The July Garden at Aberglasney
Well here we are in July with already half the year gone and our gardens hopefully in their high-summer colours and scents. There is still lots of garden work to be done in July but with the long summer evenings there is also time to relax, perhaps even entertain if we can remember how to and most of all to enjoy all that the garden has to offer.
As I sit in our garden writing this blog in the last few days of June I am still enjoying and admiring some of our June ‘stars’. The Foxgloves, for example, have been marvellous and even more so because most are self-seeded plants of the native Foxglove, Digitalis purpurea. Most produce their glorious spikes of pink-purple flowers which always seem to be humming with bees in different places each year as we leave most seedlings to grow where they germinate. One plant in particular has amazed us with as many as nine flower spikes on just the one plant which is most unusual. It appears to be a common Foxglove with the flowers on just one side of the flowering shoot but unusually these shoots are a dark, purple-black as opposed to the more usual green stems. Possibly it is an offspring of cross-pollination between a common Foxglove and one of the cultivars which we also grew last year. However it occurred it is certainly a splendid plant and I will look out for dark-stemmed ones next year and beyond. Another star plant has been an Astrantia cultivar, Astrantia x maxima ‘Roma’ (Hattie’s Pin Cushion), which at the time of writing is covered in over a hundred pink flowers as well as a considerable number of honey bees.
The Foxglove with several flower spikes and dark stems. / Astrantia x maxima ‘Roma’
Within the last two years we planted a species of Valerian, Valeriana officinalis, and this year we have a second plant in flower as well as several seedlings dotted around the garden. Of course if it was the native Red Valerian, Centranthus ruber, which you often seen in gravel areas and on or at the base of stone walls we would have seedlings everywhere but this plant is much better behaved in a garden setting. The flower heads are up at the height of the Foxglove flowers which is a perfect height for enjoying the sweet perfume of the flattish heads of tiny pink buds and white flowers. If I may be allowed just one more star plant for June it has to be the humble Mountain Knapweed, sometimes referred to as the perennial Cornflower, Centaurea montana . This has been in flower for the whole of the month with its deep blue, reddish-centred, star-shaped flowers which are often covered in bees. Once it has finished this first flush of flowers we cut it back hard to ground level, give it a good water and wait for it to regrow and flower again later in the summer or even autumn.
Valeriana officinalis on the edge of the pond Centaurea montana
In support of these star performers I have to mention the role played by our hardy Geraniums of which we have at least ten different species and cultivars in flower at this time of year. If I haven’t yet persuaded you to add some of these to your own garden then I have been failing in my mission so please give them a try, you won’t be disappointed. Surprisingly other supporting plants this June have been the Roses which in normal Junes are stars in their own right. Ours are around two weeks behind where they normally are by this time due to the weather earlier in the year but the good news is that they will be still at their best as we get into July. I would also like to give a mention at this point for two flowering herbs which have been fabulous for us and for the bees all through the month, Sage (Salvia officinalis) and Chives (Allium schoenoprasum). Both of these have been full of flower for the whole month and look as though they will continue to do so into July.
Salvia officinalis The well-named Geranium magnificum
However, enough about our garden, what about the garden at Aberglasney which I hope you enjoyed reading about last month and if you did manage a visit of your own I am sure you will have thoroughly enjoyed your time there. We are members and for a very reasonable annual fee we are able to visit for free as many times as we like and what always strikes us is how quickly the garden changes as one group of plants gives way to another almost seamlessly. By mid-June, for example, the woodland Bluebells had almost completely finished as had the Camassias in the meadow and the Azaleas in the Asiatic garden but the garden was still full of colour and interest from Alliums, Foxgloves, Salvias, Delphiniums, Candelabra Primulas, Flowering Dogwoods (Cornus), Roses and the wonderful Poppies in the wild flower meadow. In July many of these will still be flowering well and will be joined by a whole host of other plants some of which have only recently been planted out as part of the summer bedding schemes. This is certainly the case in the corner bed at the entrance to the gardens which in spring was full of stately Tulips within a sea of Forget-me-nots. As we enter July it has been replanted as a ‘hot bed’ with Salvia, Dahlia, Canna, Fuchsia and Banana (Musa and Ensete) and will soon be a riot of reds, blues and purples. Just inside the entrance is a perfect example of traditionally a June flowering shrub, Philadelphus, which this year is only now coming into flower. There are several others in different parts of the garden for you to enjoy the beautiful, white and highly scented flowers. There are also many Deutzias around the gardens, the same family as Philadelphus, which will also be flowering well in July in pinks and white but unfortunately without scent.
