Last week we drove across country to Wales, a land of enormously varied and beautiful scenery, spectacular coastlines and Gelli Uchaf, the home and garden of Julian and Fiona Wormald in the west of Wales.
Julian and Fiona live on the top of a hill in a welsh Longhouse and garden in challenging conditions but they have staggeringly beautiful views. He writes an intelligent, thought provoking and diverse blog, centred around their life and garden – The Garden Impressionists and some months ago Julian wrote about a planned workshop, Noel Kingsbury was holding in their garden ‘The Rabbits Eye View’. I have dipped in a few of Noel’s books and coupled with Julian’s accounts, the opportunity to attend ‘The Rabbits Eye View’ workshop and visit Julian and Fiona’s garden at the same time was irresistible.
We booked a short stay in a wonderful cottage, Felin Fach near Lampeter as either side of our 4 day break had unavoidable work commitments. Wales is renown for rain but as our trip approached we were delighted to see a largely dry forecast.
Before the Thursday workshop, our Journey from home on the Tuesday to West Wales took us through the Brecon Beacons, designated a national park, part GeoPark and now also has International Dark Sky status too. An area covering 1,344 square kilometres with glorious rolling hills, home to the Hay on Wye Literary festival and invigorating walks.
Part of the Brecon Beacons is common land, which means that local farmers have the right to graze livestock and to take or use some of the natural products. Here the right of ‘estovers’ – the right to cut and collect certain plants such as the bracken, which is cut in Autumn and baled, then used as bedding for farm animals.
We arrived at our cottage, way after night fall as looking for something to eat in Wales is like looking for the proverbial needle in a Bracken stack, especially in autumn. Lesson learnt we stocked up at the first opportunity and Wednesday morning set off for the coastline in search of the National Trust owned Stackpole Estate and Barafundle Bay, which according to the Trust is often voted one of the most beautiful bays in the World.
We drove along some of the route my husband had cycled on two years ago, up huge hills and down again with glimpses of the coast and finally arrived at National Trust owned Stackpole, parked in the almost empty car park and walked on to Barafundle Bay, we were not disappointed, even with a watery cool autumnal sky, the sea was still very blue, we walked on further until the weather changed and a squall of rain came in, then headed back to the car and the journey back to our cottage. No road is quick in Wales, as they meander through hills and mountains, tiny villages and few street lights. So again we arrived back at almost 9p.m.
Up early the next day, as Anne the cottage owner and fellow workshop attendee kindly offered to take me, whilst my husband went walking with an old friend. Anne drove smoothly through beautiful countryside and as she chatted it was clear she is a very knowledgable plantswoman herself. We arrived early as Anne was helping Fiona with food and I wandered off into their garden for a short while.
To the front of their Longhouse is a terrace, divided into two areas both overlooking the views to sell your house for.
It was hard to know which way to go first as in every direction was something to draw me along. Julian and Fiona open for the National Gardens Scheme, if folk haven’t visited before its likely they get giddy with exhilaration . And then a second visit, third and fourth must be just as giddying.
I had not properly thought through how much Noel’s course would resonate with me before attending but boy what an eye opener. Noel’s course ‘Rabbits Eye View’ encouraged us to think more about plants in ecological terms, how the relationship with environments and ethical sustainability affected plant and plant design choices for the good. And in a fun, warm and refreshing way.
We got down to the nitty gritty of planting and looked at exactly how plants grow, challenging us to think through plant survival techniques and long term plant performances and especially to think ecologically as well as horticulturally. Noel took us through Julian and Fiona’ garden, which he clearly liked very much, he was warm, kind and encouraging and very charming. Noel is known for his naturalistic planting design and collaborations with other designers such as Piet Oudolf. Jason from Garden in a City reviewed his book Hummelo earlier this year.
As Noel guided us, gently interviewing Julian and Fiona at the same time he pointed out the details in every area of their garden, the smallest of details were joyous. I felt as if I should not be walking on the moss paths, my heavy footprints quite disturbing. We finally departed around 4.30p.m – 7 hours had just whizzed by.
If you have the chance to visit Julian and Fiona’s Garden, please take it as its so beautiful. I have only scratched the surface here, Julian’s The Garden Impressionists blog has far better photographs from every season to entice you and if Noel Kingsbury loves this garden then that recommendation is hard to beat.
