A gentle meander around the garden in November

The overriding features of the garden this month are the rich colours of the autumn leaves and the bright red berries so loved by the birds.  The birds have just about finished off the Pyracantha berries but the Cotoneaster still remain for the time being.  I am sure these will be next.

Usually October sees the finest autumn leaf colour but this year the leaves seem to have held right into November.  The high, gusty winds of the last few days (22/23 Nov) have removed a lot of the leaves but the stunning bronze shades of the flowering cherries (Prunus incisa ‘Paean’) still remain.

Flowering cherry
Rich autumn tones of the flowering cherries still holding their leaves in November

There are, however, sparks of interest all around the garden.  The Fatsia japonica which sits in full shade just behind the house has been in full flower for a good month now with is large, white architectural flowers.  These flowers, along with the ivy, are a great source of late autumn pollen and nectar for a wide range of insects and bees.

Fatsia
Large white flowers on the Fatsia japonica

Still in full flower throughout the garden is Schizostylis (Kaffir Lily) in its range of intense red and pale pink flowers.  Even in November it is still throwing up new fresh buds.  In our recent visit to Ludlow we managed to pick up a new variety (to us) of Schizostylis ‘Pink Princess’ which is a delicate blush pink and we look forward to it settling well into the flower garden.  The plant was already established enough to divide into three so we already have a reasonable clump for next season.

There are also a number of unseasonal surprises including Astrantia and Centranthus which have thrown up a second (or even third) flush of flowers having been cut back after flowering earlier in the year.    The Centranthus (Valerian) in particular is looking very fresh and almost glows in the dim autumn light of the afternoon.

Centranthus
Centranthus (Red Valerian) flowering in late November

It is noticeable that some of the evergreen shrubs are putting on a last flush of new growth before the temperature gets too cold.  Our variegated Pittosporum is looking particularly fresh and healthy at the moment.  It is something we use often in our floristry and it is pleasing to see it growing so well.  Also growing well are our recently planted Rosemary bushes which are putting on long straight stems that will come in useful for both attractive, fragrant wedding buttonholes as well as kitchen use over the coming months.

Pittosporum
Variegated Pittosporum continuing to grow strongly

One of the major jobs for the winter months is to prune back and refresh all the roses around the garden.  This is a significant piece of work and something that we spread over a number of weeks once the cold weather sets in and the roses have lost their leaves.  All the climbers will be untied from their supports, the old stems taken right out and a few new stems selected on each plant to tie back in.  Any remaining flowers heads will be taken off and all the small side branches will be pruned back to 3 or 4 buds making a neat and tidy look throughout the winter.

But the shrubs are not all going to sleep.  Some of the winter flowering shrubs like Viburnum x Bodnantense are now coming into bloom.  This is one of those shrubs that offers a wonderful waft of scent on those cold winter days as you wander around the garden.

Another main stay of the late summer and autumn garden are the hardy fushias.  These really are low maintenance shrubs and continue producing the characteristic blooms way into November.

Fushia
Hardy fushias flowing strongly late into November

Rather unexpectedly the Japenese Quince (Cheanomeles) is already flowering, something we would not normally expect to see until after Christmas.  Other spring flowering perennials like Bergenia are also already in bloom and looking fresh and bright.

Before the winter sets in a lot of of preparation has been going on to ensure that we have a wonderful flush of colour in the spring.  Tubs have been emptied and planted up with tulips, crocus and topped with winter flowering Viola’s and Panies.

 

All of the dahlias have now been lifted from the old rose garden and the areas cleared.  Tulips, English Iris, Crocus and Alliums have all been planted.   We have planted a number of Allium cristophii which we hope will establish and create a real statement throughout the flower garden next year and beyond.

The biennials that were seeded last June and planted out in September (wallflowers, sweet william, foxgloves, sweet rocket, hollyhocks and campanula) are all establishing well and look like they are now big enough to survive the winter without problems.  The hollyhocks have grown into large plants already but do seem to be suffering from a little rust.  Hopefully this will not cause problems further down the line.

