Autumn Garden…

As we go into Autumn, flowers are in short supply, but some of the roses are still producing a few blooms, including this one, which is Rosa ‘Judi Dench’…

At the base of the fruit trees, nasturtiums are still going well, perhaps because they germinated late; the early seedlings having been nibbled off by hungry rabbits

Asters (Symphyotrichum) have seeded themselves all over the garden – I had no idea they would be so prolific! While the main plants have gone over now, some of the seedlings are in full bloom…

The quality of the new plants is variable. Some have flowers that are somewhat small; very similar to a very vigorous aster that was in the garden before we arrived (and which I subsequently split up and re-set). Others are closer to the bigger bloomed varieties we’ve added subsequently. One seedling has white, rather than lavender/blue flowers.

Another enthusiastic self-seeder is the ubiquitous Verbena bonariensis, and there are plenty still in flower…

Marigolds would be everywhere, but were also demolished by the rabbits. Some that made it through in the vegetable plot are still doing well…

In the first year we sowed some Phacelia as a green manure. The flowers were so pretty, and so loved by pollinators, that we decided not to hoe the young plants back into the soil. They too self-seed every year. They flower over a long period…

The flower spikes of Gaura (now Oenothera) lindheimeri ‘Whirling Butterflies’ keep going over a very long season, and float above everything else, creating quite a dreamy effect. It does need to be kept in hand, or else it will take over the garden…

‘Royal Bumble’, a woody salvia, surprisingly came through last year’s cruel winter, and has been amazing again this year, blooming from mid-summer into autumn. And it looks good with a backdrop of Cotinus coggygria (I think this one is ‘Royal Purple’)…

Geranium ‘Eureka’ has a few flowers left, alongside Achillea ptarmica ‘The Bride’, which we grew from seed in spring…

Anemone x hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’ is another late flowerer. It’s just coming to an end now. It looks great in a shaded position, as here…

Colour, of course, doesn’t have to come from flowers. I put in an Artemisia ‘Powys Castle’ earlier this year, and its silvery foliage looks great against the dark leaves of the Cotinus

Fruits typically give us clusters of reds and oranges that intensify the orange glow of any low sunshine we’re lucky to get at this time of year. This summer I realised there was no need to dead-head the roses that flower only once (I can be a bit slow sometimes!) and consequentially, we’ve got rose hips. These are on the climber ‘Constance Spry’ (named for the famous flower arranger)…

And of course there’s the obvious colour from turning leaves; here in Rhus typhinus

This Euonymus alatus ‘Red Cascade’ is in its first year, so still quite small. The leaves turned a deep red, but I wasn’t quick enough with the camera – they’ve almost all fallen already…

The Cornus behind the pond (C. sibirica ‘Alba’ and C. sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’) are looking good as the leaves begin to change colour…

The falling leaves will reveal brightly coloured stems in red and orange, which will add interest throughout the winter.

Interesting how different trees and shrubs come into leaf, and shed their leaves, at different times. Last autumn I also put in a Liquidambar (L. styracyflua ‘Slender silhouette’), a columnar tree with great autumn colour. I was disappointed that it was one of the last trees to come into leaf in spring, but conversely, it’s leaves are yet to turn.

Elsewhere, the ferns are looking good now. This is Polystichum polyblepharum (Japanese Lace fern)…

Who would have thought it, but we’ve still got courgettes..!

In the greenhouse, the peppers and chillies were something of a disappointment, but there are some peppers still to be harvested…

Streptocarpus (or ‘Streps’ as they’re referred to) are generally used as houseplants, but I know from previous experience they like it outside over summer. This one was on its last legs, until we put it outside. I’ve moved it to the greenhouse now…

Things are changing fast in the garden now, as it turns darker, colder, and wetter, and one by one the deciduous plants start to shed their leaves. But don’t think it’s all over until the spring. Once the leaves are down, the garden will enter another phase; less flamboyant, but still with lots of interesting things happening.

