruit-bearing shoots was necessary. I counted about 40 good-sized bunches along the length of the vine. Around the garden there are plants of the aromatic herb feverfew Tanacetum (Chrysanthemum) parthenium. The whole plant has a strong scent and the taste is very bitter. Probably introduced it occurs widely but is encouraged in cottage gardens. It seeds itself and plants pop up from time to time in the flower border or vegetable plot. We make sure we have several plants, they are not always where we would like them to be; they grow best where they appear but they can be transplanted when small. It has been used in the past as a medicinal herb. The 17th century Culpeper's Complete Herbal lists many of its uses including a 'general strenghtener for women' and ' to make use of her herb boiled in white wine... it cleanses the womb'. Its use 'for all pains in the head' still has its followers, as many today find it gives relief for migraine. It is also said to give help for aches and pains of the back; I must admit to taking the odd leaf as I pass one of the plants!
July 1st and the rather dull and damp weather continues but the garden is looking good. The peony Pink Parfait has been in bloom and together with Lychnis alba, garden pinks Dianthus spp, Canterbury bells and the useful ground covering Pratia angulata. The foxgloves, which have given another excellent display this season, are all but finished. On the 3rd I picked the first bunch of sweet peas. In the house they soon filled the room with their sweet scent; we look forward to picking many more throughout the season. For a few weeks on several evenings near dusk the blackbirds have been making a great commotion. It has ended by a tawny owl being chased from tree to tree around the garden. For several nights there has been a lot of hooting after dark. In the greenhouse on the 6th we have picked the first cucumber of the season. They have a marvellous flavour when fresh and slightly warm from the greenhouse. We try to have them the same time as tomatoes, but this year the cucumbers are ready but not the tomatoes. There are plenty of green tomatoes but they are not ripening. They we planted a little late and the weather has been both dull and cold. The small-fruited Gardeners Delight is fine, but tomatoes on several plants of the larger Cumulus and the very large continental type Super Marmande plants have blossom end rot. I have seen this occasionally in previous years on the continental type but not as extensive as this year. It is a physiological disorder associated with the conditions under which the plants are growing. Possible causes include water balance, temperature and calcium deficiency. It tends to be more prevalent in tomatoes grown in bags although it occurs also in soil grown plants. We did have a very hot day on the 18th June when the temperature reached 29.0C and the humidity dipped to 46%. The next day I noticed a little leaf scorch on the topmost leaves near the glass. A dry atmosphere in a greenhouse at night can also cause the problem. The odd thing about it is that the Gardeners Delight are unaffected as are individual plants of the other varieties. There is no pattern to the distribution of affected plants and in some bags one plant is affected while the other is not. What ever caused it the result is that the crop, which was looking very good, will be considerably reduced. On the vegetable plot I worked-in a liberal quantity of Marshalls' Organic Extra (with added seaweed) manure on the last as yet unplanted area. We have been using this manure for several years; it is good for everything in the garden from potatoes to roses. It has the advantage of being concentrated, but light in weight. Two 2 rows of the leek Giant Winter were then planted. These were raised in the greenhouse in a seed tray and are already about 10-12 cm tall. I pick out the best plants, trim the roots back to 1-2 cm long and drop them into a hole (about 3cm wide by 6 cm deep) made in the soil with the broken handle of a small spade. After planting a liberal watering washes soil into the hole, nothing else need be done but watch them grow. Also planted out were 2 rows of purple sprouting broccoli, raised in modules. There was just room for 2 rows of lettuce, but this time the seed will be sown directly into the soil. Germination of lettuce seed is more difficult at the higher temperatures in the greenhouse during the summer. I sowed a row of Little Gem and a mixed row of Salad Bowl varieties. The vegetable plot is now fully planted. Not a square inch to spare. Since giving up one of the plots it has been a job to fit everything in, and one or two crops have had to be left out. Things we used to grow included rows of onions, beetroots and parsnips.
On the 8th we were able to see the owl perched in the large beech tree. We assume it stays around in the trees during the day and gets active during the night. We see it starting to fly about at dusk and have heard a lot of hooting during the night. There are periods when we see a lot of the owls then some weeks go by before they are seen or heard again. This seems to be related to their choice of hunting ground. They work around their home base concentrating on one location before moving on to another. In due course they will return, no doubt in expectation that the small mammal population will have built up again. A walk around the lanes on the 9th showed that some of the autumn sown barley is nearly ripe. At the bottom of one field in an area that was very wet overwinter what barley survived is both greener and taller. The wild roses have more or less finished; disappointingly they have not been very prolific this year. In places the honeysuckle has been doing better, being covered in flowers and giving on still sunny days plenty of perfume. On the banks of hedges and walls the grasses have well developed flower heads and merge in with red campion Melandrium rubrum, meadow-sweet Filipendula ulmaria and several ferns. The blackberries are beginning to flower, most are white flowers there are some pink as well. One pasture field had about 150 rooks in it gleaning food. Along the hedgerows I saw several wrens and a flock of 20, or so, sparrows near a chicken farm. Sparrows are getting fewer in number so it is good to see that this group is doing well. Wet and windy weather overnight on the 9/10th, the most rain for a month waters the garden and again the wind gusting to force 7 does minor damage to the flowering plants. More leaves and twigs are removed from the trees in the strong wind. Some of beech twigs have well formed beechnuts and many of the small horse chestnuts have been blown away. The horse chestnut trees bloomed so well this year that a bumper crop of conkers had been expected. Recent cold weather has turned the leaves of the runner bean plants quite yellow. Despite this there are one or two pink flowers are appearing. There is also some bud drop on the sweet peas, but there are a lot of flowers coming. We cut every 3-4 days; each time the bunches get larger and are enough now to fill 2 vases. Buccaneer (deep crimson) is doing really well as are Dean's Scarlet, Royal Wedding (White) and one of our favourites Beaujolais.