Things in the garden may be slowing but the greenhouse is full of newly seeded perennial plants that will over winter under protection and be planted out in the spring.  These include Lupin ‘Noble Maiden’ (white) and Lupin ‘Chandelier’ (yellow), Aquilegia ‘Blue Star’, Delphinium ‘Black Knight’ and Achillea ‘Summer Berries’.  Sown in September, these have all developed into good strong little plants for the winter.

Also in the greenhouse we continue to grow on our fresh herbs (coriander and rocket) for use in the kitchen.

Greenhouse seedlings
September sown Lupins and Achillea over wintering in the greenhouse

In preparation for the cold winter weather we have now brought all the Agapanthus in pots into the cold greenhouse.  The hardier, deciduous varieties with their narrow leaves will need little further attention until the spring but the non-deciduous larger leaved varieties will be covered in fleece or bubble wrap when we get very cold nights.  We have also brought the Ornithogalum into the greenhouse to overwinter.

The non-hardy Chrysanthemum’s that have been flowering profusely outside in the flower garden have all been dug up, cut back and potted up in the greenhouse to overwinter.

In the orchard pretty much all of the apples have fallen now.  Some remain on the Tydeman’s Late Orange and the Bramley for later picking.  We have had a huge, wonderful crop and those that have not been used for cider making, putting in the freezer or been given away are unfortunately now falling to the ground and need to be cleared and put on the compost heap.  I keep thinking I need to find someone that keeps a pig to help me out at this time of year.

The woodland walk is quiet at the moment but there are already signs of the promise of spring.  We are slowly developing a snowdrop walk in this part of the garden complemented by cyclamen and beautiful yellow primroses that we were given from an Aunt’s garden on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall.

The yellow-stemmed willow that is close to this wooded area has now lost its leaves and stands straight and tall at the edge of the copse.  This will look stunning right through the winter particularly on days where the weak winter sun shines through the bare stems of the copse.

Willow
Yellow stemmed willow

We have also recently planted a new Acer palmatum  in this sheltered area.  This was one of those irresistible buys from our recent autumn visit to Hergest Croft Garden in Herefordshire.  We have not been very successful with Acers in the past but the one in our neighbour’s garden looks stunning in the autumn so it is certainly possible to grow them in this part of the world.  Fingers crossed this time.

As we move towards December the gardening will continue.  Seventy new roses will shortly be arriving from Griffin Roses and these will be planted into the new flower garden.  All the beds are now dug over and prepared to receive these bare rooted shrubs.  Busy times ahead!

 

 

Advertisements

Garden Ecology: Green Shield Bugs

I think that all young children are fascinated by mini-beasts and my interest in the garden ecology around us has not gone away.  It never ceases to amaze me just how many different bugs and small creatures you come across whilst digging and working among the flowers.  This virtual tour of the garden gives me a great excuse to find out more.

I must admit that I have probably been rather undisciplined in what I have called a ‘bug’ over the years.  The Green Shield Bug (Palomena prasina) is in fact a true-bug in the Order Hemiptera.

This intriguingly shaped bug with its shield shaped flat body, tiny head and long red segmented antennae is very common and a native in the UK.  It has sucking mouthparts and feeds on the sap of deciduous trees and shrubs.  Writers indicate that their impact on cultivated plants is negligible though.

Most accounts indicate that they are active from April/May through to October after which they hibernate over winter.  This individual was seen in mid-November basking in the autumn sun.  The green shield bugs become active in the spring, mate and lay their eggs.  Once hatched the shield bugs go through a larval and four nymph stages before reaching the final stage.  To me the nymphs look like little green ladybirds (but they are not) and we have often wondered what they are when we have seen them during the summer.

Interestingly the bugs change colour from bright green when they are feeding in the summer to brown when the hibernate.  Presumably this is a camouflage mechanism for when they are hibernating in the winter undergrowth.

If you are interested to learn more there is plenty of information and many detailed photographs on the appropriately named British Bugs website at www.britishbugs.org.uk .

