Gardening In November…Wind In My Willows!

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The days seem to flash by and it barely seems a moment ago that I was enjoying a sunny warm afternoon in the garden, now sadly a distant memory, although ever the optimist I am hopeful for a sprinkling of nice warm autumnal days.
This month should see the majority of the leaves falling off your deciduous trees and shrubs, that is, except for those stubborn hedges such as the Beech. They seem to tease the gardener by dropping a few now and again right up until next March, most frustrating, I guess they add a little colour to the garden scene. Talking about leaves, how frustrating is it trying to collect them up, and worse still trying to put them in a polythene sack on your own. Yes this is a job for two, if only to keep a happy banter going whilst you gather one of nature’s little marvels. What I mean is that well-rotted leaves are great for adding to potting compost for those treasured alpine plants, great also for the woodland beds, perfect for growing those gorgeous Himalayan blue poppies. If you are limited for space in your garden then just tie up the top of the bag, make a few holes in the sides with a garden fork and place them down the side of the garage or shed. When you come to gather leaves next year, the previous year’s bags will have decomposed into dark brown fibrous compost, Yummy, well for the plants that is.
Whilst there are a number of trees and shrubs starting to flower ( Viburnum x bodnantense, Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’) the garden takes on a nakedness that is crying out for some solid structure. Bring on the evergreens, Box, Yew, Eleagnus, Skimmia, all of which will provide bold dark greens to give structure and sculpture to the garden. If you are not sure why not try growing box or yew topiary in pots, you can move them around the garden to see what effect introducing a little evergreen will do. If your garden is a little exposed then plunge the pot to half its depth in the border, it will help stabilise the plant and protect the root-ball from freezing. For a more permanent display choose evergreens with added interest, a variegated Eleagnus will introduce golden yellow striped foliage, or Skimmia with its bonus of spring blooms.
For those who like conifers there are many different shapes and sizes but be warned there are some monsters out there. Have a chat with your local nursery owner; they will be able to guide you as long as you know what space you have. A conifer I particularly like for smaller gardens is Thuja occidentalis ‘Rheingold’ it’s a fairly slow growing subject with golden foliage that takes on a brilliant coppery tone in winter. It has the bonus of giving off a sweet scent if the foliage is lightly crushed. Conical in shape it rarely exceeds 2 metres (6 ft.) in height.
October and November are traditionally the months to plant your Tulips and Hyacinths; it’s a good idea to add a small handful of grit to the planting hole to help drainage as they both dislike wet bottoms. If your soil is very wet or heavy clay then it may be best to grow them in containers. There are many tales told about Hyacinths and Tulips, both of which do not naturalize very well, unlike Narcissus (Daffodils). Hyacinths don’t turn into bluebells, but as they age the flower spike becomes less dense with only a few blooms, eventually disappearing completely. Tulips don’t change colour, although they do sometimes develop offspring which ‘Sport’, this is a condition induced by a virus, causing a striping in the petals often of a different colour, aren’t plants amazing?
Next month we will be looking at starting to prepare for next year, getting to grips with unruly shrubs and how to prune new hedges.
Gardening Q & A
I often give talks to gardening groups, and after every presentation a member of the committee stands up and asks the audience if they have any questions, invariably there is an eerie silence, that is until the preceding’s are over and I am enjoying a casual cup of tea, then I am inundated with questions on all manner of problems. It seems that some gardeners are reluctant to ask questions fearing the audience may see their enquiry as basic. Let me tell you I have met some very learned and experienced gardeners who ask the same questions, it’s a big subject and no one knows everything and there is no such thing as a silly question, except that is do I like a nice cup of tea, now that is a silly question!
So don’t be afraid to drop me a line, if you don’t do photography that’s fine we can normally find one to illustrate your question, and we don’t have to use your name, maybe you could use a pen name like all the best authors.
Anyway on with this month’s question, from Sarah, She has recently moved house and has inherited a rather shapely tree. Some of you will recognise it I’m sure, it’s a ‘Kilmarnock Willow (Salix caprea ‘Pendula) it is a deciduous small tree, hence when Sarah moved into the house it looked like a bare skeleton and not too heavy. The question is, the branches are touching the ground and some are sprouting upwards, can it be trimmed and kept in a nice mushroom shape.
The answer is a resounding yes!
Although many nurseries produce these small trees by grafting the stock wood from a Kilmarnock willow onto the common Salix caprea (Goat Willow) rootstock, this produces a saleable plant much more quickly than trying to grow on a cutting from the Kilmarnock willow. The true Kilmarnock willow is said to grow up to 2.5 metres (10 ft.,) but grafted subjects may grow a little taller.
Either way they can be pruned to keep their shape and trimmed to avoid branches trailing along the ground. This is best done in the dormant season when all the leaves have fallen. Firstly remove all the unruly shoots, those that are spoiling the shape cutting them back to a bud 25mm (1 inch) or so below the main framework so that it doesn’t spoil the shape. Trim the trailing branches to a height you are happy with, it may be 50mm (2 inches) or higher it all depend on what shape you prefer. Once you have the general shape you like then you can thin the branches out, this takes a little more time. Look carefully at the tree and try to decide which branches to take out, what I do is try to bend a branch away from the tree and see what it looks like before I cut them out (you may need a hand with this) in time you will get the hang of seeing in your mind’s eye what the tree will look like without certain branches. Start by cutting the branches back a little at a time until you are happy with the result. The aim with a conjected plant is to take approximately a third of the growth away, similar to the way a hairdresser thins your hair.
The Kilmarnock willow is very popular and a quite obliging small tree equally at home left to grow with gay abandon or clipped and trained in an almost topiary fashion, neither is wrong it’s just a matter of preference.
For all your gardening questions email;,
we will try to include them in a future issue.
Happy gardening, Martin

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