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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Winter berries
Viburnum opulus berries

Winter interest

We've had a few snowy days here in Norfolk this month which has caused much excitement among the smaller members of the family. An otherwise fairly bare garden looks wonderful cloaked in a dusting of snow. We like to spare a lot of seed heads and skeletons from perennials such as fennel and Sanguisorba (rather than cutting them down after flowering) as they look so nice with a covering of frost and provide some winter interest.

cut flower bed with snow
Cutting bed

In the cutting beds, I like to keep the sweet pea obelisks in place along with the metal supports that I use as they look quite sculptural in the beds over the winter months. Hidden under the layers of snow and soil are spring bulbs, including lots of tulips. Dotted about are biennial foxgloves, wallflowers and sweet williams that will survive the winter frosts and bloom in the spring.

Christmas Wreaths

I always make a fresh flower wreath for the front door from anything flowering in the garden in December. This can vary from late-flowering Chrysanthemums sheltering in the potting shed, the almost constantly flowering perennial wallflower Erysimum 'Bowles's Mauve' and winter-flowering Viburnums. I usually use a base of clippings from the Christmas tree as quite often the lower branches need removing in order for it to fit into its pot or else I use yew cut from the hedge at the front of the house.

Fresh flower Christmas wreath
Fresh flower Christmas wreath

You will need to use either a moss base or a foam base which has been pre-soaked before use. It may need a good soaking every now and again to keep it moist so that the fresh flowers last the whole of the Christmas period. Cover this generously with the Christmas tree trimmings. Our tree is a Nordmann Fir and every year we choose it from the Elveden Estate where, for a small contribution to charity, it is pulled to your car by adorable Newfoundland dogs bedecked in tinsel and bells. This year we were a bit too late for the dogs as 6 year old Rosie spent so long choosing an outfit which was not at all appropriate for the frosty weather. We had to make do with a quick pet of the dogs that were being loaded into their owner's cars and Rosie pretended to be a dog and help pull the tree to the car. Not quite the same, but she was placated.

Back to wreath-making.. Over the base of fir, I added Viburnum tinus. With its delicate white flowers, it's a favourite winter foliage plant in the garden. I then added a few sprays of large and small rose hips from our hedge. I finished with some Leycesteria formosa which has racemes of flowers with dark pink bracts which look very seasonal and a few sprigs of Viburnum bodnantense. This variety of Viburnum is a fabulous winter-flowering shrub with fragrant clusters of flowers appearing before the leaves on bare stems. I often clip a few branches to place in a jug where it will scent a whole room.

Winter displays and crafts

There is little to do in the cutting garden over the winter months but every time I venture out to the compost heap with the green waste from the kitchen, I take a look at what is flowering and snip something to bring inside and display. Cyclamen, winter-flowering shrubs, Holly, Ivy, evergreen foliage and the first Hellebore flowers are all brought in regularly so that their beauty can be appreciated inside.

Crochet nativity
Crochet nativity

The time freed up in the winter is taken up with crochet projects. Last year, I made this little nativity scene (I decided that one shepherd was all I had room for). My next project is a crochet Snape figure from Harry Potter as requested by my Potter-obsessed daughter - wish me luck!

If you are looking for a Christmas gift for the gardener in your life take a look at my pressed flower pictures made from our cutting garden flowers in my Etsy shop or consider a gift voucher for a Home Flower Garden workshop.

Merry Christmas and see you in 2018!

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