On our last day in Wales before the journey east and back home we made the trip to New Quay on the Cardigan Bay, which is a Marine Conservation Zone. We stood on New Quay harbour with a Wildlife Trust volunteer, who was monitoring the Bottlenose Dolphins inhabiting these waters. He said as another rain squall came in behind us and I packed my camera away, this was unusually mild weather for the time of year. Within minutes a large Bottlenose fully leapt from the water tossing a fish in the air. The Wildlife Trust man, said we were incredibly lucky, that behaviour is rarely seen. Obviously I can’t show you that photo as I had just put my camera away, but we felt thoroughly blessed to have had such a wonderful trip to Wales. I shall leave you with one of Julian’s unbelievably beautiful early morning garden views instead.
There’s been a mixed bag of weather during September, the hotter dry days made peering at insects a priority. They are mostly a joy to observe and obliging to photograph. Bees, Butterflies, Hoverflies, Beetles, Moths, Wasps have all been welcome. House flies have been really, really annoying. Beneficial or not Insects are encouraged here, invertebrates form the stuff of life, at the very least they provide food for birds, they pollinate flowers and fruit and without them we’d all be in a lot of trouble. But they are a tricky lot to identify, unlike our visiting birds who by and large are much easier.
To our sheer delight native Long-tailed Tits have made a reappearance in our garden, for most of the year they live on insects, foraged on woodland edges and hedgerows but in the Autumn and Winter we are fortunate to see them on our feeders, adding seeds and nuts to their diet. With a fast undulating flight, which is slightly comical to watch they are always uplifting to see. They are very social birds – parents, offspring and nest helpers all stay together and join in with other birds from the Tit family and can form flocks of 20 or so birds.
The Jackdaw is a bird that has us jumping up, banging the window or running out of doors clapping our hands loudly, he is ruthless. I think this one is a male as the grey ‘hood’ is quite distinctive and pale. As he swoops in, smaller birds disperse and he will take whole chunks of seed impregnated fat and if allowed he would polish the lot off. Jackdaws are a member of the Crow family and are intelligent scavengers, their diet ranges from insects and seeds to scraps, road kill, eggs and young birds, they are social and usually seen in pairs although we often see just one – carrion birds fulfil a vital part of the food chain otherwise we would be knee deep in decay.
We were delighted to see a female Greenfinch back on the feeder and hoped the flashy looking bright green/yellow male would make an appearance too but so far he has been shy. In comparison, she is ‘drab’, with just a little understated yellow on the edges of her wings. They are about the size of a House Sparrow, larger than our Blue Tits and armed with a distinctive beak. Although not rare, they have been in steep decline recently due to the parasite disease trichomonosis, which prevents the Greenfinches from feeding properly.
Back to the tricky insects! At first I thought a bumblebee Queen had flown into our garden, I grabbed my camera and took photos from every angle, she was moving very slowly and walked between the Verbena stems, rather than flying on and off. I tried to photograph her markings, hind legs and some facial close ups. On closer inspection I could see the yellow band on her abdomen was broken and was almost giddy with the thought that I was looking at a rare Bumblebee. Turns out though, this is something else.
I logged on to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust website which the more I use the more I am gaining an understanding and starting to get my ‘eye’ in. After working through the options and eliminating possibilities, I was fairly confident I had photographed a Southern Cuckoo Bumblebee. I submitted a couple of photos for clarification and they confirmed my sighting. She is quite common though in the south of England and is no Queen.
Cuckoo Bumblebees, do not have their own nests in the way true Bumblebees do, instead they sneak into the True Bumbles nests, evict or even kill the true Queen and take over her workers. There are 6 species of Cuckoo Bumblebee and each is designed to attack a specific species of True Bumble. The Southern Cuckoo attacks the nests of the Buff-tailed Bumblebee. I am not certain why these cuckoo bees have evolved this way but the dark evenings of winter are looming and there will be time to learn.
As well as the birds there are several other insect predators lurking in our garden and this one lives in my potting shed! The Garden Spider – Araneus diadematus is in the process of parcelling up his lunch. Females are 15mm long and Males 9mm, this one was quite small, so guessing he was a he. If you look closely, he is in the process of preparing what looks like a Butterfly, as the tail extends to the last visible web line. There is a very helpful website the British Arachnological Society to help with lots more spider identifications.
During the sunny last week of September a Common Darter Dragonfly came to rest on one the terracotta pots in my pile of ‘stuff to sort out’ Balancing on one leg I leant in to have a close up look. Adult Dragonflies also feed on insects including unwelcome midges. Dragonfly larvae, hatch in ponds and are strong swimmers, they are more voracious and include tadpoles in their diet. The British Dragonfly society has a very helpful website, detailing their amazing lifecycle and helping with identifications.
