Flowers in the November garden are rare here at Old Spa Road but I admire people who persevere with trying to keep the colour palette going in what is generally a blowsy rainy cold time and if you want to try this I would suggest planting as close to the front and back doors as possible because generally that is as far as most people venture out in the garden at this time !
Of course it is nice at this time of year to come across a clump of flowers such as nerines or alstroemeria as I did the other day in a friend’s garden in Clonmel but for success with autumn flowers you need dry soil unlike here where we have a lot of watery areas .
For me the interest in Winter is for striking bark colour such as the silver birches with their brilliant white structures and in the autumnal colour leaf of the maple , the dog woods and the liquid amber trees which are at their very best in November .
This November after ten years in the ground the various parottia trees also known as persian ironwoods are showing a gorgeous leaf colour and together with a solitary acer griseum , they have been growing well every year but this is the first time they have shown the lovely autumn colours they are famous for . Gorgeous leaf colour or not I wouldn’t grow any tree or shrub for just a three week show , not worth it lovely and all as they are and I insist on every tree / shrub or perennial providing interest for at least eight months if not the full year as do silver birch . All the Japanese maples are worth growing also as they have a nice structure when not in flower and really nice bark as in the case of the snake bark maple or the acer griseum .
I always maintain that designing a garden for Spring / Summer is easy… the phrase I actually use is “ any idiot can design for summer ” … as the choice between bedding annuals , flowering shrubs and perennials is huge but designing for winter is trickier and hardest but if you get it right … and “ right ” for me involves lots of silver birch as their stark white trunks give almost an electric shock when you come across them in groups .
My daughter , Claire Vukcevic , walked the garden with me here last week admiring in particular the silver birch and she mentioned that birch sap known as birch tar is a valuable component of high class scents and perfumes and of course Russia is a major supplier to the cosmetic industry as silver birch are their native trees .
Claire is a writer / researcher with an international bio diversity organisation in Rome and in her spare time writes reviews for the perfume industry and has just published her second book on perfumes called “ The Attar Guide ”. Claire is a brilliant writer and has won several national writing awards and her distillation of nearly twenty years of study is a mine of information on perfume and it’s history and the book is a terrific read…. OK I am her Dad and you might expect me to say that but Dad aside IT IS A GREAT READ !
Every few months over the course of a day I take photos throughout the garden , a snapshot of how the garden looks on one particular day across the seasons which I put up on Facebook in a series called A Walk in the Garden on … and here is a selection of photos from November 14th 2021 .
November is the month for cleaning up in the garden and getting it ready for the harsh weather ahead , all tender perennials such as dahlias and cannas need to be lifted and brought indoors . I don’t grow dahlias at all as I got fed up years ago at the constant need to protect them against slugs , the staking of each clump as they blow over very easily in wind , the regular dead heading plus the tubers don’t survive the cold in our wet soil … cannas also don’t like our wet soil in Winter so I grow them in pots but cut back and bring into the shed for overwintering .
Regular readers will know that I love big clumps of gunerra
And they grow super well here , they have a real wow factor when you come around a corner and are in your face but they do die messily with the huge leaves turning black at the first sign of frost and flopping all over the grass but over the years I have patented a trick where I cut back the gunerra leaves , fold them in on themselves and make a neat parcel which has a nice shape and adds structure to their areas while the folded leaves protect the crown of the clump and in Spring the new leaves push up through the decaying last year’s leaves and it is a real sign of Spring for me and all the optimism that a new growing season brings … the king is dead long live the king !
Salix purpurea , the Purple willow , is a small weeping tree that I have always loved and have planted throughout the garden over the years but what I don’t love about it is the fact that it as a grafted tree is constantly reverting to it’s common willow rootstock and if you don’t cut these out they will eventually take over the entire tree … I speak from experience having to do this regularly with most of ours and I spent today cutting out three metre long off shoots . It is not readily stocked by the garden centres for the past few years and probably this is the reason and they are fed up dealing with questions from customers as to where their beautiful weeping purple willow has disappeared to ?!
