November presents us with a host of questions.
When will the dahlias die down from frost damage? How harsh a winter are we due for? Which plants will carry on looking good?
It is a time for keeping a vigilant eye on most of our plants, as the answer to most of these questions will only be revealed in time.
But prevention is better than cure, so now is a good time to either move your tender plants into a protected area, such as a greenhouse, conservatory or window-sill, or to cover them with horticultural fleece.
A tender plant is usually defined as one which will not tolerate temperatures below 10c, but often plants are classified on a hardiness scale of H1-H7, where H1 represents an especially tender plant and H7 shows a plant will tolerate the harshest of winter temperatures.
Hardiness is an essential part of classification, and one we have been looking at in detail lately on the RHS course. Dahlias, for example, originate from Mexico and have a hardiness rating of about H3 – so are often best left outside to endure a couple of early season-frosts, to trigger the plant’s ‘winter mode’ and then the tubers can be lifted and brought indoors ahead of the coldest depths of winter.
If you like living dangerously, you could leave dahlia tubers outside with a good mulch (leaf mulch works well) and they may survive a less extreme winter.
Cultivars of Fuchsia magellanica, from which a lot of bush fuchsias are derived, are continually re-classified as hardy as climate change takes effect, but with long-range forecasts showing an especially cold winter looming, some may be damaged or killed this winter.
Many have pointed to a rich crop of berries this year heralding a sharp winter, and fuchsias here at MSoG have been producing a bumper feast of berries – yes, fuchsia berries are edible! I hasten to add that most plants and berries in the garden are not edible, so caution is always best when eating your plants!
Fuchsia berries have the appearance of a small red grape and have a grape-like texture. Fellow gardeners tell me they have a peppery taste, though I have not found this – perhaps I’m just lucky, or maybe I’m missing out!
With most of the deciduous plants looking bare, and our frost-tender plants needing some TLC, a good place to look for a reliable, evergreen plant is from our own shores. English yew, Taxus baccata, has conifer-like foliage or there’s Ilex aquifolium – the loveable holly plant.
Japan has also given us some evergreen, hardy plants such as Mahonia japonica, with its clusters of strong, glossy deep green leaves and lily-of-the valley scented lemon-yellow flowers in late winter, and Lonicera japonica ‘Halliana’, the Japanese honeysuckle, with deliciously scented creamy yellow flowers in summer.
Note the species name for both of these give a good clue to their country of origin! A plant’s natural habitat is always worth considering, as it will give you a sense of the conditions it prefers and how hardy it is.
Being the hardy gardener I am, I will keep working away and will be back in a month’s time to tell you what I am up to!