The leaves have been falling, there’s been some wind and rain but overall, it has been a very mild Autumn with some trees and shrubs still holding onto the reds, golds and oranges of their autumn foliage.
In some ways November is the start of the gardening year because when all the leaves have fallen, the garden is back to its basic shape and you can start planning for next year and seeing where improvements and changes can be made. The soil is excellent about now for establishing a good root system because it is still warm from the summer sun and damp from autumn rains. At this time of year, evergreens give seasonal interest and provide a backbone to the garden, some with flowers, some with striking leaves of different colours, some with variegated leaves providing a backdrop of winter interest for flowering plants, berries and the coloured stems of shrubs such as the evergreen Cornus.
It’s tree time
Now is a good time to think about planting a tree and making a positive contribution to the environment. Trees come in all shapes and sizes, give structure to the garden and provide year-round interest from bark, stem, leaf shape and colour. Some are evergreen, others are great for Autumn colour, while others bear flowers and fruit which are great for attracting wildlife into the garden. Even a small garden or patio has room for a tree in a large container, such as miniature fruit trees grown on dwarf root stock. Shady areas suit Japanese acers, which can be surrounded with pots of evergreen ferns to create a Japanese feel. You could try the Nandinia or ‘sacred bamboo’ with its glorious autumn colour, or conifers, magnolias and rhododendrons. An interesting plant for a container is Arbutus unedo, an evergreen with reddish brown bark and white bell-shaped flowers followed by small fruit, although these are not edible! Or perhaps try a dwarf Japanese cherry with spring flowers and good autumn foliage, just one of a huge selection of trees for autumn planting.
Don't forget our pollinating friends
Insects and pollinating insects such as bees and butterflies are in decline over the winter months, and gardeners can help these insects by growing certain plants to attract and feed them including for example Mahonia which has yellow scented flowers, Sarcococca or Christmas box with its highly scented small fluffy white flowers, Ilex aquifolium or common holly, winter flowering Viburnum, Crocus species and Galanthus or common snowdrop. Winter can be difficult for birds so in harsh conditions so try to keep the feeders topped up and provide some water, which may also encourage water birds into the garden, especially if there are still some berries left on trees and shrubs.
Plant up some pots for winter cheer
Plant up pots and containers with autumn and winter bedding so that plants have time to establish a good root system before the winter chill sets in. The most popular plants include pansies and violas, there are so many different colours to choose, and they will flower right through to May or June, only stopping in the coldest weather. Other plants to include might be autumn-flowering cyclamen in a wide range of colours, ornamental cabbages and kale, wallflowers which will produce scented flowers next April/May, blue-flowering forget-me-nots, primroses and polyanthus. You can interplant all the above with crocus, dwarf varieties of Narcissus and trailing ivy for lots of visual interest.
Other ideas include using evergreen shrubs, such as skimmias with pale pink buds that open out to scented white flowers in Spring, surrounding your planting with winter-flowering heathers for height and pushing in a few cut stems of red or orange dogwood (Cornus) for some extra dramatic effect.
Gaultheria procumbens, a low spreading evergreen with bright red or pink berries, is a plant that goes well with skimmias and Mahonia is another appealing plant for a winter container, with its interesting soft foliage with lots of yellow or slightly orange flowers, depending on variety, at the tips of the stems.
And finally, raising your containers off the ground by standing them onto pot feet will help with drainage and also prevent your beautifully planted winter pots sitting in water which they wouldn’t like at all.
A word on bulbs
There is still time to continue planting bulbs. Some, like narcissus, develop early root systems so they do need to be planted soon, while tulips develop roots later so can be planted from November and even into December. The spring bulbs, hidden beneath the cold winter soil before coming into growth next spring, provide us with amazing flowers to lift our spirits after the winter gloom, and they can be planted in the ground or in containers which make them easier to move around. As they come into flower position them among border plants and as flowers fade you could move them somewhere less noticeable. For impact use one type per pot and select different varieties of bulbs that give colour from February through to March. Packs of crocus, narcissus, tulips have the flowering period on the packet although this may vary slightly, depending on the weather.
Top tip: when planting your bulbs sprinkle some chilli powder round the bulbs – it’s an excellent deterrent against squirrels and other rodents!
The history of tulips is fascinating in its own way, originating from central Asia, they were cultivated in Turkey in the 10th century and the name is believed to originate from the Turkish word for turbans. By the 16th century they were introduced into Europe resulting in tulipmania in the Netherlands, where fortunes were made and lost in an early version of a futures market which collapsed in February 1637. The flowers were used in oil paintings of that era and have remained popular ever since. Over time, thousands of hybrids and cultivars have been produced to provide spring colour, such as the smaller species tulips which look impressive in rock gardens or at the front of borders. Plant in well-drained soil in a sunny spot so bulbs receive the sun’s warmth to ripen them, and feed with a potash feed in later winter or early spring, before shoots appear.
Plant 4-8 inches deep (10-20 cm), and 4-8 inches apart (10-20cm) depending on variety and if you are growing your bulbs in containers, use multi-purpose compost plus some horticultural grit mixed in to improve drainage.
In the vegetable garden
Plant out garlic bulbs and sow overwintering broad beans and peas for an early crop. Also, if space allows, now is a good time to plant soft fruit like raspberries, blackcurrants, gooseberries and blueberries, if your soil conditions are not right for these plants, they will grow quite happily in pots of ericaceous compost. Then next year, enjoy your own fresh flavoursome seasonal fruit!
Rake up any fallen leave, these are good for making leaf mould. With this warm wet weather lawns can be affected by algae and moss growth, made worse in lawns with poor drainage, soil compaction and shade. You can aerate the worst areas by spiking with a garden fork every 15cm (6 inches), to a depth of 15cm (6inches) - this can be carried out every 4-6 weeks and will improve growing conditions for your lawn.
Christmas is coming…
Between the middle and end of November we are all looking forward to the arrival of a glorious selection of Christmas trees into our plant areas at Van Hage. Our growers, all based in the UK, carefully manage and prune their trees to give the best shape so there will be one to suit every size and shape of room, be it a tiny corner which calls for a slim, narrow tree, or a huge high room which can take a broad tree with wide and spreading branches.
We’re also looking forward to the fresh Christmas wreaths and our beautiful UK-grown Poinsettia have already started to arrive, with their dark green foliage and bracts (coloured leaves) in many shades of reds, whites and pinks.
Whatever your gardening style may be, enjoy your garden and we look forward to welcoming you very soon.