The recently planted ‘entrance bed’ One of several Philadelphus
On the walk down towards the mansion on the left is a shady border at the base of a high stone wall over which a small stream trickles water down a wonderful ‘wall’ of moss. This is an almost entirely green border dominated by Ferns and Mosses and as such is a very calm and reflective part of the garden. Opposite and all along the front of the north face of the mansion are a row of plants which in July demand more attention. These are the large, bright green leaves and white spathes of Arisaema. These are tuberous perennials from China, Japan and North America and are related to our own Arum ‘lilies’. For me they are rather too exotic but at the entrance to the mansion with its magnificent portico they certainly give an impression of grandeur and importance.
The fern bed to the east side of the house One of the exotic Arisaema
Within the building itself is an even more exotically planted area, the Ninfarium. This is a garden created in this century, is entirely unique and even had a new name created for it! The impression from the outside views of the north wall of the mansion with its portico and the west side overlooking the Cloister Garden is that the whole of the building has been restored to its former glory. However, this is not the case as the south and east sides which were the service wings had fallen into disrepair much faster than the rest of the property. There was also originally a central courtyard which over the years had been encroached upon by Victorian improvements. By the beginning of this century what was left was a patchwork of stone work and windows of various ages and styles, all of which were in a very rundown condition and beyond a full restoration. An ingenious solution was devised to glaze over and plant up the ruinous inner courtyard and derelict south wing and the work started in the autumn of 2004 and was opened to much acclaim in August, 2005. However, the new garden needed a new name which came from a visit to Italy which Graham Rankin made at the suggestion of philanthropist Frank Cabot. This was to the stunningly romantic garden of Ninfa, once a prosperous town to the south east of Rome but which was largely destroyed in the fourteenth century. Here was a garden with crumbling walls swathed in luxuriant vegetation and so the name ‘Ninfarium’ was born. Most of its plants are not well known to me but I do recognise some of our present day house plants and Palms as well as admiring the Orchids which adorn the walls and even some of the larger plants. It is a magical place and is always well worth a stroll through for its sights and scents as well as at times for shelter from the Welsh weather!
Inside the Ninfarium
The Ginger Lily, Alpina zerumbet A Begonia, I believe, but a bit larger than normal!
Back outside in the Cloister Garden the border below the terrace is a mass of Rosa gallica var. officinalis (the Apothecary’s Rose or the Red Rose of Lancaster). This is a very open rose which bees love and also has the most beautiful scent. Around the grass parterre the Citrus trees are now out for the summer in their very attractive lead planters and on the Parapet Walk side of the Cloister the bed has just been planted up with some tender annuals and perennials including Salvia, Cosmos, Daucus and Ammi. This bed was originally planted with Lavandula angustifolium but not surprisingly this didn’t like the rather moist Welsh winters and was removed after a few years!
Rosa gallica var. officinalis and the terrace on the west side of the mansion
The Upper Walled Garden by the end of June has changed considerably since the beginning of the month but is still full of colour and interest. Some of the Peonies are still in flower as are the large-flowered Alliums, the smaller ones now showing their seed heads which will last well into the summer. The height given by the purple-leaved Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’) is now being provided by the yellow-flowered Thalictrums, the first of the blue spikes of Delphiniums and some large clumps of the Giant Oat (Stipa gigantea). Nearer the ground the colour is from blue Nepeta (Catmint) and Salvia, blue and pink Geraniums and some yellow Day Lilies (Hemerocallis). The large clumps of pink-flowered Thalictrums are still in their bud stage but during July they will also add both height and colour.
Salvia, Allium and Paeonia The Giant Oat, Stipa gigantea and some of the many Geraniums
The walls themselves are also clothed in a whole array of plants including Roses and Clematis but one in particular caught our eye, the yellow-flowered Pineapple Broom (Cytisus battandieri). Just one whiff of its sweet perfume will convince you that it is well named! The larger wall plants are either true climbers or tied onto supporting wires but there are a few other plants which are actually growing in or on the walls. Two of these we grow in our gravel bed, the Ivy-leaved Toadflax (Cymbalaria muralis) with its small leaves and pink flowers and Erigeron karvinskianus with its pretty pink and white daisy flowers. Another plant also caught our eye growing out of the top of the walls in places which appeared to be a white-flowered Antirrhinum.
The Pineapple Broom, Cytisus battandieri Erigeron karvinskianus
Looking west through the arch to the Lower Walled garden Looking back towards the mansion
From the Upper Walled Garden there is a gateway through to the Lower Walled Garden but we tend to leave through an arch in the south wall which leads into the Alpinum. At this point a white-flowered rose really grabs the attention as it has grown up and over the south-west corner walls and into a nearby Holly tree. This rose doesn’t have much of a scent but other roses just beyond the gateway certainly do.
