Dull November brings the blast, then the leaves are falling fast

Monday, November 30, 2015

The lines in the headline to this News Item were written by Sara Coleridge nearly 200 years ago. Although we are constantly being told told that weather patterns are changing  her description of November perfectly describes the current month. After 2 months of  unbroken Indian Summer it came as quite a shock when the settled weather came to an end to be replaced with torrential rain and howling gales. We didn't like it too much and neither did most of the plants! It has therefore been a struggle to find some newsworthy events, but there are always a few if you dig deeply enough. I hope you will enjoy reading about those I have chosen.

The only leaves left on the trees now belong to the larch in the surrounding woodlands highlighted here by the rare evening sunshine and the rising moon.




The first 2 days of the  month were idyllic, still, sunny and warm. Lunch outside in shirtsleeves thinking that summer's lease would never end. And then BANG! Wave after wave of mostly westerly gales the best direction for us, as because of the lie of the land, they generally go over the top of us reducing their severity. Rain every day until the end of the month, sufficient to raise the levels of our stream and small river to their highest for over a year.Days were however generally mild with many over 10C , warmest on 1st was 16.5C and the coldest was -5C on 23rd, our only true frost of the autumn  And just to complete a dull month there was a dusting of snow on all the surrounding hillis on the 22nd.

Hoar frost on the faded sedum seedheads - they almost seem to have been made for it. 



Garden update

Within the space of just a few days after the deluge began, all the various forms of the daisy family (asters, sunflowers, dahlias, chrysanthemums, achilleas and rudbeckias) started to give up the ghost and the colour just drained from the borders, although a few brave souls continued to put on a show. More on them later.


Mahonia media "Charity" a real thug of a shrub with fiecely sharp spines on the leaves compensated for by scented flowers to lift a dull November day  followed later by intense smokey purple berries.


The wet weather prevented most of the gardening tasks I had planned, and lawn mowing came to an abrupt end for the year. The autumn/ winter feed that I applied a couple of months ago has greened up the grass very well, which became even clearer, once I could blow away all the leaves  that had fallen. One major clear up with my new blower, which saves an enormous amount of time, which with care provides large piles of leaves with which to cover the more tender plants such as impatiens, agapanthus and some salvias.

Hellebores always send up a few flowers at this time of year but all over the gardens  there are plants in alnost full bloom. My nurseryman friend and major hellebore breeder Richard Bramley of Farmyard Niurseries for more info about the nursery visit the new website at www.farmyardnurseries.co.uk has had a sinmilar experience.



It was however a good time to repair  nursery benches and get more frost susceptible plants under cover. I also continued to take cuttings of half hardies and to dig out and pot up some of the parent plants to overwinter for early cuttings next spring when they will get off to a better start than at this time of year when they struggle even on the hot bench, botrytis being the major problem



The tunnels are a  great refuge on wet days and there is always something to do there: tidying, cutting back, dividing plants being overwintered, and latterly potting up spring flowering bulbs including some of the smaller  narcissus cultivars. I fell in love with lily flowered tulips which I saw in gardens last spring especially "Green Star" so have already planted some in the few bare patches in the gardens, and a few more in pots. It may seem heresy to say so but apart from a few selected forms and species types, I am not a great tulip fan 

When clearing out the tunnels I found tucked away in a corner this lovely scented flower belonging to gladiolus murielae (formerly acidanthera)



We had some of the best crops of vegetables  we have had all year during autumn with brassicas loving the rain, salad crops too, late courgettes and sweetcorn and most unexpected of all was the latest ever crop of runner beans from half a dozen plants of "White Lady" I started from direct sown seed in the second week of July. Another bean novelty was an autumn cropping broad bean called Luz de Otono from plants supplied by D. T, Brown in mid August. I was unsure how they would perform and in particular what insects would be around to pollinate them  but in the mild weather there were plenty ofpollinators around and we had  2 crops of small very tasty beans. I have since learned via the Internet that seeds are also available from numerous suppliers and that the beans can be sown to overwinter in addition to mid summer sowings for autumn cropping. Both crops of beans were harvested on 19 November- Amazing!!





These caulis look a little tatty around the foliage but for the 3rd week of the month what do you expect? The curds were delicious in a variety of recipes of which there are plenty,  so popular has cauliflower now become.



Small salad potatoes from a planting in pots in the polytunnels made in early August which was too late as the spuds were tiny but there were enough to cook and they were delicious. The variety is Venezia in my view the best tasting salad/early potato ever!



