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