Filling vases for the home in November

I just got back from dropping the boys at school, it struck me that there were no cut flowers in the house, it looked drab, dull and lifeless. The end of November can be a tricky time to fill vases. A grey, damp, windy day is an excellent time to forage for flowers in the garden, five minutes pottering will result in twinkles of colour catching your attention.

Tiny single stem vases are ideal for presenting the individual blooms as the star performers. They look great positioned individually around the house or grouped to make a larger display.

November flowers from the gardenFlowers grouped in a variety of single stem vases

Sparse garden flowers lead us to look for alternatives, in a couple of weeks we can collect and indulge in the sumptuous, rich evergreen foliage that brings the Christmas spirit into our homes. For now we need to look for substitute flora, with interesting shapes, textures and colour to help lift our homes. I love the large, soft, silver, serrated leaves from a cardoon. When placed in a vase they become a living sculpture in your home.

Cardoon leavesCardoon leaves in a vase

Dog wood stemsDog wood stems, a winter garden staple, also look striking in a vase

Chilli harvest

This has been a great year for Chilli’s; we’ve been picking them since midsummer. I’ve grown three varieties Serrano, Ring of fire and Cayenne. Their red and green jewel like fruit has looked stunning in the conservatory / potting shed. The chilli’s we don’t use fresh are stored in the freezer and keep us going until next years crop. There are still lots of green chillis on the plants which I’ll leave; they may still redden with time. I have always treated chilli plants as half hardy annuals, but, I’ve just read that they are in fact perennials and crop far better in their second year. So I will experiment and see if they survive the winter under glass. Apparently I’m not to worry if they lose all their leaves, they’ll send out new ones come spring.Chilli harvest


We woke up this morning to our first frost. Frost in the grass

The drop in temperature has come as quite a shock, I’d got used to a balmy 15°c this autumn. I’m pleased the frost is here, the season change felt incomplete without the cold chill to signal the end of the growing season. Now it’s come there are jobs to be got on with. The dahlia foliage will be turning black, it’s now time to either dig up the tubers and store over winter or as I do prepare to leave in the soil over winter. I will cut back the foliage leaving 20cm of stem so I can see where the tubers are, then place a thick (at least 15cm) insulating mulch over each plant. You can use any mulch, but, if it’s a light mulch such as compost and likely to level out of time, I cover with fleece just to keep it in place. Come spring and the end of frosts distribute the mulch to a thinner layer and let the tubers sprout.

The warm weather led me into a false sense of security, I have neglected to pop cloches over my winter salad which is sown in the vegetable beds, a task for today. I will also have the fleece ready for my pea and broad bean shoots, if we have a long cold spell.

Even though it’s a Sunday, my children have no concept of a lie in, so we were up at first light, at 7am I was out pottering round the garden in a thick coat, pyjama’s and wellies. The frost takes the garden to another visual dimension. The delicate, intricate crystals give the garden a sharp stylish elegance. Below are a few pictures but sadly my photographic skills prevented me from capturing the early morning beauty.

The Veg patch in frost

The top vegetable bedsCavalo Nero in frostFrosted Cavalo NeroKale Redbor in the frostKale RedborSage in the frostFrosted SageSedum inthe frostSedumRose in the frost

Perennial Tulips

Those of you who regularly read this blog will know I like a bargain and can’t stand waste; everything in the garden has to earn its worth. I get great pleasure from dividing plants, sowing from seed and taking cuttings, to squander or fritter money in the garden does not sit well with me. Disposable gardening (ideal for some) is in direct opposition to my motivated desire to tend my plot, it is the evolving nature of a garden that ignites my passion and drive, I like to build a relationship with my plants, each one having a story, it gives purpose and meaning to why I garden. This perspective has stirred mixed emotions in me when it comes to tulips. They’re magnificent flowers, their colour lifts and complements a garden in Spring and they make fantastic cut flowers, but, to buy and plant tulip bulbs producing just one bloom each and then to dig them up and discard, goes completely against the grain. I just love the huge tulip displays many notable gardens put on, but my enjoyment is always tempered by the voice in my head shouting ‘how much did they cost, for just one season’. So in conclusion, I have bought and grown few tulips in my time. So it was with great enthusiasm that I read an article about perennial tulips in ‘The Garden’ last year (Nov 2014), it was by a great hero of mine, Fergus Garrett. I was inspired to grow perennial tulips, my top five selections based on Fergus Garrett’s recommendations are:

  1. Tulip Spring Green, a viridflora or green tulip variety, ivory white feathered with green.
  2. Tulip Ballerina, a lily flowered tulip variety, mandarin orange with a red pink glow, and scented.
  3. Tulip Apeldoorn, a Darwin hybrid variety, cherry red
  4. Tulip Purissima (White Emperor), a Fosteriana variety, white
  5. Tulip Negrita, a triumph variety, glowing purple with beetroot purple veins

I also selected a couple of popular tulips from B&Q that I could not resist, Queen of the Night, a dark deep purple and Princess Irene, a stunning fiery tulip with orange and purplish blooms. Just typing out these descriptions fills me with excitement, imagining beautiful bouquets and arrangements for the house next year.

