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The November Garden 2022

The November Garden 2022

Even I have to admit that November can be a damp and rather dreary month but, if you look for them, there are always some garden highlights to be found to lift the spirits. As I look out of the windows on a late October morning following a night of strong winds, heavy rain and a few cracks of thunder my eyes, once I have looked beyond all the fallen leaves, are still drawn to several delights- the yellows and oranges of our small-leaved cherry, ‘The Bride’, the autumn yellows of the bonsai larches, the Parahebe still full of tiny white flowers, the fading beauty of the hydrangeas, the red-pink flower spikes of Persicaria affinis, the last of the white Cosmos ‘Purity’, the scarlet, dissected leaves of an acer in a planter on the patio, the yellow-orange petals and dark centres of Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’, the rounded, purple leaves of Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’, the very unusual bright purple berries of Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii ‘Profusion’ and the last few flowers on the asters and dahlias.

Before settling down to write this blog I spent an enjoyable half hour or so just looking back through my November blogs since I started writing them in 2020 and I will refer you back to some of these which you may want to visit again or in fact find for the first time. In November 2020 I looked at good plants for autumn colour in our own garden, some of which I have just mentioned above. The blog then went on to look at numerous plants which can grace any garden through the difficult November to February period. These included trees, shrubs, climbers, herbaceous perennials and bulbous plants for winter and early spring flowers; trees and shrubs for colourful bark and stems; trees and shrubs for berries and evergreen plants to provide colour, structure and interest through the winter months. In November 2021 (to be found under October 2021, sorry!) the blog referred to some more autumn colour specialists but concentrated mainly on the November garden at Aberglasney where the main theme was the transition from autumn into winter. The blog ended as they all do with a look at some of the jobs for the month (the full list can be found under Nov.2019) which included collecting leaves to make leaf mould, cleaning out greenhouses, tools, pots and bird boxes, a few thoughts on tidying the garden at this time of year and a section on ‘to dig or not to dig’. Finally I also came across, under Dec. 2020, a blog on plants for difficult places which might be a good topic to consider over the winter whilst making plans for next year. It looked at the site problems gardeners face as well as some ways to discover what conditions certain plants require. The main problems considered were hot, dry and sunny sites, poorly drained sites, shady sites and sites exposed to strong winds.

For my first plant of the month for November I am going to concentrate on the genus Viburnum. In reality this is a genus which could feature in almost any month as there are so many great plants to choose from, flowering as they do from winter, through spring, early summer and into autumn. The genus is comprised of 150 or more species of evergreen, semi-evergreen and deciduous shrubs from woodland areas in northern temperate regions of Europe and N. America and also extending into parts of SE Asia and S America. They are cultivated in gardens for their foliage, flowers and fruits. Their leaves in the most part are lance-shaped to rounded, often rough and veined and, in the case of the deciduous species and cultivars, colour up well in the autumn. Their often fragrant flowers are white or cream, sometimes pink-flushed or wholly pink and are tubular each with five spreading lobes at the top. These are borne in clusters which are often spherical or domed although some flower heads are flattened similar to those of ‘lacecap’ hydrangeas in which small, fertile, central flowers are surrounded by larger, flat, sterile ray-florets. The ornamental, not edible, fruits are spherical or ovoid and may be red, blue or black.

The earliest flowers of the year come from Viburnum x bodnantense, an upright, deciduous shrub with toothed, dark green leaves which are bronze when young. The wonderfully scented, tubular, rose-red to white-pink flowers are borne on clusters up to 3” (7cm) across from late autumn through to spring and perhaps are at their most striking when displayed on the bare branches once the leaves have fallen. The best known cultivar is V. x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ with its dark pink flowers but there is also V. x bod. ‘Charles Lamont’ with its bright pink flowers and V x bod. ‘Debens’ with white flowers.


Other early flowers come from Viburnum tinus which is an evergreen shrub with ovate to oblong, dark green leaves. The species plant V. tinus has white buds and flowers which last for a long time through autumn into winter and even early spring and they are followed by dark blue-black fruits. In addition there are also several good cultivars available mainly with pink flowers including V. tinus ‘Eve Price’, ‘Gwenllian’, ‘Pink Prelude’ and ‘Purpureum’ with its young foliage tinged dark bronze purple.

Next come the spring flowering viburnums of which there are several excellent garden plants most of which have highly scented flowers. Viburnum x burkwoodii is a rounded, bushy, evergreen shrub with glossy, dark green leaves and tubular, fragrant white flowers from pink buds in mid- and late-spring followed by ellipsoid, red fruits ripening to black. V. x burkwoodii ‘Anne Russel’ is compact and deciduous with fragrant white flowers and V. x burk. ‘Park Farm Hybrid’, also deciduous, has dark pink flowers fading to white with leaves which turn red and orange in the autumn.