On the vegetable plot on the 14th there are good flowers on the rows of peas and dwarf broad beans. The broad beans need the services of the bumblebees to pollinate them; I hope they not spend all their time on the flower borders. The lettuce seed sowed on the 7th have germinated. When they have grown a little more they will need to be thinned out. Of the early lettuce the Little Gem have nearly finished but there are plenty of salad bowl. These are now quite large plants and can be cut whole if required. We leave the base in the ground and this will often shoot again producing a sort of coppiced lettuce. The female pheasant turned up again today with 2 small chicks. In another attempt to raise a family. She ate some seed from a feeding tray near the wood before passing on her way. We have not seen her, or the chicks, since. Later there was a buzzard around the wood. We have not seen the male pheasant around either, but as this is the time when they moult he may be hiding away somewhere. There are very few wild pheasants around now. When we first came to live here (30 years ago) it was quite common to see several birds in the field across the road from the house. Since then the numbers seen have declined and the wet summers of the previous 3 years probably have not helped. There have not been many butterflies around so far this year. Earlier in the year we saw one or two peacock butterflies and an orange tip. Recently Patricia saw a single sighting of a small blue but apart from the odd cabbage white, nothing else. We usually see a red admiral or two, several more peacocks and small tortoiseshells by this time in the summer. Our buddleias have yet to flower and these usually are a great attraction. speckled woods but these too are absent so far. One year we were lucky enough to see as many as 20 painted lady butterflies, but this was a rare event which has not yet been repeated. On recent visits to Malltraeth we have seen a lot of butterflies over ungrazed meadow-type vegetation. Apart from our garden and the woodland the surrounding fields are deserts in comparison. If only the fields could have a boundary edge of 1 or 2 metres, both sides of the hedge or wall left uncultivated for natural vegetation to grow. This would make such a big difference providing habitat for plants, insects, butterflies and small mammals. The weather has turned a little warmer and on the 20th the runner bean leaves were looking much greener. Some plants have reached the top of the 8ft canes and there are plenty of pink flowers awaiting pollination. There are small peas formed on the Onward and Sugar Snap peas. The soil is now looking very dry and it has been necessary to water the seedling lettuce, leeks and broccoli plants. Now that the peas are forming I will also water these, until now it was unnecessary. The courgette plants are producing plenty of female flowers, but male flowers are in short supply. This usually happens at the start of the season; we try to fertilise some of the female flowers to ensure an early crop. Later on the insects will do the job for us very well indeed. The potatoes are also looking promising. There have been flowers on the early French variety for a while so they soon could be ready for digging; the Pink Fir Apple is now also flowering. We have been picking a few raspberries but the blackbirds seem to have been having most. They are the last of a variety called Leo, which we have grown for several years. It is a tall variety of excellent flavour and good for freezing. Its vigour has unfortunately declined and in the last 2 years many canes have been dying. So the canes will have to be replaced. It was planned to dig them up last autumn but it was a job that did not get done. This spring some canes looked promising and they were reprieved. But they will have to go as soon as the berries have finished. When we had 2 complete rows there was plenty for the blackbirds and us. Now they are fewer the blackbirds win most of what is there. Varieties come and go and we cannot see Leo in the catalogues anymore, but there are some good new virus free varieties available. We hope we can pick one that has as good a flavour. As we have not got spare ground to replant the row will be left fallow for 18 months to hopefully rid the soil of any raspberry diseases. We used to grow strawberries quite successfully until the grey squirrels arrived. We tried netting the plot but they always were able to get in and would sit on a flowerpot eating the strawberries! Then a fruit farm started just along the road from here so we go there to pick our strawberries and gooseberries. On the 22nd the orange day-lily Hemerocallis is just starting as are a bronze fennel and the thistle-like Echinops ritro. On the top of the rockery terraces, just below the herbaceous border, are the white bell-like Daboieca vegans and a peach coloured Potentilla. On the terrace are the 3 pots of the pink geranium (Pelargonium) that has been in flower since January. These were kept outside in the shelter of a corner of the house and moved out to their present sunny position in May. The flowers are now perfectly pink, in colder weather they have blotches of white on the pink. Other pots containing the fuchsias Annabel, Winston Churchill and Royal Velvet are now well into flowering. There are also pots of multicoloured Nemesia and trailing Lobelia that were raised from seed in the greenhouse earlier in the year. On the steps leading up from the terrace to the Weather Station is a pot of mauve Mesembryanthemum. Today, in the warm sunshine, all its many flowers are wide open but as soon as the sun moves behind the trees they will close. Unlike the Cistus it will not drop its petals and will open again tomorrow as long as it is warm and sunny. As the plant is half-hardy we find it best to grow in a large pot and move it into the greenhouse for the winter. It will grow in some sheltered gardens in the area but not in this one. We picked the first ripe tomatoes on the 26th, just a few Gardeners Delight and one experimental plum-shaped sort. The flavour was delicious and far better than anything that can be bought in a supermarket. Within the last few days many have began to turn colour so it should not be long before we have a good supply. Though still small bushes the recently planted roses, on the newly developed border, have been flowering continuously for some weeks. One, a semi-double English Rose The Herbalist has had some fine blooms this month. This David Austin bred rose is named out of its similarity to Officinalis (the Apothecary's Rose).
In the vegetable garden we have been picking sugar snap peas and have had a few of the French potatoes. On the 1st there were plenty of pods of Onward peas but they are not yet fully filled. A later planted row, half sugar snap and half onward, has grown well and these are starting to flower and will give a later crop. The broad beans have pods about 10cm long; these too will be left a few days longer to fill out before we harvest some. The runner beans, that have been growing much better since the weather has turned warmer, are covered in pink flowers. Bumblebees have been busy and already several flowers are set and small beans have developed. August is our best month for garden produce and most main meals have at least one vegetable, sometimes several, picked freshly from the garden. There are plenty of lettuce and from the greenhouse an ample, but not excessive supply of tomatoes and cucumbers. The tomato crop has been reduced due to the blossom end rot, but upper trusses are not so badly affected. Gardeners Delight has continued to be completely unaffected. In the last days of July I thinned out the 2 rows of late lettuce plants. I was pleased that they had grown well this year, as sometimes germination is a problem. Unfortunately slugs have attacked the thinned plants. They started at the top of the row and I was able to replace these from a small supply of the thinnings kept back for such an emergency. Such was the attack that these were quickly used up and soon the whole rows were almost eaten up. The slugs preferred the salad bowl varieties as more of the little gem survived! The slugs also were attacking the planted out leeks. The leek was attacked near the white base resulting in the leek being felled, the green leaves being left on the ground. I have not seen this happen before with leeks. Again replacement of the plants led initially to a further attack. In a few days the attacks stopped and what remained were able to grow up. So we might after all have some leeks for the winter months. Also for the winter, and growing well, are purple sprouting broccoli and sea kale beet.