Still balancing on one leg and leaning over my ‘pile of stuff to sort’, I could sense movement to my left. There is a tarpaulin laying over some pieces of wood destined for a future project. And just sitting on top of the tarpaulin was quite a large frog, males are 9cms long and females 13cms, I did not have a tape measure handy but guessed she could be a she. Frogs eat insects, slugs and worms, they are threatened in turn by disease and loss of habitat.
We eye balled each other for a few seconds, as the frog was gulping I pulled back to stand on two legs, the Frog just turned obligingly to one side and waited for a while before slowly hopping off to the undergrowth.
Now this is an easy one for me to identify, in the UK we have only two species of Frog and two species of Toad, I hoped she was well and wondered why she moved so slowly, maybe the heat was slowing her down. In trying to research some more I came across a couple of articles who confirmed kissing a frog will not help in the search for a prince. Who knew! But for a more detailed informative website on amphibians Froglife is definitely worth looking at.
Many thanks to the very lovely Tina from My Gardener Says, who hosts this lovely eye opening, mind broadening meme. Her own post is packed with visitors and encouragement.
Happy Wildlife Watching!
The glorious and uplifting sunshine we enjoyed last week is due to give way to heavy rain, my family were away for part of the weekend, which in turn gave me some free time to experiment with vases before my Autumn flowers get the promised drenching.
Firstly I had the sitting room carpet to clean, Raspberries dropped on the kitchen floor by my eldest, rushing to make a snack for her journey became stuck to the feet of our dog. I think they all worry I have not got enough to keep me busy! My new vase was bought at one of the local Methodist Church fundraisers, who are in desperate need of a new roof. The vase is far more elegant than I’m used too, after several attempts I finally settled on simple white and green. And plonked the hotter colours of Rudbeckias, Persicaria and the Sweet Peas we are still picking in jugs.
I started with Eleagnus ebbingei as I love the fragrance. The tiny flowers are powerfully scented, its heady vanilla aroma fills the air. The flowers are hidden from view and formed in the leaf axils. About 10 years ago it survived a widespread scale infestation and last summer a good half of this very mature 4 metre tall shrub died back – I thought we were going to lose it all, the dead wood was cut out and its sprung back with lots of fresh growth and has just started to flower again. The shrub is weeping profusely for the first time this year, possibly in response to the hard pruning.
I’ve added in a couple of sprigs of Hesperis matronalis – short lived perennials sown this spring and one plant has already thrown up a few flowers rather than wait till next year, they have a beautiful fragrance which reminds me of cloves and I’ve read they make good cut blooms.
Added also is Gaura lindheimeri, I grew these from seed last year and this summer have been rewarded with an absolute abundance of flowers, although perennial they are not long lived. I had worried Bees were not visiting this plant and after reassurance from Amelia of A French Garden have now noticed Honey bees visiting the fresh stamens.
The Cosmos also grown from seed this spring objected to the cold wet weather and was heading for the compost bin but has perked up in last weeks sunshine,although the new flowers are much smaller. The Cosmos, Hesperis and Eleagnus ebbigei flowers are all much loved by Bees and now I know the Gaura is too, but I have not noticed any insect activity on the Alchemilla mollis which I found having a last hurrah and is providing the green froth.
Thanks to Cathy at Rambling in my Garden for hosting this meme, which I rarely have time to join in with but always enjoy seeing what everyone else is up to.
Its been a while since I reported on foliage in my own garden. In fact 11 months! 3 years ago we planted some new trees, 3 Chanticleer Pears, a mystery Rowan, 1 Double white Hawthorn – Crataegus laevigata Plena and 3 new Apple Trees. The Chanticleers were put in to screen a new neighbours floor to roof apex windows, complete with balcony. My family is not given to naked trips around the garden but we do like our privacy. The Chanticleers are beginning to fill out nicely, they are the first to leaf and the last to fall, with a wonderful late Autumn colour. So far though its only our Mystery Rowan which is on the turn.
I had ordered a Kashmir Rowan – Sorbus cashmiriana Hedl which is supposed to have white Berries and very beautiful leaves, as I planted bare root, it was not until Spring that I began to think something was not right, the leaves were plain and in the second Autumn there were lots of small orange/red berries. Clearly not a Kashmir. It did not flower this Spring, so no berries at all this Autumn. But today when its raining, grey and cold, the leaves are shining with colour.
