Kidney Vetch on Constitution Hill

by The Curious Scribbler,

Blue sky, blue sea and green Alexandra hall encased in scaffolding.

Today’s  brilliant May sunshine is so welcome after the humid mist of the last few days and the months of rain which preceded it.   Dare we hope that we are to be rewarded with a lovely summer?  My excursion along the Prom took me to the foot of Constitution HIll, where a small path zig zags up towards the bridge over the funicular railway.  The winter storms have removed quite a bit of this path above the shore and a new footway is beginning to be eroded on the slope above the missing bits.  Just now though, it passes a sea of pale yellow. The dominant plant here is the Kidney vetch Anthyllis vulneraria. 

Footpath up the hill

Perhaps the grey days have diminished my recall but I don’t remember ever seeing it look so lovely.  Later in the season the slope will be bright with pink and white valerian, which I remember well, but just now it is the Kidney Vetch and bright patches of clear white Sea Campion Silene uniflora which catch the attention.   I looked both flowers up Arthur Chater’s magnificent Flora of Cardiganshire, and was interested to note that he comments that flowering of Kidney Vetch varies greatly from year to year.  Surely this horrid winter must have been just the tonic it required.

Kidey Vetch and Sea Campion

 

The distribution map for the occurrence  of Kidney Vetch forms an almost uninterrupted  black line along the coast of Ceredigon, and indeed he comments that it is almost always found within 100 yards of the sea.  What a contrast with its bed fellow the Sea Campion,which ventures far inland, flowering blithely on the toxic spoil heaps of the old lead and silver mines,and on the shingle of the Rheidol  and Ystwyth rivers.  Plants which flourish where others fail to thrive sometimes attract superstition, and it has some odd alternative names.  Dead Man’s Bells or Witches Thimbles.  There is a folk tradition that if picked it brings death.  As a child I enjoyed popping the bladder-like calyces as if they were tine balloons and I’m still living!

Kidney Vetch by contrast has the folk seal of approval, used by medieval herbalists to relieve swelling and heal wounds, and to treat problems of the stomach and the kidney. One can also eat it apparently, both the young leaves and the small pea like pods,  but I hope it will be left for everyone to enjoy.

The double-headed flowers of Kidney Vetch

 

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A Gigantic Puffball

by The Curious Scribbler

I like to think I am quite observant but yesterday I discovered to my chagrin that I had been walking my dog regularly past the largest puffball fungus I have ever seen.   To give it its proper name   Calvatia  gigantea must have emerged as a huge white blob in the depths of a bed of nettles late last summer. It would have been somewhat obscured by the growth around it until the nettles died back in winter. If I noticed it  at all I suppose I must have dismissed it as a pale boulder lying on the surface of the field.

Then yesterday, after rain, my attention was attracted by a big irregular brown object, beaded with raindrops and with a fragment broken away at one side.  Too big to be a poo of any known animal, but with a strangely smooth internal texture.  I poked it with a stick, expecting it to be hard.  Instead is proved to be extremely soft and light, and rolled away at a touch.

This fruiting body or gleba contains literally trillions of spores, ready to be released into the wind.  It grows from the underground mycelia with a narrow neck which eventually breaks allowing it to roll around like an oversized football.  I found the patch of bare earth nearby where it has until recently sat, like a large stone, inhibiting the grass roots underneath.  It is cleverly designed by nature to stay dry so that the spores can blow away.  The fungus is so water repellent that the rain stands in tight globular droplets on the surface. The leathery skin which formerly contained it has peeled away except on the lower surface.

Water droplets bead the upper surface of the giant puffball

The under surface of the puffball

Far lighter than a loaf of bread and as soft as a sponge we lifted it and turned it over to admire its form.  Tapping any part of it with a stick released clouds of spores into the air.

Calvatia gigantea releases millions of spores into the air

This remarkable fungus would have been edible if I had spotted it in summer when it was firm and white.  Now mature and brown it has no culinary use, but I have read that the mature spongy material used to be sliced into layers and used for wound dressing, especially for veterinary purposes.  It was valued for its  styptic effect, stopping bleeding and encouraging coagulation.  This 18 inch monster would dress quite a few wounds.

I found a second much small puffball still in situ nearby.  The thin leathery skin had only just started to peel away from the upper surface to reveal spore tissue beaded in water.  Where the skin is intact, the water just runs off it like a gaberdine.

