November 2008

November is never a good month in the garden but this one has been particularly difficult. There were several spells of cold windy wet weather and many other days when it was still and completely overcast with either fog, mist or drizzle most of the time. Overall there were only 5 or 6 days when we saw more than the odd glimpse of the sun and even these were usually windy making it feel colder than it really was.

These conditions make it very difficult to do the work in the garden required at this time of year; clearing summer bedding and vegetables and digging over the empty soil is impossible when it is cold and waterlogged. Some of the flower beds contain bulbs so need to be dug with a hand fork rather than a large spade or fork; not a task which you can do when it is drizzling with temperatures hovering around 5°C.

Even when it was possible to clear the beds planting out the violas, parnsies, wallflowers and sweet william for the spring bedding can't be done in waterlogged soil; it compacts too much depriving the roots of the young plants of air. Hopefully this can be done in December which is usually a drier month but the ground may be frozen. So they continue to sit in their cell trays in the cold frame. Not yet a real problem but if the wallflowers and sweet williams don't get their roots into the soil in any mild weather we get between now and March flowering may be delayed or even not happen at all. Less of a problem with violas and pansies as they are already flowering and will do so whether still in their trays or planted out.

I have a similar problem with overwintered vegetables essential for early crops next year; Aquadulce broad beans, Exzellenz peas and onion sets. These I start off in cell trays in the polytunnel and usually have them planted out by the middle of November. Again the waterlogged soil makes this impossible to do. In the case of the beans and peas it is essential that they are growing outside since the frosty weather actually encourages them to grow side-shoots which increase the yield. They are now outside but still not planted out.

We continue to clear the uncultivated part of the garden near the road. This has been a much larger job than I envisaged. By the end of the month we had three very large piles of brash and small branches, larger branches and logs from the overgrown Leyland hedge which has now all been cut down. I eventually realised that trying to cut these down into manageable pieces by hand with a bow saw would take forever so decided to purchase a new chainsaw. We did have a petrol powered one in the past but this stopped working several years ago and I never could get on with it, especially the motor part. This time I decided to buy an electric one instead. They are easier to manage than petrol powered but can't be used in damp conditions. I also needed to buy another 50m of cable to reach from the power sockets in the woodshed or garage to the other end of the garden. It is at times like this when you realise how big the garden is; the saw itself has a 10m cable, I already had a 25m extension cable but even with this new 50m cable some parts were still only just reachable.

Once we got the saw I could really get on with cutting down the larger trees, including a self seeded cherry tree which had grown to over 20m high with a 45cm diameter trunk. Pat helped to move the mountains of brash and branches to the other end of the garden where they will be eventually shredded for compost. The logs will be stacked to dry over next summer and can be used to heat the house next winter. I estimate the saw has already paid for itself - just employing someone to cut down these larger trees would have cost us more and we would still have had to clear away the brash and branches. Burning the wood to heat the house also saves on the electricity bill (no gas supply round here) and the wood stove gives a cosier feel to the living room than electric heaters.

The cold overcast weather means the polytunnel also doesn't remain warmer than the outside. Most of the crops, tomatoes, peppers and squashes stopped growing in the poor light and cold and most were prematurely dead by the end of the month. I moved the potatoes into 7.5L pots so they can start to produce tubers in time for Christmas and the New Year. This is always a chancy business and I fear it won't work this year, especially if we get some prolonged daytime frosts in December.

The Cineraria are starting to flower in the polytunnel so we moved some into the Conservatory - at least these don't seem to mind the poor weather. We also moved the Cyclamen and Fuschias growing in pots outside to the conservatory to continue flowering most of the winter.

Outside the herbaceous borders have died back and will need to be cleared to the compost heap. The ash trees dropped their leaves at the beginning of the month followed by the oaks and other deciduous trees and hedges as the month progressed. I have cleared most of the fallen leaves to the compost heap - it is very important that they are well mixed with other plant msterial; not just left in a large soggy mass. Before I could do any of this each compost bin was turned into its neighbour. Three of the five needed to be moved - a nice warm job for a frosty day!!

The poor weather also brought a premature end to the later flowering long stemmed Chrysanthemums. I grow Chrysanthemums outside in 5 or 7.5L pots and we have had a regular supply of flowers for the house from July onwards. We also grow short-stemmed varieties also in pots for display near the house and these had finished anyway. The late flowering ones should last into December but heavy rain battered the remaining flowers at the beginning of the month and a hoar frost froze them before they could dry our and recover. The remaining herbage has now been cut down and the pots moved to the polytunnel for overwintering. Some will be kept to flower again next year but others I will use to obtain new plants from cuttings or splitting the root ball.

We still have flowers in the garden, mainly members of the primrose family, and some pansies planted this time last year are still flowering but are getting rather leggy and need replacing once the ground dries out a bit more. The Jasmine started flowering in mid October and is now covered in hundreds of samll yellow flowers with a powerful scent. It usually continues to flower till way into March or even April. Snowdrop leaves have started to appear along with several clumps of miniature narcissus; signs of speing already but the flowers won't appear till next year, depending on when the first sunny spells in January arrive. There are buds appearing on the Camellias and Azaleas which also will flower early next year, and some of the winter heathers are also satring to flower.