Growbag Blog

Nine reasons to be cheerful in November


I love the month November, because it’s  about the only month in the year when you can actually RELAX in your garden.  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).

It’s still mild enough to be doing a bit of pruning and planting but this can be done at a gentle pedestrian pace, nothing like the frenetic activity of spring or the endless rescue-watering of summer.

So let’s list the reasons to be cheerful in November:

1. Acer palmatum ‘Shishigashira’. We all know that November is the new October as far as autumn colour goes, but with a couple of frosts under our belt it’s now down to the last few survivors. One of the latest is the lion’s mane acer ‘Shishigashira’, a favourite of Christopher Lloyd’s, with dark, dense filigree branches that seem almost to cloud-prune themselves naturally. My specimen was on the endangered list as after several years in a prime position it had never properly developed the lion’s mane autumn colour of its common name. But it must have read my thoughts as it is properly strutted its stuff this year.

Acer palmatum Shishigashira
It must have known it had been put on the ‘At Risk’ register, the lions mane acer is finally living up to its name.

2. Proper old-fashioned hardy chrysanthemums, are 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.

You used to only be able to buy them from the rather old fashioned nurseries like the wonderfully named ‘Woottens of Wenhaston’, but in recent years Sarah Raven has cottoned on with some new cultivars that are quite arresting. I was lucky enough to be given some cuttings of her late-flowering ‘Tula’ series and they have been a real tonic to the soul as you can see in our feature picture at the top of the blog this week.

They like a bit of shelter and some robust slug deterrent in the spring as they start to come through. I grow most of mine in pots now, especially the later-flowering ones, so I can bring them into the glasshouse to enjoy the blooms without the wind and rain battering them.

Chrysanthemum Tula
Chrysanthemum Tula, a wonderful gift from a kind neighbour – aren’t gardeners always lovely people ☺️

3. Saxifraga fortuneiithe 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…..

Saxifrage fortuneii
My Saxifrage fortuneii has gone from strength to strength, but we don’t hear much about how Caroline’s fared….


Oi! 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. 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. Pulmonaria officinalis. This is not particularly rare or choice, but its blue and red flowers in spring are lovely and wow! in the late autumn garden, its brightly spotted leaves looking dramatically striking among the fallen leaves. So much else is looking drab and moth-eaten! Interesting plant name by the way: ‘pulmo’ means lung and ‘officinalis’ meant it had medicinal uses in the Middle Ages: the leaves look like lungs, so they will treat chest infections. This was according to the ‘doctrine of signatures’ – God put his signature on the plant as a guide to mankind as to how to use it. I love that sort of stuff!

Nothing rare or choice but the leaves of this Pulmonaria officinalis look knockout amongst the fallen nut brown leaves

5. The last roses of autumn have a special wistful quality all their own. They seem to last so much longer on the bush than the summer blooms, as if they are reluctantly dragging their heels towards their winter hibernation. ‘Just one more dance’, plead my small grandchildren while they angle to stay up and watch Strictly for as long as they can. That’s what the roses are doing too – having one more dance.

How precious are the last roses of autumn!

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

A gloriously fiery leaf from a maple tree – Liquidambar ‘Worplesdon’


Well ‘cheerful’ and ‘November’ aren’t natural bedfellows up here north of the border where most plants have long since adopted the brace position. But heavens above, with their veteran chrysanthemums 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 these days can be expected to throw up plump buds from the end of October. They’re not horribly expensive either, 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 – yes they’re coming to a supermarket near you, folks. What has Laura got against them? Fabulous rich red bracts against the deepest green leaves – I’m pretty sure Aunt Belinda would actually have preferred one of these.

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

So there’s nine reasons to be cheerful right now – if you’ve got any other garden delights making you smile in this slightly gloomy month – please tell us in the comment box below!

Now, if you consider ivy to be an invasive pest then you need to think again. Louise has a perfectly behaved one which is a bountiful boon to our autumn pollinators. Click on the box below to find out which one it is.

Thinking about Christmas? We have some great stocking fillers for gardeners – Laura and Elaine talk you through them here. You’ll find all these little gems in our online shop

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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.

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

RBG Edinburgh is certainly worth a visit but the glasshouses are shut for reconstruction as part of the Biomes project.The two alpine house are open at weekends but I think this will change in January.

Stan that’s so helpful. We should have checked on these details which clearly required updating. On behalf of ourselves and our readers, thank you so much for keeping us right on the current availability of glasshouses and the alpine houses at RBGE.
It’s just a shame it’s not possible to attach images with these comments – we have such happy memories and a great pic of our last lovely encounter at a RCHS meeting! Kindest regards from us all

I would definitely agree with you about chrysanthemums. I buy mine from Halls of Heddon and have several large clumps of Korean rubellum varieties in the garden. I also have some Japanese fantasy chrysanthemums in the greenhouse which have fabulous flowers, only opening now. Don’t think I’ve quite got the aftercare right as they are a bit leggy.

Hello Rosemary it’s Laura here and I’m glad I’ve found another chrysanthemum fan. I hadn’t heard of the Japanese fantasy strain so I googled them and of course they’re now on my shopping list! I always have to stake my chrysanthemums, especially if they’re in pots (one of their few drawbacks) and this year I invested in some special tall dahlia supports for them, where the stems grow up through a circular metal frame that has compartments for each stem, and this worked very well. Thanks for writing in and best wishes Laura

Planting trees is my reason for being cheerful in November. Put in 3 last week a must have Hornbeam ‘Rockhampton Red” pure delight at this time of year. Another forest pansy just the name makes me feel good let alone the leaves twinkling in the sunshine. Finally a new plane tree Platanus Orientalist ‘Rockhampton Autumn Red’ a fairly new discovery from the same ‘stable’ as the hornbeam. Always fun to find something that is a new discovery!

Hi Cleone, Elaine here. I have just looked up that Hornbeam and it’s gone straight on to my wish list! I see it was discovered by chance on a UK nursery. Hornbeam is such a good doer, isn’t it, and one that turns glowing reds and yellows looks very special indeed. I totally agree about Cercis ‘Forest Pansy’ – the leaves shine like rubies in low autumn light. I can’t find out much about the Platanus – must be VERY new – I hope it does well for you. Thank you for your great suggestions, all the best from all of us and happy planting!

The new plane tree i mentioned has been discovered by the same man and same tree nursery at Rockhampton and it really is the very latest. I think I might have bought the first one! You wont regret buying a hornbeam Rockhampton Red.

Salvia Involucrata, beautiful Magenta pink, 5’ high and still in flower, despite the frost last night, in Glos, w are a 950 feet in the Cotswolds !

Cilla – that salvia must look fantastic – I know it’s a favourite of Sarah Raven’s which is always a good sign, plus it has a reputation for being as hardy as heck although last night might have put a dent in it? It was minus three even for Laura in Sussex. Thank you so much for that recommendation, very best wishes, Caroline

Aww, poor Caroline….the subject of your mocking, even if you’re “just joking”….get that from my two sons on a regular basis. 😉😉😉😉
Be in awe of your sister who gardens in a cold climate, without the help of your balmy southern weather.
We Scots suffer for our gardening..out the other day planting tulips in a freezing wind 🥶🥶🥶🥶🥶…..but are proud of it!

Ishbel how good to hear from you and particularly to feel your solidarity for those of us gardening in the tougher British climates. True Grit required here 💪💪, but don’t worry, I apply full bragging rights about my achievements north of Inverness compared to what I describe as the ‘soft-underbelly’ of the Home Counties – not that there’s any rivalry between us of course 🤣. Roll on tulip flowering time! Very best wishes as always, Caroline

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