A much smaller giant puffball still mainly covered with its waterproof skin

Surprisingly little is known about giant puffballs.  They occur rarely and unexpectedly and even where they have been found another may not be seen for many years.  It is thought that they perhaps take their nutrients symbiotically from the grasses or other plants,  rather than saprophytically from rotting wood.  They are not found amongst trees. The underground network to produce this huge growth must be substantial. We know very little about these fungal networks.

The excitement of finding my gigantic puffball is matched by another winter mystery, the Crystal brain fungus or star jelly I wrote about last year.  A number of local people have posted pictures of this material recently.  We may be exploring space, but we still do not know exactly what these gelatinous masses are and whether they come from fungi, meteor showers or vomited frogs.

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Needed – A conservation saviour for Tanycastell land

by The Curious Scribbler

Barely had I returned from the walk around Pendinas when the news emerged of the imminent sale of the magnificent meadow and marshland which abuts Tanybwlch beach.  For long this land had belonged to farmer Lewis Jones of Ynyshir and Tanycastell farms,  – a man with an unenviable reputation for livestock neglect – and limited enthusiasm for SSSIs.  Following his death a couple of years ago the most coastal part of Tanycastell farm has now been put on the market with estate agents Aled Ellis.

The area for sale is the stony barrier spit and three coastal fields south of the river Ystwyth and the steeply sloping meadow which clothes Alltwen cliff.  According to the particulars the 153 acres has a guide price of £1.4 million,  an average of £9150 an acre.   This seems a substantial sum.  Seventy seven acres is described as level pasture but the particulars omit to mention that part of it floods regularly and it is reverting below Tanybwlch mansion to salt marsh.  With rising sea levels it was already  resolved twenty years ago that the Tanyblwch flats cannot be protected from the sea.  A further  63 acres of Alltwen is described as sheepwalk.   This  perhaps overstates the case, for the land ownership extends to high tide mark so almost 1/3 of the Alltwen land area is cliff and tumbled former quarry inhospitable even to a mountain goat!

I worry deeply that this high price is not unconnected with the final words in the particulars:    The land will also be of interest to investors, statutory bodies and conservationists in additional to those who wish to develop a commercial enterprise (subject to planning) on the Southern fringes of Aberystwyth.

By a miracle Tanybwlch land has escaped a number of commercial enterprises. The previous owner was Col. Lewis Pugh who bought it in hope of installing Aberystwyth airport there, and on failing to secure the necessary investment sold it in the 1960s to Lewis Jones.    Some 35 years ago  I was one of the objectors who fought off the proposal to install a sewage maceration plant which would mince Aberystwyth’s sewage and discharge it, still rich in microbes, a little further out to sea. ( Thankfully a state of the art  treatment plant was instead built on the Rheidol Industrial estate, and our sea is the better for it).

But what commercial horrors might now threaten this beautiful piece of land?  We must hope that our planning authority would be equal to the task of fending off development.   This is a piece of land which richly deserves a conservationist owner.  The Alltwen and Traeth Tanybwlch SSSI  (Site of Special Scientific Interest) represents the rare and specialist coastal flora of the shingle beach.  Sea holly, sea sandwort, restharrow and horned poppy are among the most conspicuous of an elite flora and Ray’s knotgrass one of the rarest. The sheepwalk above is one of the finest locations for waxcaps and the remarkable Devil’s Fingers  fungi in the county.  Wheatear and rock pipit nest on the stony shore, and choughs, peregrines and  ravens frequent the cliffs.

As climate changes it is becoming even more diverse.  With rising seas and fiercer storms the south west corner at the foot of Alltwen now forms a shallow lagoon for long periods of the winter, and the pool is visited by teal, widgeon, mallard, redshank, curlew, lapwing, heron, little egret and migrating geese.  The vegetation is already changing to saltmarsh, and if the land drains were blocked, a marsh as important as the Dyfi will soon develop.  One day the shingle spit may be entirely breached and the river Ystwyth may resume an earlier course towards the sea.

Flooding of Tanybwlch flats after Storm Dennis in 2020

The sea deposited loads of sand over the shingle bar and into the fields February 2022

All this nature and beauty on the very doorstep of Aberystwyth is a magnificent asset and with a more specific designation could bring yet more visitors to the town.  Lying between Pendinas, the finest hillfort in the county and the wooded slopes of the original Aberystwyth Castle, and skirted by the Welsh Coastal Path,  these fields are an incomparably important part of the scenery and must be protected.    A conservation saviour is urgently required.

