Planting Winter Containers

Autumn is marching in now with some much needed rain for the gardens along with the first of the autumn winds – less appreciated by myself and the plants which, only a couple of weeks ago, were languishing in beautiful late summer sunshine!

However, it was getting far too dry to plant anything and now that the ground is softer, the last of my Daffodils are going in to extend the season as much as possible. I find planting bulbs a chore, but am always so glad that I make the effort each year for the spring show that results. The garden becomes a sea of lemon yellow, contrasting with the exotic looking blooms of the Camellias for a few weeks, before spring really kicks in and Tulips are a riot of colour along with the fresh greens of new leaves and the flowers of Forsythia and Ribes. Colour schemes go out of the window in spring and anything goes as the garden launches into life once again after the greyness of winter!

The dwarf Rhododendron yakushimanum has grown well in its big pot and has made a lovely mound of glossy leaves topped with thick flower buds that will smother the plant in blush coloured trusses of flowers next May. We have been very careful with the watering of the pots through the dry summer weather and they have benefitted from the extra care and feeding each week.

The Camellia ‘Jury’s Yellow’ is also full of buds ready to burst open and welcome the spring. I have planted some dwarf daffodils in pots and these will be placed with the Camellia as it begins to flower, creating a beautiful spring show in a shady corner on the patio where it can be seen from the house.

My Banana tree is looking a bit worse for wear after the strong winds. The beautiful sail like leaves have been shredded somewhat, but the plant will stay in its pot now for the winter so that I can bring it inside during the coldest months. Next year I will plant it in a part shaded border that gets plenty of moisture, near the house where it will get residual heat from the walls. The rootstock should be quite hardy if I protect it with a good mulch of compost, but I will be able to wrap the top in fleece as well for good measure!

Many of the Day Lilies in the garden have started to die back for the winter, so I am gently pulling off the leaves and adding them to the compost heap. The gaps that are appearing in the borders now will be filled with Tulips and spring bedding plants. I love the combination of Forget Me Nots and Tulips along with cherry scented Wallflowers which flower for so long in late spring. The shady, green and white borders are full of the beautiful dwarf Daffodil ‘Thalia’ which has made strong clumps over the last few years and is a picture in March along with the white Anemone blanda which is slowly naturalising itself.

For now, it’s back to raking leaves from the grass as they begin to fall fast, and looking forward to some autumn colour in more sheltered spots!




The Narcissus ThaliaThe garden is looking quite tidy at the moment. Years of making our own compost and spreading it on the borders as mulch has helped to improve the soil, seal in moisture and keep the weeds down!
I have been busy planting bulbs over the last few weeks. Dwarf Daffodils have been put in under shrubs along with the electric blue Scilla siberica and the pristine white variety Scilla siberica alba. I love the tiny bulbs and corms such as the yellow Eranthus (Aconite) which naturalise happily in short grass along with Crocus, welcoming in the spring, flowers beaming in any weak sunshine.
Dwarf Iris are another favourite. Iris danfordae with its golden yellow flowers can be in bloom as early as the end of January in sheltered, sunny spots and are shortly followed by others such as the deep wine purple ‘J S Dijt’ and royal blue ‘Pauline’. They are such brave little plants, flowering so early in the year defying frost and light snowfall. The thick green buds push up from the centres of the plants and seem to appear overnight with a tempting glimpse of the colour to come. A couple of warm days and hey presto – they are in flower!  
I like to grow these little treasures in shallow terracotta pots and gritty soil; many of our borders are too shady and damp for them to do well in subsequent years after planting as they like to be baked in hot sun through the summer months, as do my favourites Tulips. 
It is still too early to plant my Tulips. They are best put in through November to reduce the risk of Tulip Fire which can distort the leaves and cause brown patches on them and the flowers. Sitting in wet, cold soil helps this disease to take hold so the later they are planted the better!
Now that the weather is cooler and deciduous plants are thinking about going into dormancy for the winter, it is time to start moving some of the shrubs to their new positions. From the end of this month until Christmas is an ideal time to do this. The plants will be under less stress once their leaves have fallen and the soil will still be warm enough for their roots to establish before the worst of the winter weather hits us. Who knows – we may have another mild winter!
I have started to dig out the planting holes and improve the soil with more compost ready to take the plants and I have also dug around the base of the shrubs to be moved with my garden spade to create a ‘root ball’. Ideally, the circle dug is the same width as the shrub and a spades depth. The shrubs that are to be moved are not that big yet, so they can be undercut when we move them to sever the main roots. Large plants and trees are often undercut in late spring and allowed to re-grow some fibrous roots through the summer months before they are moved in the following autumn.
Now it is a case of waiting for leaves to fall and enjoying the colours of autumn before I can move the plants to their new homes, make room for yet more, and enjoy another visit to Notcutts!



