What a strange November it is. The garden should be starting to look positively wintry by now. Yet we’re still waiting for the first proper frosts, autumn flowers are still blooming away, summer flowers are coming back for another go, and a few plants seem to think it’s spring again. The berberis darwinii is flowering five months early, and I can hardly believe I’ve seen hazel catkins already!
The November garden is typically bare, brown and wet; the old is decaying and nature is going into a period of rest and quiet. It’s easy to include a few winter flowers for a bit of cheer, however, and to provide for bumblebees that might emerge to feed on milder days. There are plenty of ways to keep the garden interesting all year round, whether with flowers, foliage, or structural plants and the combining of shapes and heights.
It’s the last chance to tidy up the garden before winter, and all the darker months are useful for non-gardening jobs too, such as repairing fences and paths, oiling tools and sorting out that shed. I must admit I’m not a keen gardener in cold, wet weather. But I still enjoy watching it from the window, and there is always something to harvest.
NOVEMBER GARDEN FLOWERS
The best flowers in the garden right now are the liriope, fuchsia, mahonia and hesperantha. And the virburnum bondnantense, which usually doesn’t come alive until December but has been in full fragrant flower for the last two weeks now. There are still a few cosmos hanging on, though they look rather weather-worn, and amazingly the dahlias, hardy geraniums, verbena bonariensis and salvia ‘hotlips’ are still going!
Nevertheless, the garden is getting barer by the day and it’s only a matter of time before winter strikes. I have moved my summer patio pots to one side – I think I will try to overwinter some of the plants indoors if I can make space on the windowsill – and my winter containers have taken pride of place instead. These contain mahonia, heucheras, black lilyturf and cyclamen, which I love to be able to see from my seat in the living room through winter. In the spring, tulips and crocuses will emerge through the foliage too and provide a new burst of colour.
If you’d like to plant tulips for spring, November is the time – and there’s still time to put in other bulbs too. They’re well worthwhile, I think. They’re cheap and low-maintenance, there’s always space for a few, and the added colour in spring is always so welcome.
The cotinus looks a bit patchy this year – I assume it’s struggling with the weather – but is raining multicoloured leaves on the garden like rainbow confetti. I love it for how they look on the ground just as much as for how they look on the tree!
Things have quietened right down in the vegetable garden – all the bright, crowd-pleasing fruiting veg are gone and we’re left with leafy greens and roots to see us through the winter. Our carrots are brilliant this year and I need to find a few more creative ways to use them, methinks! They are favourite heritage varieties of mine: ‘Giant Red’ and ‘Touchon’ from Real Seeds.
There’s also still kale in abundance, the parsley is at its best, and a tide of winter purslane and lamb’s lettuce is rising fast for winter salads and sandwiches.
I planted garlic last month and it’s great to see it shooting up green and healthy. I’ve got a small collection of perennial edible alliums too, including Babington leeks, elephant garlic, allium cernuum and others – though they have all lost their labels over the years and I can’t remember which is which! Anyway, they’re coming up now and I’ll be able to pick their leaves over winter. They’re not a full substitute for bulb onions, which I’ve always found quite troublesome to grow, but they’re still useful!
The only fruit left in my garden is the Chilean Guava, but for some reason it’s dropping its berries before they’re fully ripe. What a shame!
NOVEMBER GARDEN WILDLIFE
Even when the garden is bare, the birds provide colour, interest and life, and if you’re not feeding your garden birds yet I encourage you to do so! Blue tits, great tits, coal tits and greenfinches are flocking to our feeders at the moment, and dunnocks, robins and wrens are foraging among the decaying plant matter of autumn. It’s a real joy to watch them. Unfortunately magpies and squirrels are becoming a bit of a problem on the feeders – even the feeders that claim to be squirrel-proof don’t always do the trick!
Frogs and newts often shelter or even hibernate under pots, weeds and debris, so it pays to be careful when moving things about in the autumn and winter. Pick pots up, don’t drag them! I nearly squished this handsome newt while I was weeding last week! If you find them, don’t chuck them in the pond; newts prefer to be out of the cold water over winter, and let’s assume that if a frog is on dry land then that’s where he wants to be, too! Just place them in an out-of-the-way spot nearby so they can find a safe place of their own.
TOP JOBS IN THE NOVEMBER GARDEN
- Plant tulips, and any other bulbs you still wish to add to your garden.
- Net brassicas to protect them from hungry pigeons.
- Sow sweetpeas, for earlier flowers next year.
- Lots of growers sow broad beans at this time too. I’ve never had much luck with them, but I suspect it’s much easier if you have a proper greenhouse…
- Cut back the last perennials and tidy dead material up – but consider leaving some for wildlife, or leaving the cut stems in a bundle out of the way for hibernating insects.
- Rake fallen leaves and, as long as they’re disease-free, collect them for leafmould or sweep them onto beds to mulch the soil and provide shelter for wildlife.
- Plant bare-root trees, shrubs and hedging if desired.
- Prune fruit bushes, when dormant. Cut back autumn-fruiting raspberries to the ground – and the fruited canes of summer raspberries, if you haven’t already.
- Protect borderline-tender plants as appropriate: you might lift dahlia tubers and wrap them in newspaper, mulch agapanthus with compost, protect plants with straw or fleece, or move pots to more sheltered positions.
- Tidy, repair and maintain garden structures, tools and other non-plant items!
- Feed birds, and provide wild places for invertebrates to overwinter.
MY FAVOURITE PLANTS FOR NOVEMBER COLOUR
- Liriope muscari
- Vinca difformis e.g. ‘Jenny Pym’
- Abelia (flowering shrub)
- Mahonia x media (flowering shrub)
- Viburnum bodnantense (flowering shrub)
- Heuchera (foliage)
- Black lilyturf (foliage)
- Cyclamen hederifolium (foliage now) and cyclamen coum (flowers starting soon…)
- Loropetalum (purple foliage all year, looking great when others are bare)
- Cordyline and phormium (big, bold grasses in many colours)
- Cornus (foliage, followed by bright winter stems)
- Cotinus (foliage and fallen leaves)
- Euonymus alatus (foliage and berries)
- Nandina (berries)
- Rosa glauca (berries)
- Rosa geranium (berries)
- Cotoneaster (berries)
- Holly (berries)
- Pyracantha (berries)
- Callicarpa (berries)
- Malus/crab apple (ornamental fruit)
CURRENTLY HARVESTING AND EATING
- Swiss chard
- French scorzonera
- Woody herbs: rosemary, sage, bay, oregano, thyme, savory
- Tomatoes (last few ripening in stores)
- Chillies (dried)
- Squash (from stores)
- Garlic (from stores)
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
How is your garden growing this November? What out-of-season flowers are you seeing?