Text & images © Graham Wright 2023

The Garden in September

It’s been another strange year, weather wise, as we begin to feel the effects of anthropomorphic climate change. After a hot and dry June, July and August were cold and damp, and many plants were slow to get going. I lost most of my dahlias in the cold winter (even those stored in the shed). The one survivor is this Dahlia ‘Bishop of Leicester’, which against all odds came through, despite being left to fend for itself in the border, with not so much as a thin mulch to keep it warm. It’s only now beginning to produce a good crop of flowers.

My ever-expanding collection of Cannas was also decimated by the cold winter (probably just as well – they were multiplying faster than the broomstick in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice!) Growth has been so slow in this (mostly) cool, damp summer, that none of the survivors have flowered yet. They’re running out of time.

The roses were late to flower this year too, and have only just started flowering again, after a lengthy break. These two are R. ‘Wollerton Old Hall’, a new addition thriving against a mostly shady garage wall, and R. ‘Munstead Wood’…

R. ‘Dame Judi Dench’ has proved to be the most consistent for flowers…

Looking at the successes, scabious sown from seed last year were slow to establish but are looking good now…

Geraniums are garden stalwarts, able to do well in most soils and conditions. This one is G. ‘Eureka’…

The single flowers are good for the bees too. As are Hylotelephiums (formerly Sedum) which are coming into their own now. This is Xenon…

Other plants that are having their moment in the limelight, at the end of the season, include Anemone (this is A. ‘Honorine Jobert’)…

And asters…

Which were actually renamed as Symphyotrichum (how those botanists love to make the lives of us horticulturalists difficult!) They seem to love our soil. Curiously Aster ‘Monch’ (which wasn’t renamed) has been sulking since I planted it three years ago.

Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ has been good this year…

And the Hesperantha’s (which used to be called Schizostylus – best keep to the common name of Kaffir Lily!) are going from strength to strength around (and even in) the pond…

I know from past experience they can be invasive. The clumps quickly become congested and less floriferous. I’ve found an easy way to keep them under control is to just pull out the flowered stems (before the seed is ripe, else they’ll set seed everywhere). A section of plant will generally come out with the stem, but that leaves the newer offsets, which will provide next year’s blooms, with space around them.

Another plant which thrives in the thin, sandy soil, is Gaura (which, you guessed it, has been renamed -it’s now Oenothera lindheimeri ‘Whirling butterflies’)…

It self-seeds everywhere, and creates clouds of small, white flowers on long stems. Very pretty, although it does tends to sprawl all over its neighbours.

Yarrow (Achillea) is a wildflower (or weed, if you prefer) that we let grow here and there in the garden…

This is the wild form of a widely grown cultivated plant. The flowers are actually almost as good as the cultivated varieties, though without the range of colours, and look good and last well in a vase. The foliage is attractive too.

It’s been a dreadful year for apples, with almost all the fruit affected by moth larvae, and many of the fruits small and not properly formed. Keeping wasps from destroying what harvest there is, has been a challenge. Conversely, the pears are having their best year so far. This variety is ‘Concorde’…

It’s been another challenging year. Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned from the variable conditions, and weather extremes, is to observe which plants hold up well in your garden, whatever the weather throws at them, stick with those, and introduce others that are related, or like similar conditions. Having said that, I do like a challenge!

text & photos © graham wright 2023

Wasps – addendum..

It seems that social wasps, vicious and armed-to-the-teeth as they may be, are not entirely without predators. I was driving out of the garage yesterday when something caught my eye. Not as large as even a small bird, but big enough to be seen at a distance of three metres or so, it turned out to be a spider running out from it’s lair in a pile of bricks on the driveway to grab something that had disturbed its web. Something black and yellow. I stopped the car and got out for a closer look. The spider held the wasp while it injected it with venom, and secured it in the web, then retreated to wait for the poison to take effect.

I was suitably impressed. This is what people call a house spider – probably because they like to live in your house. These are the large spiders that will run across your living room floor of an evening while you’re watching TV. The British Arachnological Society say they rarely bite, and when they do, it’s painless. For humans perhaps, but not, I suspect, for this wasp!

