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Thursday, July 18, 2024
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GardeningNovember in the Garden 2011

November in the Garden 2011

Remember the very early and steep dive into winter which occurred last year? I’ve taken extra precautions this year, starting by adding extra bubble-wrap insulation in the greenhouse which is easily fixed with plastic clips against the aluminium framework. What’s interesting is that some plants which I thought I’d totally lost due to the early and sustained cold winter have, in fact, bounced back. My long established stands of Melianthus major seemed completely wiped out, showing no signs of life right up to mid-summer. Now they have put on new growth, sprouting from beneath the soil, to provide valuable glaucous green ‘exotic’ foliage right now.
It’s a timely reminder just how useful foliage is in the garden. Now that herbaceous plants are dying down and deciduous ones dropping their leaves it is the evergreens which come into their own. Evergreen specimens are often referred to as the ‘bones’ of the garden on which the summer ‘flesh’ is draped. As such they should not dominate, as ‘evil evergreens’ like Leyland cypress can do, but work best as formal structure or specimens. Box edging, topiary shapes and yew hedges are standard, classic, examples of evergreen structure but the list of possibilities throws up a few surprises.
At precisely this time of year it is possible, in a well stocked garden, to turn a corner and get a strong blast of sweet perfume on the air. The source may at first be hard to identify, as it is not a ‘shouty’ plant, but Elaeagnus x ebbingei is a handsome evergreen shrub. Its insignificant little white flowers have the most amazing scent and bloom at this otherwise unprepossessing time of year, taking the unwary by surprise. It will make a large shrub, or even better as a hedge, but will require careful pruning to keep it in check. There is a glossier, more ‘shouty’, variegated version descriptively named ‘Gilt Edge’ if you need it to make more of a statement.
Working in a client’s garden recently reminded me that keeping large leaved evergreens, such as elaeagnus, in check is a bit of an art. The time-limited (lazy?) gardener might just go at everything with a hedgetrimmer, or shears, and then wonder why their evergreens look tatty. Fortunately my Netherbury garden curators let me take the time, and therefore their extra expense, to laboriously trim some evergreens with secateurs and not hedgetrimmers. Small leaved evergreens, such as Pittosporum, are fine to run over with powered trimmers but specimens like Portugese Laurel, with larger, glossy green leaves, need to be pruned back with secateurs—snipping off excess growth back to a leaf joint each time.
If cut ‘willy-nilly’, with shears or hedgetrimmers, every leaf which is chopped in half, or left in tatters, will die back along the cut edge leaving a mish-mash of brown scars and dead or mortally wounded foliage. This is one of those finer points of gardening maintenance which sets the private garden apart from the more corporate, or public, offering. I can’t imagine anyone, the odd Russian oligarch excepted, could afford the labour to trim huge quantities of laurel, bay or Aucuba by hand with secateurs; that would be akin to trimming the lawn with nail scissors!
On the matter of lawns; cut less often and raise the cutting height on your mower. Clear fallen leaves regularly to prevent them from shading out much needed light which would weaken the grass at a time of year when it needs all the help it can get. In places where grass refuses to grow, due to tree cover or very poor soil, another often overlooked evergreen may prove your salvation. Trailing ivy, used as groundcover, is a brilliant foil to other plants and is very easy to control—it needn’t be a ‘mortar destroying thug’ which is sometimes how it is portrayed. I have a small variegated version which runs around in a border daintily hiding bare soil and giving light relief when everything else is gloomy. This particular anonymous cultivar started off life as one of those tiny plug plants in a hanging basket multi-pack. When the original container was planted out in the border, as I am wont to do with exhausted bulbs, this ivy took off and is now an invaluable constituent of this part of the garden. It’s great when little events like that happen in gardens. You don’t plan for them, I am not by inclination a ‘planning’ type of person, but it’s just a happy side effect of being a canny gardener.
Having not planned, and being particularly skint, I am not planting any tulips this year but that is what YOU, gentle reader, should be doing if you want them to grace your garden next spring. I did recently purchase, at a car boot sale, a pair of, very damaged, ‘Staffordshire flat-back’ spill holders (ask your Granny if you’re not sure what they are) which each depict a happy couple stood either side of a ‘parrot’ type tulip. I like to think that this was, perhaps, a folk reference to the infamous ‘Tulip madness’ when, allegedly, single bulbs changed hands for the price of a house. The way things are going we may well be returning to those days…
PS—having spent far too long weeding other people’s flower beds I should put in another plea for you to mulch your own borders and that does require a bit of planning. Get the mulch in soon so that it is to hand when you have spare moments over the winter months to ‘deweed’ and then mulch your beds and borders. The mulch does need to be sterile (ie. free of weeds and their seeds) if it is to be any use and as such is only really available as a ‘bought-in’ product. I’ve not plugged them for a while and, as a local company providing an excellent service, I hope my editor will let me mention Beaminster based ‘Komit Kompost’ in this brazen manner. I notice their prices have gone up, unavoidable I guess, but if you can ‘cash and carry’ that will help, or club together with fellow gardeners and arrange a delivery of bulk bags. Makes an ideal Christmas gift too—though too big to get in to a stocking I find!

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