On the 3rd we saw several butterflies in the garden enjoying the sunshine, as we were, in the afternoon. There were 2 red admirals, 2 peacocks and a small tortoiseshell on buddleia that is now in flower. They also frequent large patches of marjoram that are in flower on the rockery banks. On the 8th there were 4 peacocks, 2 red admirals and 2 tortoiseshells. Thinking of next year 2 of our old wooden bird nesting boxes, that have done good service for at least 10 years, were taken down from trees and replaced by new German models. The wooden boxes were always popular with blue tits and were occupied every year. They were becoming dilapidated so needed replacement. The new boxes have the smaller 26mm hole suitable for blue tits and should exclude larger birds. It is a good idea putting them up at this time of year would allow the birds plenty of time to investigate them. There is usually a lot of activity at the boxes during the winter months. We continue to feed the birds at this time of year, but in smaller quantities. Food is put out once a day, in the morning, in a quantity that is completely consumed in the day. In past years we did not feed during the summer but current thought is that it is beneficial. Certainly early summer feeding enables adult birds to concentrate feeding natural food to their offspring. Numbers of birds in the garden tend to be at their smallest this month and next. We stop feeding at the regular feeding stations and, if possible, move them to fresh ground to minimise possibility of spreading disease. Sightings of spotted flycatchers have been very few this summer. We have not seen the families seen in previous years and fear that the dull and wet weather has again taken its toll. Numbers of spotted flycatchers have seriously diminished in recent years over the country as a whole. In the flower borders the hydrangeas Hydrangea macrophylla sp. are at their best now. As the soil here is slightly acidic they tend to be blue, but sometimes turn pink as the season progresses. While they will thrive in almost any soil they are particularly useful here, as they will grow in partial shade. Also here in the west there is little trouble with frost that could cause damage. Patricia is particularly fond of a lace-cap form that has a large flat flower head with small fertile flowers at the centre surrounded with larger sterile florets. We have some of both sorts next to the rhododendrons. As the rhododendrons are no longer in flower the hydrangeas are giving an alternative splash of colour. In the herbaceous border the day-lilies Hemerocallis are continuing to give a good display. Named from the Greek hemera, day, and kallos, beauty; we think that the original plant came to the family from South Africa. It is one of several plants of which the flowers 'open for a day' then die. It has been doing this for several weeks and shows no sign of diminishing its ability to produce numerous buds and flowers. The white Lychnis, the globe thistles Echinops and bronze fennel that has yellow flowers continue also to provide interest and colour. There are Welsh poppies continuing to flower, but not in the profusion seen earlier in the year, both orange and a few yellow. But it is the new border in front of the greenhouse, which has come into its own for the first time. With the dominant theme being grey leaves the aromatic lavenders have been excellent. As well as the common sort Lavendula angustifolium Patricia has collected several varieties to grow in this border. These include spica vera, a pink rosea, and white alba. We have dwarf Munstead that at one time grew as a small hedge around this plot when used for vegetables, and dark Hidcote. Of the newer sorts, to us, are varieties of the French lavender L. stoechas vars. Papillion, Fat head and Helmsdale. The French lavenders have been flowering since late spring and show no sign of stopping at present. All the lavenders have shown tolerance of spells of wet and windy weather. Some of the common flower heads have been gathered and dried to keep in a bowl in the house to remind us of summer later in the year. Also in this border we have several plants of 'Brittany' sage (Blackcurrant sage) propagated from cuttings given to us by friends in Brittany. This shrub has a profusion of small red flowers that continue all summer. It tends to be intolerant of wind, and probably of frost, so we make sure that we have a stock of cuttings coming along to make replacements. The middle of the month and yet no spell of settled summer weather. There have been odd days that have given a glimpse of what it could be like but the impression has been that here, at least, the summer has passed us by. The 12th was typical with an overcast sky and rain or drizzle most of the day. It was warm, however, and bumblebees were busy feeding in the rain on the heathers in borders on the south side of the house. These heathers are a good food source at this time of year, for bees and insects, as other flowering plants become less. There is the shorter Cornish Heath Erica vegans, native of Cornwall, var. Mrs D F Maxwell a deep rose-cerise with dark green foliage, and a taller tree heather, the Corsican Heath Erica terminalis, having pink flowers. The Corsican starts flowering first, usually in July and both can carry on into October. The Corsican, tolerant of lime readily seeds itself but the Cornish needs to be propagated by cuttings. Both types are reasonably hardy and are well over 30 years old; we planted them when we came to live here. The high spot of the day was our first picking of broad beans and very nice they were too. Two days latter we were able to have the first runner beans. These have now done very well and there are plenty of beans to come over the next weeks. They are a favourite with all the family freshly picked, sliced and boiled. If too many are cooked, and this is easily done when the crop is good, they are excellent cold the next day with salad.
On the 15th on an unpromising start to the day the afternoon became bright and sunny. Opportunity was taken for a walk around the lanes. My first stopping place was at a pipe outlet draining fields into a stream, popular with our children when they were small! This, over the years, has been a good indicator of the water regime. Today water was flowing strongly out of the pipe indicating that the soils were saturated and recent rainfalls were running off the ground. In some summers there is barely a trickle, but not this one. The barley in the field, I have previously described, has been harvested but the harvester lies temporarily abandoned in a corner. The cereals have been ready to harvest for a while but the wet weather has largely held up this work. In recent years, with the earlier maturing varieties available, harvests have been getting earlier. This year it will be somewhat later but not as late as September or even early October in a really poor year in the past. I can remember as a boy visiting on several occasions a farm in Gower to 'help' when the corn was cut, by reaper and binder, and the sheaves stood on the field in stooks to dry. These were then collected, often by horsedrawn wagon, and put in a corn-rick with a thatched straw roof to keep it dry. There it stood until the mobile steam-driven thrashing machine visited, later in the year, to remove the ears from the straw. All these events were, it seems, something that lots of people were closely involved in at the time. Today with modern machinery 'help' is not required and involvement is noting the event in a diary. This year's harvest was spread over several weeks, as drier weather permitted, in what was a very wet month. Further along the lane I saw a flock of about 100 sparrows, they were noisily darting to and fro a hedge bordering the harvested and the next unharvested field. Sparrows do flock up in the summer months, I have seen flocks of 20-30 earlier but this is the largest seen this year. Sparrows have disappeared from the garden; this is where they must be! No doubt some will be back later in the year when supplies of seeds run low in the fields and along the hedgerows. At present there is plenty of seed available including grasses, plantains, cow parsley and dock. In flower was the greater knapweed Centaurea scabiosa that was attracting some small tortoiseshell butterflies. Some of the berries on hawthorn were already turning red but I could not find any sloes. This is the second year that sloes have failed to form hereabouts. Blackberries are starting to ripen; a few sample berries proved delicious! Across the lane from the sparrows the rooks (200 or more) were hunting over the pastures.
It was back to the damp and muggy weather on the 16th. This weather has brought on fungal attacks in the greenhouse and the garden. Tomato leaves affected by Botrytis have been cut off and as much air given as possible to minimise its spread. Despite this the tomatoes are cropping well at the moment. There is the first sign of the Black Hamburg grapes beginning to ripen. On the vegetable plot there is already sign of a little damage to potato leaves by blight. The sweet peas have passed their best. They are now at the top of their support and have got small and few in number. Usually they continue at least until the end of the month, but not this year, and will be missed as cut flowers for the house. We have not had the profusion of roses that we would have liked to see on the Zephirene Drouhin this year. It has not repeated as well as other years. But the new roses, The Herbalist and Cottage Rose have been doing quite well.
