It’s November and one is tempted to believe that much of the garden is going to sleep. On closer inspection however it is clear to see that there are still a few leaves on trees, much of the wild bracken is still green and I conclude that after that exceptionally beautiful bit of October, autumn came a bit later than usual. And what a strange year it has been. A bitterly cold winter, late Spring and then April with higher temperatures than normal and cloudless skies. July and August were very mixed (I am convinced now that August is not the correct month for School holidays, or anybody’s holidays for that matter) and then up comes October with some of the best weather we have seen since June!
I kept putting off the autumn clear up as there was so much that still looked good and if the cutting down of herbaceous plants is done too soon they start to grow again only to have that sappy growth knocked off when the weather turns.
Many of my friends are away forthe whole of August and miss the garden for the school holiday season. Some are visiting family and others take to the high seas on boats and they are therefore more interested in the autumn garden for their return. One of the plants that I recommend for them is helenium which so impressed me in the one plant that I had last year that I planted seven of them against a sunny fence and they have rewarded me with a hundreds of lemon flowers for six weeks. The plant is a member of the sunflower family and whilst its flowers are much smaller there are masses of them on stems about 4’ tall. It is robust against wind and makes one of the best autumn shows imaginable. In my opinion it beats the michaelmas daisies by a long way being taller showier and lasting much longer. Interestingly it brings back yellow into the border too.
I think I have mentioned many times that yellow is the most talked about colour amongst gardeners. Generally we love it in winter for aconites, we welcome it in Spring for the daffodils, primroses and acacias and then we dismiss it for summer. I wish I had a quid for every person who has said they don’t want yellow in a hanging basket. And yet, along comes autumn and we have the helenium, rudbeckia, dahlias and cannas, many shining out in yellows and lemons. You needed sunglasses to walk past one of the driveways in Veryan a sea of yellow chrysanths, glowing in the morning sunshine.
I mentioned last month that it is time now to order bare root plants for hedging or trees as they will be lifted now by growers until mid March. I gave some examples of the difference in prices comparing pot grown plants with bare root. This month I can give you an example to make your eyes water! We were asked to supply 100 Italian alder trees. Container grown were anywhere between £7 and £24 each for plants of 3-4ft. The bare root total cost for the trees is well under £200, a huge saving and the trees will get away faster being planted now.
So what else to do this month? Well you can plant pansies I suppose. You’ll buy them in flower (unless you buy as plugs) arrange them neatly outside and then I doubt you will see many more flowers until spring and in high winds they will go brown at the leaf edges. I suppose I don’t have to mention that I am not a fan of winter pansies, much rather see the violas in Spring. In our climate you can still plant daffodils, I have just put loads in one of the Cornish hedges and November is still the best month to plant tulips. Just remember, with most of our bulbs and certainly these common ones they need to be planted at least twice the depth of the bulb or you risk them coming up with loads of leaves and no flowers.
Bare rooted roses can be bought now. I am always loathed to openly advertise in this column but we do have a superb Rose company on our doorstep at Mitchell, the Cornish Rose Company, where they sell retail as well as wholesale. The company is a division of Pococks roses from Hampshire and they specialise in roses that will grow well in our climate as not all will. This year was a supreme example of why that is so. Most roses this year were better than ever. This is primarily because they had at least 5 weeks of very cold weather. That is when they stop growing and seem to muster energy. In a normal Cornish winter they continue to put on root growth and expend too much energy to flower particularly well. Hence if you buy a rose that will cope with our climate your success will be the greater.
If you are replacing old roses in the same site then you must remove and replace all the soil or risk rose replant disease.
Many of the winter veg are able to be picked now. Leeks and sprouts always seem to taste better after a frost when the starches therein turn to sugars (the science bit, but you don’t need to understand it, just taste it!)
If I was going to do anything this month I would plant a tree and I would choose firstly Acacia pravissima, one of the hardiest of the acacias with arching stems that move in the wind and with masses of yellow flowers very early in the year. Secondly a hoheria which blesses us with white flowering cherry like flowers in August. Both are evergreen, prefer a little shelter especially form the easterlies and would love to be planted now.
If we all planted a tree this autumn what a difference we could make.