Some people are nervous of spiders. I can see why they might be spooked by the appearance of arachnids such as this one. Personally I find them fascinating, and now I’ve got used to the way they look, almost cute. Well, maybe not cute – cool, perhaps. There are many varieties of spiders, all of which are useful garden friends. They predate insects, many of which are garden pests, are food for birds, and do no harm to plants. Add to that their webs, which are fascinating, and can be very beautiful, particularly when covered in droplets of rain, dew, or even frost, and backlit by the low sun, and you can see why I’m so happy to see these lovable little creatures in my garden…

text & photo © graham wright 2023

Why the RHS is wrong about wasps…

The RHS is sticking to it’s story that wasps are beneficial insects…

From my own observations I would say that any positive contribution to the garden (and possibly the wider environment too) is outweighed by the harm they do. Firstly, they eat beneficial animals as well as pests. What’s more, they will kill anything that gets in their way. I’ve witnessed the mass murder of hoverflies and bees, with deaths in the hundreds, apparently because the wasps won’t tolerate competition for nectar from the plants they visit.

My own observation suggests wasps are not significant pollinators – more likely to eat flowers than to pollinate them (particularly roses). They were certainly nowhere to be seen when my fruit trees were in blossom, so did nothing to help generate the copious amounts of apples, pears, plums and damsons that formed. But now, before much of the fruit is even close to ripening, they’re systematically destroying the harvest…

The RHS says ‘damage to plants is limited, and mainly occurs in late summer…’ Limited’? They should see the state of my apples! And it’s not late summer yet. Maybe they’re out earlier because of the warm, dry weather in June (remember that?)

The same happened last year. I’ve taken action, through the organic method of using traps – glass jars with a piece of paper over the top, with a wasp-sized hole in it. The idea is the wasps go into the jar to get to the treat inside, and end up drowning in it…

The RHS suggested using a mixture of jam and water, and I’ve found this works well. The first jar caught perhaps fifty wasps. I tried beer, but while it caught some wasps, it was more attractive to flies and moths. For the latest refill, I’ve used a mixture of beer and jam (the wasp version of alco-pop?) As you can see, I’ve used foil, rather than paper, as it’s waterproof. There’s some question as to whether these traps actually attract more wasps, but I felt I had to try something, or there won’t be any apples left.

It wouldn’t be so bad if they chose one apple at a time, but of course, they wouldn’t dream of being so considerate. Instead, they burrow into numerous apples at a time which, in no time, start to go rotten before the wasps have made more than a small hole. At which point, they move on to fresh apples. So you can see, the entire crop is at risk.

‘Expert’ opinion generally seems to be that wasps will only sting if threatened. The trouble is, they seem to have a very low threat perception threshold. Get too close when they’re in the act of stealing your food (whether from your plate, the kitchen, or the orchard), and you’re seen as a threat.

Wasps are aggressive, irritable creatures, with a vindictive streak. Last year we were inundated with nests. The patio at the end of the garden was a no go area. We took our lives in our hands when we took garden or food waste to the compost. And even if we were lucky enough to get in or out of the front door without being stung, opening the door would let another half-a-dozen or so into the house. Eventually we succumbed, and called in the council pest controller.

I will just say (and I probably should have said it earlier), that not all wasps are the same. It’s the so-called ‘social’ wasps – Vespula species (otherwise known as ‘yellow jackets’) – that are the troublemakers. There are many species of solitary wasps which are not so troublesome. You wouldn’t want to be their prey mind. Many of them inject their eggs into the prey (often a caterpillar). The eggs hatch out, and the wasp larvae slowly eat the host from the inside out. While it’s still alive! That said, they don’t, as far as I’m aware, cause damage to plants, or harass us humans. Their pest control activities make them useful garden predators. Although many will eat spiders, which are very much a gardener’s friend. But then, no-one’s perfect…

text & images © graham wright 2023

Plant Mis-selling

In January, I bought two packs of Aconitum napellus ‘Album’ from a well known on-line plant nursery. There were three bare-rooted plants in each pack. They were for our green and white themed, shady border near to the house (‘Album’ being botanical Latin for white). Aconitum (or, Monkshood) are generally blue, but ‘Album’ is the white form.

