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November 2020 Column

Updated: Nov 16, 2022

November arrives almost with a sigh of relief, a little pause for thought and reflection. By now, almost certainly we will have had a frost to call time on the perennial borders, blackening our beloved Dahlias and leaves released from the branches, twirling to the now soggy ground.

The pace slows. Most seeds just will not germinate in November, ground will be heavy with moisture. Any footfall on the grass or borders will compact the soil so in effect, most tasks are halted until we have a dry spell or at least Winter arrives fully for different jobs altogether. So we can afford to relax a little after a busy Spring and Summer.

Our main tasks this month are to lift dahlias and plant tulips. They go hand in hand. Both plants enjoy a rich deep soil and neither disturbs the others growth. Further, it is best to lift dahlias once there have been a couple of frosts to blacken the foilage and kill off any virus’. The same goes for planting Tulips. Better to wait for a few frosts before planting. Therefore these are jobs often considered together.

Sarah Raven leaves her dahlias in the ground and only splits every few years. It makes sense to plant tulips around the plants for interest in April and May before the dahlia foliage begins to peak out from the ground and cover from June until late October.

We lift our dahlias for several reasons. Our plants work hard to repeat flower throughout our cutting season. This depletes the soil of nutrient and tires the plant. By lifting and splitting each year, we get the opportunity to mulch the soil and discourage virus build up in the soil. Plants are rotated and grown in different beds on a programme over a few years. Tulips are planted shoulder to shoulder akin to eggs in an egg box so you really only need a small space for these in a Sunny spot. But admittedly, the main reason for me to rotate the plants is that I enjoy seeing the garden used in different ways and the change of location each year!

On a fine day, turning the compost heap is a warming and satisfying job. Doing so will reactivate decomposition and thus speed up the process. Raking leaves off lawns and adding to the heap, or more ideally storing to rot into leaf mould in its own bin makes beautiful crumbly compost within a year for your shady borders. Beech is by far the best and most valuable leaf for this.

Ensure to leave a few piles of leaves about for toads, hedgehogs and insects. We can get too tidy. The same can be said for the border. I will cut down any rotting foilage or stems (becase it can sit on top of the plant and rot that too) but will leave standing stems and seed heads for the wildlife not to mention frosty cobweb silhouettes as we go deeper into Winter.

By rooting ourselves by the month we are in, I feel a greater appreciation for where I am, right now. Tasks completed at the appropriate time, seed sowing, composting, mulching ensures we are aligned with the season. Gardening can only be successfully done this way and why believe it is so healing and of great comfort. So I will enjoy the wood smoke, the fallen leaves and damp air and breath it all in as I go about my tasks.


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