The following shared YouTube video by ‘Bugs Summer’ shows the green shield bug nymph very nicely:

Cotoneaster and Pyracantha: Loved by the birds, florists and gardeners alike

 

Looking out across the garden in the autumn sunshine on this November morning  it is the Cotoneasters and Pyracantha that are some of the star plants of the moment.  Their red and orange berries give a spark of colour to the yellow autumn hues of the hedgerow trees.

Perhaps rather over used in municipal planting, especially Cotoneaster, there are many interesting cultivars and species to choose from both to add interest in the garden and for use in floral arrangements.

For an added bonus these shrubs bring the garden wildlife right up to the house windows.  It is such a pleasure watching the birds feeding on the Pyracantha.  This morning in just a few minutes we saw a pair of the most beautiful Bullfinches (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) in their red plumage, a Dunnock (Prunella modularis) and a Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) all feeding together. Blackbirds (Turdus merula) and Redwings (Turdus iliacus) are also regular visitors whilst the Blue Tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) shelter on the branches whilst busily feeding on the insects on the window panes and under the roof tiles.

Varieties in the garden at Waverley

We are not entirely sure of the species and varieties we have here at Honey Pot Flowers so please feel free to comment if you think we have got the identification wrong.

Cotoneaster Cornubia (Cotoneaster X watereri ‘Cornubia’)

This is quite a large fast growing shrub with dramatic arching branches and long willow like leaves.  It has large showy clusters of red berries that stay on the plant much later than the ‘wild’ types of Cotoneaster that we have around the garden.  It is semi-evergreen and has glossy dark green lanceolate shaped leaves which are clean and free from disease.

Cotoneaster 'Cornubia'
Cotoneaster ‘Cornubia’ in the Honey Pot Flowers garden in mid-November

Cotoneaster Rothschildianus (Cotoneaster salicifoilus ‘Rothschildianus’)

Very similar in habit to Cornubia but has creamy-yellow berries.  It is semi-evergreen in our garden with a lovely arching habit.  The berries hold well.

Cotoneaster Rothschildianus
Cotoneaster Rothschildianus in mid-November in the garden at Waverley

Pyracantha

Related to the Cotoneasters, these plants come in a wide range of colours and the name of our variety is lost in the mists of time.  Ours has orange/red berries and masses of white flowers in early June.  By pure luck we have a dog rose climbing up amongst it and the pretty pink flowers of the rose complement the Pyracantha flowers wonderfully.  It is a big plant and needs regular cutting back (probably more cutting back than we actually get around to) but it has vicious spikes and needs carefully handling.  It is not something that you can put through the shredder and spread on the flower beds as mulch as the thorns remain and get in the dogs’ feet.

Pyracantha
Pyracantha laden with berries in November attracting bullfinches, redwings, thrushes and blackbirds

Floristry

Cotonesters are very useful as foliage throughout the year and can add that additional Christmas feel in November and December.  Their long arching habit and well behaved upward facing foliage make them extremely useful in large floral arrangements for large table centrepieces, door wreaths, church archways and pedestal arrangements.

Ideally the stems should be cut fresh in the morning.  You should slit the stem (about 1 inch) before conditioning for 24-48 hours in clean fresh water with flower food if you have it.  Slitting the stem helps the water uptake.  Even if the stem tips drop at first they will soon perk up over a 24 hour period.  Refresh the water every 24 hours if you are not using immediately.

Cotoneaster foliage
Arching cotoneaster foliage complementing orange and white fragrant roses, sweet william and campanula

Unlike Pyracantha and Berberis, which are very spikey and need to have the spines removed before using, Cotoneaster stems are thornless and therefore much less time consuming (and painful) to work with.

If you want to get to the berries before the birds you can pick them and keep them in water for a good few weeks in a cool place.  Remember to keep changing the water every few days.

Family:  Rosaceae

Origin:  According to Wikipedia Pyrancantha coccinae ranges from North Eastern Spain to Northern Iran whilst the Cotoneasters originate from areas across temperate Asia, Europe and North Africa.

