Last month, I concluded by pleading for rain; now I am pleading for a break from it! The ground is thoroughly replenished, although maybe not to the depth we need but it has been near-impossible to get outside and work in the garden.
Although the clocks have gone back, we are not yet in full-blown winter. Yes, we will soon have the first frosts and there will plenty more rain, but the brighter days should not be totally ignored and forgotten. November can be a month of largely beautiful weather and fine days are not as rare as you think.
It does feel a bit like panic stations in the garden with a tremendous amount to catch up on. I am gradually clearing summer bedding and other summer plants: cannas and dahlias need to be cut back and lifted for overwintering; the tatty growth on herbaceous perennials needs to be cut back; and redundant stakes removed. The garden get tidier as the compost bin gets fuller.
In a more creative vein, the last of the bulbs and spring bedding need planting as soon as possible. Bulbs and small plants of sweet william, wallflowers and various pansies and violets need as much time as possible to produce roots and get established before winter dormancy sets in.
I have grown foxgloves from seed this summer and they are now perky little plants in small pots waiting to be planted out. Digitalis purpurea ‘Alba’ is a gem with softly hairy leaves and tall, one-sided spires of pendant, tubular, creamy-white flowers. Digitalis purpurea 'Pam's Choice' is similar with flowers variously splotched and freckled with rich maroon inside their throats - sometimes so heavily that it becomes a solid block of colour. Digitalis purpurea Apricot Beauty has soft green leaves and large, erect spikes of creamy yellowish-pink bells.
Many of the winter harbingers are flowering. These delicious little hardy cyclamen should be getting into their stride; where they thrive or have become naturalised, they make a pretty pink carpet (often in undisturbed areas under hedges and trees). They are the autumnal equivalent of the white carpets of snowdrop that spring from ignored patches of ground. If they thrive with you, they are lovely to pick and enjoy in the smallest vase you have.
Iris unguicularis should start flowering at any moment, exemplifying beauty from inauspicious origins. A clump of typical iris leaves looks tatty by the end of summer but magically from the depths of the clump, a succession of perfect delicate blue flowers appear for a couple of winter months – emerging as a stalk-like pale tubes, 10-20cms long, but once above the worst of the leaves, they unfurl fragrant flowers up to 7cms wide. They may only last a day or two but there is such a succession of flowers that the plant is never bare. My mother used to pick a few every day and bring them indoors to open. Like any proud gardener she would tell you that she ‘got six today’ etc.
Happy Gardening, Giles Derry
Dates for your diary
Tuesday 19 November 7.30pm in Chieveley Village Hall. Annual General Meeting followed by wine and nibbles. Do join us to hear about what we have done this year and our plans and ideas for 2020. We also need stimulating with new ideas for next year: talks, visits, workshops etc; we are not too proud to copy the ideas of others!