Monthly Archives: November 2015

The bells of the ball


Late to the spring party they might be, but tulips more than make up for it by distributing the best fizz, excitement and noise among your more demure garden guests. Diminutive crocus, scillas and fritillaries have their place on the plot, of course, but position a few attention-seeking tulips around your front door and no visitor will be in doubt of the seasons. There are over a dozen different botanical divisions of tulips, from the classically shaped Darwin hybrids like ‘Oxford’ to the fanciful fringed, parrot and peony-flowered varieties. The goblet-shaped blooms of lily-flowered varieties such as ‘Mariette’ and ‘Queen of Sheba’ add elegance and style to any cut flower arrangement.

Let’s not forget that tulips can be pocket-sized, too, though. Species such as Tulipa sprengeri, T. sylvestris and T. tarda are slightly more compact and their more perennial character makes them excellent for naturalising in gravel gardens or in swathes among short turf. All tulips resent excessive wet and prefer to push their faces into the spring and summer sun. Plant them in October or November, with around 15cm of soil or compost above their heads (smaller species can be planted less deeply). Ideal spring conditions at flowering time are dry and cool, which holds the blooms in suspension longer than that of balmy, or blustery, May days.

Autumn fires

Amelanchier arborea in autumn colour at entrance to property - © Tomek Ciesielski/GAP Photos

Amelanchier arborea in autumn colour at entrance to property – © Tomek Ciesielski/GAP Photos

As the temperatures cool in autumn, a transformation begins in your garden. The green chlorophyll in tree’s leaves begins to degrade, revealing hues of red, yellow, orange and purple otherwise not seen. Cold nights and still, warm days tend to bring out the best autumn leaf colours, so what plants will put on the best displays?

Smaller trees
Not many of us have room for a towering Nyssa sylvatica or Parrotia persica, so which compact tree and shrub species give spectacular leaf colour? Many smaller maple species, such as Acer palmatum and A. japonicum go out in a blaze in autumn. Snakebark maples such as A. capillipes and A. davidii share the same approach. Native field maples, A. campestre, turn golden yellow among the other hedgerow plants. The dramatic toothed leaves of the stag’s horn sumach, Rhus typhina, turn fiery red in November, along with the more delicate foliage of Amelanchier lamarckii. Cercis canadensis, and related Cercidiphyllum japonicum produce heart-shaped leaves which turn shades of purple and yellow before falling. The spindle tree, Euonymus europaeus, with its unusual winged branches, will transform into brilliant scarlet, as will the blueberry, Vaccinium corymbosum. Ornamental and edible cherries develop beautiful dusky pink and orange hues, while the guelder rose, Viburnum opulus, turns orange-red. The subtle differences between these trees and shrubs allows you to create a tapestry of fire to warm visitors on brisk November days.

Fighting off the winter chill

Protecting Succulents from harsh weather conditions with Perspex (methyl methacrylate) - © GAP Photos

Protecting Succulents from harsh weather conditions with Perspex (methyl methacrylate) – © GAP Photos

On brisk autumn and winter days all but the hardiest of gardeners can be found browsing seed catalogues, researching online and generally staying in the warmth of their home. It seems a bit harsh then that the more tender plant species, such as tree ferns and echeverias have to fend for themselves outside in the chill. But even if they do need to stay outside, you can offer them a little protection to ward off the worst of the cold and ensure they enter into 2016 with a spring in their step. Here are four simple ways to insulate those cold-tender species:

Container on patio planted with Cichorium, Laurus nobilis, Thymus with plastic cover for protection from frosts - © Friedrich Strauss/GAP Photos

Container on patio planted with Cichorium, Laurus nobilis, Thymus with plastic cover for protection from frosts – © Friedrich Strauss/GAP Photos

Plants such as alpines are hardy but dislike cold, wet leaves in their crowns. A simple way to prevent this is by using a clear plastic or glass cover. Prop it up so that air can freely move underneath.

Gunnera manicata used as winter protection - © Elke Borbowski/GAP Photos

Gunnera manicata used as winter protection – © Elke Borbowski/GAP Photos

This gunnera also dislikes wet, soggy crowns during winter. An incredibly simple way to protect them from damage is to cloak the mounds using the old leaves.

Winter protection. Tender plants placed in wicker basket, insulated with autumnal leaves, protected from the wind with christmas tree branches. Pot plants wrapped with warm insulative material and filled with autumnal leaves for warmth - © GAP Photos

Winter protection. Tender plants placed in wicker basket, insulated with autumnal leaves, protected from the wind with christmas tree branches. Pot plants wrapped with warm insulative material and filled with autumnal leaves for warmth – © GAP Photos

Covers don’t need to look an eyesore. Here, potted tender plants have been packed with dry leaves, the whole lot then being enveloped with a dense cover of fir tree stems.

Winter protection for roses - Covering rose in container with straw to proctect from winter frosts - © Friedrich Strauss/GAP Photos

Winter protection for roses – Covering rose in container with straw to proctect from winter frosts – © Friedrich Strauss/GAP Photos

Another attractive method, this time to protect larger plants, is to lag them with dry leaves or straw which is encased by a bamboo screen. Tied securely, this can remain in place till late spring if needed.