Apples on a leafless apple tree, November 2004

Above: Apples against a blue sky, November 2004

Garden diary: October

2 November 2002

As November begins, the ground in Woodland Corner is covered with leaves from the apple tree and Morello cherry tree. The trees shed their leaves slowly at first, then the process speeds up, and drifts of them cover the bark chipping path and the flowerbeds.

There are plants whose leaves are just beginning to turn colour. Hosta "Halcyon", a blue-leaved hosta, offers in autumn the added bonus of leaves that turn slowly to gold. (The leaves on my other hostas simply collapse into a wet heap.)

I noticed this morning two flowers left on Clematis "The President". These flowers look so obviously "out of season" now, as do a few remaining flowers on the Salvia patens. These bright purples and blues look like they belong to summer, look out of place. A couple of nasturtium flowers still peek from under the foliage of the few plants I haven't pulled up yet, the ones not yet collapsed by frost.

As the flowering annuals, perennials and deciduous climbers fade back, the evergreens of winter take their place. Under the cherry tree with its golden leaves, and forming a backdrop to the fading perennials, the two large Choisya ternata shrubs against the end wall remain shiny-leaved and vigorous, looking as good now as they did in the summer. Halfway down the garden the Viburnum tinus "Gwenllian" has been flowering for some weeks now, and is now covered in flower. These flowers aren't large and showy, so suit the autumn scene better.

In Kitchen Corner is the Mahonia x media "Charity" I bought last autumn as a birthday present to myself. (Isn't it good to have an excuse to buy a well-grown specimen that costs more than you'd feel comfortable spending otherwise?) In recent weeks I noticed the most intricate tightly-packed flowerhead emerging, a subtle bluish colour. This has been extending outwards, still in bud form, ready to form the yellow spikes of flower. In the past I didn't like Mahonias, but now see their appeal. I do know, however, that this shrub will need a fair space as it grows, so I'll have to bear that in mind and try to make room somewhere. At present it's still in a pot - as are many other things that are now so big they may need to be liberated at some point into open ground.

This morning, surveying the garden scene, I was thinking of how some years are seen to be better than others for autumn leaf colour. Though there's always autumn colour, it is subtly different each year. This reminded me of why I never grow tired of my small garden. Alongside the reassuring regularity of the turning seasons are the variations a garden offers.

I've heard many garden writers compare the creation of good varied planting with the act of painting a picture. Yet however accomplished the artist, a painting is static and unchanging. Planting up a garden means your own act of creation is only the starting point, while nature adds an extra dimension. This year, for example, the thick and well-established mixed planting against the wall and the trellis above it is a subtle mix of green and yellow, as the deciduous plants turn colour amongst the glossy ivy leaves. Nothing spectacular, merely one of the more subtle autumn pictures, but different from last year.

This year the ivy is full of its small green-yellow flowerheads, which on fine days are covered in insects still, enjoying this late nectar. Yesterday, walking back home alongside our garden wall, I noticed a scent in the air, and realised it was the flowerheads on the ivy. This year was the first I've noticed this elusive scent in my own garden. Previously I discovered it in another garden some years ago, when it took me a while to trace it to the insignificant ivy flowers. Ivy is a much undervalued plant.


I've just been out to fish fallen leaves from the pond - not netted yet, as I'm instead scooping out the few that fall in. As the pond is small, this is fairly easy, but will have to be done daily I guess, at the moment.

The rain has started to arrive, as the weatherman forecasted it would, so leaf collecting took place in a slow but building drizzle. On the way back up the garden I noticed how sad the stems of the Sedum were looking. I didn't feel like removing them, in case the seedheads are of any interest to the garden's birds, but as I brushed my hand across them I noticed new stems already forming at the base of the plant, perfectly formed grey buds packed tightly together, just emerging from the soil. Growth continues, among the fallen leaves.

29 November 2002

Water, water everywhere

I was relieved to hear on Gardeners' Question Time recently that as long as your bulbs aren't growing green shoots out of the top, you can, apparently, plant them as late as Christmas. This was good news, as though I've managed to plant early-flowering irises and narcissi bulbs, there are still many tulip bulbs sitting around in bags. I've moved the bags around a lot, in that "if I leave them there it'll remind me" kind of way, but it didn't work.

Even if I had remembered, I wouldn't have been able to take much action. The ground has been far too wet for far too long. I keep thinking I'll wait until it dries out a bit, but this autumn is like many others I've seen while gardening here, with lots of rain and a general overall dampness. I've decided I really dislike November. It's a dark and muddy month, and during it it's hard to watch TV without being bombarded with adverts about all the expensive stuff you're supposed to be buying your nearest and dearest for Christmas.

Getting out into the garden at least for a while every now and then is therefore essential for keeping sane and being reminded of the things that really matter and don't cost anything. So having waited for the ground to dry out, and realising it wasn't going to, I realised I should at least collect up some leaves and rescue some plants from the waterlogged ground.

The trees in the garden are leafless now. After a slow start to leaf-fall at the beginning of the month, the process speeded up and left the grassed area and Woodland Corner carpeted with leaves from the apple and cherry tree. I had attempted to keep clearing them as they began to fall, but realised this was a waste of time, so I concentrated on keeping them out of the pond. Otherwise they were left to accumulate. A week or so after they'd finished falling I realised I really should clear up the ones on the grass, as it was possibly dying off underneath. Further investigation revealed some very small plants in Woodland Corner were probably also in need of being rescued.

There are small stepping stones in the grass (which is too small and untidy to be called a lawn) but I still had to walk on the turf itself, which was rather squelchy. Walking on the bark path in Woodland Corner was also an equally squelchy experience. Walking on my flowerbeds was therefore not a good idea, so the tulip bulb planting was deferred (again).

I've rescued some plants from the flowerbeds, things like the purple sage that didn't seem to like our previous autumns and winters. The sage has been put into a pot of gritty compost instead. I've also potted up some pelargoniums that had been bedded out for the summer, so that I can protect them from frost and overwinter them.

Garden highlights

The Solanum jasminoides "Album" is still in flower on the end (west-facing) wall. I remember that it also flowered well into autumn last year. As its flowers are white, and dainty, it doesn't look out of place against the Woodland Corner section of wall. Here too the variegated ivy that for years seemed to be exactly the same size has at last visibly spread and covered most of the trellis along the top of the fence.

The most amazing plant in Woodland Corner is the Iris foetidissima, currently carrying several stems bearing bright orange berries in fat seedpods. I noticed its berries while having one of my "standing in the garden with a cup of tea" moments, on a very miserable drizzly morning recently. The general view was brown and green, then in the middle of it all this flash of orange.

This is the first year my Iris foetidissima has carried flowers and berries. It's odd, to me, that it is seen as one of those boring "use it to fill a problem area" plants. If I hadn't known that its flowers were considered "insignificant", I would have been showing them to everyone as rather exquisite blooms. I thought their colouring and markings were beautiful. Rhododendrons and azaleas leave me cold - I'd rather look at the delicate "insignificance" of this iris any day.

Back to November highlights and diaries


Berries - pyracantha and viburnum

Above: Berries of pyracantha and Viburnum tinus 'Gwenllian'.

Garden diary: December