As they were small, I potted them up and grew them on (initially in the greenhouse), planting them out once the frosts had stopped. They grew well, and began to form flower spikes. But it became clear fairly on they weren’t going to be white. The flowers are fully out now…

Oh dear! I’ve contacted the supplier, who were very good, and are processing a full refund, as they don’t have any replacements they can give me. And I can use these blue Aconitums elsewhere in the garden. So now I just need to source some white ones from somewhere. That, or find an alternative (white foxgloves could be an option).

Below is the border in early May, with the white ‘Purissima’ tulips and ‘Thalia’ daffodils still in flower. Okay, I know there are some blue flowers, which doesn’t fit the colour scheme, but rules are made to be broken! The flowers are pale blue, but the leaves of the Brunnera at least are white…

The planting is only just establishing. Two Pyracantha’s, a Viburnum x burkwoodii, and a Chimonanthus (yellow flowers, but in winter, when little else is out) will eventually hide the fence. Along the front edge, on the house side of the semi-raised pond, is a low hedge of Sarcococca, grown from cuttings taken from a single plant. The small white flowers are produced in the winter, and are very fragrant (which is why I put them by the house).

As you can see, the paths have been set out, but need to be levelled and paved. To save money, I’m doing the landscaping work myself, little by little when I can find the time which, at the moment, isn’t often. It’s a work in progress.

The perennial planting includes four ferns – Polystichum polyblepharum.

I’ve been disappointed how much they’ve suffered. The new croziers have been wiped out twice so far this year – once by the cold, and once by the hot sunny weather we had early on (the bed is not as shaded as it will be once the wall shrubs have established).

There six Bergenia ‘Bressingham White’, which flowered well (with, as you would expect, white flowers).

There are two Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’. At the moment they’re all foliage – the white flowers will appear later on. This is another plant which didn’t turn out as I expected, thanks to nursery mis-labelling.

Three Actaea (A. simplex ‘Brunette’) have lovely dark foliage that will stand out against the green shades of the other plants, and fragrant white flower spikes (which are quite late to flower).

Brunnera ‘Alchemy Silver’ has large, striking, silvery heart-shaped leaves. The flowers are pale blue, small, and similar to forget-me-nots. The blue doesn’t fit in with the white theme, but they appear in early spring, so I think that can be forgiven.

The planting looks sparse now, but in time it should expand and mesh together. I chose plants that flower at different times so that there will be flowers for most of the year. Contrasting colours, textures and leaf shapes make for a bed full of interest.

text & images © graham wright 2023

Trouble with Rabbits…

The gardening elite are increasingly stressing the importance of making our gardens accessible to, and beneficial for, wildlife. It’s a trend I’m pleased to support, because for too long us humans have been working against nature, and to the detriment of the environment (and ultimately, against our own welfare). With so much of the wider landscape being so inhospitable to indigenous creatures, our domestic gardens can potentially make up a vital network of nature reserves.

We should aim to create a balance in our gardens; a good mix of wildlife so that populations of pests are kept in check – we accept limited damage to our plants, in return for a diverse ecosystem, and a healthier environment.

All well and good, but for some wildlife, it’s not that simple. Some of the larger animals are really not compatible with our ideas of what makes a garden. Badgers can make an awful mess of a lawn. Deer will eat almost anything; including tree bark. And so will rabbits.

This is the first year we’ve had significant problems with rabbits, which is surprising considering we have farmland on three sides. Maybe it’s something to do with the regular sound of gunshots that ring out across the fields. That, or the foxes. Or the buzzards. This year though, I’ve noticed more rabbits down the lane. When I saw an adult rabbit on the lawn, I set about putting up fencing to keep them out. There were already various sizes of wire mesh fence around the boundary, in among the mixed field hedges. I added chicken wire, burying it as deep as I could to stop the bunnies from digging under. This seemed to work. Until one day I looked out and there were two baby rabbits! Here’s a shot from the 14th April, with one of the babies munching its way through self-seeded honesty…

Incredibly cute, but very destructive! I blocked up numerous points where they might be getting in. But nothing worked. And when I went out to chase them away, they would disappear, as if into thin air. And then, one day, I watched as one of them ran through my chicken wire fence as if it wasn’t there. It turns out a 50mm mesh isn’t fine enough!

