Fabulous plants for November

All is not lost!  Although there’s no denying there isn’t as much colour and interest to enjoy in the garden at this time of year, there’s still a number of valuable plants worth considering planting.  Here’s a small selection:

Fagus sylvatica

Beech columns and hedges at RHS Wisley

Beech columns and hedges at RHS Wisley

Beech (Fagus sylvatica) makes a great hedge for the garden, offering interest more or less all year round.  In spring the young leaves of common Beech are soft green, gradually brightening and becoming a richer green.   Later in the year the colour changes into the yellows and russets of autumn, and the dry coppery brown leaves are usually retained throughout the winter, glowing in winter sun, and continuing to provide wind protection and screening.  So although a beech hedge is technically deciduous, it offers many of the advantages of an evergreen hedge but with additional seasonal interest.

An alternative to the common beech, is Copper beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Atropurpurea’) which has attractive purple leaves in spring, gradually darkening as the season progresses.

Beech is native to the UK and tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions, including well-drained chalk, although on heavy clay, or very cold, exposed sites and in frost pockets, Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) is a better choice (and to be honest, it’s quite hard to tell the difference with hedging unless you look very closely at the leaves).

Beech is best planted in full sun or partial shade, and if you’re planning on planting a hedge or tree, November is the best time to be doing it as bare-root plants are now available and the soil is still fairly warm. These plants are not only cheaper to buy than container plants, but quick to establish.

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Malepartus’  (Japanese Silver Grass)

Miscanthus sinensis 'Malepartus'

‘Malepartus’ is a vigorous, free-flowering deciduous grass growing to 2m tall, with broad arching leaves and prolific pink-tinged flower heads in summer (somewhat earlier than many other grasses). In autumn the flowers start to turn silvery white for the winter.  This is a bushy grass spreading to about 1.5m and is tolerant of most soils if well drained but not too dry. It is happy in either exposed or more sheltered situations, it can take a little shade but prefers full sun.

Graceful and stately, Miscanthus ‘Malepartus’ can be used in borders, screen plantings and backgrounds and it works beautifully as an accent or specimen plant – but give it plenty of room to really do its thing.  It is generally pest free and very easy to grow, only needing the dead foliage and old flowered stems removing in spring as new growth appears from the base.

Cyclamen hederifolium

The ivy-leaved Cyclamen is a beautiful tiny perennial that provides very valuable low-growing autumn colour for the garden.  Each flower lasts for weeks and the display is lengthened by the succession of flowers.

cyclamen hederifolium

Both the pink and white varieties grow to about 12cm in height, and make a stunning carpeting effect when planted en masse.  The silvery-green patterned leaves are usually produced after the flowers.

Planted as tubers and spreading over time, these hardy Cyclamen enjoy sun or partial shade, and are very drought tolerant in shade.  They particularly thrive in soils with added leaf litter so are fantastic to grow under trees and shrubs.

Clematis cirrhosa ‘Freckles’
This lovely Clematis is a wonderful climbing plant for the winter garden.  Not only is it evergreen, but also flowers between November and February when most gardens are crying out for some colour.  ‘Freckles’ needs a warm, sheltered and preferably sunny position and thrives in any fertile, well-drained soil.

Clematis cirrhosa Freckles

It is seen to best advantage scrambling over an arch where you can walk underneath and look up into the dainty nodding creamy yellow flowers all speckled with red inside. You could also allow it to grow through shrubs, or a hedge, which need brightening up over winter. After the flowers attractive silky seedheads are produced.

Clematis Freckles seedheads

There is no need to prune Clematis cirrhosa unless it is getting too big, and hard pruning is not recommended. ‘Freckles’ will usually reach about 3.5m in height.

Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’
Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’ is a tough, popular evergreen shrub. The bright green variegated foliage has white leaf margins, which on some, but not all, leaves flush to a deep rose pink in cold winters.

It could never be called exciting, but it is a hugely valuable shrub for difficult areas (such as dry shade where it is also useful for brightening things up) and it is a truly low maintenance plant, just needing a light clip if it is getting out of shape.

Euonymus fortunei 'Emerald Gaiety'

If planted next to a wall or fence it will spread upwards to about 2m, otherwise it forms a low, spreading bush about 60cm high by 1m wide (in time).

Click on the links below to read about more great autumn plants

Acer Palmatum
Hydrangea quercifolia
Vitis ‘Brandt’
Dahlia ‘David Howard’
Liriope muscari

Trees for autumn colour

Photo credits:  Janet Bligh & Firgrove Photographic

Jobs for the garden in November

At this time of year gardening is largely about clearing up and protecting your garden for the winter, but November also marks the start of the tree and hedge planting season.  Here’s a quick rundown on what you could be doing this month:

Prepare for winter by checking anything that is at risk of cold, wind or water loggingRaise pots on bricks or feet so they can drain freely.  Insulate terracotta, glazed and stoneware pots.

Lag outdoor taps and insulate glasshouses.  Move worm bins to a frost-free place or insulate them.  Put away or protect garden furniture – in particular wooden furniture should not be left in contact with the soil, as this can lead to rotting.

Remove dead leaves from the tops of plants and netting on a regular basis.  If you have snow, make sure to remove it before any damage is done to plants or structures such as fruit cages.

Robin in Garden by Firgrove Photographic

Keep a regular supply of food & water for the birds.

Plant bare-rooted trees, shrubs, roses and hedging plants.  Make sure you stake any large plants, including root-ball hedging.  If you’d like more information before you start, take a look at my blogs on planting hedging and choosing the right trees for your garden.