The problem is with the rootstock which is the very vigorous common willow to which the purple variety is grafted and the willow off shoots break out all along the stem right up to the graft and if you don’t know the purple willow you think it ‘s doing great with all these pushy willow stems growing straight up and you need to be ruthless with these and cut them off as soon as you see them and better still rip them off as roughly as you can as this will retard the future growth and is better than a clean cut with the secateurs .
Even with all this trouble I love the unruly rambling nature of the weeping purple willow and it is one of my favourite small trees , just give it plenty of room to spread itself out .
Brambles are also a huge problem as like the willow they have a great survival instinct and throw out suckers constantly in an effort to root in new soil and as soon as the new shoot touches the ground again it has already developed long roots about a foot from the ground ready to romp away when it reaches the soil . The younger you get to the new brambles the better as they are easier to rip out roots and all , I use tough leather gloves for this , gather the extracted brambles in a heap and shred them with a strimmer and this prevents them rooting again .
Brambles and weeding are just some of the unloved tasks that go on behind the scenes at any garden and it is a constant battle to keep them under control . maintenance is our main job in the garden from late November to end of March and November to January to taking out brambles and weeds throughout the garden mainly in the woodland areas as all the leaves are gone and you get to see the bad boys and Snezana concentrates on chain saw work from January to March for heavy branch pruning of the willows and dog woods .
It is not all work work work in the garden … we pay the odd visit to Clonmel Garden Centre also especially for their new pots !
But people still persist in wanting a garden that is low maintenance and demand the impossible from the garden centres where unless a shrub or perennial is in full flower it won’t sell so the garden centres will only order supplies in full bloom from the producers and this in turn forces the producers to bring the plant into flower under glass and put it out for sale impossibly early . Hydrangeas and hostas are a prime example where they suddenly explode out onto the garden centre shelves in full vibrant bloom in April and of course these plants are not properly hardened off and have been hot house bred and pampered and even if the May frosts don’t knock them back they have spent such superhuman energy that they won’t bloom for another two years .
Hydrangeas don’t die back well and can look like a collection of twigs when November comes around where they look really sorry for themselves in the ground until they bud up again in April and are a liability on garden centre shelves as it takes a leap of faith to buy something that looks dead … that’s when you get bargains on sale … I never buy hydrangeas in bloom with big flower heads on them but in late November I buy what comes on sale and am prepared to give them time to recover and this week I bought nine hydrangeas at half price which will go into the semi shaded woodland which has damp soil , the perfect growing medium for them and in two years time they will be beautiful .
Of course every tree or plant you buy should be on the principle Right Plant Right Place otherwise you are facing an uphill battle to keep it alive and overall I feel it is better to have dry soil than wet and as for water logged soil then get a gondola and forget about gardening ! But hope springs eternal for gardeners and it is worth having a go even with bad or poor soil and in the garden here we have an area with impoverished soil , dry as a bone always and no amount of rain softens it but over the years I have thrown in plants that have proven great in adverse dry conditions such as laurel , grisilina and bamboo … they have sat there for ten years not thriving but alive and suddenly they started to grow and the moral of the story is DON’T GIVE UP !
Our wild flower saga continues and in preparation for trying to rescue our designated wild flower meadow area I strimmed the area and raked off the grass in October then sprayed off the surface which should be down to bare earth in a few weeks and ready for sowing however the wild meadow project has gone a bit sour on me as I have finally found that after many efforts to get a good wild flower seed mix for wet ground … that there isen’t one and along with the docks and thistles all I will get will be the self sown plants that love wettish places such as wild astilbe , meadow sweet , loose strife . iris etc. and lovely and all as these are we already have loads of them and what we were looking for was the wild flowers beloved of Chelsea Flower Show and Gardener’s World … not to be unfortunately so back to the drawing board or turn the two areas back into a lawn .
My current thinking is to go with two mixed beds of plants and shrubs suitable for wet soil perhaps some gunerra , golden willow and red dog wood but don’t have to decide until late January or February .
Colour in the Garden November 2021
Covid and all its variants is still very much with us but compared to November last year, 2020 , we are lucky to be triple vacinne protected so keep safe and Happy Christmas from all here at Petrovoska Garden !
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