I’ve been intermittently bolstering our defences, each time hopeful that I’ve finally done enough to keep them out… quickly to discover I’ve been unsuccessful. There’s just one, very persistent rabbit now. How ever much I try chasing him away, he never gets the message. Someone suggested buying an air rifle, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that; just look at him…

And yet, as the damage is mounting (raspberry canes, dogwood, the lower shoots and branches of the akebia (chocolate vine), sweet peas…) my inner Elmer Thud is straining to get out!

The rabbit is in the garden so much of the time (and active during the day – I thought they were largely nocturnal?) I’m wondering if there isn’t any point in sealing the garden – he’d be quite happy to live there permanently. There’s lot’s of cover to protect him from the buzzards, and no danger of been shot by the nasty farmer.

And if I am able to find where he’s getting in, when I seal it, how can I be sure he’s out, rather than in, the garden? I’ve had to put tree guards around the trunks of all of the trees. If the rabbit just ate the grass, he’d be welcome to share the garden.

I’m really not sure what to do next. Do I take away all the fences so that he can at least get out easily? Or will he just invite his friends round to join the party? Should I just accept that I’ll need to move towards plants that are largely rabbit proof?

If anyone has any ideas, I’d be very grateful…

text & images © graham wright 2023

Early flowers

The weather may still feel cold to me but, encouraged by the occasional day of sunshine, many of the plants are breaking into growth and into bloom. In the mini orchard, the plum tree is first off the mark, and full of blossom, which bodes well for a better crop than last year’s three plums (and one of those was rotten!)

The damson isn’t very far behind (so perhaps we’ll get some damsons this year), and the buds are about to burst on both of the apples, and both of the pears. It could be a good year for blossom.

In this exposed, rural location in North Shropshire, Pieris are a martyr to late frosts. But despite the cold winter, during which they sustained some damage, in terms of the new growth, it’s so far, so good…

The dainty white flowers are reminiscent of lily-of-the-valley, and the new shoots range from pink to bright red (and then brown, if caught by the frost). Here’s a random daffodil peeping through the evergreen canopy…

We’re well furnished for narcissus, of many varieties. Some precede our time. Others, like this clump of N. ‘Thalia’, were planted by us; spending their first year displayed in pots, and then being planted out into the beds to naturalise…

This Viburnum x burkwoodii is ahead of most shrubs, but then it is classed as semi-evergreen, which means it hangs on to some or all of its leaves, depending on how harsh the winter is. The new leaves are a lovely fresh, vibrant green. The flower clusters are pretty, but their main attribute (which I’m sorry I can’t share with you) is the beautiful scent they produce…

I’ve never been a fan of Skimmia, perhaps because so often when you see them in gardens they’re leggy and sparse, with yellowing leaves. But I have to admit this specimen, moved from the centre of the garden into our little woodland, is looking good…

Another plant I’ve taken a long time to come around to is Bergenia (elephants Ears). You need to regularly cut off the dead and dying leaves, or they look scrappy. You’ll often find them harbouring large colonies of snails (curiously though, these don’t seem to adversely affect the plants). And I’m not such a fan of the magenta-flowered varieties. But they are one of the few truly evergreen perennials. They’re one of the best ground cover plants too, doing a great job in suppressing weeds. The large, fleshy leaves are actually quite attractive – almost tropical. They’re evergreen (as previously stated) and yet the leaves also show autumn tints. And the flowers arrive at a time when few other perennials are in bloom.

This is one of the few white-flowered varieties, B. ‘Bressingham White’ (the clue’s in the name!) Seen from our kitchen window, I have to admit these are the perfect, pretty spring flowers.

Of all the perennials, these Ligularia (the evocatively named L. dentata ‘Midnight Lady’) are well advanced…

They like lots of moisture, so should be at home in the bog garden by the pond. I extended the pond liner into this area, punctured it with a fork, put a layer of slate chippings over it, and then put the topsoil back in. Even this wasn’t enough last summer, in 36 degrees and prolonged drought. Let’s hope for a better growing season this year (ideally nice and warm, but without the drought and extreme temperatures). I plan to tidy them up and cut out last years flowering spikes this weekend.