The Alpinum always has some plants of interest and two in particular demand attention at this time of year, a striking blue-flowered Lithodora and a dark-pink Helianthemum (Rock Rose) are to be found alongside the stepped walkway up the slope.
From the top of the Alpinum it is easy enough to work your way to the lower edge of the Rose Garden. A whole range of climbing and rambling roses have been planted on a series of arches making up a spectacular Rose Tunnel. It is a great place in June and July to choose a rose or roses for you own garden. The ones on show have all been chosen to do well in our west Wales climate and are all clearly labelled. It is difficult to choose a favourite but Teresa is always drawn first to a David Austin rose that by some remarkable coincidence has been named after me- yes, of course it is Rosa ‘The Generous Gardener’! It is pale pink with a darker centre, is a reliable repeat flowerer and has a wonderful scent. The other roses here are planted into the beds which flank the Tunnel and many are old-fashioned Shrub roses which produce fragrant, colourful blooms and often attractive hips to follow, are generally resistant to diseases and only require a light prune in February/March. Filling the space between the demanding roses are excellent companion plants that don’t compete too much for food and water such as Nepeta and Geranium.
At the top of the Rose Garden the visitor enters the stream and woodland area which forms part of Bishop Rudd’s Walk. By July the lower part of this area is full of large-leaved plants which enjoy the moisture and shade here. The Rogersias with their striking palmate leaves and almost fluffy pink or white flowers stand out as does the Aruncus (Goat’s Beard) with their masses of white plumes.
Rogersia Aruncus (Goat’s Beard)
Some really striking plants which have been growing very tall and straight over the last couple of months are by July starting to come into flower. These are the weird but strangely wonderful Cardiocrinum giganteum which literally will stop you in your tracks. Their large, trumpet-like white flowers at the top of a tall, straight stem give a truly exotic feel to the garden at this time of year and also later when they turn into equally fascinating seed heads. Higher up the slopes here the Hardy Orchids are even better than they were in June. The Trilliums have unfortunately finished flowering but they will soon be replaced by several varieties of Lily (Lilium).
Cardiocrinum giganteum The promise of Lilies to come
The path from here leads further upslope towards the Asiatic Garden and at the top of the small ravine the planting is quite spectacular with large-leaved plants such as Hostas down by the stream and masses of brightly coloured Candelabra Primulas higher up. There is also a large area of Ferns where the path crosses the stream which are unfurling their beautiful fronds almost before your eyes!
The view down from the top of the ravine
In the Asiatic Garden itself the spring flowers of Rhododendron, Azalea and Camellia have gone but the backbone of Japanese Maples still gives a great show which is punctuated in places by some late-flowering yellow Magnolias and both at the top and bottom of the area some very impressive flowering Dogwoods (Cornus kousa). One in particular caught our eye with its creamy flowers (actually bracts) standing against a background of purple leaves on Cercis canadensis var. texensis ‘Merlot’. On the far side of the Asiatic garden overlooking the car park is a fairly new wild flower meadow which in the second half of June has been transformed from a green carpet into a sea of yellow, red and orange poppies, small white Ox-eye daisies and some blue Borage flowers. The whole area as you can imagine is humming with insect life. At this point if you are interested in how to make your own compost just walk along to the far end of the meadow where you will find a welcome bench and some information boards on compost making which as you can imagine is vital to the maintenance of a garden like Aberglasney.
A Flowering Dogwood and purple-leaved Cercis / The impressive wildflower meadow
From here we usually wander back towards the Cloister Garden, the Pool and the Tearooms. The water lilies in the pool are beginning to come into flower at the end of June and it is always worth looking out for Wagtails, both Pied and Grey, which use the lilies as stepping stones in their search for insect food. In fact if you like watching birds, as we do, Aberglasney is a good place to see a variety of different species. At this time of year you might be lucky enough to get a glimpse of Spotted Flycatchers which unfortunately are not as common as they once were. They are summer visitors from Africa and tend to perch on the edges of the trees before taking off and catching their insect prey on the wing, often returning to the same perch. On the Tearoom side of the Pool Garden the border was replanted when the risk of frost had passed with a summer bedding scheme consisting of Dahlia, Salvia, Geranium maderense ‘Guernsey White’ and several different grasses. During July it will be filling out nicely but will probably be at its best in August. However, just around the corner by the greenhouse the border there is looking really good now especially with the striking large-flowered Alliums making a real impact.
The newly planted Pool Garden border Water lilies (Nymphea) in the pool
The Sunken Garden which is almost hidden away between some of the old estate buildings is also in full flower at this time of year both around the pool and along the Wisteria Arch with the Salvias and Geraniums in particular catching the eye.
