Living here in London, it’s not easy to say when winter actually starts. I grew up in Norway and I was 35 when I moved to London, up until then winter was defined by snow on the ground – around 5 months per year, usually from mid October to mid March, although it could snow as late as May. Here in London it rarely snows, some winters not at all, and if it snows it only lays for a few days and that’s it – according to my old definition, winter would come and go in less than a week....
Here are some facts for you from Wikipedia: "Astronomically, winter starts with the winter solstice, around December 21, and ends with the spring equinox, around March 21. In meteorology, it is by convention counted instead as the whole months of December, January and February. However, in the UK the winter solstice is traditionally considered as midwinter, the winter season beginning November 1st and spring begins February 1st. This system of seasons is based on the length of days exclusively. The three-month period of the shortest days and weakest solar radiation occurs during November, December and January in the Northern Hemisphere (May-July in the Southern). In reality, the three-month period associated with the coldest average temperatures typically begins somewhere in late November or early December in the Northern Hemisphere. If "winter" is defined as the statistically coldest quarter of the year, then the astronomical definition is too late by almost all local climate standards, and the traditional UK definition of November 1 is almost always too early to fit this standard."
Confused? Well, the weather has certainly been confused for many years. I have experienced above 30 degrees Celsius in every month from March to October here in London, and I have had below zero in every month from October to March, and above 20 degrees in every month of the year, including January and February – not in the same year though! Winter here in London is more of an entry on my calendar than a description of the season. So why have I put a picture of my wellies here? Well, that’s the first sign of winter for me! When I put my gardening shoes away and take out my generously insulated wellies, winter is definitely on the way. And by the way I only use them in the garden, never out of the house – even though they are kind of cute, or would have been perhaps in size 5 or 6, but not in size 8 EE which I use, but they keep my feet nicely warm and dry :-)
It was 15 degrees, crisp sunshine and quite warm today in my garden, a lovely day for a bit of gardening, Sunday we are expecting 3 - 4 degrees and bitterly cold wind – typically November weather, not one day is the same as the previous. My garden gets more and more empty every time I take a picture of it, the herbaceous plants are dying down and the evergreens are coming more to their rightful show. I decided to change my heading picture today, haven’t done that since spring so it was probably about time! The autumnal look is an ominous sign of what to come – winter is cold in London living in a Victorian house, despite central heating and double glazing, and we have already had one cold spell and seem to be in for another one. That’s early.
Can you remember I wrote about my garden helper earlier this autumn? After I dislocated my hip in August I tried to find someone who could give me a hand in my garden with some of the stuff I find a bit difficult to do, and I found an organisation called ‘Helping Hands’ who help with all sorts of chores. I had a very nice lady coming over a couple of times helping me in my garden and although she wasn’t a gardener as such, that was perfectly OK for me, as I just wanted help, not having someone do the gardening for me. But after a couple of visits she suggested to me that perhaps her husband would be more suitable to help me, he is actually a gardener, working for the council in my borough, and she asked if it was OK if he came to help me instead of her? If it was OK?? I was over the moon when she suggested that! He has been here three times already, planting bulbs (with the speed of light, 250 bulbs in 30 minutes!!), planting annuals and pruning shrubs. He does work in my garden in one hour that would take me several days, that is if I could do it at all. He was here 2 days ago and pruned this big conifer in my garden, a Thuja or commonly called cedar.
I am not quite sure what kind of thuja it is, the tree was here when I moved in 11 years ago and it was rather big back then, filling up almost a quarter of the garden. But back then it was still possible to cut off the lower branches to free up some space on the ground, the tallest branches had to come off standing on a step ladder. Since then the tree has grown, a lot, and when it rains the water doesn’t really reach down under the canopy unless it rains really hard for a long time. It is also rather dark and gloomy in that corner, and although the plants I have chosen are typically woodland plants, they could all do with a bit of light. So when my garden helper suggested to prune off some branches for me I was really happy. We borrowed a ladder from my neighbour and my garden helper cut as much as he could reach. The ladder, which seemed really long before we started, turned out to be too short to reach all the branches we had planned to cut so he is going to have a second go with a longer ladder. But here is the result so far, pretty good I would say. The tree looks nothing like a conifer with all the lower branches off, more like a palm tree, but I don’t really care – I didn’t plant it, I would never plant a tree that can reach 70 m tall in a tiny garden like mine, so I am just making the best of it. However, having a tree like that in the garden is useful too, it means I can have dahlias in that corner without lifting them in the winter, they don’t rot and keep well, as the roots of the tree is keeping that area nice and dry over the winter.
And here is another ‘tree’ that is doing well. This tree stump used to be a lovely little conifer but something happened to it, not sure what, and it slowly died. Instead of chopping down the whole thing I got a cutting of a passion flower from a friend’s garden and let it grow up the dead tree trunk. That was a year ago and I let the passion flower just scramble up as it wanted. It grew so quickly and became a bit messy so my garden helper and I took the whole thing carefully down and re-twined it and fastened it securely. Now it covers most of the branches of the old tree and will withstand the heaviest of winter storms to come. The passion flower is ever green so this ‘tree’ will look green all year round. My hope is that by next summer I will have lots of branches hanging down peppered with beautiful blue flowers and perhaps some fruit too. I got two flowers this autumn, which was a nice surprise, I had not expected any flowers at all the first year.
I have bought some new plants again – well, it’s hard to resist the sales at the online gardening companies I use! I bought a new clematis which I will tell you about in a separate post, and these two lovely heuceras, called Heuchera 'Caramel'. They look so lovely together with the black grass, Ophiopogon nigrescens.
Heuchera 'Caramel' and Ophiopogon nigrescens.
Black berries on Ophiopogon nigrescens.
Speaking of berries, look at the berries on my Skimmia japonica 'Bowle's Dwarf'!
Here is another striking colour in my garden, the cyclamens are in full flower.
Lamium maculatum 'Beacon Silver' is still flowering, amazingly, the other ones I have are dying down.
And lastly, my roses are still flowering, here is a bud from ‘Freedom’...
Winter is my least favourite season, it is cold and wet and my achy joints and sore muscles could really do without that kind of weather. But it doesn’t stop me from pottering about in my garden, I just warp up warm and make the trip outside a bit shorter. As long as it’s not raining I still enjoy an hour or so in the garden, and even though we haven’t really started winter yet, there are already signs that spring is not that far away. My irises and crocuses have started shooting! Yep, that’s winter in London for you :-) Until next time, take care.