With most of the grain harvest completed the fields and roads are becoming quieter as combine harvesters are put away for another year. Grass has been mown for silage, wilted then gathered into big bales and covered with black polythene. More recently some grass has been dried for hay, usually these days in large bales but there are still quite a lot of small rectangular bales being made in parts of the island. The field to the northeast of the garden, beyond the greenhouse and wood, has recently been cut for hay, as it has been turned to dry on a sunny day the pleasant sweet smell was drifting across on a gentle breeze. Some days later the aroma was not as pleasant when manure was spread! Later sheep were returned to graze, for most of the summer they have been in far off fields. The other 2 fields near the garden have continued to have cattle. Completion of the grain harvests leaves many fields standing bare of crops, for a while, before autumn ploughing begins. This is the time of year that Canada geese come to graze the stubbled fields. They frequently fly over the garden and we hear them coming, before we see them, with their familiar honking calls as they fly over in V formation. Sometimes they are in small groups of 10-15 birds but we have seen 30 or more at a time. They have been flying over since the beginning of the month, often in late afternoon or evening and settle on fields just to the southeast of here. In the morning they fly off again probably to the estuaries and waterways around Anglesey. One such estuary is at Malltraeth and along its banks is a favourite walk. On the southern side is Newborough Forest that borders Newborough (Warren) National Nature Reserve, an important sand dune system. Both were the same sand dunes part of which was forested before, what was left, was declared an NNR shortly after the 1947 Countryside Act. The walk is along a strip of land between the forest and the shore. At certain times of the tide interesting birds, including Canada geese, can be seen and the forest area is home to many ravens. The narrow strip of vegetation, between forest and salt marsh, is very interesting as it is ungrazed meadow containing many plant species. This supports a good number of insects and butterflies. This year has been very good for butterflies and, as well as the small common blue, we have been seeing a large number of clouded yellow, several gatekeepers and small tortoiseshells. Visits on sunny days between the 20th and 29th were no exception. The clouded yellow is a southern European species that is a strong migrant. In spring it flies north and can reach Britain by June, perhaps assisted by air-flows from the south; there have been several instances this year that has resulted in deposition of Saharan dust (see Weather diary). Arriving in Britain by June it can establish a late brood that flies in August. We have seen them here several times in the last 5 years and, although chances of them surviving resident as a result of recent warm years must be small, it is tempting to think that a few may survive overwinter! One, possibly two yellow butterflies looked darker with a flush of orange, and a little larger. These were very difficult, as were the clouded yellow, to get a close look and photograph with wings open, I missed a good shot by seconds. They looked like the Cleopatra that occurs in north Africa and southern Europe. Again in view of the episodes of Saharan dust this year it is possible that with an assisted passage they were Cleopatras! There were several gatekeepers around as well and we had a good view of them feeding on Calluna that was in flower. This is another southern species and it is very good to see them so far north as Anglesey. The swallows have already begun to line up on overhead cables, a 100 or more were seen near Brynsiencyn, in preparation for their migration south for the winter. It will be a few days before they set off, but we will one-day find they are no longer around. It will be a long journey for them with many hazards to overcome; it will be a long wait for us before we welcome them again next year.
The 31st was a wet and windy day. Patricia harvested our crop of hot Mexican chillies that have been growing in the greenhouse. Some have already turned red but most are still green. We find it best to cut off the stems, with chillies attached, and bring them into the house. These are placed in a dry pot in a sunny window and the chillies turn red and gradually dry out. When dry they can be stored for use when required. I made use of several straight away making the first batch of chutney of the season. A little early but during the week Tesco had a special offer on mangoes '2 for the price of 1'. As this is favourite chutney I could not resist the offer! For my own special recipe see our recipes page.
September 1st and a definite autumn feel in the morning. The geese could be heard but they did not come over the garden today. Beech leaves have been falling from nearby trees when there has been a strong puff of wind and already there is a scattering on the lawns and terrace. With the lower temperatures the garden has been slower to dry and this means that it is more difficult to find a day to mow the lawns, the grass has been growing strongly the last few weeks and it has been difficult to keep up with it! On the vegetable plot the first rows of peas have died back and work on clearing them has begun. If there are any pods with seeds are found these are kept and dried to provide seed for next season. We try to collect as many as we can because they always seem better than those we purchase do. There are still some broad beans to be picked and there are still plenty of runner beans. Both of these we must make sure that there is sufficient seed for next year as they are no longer available in the catalogues. All the French potatoes have been harvested and some have been kept for next year's seed. We have started to lift the later pink fir apple potatoes and the crop seems heavy and good.
By the 5th the day-lilies, that have given such a good display this summer, had finally stopped flowering. Together with the hydrangeas they were looking rather sad. But our pot grown Agapanthus, the African blue lily, is flowering well on the terrace. This is a challenge to grow here and we have been successful only with pot grown plants. They flower rather late here but seem quite robust with the flowers withstanding any wind and rain. But in the winter, although semi-hardy, it is just too wet for it to survive in the ground. So we keep the plants in pots and when they have finished flowering move them into the shelter of the house. They have survived in this dry northeast-facing corner for several winters. They get covered with dry leaves that we leave around them to give protection from cold weather. In the wood it is still quite dark, as the full canopy of leaves is still largely intact. On the woodland floor the coming autumn has already been signalled by the appearance of a large fungus whose cap measured about 15 cm across the top. It did not last very long as it soon spread its spores, liquefied and had disappeared within 2 or 3 days. Early morning on the 9th was quiet and still, there had been mist lying low across the fields. At 7.15 am I heard geese approaching and was just in time to open the kitchen door and see at least 50 pass overhead in 2 V formations. They had taken off from nearby fields and were heading in a northwesterly direction.
The 11th started off warm and sunny and it was going to be a good day for the butterflies. There were lots about including peacocks, red admirals, speckled woods and best of all two painted ladies. We were very pleased to see these again, as they are rare visitors here. This is an African species that is common in southern Europe and can, in some years, reach Britain in large numbers. They will not survive the winter in northern Europe but it is thought some do manage to return to frost-free regions by southerly migration. They, and the other butterflies, were feeding on Polygonium vaccinifolium of the knotweed family. A native of the Himalayas it was introduced into this country in 1845. This is very hardy and has woody trailing stems, with dark green leathery leaves, and masses of rose-pink flowers. It is a must for a wildlife garden; it flowers from midsummer till autumn filling a period that can be poor for flowers. It is easy to grow and is excellent for attracting butterflies, bees and other insects. Other plants attracting butterflies at the moment include buddleia and marjoram, but these are just finishing, and the French lavenders. Also proving an attraction are the late raspberries. These have been attacked by wasps that have considerably reduced the crop usable for the table. It has been a 'good' year for wasps but they have been a nuisance at times. The wasps seem to concentrate on certain berries and 'soften them up' it is on these that the butterflies feed. At Llandegfan, on several occasions I have seen a dozen, or more, red admirals feeding on rotting plums that had fallen to the ground. The plums had again been first attacked by wasps, softened up and then were attracting the butterflies. When disturbed the butterflies flew up from the ground in a cloud, quite a sight.