Alltwen cliff   May 2020.  In autumn and winter the slope is rich with fungi

Scenes like this one during Storm Dennis  in February 2020 will much reduce its viability as farmland

The permanent lagoon which tries to form each winter  would  further enhance the area. 

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A walk round Pendinas

by The Curious Scribbler

I was one of thirty people who joined Beca Davies, Project Community Outreach Officer for the Pendinas Hillfort Archaeology Project, on a relaxed evening stroll around the lower slopes of Pendinas yesterday evening.

We met at the gate in Parc Dinas, traversed the middle path across the flank of the hill and returned on the lower path past the horse field and across the former rubbish dump.  Stopping at intervals along the route Beca  and Richard Suggett contributed their knowledge and further insights emerged from the group.

The Wellington monument, which stands within the iron age hill fort, was the brainchild of William Eardley Richardes of Bryneithin.  Richard Suggett reminded us that public subscription had been limited and  as a result the proposed equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington was never placed on top of the gun barrel column.  This is perhaps not surprising in view of the fact that it was not constructed until 1856, forty years after the  battle of Waterloo!  William E Richardes had, as a young officer, served in the army of occupation after the victory, but this was a monument stimulated by the death of the Duke of Wellington aged 83 in 1852.  Possibly local interest in him had considerably waned by this time. More significantly the monument was sited such as to form a splendid eyecatcher when viewed from William’s home at Bryneithin!   Today it would be considered very poor taste to erect a modern monument on top of such an important ancient site!

We looked out, across the Tanybwlch flats and its palimpsest of the trotting races etched on the grass, towards the tree-fringed hill top which is the site of the original Aberystwyth castle.  This was Gilbert de Clare’s ring and bailey castle with a wooden stockade, built in about 1110 AD and repeatedly fought over by the Welsh and the Norman invaders.  Llywelyn Fawr took it back in 1221 and later built a stronger fortification on the stony headland to the north.   In 1277 after more than 150 years of skirmishing Edward I massive stone castle was built there, north of the mouth of the Rheidol but the name was never changed.  Perhaps to the King and his strategists In London the geographic niceties of Aberrheidol Castle seemed unimportant.  Prof Fred Long brought us a similar story from the 1940s.  Two war time radar stations were to be built in Ceredigion, one at Llanrhystud and one at Tanybwlch.  The Tanybwlch site was soon deemed unsuitable, probably because of the risk of flooding.  So the radar station was installed on Constitution Hill instead,  but was always known in the army documentation as Tanybwlch!

Our outward path then led us past the foundations of a two storey farmhouse which stood beside a natural spring adjoining the path.  Beca showed us a black and white photograph  where the farm was occupied and the farmer stands surrounded by chickens outside his front door.  A barn stood at right angles to the house.  The image is thought to have been made around 1930.

I’ve since looked out a much earlier picture, in the collections of the National Library of Wales. Drawing Volume  56  contains  twenty two North Ceredigion scenes  described as the work of  ‘Welsh Primitive’  c.1830-1853 .  Pendinas seems a little taller lumpier than it looks today and the foreground shows fishermen apparently below a weir on the river.  But the divisions of the fields on the slope, the farmhouse, and the track we walked along seem accurately represented.  The monument is depicted on the top, so the picture cannot be before 1856.

The primitive painter’s view of Pendinas ( NLW Vol 56)

The fishermen’s costumes may give further indication of the date.

Another view entitled  Pendinas and the River Ystwyth shows the farm on the hill and  a rider fording the river near a watermill below the south slopes.  Here too the monument is shown.

Pendinas and the river Ystwyth ( NLW Vol 56)

We learnt about the common lizards and slow worms which are numerous on the Pendinas.  Chloe Griffith’s Nature of our Village project has led to a much wider understanding of the importance of the site.  The spring is home to palmate newts.  This water source was presumably also important to the iron age inhabitants, for without it they would have had  to carry water all the way up from the river Ystwyth at sea level.

A third picture in the volume is captioned  Tanycastell Bridge Perhaps it was painted a few years earlier, for the monument is not to be seen.

The bridge at Tanycastell ( NLW Vol 56)

One of the Welsh cobs at Spencer’s sheds entered into the spirit of the evening by trying to nibble Beca’s backpack. Frustrated in this endeavour it rhythmically and noisily kicked a big galvanised box until we all moved on.