Hardiness:  According to the RHS, Cotoneaster ‘Cornubia’ and Pyracantha are graded as H6 (Hardy in all of UK and northern europe -20 °C to -15 °C)

Propagation

We have always had great success in propagating Cotoneasters by taking hardwood cutting in the Autumn.  Take about a 9 inch cutting (about a pencil thinkness) from mature wood, cutting cleanly just above a node at the top and just below a node at the bottom.  Cut the stem at an angle at the top to help you remember which way up the cutting needs to be planted.

Put the cutting(s) the right way up either into a nursery bed in the ground or into a deep pot filled with a well drained, loam based compost (the deep rose flowerpots are ideal for this).  You can put a number of cuttings into a single pot.  The cuttings should be at least two-thirds of their length under the soil.

Water in well and place them outside where you can look after them.  They will stay in the pot or ground for about 12 months before you pot them on.  Just let them grow leaves and roots during the summer, watering as necessary, and then pot up in the autumn into individual pots or if the roots are big enough into the garden.

Offer any spare ones to your friends!  You will have many more than you need.

Pruning

Pruning in the right way at the right time is critical to maintaining the flowers and ultimately the berries.

With Pyracantha the flowers (and subsequently the berries) are formed on short spur growths on the previous year’s growth.  Any new growth in mid to late summer will need to be left to mature in order to produce the next seasons flowers and berries.

With Cotoneaster ‘Cornubia’ it is the open branching structure that is so attractive and it is probably best to avoid pruning excessively other than to remove wayward or damaged branches that look out of place.  If you want to reduce the size or thin out the tree we typically use the ‘one-third’ technique on many shrubs.  Each year you remove one-third of the older stems leaving the majority intact.  The next year you remove another one-third of the old stems (leaving any new ones) and the same again in the third year.  In this way you slow reduce the size of the shrub each year but it will still flower and look good in the garden.

Birdlife

We haven’t managed to capture footage of the male bullfinch yet but here are a couple of clips of a female Bullfinch and Redwing enjoying the Pyracantha berries in mid-November.

Further reading

RHS “Pruning” by Christopher Bricknell (ISBN 1-85732-902-3)

 

Persicaria: charming cut flowers and valuable cottage garden plants

Family:  Polygonaceae

The Knotweeds may not immediately spring to mind when selecting cut flowers but we have found them a valuable addition to both the cottage garden and to include within our country style flower arrangements.  Across the different species you can be rewarded with flowers from April right through to late October.

There are five main species that we grow in the Honey Pot Flowers garden here at Waverley.

Persicaria amplexicaulis (red bistort)

The latin name amplexicaulis means ‘clasping the stem’ and describes the characteristic fresh green stems of this herbaceous perennial.  Originating from China and the Himalayas, this clump forming plant seems to like the damp areas of our garden and lives very happily in part-shade.  It does get sun for a period in the afternoon.  The plant needs very little attention and stands well without support producing dusky, brick red flowers from July into late October and early November.  It dies back totally in the winter growing vigorously again in late spring and is excellent at choking out other weeds completely.

Persicaria amplexicaulis
Persicaria amplexicaulis (Mountain fleece or Red Bistort)

Persicaria bistorta (common bistort)

This is such a charming plant producing masses of baby pink spikes of flowers that are excellent for cutting.  According to botanical.com the name ‘bistorta’ refers to the twice twisted appearance of the rootstock.  This species originates from Europe and north and west Asia and seems to like relatively moist soils in our old rose garden.  It does spread quite rapidly but can easily be dug out and kept in check.

The flowers grow on long stems to about 60cm and are easy to cut in large numbers.  If using in bouquets it is probably wise to cut them before they get too fluffy and begin to drop their petals everywhere.  Cut young, they are strong and robust and will last well adding a wonderful pop of pink and different texture to any arrangement.  They go wonderfully with blue Camassia quamash which flowers at the same time.

