Where has this year gone? I used to hate November as it heralded the onset of winter, but since taking up gardening I now feel anticipation as well as a gentle winding down. After a quiet October, November is back to business once again, as I am on the side of Autumn Tidy Up. I like to cut back early flowering perennials to show off the late bloomers. The greenhouse needs a jolly good sweep and rinse now that the tomatoes and cucumbers have all been stripped out, but with the chilli peppers still cropping prolifically, and a family of mice having taken up residence I am loath the disrupt the happy home. I have been able to sort out my seed packets though, allocating easy-to-grow annuals for our 2016 National Gardens’ Scheme Children’s Treasure Hunt prizes, salads for the greenhouse, veggies for the allotment and flowers for the baskets. At this year’s T&M Triallists’ Open Day in August we were given a wide variety of seed packets, some of which I have never heard of so I am looking forward to experimenting next spring.
I am wondering what to do with Fuchsia ‘Eruption’ (summer 2015 trial) – shall I take my chances and leave them in their pot in the shelter of the semi-enclosed patio, or shall I defoliate and prune them and overwinter them in the greenhouse? I have never been very good at getting half hardy fuchsias through the winter so we will see……. Begonia Apricot Shades Improved (summer 2015 trials) have mostly been lifted, their tubers drying off for storage, but there is still a glorious burst of colour from one last hanging basket.
Ironically, just as they say it will be the coldest winter for years (who are They incidentally?) I chose this summer to go salvia mad, from large leaved salvia involucrata, Black and Blue and Amistad, to the small shrubby varieties, having always avoided them as semi-hardy. Oh well, I have taken cuttings and will dig up the larger leaved specimens to overwinter in the greenhouse. I don’t have a propagator and the greenhouse is unheated so I have brought the cuttings into my husband’s heated studio workshop. To protect the cuttings from overnight chill I provide bottom heat by placing a hot water bottle between two seed trays, and sit the 9cm pots in the top tray!
Having cut back the geranium phaeum from around the apple tree I was able to tackle the ivy which had grown into the shrubs beneath. In the process I liberated two cornus Winter Flame (winter 2012/3 trials), their buttery yellow leaves and fiery stems bringing colour to a dark corner. Digitalis Leopardskin and Digitalis Illumination have only just stopped flowering amongst the pulmonarias, cyclamen, alchemilla and Brunnera ‘Starry Eyes’ (spring 2014 trials). I love gardening for shade, it’s so challenging and when you get it right so rewarding, all those contrasting foliage shapes, colours and textures.
Since we planted the Dahlias Fox Mixed and Trebbiano (summer 2012 trials) on the allotment this spring they have thrived as never before, as they are in full sun on well-drained soil unlike our semi-shaded clay garden soil at home, and the number of flowers we have cut has run into hundreds!
Next year we will be adding some new dahlia tubers to the mix. The white cosmos and Californian poppies I grew from T&M seed in our sunroom this March are still flowering alongside, so I feel well encouraged to try annuals from seed next spring.
So the gardening year has become protracted to ten active months, December & January being my hibernation period, with infrequent trips to the greenhouse to check on dormant plants and gaze longingly at the awaiting seed packets and trays in anticipation of early February sowing of sweet pea and the first bulbs emerging……. See you then!
Caroline Broome has been gardening for more than 20 years. Having passed the RHS General Certificate, she has since developed her East Finchley garden into a “personal paradise” that she and her husband invite the public to visit each year via the National Garden Scheme. Learn more about our contributor using T&M’s ‘Meet the experts’ page.