Growbag Blog

Nine reasons to be cheerful in November

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.

white and pink flowers
Louise’s Great Plant this Month – Chrysanthemum ‘Innocence’

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…..

Slightly fleshy, slightly red but totally lovely – Saxifraga fortunei.


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?!

Iris foetidissima seed-clusters

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…

Pink flower
The very best annual – Cosmos Dazzler

6. The  glowing leaves of Liquidambar ‘Worplesdon as they lie scattered on the grass like shards of ruby………

Liquidamber – what a colour!


Well ‘cheerful’ and ‘November’ aren’t often uttered in the same sentence up here north of the border where most plants in the garden have already adopted the brace position. But heavens above, with their veteran chrysanthemums and and only one biscuit with their tea, my sisters aren’t embodying huge amounts of cheer, are they ? Personally, I’ll 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 priced quite reasonably so you can afford to have two or three in your porch, where you can protect the blooms from wind and rain.

Who can resist Helleborus niger at this time of year?

8. Gaultheria procumbens a great little plant for a winter pot sometimes referred to as wintergreen, whose beautifully tinted leaves and perky red berries are definitely candidates for upping the serotonin levels.

Gaultheria procumbens
Gladdens the heart – Gaultheria procumbens…

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.

Poor Aunt Belinda, how much cheerier does this look than that fleshy old Saxifrage she was given?

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By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

4 replies on “Nine reasons to be cheerful in November”

Other hardy Chrysanthemums worth growing would be Dixter Orange (selected by Christopher Lloyd himself, a huge mass of double orange poms), Mrs Jessie Cooper (dusky red single flowers and awarded AGM in 2015 – fantastic for picking) and Rumpelstilzchen (bright rusty red with double layer of petals, flowers 2 months, purchased from Beth Chatto’s nursery, years ago)

Hi Jennie, Elaine here. These are wonderful suggestions, thank you! Anything selected by Christopher Lloyd is bound to be an excellent plant, I would guess, and the other two sound like real winners as well. I am going to have to make more room for chrysanthemums, I think!

Proper chrysanthemums are sadly lacking in our garden, (note to self, must do better next spring), so thanks for the reminder. Why do I still feel under pressure in November? Roses to autumn prune, penstemons to mulch, tulip bulbs to plant, etc etc.

Laura, I’ve had that Saxifraga fortunei for years and love its sparkler flowers in time for bonfire night.

Thank you for your wonderful email every Saturday, I love it.

Hello Jennie, yes hardy chrysanthemums are definitely the unsung heroes of the November garden, I grow mine in big pots nowadays as they seem to mysteriously disappear if they’re planted at the back of borders, and you can wheel the pots into a more prominent position once they start doing their stuff. As well as the excellent suggestions above from Jennie Maillard I can also recommend Emperor of China, Chelsea Physic Garden and Burnt Orange . A great nursery to order them from at very reasonable prices is Farmyard Nurseries.
Rain has stopped play in the garden here for a few days but as you say there’s still loads to do before Christmas!

My saxifrage (the same one from years ago) has just started flowering too ?

So glad you enjoy the blog, it’s nice to know that we’re writing for like-minded people

Best wishes Laura

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