Garden diary

Pruning and sowing: February marks a beginning

 

February is (usually!) the last month of winter and as such it is the last opportunity to complete all winter work. We have been busy at Allt y bela clearing existing borders, creating new borders, completing the pruning of the fruit trees and bushes throughout the garden and of course we have stepped up our work in the kitchen garden. 

Having never pruned quince or medlar before, I approached this task with some trepidation, but as these fruit trees are closely related to apples and pears I soon found my confidence. I learned that quince especially tends to produce a constant flush of epicormic growth that needs to be substantially thinned or completely removed every year.  Both quince and medlar have a tendency to grow 'into themselves' and need to be confidently pruned in order to clear the centre. I am interested to see the fruit that these trees will bear this year and how storing the medlar will be best approached as it needs to be 'bletted', a process of letting it ripen in a cool place until soft and brown.

Over the course of the month we have continued to cut and clear the remaining plant material from the herbaceous borders, which has, we hope, helped to protect the plants from the worst of the winter weather. In addition, we have increased the size of some borders to accommodate more plants and formalised the edges of others with stone. The process of clearing and weeding borders is one of the aspects of horticulture I enjoy the most. It can be daunting if you are approaching a border that has not been touched for a significant amount of time (I once had the task of renovating a garden that had not been worked on for over three years), however, the process of removing and clearing the borders and preparing the ground for the coming growing season builds to a sense of anticipation.

February is also the month that ushers an increased pace in the vegetable growing calendar. Having prepared the soil in December and initiated the planting with garlic and broad beans, the first significant tranche of crops can be sown in February. To help schedule sowing I prepare a box/seed tray with dividing panels that separate the container into monthly labelled sections. Organising seed into the section that corresponds to the month it can be sown the earliest, allows me to rationalise the work. 

With the recent and ongoing very cold and wet weather, we have had a 'false-start' to the season, with the broad beans not initiating growth in the cold frame and needing to be placed in the hot-box.  We'll be monitoring the weather over the coming couple of weeks before deciding on how to progress and I look forward to keeping you updated.

Words: Rhys Griffiths, Head Gardener, Allt y bela

Photographs: William Collinson

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August at Allt y bela

 

When I think of August in the garden I envisage long hot days, parched lawns and burnt out flower beds. In these long hot days I will be cutting yew topiary safe in the knowledge the the heat will generally deter further growth. In this vision of August I will be mowing the meadows, the ground baked hard as iron, the grass already dried out. I'm sure that this vision of August has, at least some basis in reality, but in more recent years it seems that August is always a bit of a disappointment. The really joyful late summer weather won't begin until the children, clad for autumn in new jumpers and blazers head back to school, then the sun will shine and the temperatures recover!

Despite a burst of sunshine over the late bank holiday weekend, this August has been particularly disappointing. I heard that the start of the month was the coldest since 1993, I'm not sure it's improved much since! Now, at the end of the month there is a distinct chill in the mornings, early mists linger longer and there's a hint of changing colour in the hedgerows which funnel you down the narrow lane to Allt y bela.

The upside to this cool, damp weather has been that the garden has stayed green, not only that but it's been growing in the same spirit as if it had been May. That has been something of a challenge to me as my August tasks are to mow the meadows and to cut the topiary. The abundant growth has led to some impressive weed growth and lawns which just won't stop growing!

All in all though I'm pretty grateful that the weather hasn't been too scorching (to say the least!) The cottage garden has continued to produce a mass of flowers for cutting, while in the kitchen garden the profusion of produce has been a little overwhelming. As the month draws to a close and the apples begin to colour it feels more like each sunny day we get is a little more precious than the last, and if September was to prove to be a beautiful sunny warm month, well I'll have no complaints!

Words: Steve Lannin, Head Gardener at Allt y bela

Photographs: Britt Willoughby Dyer

© Arne Maynard Garden Design 2017 - reproduction of content and / or photographs only by request.

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Bathed in sunshine

 

The sun is as strong at this time of year as it is in late August the radio warned me this morning, barely five minutes after I had scraped the ice from my windscreen. Sure enough by 11 o'clock this morning the sun was warm. This time of year brings the first really warm days of the year and the warmest days we have experienced in five or six months. It is heavenly. Somewhere in the trees above the common a woodpecker is busy drumming away as birds sing all around me.

This morning Hudson the cat was excitedly pursuing a stoat around the kitchen garden. Everywhere the garden is waking up but the contrasts at this time of year can make being outside uncomfortable. I was basking in hot sunshine one day last week and the next I was searching out extra coats as I shivered my way through a bitterly cold and breezy day. It feels to me almost like the growing pains of summer, the change is coming and it's inevitable; it's a great feeling.

The pots of tulips are just beginning to flower and I always find it an anxious time. You really want to know that those combinations, which seemed so exiting in November, really live up to their billing. The light in spring can make a huge difference to the success of a combination. Early indications look promising. We've really tried to improve the pot display this year planting maybe three times as many pots as we did the first year I was here. I was making willow support rings for the pots a couple of weeks ago and it seemed to take me forever, despite the fact that most of the pots already had supports. At the end of the day I counted up the rings I had made and reached 36, which is a fair amount of extras!

The Osmanthus topiary we planted a couple of weeks ago is in full flower now and is looking rather fine. Flowering topiary is something new to me but it looks very at home in the garden here. The Osmanthus outside my toolshed is looking (and smelling) particularly good.

Summer might not be here yet but we've had a sneak preview of it over the last week here at Allt-y-bela and it's been rather lovely.

Words: Steve Lannin, Head Gardener at Allt-y-bela

Photographs: Britt Willoughby Dyer

© Arne Maynard Garden Design 2017 - reproduction of content and / or photographs only by request.