We have a lot of robins about the garden. Many must be this years' brood and all anxious to establish winter territories. They have been singing strongly, at times it has been a chorus of robins. Today, the 24th I counted at least 5 singing in different parts of the garden. We have 'kitchen' robin; he has set up near the bird table that he thinks he owns. Then there is 'greenhouse' robin, he is often to be found in the greenhouse, and 'side garden' robin near the natural thicket we have on the north side of the house. There is of course 'wood' robin No. 1 that is in the entrance to the wood near another feeding table, and 'wood' robin No. 2 that lives at the top end of the wood near the church. I think there are many more judging by the disputes that take place round and about from time to time. They always appear when we are in the garden and if soil is being worked to snap up any grubs turned over. Leave a fork in the ground and walk away and a robin perches on it. The raingauges are prime perching positions and causes a problem particularly with the recording gauge. Droppings can clog up the siphon mechanism! I solved the problem by placing a garden fork close to the gauge. What robin could resist perching on a fork instead? Wrens are also much in evidence at the moment. Their distribution is similar to the robins' with a kitchen, house, greenhouse and wood wren, we think they individual birds. Different species do not matter in the territory stakes; they usually get on all right together. The female pheasant has been visiting the garden but there has been no sight or sound of the male for some weeks. The owls are frequent visitors, we see them sometimes at dusk, or dawn, and hear them hooting at night. There have been a few house martins about the garden, but I was surprised to see as many as 18 flying around high over the trees in the evening. They often assemble to make their long journey south on electricity cables crossing the field to our house in large numbers. Some may have already left and these may be youngsters, from later broods, yet to set off. There was no further work done on the new nest beneath the gable of our house.
After a gale on the 28th there were more beech leaves on the ground and these had been joined by some sycamore. Many beechnuts also litter the ground and have split open revealing the seed. Under the trees the ground is quite crunchy to walk on. This has been a good year for beech seed and already the wood pigeons are feeding on them. Squirrels have yet to take an interest but I expect it will not take long for them to find them. There are several brown dragonflies flying about, these settle in the sunshine in a warm spot with their wings open. A bright spot on the vegetable plot at the moment are some sunflowers. We feed the birds in the winter with black sunflower seeds that are very popular and attract many birds. Some birds, especially the greenfinches, perch on the feeder, roll the seed in their beaks and consume the kernel on the spot. Others will carry them off and these include nuthatches and coal tits. Nuthatches will take the seed to a favourite tree and break it open, but they will wedge some into crevices to act as a personal store. We now think that the coal tits have been taking the seed away and planting them. In the spring a large number of seedlings that looked like sunflowers sprung up all over the place. Pots were a favourite place as well as the vegetable plot. Well, several survived the cultivation and have grown into quite large plants! This month they have bloomed and have provided a bit of colour on the now rather drab looking plot. On a sunny day the flowers have been attracting bees and the odd butterfly as well. Also in bloom along side the vegetable plot are the hop plants. I will gather some and dry them off to add to my beer barrel when next I brew! Some other plants are in flower that should not be at this time of year; we are having a second mini-spring. The Clematis montana on the hedge at the front of the garden, that did so well in the spring, has several blooms and two or three blue Azalea have had some flower for a week or two. Also a large red-flowered Rhododendron is unusually covered with flower. A newly planted C. Ville de Lyon on trellis has several carmine edged crimson flowers, but this is expected as it is a late flowering variety. The potted fuchsias around the terrace, including Annabel, are continuing to produce an abundance of flowers as is our 'all the year round' Pelargonium. Some large fuchsias in the hedge, and elsewhere, have been flowering all summer. These are F. magellanica and have bright red and purple flowers. They seem impervious to rain and wind and are hardy but can be cut down in very cold years; they invariably regrow from the base! They are, importantly, also resistant to salt spay and can be found in hedges near the seashore in many places in the west. Similar forms are also found extensively in southern Ireland and the Azores. We also have a pale-pink variety that is doing very well. An addition to the garden this year is F. magellanica var. Gracilis variegata, which is moderately hardy with creamy-edged variegated leaves with flushed pink flowers. These plants were grown from cuttings from our friend Mari's garden. And, the Welsh poppies continue to bloom...
The 29th was quite a pleasant day, in the morning there was a lot of noise as the rooks were paying a flying-visit to the rookery. For several minutes the air was full of rooks, they made their inspection and flew off again. It was quite warm for a while and several large moths were feeding on the long-flowering French lavenders and the 'Brittany' sage. Several butterflies were also still around. Along the greenhouse the chrysanthemums are now quite tall and soon will be transferred to the greenhouse, once it is felt that the tomatoes can be cleared. The chrysanthemums have already survived one gale, on the 27th. I frequently inspect their supports and re-tie any that have become slack. At the same time I go along the row and do any dis-budding that is required. This is a job that Patricia and I do, when we are passing, as it needs to be done frequently. When the terminal flower bud is formed this signals other buds to form, in the axils of the leaves, down the stem. As we like to have individual large flower heads it is necessary to remove the lower buds leaving the terminal bud to develop. It is a pleasant job to do on a sunny day! In the greenhouse the propagating frame is full of various cuttings taken from plants in the garden. The cucumbers have finished but the tomatoes are still ripening well. The first bunches of the Black Hamburg grape are ripe and ready for eating. I have been testing the odd grape for a week or two; it is a question of allowing the whole bunch to ripen evenly. To assist ripening I have been removing leaves to make sure that direct sunlight reaches the grapes. Sadly the outdoor vines, although flowering well, produced no grapes this year.
On the 3rd there was another gale, stronger than the last on 27th September. It was blowing well from first light and beechnuts were being thrown like missiles on to the windows making quite a clatter. It was a day to stay indoors! During the afternoon with the wind gusting to 60 mph the electricity supply failed but was restored within an hour. During the night several pots of plants were blown over around the house and the runner bean and sweet pea supports partially blown over. No other damage was done even the chrysanthemums, still outside the greenhouse, suffered no damage. They had been well tied in to their supporting canes; the canes are also tied together at their tops and to the greenhouse! Usually we have them safely in the greenhouse by now but this year not so. With this early taste of the winter gales to come it is time the job was done and the garden tidied up for the winter. Leaves from the sycamore and ash trees are covering the grassed areas under the trees and around the house in soggy heaps and need to be cleared. But there have not been many fine days, so far this autumn, when this work could have been done.
