Friday, 21 November 2008

Preparing the garden for winter

It's now mid-November and the garden has been well prepared for winter. All the herbaceous perennials have been cut down, leaving the outline of beds traced by the box hedges and paths, the soil tidy and weeded and everything dormant for the next few months. The garden still has wonderful winter structure thanks to the hedges, the topiary and the tall grasses which are left standing. Teasels stand high, sheltered from the winds by the garden walls, and a feast for goldfinches who love their seeds. The shelter provided by the woods (tall sculptural beeches in particular) has its downside in the vast number of leaves that flood into the garden, covering the lawns and paths. We collect the leaves for leafmould which is then put on the vegetable garden and the National Collection of Sanguisorba. Some leaves are simply raked onto the shrub borders to make a deep, rich mulch.

In the greenhouse, everthing that isn't evergreen has also been cut back; lemon verbena, blackcurrant sage, passion flower, Rosa banksiae lutea, balm of gilead and other scented delights. I do this before the leaves drop so there is less clearing up to do. The grape vine has been pruned (see blog posting of Nov 07) and the rest of the grapes were put out for the blackbirds who cleared the lot away in a couple of days! They do love fruit. This picture is of the luscious bunches of dark grapes heaped on one of the tables for sale ( ready to go out for the birds. To the right is my original plant of Erigeron karvinskianus whose offspring have been sold in the nursery for some years and seedlings of which now survive outside in the garden.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Cutting back perennials

The walled garden was closed for this season last Friday and will re-open next March which means a bit of time off for us; there will be moments of quiet and contemplation rather like a seaside resort that has been shut up for winter. The weather has been lucky for the last few weeks with mostly dry days and this has really helped in getting the garden 'put to bed'. Perennials in the borders have been cut down, seeds have been saved in paper bags, roses pruned back and all the comfrey harvested for the third time this year for the compost heap. Despite the usual guidance in books to leave four inches on perennial stems to protect the plants in the winter, I cut most plants hard back to the ground so it is easier to rake up leaves; this has never resulted in anything being lost as all the plants I treat this way are completely hardy. What is left untouched is more borderline - the fabulous beds of Verbena bonariensis (see last posting) as well as anything with a particularly lovely winter outline such as sea holly. Teasels are left standing for the goldfinches to feast on.

We had several frosts last week, the hardest being on Wed/Thurs night and it resulted in a magical transformation for a few short hours. These photos show the effects. Especially beautiful was the Heuchera 'Amber Wave' which has been much admired all season, growing in a large terracotta pot by the blue entrance gate. I also really liked the contrast between the cold, northern ice crystals and the hot Indian colours of the pot marigolds - Calendula 'Orange King' which was Gertrude Jekylls's favourite (see posting for 24th August showing how we grew the calendula as a companion plant to the runner beans). I will of course carry on blogging through the cold months as last year so you can see what the garden looks like even when it is closed to visitors. And you can see my photographs of wildlife and landscape on the BBC Autumnwatch Flickr group too.