Elsewhere, I grow several golden Hops, one is placed to cover a deciduous Corkscrew Hazel – Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’ which has extremely ugly leaves, but in the winter when the catkins are caught by the low sun, I am much more happy with its placing. I cut the stems too for my version of a Christmas Tree.
Another plant that really comes into its own in the Autumn is Leucothoe, I am fairly sure this one was originally labelled ‘Royal Ruby’, a non native, originating in the USA, commonly called Switch Ivy and Dog Hobble. I wonder why either common name came about?
Lastly, as its too wet to go further afield with my camera today, in the group at the bottom is an unnamed Oxalis, purchased at Hughenden Manor, where they have it underplanted in tubs of Heuchera, I may be unleashing a thug but in the meantime am enjoying its dainty leaves.
With grateful thanks to Christina, for hosting Garden Bloggers Foliage Day, GBFD. Please take a look at Christina’s adventurous garden changes and other folks contributions too.
PS – The mystery Helenium could be one of several plotted on the Cliveden planting plan boards, I’ve attempted to make a match with one from the Helenium database run by Sampsford Shrubs who held the National Helenium collection, the nearest is possibly ‘The Bishop’, but then again…..
Its been a while since I was able to take part in Wildlife Wednesday. Our rural internet speed dipped to an all time low and then all but vanished for the Summer. Then at the end of August, BT installed their version of super fast broadband – ‘Infinity’, so far, so good and we are back in the 21st century.
Meanwhile, my workload increased and life generally got in the way. Weather wise, there has been a roller coaster of temperatures and now as we head into September temperatures have dipped into an Autumnal coolness I am not quite ready for. Spiders are weaving webs laced with rain drops and it feels like it will not be long before we see webs outlined with frosty patterns.
At the beginning of July, we took a weeks trip to windswept Lundy, an island off the south-west coast of England and came back to a hot dry garden alive with insects. I had been reading Dave Goulson’s book – A Buzz in the Meadow – whilst we were away and returned with a new appreciation for the value of some of the less attractive pollinators namely flies and wasps. I have tried to photograph both but neither are as easy going as Bumbles, Honey and Solitary bees, except the Hoverfly group. Plus peering at Wasps is Hazardous.
Pollinator Awareness Week during the middle of July had me looking even more closely than usual at our visiting insects. I grow white Perennial Sweet Peas, they have no scent I can detect and scramble about in an unruly manner. For the first time this year I noticed how Solitary bees, flip their bodies and push through to the nectar within. The Bee left a red footprint, I wondered had she visited a plant with red pollen before?
On this years highly scented annual Sweet Peas (I’ve forgotten the cultivar the packet is in a safe place so safe I now can’t find it!) Hoverflies found it easier to push apart the petals. Some species of Hoverfly produce larvae that feed on Aphids and the adults feed mainly on nectar and pollen.
The Wildlife Trusts report that in the UK we have at least 1500 species of insects designed to pollinate plants, including Bumbles, Solitary and Honey Bees, Hoverflies, Wasps, Butterflies, Moths, Flies and Beetles. They are mostly pretty tricky to identify correctly, there is so much to learn and some are far easier to identify than others! We see most insect pollinators here in the Summer months where I try to provide as wide a variety of flower types with nectar and pollen. And places to provide some shelter for them in my exposed garden.
These Pollen beetles fall into the ‘others’ category for my post, In my veg garden they are most happy on the Calendula and as the name suggests they feed on Pollen. The charity Bug Life reports that in the UK we have 27,000 species of insect of which the Pollen beetles account for 36 species. When I cut any flowers to bring indoors, I have learnt to put them in water in dark place overnight, usually the garage, as a Kitchen full of Pollen beetles is not ideal. The RHS reports Pollen Beetles may assist with pollination. Frankly I would rather have more Bees and Hoverflies of which in Europe 38% are in decline and I know for sure they are pollinators.
The RHS have just released a report “Plants for Bugs”. They set up trials at RHS Wisley to analyse the native versus non-native debate. Is it only natives that will help our beleaguered Pollinators? Of course on our comparatively small island we have fewer natives than over in the USA. The RHS found that a greater range of flowers from across the Northern Hemisphere will help pollinators far more than if we stick to natives alone. My top plant throughout August for pollinators was Verbena bonarensis, originating from South America, on my dry sandy soil it pops up rather obligingly everywhere. I don’t care if its a non native, I love it, so do my insect visitors.
Please visit Tina our marvellous Wildlife Wednesday meme host and her wonderful site “My Gardener Says” for more Wildlife Wednesday Posts.
Happy Wildlife Watching!