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Winter is a time to take stock. Once you've dug up or mulched your dahlias, planted your spring bulbs and cut down and composted the annuals, you have time to assess your garden space. Look back at what worked this year and what you would change.

Hellebores
Hellebores

Although things have slowed down, there are still treasures to be discovered in the garden. Winter-flowering shrubs really do come into their own at this time of year and many of them are highly scented. A few sprigs of Viburnum bodnatense brought into the house will scent a whole room.

We have a lovely winter flowering cherry (Prunus subhirtilla autumnalis) at the front of the house which flowers throughout autumn and winter. A few cut branches brought into the house when in bud will gradually unfurl to reveal pretty cherry blossom flowers.

This year, my Hellebores have been early to flower, starting back in November. They are one of my favourite winter flowers and can be relied upon to flower usually from December/January all the way into March. Every cutting garden should include them.

Paperwhite Narcissi
Paperwhite Narcissi

If, like me, you planted some paperwhite narcissi in the autumn, they should now be ready to bring into the house. A big pot of these bulbs makes an elegant and fragrant display. Forced Hyacinths are another option. Mine sadly have to be relegated to the table in our courtyard garden as their scent is a bit too strong and seems to give me a splitting headache.

Christmas Wreaths

I hosted my first ever wreath-making workshop this December and it was such a fun, festive day. Some lovely friends attended and we used foraged materials - Holly, Ivy, Yew, Christmas tree trimmings, Rosehips, Sage, Virburnum tinus, Rosemary, Clematis seed heads, Catkins, Bay, Mistletoe and Alder cones to make our wreaths.

Natural Christmas Wreath
Natural Christmas Wreath

We used grapevine wreath bases as they are a natural material and are perfect for poking in stems of cut material. We wired bunches of foliage to the wreath and then added highlights of rosehips etc.. to fill in any gaps or to hide any wire left exposed.

Top tips:

  • Attach your hanging ribbon at the start.
  • Wire everything in tightly and overlap successive bunches of foliage so that each bunch hides the wired-in stems of the preceeding bunch.
  • Attach your foliage bunches so that stems all face in one direction around the wreath.

Even the most craft-phobic of us were really pleased with the results (pictured below) and surprised at how artistic they could be. I'm not sure if the mulled wine actually helped us but it certainly added to the festive spirit.

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Winter is approaching - we've had the first frosts which have blackened the Dahlia foliage and killed off the half-hardy Zinnias. My Cosmos seem to have escaped this fate owing to their height (over 6 ft this year!) and are still in full flower.

Comos 'Dazzler' in late October
Comos 'Dazzler' in late October with double rainbow

Once dahlias have been blackened by frost, it's time to cut them down and either dig them up for storage inside over the winter or to apply a thick mulch to protect them. Annuals which have given up the ghost should be removed and composted and empty beds given a covering of organic matter - compost or manure. It can be left on the soil surface for the worms to drag down and enrich the soil over the winter. Where I have planted out biennials, I just mulch around them.

November flowers
Cosmos, '10 Week' Stocks, Chrysanthemums, Rosemary & Sedum in a jam-jar arrangement made by a student attending a workshop in November.

As an avid watcher of predicted overnight temperatures, I dug up my frost-tender Chrysanthemums before any danger of frost. Late-flowering Chrysanthemums like the elegant 'Avignon Pink' don't start flowering until the end of October and will flower up until Christmas. You can either grow them in pots which can be brought in under cover or plant out over the summer and then carefully dig them up with an intact root ball and place them in large pots in a greenhouse/conservatory or potting shed. I find them really useful additions to fresh Christmas wreaths as they are very long-lasting flowers once cut.

Chrysanthemums
Chrysanthemums snug and warm in my tiny potting shed.

I sowed some hardy '10 week' Stocks and Chinese Forget-me-nots late in June and these are still full of flower, so along with some Borage and Feverfew still in flower, a suprisingly summery jug of flowers can be picked even in November.

Chrysanthemums in November
Chrysanthemums 'Avignon Pink', 'Tarantula Red' and 'Pandion Bronze' with Rosemary and Viburnum tinus.

Viburnum tinus is a shrub that is overlooked for a lot of the year but come October/November it is flooded in fragrant white flowers. These are invaluable just when the herbs that I use for foliage/filler material in a vase (like Borage, Mint and Feverfew) are coming to an end. The baton is handed to this evergreen shrub for most of my winter flower displays and trimmings look good in a fresh Christmas wreath.

Fresh Christmas Wreath
Fresh Christmas Wreath with Chrysanthemums
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Autumn is my favourite season and although some flowers in the garden are going over (I have just dug up my exhausted Larkspur and Calendula) the half-hardy annuals like Cosmos, Zinnias and Helichrysum are producing buckets of flowers.

Dahlia
Dahlia 'Pink Silk' with Sweetpeas, Feverfew and Zinnias.

I must admit that I was heartened to hear that Monty Don's dahlias hadn't fared well this summer with very few flowers being produced. With the exception of my vigourous yellow waterlily dahlia called 'Glorie Van Heemstede' which has been in constant flower, my other dahlias have either been slow to get going or have looked on the verge of giving up. My previously reliably flowering 'Sam Hopkins' has this year so far produced a grand total of 3 flowers (and one of those was ravaged by earwigs!) The other dahlias do all look like they might be taking off now so perhaps I will be rewarded with some late flowers, providing they survive the current high winds battering the garden.

Zinnias
Zinnias

Although it is sad when an annual comes to an end, the space that is created once you have dug them up and composted them, is an opportunity to plant biennials which will establish their roots and then overwinter ready to flower early next year. I don't like to have bare ground in my cutting beds, so the early flowering annuals are replaced either by binenials such as foxgloves, wallfowers, sweet williams or sweet rocket or with some late-sown annuals which will flower from now until the first frost.

Foxglove 'Sutton's Apricot'
Biennial Foxglove 'Sutton's Apricot'

Back in June, I sowed a few pots of Chinese Forget-me-nots (Cynoglossum) and '10 week' Stocks and they are now both about to come into flower so I have some more annuals to take over the baton from the Larkspur and Calendula and to create a fresh look as we travel through Autumn into Winter.

Also just starting to bloom are a variety of Chrysanthemums  - more in the next blog post...

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