Viburnum carlesii is a bushy, deciduous shrub with ovate, irregularly toothed, dark green leaves which often turn red in the autumn. In mid- and late-spring pink buds open to tubular, very fragrant white or pink-blushed white flowers produced in domed clusters. These are followed by red fruits ripening to black. V x carlcephalum is a larger shrub, a cross between V. carlesii and V. macrocephalum, and has heart-shaped, dark green, deciduous leaves which turn red in autumn. Tubular shaped, fragrant white flowers again in domes open from pink buds in late-spring. Another plant with V. carlesii as one of its parents is Viburnum x juddii which is smaller than V. x carlcephalum at about 5ft (1.5m) high with fragrant, pink-tinged white flowers in almost spherical clusters. Another spring flowering viburnum is the evergreen Viburnum davidii which is a dome-shaped, compact shrub with large, oval, three-veined, dark green leaves. Tiny, tubular white flowers appear in flattened heads in late spring followed by ovoid, metallic-blue fruits as long as both male and female plants are present.

We now move on to the late-spring and early-summer flowering viburnums and will start with Viburnum lantana, the Wayfaring Tree. This is a vigorous, upright, deciduous shrub up to 15ft (4-5m) high with large, finely-toothed, grey-green leaves which often turn red in the autumn. Small tubular, white flowers form in loosely-domed clusters and are followed by ovoid, red fruits ripening to black. The better known and also deciduous Viburnum opulus, the Guelder Rose, also flowers in late-spring to early-summer. Its leaves are maple-like, usually three-lobed and dark green turning red in the autumn. Its flowers occur in flat, lacecap-like clusters composed of tubular, white, fertile central flowers surrounded by showy, flat, white, sterile ray-florets. These are followed by spherical, fleshy, bright red fruits. Viburnum opulus is quite a large shrub up to 15ft (4-5m) in height but V. opulus ‘Compactum’ is slow growing, very dense and only 5ft (1.5m) high. Viburnum opulus ‘Roseum’ (often labelled as ‘Sterile’), the Snowball Tree, is quite different in that it only bears the large, white or green-tinted white, sterile flowers which sometimes turn pink in spherical clusters 2-3” (5-6cm) across. V. opulus ‘Xanthocarpum’ is more like V. opulus except that it produces bright yellow fruits!

Another viburnum for the late-spring and early-summer is Viburnum plicatum, the Japanese Snowball bush. This has more of a spreading habit with heart-shaped, toothed, deeply veined, dark green leaves turning red-purple in autumn. It has saucer-shaped, sterile, white flowers up to 1.5” (3cm) across in dense, spherical clusters. One of its cultivars, V. plicatum ‘Pink Beauty’, has white, sterile florets maturing to pink but my particular favourite is V. plicatum ‘Mariesii’ which is sometimes referred to as the Wedding Cake bush as it has distinctly layered, tiered branches holding its flattened heads of white, lacecap-like flowers.


After June even viburnums have a rest from flowering but once summer is over some varieties come into flower in the autumn. I have already mentioned V. x bodnantense which often does this but there are also V. farreri (often labelled as V. fragrans) and V. foetens. These are both upright, deciduous shrubs with ovoid, dark green leaves with good autumn colour. Their fragrant, white or pink-tinged flowers in mild conditions continue to flower on the bare stems following leaf fall and also produce bright red fruit.

I note from the Old Railway Line’s website and emails to loyalty card holders that Lucy, the plant area manager, has posted details of five excellent ‘Picks for Autumn’ planting and I am going to make these my other ‘plants of the month’ for November.

Skimmias in general are very good autumn and winter plants with their glossy, evergreen leaves, tolerance of shade and their many colourful flower buds which are held all through the winter until they open to small, star-shaped, often scented flowers in the spring. Some like Lucy’s choice, Skimmia japonica ‘Temptation’, also have spherical, usually red fruits which stay on the plants for long periods. The genus is actually a very small one with just four species found in woodlands from the Himalayas to SE Asia, China and Japan but many cultivars are available now especially in the Skimmia japonica group. Not all Skimmias produce berries, only the hermaphrodite (self-fertile) ones which will produce berries on their own and female plants which require a male plant nearby for pollination can produce berries. Probably the best known is Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’ which is a compact male with red-margined leaves and dark red flower buds in autumn and winter before opening into white or pinkish-white flowers in late-winter and early spring. Lucy’s choice Skimmia ‘Temptation’ is a compact, evergreen shrub up to around 2ft (70cm) with elliptical, glossy, green leaves that are aromatic when crushed. Clusters of small white flowers open from deep red buds in spring and as it is self-fertile these go on to produce masses of shiny, vivid red berries.