The return journey was on a less historic path which was created after the old town rubbish dump had been covered with soil and re-vegetated in the 1990s.  Willow scrub, gorse, brambles and nettles form an impenetrable undergrowth.  Here the path cuts down through the reclaimed ground and fragments of bottles and polythene appear at the surface where they have been excavated by the rabbits, foxes and badgers whose paths run through the brambles and bushes.

In the 1980s I remember when the wire fences on the Tanybwlch flats were festooned with tattered polythene bags whipped away from the dump by the wind.   We should be proud that Pendinas now looks almost as pristine as it did in these old paintings.

Pendinas in May 2020. The middle path traces the historic route across the flank of Pendinas

 

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Filling the Tanybwlch Sinkholes

by The Curious Scribbler,

Yesterday’s blog attracted a lot of comments – people really love Tanybwlch.

Stephen Tooth replied on Facebook taking the long view

Quite a few people have written about and investigated the possible future of Tanybwlch beach over the last 10-15 years. For a starter, try Alun Williams (local councillor) and also look for a Ceredigion County Council report (I think it is in the public domain) where consultants did some modelling of the feasibility of engineering an artificial breach to establish a regular tidal cycle and encourage tidal flats. And colleagues and I regularly take AU students down there to debate possible futures. In short, there are a range of options from ‘do nothing’ to trying to manage an inevitable degree of change.

And Liz Probert commented on the blog ” Apparently no one knows who actually owns the car park. The council don’t own it so they can’t officially do anything.”

So imagine my surprise at the scene this afternoon!  e Bags of stone are being piled up against the retaining wall, swung in on the crane arm of an Afan lorry, and while I watched a yellow digger was engaged in filling up the small sinkhole and tamping it down.

The larger hole will take a great deal of filling, I look forward to watching progress in the coming days. I wonder how the deadlock of the last three years came to be resolved?

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Tanybwlch Beach in the next decade?

by The Curious Scribbler,

There are few places more beautiful than Tanybwlch beach on a fine spring day like today. It is pristine, almost empty, wild and picturesque. It also has an ancient resonance, for more than a thousand years (about 800BC to 1200 AD) the people of the  Pendinas hillfort will have foraged along this shore.

Alltwen at the south of Tanybwlch Beach

 

At the south end below Alltwen the wheatears are back, preparing to nest in the holes amongst the tumbled stones which form the bank.  Small parties of swallows hawk northwards following the shore line, still on their way to their summer homes.  Parties of linnets pause chattering on the wire fence and the indefatigable chiffchaffs shout ceaselessly in the wood beyond.    The thrift and sea campion are in bloom.

Sea Campion

This is  a place dear to the hearts of many local people, beloved of dog walkers and naturalists alike.  It has taken the brunt of ferocious storms and rising sea level which have, in the last few years caused  drastic changes in the shape of the strand.  The Tanycastell field below Alltwen  has long tended to become a shallow lake during winter time but is now well on the way to becoming salt marsh.  Here the waves don’t so much wash over as percolate through the pebble bank and the species composition of  grasses and sedges in the field is changing to a salt-tolerant flora.

Along the sandy middle section of the strand the  shore is eaten back every year now, and much of the stabilizing vegetation on the sloping sand bank facing the sea has been washed away.  The most recent rock sea defences, big stones placed to break the waves, now lie irrelevant yards down the beach.

The concrete barrage half way along is no longer passable to vehicles.  Near here the sea floods over with  great force carrying big cobbles off the beach and depositing them in the river Ystwyth beyond.  The riverside path is disappearing in several places.

Pebbles spill over into the Ystwyth river

But the greatest threat to public enjoyment is the erosion in the car park.  Three years ago during Storm Ciara a small hole opened up allowing storm water to drain through rather than over the hard standing behind the tall buttressing wall which extends from the bridge.  Sadly it was not blocked with concrete right away.

In February 2020 Storm Ciara excavated the first sink hole.

Some security fencing was erected around it and nothing was done. During lockdown and beyond, it grew and grew, and the original fencing collapsed into the hole.  Wider and wider areas have been fenced off as the tall wall continues to collapse.   And the potholes where cars enter the car park have now deepened so far that soon it will be impassable to all but all-terrain vehicles.