The Wisteria Tunnel in the Sunken Garden / Geranium psilostemon
Back in the main garden the walk down to the Stream and Woodland Garden is as impressive in July as it has been for the whole of June except that everything is so much bigger! The Astilbe, Aruncus and Hosta are all real giants by this time and flowering well and the Ferns provide a dramatic, light green backdrop with the Candelabra Primulas producing a ‘hit’ of strong colours. Two plants in particular stood out for us, a lovely flowering Dogwood with its large, white bracts and an interesting plant which we grow in our own garden which Teresa refers to as the ‘Dinosaur’ plant. It is actually a Persicaria (formally Polygonum), P. ‘Purple Dragon’ which is fairly obvious once the small pink flowers come out in June and July. For us though it is the leaf which attracts us with its arrow-shape and purple markings. We grow it on the edge of our gravel bed in the slightly deeper soil which it seems to like. It dies down completely in the winter and then erupts forth in spring with great vigour. This year some of its new growth was caught by a frost but it soon recovered and now looks as good as ever.
Plenty of growth in stream area! The ‘Dinosaur’ plant, Persicaria ‘Purple Dragon’
Further down the slope in the woodland and along the stream the spring flowers are over and it is green which dominates making quite a contrast with other parts of the garden where flower colour is more dominant. Along the stream itself there is almost a jungle-like feel as the large leaves of the Skunk Cabbage and the even larger ones of Gunnera compete for attention. There is also one tree with strikingly large leaves which I think is a Paulownia. I have never seen this one in flower but there is a wonderful specimen of P. tormentosa (the Foxglove Tree) at Hergest Croft near Kington which has large, foxglove-like, pinkish-lilac, fragrant flowers in late spring.
Our usual route back from the woodland to the main gardens takes us across the stream and up towards the Lower Walled Garden. Here the gardening team have been really busy over the last few weeks sowing and planting vegetables, herbs and flowers for cutting and as a result the whole garden has been filling up rapidly. Lots of fruit is also forming on the Crab Tree Tunnel, the Apple and Pear ‘Belgian Fence’ and the Apple Step-overs. There is also a very old Apple which is the only survivor from the original kitchen garden. It still stands despite its hollow trunk and it provides an interesting centre point for the garden but unfortunately is not very productive. In front of the west wall with its Apples and Pears is a very colourful flower border with some impressive herbaceous perennials including some beautiful oriental poppies.
A beautiful oriental Poppy in the Lower walled Garden and a Peony in the Upper Walled Garden
From this lower garden it is always worth another look at the Upper Walled Garden just through the archway from which it is easy to access the Tearooms, the Mansion itself in which there are often Art and Craft displays and the plant sales and shop back near the car park.
I hope you have enjoyed our July visit to the gardens and that you might be tempted to make a visit in person. You would be made very welcome by the staff and volunteers who are always happy to chat and answer questions if they can. Head Gardener, Joseph Atkin, is also usually round and about and knows more than anyone about the plants, plantings and plans for the future.
I will be back in August to see what the garden has to offer in that month but before I end will take you through a few of our gardening jobs for July. Watering is one of the more obvious tasks for this month especially for new plants, those in containers and the fruit and vegetable areas preferably with rain water if you can. Deadheading is another task which needs to be done on a regular basis. This not only keeps the plants looking good but will also encourage more flowers to form. In the vegetable plot or pots we try to pick produce when it is still young, fresh and tasty rather than leaving it on the plant for too long. At the beginning of the month we have started to pick Sugar Snap peas, the Broad Bean pods are filling up nicely and we are looking forward to our first potatoes of the year. In the greenhouse the tomatoes are growing well with plenty of flowers on the lower trusses and we are keeping them well-watered, shaded from the hot sun when necessary and are damping down on hot afternoons to keep the humidity up. This just means watering the base of the greenhouse to allow evaporation to take place which also helps to keep temperatures down and discourages pests like Red Spider Mite which much prefer dry conditions. To deter Whitefly, another greenhouse pest, we grow some French Marigolds alongside the tomatoes and their strong scent hides that of the tomatoes and hopefully fools the Whitefly! The other vital thing for the greenhouse in July is good ventilation so for us the door and louvre window are open all day and the automatic roof window opens as the temperature rises. For a more detailed set of jobs have a look at the list given in the blog archives for July 2019 and for what we will be doing in our own garden the blog for July 2020 which for some reason you will find under June 2020!
Until the next blog continue to stay safe, enjoy your garden, get out there and relax in it and get to Aberglasney and the Old Railway Line if you can.