With all the summer visiting birds gone from the garden it is the residents that have it to themselves, at least until the winter visitors arrive. We have started doing counts of birds feeding on food we have put out for them. At the moment we are providing peanuts, in a feeder hung from the branch of a tree, together with mixed table seed, and bread scraps, on a bird table near the kitchen window and a ground table near the greenhouse. The counts are for the British Trust for Ornithology's Garden Bird Feeding Survey. We are one of about 250 gardens over the UK that does this survey that runs from October to the end of March each year. We also record birds seen in the garden for the Garden BirdWatch Survey that carries on throughout the year. It is a question of additionally recording the numbers of those birds we observe feeding. Some numbers are similar but there are birds that hardly ever take food but most have water, which counts. For the week beginning the 8th we have seen feeding 2 blue tits, 2 robins, 6 chaffinches, 1 great tit, 6 greenfinches, 1 collared dove, 1 great spotted woodpecker, 1 magpie, 1 nuthatch and 1 wren that went for water. Additional birds that we saw in and around the garden included a male blackbird, a raven, a buzzard and a few rooks. We also heard a tawny owl. Our tally for the week was 18 species, 12 that were feeding. This may not seem a very large number but it is the maximum number of any species seen at one time during the week. There are lots of birds around but, for the purposes of the survey, they must be seen together. The numbers are recorded on special recording sheets, which are sent in the BTO every 3 months. There the results for all the gardens are processed and the data used for research. Some of the results are published in the quarterly bulletin The Bird Table that is sent out to participants. It is very interesting to see how our garden compares with the average of all gardens. Once a month our observations are collated and put on to our GBW page. You can see how your garden compares with ours. Why not consider taking part yourself?
The first ground frost of the autumn was on the 11th; it was only slight and appeared not to have much effect on plants that are still flowering. The trees particularly the beeches and horse chestnut now have their fine autumn colours. When we get some sunshine the leaves really glow with colours from yellow to rusty brown. The conkers on the horse chestnut are now ripe and have been falling to the ground and splitting open to reveal the shiny seed. There is something appealing about fresh shiny conkers; local boys, who know we have horse chestnut trees, to collect them, have visited us. Of course the squirrels have been after them as well, but with a good crop this year they have not been in short supply, plenty for everyone. The squirrels will eat some but the majority they will take away and hide away or bury in the ground as a winter store. They never have needed all they bury, or cannot find them again because lots of them germinate next year in the most unlikely places. The vegetable plot is a favourite place! We hear that the red squirrels in the pine forest at Mynydd Llwydiarch near Pentraeth are still doing well. This is one of a rather few number of remaining populations. Blame on their scarcity has been put on the introduction of the grey, competition for food and, or disease. We used to have 1 or 2 red squirrels here, some years ago now. It is not far from the forest Pentraeth; it would be quite possible for them to make their way along the hedgerows or across the few fields to our wood. We keep hoping to see them again. The Welsh poppies are continuing to produce the odd flower per plant. As there are several dozen plants over the garden they show up as bright spots on these rather dull days. The Brittany sage is still flowering well as are the lavenders. The Clematis Ville de Lyon is still flowering on the fence bordering the lavender bed. The heather borders are continuing to flower in every month of the year. As well as the Cornish Heath we have St. Daboec's Heath or Irish Bell Heather. This occurs in Spain but more abundantly on the damper moors of Co. Mayo and Galway in Ireland. They grow best in bogs but grow here as well and are particularly suitable in semi-shaded spots in the shadow of our trees and house. We have Daboecia alba an outstanding white and D. atropurpurea with rich purple colours. Both are about 2ft tall and flower from June to October or November. On the terrace some of the fuchsias have flowers, as does the every-flowering pelargonium. These pots have now been moved to the shelter of the house; the pelargonium is in its corner to the right of the picture. Also here are the agapanthus. The northeast of the house is the driest and is the best place to over-winter the plants. Here the main problem is wetness; some plants just rot away. If they can be kept relatively dry they survive. Cold is not usually a problem here as we have mild winters; if cold weather occurs we cover the pots with fleece. Some plants we do put into the greenhouse; we make sure that at least one plant of the pelargonium is inside. Other plants that we house include the potted lemon tree and mesembryanthemums.
A dry and sunny day on the 19th so opportunity was taken to do a few more jobs around the garden. On the vegetable plot the runner beans and supporting poles were cleared away. The leeks are doing much better this year and we have already taken a few for the kitchen. We are still taking leaves from the sea kale beet and will hopefully do so through most of the winter. The purple sprouting broccoli has also grown well, but several caterpillars were spotted on the leaves and were removed. We still have some pink fir apple potatoes in the ground. These should have been lifted but the weather has just been too wet. The soil is completely saturated and it is very heavy work to dig them out at the moment. We are dig up what we require for a few days; the tubers were quite sound. We were hoping to rotate the cleared plot with the MANTIS, but it seems that this will now not be possible again this year. It will have to be left until the drier weather in the spring. In the greenhouse the tomato plants were finally removed. Any remaining tomatoes were picked and put into trays to finish ripening. They do quite well like this; at this stage it is better to do this as the plants/leaves become diseased and it is better to consign them to the compost heap. The growbags, in which the plants were grown this year, were put on the vegetable plot and will be incorporated in the soil when conditions allow. Space is now available to bring in the pots of chrysanthemums whose buds are just about to break, so it is just in time. During the afternoon we spotted several butterflies in the garden including a comma that spent some time feeding on the Polygonium vaccinifolium that is still flowering well. I was unable to get a photograph of this but managed to catch a red admiral on the late raspberries. While the crop of these raspberries has not been heavy they have proved to be a pleasant addition to the menu, for the butterflies and us. We are no longer troubled with wasps; the wet weather seems to have finished off the drones that die off anyway this time of year. The queens will be around still and will be seeking places to over-winter. The dry log pile and garden shed is a favourite hiding place for both wasps and butterflies. Also looking for winter quarters are the mice. They will get into the greenhouse, if they can, and set up in empty pots or under seed trays. The hedgehogs too will be seeking a warm and dry place under twigs and leaves. There are plenty of places around the garden and wood so we have no need to provide any special accommodation for them. All the bird nest boxes have been visited and the old nests cleaned out. Interest is being shown in the boxes again by blue tits; it is likely that they will use them as a dry roosting place during the winter months and being 'in possession' in the spring may go on to raise next year's brood there as well.
On the 20th we noticed that sheep were back in the 'old cricket field' opposite the house. The rams are in with them and they have been busy as most of the ewes are well marked with coloured marker paint! The cattle will have moved on, or been confined to yards and sheds where they will eat the silage fodder produced during the summer. The ground at this time of year is just too wet and soft to support the weight of cattle. Sheep are able to graze well enough, keeping warm under their waterproof coats, and will remain in the field until the time for lambing that can be as soon as December or January in these parts.
The hedges along the roadsides have been trimmed back and all look very neat and tidy. I always think it is a pity, however, that many of the berries that would be food for birds has been removed. Not all the rose hips and hawthorn berries are removed, and there are the holly berries on the taller holly trees that are not cut back. We have been pleased to see a grey wagtail visiting the garden again over the last 2 weeks. These are regular visitors about this time of year but they usually do not stay for long. This one seemed to enjoy the water we have on the terrace.
It has been one of the wettest Octobers on record. The ground has been saturated with water all month and any rain has simply run-off or gathered in pools. The field in front of the house has been partially flooded on several occasions. On the 29th it turned colder and there was sleet in the evening. The next day snow could be seen lying on the Snowdonia Mountains.