Hamamelis, Witch Hazel, is another great winter shrub. The genus of around six deciduous species occurs in woodland margins in E Asia and N America. They are grown for their oval-shaped leaves often with good autumn colour and their frost-resistant, fragrant, spidery flowers. Each flower is about 1” (2-3cm) across with four narrow petals and these are borne in clusters in the winter period on bare stems. Most flowers are yellow-orange but some, more modern cultivars have other coloured flowers such as H. vernalis ‘Amethyst’’ (violet), H. x intermedia ‘Jelena’ (coppery-orange) and H. x intermedia ‘Rubin’ (ruby-red). One of the most popular cultivars is Lucy’s choice, H. x intermedia ‘Pallida’ which as the name suggests has pale, sulphur-yellow flowers in mid- and late-winter which stand out beautifully along the bare stems.


Lucy’s third choice, Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii ‘Profusion’, is despite the long name rightly also known as the Beauty Bush. The genus is a large one with around 140 species of evergreen and deciduous shrubs and trees from woodland in mainly tropical and sub-tropical regions. Most, however, are not hardy in this country and only four are listed in my RHS encyclopaedia, Lucy’s  choice being one of them. ‘Profusion’ is a bushy, upright, deciduous shrub with elliptical, tapered, dark green leaves which are bronze when young. In midsummer it produces small, pale-pink flowers from the leaf axils (where the leaves join the stems) followed by its real beauty, small, bright violet fruits in the late-autumn.

Euonymus alatus ‘Compactus’ is another good choice for the late-autumn and Lucy is in good company in choosing it as is a great favourite of Kate who worked for many years in the plant area at the OLR and who is now enjoying her well-deserved retirement. The Euonymus genus is another large one with around 175 species of deciduous, semi-evergreen and evergreen shrubs, trees and climbers in woodlands mainly in Asia. At this time of year it is the deciduous species and cultivars which catch the eye with their stunning autumn colours and unusual fruits. Euonymus alatus, the Winged Spindle, is one of these with toothed, dark green leaves that turn a brilliant dark red in autumn. Its shoots are also of interest with their corky ridges and wings. The small green flowers are often overlooked when they appear in late-spring or summer but it is impossible to ignore the fruits which follow them. These are almost spherical, reddish-purple with usually 3-4 lobes which eventually split to reveal orange coated seeds inside. E. alatus itself can grow up to 6ft (2m) and 10ft (3m) across but E. alatus ‘Compactus’ is only around 3ft (1m) high and a little more across making it suitable for smaller gardens or even large containers. Another shrub often available in garden centres is E. europaeus ‘Red Cascade’. This is a much larger shrub up to 10ft (3m) high with oval, dark green leaves which again turn bright red in autumn. It also has spherical, 4-lobed, red fruits and seeds with orange coats.


Lucy’s fifth choice is more a multi-stemmed tree than a shrub and this is the wonderful Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’. The Cercis genus, a member of the Leguminosae family, comprises of about six species of deciduous trees and shrubs found at woodland margins and rocky hillsides in the Mediterranean, Central and East Asia and N. America. The have attractive heart-shaped leaves and bear brightly coloured pea-like flowers in spring usually coming before the leaves followed by flattened seed pods. Probably the best known plant is Cercis siliquastrum, the Judas Tree, with its heart-shaped, blue-green leaves which are bronze when young turning yellow in the autumn. Its flowers are magenta to pink mostly on bare stems making it a truly stunning tree in spring. The more recent cultivar Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ has purple, heart-shaped leaves with pointed tips which turn yellow in autumn. The leaves are quite large and when the sun shines through them they literally glow a deep red-purple. In spring it bears deep crimson, pink or sometimes white pea-like flowers. Ultimately it will grow to 25-30ft (8m) high and as much wide so it does need some space at the back of a deep border or as a specimen tree in a lawn.

These excellent suggestions were made because November is such a good time for planting before the soils get too cold and wet.  It is also the last chance this year to plant spring flowering bulbs and also to plant up containers for winter interest. I am sure that the Old Railway Line will still have bulbs for sale possibly with some end of season offers and their three for £10 Tub and Basket selection of evergreen plants for containers is always well worth a look at. In addition, those of you with loyalty cards have probably received a voucher for 20% off all Conifers until Sunday November 6th. These are great plants for the winter as most are evergreen and can really help to add colour, structure and interest to any garden. Finally on planting, November also marks the beginning of the bare root planting season. This is always the most economical and easiest way of planting especially if planting large numbers of trees and shrubs. Not all garden centres will carry bare rooted trees but most will certainly have bare root hedging for sale at this time.

That’s all for this month but I will be back again for a look at the garden in December. Enjoy the rest of the autumn and the run up to Christmas.


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