Next year I'm thinking of starting a #loveNovember campaign. As soon as the clocks change at the end of October the whole country starts to think about Christmas and poor old November doesn't get a look in. I quite enjoyed November this year – I appreciate the clocks going back since I started the flower business. You have to finish outside work as soon as the light fades so working days just have to be a bit shorter – and after 6 busy months that's no harm. There is a sense of the natural world hunkering down for the winter months and us humans - as part of that world - are ready for a rest too.
It's not quite true to say that nothing is going on in the garden in November though. It's the ideal time to plant tulips and I planted a thousand or so new ones that will be adorning bouquets next April and May. My method of planting them is to dig out a trench of a metre squared, lay the bulbs out quite close together and then backfill the soil in over them. It's quite a workout but it's such a simple straightforward task and bulbs are a pretty fool proof way of growing flowers so there's not so much doubt about doing it wrong or right.
There is still time to plant tulips and they are a lovely thing to have beside your front door in a nice pot. West Cork Bulbs does a good selection and they are widely available. Think about what colour will go with the colour of your house. 'Ballerina' is a pretty orange one and 'Mount Tacoma' is a beautiful white double tulip. Plant them really close together and deeply in the pot – you want at least 15-20 to make a display with impact.
November is also the start of 'bareroot season'. This is the time of year when dormant plants can be sold with bare roots (i.e. not in a pot, and therefore cheaper) so I have been ordering some ornamental trees, shrubs and roses. I have a lot to learn about roses but somehow found myself spending many hours doing the important work of googling every rose in the catalogue to decide which ones would be best as cut flowers. (Top Tip: Chando's Beauty comes highly recommended)
But now December is upon us and even I have to admit that the thought of Christmas cheer is somewhat necessary to get us through the dark winter weeks and months. The seed heads and flowers that I have been drying since the summer are about to be put to use, along with lots of evergreen foliage and woven willow rings.
Last week, I made my first Christmas door wreaths for a demonstration I was giving. It got me thinking about the process of collecting and making and bringing something of nature into your house at this time of the year. Just getting outside in daylight and looking closely at what the hedgerows have to offer - even in the depths of winter - is a life-affirming experience. Of course you can dust off last years artificial one from the attic too but if you have any yearning to make something from natural materials I would really recommend it. The same goes for table arrangements with a candle. If you can find some Scots Pine you will be rewarded with that Christmassy smell that no air freshener can emulate.
Look out for nice strands of trailing ivy and the plump black berries on berry ivy. You might spot some Spindle if you're lucky – or have it growing in your own garden. It has a very interesting pink fruit that opens up to reveal the orange coloured seed inside. You can gather any type of branches that are a nice shape but I think beech and birch are usually the nicest and most delicate. If you have dogwood in your garden and cut it back every year in early spring its stems will now be a deep red colour. And one of my favourite things of all are larch branches with their little cones and often a covering of lichen which is like a little work of art in its own right.
Before I sign off for this year, a little suggestion to give plants as gifts this Christmas. Now that we are becoming increasingly aware of the amount of plastic we generate, especially around Christmas, here is a gift idea to help redress the balance. Perhaps a rose, or a Hellebore - often called the Winter Rose - which will be in bloom earlier than almost anything in the garden. Nice to think about in the depths of winter!
This article was published in the December 2018 edition of the West Cork People