Naturalised tulips are beginning to bloom now too. This is ‘Purissima’…

I don’t much like the colour of these primulas, but they were in the garden already, and I couldn’t bring myself to throw them away…

We do have a few of the native yellow ones too. The rabbits got in and ate all the flowers, but so far my efforts to bolster the fencing have kept them out, and the primulas have pushed out new blooms.

One downside of rabbit-proof fencing is that it also excludes hedgehogs from the garden, which is a great shame. I want to encourage endangered wildlife, including hedgehogs. But I’m not prepared to sit back and watch the garden I’m lovingly creating be wrecked by rabbits (however cute they may be – and believe me, the two baby rabbits we watched playing in our woodland were unbelievably cute).

The last thing I want to share with you is this amazing little alpine plant, which has been flowering pretty much right through the winter, with the help of some occasional dead-heading. I have to admit when it comes to alpines, there are big gaps in my knowledge, so I can’t tell you what it is. Just when you might have thought it was exhausted, it doubles its efforts. Its been joined, in a happy accident, by a little patch of aubretia (not sure where that came from!)…

text & images © graham wright 2023

Signs of spring

It’s now officially spring, and though you wouldn’t know it from the weather, new growth is breaking out across the garden, mostly in the form of spring bulbs. There are still some snowdrops around, but they’re fading fast. Various types of crocuses are out now (though the Crocus tomasinianus in the lawn have been and gone).

We’ve got various clumps of the small, early, tete-a-tete daffodils; most of which were in the garden before we arrived . Most have been relocated as we’ve been implementing the new design.

I rescued a number of dark-flowered hellebores from the back of overgrown beds, and reset them as under-planting to hydrangeas and a paperbark maple…

Elsewhere, this is what we refer to as our woodland – a small patch of ground in the shade of the house and the chicken enclosure, beneath an unusually aged lilac tree. It’s where we amalgamated many of the rhododendrons that were scattered around the garden when we arrived, along with a few pieris. Our soil is neutral rather than acidic; sandy, and not exactly humus-rich, so it’s perhaps rather surprising that ericaceous plants seem to do so well in this area.

One large section of the lilac died last year, and I suspect the rest of the plant won’t be far behind it. We dug out huge quantities of the ‘bootlaces’ (technically rhizamorphs) of honey fungus that flourished in this area, around a decaying tree stump, but inevitably we couldn’t get them all. We have the most common form of honey fungus (Armillaria gallica) which is very good at finishing off trees and shrubs that are weak, or coming to the end of their life. So I’ve planted a replacement in the space that has opened up: a Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Slender silhouette’. This is a columnar tree, so it gives height without taking up too much space. It has glossy lobed leaves which turn the most amazing colours in autumn. Some sources claim it’s resistant to honey fungus (although the RHS says it’s susceptible!)

Many of our new trees, including the fruit trees in the orchard (it’s an orchard if you’ve got five trees, and we’ve got six, even if they are small) are budding. This is a plum. Last year it produced only three plums. If the buds are anything to go by, it should be a better harvest this year…

The roses are shooting too. They are mostly young plants, but I’m hoping they really come into their own this year…

And this tree peony is well ahead of most woody plants in the garden…

The plants are ready for the growing season to start in earnest, and I can’t wait. All we need now is for the weather to get the message!

text & images © Graham Wright

Sansevieria cylindrica

This plant was given to us as an off-shoot of an office plant, by the contractor that looked after them (and was visiting to tidy them up and replace as necessary). It’s a curious cultivar of ‘Mother-in-law’s tongue’ (or, ‘unspecified parent-in-law’s tongue’, as I believe it’s now more politically correctly called), with dark green, mottled leaves that are roughly cylindrical. The leaves want to splay outward, taking up a lot of space – this is a plant with sharp elbows.

This specimen is in our conservatory, wedged between two window frames to keep it constrained. For some time now it’s been producing what, after an unpromising start, has turned into an impressive flower spike.

The individual, cream-coloured flower tubes have a faint, rather dry and fruity fragrance to them. Apparently the plant is known for being very easy to care for (some sites call it indestructible!) It will take full sun, or shade. In our conservatory it’s in sun all morning, so perhaps it’s this that provoked it to bloom.