What is (was) looking good during November

Not that much!!but there are a few stalwarts still keeping going as the picture gallery below shows. 


In the small tunnel grows a vigorous passiflora mollissima which for the first time produced edible fruits which give the plant its common name of the banana passionflower. In the two pictures below are the unripe fruits of which there are about 20 on the plant and the glorious flower, the last one left.







The attractive fruits of cornus kousa, one of my favourite small trees which has reached 25 feet in the garden. Glorious white bracted flowers in late spring turning pink, autumn leaf colour and these unusual edible berries a little larger than strawberries. Being a whimp I have not tried them yet but Wikipedia confirms they are deliciously sweet and another website states they taste like lychees. What more could you want from a garden tree?



Nothing unusual about a sweet bell pepper but by sowing in heat in early February this year I at last got some big ones but they have taken a long time to ripen. 



One genus to single out is the Japanese saxifragas which are an ideal plant for late autumn coping with most extreme weather events except frost. They are currently in vogue having been on trial at the RHS Wisley and are the subject of articles in the current editions of The RHS Journal and The Plantsman. It was from these that I was introduced to their adopted common name of Autumn Dancers which sums them up very well. Their large sprays of light and airy flowers somewhat resembling a corps de ballet.

Saxifraga cortusifolia



Saxifraga fortunei "Rubrifolia" a personal favourite alongside S. "Wada"



Saxifraga fortuneii "Blackberry and Apple" pie



Many hydrangeas are great value for late autumn colour and if it stay mild will send up new flowers too. This is h. "Peziosa" one of our all time favourites. The day after I took this picture the sharp frost brought the show to an end.



And this undoctored picture (honestly!) shows the marvellous late colour on h. "Merveille Sanguine" Our acid soil intensifies the leaf colour



 A spent seedhead on agapanthus providing architectural structure long after the flowers have gone


And believe it or not the large yellow brugmansia in the garden by the conservatory, which I have raved about since mid summer still had over 40 flowers on it when I moved it to the large tunnel the day before the frost where it continues to flower! 


Wildlife and countryside

Late autumn always seems to be the time when we have our first visit of an otter to the Paddock Pond and this year was no exception. Of course we rarely ever see them but tell tale signs of fish scales on the bank along with spraints (otter faeces) confirm it. Time to put up the electric fence.

Towards the end of the month I saw my first flock of redwings  and a small murmuring of starlings, both of which were conspicuous by their absence this time last year

Despite the gales a few native trees hung onto their leaves, the colours of which were highlighted in late afternoon sunshine which has been in very short supply.

One group of local trees that haven't fared so well however is a large stand of 60 year old larch in Cilgwyn Forest to the south west of us which has been one of the best views we have. Sadly they are all being cut down ahead of their time in attempt to halt the march of phytophthora a fungal disease which is devastating larch in many South Wales forests. Their fresh green colour in spring and butter yellow autumn colours will be much missed and a large tract of habitat for birds and wildlife will be lost

For more info go to www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/infd-5ubesn




Just one talk this month to Drefach Felindre Gardening Club, my last until the second week of a very busy February 2016

We did however for a change attend  a talk  at South Wales  Group of The Hardy Plant Society given by Fergus Garrett the Head Gardener of Great Dixter on the subject of "Succession Planting". It was a truly memorable experience packed with new ideas for colour schemes and other planting ideas to maximise the level of interest in borders throughout the seasons. It was a wonderful opportunity too to learn more about one of the truly great gardeners of the 20th Century, Christopher Lloyd (Christo).  Fergus worked with Christo for over 20 years and he gave many examples of his  background, family life, character, kindness and unique talent. One particularly amusing anecdote was that of Christo, controversial as always in his choice of colour contrasts, deliberately choosing to stand in his borders wearing a brightly coloured sweater just to clash with the flowers in the borders  to  guage the reaction of visitors! Supported by a battery of careful selected pictures and laced with good humour, it was a masterclass in how to deliver a garden talk. If you ever get the chance to attend one of his talks you must go!

 Not the best picture I would agree so apologies to Fergus! but it was so busy it was difficult to get a clear picture of him. I don't know what is the purpose of the frame on the stage, but in a way it adds value to the picture because his talk was all about changing the goalposts of border planting, colour and structure.



And finally to cheer us all up a small posy of a vibrant hardy chrysnthemum "Royal Command". Late chrysanths like this are making a comeback after a long time in the gardening wilderness and are tipped to become a must have plant. Welcome back old friends.