Perhaps the lines of the title are all that need to be said about November, which can seem like a poor relation sandwiched between the bonfire and fireworks of October and the diamond sparkle of frost in December.
Yet the often mundane tasks that can be carried out in this month can see the gardener through the winter and lay important groundwork for spring.
At Hodnet our chief task this month is clearing leaves especially from areas of grass. The volume of leaves produced by all our trees, if left to lie on the grass, would seriously weaken or even kill large patches of turf. We gather our leaves with the aid of a machine which chews them up and fires them into our trailer. This helps them rot down more quickly over the summer so that they turn into fine, sweet smelling, friable leaf mould.
Leaf mould is often termed ‘gardeners gold’ for good reason. When made well it makes a superb mulch for almost any situation or an addition to a planting hole. The open texture gives body to a light soil and breaks up a heavy loam. Leaf mould is different from compost in that it has a low nutrient content so it does not feed the soil but opens up the structure to allow greater root penetration. If put through a sieve it makes an excellent potting or sowing medium.
The other principal task we have this month is beginning to cut back herbaceous growth which is dying down for the winter. It is often said that too tidy a garden is bad for wildlife. Bugs, beetles and other insects make their home in stems and fallen leaves. It is possible, by leaving twigs etc under hedges to provide refuge for insects. November is a good month for digging out, lifting and dividing herbaceous perennials or for removing shrubs suck as Kerria Japonica which can be thugs in the garden.
Finally, while the weather is still comparatively mild it is worthwhile to continue planting trees and shrubs including bare root plants. It is worth taking your time over the planting hole. Frost later in the winter can literally heave a plant from the ground. Wind rock can have the same effect leaving the roots exposed and vulnerable to damage by frost or physiological drought. This is where a little leaf mould mixed in when back filling, can make all the difference.
Plants which arrive bare root are tremendously exciting to unwrap from the damp newspaper in which they are often packed. In an age of garden centers bare root plants can often seem old fashioned. But when freshly lifted, their roots free from the restrictions of a pot and transplanted to your own garden they establish more quickly than pot grown counterparts. This winter in the kitchen garden we will be establishing a new raspberry patch. This will take over from our existing patch, which after 12 years is starting to decline. The new patch will be ready for cropping in 1-2 years. A good helping of well rotted manure and leaf mould will help speed the process up. Once the old canes have been dug out pumpkins and squashes will fill the space whilst the ground is allowed to rest.
In November the leaves might be brown, the sky might be grey but in the garden it can be full of possibilities.