Tulip bulbsTulip bulbs ready for planting

November is traditionally the time to go out and plant tulips, the theory being that the temperatures have dropped enough to reduce the chances of botrytis disease, commonly known as tulip fire blight, damp, warm conditions can accelerate the fire blight so it is usually best to wait until the weather is cold and there have been a few frosts. I fear my impatience to get them in could have scuppered me. We are still yet to have a frost here in Kent, although the BBC weather forecast does show one snowflake for Saturday so it looks as though this unusual mild spell is at an end.

As these tulips are primarily for cut flowers I dug trenches in my cutting border 15 cm deep and planted the bulbs in rows. My cutting border is raised which is good for drainage, it is important to not let perennial tulips sit in waterlogged soil as they will rot. If this is a potential problem you can successfully plant the bulbs on a bed of gravel which provides drainage. Planting at a depth of 15 cm means that I can overplant them with annual flowers to cut latter in the season.cut flower bed

The end of the cut flower bed where I’m planting the tulipsTulip bulbs in trenchTulip bulbs planted in a trench

My fingers are crossed for a bumper crop.

Two unusual visitors in our garden

Two unusual sightings in the garden; a peacock butterfly, showing what a mild November we’re having and a very brave or stupid pheasant! Our perpetually hungry dog, Rolo, favourite gourmet snack is fresh pheasant, such delicacies are rare for him these days as he’s an old slow boy with little sight, however, a game bird taking a stroll in our garden is not going to stop him trying!

Peacock Butterfly in NovemberPeacock butterfly out in NovemberPheasant in the gardenA pheasant taking a stroll in our gardenPheasant in goalPheasant in goal!

Filling our home with colour in November

Still no frost yet in Kent, so I’m thrilled to be filling the house with dahlias in November, long may it last. The stems are getting thin and weak but with the right vase they’re still giving life and colour to our home.Dahlias in November

The Kitchen garden in October

To me the autumnal leaves have been better this year than any other I can remember. On our half term trip visiting friends in Wiltshire, I often thought this must be a taste of what the renowned Canadian Fall foliage is like at this time. The garden seems to be successfully fighting off the calls of winter, we’ve got many plants in flower, several on their second flush for the year. My sowings of winter salad, green manure, garlic, peas, broad beans and hardy annual seeds have all emerged and doing well. I think I’ll have to buy some fleece to pop over them if we have the exceptionally cold winter we seem to be promised by commentators,and the large quantities of holy and other berries in the hedgerows (generally a good guide to a severe winter). As always below is my monthly round up in pictures.

End of October Vegetable BedsThe top vegetable beds, still producing spinach and salad

Garlic shootsThe garlic sown a couple of weeks ago is thriving in this warm weather, I’m hopeful for large bulbs next year

Broad bean shootsBroad bean shoots

Pea shootsPea shoots

Green manure shootsGreen manure seedlings

Salad seedlings, seed tape v seedSeed tape (background) v hand sown (foreground) winter salad, hand sown is winning so far although I think I was a little heavy handed with the seed!

VerbascumVerbascum looking pretty

Penstemon - Just JaynePenstemon ‘Just Jayne’, a hard working garden essential, the colour in the blooms is not quite as vibrant as a month ago but still looking good

October dahlia bedThe dahlia bed

Dahlia HalloweenAn October dahlia, ‘Halloween’


Centaurea montanaCentaurea montana

Knautia macedonica 'melton pastels'Knautia macedonica ‘melton pastels’

Fuji Cherry TreeFuji Cherry Tree, not only does it have beautiful spring blossom but stunning autumn leaves, a great tree for a small garden

Holly BerrriesOur garden indicator of a cold winter, holy berries. I can guarantee there’ll be none left when I’m out cutting for Christmas foliage!

Chilli Ring of fireChilli – Ring of fire, we’ve had a great crop this year and they’re still going strong

Dahlia arch

My dahlias were used by a friends talented Mum who created this beautiful arch around a church door for a wedding. It’s lovely to see the late season dahlia blooms put to such a stunning and lovely use. Thank goodness we’ve not had a frost yet here in Kent.Dahlia arch