planting ahead

The first draft of this post began with a rather gloomy assessment of the year’s events. By the time I reached the third paragraph I had bored myself, which is never a good start. Besides, who really needs reminding of 2020’s shortcomings? Shortly after beginning again I learned of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ victory (was I the only one refreshing BBC news every 10 mins on Saturday?) and the post started to change course for the better. On the whole I have very little interest in politics and only the most tenuous relationship with the USA, but like millions of others I felt this election result mattered a great deal for the world; for democracy, for honesty, for civility and indeed for peace. My mood lifted and my mind instantly turned to spring and happier days ahead.

Here on the Isle of Thanet, where the North Sea meets the English Channel, it is finally time to clear away the summer exotics. It is backbreaking work, so we tend to do it over a series of weekends between now and the end of the year. Our mild, maritime climate means that we rarely experience frost before January, if at all, so we can afford to take our time. During the autumn gales rather than cold nights are the enemy of top-heavy plants, especially those with large, paddle-shaped leaves. The gingers and cannas had started to look especially raggedy so these were prioritised for removal this weekend. When they are ready for hibernation the ginger stems come away from the rhizomes in a most satisfactory manner, exuding a light, fresh, gingery perfume. This makes it a most enjoyable task, although lifting the heavy, contorted pots is slightly less fun. Gingers are happy to be stored somewhere dark, dry and frost free until late April, unless they are from warmer climes in which case they do not die back and should be overwintered in a cool greenhouse or conservatory. Cannas need cutting back to about 6 or 8 inches after lifting and should be given some moisture over winter as they don’t like to dry out completely. Three brugmansias are still flowering nicely. These have been moved to sheltered spots in the garden until they finally run out of steam. Brugmansia sanguinea is an absolute gem, its exotic appearance belying its preference for cooler temperatures.

Brugmansia sanguinea is flowering beautifully now that the days and nights are routinely cool again.

Our biggest job in November is planting tulips. I went completely overboard with my bulb order this year, imagining that we might be able to open the garden in spring for a pop-up tulip festival. This seems increasingly unlikely, but the bulbs are purchased and they have to be planted. The Beau was keen to try something new – one of the many reasons why we get along so well – so we ditched our usual orange, bronze and plum scheme in the Jungle Garden for a more risqué combination of pink, red and black. This not-so-subtle palette was inspired by a display we read about at the National Trust’s Emmetts Garden where tulips ‘Pink Diamond’, ‘Kingsblood’ and ‘Queen of the Night’ are planted into a meadow beneath cherry trees. What do you think?

The combination of tulips at Emmetts Garden has been recreated using stereoscopic glass slides dating back to around 1910 (photo National Trust)

In the Gin & Tonic gardens we’ve plumped for yellow, white and green, which will be clean, fresh and unfussy. Incorporating yellow helps with the transition from early narcissi to late tulips and makes for a longer-lasting display.

I cannot be without some of my favourite tulips, including ‘Jan Reus’, ‘National Velvet’, ‘Amazing Parrot’ and ‘Doberman’, so these have been planted at the allotment instead. Now that we have a year of allotmenteering under our belts we have decided to grow more flowers and less fruit and veg. The strawberry bed was the first victim of this new strategy: it had to go in any case as it was riddled with couch grass and bindweed. Despite my best efforts to remove them, the weeds will be back in spring. Every fragment of root I have accidentally left behind will form a new invasive plant. As we treat tulips like annuals we will have another chance to remove any persistent weeds before planting dahlias in their place. Having dug out all the strawberries and left the soil exposed to the elements for a couple of weeks, it was a dream to plant up. I managed to squeeze in 14 rows of 25, which is 350 bulbs in total; our very own Dutch bulb field in miniature. TFG.