The Garden in November
Kari-Astri Davies is deciding what needs tidying this autumn and is also preparing for the months to come
The glorious flush of bright yellow leaves on birches and hazels surrounding the garden is fading. As they fall, fewer and fewer are left to light up the baring branches. Drifts of multi-hued leaves on the lawn form waves of wind-scurried flotsam, but the hornbeam hedge will cling to its shrivelled clattering leaves until spring.
The morning walk now is about assessing what needs selective tidying and what will be left over the winter as plant protection and refuge for bugs. Some of these may not be quite so beneficial as overwintering ladybirds.
Once the peonies have died down, I will endeavour to cut and burn all the leaves, as a number of plants seem to be afflicted with peony wilt. This causes blackened leaves, and few or no flowers develop. Burning the leaves reduces the opportunity for overwintering spores. The plants were sprayed with Rose Clear a few times in late spring, which seemed to stem the problem a bit. In the grass bed, I will leave penstemon ‘Firebird’ and the grasses to protect them in winter. They will not be cut back until mid or late March, depending on the weather. Successive frosts have downed dahlia foliage and reduced tender bedding plants to sorry ghosts of their former selves. Tetrapanax papyrifer ‘Rex’, which is reportedly hardy to approximately -10°C, has made real headway this year, despite the harsh winter. The biggest leaves measure 36in (90cm) across. The stout leaf struts will start to buckle and break after a few more frosts. The failing leaves will be used as temporary swaddling, and then the main stem will be covered with bubble wrap. However, for now, he still stands tall.
Bulb ‘lasagne’ is a term I do not care for much; it seems somehow lumpen. A trifle or a concatenation would be better. But whatever the term used, it is all about layering various bulbs in pots to give a rolling spring show. On the bottom layer are tulips. Last to flower, they provide the finale. Tulips are planted traditionally on Lord Mayor’s Day in early November. Later planting is said to reduce the risk of fungal disease. I am often a bit later, even planting them into December. This year, I had intended using rusty purple tulip ‘Dom Pedro’ and ‘Orange Favourite’ together. As usual, I did not check flowering times. He is late April to early May, whereas ‘Orange Favourite’ is mid May. Never the twain shall meet; or possibly only in passing. I had also ordered highly scented, orange lily-flowered tulip ‘Ballerina’, which has a similar flowering time to ‘Dom Pedro’. ‘Orange Favourite’ can go elsewhere. The next layer will be a pale yellow and fragrant jonquil
“Dull November brings the blast, Then the leaves are whirling fast” sara Coleridge, ‘The Garden Year’
daffodil, ‘Pipit’, from Peter Nyssen, then a hyacinth new to me, the multi-stemmed, looser-looking ‘Blue Festival’. Above them comes ‘Muscari Artist Colour Card’, which apparently is distinctly green in bud, contrasting with the blue. At the top will be crocus ‘Orange Monarch’, a change from the usual ‘Cream Beauty’ or ‘Blue Pearl’, and plump, pale blue iris ‘Sheila Ann Germaney’, which will be first in flower. That should provide colour from February into May. When I cleared the greenhouse for overwintering plants last month, the three summer resident amaryllis had their leaves cut back and were re-potted in smallish pots, necks well above the soil. Being tender, these are now inside. They will not flower for Christmas, but will give me a full red trumpet blast show in a few months’ time.
Rewards for effort
Raking the gravel drive and paths is a tedious but worthwhile job. Getting rid of mouldering fallen leaves and persistent weeds smartens everything up. I will be checking on the prepared hyacinths, ‘Delft Blue’. Once their noses are sufficiently up, I will move them out of the cool, dark lean-to and into the conservatory. I will not lift or mulch any dahlias, except D. campanulata, which I shall lift. I lose some in the ground over winter and some come back. It gives me space to try more.
Left to right: Hornbeam hedges hold their leaves until spring; leaf litter provides a winter home for ladybirds; building bulb layers for a continuous spring show.
Left to right: A peony seedpod; the late autumn flowers of Tetrapanax papyrifer; burning leaves infected with fungus to reduce the production of airborne spores; tender amaryllis bulbs need to stay indoors.