November sparks and signifies the end of autumn where the colour bonanza of falling leaves creates one of the last chores to be done in the Lothian garden.
Leaves make excellent mulch but firstly they need to decompose. This is a very easy process – simply collect all the leaves and pile them into, preferably, an open sided leaf bin usually made from chicken wire, where air can circulate (unlike the compost bin) and leave for about a year.
Shredding the leaves – easier when dry – will allow for a faster rate of decomposition and the longer the leaf mould is left the better the end product which can also be used as a soil conditioner.
In small gardens, simply collecting leaves and putting them into black bin bags with holes pierced, and sprinkling some water if leaves are dry, before tying the bags and left in a shady corner of a garden, will also make wonderful leaf mould. Conifer arisings will take longer, around 2-3 years. Please leave a pile of leaves for the hedgehog, a friend of any garden.
Due to the longer season it is still surprising that there are flowers blooming such as Asters, Schizostylus (Hesperantha), the last of the Sedum autumnalis and hydrangeas in particular. (See pictures).
Colour can be found all year round, that is, when not under the blanket of snow, from evergreens. Evergreen conifers will give structure and shape to a garden but don’t neglect evergreen plants such as Bergenia cordifolius with their huge elephant ear shaped leaves, and Brunnera hold onto their leaves for prolonged periods – my favourite being B. ‘Jack Frost’ with splashes of silver on the leaves – and shrubs such as Elaeagnus ‘Quicksilver’ or any gold variegated variety will furnish the garden with colour.
Other notable evergreen shrubs are gaultheria which has lovely berries, crinodendron hookerianum or Daphnes. Ivy (Hedera) may seem ‘common’ but in the right place will offer colour too, I suggest H. Helix ‘Goldchild’ or ‘Mapleleaf’ and is ideal in full shade.
If you have pruned varieties of Cornus earlier in the year, you will be enjoying the colourful stems now – everything from greens, yellows, the usual reds and the more unusual black.
There are some ‘bulbs’ that are currently flowering include cyclamen hederfolium (corms) adding ground hugging colour (white or pinks) to the border and crocus boryi or tournefortii (blues).
My Eucalyptus gunnii is in full flower (beautiful clusters of yellow) now and as the sun shines through the glaucous-blue aromatic leaves bouncing off the attractive bark, it proves there are trees that are not coniferous but still evergreen and an asset to the garden – but please don’t plant E.gunnii in a small garden as I have (now regrettably).
The season of Holly is almost upon us and provides the gardener with both the evergreen or variegated leaf plus the red berries. Holly (Ilex) is a long-lived evergreen shrub with distinctive glossy leaves usually spiked. Here is an interesting fact, the mistle thrush is known for strongly guarding the berries in winter preventing other birds from devouring them.
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