Berries & hedgerows

The berries on the Cotoneaster in the back garden are the best they have ever been. Bees were all over the plant’s white flowers earlier in the year and  they have done their work well, resulting in beautiful deep red clusters that glisten when covered with dew in the mornings.

The local hedgerows too are full of fruits. Sloes glint dusky blue along with red Hawthorn berries and shiny black Elderberries. Only today, I watched a flock of chattering Starlings feasting on ripe blackberries, which have been so sweet and juicy this year.

Birds flocking together are a sign of the colder months to come but there is still much to enjoy in the garden. My sweet Peas which had a sketchy start with the scorching summer sun have a second wind and the flowers are bigger and stems longer than they have been for the season. The bunch that I picked today is scenting the kitchen and there are still plenty to come.

The Pyracantha on the front of the house is also covered in berries – deep orange and in huge clusters to be enjoyed by us before they are spied by the Blackbird who always seems to be there when we come out of the house, flying off with an annoyed call when we interrupt his dinner!

 Teasels give an architectural air to the front garden, standing tall and holding plenty of seed for Goldfinches. I cut them once they are totally dried and shake them to remove any leftover seeds. Although they germinate readily in the spring, they are easily identified by their spiky leaved, ground hugging rosettes that can be pulled out if they threaten to overwhelm their neighbours!

The grasses in the front garden are at their peak now - all floaty flowers in dark brown on stems that flex in the breeze -  and the purple New Zealand Flax is coming into its own ready to be enjoyed through the winter months when the plants around it die back to the ground.

The evergreens in the back garden are also coming to the fore as perennials are cut back and tidied for the autumn. The variegated Holly has put on huge amounts of growth this summer with the help of the seep hose irrigation, but stubbornly produces only one berry – I have no idea why! The Fatsia japonica is covered in tropical looking leaves and is rapidly outgrowing its space but as yet there are no signs of the knobbly green flower buds that open in November. This plant is due for a major prune next spring but until then, we will enjoy it in the winter when the leaves clatter together during windy weather.

Still to come is the spectacle of autumn colour and we have plenty of shrubs that will change dramatically over the next few weeks. The golden leaved Viburnum opulus ‘Aureum’ will assume red and purple tints before the leaves fall and the plant is moved to a new position in the garden to make way for the raised vegetable beds – only one of many winter projects!


Thinking about Winter

Heavy dew lies on the lawn and car windscreen most mornings now and reminds me that autumn is on its way. Gardening starts a new phase once again with the purchase of spring bulbs, planting of containers with autumn and winter bedding plants and the planning of borders for next spring’s show of Wallflowers, Forget Me Nots and Tulips.