The retaining wall supporting the car park undergoing collapse

A huge void has been excavated by successive storms

If the car park is lost the nature reserve will benefit.  With lesser footfall we may get more breeding birds, like the common sandpipers I saw today which seemed to be hoping to establish a territory close to  the bridge, and eager to lead me away.  Otters, kingfishers and goosanders already frequent this part of the river.   As long as the bridge remains, walkers will be able to follow the coastal path but without a car park public usage will change.

A new hole has recently appeared and is currently garnered with a red plastic fence..  The water which has rushed down this sinkhole has already excavated the mortar from another stretch of the riverside wall.  The rate of collapse shows no sign of slowing down. Will the future of Tanybwlch Nature Reserve be determined purposely or by neglect?

Who cares?  and indeed which agencies are responsible for this wall?

The new hole. Tanybwlch

Masonry has  already been eroded by water gushing through the new hole

 

 

 

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Poets, Eccentrics and Great Gloops of Jelly

by The Curious Scribbler

I enjoyed an invigorating winter walk around Llyn Eiddwen, the natural upland lake which lies between a grassy windswept ridge and the  wooded Mynydd Bach.  Sometimes migratory swans  Whoopers or Bewick Swans can be seen there in winter, though none were to be seen when I visited on 30 December.

Last march I saw five migratory swans on Llyn Eiddwen

We began our walk at the monument to four local poets which stands above the dispersed community of Trefenter.  Here  the wind whistles in from the west and the land drops away to the distant sea.   One of the four poets lived in Llanrhystud, the village visible from this altitude nestled close amongst the patchwork of fields and hedges, another grew up in Blaenpennal, and a third in Trefenter.   Their names are J.M. Edwards 1903-1978, B.T. Hopkins 1897-1981, F. Prosser Rees 1901 -1945 and T. Hughes Jones 1895-1966.  I must learn more of their work.

The plaque on the monument

There are ruined cottages along the western shore of the lake and broad stone walls topped with gnarled beeches and sycamores which outline the former gardens and the rough road connecting them.  I wonder in what proportion the lake and the Crown common land around it  provided the livelihoods of these former inhabitants, and what led to the abandonment of these well-built cottages.  I imagine though, that they may have still been occupied in 1879 when local men were employed to build what became known as Tredwell’s Castle in the lake.

A ruined cottage east of LLyn Eiddwen

Mark John Tredwell (b. 1856) was a rich young orphan who was brought up principally by his grandmother, educated briefly at Cheam and Harrow and who, for some unknown reason decided, on inheriting his parents’ wealth, to settle and lure his many friends to Ceredigion.   In 1878 he took a 21 year lease on the small Georgian mansion Aberllolwyn at Llanfarian and spent freely on both house and garden, building cabins in the grounds to accommodate the parties of friends who arrived on the  train and were conducted out to the mansion by charabanc.  He created a small menagerie, apparently including a monkey, a bear and numerous ornamental birds. He threw lavish parties for his guests, and also for the local school and Wesleyan chapel.   However this was not fun enough and led to his craziest investment – a party castle on a man-made island in Llyn Eiddwen, on land he didn’t even own.

The ruin of Tredwell’s Castle on Llyn Eiddwen

In the mid 20th century the ruined Tudwal’s “castle”, sketched by E.T. Price of Llanrhystud,  was in better shape

Locals were employed quarrying the necessary stone and it is estimated that at least a thousand loads of stone, lime and timber were transported by rowing boat across the 100 yards of water to the masons building the perimeter wall, the tower and some ancillary sheds and buildings.

An account in the Aberystwyth Observer on 12 July 1879 describes a crowd of people who assembled at the railway station to view Tredwell’s latest purchase, a  steam powered launch capable of carrying up to six persons.  Apparently it took 20 horses to drag it to Tredwell’s ‘pool in the mountains’.

In the summer of 1879 party guests were accommodated at Tredwell’s expense at the prestigious Queen’s Hotel on the promenade, then transported by charabanc and steam boat over to the island, where  the entertainments were raunchy in the extreme.  Orgies were mentioned, and local lasses were said to be involved.

Unfortunately for him, Tredwell’s considerable wealth was insufficient to the the project, bills went unpaid and after a lengthy and expensive court battle with his builders he was declared bankrupt.  The lease on Aberllolwyn was terminated  in 1881 and he eventually died, penniless, in London in 1930.

