Friday, 9 November 2012

Winter is looming

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’...


...and here is one of my pink miniature roses.


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.

21 comments:

  1. Winter is not far off here in Wisconsin either Helene... I'm anxiously awaiting the arrival of martagon lilies from your neck of the woods, assuming they make it through customs ok. I can relate to the aches and pains of the cold and damp seasons... my back always locks up and my asthma kicks in from beathing the crisp air.... I just keep on keeping on... at least building my new stone wall doesn't make me sweat when it's 40 derees F. And you know... the winters seem to be getting shorter and I'm not minding them as much as I used to! Take care and beware frostbite... Larry

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    1. Martagon lilies...are they the one that doesn’t smell very pleasant? I know they naturalise very well, but have been put off by the price and their reputation regarding the scent. Good luck with your new wall, looking forward to see the finished result :-)

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  2. 250 bulbs, crickey! Can I ask where you bought them from? I have mixed success with cheap plants and bulbs and was going to do a huge tulip order from Bloms Bulbs but then nearly fell off my chair when I realised how much it would cost me! Now planting a mixture of a couple from Bloms and then a load of cheap mixes from Homebase.

    Great news about your gardener. It is very damp out there today and I'm not sure I can face stuffing in my last lot of iris bulbs. Not much to blog about at my end apart from leaf collection!

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    1. Hi Claire, I have used www.jparkers.co.uk for bulbs the last few years, their cheap bulbs are pretty standard ones, if you want something special you also have to pay for it, but here is my last order:
      100 Galanthus Woronowii £9.98
      30 Jonquilla Narcissi Mixed £2.49
      20 Daffodil Golden Ducat £1.99
      20 Daffodil White Lion £1.99
      50 Dutch Iris Mixed £1.99
      15 Tulip Apricot Beauty Free
      25 Allium Superglobe Mix Free
      Total£ 18.44 + £3.99 P&P

      Not bad? They also sell plants but be aware, they come as dormant plants - dried sticks with roots in a bag, or just a few roots you have to plant yourself, not potted plants! I was a bit baffled the first time I ordered. For great, mature, good quality plants, reasonably priced, delivered to my door I use www.coblands.co.uk.
      I managed to get an hour in the garden today too, after the rain had stopped and before it got too dark :-)

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    2. I just had a look at the company you mentioned, Bloms Bulbs, and compared one tulip bulb I bought last year from another company, www.thebulbshop.co.uk seems you can save a lot of money by switching...
      Fosteriana 'Purissima' cost £9.60 for 50 bulbs at The Bulb Shop and £19.25 for 50 bulbs at Bloms Bulbs! It’s just one example, but have a look at them, I was very happy with my order and I am now waiting with eager for the spring as I wonder if they will come up again, I have left them in the ground – one can always hope!

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  3. The reason I bought from Bloms was their fantastic display at Chelsea Flower Show last year, however I only ended up buying 30 as it was so expensive and got the rest as budget bulk buys from Homebase and even B and Q (someone I normally steer clear from when it comes to plants). I have used JP Parker for the last 2 years. Some all came up fine but I had others that scarcely bloomed at all and it was specific to one or two varieties. Perhaps it's just me! This year I'll be able to compare the performance of everything as an experiment.

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  4. My iris are shooting up, too! Last winter was too warm and dry and my roses suffered this summer. The blackspot spores never died and many had spots all summer. 250 bulbs in 30 minutes? WOW! I love that you use the dead tree as a support for a passionflower. Very clever! :o)

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    1. I had a look at the irises today again, they are 12-15 cm out of the ground already! I hope they won't be damaged by the cold weather we most certainly will have over the next few months. As for the garden helper, he plants thousands of bulbs every year in his job as gardener for the council, I guess he has a bit more experience than most of us :-)

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  5. I shouldn't wish away time but i'm already looking forward to your Spring garden. Those bulbs will look amazing!

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    1. Oh, believe me, I am wishing away the winter all right, can't wait for spring! I am especially looking forward to the irisis, haven't had them in my garden for many years.

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  6. Hi Helene, greetings from Montreal, Canada. Winter is looming here as well. You have a very nice blog.

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  7. I meant to add that I love the colours in your garden!

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    1. Thank you Linda, and welcome to my blog.

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  8. What a great idea with the Passion Flower! I would never think to do that, but I can't wait to see more pictures when it blooms! I love you Heucheras and Cyclamen! Winter here usually seems to psychologically start with the first measurable snow--sometime around Thanksgiving. And then it lasts and lasts until March, and sometimes into April. I don't mind a couple of months of snow, but after that I get tired of it. I had no idea you had that large tree in your garden--I guess most of your photos haven't shown it before. How nice that you have a real gardener now!

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    1. Yes, I am so pleased the gardener is willing to come and help me, and for free, that’s the best bit :-)
      On my overview photos of the garden you usually have seen the bottom of the canopy of the big tree, but to see the whole tree I need to take a portrait photo, and won’t get much else than the tree, that’s why I usually don’t photograph it – it doesn’t really have much seasonal interest, it really looks the same all year round! I guess the ‘Passion flower tree’ will be featuring here a lot next year, hopefully, if my experiment is successful :-)

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  9. I am so glad you found someone so fantastic to help with your garden. The older I get the less I feel able to do it "all" anymore. I find the weather weird over here as well, things going into second bloom in November, not normal for frigid Quebec at all!

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    1. Yes, we have rather cold weather right now, but my clematis ‘Niobe’ has decided to start flowering again – weird! My garden helper is coming again tomorrow, the plan is to move a rhododendron I bought earlier this year which I planted too close to the fence, it will outgrow the place in just a few years so better to move it sooner than later. A perfect job for my gardener :-)

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  10. Helene, I decided to use my own sensible season chart many years ago, Winter, dec - Jan - Feb Spring, March - April - May, Summer June - July - August, Autumn, September - Oct - Nov, painfully orderly just like myself. 14c here today just nice to plant the five new Clematis which conveniently arrived today. Glad to hear that you are sorted out with a garden helper, I think what you are doing with a large conifer is an ideal solution. Keep well, talk soon, Alistair.

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    1. Hi Alistair, your season chart seems very sensible, I wish the weather was behaving just as sensibly – every year! Today we had 16 degrees and nice sunshine, a better day in my garden than many days we had in June :-)
      Looking forward to see your new clematis', my new clematis is a Clematis armandii 'Apple Blossom', a beautiful evergreen for an area I will write a separate post about in a couple of weeks. Take care, Helene.

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  11. hi Helene, I guess winter, like everything, is relative, and if you lived the first 35 years of your life in Norway, then London's winter won't seem so tough. At least you can keep pottering in your pretty and warm wellies. Your garden helper sounds wonderful. I agree, the caramel Heuchera and black mondo grass is a totally iresistable combination.

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    1. Thank you, yes I am very pleased with the newly arrived Heuchera, I hope they grow quickly so I can divide them soon, I got space for a few more around the garden :-)

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