The colder weather continues and on the 1st we had thunder and lightning with showers of hail. Many wild things use our house from time to time. As well as the bats, lots of spiders and beetles we do get the odd bird. Being an old house there are many places where small creatures can gain access. Birds, especially wrens and blue tits shelter from the cold and wet under the eaves. They will roost there at night and sometimes lose they way and can be heard scuffling about the roof space. This has happened again but the bird got further into the house than usual and found its way into bathroom. Somehow it got into the space behind the bath! Before starting to dismantle things to release it I remembered there was a small hole where a waste pipe entered the cupboard under the wash basin. I opened the cupboard doors to let in light and, as an escape route, the bathroom window. We stood watching to see what would happen. It was not long before a blue tit appeared at the hole, looking rather bewildered and covered with dust and cobwebs. It summed up the situation fairly quickly and made a successful escape through the window. In the garden the blackbirds are feeding on a plentiful supply of Cotoneaster berries.
The colour of the remaining leaves on the beech trees has intensified. Along the roadsides, and embankments of the A55 Expressway, stands of birch are also very colourful. On the road to Llanbedrgoch there is a wet field (the 1999 Eisteddfod field) that usually, at this time of year, has on it curlews and lapwings. We have been keeping a look out for them and saw them for the first time this autumn on the 3rd. There was a small group of about 10 lapwings and a larger group of 20 curlews. The numbers will probably build up during the winter; we have seen much larger numbers in other years. We were pleased to see today the return of the male Norman pheasant. He has not been seen or heard for several months. The female has been here for a few weeks and we wondered if the male had survived the summer. They are both here now and come to feed nearly every day; they are the same birds because they know their way around the garden and where the feeding stations are kept. We hope that they will be able to breed next year and, if the weather is better, to successfully rear the chicks having failed this year.
The mistle thrushes have returned. On the 13th I spotted 2 in the trees along the Drive, I heard them first making their characteristic calls while I was in the garden making the 9 o'clock weather observations. It is a good time to see and hear what birds are around.
I also put out the day's food and the birds are used to this regularity and wait for me in nearby tree branches and bushes. There is a good supply of holly berries this year and, within a day or two, the mistle thrushes had found them and were enjoying them along with the blackbirds. It is unlikely that any will be left to decorate the house at Christmas! Not that we mind too much, it is better for the birds to have them. On the 17th Patricia spotted a small flock of long-tailed tits in the trees. They were nice to see again but were only passing through the garden. We usually see them this time of year but they rarely stay. We did once have a pair nest in a large kale plant on the vegetable plot! Blackbirds have been around in only small numbers until today. We saw at least 6 turning over leaves along the Drive. I expect we will have more in the garden later in the year. There was also a flock of up to 100 starlings in the field during the day. We have yet to see them in the large numbers that we have seen in the past. After saying that we had not seen many wood pigeons, there are usually 1 or 2, we saw 6. They come to feed on the beech seed under the trees in the garden. We have been hearing and occasionally seeing our resident tawny owl. The best time is just before dawn, or at dusk. Sometimes we hear him call during the night and it will perch on the house from time to time. I think he is hunting for mice that are attracted by the crumbs dropped from the bird feeders. There is a female around also as we sometimes hear the two calling to each other.
The weather is continuing to be wet and dismal. The ground remains waterlogged and no work can be done that involves handling, or even standing on, soil. In the greenhouse on the 19th the last of the grapes needed picking, as there was some mould developing on them. They have been excellent this year and are now sweeter than at any time. The leaves have turned yellow but have not yet started to drop. The chrysanthemums too are doing well and we have picked several bunches for vases in the house. There have been good blooms of Gold Plate and the large bronze incurve Lilian Shoesmith. The bright yellow Fred Thompson and the pale orange-yellow Olga Paterson are coming along well and will be ready for cutting in a few days. The propagating frame is full of rooting cuttings and the benches have already rooted plants of fuchsias and lavenders for over-wintering. Stock plants are also kept of those that could be vulnerable to wet and cold. Still seeking winter hiding places are queen wasps. For several mornings I have been coming across them in the garden shed. I have even seen them on scraps of bread kept for the birds. The orchids have spent the summer on the large window ledge in the kitchen. Both the Cypripediums and theCymbidiums have stared to produce flower buds. The Cypripediums will soon be moved to the lounge where it is warmer. The Cymbidiums will remain in the kitchen. We are pleased to say that a Cypripedium plant is now 'north of the border' in Dundee in the home of our eldest son. We have had another bird in the house; it is the time of year! This was a wren found in the kitchen working its way over the orchids on the window ledge. We think it got in through a small opening of an extractor fan that had not closed properly on switch-off. It spent most of the afternoon in the house and seemed reluctant to leave. Eventually it escaped through a window; we had opened for it, leaving behind several droppings below its perching places.
Heathers (Ericas) are still flowering although not in the profusion of previous months. E. vegans Mrs D F Maxwell have flowers as well as the white and purple Daboecias. We are looking out for Erica December Red to start flowering, it is well into bud as are the Erica carnea varieties. In the Rhododendron garden the shrubs are all looking fresh with their new leaves and buds ready for next season. There is such a variety of leaf shape and colour that they are always worth a glance at any time of the year. Also out are the silvery-white plumes of the Pampas grass Cortaderia, near the entrance to the wood, that look very bedraggled when it is wet but soon dry out if it stops raining. Also some naturally seeded snapdragons Antirrhinum, these have been popping up for some years now where they seem to flower well into the autumn. There are also some Cistus flowers around the garden, not many now, but considering the wet and windy weather it seems quite remarkable. We do not have any Christmas roses Helleborus niger to look forward to. We have tried to grow them in the past and had a few flowers but the plants did not survive for long. Perhaps one day we will find a place that they like and have success.
There seem to be more birds interested in the feeders. I have put up another larger peanut feeder and on the 20th was already attracting several blue tits, great tits, coal tits and a great spotted woodpecker. I have also started feeding bird cake. I make this up in batches from 750g dripping and 1500g bird cake mixture obtainable from CJ Wildbird Foods. The mixture contains peanut flour and seed, which can be customised with the addition of anything you can spare from the kitchen. To make the cake melt the fat in a large saucepan, remove from the heat and slowly add the cake mixture and stir well. Before the mixture cools too much, and sets, I put it into moulds made from empty 400-ml cans. These have the top and bottom removed and cut longitudinally. Put on thick rubber bands and place on a metal tray. It is a good idea to wear gloves, as the metal cans can be sharp! Spoon in the mixture and allow to set. The amounts given are enough to make 8 cakes. These can be stored in a cool place or, for a longer period, in a refrigerator or deep freeze. The cakes are best hung up in the garden in nets or in one of the purpose made cake feeders. The birds love it! My advice is to think about making the next batch straight away. Patricia spotted a group of redwings along the Pentraeth to Beaumaris road during the morning. We kept a look out here and at lunchtime saw several arrive to perch in the treetops. Our first sighting of the season.