There is no local folk memory of the steam launch so it may have been repossessed, or perhaps it lies under the waters of the lake.  The ruined square tower on the island still stands surrounded by willow scrub, and the evocative emptiness of the landscape is enhanced by the ruined cottages on the shore.

Ruined Cottages on the shore of Llyn Eiddwen

On my recent visit an equally compelling mystery  was the glistening gloops of jelly on the pathside where the path runs parallel with the shore.  I am told these are Crystal Brain Fungus Myxarium nucleatum, a fungus ( but not a mushroom) which is found in winter during wet weather and when  dry shrivels up to just a rubbery patch.  But if that is so, what is the jelly for?  Does it spread spores?  It just appears to cling to the rocks and grasses, in lumps up to 4 inches across, glistening in the winter sunlight.

Crystal Brain Fungus

Crystal Brain Fungus

Clearly there is much more for me to learn both about the work of the four poets and about these Crystal Brains strewn upon the grasses.

 

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An imposter with my handle!

by The Curious Scribbler

In the ten years I have been writing Letter from Aberystwyth I have prided myself upon being both succinct and factually accurate.

It was therefore a surprise to find  Letter from Aberystwyth, with a startlingly similar font, appearing in the online news service Nation Cymru on the 6 November.

An article published in Nation Cymru

This proved to be an article in which the author Shara Atashi shared a variety of thoughts stimulated, or perhaps stunted, by the rigours of cold water swimming at Aberystwyth.  Consider the following extract about the scenery viewed from the sea at South Beach:

Behind that there are a few pyramidal green hills, and upon one of them is Pen Dinas, an Iron Age Celtic hillfort, and on it a column with no monument.

The monument, built in the 1850s, carries the name of Wellington, but his statue was never installed. Visitors to the area are likely to wonder why.

Wales is full of mysteries, which remain unsolved to remain mysteries. I never tried to find out why the Wellington Monument is without Wellington’s statue. I just thought that a monument with no statue on it feels just right, especially when it is situated upon an Iron Age Celtic hillfort.

If a single person’s lack of knowledge and disinclination to find out about their subject constitutes a mystery then the bar for Welsh Mysteries is set extremely low!

The author has also refrained from consulting a bird book :

When I watch a heron standing there with its wings open wide in the sun, I wonder whether it is troubled by the wind tousling its feathers. They seem to be boasting when they dive for more than a minute and resurface with a big fish in the beak.

and she conjures a puzzling image of her early morning swims at North Beach

I swim here North Beach  early mornings, when it is quiet and I can enjoy the horizon while following my thoughts. The scene is never the same.

Sometimes I am surrounded by a group of sea gulls and their juniors rocking on the surface of the water. They look like little boats. Sometimes there are a few herons fishing around me.

There can be no doubt that these herons are in fact cormorants!

I do hope that none of my readers have attributed this article to me.

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Weeding in Mrs Johnes’ Garden

by Caroline Palmer

Today was  a fine day, sandwiched between the wind and rain of earlier in the week and yet another front anticipated tomorrow.  I spent it weeding in Mrs Johnes’ Garden at Hafod.  The garden is now ten years old, a transformation from its appearance in May 2011 when the sitka spruce plantation had been recently cleared and the circular path and lawn were reinstated along historic lines.  The very first shrubs were planted in June 2012.

Mrs Johnes’ Garden
12 May 2011

2012 New beginnings in this once-famous Georgian Flower Garden

The breakthrough for this ambitious project came as a result of the diplomatic skills of Peter White, then Director of the Royal Commission for Ancient and Historic Monuments Wales, who persuaded the Forestry Commission to reroute the forestry road which some 60 years previously had been driven through the abandoned garden.

Today the scene is very different, with a rich tapestry of shrubs, trees, and perennials overflowing the circular border. The plants have been scrupulously limited to those which would have been available to Mrs Johnes when she created her garden in the 1780s.

Autumn in Mrs Johnes’ garden, 29 September 2022

Small jewels lurk in these borders, such as the clumps of white autumn crocuses which are a magnet for bees, solitary wasps and butterfies all attracted by their nectar.  I photographed a Wall ( Pararge megera) on the crocuses, and a Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) on the nearby Evening Primroses.

A Wall butterfly helps itself the the nectar of the Colchicums

The task for the weeder here is to remove the creeping buttercups from amongst the carpet of wild strawberries.   In winter the strawberries are dormant while the buttercups seize the opportunity to enlarge and spread over the winter months, punching gaps in the tapestry.