This plant, along with some of our others, has suffered an infestation of fungus gnats (also known as sciarid flies). These little blighters are a menace. The tiny grubs live in the compost until they hatch out. Expert advice is that they do little harm, feeding on the microscopic fungi that lives among the compost. But who wants to have clouds of tiny flies in their house? Contrary to expert opinion, I know from first-hand experience they sometimes eat plant roots too – I once had a cactus collapse, and on further investigation discovered it was being consumed from the inside out by wriggling sciarid fly grubs!

Fungus gnats seem to love peat-free compost – presumably because it contains a lot of fungus. A thick layer of gravel on the surface can discourage them. Watering from below helps too, as they seem less likely to lay their eggs in dry compost. You used to be able to get systemic insecticide pins (definitely a tool of last resort), but even those don’t seem to be available now. These insects are ubiquitous outside in the UK, so as soon as you open a window you’re inviting them into your home.

Oh, the trials of growing house plants!

text & photos © graham wright 2023

Bodnant in winter

What was planned as an invigorating visit to Bodnant gardens in North Wales, to see glowing stems and frosted seed heads lit up by the low winter sun, turned out to be a rather grey, damp affair with icy rain. Never trust a weather forecast.

It started bright enough, but driving along the A55 – the coast road – we could see heavy cloud and obliterating showers banked up just out to sea. The cloud was beginning to move in as we parked, but the sun was still lighting up the snow-covered Snowdonia hills to the south.

A carpet of golden-yellow leaves beneath a Ginko biloba.

By the time we were through the turnstiles the rain was just starting. Luckily, Bodnant provide umbrellas – nice bright yellow ones that make it look as though the sun’s shining even when it isn’t. For a while, the rain was light, and intermittent, and the sun peeped out very briefly now and then.

Blue hydrangea blooms looking incongruous against the surface of a pond speckled with autumn leaves – I suspect these flowers came when the plant burst back into life after being cut back by the extraordinary heatwave.

Bodnant has a winter garden, full of plants that look good at this time of year. Evergreen Daphne bholua had some flowers, with more to come, though they were too frosted to release any of the scent for which this plant is famous. Colourful stems of Cornus (dogwood) ranged from pale green (C. sericea ‘Flaviramea’), through fiery orange-red C. sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ to dark red C. alba ‘Kesselringii’. There were ghostly white arcs of Rubus cockburnianus, plenty of berries and seed heads, and ethereal, structural remains of grasses from Molinia to Miscanthus to Calamagrostis. Beautifully textured and coloured trunks of deciduous trees included the deep red, burnished Prunus serrula, shining white Betula utilis ‘Jacquemontii’ (Himalayan birch), the coppery peeling bark of Acer griseum (paperbark maple), and, a Snakebark maple that was new to me; Acer x conspicuum ‘Phoenix’, with orange-red trunk and branches.

Opposite the main restaurant, Prunus serrula rise from a thicket of Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’, the leaves of which are rather an insipid green during the growing season, but take on impressive autumn colours (and, as you can see, stay on the plants for a long time).

At Bodnant, there are plenty of evergreens to act as a backdrop to all those bright highlights. Having acid soil, the garden is well-furnished with rhododendrons and camellias, as well as more tender specimens such as Callistemon (bottlebrush) and arbutus unedos (strawberry tree). Pines, both small and large, work particularly well in the winter garden; providing a dense, finely textured background to stems, grasses, trunks and berries, and at Bodnant, they make good use of these.

A group of three Acer x conspicuum ‘Phoenix’ give a splash of colour among evergreens and pale stems. The spidery flowers of the Hamamelis (witch hazel) on the left are getting ready to bloom, and should be out soon.

The sun did come out weakly now and then, as you can see from the pictures, but I didn’t take many photos – I didn’t want the camera to get too wet, and I was counting on the weather clearing later on. But by the time we’d had lunch in the cafe by the garden centre, the rain had set in and it was as dark as dusk, so I never got that low winter sunlight I’d been hoping for. Never mind; there’s always next year!

Text & photos © graham wright 2022