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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Snow On Bird Table
Snow on our bird table

The 1st March signalled the first day of spring (according to the meteorological calendar) but here in Norfolk and most of the UK, it was also the 2nd day of deep snowfall which closed the schools and created havoc on the roads.

The first crocuses, narcissi and Iris reticulata were merrily doing their thing and brightening up the garden but ended up under a cover of 10 cm thick snow for nearly a week.

Just a week beforehand, I had hosted a 'Grow your own cut flowers' workshop and we found lots of lovely greenery and flowers to pick to make the lovely display pictured below.

February flowers
February flowers

The flowers above include trailing rosemary, Daphne odora, Viburnum tinus, Hellebores, and some early flower heads from the perennial wallflower Erysimum 'Bowles' Mauve'. Winter-flowering shrubs have strongly fragranced flowers as they need to attract pollinators and they don't always have large flowers. This is a bonus when cutting as the fragrance of some flowers can scent the whole room.

Once the snow finally cleared it was a relief to see the spring bulbs still in full flower despite their blanket covering of snow. We are now experiencing milder temperatures and, with it, rain (sigh).

Hyacinth
Hyacinths. A taste of spring during the snow

Rainy weather stops any flowers that there are from being cut but I do still have some pots of bulbs in the potting shed that I bring out a few at a time into the house where the higher temperature causes them to come into bloom. I have also started sowing some hardy annuals. The hardest part is deciding what to grow this year from the numerous packets of seed that I seem to collect each year.

Cherry blossom
Cherry blossom

March is a good month for sowing hardy annuals. By the time the seedlings are ready to plant out in about 6-8 weeks time, at the beginning of May, the soil will have warmed up and frost risk will be minimal. Hardy annuals can cope with some low temperatures but I leave the half-hardy annuals like Cosmos and Zinnias until April as I won't want to plant them out until the end of May when all frost-risk has passed. The exception are any that have a long growing phase before flowering such as Antirrhinums which should be sown in March with their fully hardy counterparts so that they will come into flower in June/July with the rest of the hardy annuals.

 

 

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The festive trimmings have been taken down, the Christmas goodies have been gobbled up, the children are back at school and there is a way to go before spring. I have to confess that I do find January and February gloomy months and there aren't a lot of gardening jobs that need doing. Rather than sink into a pit of doom, I try to keep busy and do find a certain excitement in planning for the year ahead. There are some flowers that can be cut in the depths of winter, my favourite being Hellebores. These are stunning flowers and all the more useful for flowering in January and February. Once you have an established clump, you can cut a few blooms and enjoy their beauty up close.

Hellebores
Hellebores

Use these winter months to plan ahead - browse the numerous seed catalogues, clean your pots and tools in preparation for more busy periods and look back at what worked for you last year and what you can improve upon this year.

By spending a bit of time last autumn potting up spring bulbs, you may even have some pots of small bulbs like Crocus, Iris reticulata and Paperwhite Narcissi to bring into the house to cheer up the winter months. Seeing those little green shoots poking out of the surface is very encouraging on a cold, grey day.

Another way to banish the winter blues is to look back at pictures of your garden from the previous year and remind yourself of things to come. Just starting to peep up from under the soil are bulbs waiting to spring into action, perennials, that are no more than twiggy tufts at this time of year, will flower and bloom again and buds are forming on trees and shrubs, reminding us that they will once again be clothed in foliage and flowers.

Here's a review of just a few of the flowers I have grown in 2017. If you'd like to get the most out of your garden this year and have flowers to cut and bring inside, then please check back here for advice throughout the year or consider a 'Grow Your Own Cut Flowers' workshop to get the most out of your garden.

 

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