I love November, not just because it’s my birthday on the 29th (sorry but I just needed to make reference to this in public so that C and E officially have no excuses…) but because it’s about the only month in the year when you can actually RELAX. OK so Elaine will try and have you out turning the compost or planting bare root hedges, but honestly there’s no need, you CAN just swan around the garden clasping a hot drink inspecting things (Caroline doesn’t even go outside she just looks at things through triple glazed windows).
So let’s list the reasons to be cheerful in November:
1. Callicarpa ‘Profusion’, which will by now have dropped its leaves exposing the full unadulterated opulence of its clusters of small, perfectly spherical, glistening purple berries. If you don’t already have this shrub it really needs to go on your Christmas list, and pereferably several times as you get a better set of berries if they are cross pollinated by others. Three plants in a group is the ideal, and just look at the result you get in our feature picture above.
2. Proper old fashioned hardy chrysanthemums, one of gardening’s best kept secrets. I am not referring to those rather mutant spheres of colour you can buy in pots from garden centres at this time of the year, but to the Real Things; hardy perennials which produce wonderfully rich gold, old pink and warm russet coloured blooms on sturdy three foot stems well into November, that seem to positively glow in the low autumn sunlight. They can only be purchased from the more traditional Nurseries and trusty Wootens of Wenhaston were this year able to supply me with three of the most venerable cultivars, ‘Duchess of Edinburgh’, ‘ Emperor of China’, and ‘Chelsea Physic Garden’ all of which have been in cultivation for around 100 years, – it’s like having your garden populated by the cast of a Sunday night costume drama. Louise agrees and has a fabulous example in her column this week. They like a bit of shelter and some robust slug deterrent in the spring as they start to come through. They are propagated by basal cuttings in early spring (like dahlias) and this is also the best time to order the most sought after varieties so put a note in your diary now to remind yourself.
3. Saxifraga fortunei, the rather fleshy, shade loving cousin of the summer flowering alpine varieties, which comes in a range of pinks and reds as well as the original white. I first saw this plant with Caroline many years ago, when we were on our way out to lunch with a great aunt and realised that we hadn’t been organised enough to get her a gift. Diving into a garden centre en route and steering Caroline away from the neon coloured polyanthus and poinsettias we (I) plumped for the much more tasteful autumn saxifrage and bought one each for ourselves as well. I still have mine…..
Oy! I can feel UTTERLY cheerful while I’m turning my compost heap in November, thank you very much, not to mention clearing mole hills and raking leaves. Not least because I know that my halo is giving off sparks like a Catherine wheel but I prefer to feel that I have actually earned my cosy breaks – two outdoor tasks equals a cuppa and a Hobnob.
I can however appreciate the stars of the late autumn garden as much as my lazy sisters so here goes with some of my reasons to be cheerful
4. The plump coral seed-clusters of Iris foetidissima which are as strikingly pretty as Christmas decorations in the low November sunlight. This always seems extraordinarily generous of a native plant which we have named ‘foetidissima ‘ = ‘very smelly’ just because the leaves exude the aroma of beef when you crush them – but why on earth would you?!
5. The Cosmos ‘Dazzler’ which is going to flower forever, it seems. I have decided that Cosmos are the best annuals of all. Lovely, light, airy foliage, endless flowers and now even a good range of colours. I was hugely taken with the bold yellow of ‘Bright Lights’, when I saw this on a recent visit to Graham Gough’s marvellous nursery Marchants Hardy Plants with our Cottage Garden Society group, and he kindly gave me a handful of seed. Can’t wait to sow them…
6. The glowing leaves of Liquidambar ‘Worplesdon‘ as they lie scattered on the grass like shards of ruby………
Yes well I can tell you that ‘cheerful’ and ‘November’ are not words often uttered in the same sentence up here north of the border where most plants in the garden have already adopted the brace position. And honestly what with their veteran chrysanthemums and their tea and one biscuit isn’t it time we told E and L that the war is actually over? So whilst Elaine is putting on a brew in her garden shed and Laura is ordering things that are likely to be delivered wrapped in brown paper and tied up with string, I will be doing what makes me the most cheerful in November – heading out to Dobbies Garden Centre. I felt better the moment I stepped through the door. Here was a wonderland of beautifully presented pot plants to tide you over until Christmas:
7. Helleborus niger, the Christmas rose, but which now can be persuaded to throw up plump buds from the end of October and is so cheap that you could afford to have two or three in your porch, where you can protect the blooms from wind and rain.
8. Gaultheria procumbens a great little pot plant sometimes referred to as wintergreen, whose beautifully tinted leaves and perky red berries were definitely upping the serotonin levels.
9. Poinsettias – what has Laura got against them? Fabulous rich red bracts against the deepest green leaves – I think that secretly Great Aunt Belinda would have preferred this.
Number 10 has to be the singing reindeer. E and L will be appalled but Christmas comes early at Dobbies and this big boy was definitely a reason to be cheerful.