Gardening on the Moor with Anne Swithinbank: November in the Garden

Anne Swithinbank
Anne Swithinbank

November probably beats even early February in the contest for dreariest month of the year, yet I quite enjoy its challenge.

This week, we’re looking at end of season tasks, as the garden, like its plants, gradually shuts up shop for winter.

Raking leaves

Not a chore for me, as tickling the colourful leaves from border edges and combing them out of emerald turf is so satisfying. A plastic-headed rake is my tool of choice and I race to collect leaves before the mower mixes them with grass clippings.

They are a harvest of sorts, added to a leaf mould clamp, made from four wooden posts wrapped with chicken wire. Here they break down into fabulous, crumbly leaf mould ideal for mulching and sieved, as a potting compost ingredient.

On the move

Some plants are unlikely to survive the cold and wet of our heavy soil during winter. Of these, tuberous Mexican Salvia patens is worth lifting and potting, to dry off and rest in our unheated greenhouse.

Dahlias often survive winter in the ground but I prefer to lift and store favourites.

Decorating the main, north facing doorway of our house are several containers, mainly of foliage plants. One pot holds Phormium ‘Alison Blackman’, Skimmia ‘Rubella’ and Photinia ‘Little Red Robin’ and another

Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’, Blechnum spicant fern and Skimmia ‘Kew Green’.

While these are hardy, others are tender and need frost protection. The Brazilian palm-leaved begonia (B.luxurians) needs a minimum of 10 C/50 F and can join me in my office. I love the fuzzy mass of yellow and white flowers.

Fresh mint

Our daughter is partial to brewing fresh spearmint tea, so to try and keep her supplied I’ve lifted some mint roots and potted them to force, gently, in the greenhouse and then on a windowsill.

The mint bed is overgrown with grass and pernicious creeping cinquefoil, so lifting and boxing all the mint in potting compost, weeding thoroughly and then replanting is a good plan.

Pea shoots

Sometime from late October to late

November, I make direct, outdoor sowings of broad bean ‘Aquadulce Claudia’ and Pea ‘Meteor’ for the earliest crops next year and they usually do well in slightly mounded, sunny beds. At the RHS Autumn Show in London last month, I talked peas to Sea Spring Seeds near Dorchester and came away with a variety recommended for its tender shoots.  This is a fodder pea and apparently, though the actual peas are horrid, plants make lots of stemmy, leafy growth to harvest for salads.

I’m sowing the small, round peas 2.5-5cm (1-2in) apart into a wide drill made in a raised bed in the greenhouse, will pop a few in pots and also set some straight in the ground. Take the first tip when plants reach 15-20cm (6-8in) high, leaving 5cm (2in) behind to re-sprout.

Mulch the kiwi

Our pair of kiwi fruit plants, one male one female, have cropped in the past, but their fruits were smaller and not as juicy as those in the shops. They are best kept in egg boxes after picking, to ripen further in store, as pears do.

Now’s a good time to clear around their roots and apply a mulch, remembering to shorten lateral stems in winter and add a general purpose fertilizer in early spring.

Chilean guava

Years ago at a Gardeners Question Time recording in Cornwall, we were presented with a handful of fruits from the Chilean guava Myrtus ugni.

The aromatic and delicious flavour has stayed in my mind ever since and I have just bought a plant. From this pretty evergreen, I should expect white and pink bell-shaped flowers in spring and cranberry-sized fruits ripening in November. Should you have a moist yet well drained soil somewhere sheltered from harsh winds, plant out.

Yet these small shrubs hardy to -10 C (14F) might suffer on the moor and be best potted and brought under unheated glass for winter. I’m doing the same with mine until rooted cuttings give me the confidence to experiment.

November highlights

Viburnum farreri

Clusters of pink buds open to palest pink flowers emitting a sweet, spicy fragrance. Makes a large deciduous shrub.

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Vanilla Fraise’

These late-flowering paniculate hydrangeas enjoy woodland conditions and softly fading flower heads persist well into winter.


November is perfect tulip planting time, as they are less likely to suffer from tulip fire (a fungal disease) or frost damage. Set bulbs 15cm (6in) deep and 13-15cm (5-6in) apart.

Sorbus ‘Joseph Rock’

Rowans or Mountain ash suit moorland gardens but birds will clear the orange and red-berries early. Yellow, pink or white fruits are left longer.

Mespilus germanica

Medlar fruits are known as ‘cul de chien’ or ‘dog’s bottom’ in France, yet look decorative clinging to bare branches long after leaves fall. They make good jelly too.

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