I am also starting to think about what the winter may bring this year. Will it be another relatively mild one or are we due heavy frosts and snow for weeks on end? I have a few tender plants in the garden, so need to find the frost fleece that was purchased last year in case it is needed! I have recently purchased a small Banana plant Musa Basjoo, which is supposedly one of the hardiest. It is growing at a rate of knots and I have planted it in a big pot to go near the new arbour where the large leaves add a tropical air. Although the rootstock can withstand several degrees of frost if planted in the ground and protected by a thick layer of mulch in autumn, the permanent spot I have in mind for this beauty will not be ready for several weeks yet, so I will overwinter it, when the time comes, in my greenhouse until next spring. Canna Lilies and Ginger Lilies (Hedychium) are the same – hardier in the ground and protected by mulch but tender in pots which can freeze up completely. My greenhouse will be full up again through any cold weather!

The lawns have stood up to the dry weather well through the summer months but I like to do some work on the grass before the winter so that it is ready for any hard weather. Now is the time to think about this and I have purchased an autumn lawn feed from Notcutts. As well as being high in Phosphorous and Potassium, to strengthen the roots and harden up the grass blades, the preparation contains a moss killer. Moss is a ‘short day plant’ which means that it will continue to grow through the winter if not kept in check, leaving me with a big scarifying job next spring!

I will not apply the lawn food until it has rained; there is no immediate hurry as it can go on anytime from now until mid November, but I have cut the lawn and raked out plenty of moss and dead grass to clear around the grass blades and make it easier for the fertilizer to wash into the ground. I have also repaired some high patches by peeling back the turf and removing some of the soil. The grass seed which was sprinkled down on top has already begun to germinate and should be long enough to cut in a couple of weeks.

We are very pleased with the new arbour in the corner of the garden. It replaces one that was badly damaged by winter storms and is the ideal place for a cup of coffee or glass of wine, to sit and admire the garden which is of course, never finished as new projects and ideas come along! 


Autumn Containers

The Cotoneaster has set an enormous crop of deep red berries this year and the Pyracantha at the front of the house is covered in bright orange clusters – admired by us and no doubt spied by the Blackbirds ready for their autumn feast! Although they are after aphids, spiders and other small insects, a flock of young Blue Tits were performing their acrobatics in the Cotoneaster this morning – amusing to watch as they foraged amongst the berries! The change in temperature and autumnal look to the garden has got me thinking about changing some of the summer containers and replanting for the winter.

I do not plant as many winter pots, but as I have written before, I am very fond of Tulips and Daffodils in containers. They are a bright splash of welcome spring colour and so useful to drop into gaps in borders for instant effect. Some of the bulbs have already been purchased for these pots and will be planted at a later date. The ‘Spring Green’ Tulips that I particularly wanted for the green and white borders were selling fast!

One container that I always like to plant up is in the open front porch – a colourful welcome for friends and visitors. This year I have opted for some wine red and white Cyclamen, along with a purple ‘Fountain Grass’ (Pennisetum). Trailing Ivies with a sliver and green leaf will add balance and soften the edges of the pot and I will also plant some dwarf Daffodil bulbs. Pure white ‘Niveth’ is the choice for this and the scented, multi headed flowers will bloom in March and April to herald the spring.

Another big pot in the back garden can be seen from the dining room and I am going to make a pure white statement with Cyclamen and Pansies under planted with white Tulips and more white Daffodils. This pot is nice and deep, so the bulbs can sit, layered up with plenty of depth. The whiteness of the theme will contrast with the weathered grey tone of the container.

Large leaved perennials are another favourite of mine for containers and once they are finished with, they can be planted out in the garden. The newer varieties of Heuchera are a far cry from the old seed raised ‘Palace Purple’; available in a range of zingy colours including orange and lime shades as well as the deepest purples. Their glossy leaves mix easily with other plants and create a reliable evergreen backdrop to spring bulbs and bedding. Bergenias (‘Elephant’s Ears’) also are a great evergreen in a container. They are sturdy plants with vibrant magenta, pink or white flowers in early spring – just the thing to plant with bright yellow Daffodils for a spring wakeup call! Many have beautiful winter coats of red or deep purple leaves that turn back to green as the plants begin to grow away for another season. Bergenias also do not like to be too wet – ideal for a pot that may not get much attention!