Friday 26th November 2021

Cold and grey. Dismal, even. We press on regardless.

Oh, we are a cheery, chirpy bunch! No doubt about it.

And there are lots of lovely things to keep our spirits up –

The Protection Racket

Time to think about adding extra protection for some tender plants which can’t easily be moved. Mulching is one way to add a layer of insulation; dressing plants in warm, winter outfits is another.

But not this sort of jacket, obvs.

More like this sort of thing –

Plant ident.

Tetrapanex papyrifer ‘Rex’

Architectural Plants say this is ‘Fatsia japonica on steroids’. It has exotica in abundance. The Chinese Rice Paper plant is a beaut., a fast-growing shrub/small tree with enormous, deeply-lobed green leaves. Can be grown in a large pot, but is better in the ground where it will probably sucker, so you end up with a little thicket. Can be thinned out and cut down as necessary, but they have a powdery dust all over them, which can be irritating to some. Wear a mask and long sleeves when working amongst them, just to be cautious. Needs a sheltered position in full sun to partial shade; wrapping it in a winter jacket will help to ensure it gets through the winter unscathed. Ht. 4-8m

Canna

Cannas are vibrant, tender, rhizomatous perennials with bold, exotic leaves and showy-offy flowers from mid to late summer through to autumn. Great Dixter demonstrates how magnificent they can be, growing them in their Exotic Garden. They can be container-grown or placed in a border and need a fertile soil and full sun. Although tender, they can survive the winter in warmer parts of the U.K. if given a good covering of mulch. At Garden House, they’ll be cut in half (yoicks!) and wrapped in a covering of horticultural fleece. Ht 1.8m

Musa basjoo

This Japanese Hardy Banana somehow defies expectations and grows quite happily in the U.K. , managing at ambient temperatures of 6 degrees centigrade. Cut back in the winter and mulch the stems. For colder areas, Architectural Plants once again offers sage words of advice: ‘Acquire yourself some nice old terracotta chimney pots and, after the leaves have been frosted, cut the banana down to a few inches lower than the top of the chimney pot, place the pot over the stem, stuff it with straw and devise a top to keep the rain out. Here it will be safe even when Hell freezes over.’ Heck, give it a go!

Hedychium

One of late summer’s glories – the Ginger Lily plant. Lush foliage and wonderful bright colours make them highly desirable – and they’re also easy to grow. But now they need protection. In an ideal world, move them into a warm, sumptuous conservatory. Otherwise, a cold greenhouse should work and/or wrap them in a winter jacket of horticultural fleece. Bubble wrap around the pot provides an extra layer of insulation and finish with a good helping of mulch over the soil. Planting the rhizomes deeply helps to enhance cold tolerance, as does siting them against a south or west facing wall. As with many exotics, it’s damp-induced rotting which is often the main killer, so endeavour to protect from winter rains.

Cobaea scandens

Is it an annual? Is it perennial? It’s the luck of the draw, really. In the U.K. we usually treat the Cup and Saucer plant as an annual, but it can flower into November/December in a sheltered position, and has been known to make it through the winter. Try covering the roots in much mulch and see what happens. Sow seeds in January, as it takes a long time to get going, but once it does, it’s rampant! An exotic-looking climber with either white or purple bell-shaped flowers, it can be trained over trellises and arches to dramatic effect. Essential!

Now, out into the garden, where someone is keeping a sharp lookout for unwanted intruders

Nothing gets past me

I just did

Autumn Leaves

What to do? Leave leaves to decompose? Dispose of them? Compost them? It’s a puzzle. Merely leaving them on the soil or grass can remove vital nutrients. The very best thing to do with deciduous leaves is to collect them up and put them into a leaf cage, or just a bin bag with holes pierced in it to allow aeration. Add a little water and they will eventually rot down, creating a perfect material for mulching and potting. It is the slow action of fungi rather than bacteria which breaks the leaves down. Some leaves decompose more quickly than others – e.g. birch, beech and cherry, whereas larger, more leathery leaves, like those of Horse Chestnut, take longer and will benefit from being shredded.

Hessian sacks are ideal for making leaf mould. Air can get in easily, as can moisture. And they look posh.

Composting

A quick recap. DON’T put in: plastics, sellotape, weeds, large pieces of wood, large prunings, crocks, polystyrene, cooked food. There will be ructions! DO put in small twiggy materials, green garden waste and grass clippings, ash from wood fires, coffee grounds, tea bags, pet hair and human hair (but not if still attached to owner), feathers, cardboard. Layer, aerate, turn, pray.

Charles Dowding, the no-dig guru, is excellent on the subject (the religion?) of composting. Watch him on YouTube.

Jobs for the week

Sieve compost taken from the bins

Or ’tilth the filth’, as we say. This refines the texture and the resulting glory can be layered onto seeded beds or beds cleared for winter. Or used to mix with leaf mould for potting on.

Compost (before) in barrow. Compost (after) in trug. Compare and contrast.

Assess borders

Decide what is to be kept and what should go. Remove and replant as required. The Buddleia is a case in point. Note the traditional Replanting Dance: heel and toe, heel and toe…

Cut back anything dead, damaged, diseased, ugly, and compost appropriately (not diseased material). Stems of Asters, Dahlias, Rudbeckias, Helianthus and Peonies (not Tree Peonies) can all go. Leave seed heads for the birds and wildlife – for example, Sedums – and anything which still looks good, like the heads of Japanese Anemones. Frosts will take the garden to a whole new level of beauty.

Mulch borders

With compost from the bin

Or, as we call it, black gold

Mulching retains moisture in the soil, acts as a weed suppressant, inhibits soil erosion and provides insulation for resting plants. A layer of 10 cms is ideal. All it requires is a lot of application.

The Applicators

The crucial Break for Cake

Today including carrot cake and orange drizzle cake.

Thank goodness. That’s two of our five-a-day

So welcome. And so restorative

Work in The Cathedral

Potting on seedlings and propagating succulents

Warm, comforatable, spacious. It’s tough, but someone has to do it.

Work in the Pelargonium Palace

Primp the Pellies. Tidy. Re-pot where necessary. You know the rules.

Check Sempervivums

Houseleeks are hardy, succulent, alpine plants, and their name is indicative of the fact that it’s hard to kill them. They are tolerant of extreme temperatures and drought; the main thing which can do for them is sitting in the wet. Well, that would do for anyone.

Sempervivums form distinctive rosettes of foliage and bear flowers from spring to summer. Each rosette is a separate plant and is monocarpic, meaning that it will flower once and then die. However, baby plants (offsets) grow on and these can be removed, planted up and grown on, forming new clumps. Above, we can see the dead rosette in the centre of the pot.

Re-pot offsets in gritty compost and finish with a layer of horticultural grit. Label and protect from wet weather

Planting bulbs

Underneath the arches. Will it ever end? And what’s going in today?

Lovely!

We think so

Anyway, we must get on

Wrap up warm

Winter jackets on

And which Friday Group member got wrapped this year?

Tidy up time

Making a clean sweep of things

And, guess what? The sun came out! Well, they say it shines on the righteous

November it may be…

…but look what’s still blooming away at Garden House!