MY GARDEN by Philippa Thomas

Our leaves are falling as well as our temperatures. Isn’t there always something to be doing in our gardens, be it pruning, tidying or sowing/planting.  Nevertheless, there is something easy about our gardens in November, it’s our time for reflection but with one eye on the forthcoming year.  Some people think that Autumn is the time to hack everything back before winter really sets in, however, it’s actually not a good time to prune many trees and shrubs – better done in late winter or early spring.  Cherries if pruned are vulnerable to silver leaf disease, then evergreens are usually tackled in early spring after flowering.  Beech, Hawthorn, Hazel, Climbing and Shrub Roses like to be pruned right now.  I think, being out there in the garden is therapeutic in itself even if one achieves nothing.  Honestly, I simply cannot imagine life without plants and flowers, even one single beautiful bud to look at, to admire near you, on your desk speaks volumes.  Different plants and different scents evoke different emotions.  Do you remember bringing velvety colours and velvety petals of wallflowers wrapped in newspaper to your May Altar in school.  It’s amazing what growing a few seeds over this past summer can lead to.  I was accepted as one of the seed trial growers for the U.K. Garden ‘Which’ Magazine.  I tried Salvias, a new strain of Sunflower, ‘Sparky’, Calendulas etc.  It was so interesting to wake up in the am and email other like minded growers and then, receiving a response, some of their information and advice/tips, were marvellous.

This month, I intend lifting our tender bulbs so as not to risk losing these precious varieties. I plan to store them in newspaper lined trays filled with just-moist compost.  Talking of bulbs, did you hear that apparently, a bacterial infection has hit some hyacinth bulb crops this year, turning bulbs to mush.  So be sure to buy large/plump, firm healthy bulbs from a reputable supplier and discard any with scabby spots, mould or bruising.  Then, without wishing to scare you, beware of tulip fire which is a fungal disease that lives in the soil.  The signs to look for are stunted or twisted leaves as the foliage emerges.  If the leaves do open, they are often ragged with brown spots and the scorched appearance which gives the virus its name.  Best to burn them and definitely not to add them to the compost heap as spores can rage through, in days.  October is a great time to pick up bargains in the garden centres as they will want to get on with creating their Christmas Grotto, so they’ll need the space their bulb display is presently occupying.  So, get out there, there should be lots of price reductions on offer.  Don’t be frightened to leave the odd seed head to bring height and to create undulation to the front of the border.  Verbenas, Teasels, Angelica, Sylvestris, Erigeron Annuus, Cow Parsley, Fennel and Verbascums all serve well here, creating a 3D effect …. The odd strong lingering seed head, particularly the likes of Agapanthus, make such definite statements as well as providing food for wildlife and wildlife shelter.

Tree of Life, Ginkgo Biloba:

The Tree of Life, or Maidenhair Tree, is a very hardy long lived deciduous tree that tolerates urban pollution. It is often said to be a living fossil because it is largely unchanged over 250 million years.  It’s fan-shaped leaves turn a lovely buttery yellow colour around now.  Most cultivated trees are male: if male and female trees are together, the females produce strangely tasting fruits with edible nuts inside.  We have an absolute beauty here in Dalkey, growing magnificently at the seating area in Castle Street.

Hollies:

Hollies are not just for Christmas, few other garden evergreens offer such a range of leaf shape and colours or such vivid, persistent berries. They are super too, for Topiary or grown as a lollipop standard or for hedging.  I always think of Hollies as luxurious, their shiny, healthy lustrous leaves that sparkle in winter sunshine.  They provide structure, texture and colour throughout the year.  The fruits of Hollies are technically drupes not berries ….. female plants must be grown to form berries and male plants nearby are usually necessary for pollination.  Hollies are known by some and rightly so, as The Seasonal Stars of the Winter Garden.

A Tip From The 1899 Old Farmers Almanac, ‘Useful Hints’: 

‘Keep all fruit stones (pits) cooked or uncooked, dry them slowly in the oven, put in a large jar and in winter, throw a handful on the fire of an evening. They will crackle for a moment, send up a bright flame and fill the room with a delicious aroma.’  

Might Do, Maybe November Jobs

  1. Before our birds eat them all, cut a few stems of holly with berries for making Christmas garlands and stand them in a bucket of water in a sheltered spot where our feathered friends can’t take them.
  2. Winter winds can whip about and severely damage unprotected plants. An old nylon stocking (or cut tights), will stretch as the plants grow rather than cutting into the stem as string and wire can do.
  3. Winter heating dries our air out in our homes considerably, so we can help our house plants to survive by misting them or placing the pots on a pebble filled tray of water or hydroponics to ensure adequate humidity and moisture.
  4. If you are considering planting a new tree, bare-root trees can be planted from now until February. These are cheaper to buy and because roots are immediately in contact with soil, they establish so fast.
  5. Raked leaves can be collected and stored in black plastic bags with pierced holes to slowly break down into leaf mould which can be used in a year’s time as a soil improver.
  6. Maybe, consider a Vintage Garden. Look out for Antique fares, Auction house and Car Boot sales, for used, well-loved and reclaimed furniture for a fraction of the price of buying brand new.
  7. Why not make a beautiful seasonal wreath with garlic, red and white onions, chillies, peppers and herbs. Indeed, maybe start thinking about ‘A handmade Christmas’ and then, Handmade Christmas Presents.