We had a brief spell of chilly weather in November with the odd frost which I hope destroyed some of the molluscs. The misty mornings were a bonus.
Mahonias are flowering and the green flowers of Helleborus foetidus, our native stinking hellebore, always look rather lovely at this time of year.
The gravel bed has shape and colour throughout the year.
Rain in December
Now it is just wet, very wet. It feels as if December has offered nothing but weeks of rain. The ground is sodden. Not a good time to walk on this heavy clay- stepping stones are essential in flower beds to prevent compaction. The sun has appeared briefly but this was soon followed by yet more rain or gloomy cloud. Despite the rain I have filled my leaf bin with a fine mix of mainly oak (collected from our village churchyard), and beech (collected from several nearby villages). Job done so I have removed my collecting equipment (large sack, 2 small boards and a bamboo rake) from the back of my car.
The pond is also full and ready for the return of the newts in the spring.
Colour and Scent
The garden has colour and scent despite the prevailing gloom. One just has to wrap up (hap up as we say in Northern Ireland) and get out there to enjoy it. I was delighted to see an early crocus (Crocus laevigatus ‘Fontenayi’)- which sadly was all too soon eaten by a marauding slug or perhaps the local pheasant. There are still a few flowers on the climbing rose (Schoolgirl) and Iris unguicularis‘Walter Butt‘ (previously known as Iris stylosa) has started to flower. This iris produced no flowers last year but this year it seems to be happy.
Shrubs such as Pittosporum ‘Tom Thumb’ and Viburnum tinus also offer welcome colour-shiny black leaves in the case of the pittosporum and white umbels on the viburnum.
And then there are the snowdrops! Much to look forward too.
Helianthus salicifolius on the left towers over everything else in the border
Helianthus salicifolius in flower
My missouri sunflower (Helianthus salicifolius) finally did its stuff- what a plant. The 11 foot stems, clothed by long hanging leaves, are now topped by a tuft of small yellow daisies that are almost out of view. It has withstood the gales and continues to tower over everything else in the border. I love it despite its ridiculous appearance but see why it is grown for architectural value rather than flowers.
Rosa ‘Buff Beauty’
The garden is tousled but full of colour. The cockspur thorn ( Crataegus crus-galli) always puts on a wonderful autumnal display, although there are few berries this year. Grasses such as Molinia litoralis are turning rich shades of orange and yellow and some roses are still in flower, including the hybrid musk ‘Buff Beauty’.
Salvia x jamensis
The salvias are still flowering. Salvia ‘Amstad’ is particularly dramatic with long spikes of purple flowers arising from very dark purple bracts- but I suspect it is also the least hardy. I might dig up the plants and try to overwinter them somewhere sheltered. I have taken cuttings from Salvia x jamensis but I think it is relatively tough. I am pleased with the overall effect. They all look much more at home in this bed alongside the drive than they did in the large herbaceous bed in the back garden.
Planning for spring
Leaves are beginning to fall and we are making leaf mold – gold dust for free! Large leaves are chopped with the lawn mower before stacking in an open-topped compost bin, where they will get plenty of rain (you can just use bin bags but make sure the leaves are wet). The fungus needs a damp environment to break down the leaves and the whole process will take one to two years so we are going to make another leaf container with posts and wire netting. My snowdrops thrive with a little of the brown crumbly mulch and it is essential for the woodland plants that struggle in our heavy clay- wood anemones, winter aconites, and dog’s tooth violets to name a few. Really I should not attempt to grow them but I do love our native spring flowers. Primroses, on the other hand, flourish here without any help from me.
The annual clearance of the pond has been completed without mishap. Once more the step-ladder was put to good use as a pond bridge. I have suggested to Mr B. that a Monet Chinese bridge would not only look attractive, but make life much easier for the poor gardener (pond-clearer). However I have to agree that the pond, more of a puddle by Monet’s standards, hardly justifies a bridge, although the grandchildren would have fun. Anyway, yet again I suspended myself precariously over the pond by lying on my stomach on said step-ladder, bony prominences on hips and knees cushioned by various kneeling mats, and clothing protected by waterproof trousers and gauntlets. A female Emperor dragonfly coursed back and forwards over my head looking for somewhere to lay, but unfortunately I had removed most of the long stems of the flowering rush, Butomus umbellatus, which in our case is most definitely non-flowering. The rush is too congested in the small pond, but removing the roots is problematic as the stems tend to snap off. I suspect it will do no better in 2018. What a job, but at least it is done and the pond does look bigger and better.
Disappearing ramshorn snails
I am puzzled by the dearth of ramshorn snails which used to be two-a-penny in the pond. Over the last two years the population seems to have dropped. They are vital scavengers, munching up blanket weed and other algae. I may have to introduce more as now the pond is clearer, blanket weed is sure to return.
Darmara has invaded clump of Bowles golden sedge
Digging out thick rhizomes of Darmara
Houttuynia turning brown after a dose of weedkiller or could it be autumn colours.
Invasive marsh plants
Thugs have engulfed the small marshy area adjacent to the pond and I have lost, or almost lost, a number of choice plants. I planted Darmera peltata, Houttuynia cordata ‘Chameleon’ and Houttuynia cordata ‘Flore Plena’ when I made the pond with marsh, some 25 years ago – definitely a mistake. I should not have taken my eyes off them. Houttuynias have spread inexorably through the heavy clay, their fleshy underground rhizomes choking delicate plants. Darmera, which is marketed as an alternative to Gunnera manicata, “more suitable for the smaller garden”, produces dense layers of thick hard rhizomes. Plants do not flourish in the shade under the umbrella-like leaves and the solid clumps of rhizomes are impenetrable. We have made progress on extracting the unyielding Damara rhizomes, but I am afraid I have resorted to weedkiller (and crossed fingers) for the houttuynia.
Asters (symphyotrichum), sedums (hylotelephium), and japanese anemones are providing plenty of colour.
Cyclamen hederifolium are opening under shrubs and the leaves of the little Acer palmatum var. dissectum ‘Seiryu’ on the patio have just developed a reddish tinge. Mornings are cool, apples are ripe and autumn has arrived.