The month and the autumn continue to be very wet and turn out to be the wettest on record. We have had no dry spells when work could be done in the garden; the vegetable plot has not been dug over for the third consecutive autumn. Indeed fine days, or even a few hours, have been at a premium to do anything at all. The greenhouse is a sanctuary from the incessant rain. Here cuttings for next year can be tended as can the last of the chrysanthemums. The 25th was a terrible day with gale force winds, thunder and lightning, hail and later in the day heavy rain. All the leaves have fallen from the trees except on the Norway maple and our beech hedge. The hedge leaves will remain attached all winter but the now yellow Norway maple will soon drop. We have many of these in the wood, about 10m tall that turn the wood yellow in the autumn. They all originate from one tall parent tree that must have been planted when the wood was established over 100 years ago. The reason why we now have so many is that they grew up when many of the elms were felled following Dutch Elm Disease in the 1970's. The open spaces allowed seedlings to grow up and that is why the wood now turns yellow in the autumn.
The wet and windy weather continued into December. Hopes of a late respite that would enable urgent jobs to be done in the garden are dashed. A visit to the dry wood store on the 2nd, during a brief drier interlude, along a soft muddy path only confirms the view from the house. It is extremely wet outside! The rooks are very noisy; they are paying one of their visits to the nests at the top of nearby trees. Just perhaps to confirm ownership, view any damage caused by recent gales and make a lot of noise. The nests seem remarkably secure when viewed from the ground. Perhaps a 'rook's eye view' would reveal an insecure structure, places here and there that need repair in the spring. They seem to do little or nothing to the nests this time of year that I can see. On the way back to the house, with a barrow load of logs for the fire, I made a quick check of the greenhouse. All is in order. The pots of chrysanthemums look very bare after the blooms that have filled the house since October have been cut. Patricia recently picked Brian Kirk and only the late whites Snowshine and Arctic Beauty remain. Soon they will all be cut back leaving about 10 cm of stem to await emergence of new shoots that will be next year's cuttings and plants. After unloading the logs it is nearly dusk so the curtains can be drawn and the damp scene hidden from view.
Birds give the greatest amount of interest in the garden at this time of year. Bird watching can be done from inside the house. I put food out and top up the hanging feeders just after the morning weather observations. The birds gather up about this time, they know to expect the food! Several nuthatches visit the feeders, there must be at least 3 pairs around and we sometimes catch 3 individuals together near the feeders. We regularly get 15 greenfinches and this year the number of house sparrows 11 has been greater. The number of feeding blue tits (4) and great tits (1) has been down and we fear that the poor summer may have taken its toll. There are a few more around the garden and it is possible that they do not need the extra food at the moment. Consumption of peanuts, favoured by the tits, is down from last year. But so is the number of squirrels! Squirrels are mad about peanuts and in the past have destroyed plastic feeders. We now use the stainless steel sort and while these are better in time they can get through the mesh. There is plenty of natural food around (beechnuts) but the numbers of squirrels are down by a third this year. There has been a policy of removal of grey squirrels (poison baited food and experimental food laced with contraceptive!) in the area in order to support the population of red squirrels. Anyway the number of greys is down significantly and we are still hopeful that we will see some reds in the near future. The tawny owls are busy. We sometimes catch sight of one at dusk or dawn. They will answer to a reasonable imitation of a hoot and come to investigate! Around the fields next to the house we see the odd few curlews. Slightly further away groups can be seen on low lying damp fields and are often accompanied by lapwings. The best time to see them on the fields is when mudflats and salt marshes are covered with water at high tide. We have not seen such large groups as last year; they seem more spread out this year. We have been disappointed not to see any bramblings this year. We have had a few redwings in the garden with many more on the fields.
The morning of the 17th was quiet and still and with the sun just rising over Carnedd Llywelyn it was one of the better days this month. The birds thought so too and many were starting to sing. The rooks were at their nesting trees making a lot of noise and there were ravens croaking at the top of some pine trees. A look around the garden found several plants with a few flowers. There was hollyhock, a yellow wallflower, a pink cistus that seems to have flowers all year and the seemingly ever-flowering Pelargonium in the sheltered corner of the house. The 'Brittany' sage still has flowers while the Erica December Red is now in good flower on the rockery bank. A good plant for this time of year here is the Kaffir Lily Schizostylis a moderately hardy South African rhizomatous plant. With us it flowers in November and December, there are good pink flowers out at the moment, and dies back thereafter. The Welsh poppies have all died back but will soon be sprouting new leaves from the base. One can always find a primrose or two out in flower somewhere in the garden and this day was no exception, there were several. So far this is the fourth mild and wet winter in succession. While one gets interesting out-of-season flowers in such years it does not suit all. The alpines in particular do not like mild damp conditions and it is difficult to grow them in the garden. They much prefer the cold on the mountaintops.
Since the 'storm cocks' (mistle thrush) arrived they have been keeping a low profile. Occasionally seen in the garden, they and redwings and blackbirds finished off the holly berries a while ago, they can be seen nearby feeding on the fields, usually in pairs. On the 20th, at the dawn of another fine day they started singing from the top of the tallest trees. One near the house was in fine voice already but another, further into the wood, was not so fluent. Perhaps he is a younger bird yet to find the right notes. They sang for about an hour then were silent for a while, probably feeding, only to resume later. Preparations for Christmas are more or less complete. The mincepies, puddings and cake are ready made. The Christmas tree part of a pine in the garden that was planted as a dwarf type, and turned out to be not so, was cut back as it grown right over a path and steps through the rockery bank. It had been reprieved for 2 or 3 years, but it had been decided this year that enough was enough and it had to go. It was sad to cut a nice looking tree but it was the wrong species in the wrong place. This is sometimes the way with gardens. We have a vase of chrysanthemums Arctic Beauty recently cut from the greenhouse. The buds of the other late variety Snowshine have yet to open properly and will not be ready before January. In recent years we have started doing a large Christmas jigsaw puzzle. This year it is of an old library scene that proved quite difficult. Everyone in the house for Christmas must have a go at it, but it is usually down to one or two of the keenest to complete it in the end. This year it was finished by New Year's eve!
With the recent mild winters I thought that I would complete this account of the garden without seeing it under snow. Well I was wrong as on the night of the 27th we had a heavy snowfall. The morning of the 28th found the garden blanketed with snow. All the trees were covered with snow 'tinsel' that unusually remained on the branches until the 30th. The snow was crisp and dry and, with hard frost at night, a covering was on the ground until late on the 31st when it had all melted. Before dusk I had a look around the garden. The grass was back to its usual green colour, all was well in the greenhouse and the owls were about hooting to each other from nearby trees. Indoors I put another log for the fire and got out the new seed catalogues that had arrived during the month. Thoughts of another year, another season, and hopefully drier!
Last updated: 15 February 2001. This page is part of the site maintained at http://www.llansadwrn-wx.co.uk
Copyright ©: 2000 Donald and Patricia Perkins