November in the cutting garden
It had been a rather rainy, but exceptionally mild, November here in Norfolk up until the weekend when we had a taste of real Winter weather - a sprinkling of snow and our first frost. Although the arrival of the first frost does spell the end to annuals like Ammi, Sunflowers and Cosmos, there are still a variety of flowers that you can bring into the house, from forced bulbs like Narcissi 'Paperwhite' to branches of Winter-flowering shrubs. As I write this, I can smell the heavenly scent of Viburnum bodnantense 'Dawn'. The flowers are numerous and a pretty pink colour, and the scent is incredibly intense. I can smell them as soon as I enter the house. This is a great shrub to make room for in the garden.
I've had some lovely vases of flowers for most of November, including a late crop of Cornflowers, which sprang up, self-sown, and a late crop of the Ammi majus which I struggled to get to grow earlier in the season so the late batch were all the more welcome. My annual Chrysanthemum 'Polar Star' never really got off the ground and my Zinnias have been a big disappointment with only a few blooms to pick sporadically. The true stars for this time of year have been my Scabious - 'Black Cat' and 'Tall Double White' which actually look like they might survive the frost for a while longer. My Dahlias have, I confess, been a bit neglected in their pots, so didn't flower for quite as long as I'd hoped. I have now brought the pots into the potting shed where they will over-winter away from the frost. I will plant them out again, this time into their own cutting bed, which will be devoted to Tulips and Dahlias, where I think the larger varieties will fare better.
I've already got flowers on the Narcissi 'Paperwhite' bulbs that I potted up in October. They have a wonderful scent and are very tall and elegant. They need some form of support. I've used hazel twigs and tied in the flowering stems with jute twine to give a natural look.
Over the course of the last few weeks, I have been planting small bulbs (Irises, Snowdrops and Muscari) in some small decorative containers and terracotta pots, every week or so in the shelter of the potting shed. Once in flower, I will bring them into the house for an early Winter display. By planting in succession, I should ensure a continuous display of bulbs for a few months at a time when there are no annuals to pick. After flowering, they can be planted out into the garden borders for flowers next year.
My Amaryllis bulb, planted last month has a green shooting tip and I'm hoping it will be in flower by Christmas.
November is the best month for planting Tulips but you can go into December with their planting. At this time of year, retailers start slashing the cost of Spring-flowering bulbs so there are opportunities for grabbing some bargains. I've invested in some new varieties this year and what a huge variety of Tulip flowers there are! From elegant Lily-shaped flowers, double Peony-like flowers and showy, frilly Parrot versions. Go for your favourite colours but grow a range of shades and flower shapes to complement each other in the vase. I'm going for the red, frilly, Parrot-flowered 'Rococo', 'Blue Parrot' - a wavy, mauve-blue flower, 'Angelique' - a romantic, soft pink Peony variety and 'Showcase' which is a large, dark red, double form. I also have a blended mix of Tulips (varieties unstated!) in shades of white, pink and purple which were cheap in the supermarket. In the garden borders, I have the wonderful, and very popular, dark 'Queen of Night', alongside 'Exotic Emporer, 'Purissima' and 'Blue Amiable'. I mainly leave these for the garden display but can't resist cutting a few to bring inside. See my Pinterest page for pictures of all Tulips mentioned.
Hellebores start flowering in Winter and on into Spring and make lovely cut flowers. They don't last long in the vase so I usually have a few potted up and placed on the table in the courtyard outside my patio doors so that I can still enjoy them from afar. If you wait until the flower ages and the stem gets woody, you can cut the bloom and it will survive a lot longer in a vase than when fresh. Other sources of cut material include Winter-flowering shrubs such as Skimmia japonica, Viburnum tinus, Viburnum bodnantense, Witch Hazel and Daphne odora. Try to include at least one of these in the garden as they bring a welcome splash of colour, usually coupled with a lovely scent if you want to cut a branch or two to bring inside.
I'm looking forward to December now and the opportunity to make some Christmas wreaths with some evergreen foliage and berries from the garden, along with some natural, homemade decorations.