Small Copper butterfly on an Evening Primrose

Wall

Many of the new  must-have flowers  offered to gardeners two hundred years ago came from the eastern states of the USA, and some have been selected for this garden.   Delightful autumn blooms include the bright gold Rudbeckia hirta, and fluffy cushion flowers of White Snakeroot ( Ageratina altissima) which is very attractive to hoverflies.

White Snakeroot

Another particular favourite of mine is the Pokeweed  (Phytolacca americana) which has strikingly sinister black berries on magenta stems.  These are powerfully poisonous berries, and all parts of the plant contain the toxin so consumption should be avoided. Pokeweed tea was used in traditional north American medicine as a purgative and emetic.  Various pokeweed extracts and preparations are  listed by alternative practitioners and credited with a staggering range of speculative applications in medicine, see verywellhealth.com

Pokeweed

However the site acknowledges that few of the therapeutic claims for the treatment of conditions ranging through tonsillitis, mumps, AIDS, skin conditions and certain cancers have been verified by science, so it is much wiser to simply admire the plant.  I do notice that in spring the new shoots are very susceptible to slug damage, while later in the year the molluscs steer clear, presumably because the toxin intensifies over time.

A greater hazard to the weeder are the thorny briar roses which, at this time of year, are adorned with brilliant hips.    When I was at school I was made to learn and recite Oberon’s speech in Midsummer Nights Dream.

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,

It sounds delightful, but the Sweetbriar Rose or Eglantine  which droops hazardously over the border has the sharpest, thinnest incurved claw-like thorns in the business, which will shred the skin of the unwary and tangle in their clothes.

The ferociously thorny Eglantine Rose

The North American species Rosa virginiana is equally spiny but at least these are straight thorns which release you when you draw back!  Its hips are rounder and paler, covered in fine, easily dislodged hairs.

The wild Rose of Virginia

The Prairie Rose, Rosa virginiana

Mrs Johnes Garden was restored by the Hafod Trust, which pioneered the rescue of this important Picturesque landscape.  This Trust will shortly be disbanded as the Hafod Estate is now in the care of the National Trust.  It is hoped that the tradition of National Trust volunteering will soon lead to a larger team of volunteer weeders who which will keep the garden under control.

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A New Bee on the Hellebores

by The Curious Scribbler

Saturday’s spring sunshine led me out to tidy up the winter garden.   Already rising proudly from the ground are the Sweet Coltsfoot Petasites frigidus palmatus, whose big star-shaped  leaves will later shade out all the competition.  It is an invasive plant from the arctic and cool temperate Europe, and a bit of  a mixed blessing, but its confident sentinels of March flowers thrusting up before even the primroses have got under way is a harbinger of luscious foliage to come.

Petasites frigidus palmatus ( Sweet Coltsfoot) is erupting in the orchard. So invasive, but such pretty golf balls before the leaves emerge

Also performing spectacularly are my Oriental Hellebores … so many different forms are now to be found at Farmyard Nurseries in Llandysul.   Cross-bred in Carmarthenshire the new varieties range from white through yellow and green to pink, purple, and almost black, and from frothy double petalled to the wide welcoming stamens and nectaries of the simple five petalled flowers.

It was these latter flowers which attracted my first bumblebee of the season, a hard-to-miss bee with ginger thorax, black abdomen and white tail.  This was not a bee of my childhood.  Bombus hypnorum is known by the common name of Tree Bumblebee, or New Garden Bumblebee: for it is just that: not until 2001 was one recorded in Wiltshire, and that was probably among the newest arrivals from the continent.  The migration was a resounding success and within the next ten years the bee had spread throughout England and Wales.  In 2017 it appeared in Ireland too.

Tree Bumblebee ( Wikimedia Commons)

This bee is now reckoned amongst our commonest eight species.  My bee was a queen and will soon be setting up home in a tree hole, a nest box or perhaps a compost heap, or my loft, where she will rear her first first small daughters over the following five weeks.  Later there will be larger better-nourished workers, and finally drones and queens.  In a season she might rear as many as 300- 400 bees.   But her sons are fated to have only a fortnight’s independent life, zooming around looking to mate, and  it is only the daughter queens, fertilized in autumn,who will survive the winter to emerge in March 2022.

 

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