outside in: November (6/12)

Outside-in charts my attempts to bring the garden into the house with haphazard English Freestyle flower arranging.

Our hardy fuchsias had a new burst of life this month.

red fuchsia gardening blog

I seem to remember they did the same this time last year.

white fuchsia gardening blog

My dad says some plants struggle with the long days of summer – it’s hard work photosynthesising for 16 hours at a time.

Perhaps that’s why they bounce back in November.



the soft-dying day

acer yellow gardening blog

The star of the garden at the moment is the acer.

We have no idea what variety it is. But it is close to 20 foot tall, so it must have been here a long time. It was probably planted by the late husband of the lady who lived here before us. By all accounts he loved trees, and it is him we have to thank for their dominance in the garden.

Our daughter enjoys the tapestry of leaves around the acer’s feet. Which is as good a reason as any to delay clearing them up.

acer leaves on ground gardening blog

It is at its best on a cold, sunny day. You can stand inside the canopy and peer through the back-lit leaves which range from pale yellows to deepest reds.

back-lit acer gardening blog

Having a garden full of mature trees is a mixed blessing. Steve – a fan of prairie style plants – dislikes the amount of deep shade they create. But their knobbly trunks and gnarled branches are full of character, not to mention wildlife. They bring year-round impact and a quiet sense of permanence.

They connect us to people who have loved the garden before us. And maybe some of them will still be here when we’re long gone.

tall trees gardening blog

tall trees – beautiful, but a mixed blessing

sweet peas – a winter sowing

sweet pea tubes gardening blogI wasn’t going to bother with a winter sowing of sweet peas. Last year most of my first batch were gobbled by mice and I’m not convinced the ones that made it did better than those sowed in the spring.

But as the days get colder and darker, it lifts the spirits to plan for next summer. On Sunday, M and I tore open three of the six packets of seed I ordered from Easton Walled Gardens and made a start.

Sweet peas love to grow nice long roots, so we’ve been saving loo rolls and kitchen rolls for them. The added bonus is that the cardboard should just disintegrate when we plant them out, meaning we won’t need to disturb them too much.

When it came to filling the tubes with compost, M struggled with their open-ends. So I took the frugal option for my seeds and let her have some biodegradable fibre pots.sweet peas gardening blog

Each packet had at least one seed more than the 15 we were expecting, perhaps they add extra for the inevitable rodent robbers. It was just as well since M dropped hers and a few rolled under the shed floor. I suspect there is a mouse or three living down there, so I hope it won’t trigger them to go sweet pea hunting.

sweet pea tray gardening blog

M is having a pink phase, so she claimed Miss Wilmott for the biodegradable pots. I sowed Dorothy Eckford and Lord Nelson in loo rolls, which in hindsight seems a little disrespectful.

When we were done, we gave them a drink and left them in the cold greenhouse to germinate. I suppose I could have set a mouse trap next to them, but I didn’t have the heart to. We can always grow more in the spring.

This Q&A from Easton Walled Gardens has some good sweet pea growing advice. I didn’t come across it until after we sowed ours, but if they haven’t been devoured by mice yet, I’ll move them to the porch which is just as cold but hopefully a little more mouse-proof than the greenhouse.

winter sun

mahonia gardening blogMany, many times over the summer I cursed our mahonia. It is at the back of the main border and whenever I ventured in there for weeding or deadheading, its prickly evergreen leaves seemed to make a grab for me.

Early in the spring Steve and I spent a chilly afternoon giving it a hefty prune. We removed about a third of its tangled branches, chopping them down to ground level, and trimmed some of the longer stems back since most of the flowers had been way above our heads that winter. We were afraid we might have been too brutal. But we soon forgot about it as the season progressed and our attention was drawn to other areas of the garden.

mahonia blue sky gardening blog

robust little flowers, like a yellow Lily of the Valley

That chilly afternoon’s work seems to have paid off this month. We’ve been rewarded with fragrant bright yellow flowers bursting like fireworks in an otherwise lacklustre corner.

mahonia monkey puzzle gardening blog

it teams up surprisingly well with the dead monkey puzzle

I’ve been looking at mahonia on the RHS website. Those long clusters of flowers are called racemes and there is a whole list of varieties, from winter sun to undulata. I have no idea if ours is winter sun, but it seems an appropriate name.

Another name for mahonia is oregon grape, because of the purplish berries that follow the flowers. Apparently they are edible and rich in vitamin C – just what we’ll need once they ripen in January.

mahonia bee gardening blog

a welcome bit of nectar for the few bees that are still venturing out