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A few additions

 

Change is the only constant in life. I feel like I've heard that sentiment expressed in more ways than I can recall. In truth though it has become something of a mantra of mine, reminding me that even the worst situations are transient whilst helping me to enjoy the best moments to their fullest. Working in a garden though, you can hardly fail to appreciate the truth of the matter. Each day, each week, each year, the garden is changing, nature's chaos perverting and adjusting our well considered plans into often wonderful and sometimes frustrating results.

Working in the garden at Allt-y-bela can be incredibly frenetic, energising and perplexing in equal measure. This week has been one of those weeks. It began with preparation for our rose dome building course, my list of worries and things to stress over has become an annual tradition now and I'm learning to stay slightly calmer. Despite some pretty persistent Welsh drizzle in the afternoon contributing to the familiar gardeners plea 'you should have been here yesterday!' the course was great fun and as an army of rose domes were contorted into all manner of shapes and sizes I felt very happy to have been part of the day.

No time to waste however as preparations began the next morning for some new additions to the garden. As I arrived in the lane a very large lorry was waiting and I had more than a suspicion that its contents would be for us.

Luckily for me Arne had arranged his crack team of landscapers to install these massive new plants so I could take part in the really nice bit, the placements and the little tweaks: 'I think it needs to come around 30 degrees clockwise' all very satisfying!

Amongst the new arrivals was a beech tree that Arne has been coveting for more than a decade! Just getting the enormous tree out of the the lorry was a Herculean task, followed by a strange convoy that included the beech tree dangling from a reversing telehandler, the Land Rover and trailer containing a beautiful multi-stemmed Cornus mas dome and a transit flatbed truck with a pair of Osmanthus topiary balls. We must have made an impressive, if a little bizarre, spectacle!

Safely back in the garden the last day and a half have been dominated by the installation of these new plants. Arne and I stood on the drive as he spoke of how this was the last delivery of large plants for Allt-y-bela, before mentioning the 5m tall Magnolia that will be arriving soon!

Words: Steve Lannin, Head Gardener, Allt-y-bela

Photographs: Britt Willoughby Dyer

© Arne Maynard Garden Design 2017 - reproduction of content and / or photographs only by request.

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The first blooms

 

The garden at Allt-y-bela is beginning to spring to life once more. On the droveway and through the woodland snowdrops abound drifting in vast white carpets across the brown green of the winter landscape. There is something magical and heartening to see swathes of ground suddenly coming to life in these dark weeks. Amongst the throng of single native snowdrops, a few double flowers can be found. You can generally tell the doubles by the broader nature of the flowers, the only way to be sure of course is to get down on your hands and knees and have a good look. The rewards certainly make the muddy knees worthwhile but it is a shame we don't get the chance to appreciate them in a more congenial environment.

Along the sides of the drive towards the field gate is a small wild bed filled with winter snowflakes. Winter aconites are beginning to establish there too. The winter snowflakes look a little like a broader stronger snowdrop, their heads still nod in the cold breeze but they are larger and slightly more showy.

The bulb lawn is beginning to show the first signs of life now too, a few short weeks ago I was looking across the grass at the telltale leaves of iris and crocus that offered so much promise and over the course of the last few days the flowers have been breaking out, first a few crocus, then the very first reticulated iris. Each day, come rain or shine, flowers have been emerging.

One of the frustrations I've found in past years is that I never seem to be able to photograph these spring treasures to really do them justice, then, while crawling around on my hands and knees through the mud it occurred to me that it would be rather lovely to bring these flowers into the house and photograph them properly. Around this time last year Allt-y-bela played host to a Dutch Masters flower arranging course, the resulting pictures were so stunnning I was desperate to have a go at recreating a similar sense of light and dark, fine detail and highlights. These early spring bulbs which posses such breathtaking beauty are perhaps slightly overlooked as we dodge the rain and hurry past against the biting cold. Brought indoors, with time to really look and appreciate them, their elegance shines through.

Once inside with our selection of flowers we decided to break them down into three groups; the crocus, the iris and the snowdrop type flowers. I think we could have very easily spent days placing them around the house to photograph. Allt-y-bela is such at atmospheric house, somehow though it always comes back to the older parts of the house, the medieval dining room with its massive stone fireplace and shining polished oak furniture lend themselves so freely to this style of photography.

The bulbs which are in flower now represent the beginning of the year in the garden at Allt-y-bela, there is so much to come, the thought is almost a little overwhelming. But this week, through the incessant rain and frost, these beautiful plants have emerged bringing with them a sense of positivity and hope for the coming year.

Plant information:

1. Left to right; Crocus subs. biflorus, Crocus tomasinianus, Crocus 'Snow Bunting', Crocus 'Cream Beauty'

2. Crocus 'Prins Claus' & Crocus tomasinianus

3. Crocus 'Snow Bunting'

4. Crocus 'Cream Beauty'

5. Left to right; Leucojum vernum 'Snow Flake, Galanthus 'Flore Pleno', Galanthus nivalis

6. Galanthus nivalis

7. Left to right; Iris reticulata 'Pauline', Iris reticulata 'Gordon', Iris reticulata 'Pixie', Iris reticulata 'Katherine Hodgkin', Iris reticulata 'George'

8. Iris reticulata 'Katherine Hodgkin'

9. Iris reticulata 'George'

10. Handtie of Iris reticulata 'Pauline', Iris reticulata 'Gordon', Iris reticulata 'Pixie', Iris reticulata 'Katherine Hodgkin' & Iris reticulata 'George'

Words: Steve Lannin, Head Gardener at Allt-y-bela

Photographs: Britt Willoughby Dyer

© Arne Maynard Garden Design 2017 - reproduction of content and / or photographs only by request.

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