Persicaria bistorta
Persicaria bistorta

Persicaria affinis (fleece flower)

A much smaller plant than P. bistorta and P. amplexicaulis, this species grows to a height of about 20-30cm and produces flowers throughout the summer from July onwards.  Originating again from the Himalayas it is very much a front of border plant producing a mass of pink/red flowers underpinned by evergreen foliage.  Whereas the two above are single colours the beauty of P. affinis is that it tends to have an attractive mix of pink and red on the same flower stem, the colours changing towards red as the flower matures.

This is probably not a flower for bouquets but it certainly makes a very pretty addition to a small flower girl posy and gives an excellent cottage garden feel to jam-jar arrangements.

Persicaria microcephala ‘Red Dragon’

If you are looking for interesting foliage in your arrangements and borders then ‘Red Dragon’ is certainly worth considering.  Grown I think mainly for the foliage it has burgundy/green/silver leaves with striking ‘arrow’ shaped markings.  The small white flowers contrast nicely with the deep red foliage.  Regarded by the RHS as slightly less hardy than the others listed here it is still able to cope with temperatures down to -10 °C to -15 °C.

We grow our ‘Red Dragon’ around the margins of the pond area in a very damp area where it creates an interesting contrast with the other green marginal plants.  It certainly protects its own space well against strong competition but equally is not a thug itself.

Persicaria microcephala 'Red Dragon'
Persicaria microcephala ‘Red Dragon’

Persicaria campanulata (lessor knotweed)

Again from the Himalayas, P. campanulata is not as showy as some of the other species listed here.  However, I rather like it as it creates a light airy effect in the garden producing many small clusters of pink flowers over dark green, heavily veined leaves.

If you are looking for a filler flower with foliage that will create a relaxed open feel to your bouquets and arrangements this is one to consider.  It cuts well and is long lasting if conditioned properly.

It is worth being aware that P. campanulata does grow quickly during the season and does need to be kept in check.  It grows to a height of about 1 metre and is certainly not a ‘neat & tidy’ plant.  It looks better if given space in a more natural setting.  Although it spreads rapidly it is easy to cut back and keep under control.  P. campanulata looks good around our pond area and suits that sort of watery, riverside look.

Cut flowers:  Yes, long lasting.  Liable to drop petals so try and pick younger flowers.

Conditioning:  Standard conditioning in cool clear water for at least 2 hours.

Hardiness:  Hardy herbaceous perennials (all the above are in the RHS H7 category (hardy in the severest European continental climates) except Persicaria microcephala ‘Red Dragon’ which is considered H5 (hardy in most places throughout the UK even in severe winters)).

Related weeds:  We do also have lots of the related weed Polygonum aviculare (common knotgrass) but this is not deep rooted and easily controllable if weeded out regularly (but don’t put any of the seeds onto the compost heap or you will have it everywhere!).

Further Reading:  Royal Horticultural Society hardiness rating

An easy method to provide a continuous supply of fresh herbs for cooking at the weekend

We really enjoy using fresh herbs in our cooking but if you are growing your own it is so easy to get a glut at times and then nothing at others (just when you want it of course).

Supermarket buying also has its problems with a standard pack of cut fresh herbs usually much more than you need.  It then languishes in the fridge until it becomes rather sad and limp.

However, creating your own supply of growing herbs and salad leaves is really very straight forward as long as you get yourself organised.  If you have a greenhouse or cold frame then all the better.

We use a lot of  coriander, rocket, basil and parsley in particular and grow them in the following way.

Every three weeks fill a small 9cm pot with standard multi-purpose compost mixed with some perlite for better drainage.  Water the compost and then sow a small amount of coriander seed onto the surface.  Water before you sow the seed so it remains evenly spread over the pot and does not all end up in one corner.  Cover lightly with vermiculite (or more compost), label and then cover with a piece of clingfilm until the seedlings emerge.  Uncover as soon as the seedlings begin to show.

We do the same with the salad rocket in a slightly large 1 litre plastic pot.  The seedlings of rocket will emerge in just a few days.