Now is a good time to move plants that you have been meaning to shift.  Large deciduous shrubs are easier to move than you think if you have the manpower.  Leave evergreens until the spring.


Dahlia by Firgrove Photographic

If you don’t want to risk your Dahlias by leaving them in the ground over winter, dig up tubers after the first frost (when the foliage has blackened), dry them and store them either wrapped in newspaper or in dry compost. Don’t forget to label them!

Take root cuttings from perennials with thick fleshy roots (such as Echinops and Oriental poppies).


Apply a layer of compost mulch to borderline hardy plants such as Agapanthus, Salvia patens and Melianthus Major to protect them over winter.

Plant Tulip and Hyacinth bulbs, and finish planting any other spring bulbs providing the ground is not water logged or frozen.

Continue to cut the grass if it continues to grow but raise the blades.  Stay off the grass if you can.

Clean and store submersible pumps.

Check for pests and diseases before bringing outdoor plants in the glasshouse

Picture credits:  Janet Bligh & Firgrove Photographic

Jobs for the productive garden in November

With winter approaching, there isn’t a great deal to do in the kitchen garden at this time of year, but here are a few ideas to keep you busy.

Start winter pruning apple and pear trees, and fix grease bands to fruit trees to protect them against winter moth.  If you are planting new trees this winter, they should be available by now so it’s a good time to make a start.


You can also begin planting bare-root raspberry canes and currant bushes.

Plant garlic sets and shallots and sow broad beans.
On the window sill grow herbs and salad leaves.

Rhubarb should be divided every 5 years to keep the plants strong and productive – and this can be done any time between now and spring, as long as the ground isn’t frozen.

Harvest leeks and Brussels sprouts.  If you haven’t used carrots and parsnips either cover them with straw or dig them up by the middle of the month and store in the fridge.  Protect cauliflower heads from frost by pegging or tying theirs leaves over them.

Tulips by Firgrove Photographic

This is now the best time to plant Tulip and Hyacinth bulbs, and if like me, you haven’t quite finished planting your other spring bulbs (!), crack on with that this month – providing the ground is not water logged or frozen.

You can either risk leaving your Dahlias in the ground over winter (protecting them with a thick compost mulch), or if your soil is heavy and wet and they are likely to rot, cut them down and dig them up (once the frost has blackened the foliage), and store the dried off tubers until you can re-plant them in late spring.

Photos:  Janet Bligh & Firgrove Photographic

Horatio’s Garden – fantastic garden, fantastic cause

On a gloomy, chilly afternoon recently I headed off to Salisbury to visit a garden I have been keen to see for ages.  Tucked away in the grounds of Salisbury Hospital, between Car Park 8 and Car Park 10, is the wonderful Horatio’s Garden.  Built for patients of the Duke of Cornwall Spinal Treatment Centre at the hospital, the garden is named after Horatio Chapple who volunteered at the centre and recognised the desperate need for an outdoor space for patients (who can be at the hospital for as long as 12 months).  Horatio was tragically killed aged just 17, but the garden is a fantastic memorial to him and to his efforts at creating a beautiful garden for patients and their families to enjoy.


Horatio's Garden

The garden was designed by Cleve West (a stalwart of the Chelsea Flower Show and an inspirational British garden designer).  It opened in 2012 and has won many awards, and deservedly so in my opinion.

The key features of the garden are the curving spine-like dry stone walls which run through the garden – some complete, and some broken.  These walls double as seats too, creating a low-key sociable space.

Curving walls

The ground has been levelled and surfaced in resin-bonded aggregate which provides a smooth porous surface – very practical for patients in wheelchairs.  There are intimate seating areas, and shade provided by parasols, with a large open central area which is ideal for patients and families to gather for events.

Open space

Water falling into a long stone rill creates a calming sound, and the enormous rusted steel archway tunnels are planted with Wisteria and apple trees.

Water rill

A summer house in the corner offers more shade and a quiet space to enjoy views through the garden.

The planting is very soft and airy, predominantly herbaceous and ornamental grasses, with views through the beds to other areas of the garden.


Trees such as Amelanchier and Birches are scattered through the planting areas too.  The garden is enclosed with hedging making it feel like it’s a world away from the hospital environment.  But it’s not just a space for quiet contemplation – this garden is used regularly for social and artistic events, and fund-raising activities.  It is very much a space for enjoyment, as well as a place for patients and visitors to find some peace and quiet.

An additional area with a greenhouse and specially-designed planters and potting spaces mean that the patients can also get involved in growing plants for the garden and to raise funds.

potting table

This summer there were six fantastic Oak sculptures in the garden, on loan from the artist Johnny Woodford.  Up to 4 metres in height and reminiscent of the form of a spine, they fitted into the garden brilliantly.

Johnny Woodford

With studies showing that a hospital patient’s well-being was improved when they had a room facing trees, you can imagine what a huge difference being able to get outside into such a beautiful calm space must make to the patients in Salisbury.  In fact this garden has been such a success that there is to be another Horatio’s Garden at the Scottish National Spinal Injuries Unit in Glasgow – this time to be designed by James Alexander-Sinclair.  And following Glasgow will be another garden at Stoke Mandeville Hospital which will be designed by Joe Swift.

As someone who can’t sit still or bear to be cooped up inside for any length of time, I can’t really imagine what the patients at these spinal units are going through. And that’s why I think Horatio’s Garden is such a fantastic cause.  If you’d like to learn more about (and support) the charity, then click here.  The Salisbury garden is open to the public occasionally and details can be found on the website.


Picture credits:  Janet Bligh