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Down to Earth: What to look for in the November garden

“I urge you to not turn the metaphoric ‘close sign’ for your garden: there’s still lots to enjoy.” November may bring damp days and dark nights, but there’s delight to be found in the garden, says Cambridge designer Robert Barker

Look for joy in the November garden
Look for joy in the November garden

When I am at a function or somewhere where people want to make small talk about what I do for a living, and discover that I am a garden designer, this is usually followed with an assumption that my job is seasonal. Even family members presume that over winter I take weeks off, put my feet up and relax - if only!

Garden designers mainly work indoors so, as with most office-based professions, unless the heating packs up or there is a power cut, we carry on working regardless of the rain, sleet or snow outside.

The funny thing is that, overall, most people make the same presumptions about their own gardens this time of year. It’s cold and dark so surely there can’t be any work to do in the garden?

Then Bonfire Night arrives, and the sound of fireworks triggers a signal, like the last whistle at the end of a football match, and for most people the gardening year has come to an official end.

The truth is that yes, even though things can slow down in November and over winter, there is still lots to do - and still lots to enjoy.

One plant in particular that can be labelled as greatly ignored in winter is the rose. Roses are famous for producing amazingly fragrant flowers in summer, but I also love them for their hips in winter. Not all roses produce hips (typically red or orange berries), but most do - and some look even more spectacular than their flowers.

Typically, species roses are more prolific compared to the hybrid roses. Ones to look out for are Rosa rugosa, with its almost tomato-like fruit; Rosa caudata that has bottle-shaped hips covered in bristles; or the burnet rose, Rosa pimpinellifolia, that produces dark hips ranging from chocolate brown to black.

Of course, roses aren’t the only plant to produce hips over winter. Crataegus (hawthorn) produces lovely dark red fruit that become irresistible to birds. In my opinion, hawthorn is a much under-used plant in domestic gardens. Crataegus x lavalleei ‘Carrierei’ is a stunning tree, for example.

I am not a big fan of Pyracantha or Cotoneaster (both hip-producing plants) and would always recommend any of the host of varieties of hawthorn to take their place - particularly if you need something spiky to keep intruders or unwanted family members away!

Yes, November brings its fair share of gloom with dark evenings, cold spells, and the dreaded build up to Christmas chaos, but I urge you to not turn the metaphoric ‘close sign’ for your garden. Instead look for those hips and shake them. . .

See robertbarkerdesign.com for more.

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