For the basil we tend to use a broader 9 inch wide terracotta pot/bowl as the basil likes better drainage and does not like to get waterlogged.  There are a wide range of basil varieties and these can provide you with both leaves for a salad and for use in cooking.  Once sown the technique is the same.

Just grow these on in the light and very rapidly they will reach a point where you can bring them into the kitchen, place on the windowsill and pick what you need, when you need it.

I am sure the same technique would work equally well for parsley but we find that rather than bring the pots into the kitchen we plant them out in the vegetable garden where they establish quickly and produce fresh green leaves deep into winter.

Remember:  Keep sowing every 3 weeks or so (don’t wait until you start to run out) and you will have a ready supply throughout the year.

A recipe to try:  If you like parsley then you might like to have a go at this recipe for egg, bacon and parsley pie which is a favorite of ours and makes great use of the parsley from the garden.

Garden Ecology: Hornets – friend or foe?

One of the things I love about writing a blog is that it encourages you to investigate around a subject more than you might otherwise do so.

Over the last month the hornets have been much more noticeable in the garden than at any other time of year.  I presume that they must be about all year but we only tend to notice them when the apples ripen and the cider production begins.

According to Wikipedia the European Hornet (Vespa crabro) is the largest eusocial wasp in Europe.  Certainly the ones in our garden at around 3cm in length make the ordinary wasps look petite and delicate.  The hornets have a very characteristic yellow band across their heads and brown hairs over their thorax.  They are brown and yellow compared to the black and yellow of the common wasp (Vespula vulgaris).

They just love any apples that have been pecked by the birds and it appears that they get rather intoxicated by the (fermenting?) juice.  From time to time they seem to just fall out of the apple onto their backs and onto the ground, lie there for a while with their feet in the air and after a few minutes fly back to the apple for more!

According to the UK safari website , the larvae eat insects taken back to nest by the adults.  As with wasps this probably makes the hornet a friend (rather than foe) in the garden helpfully eating unwanted insects and reducing their numbers.

This same website indicates that hornets are mostly in the south east of England and range northwards as far as Nottinghamshire.  Our population here in Warwickshire must therefore be part of this tough northern stock (the ones with the Midlands accents).

There has been concern about the arrival of the Asian Hornet (Vespa veluntina) in the UK which is an invasive non-native species.  As a predator of the honey bee its arrival is of great concern.  I am fairly sure that the hornet pictured in our garden is the European Hornet as the ‘Asian Hornet’ has an entirely dark brown or black velvety body, bordered with a fine yellow band and a much blacker abdomen.  Only the 4th abdominal segment is yellow/orange.

Further information on the Yellow legged ‘Asian Hornet

Over-wintering the dahlias

We had our first serious frost here in Warwickshire on 6 November and the dahlias are now all beginning to die back.  Keeping them in good shape over the winter is an important job at this time of year to ensure that we have great, good quality tubers for bringing on in the spring.

For those we want to bring indoors we cut back the stems and gently lift them from the soil.  After scrapping off the majority of the soil we divide the clumps, if the tubers are large enough, into good strong plants.  These are allowed to dry upside down in a frost free shed in the autumn sunshine before labelling (essential as you will never remember which one is which in the spring), wrapping in newspaper or soft brown paper and storing away in trays.

The objective here is to dry them sufficiently so that they will not rot over winter, to give them enough protection so that they do not get frosted and do not dry out too much.

We often have far too many tubers to dig up and bring indoors and so some plants have to take their chances in the ground.  In the cut flower garden we cut back the foliage, cover with a good layer of dry straw from the local stables and then cover the bed with cloche plastic held down against the wind with bricks.  The dahlias are planted in raised beds which provides some additional drainage when the ground gets very wet.  We have had great success with this technique over the years and although the tubers sprout later than those indoors they soon catch up if you protect them well from the slugs.  Not all will survive but enough do make it through.

The tubers kept in the frost free shed are usually potted up in about March, watered and brought on in the warmth before hardening them off and planting out after all danger of frosts has passed.

Now all that is required is a bit of good fortune and we will have a great show again next year!