Updated: Dec 10, 2020
I’ve never been so conscious before of what a barren month November is for flowers. Perhaps it’s because we’ve all been locked down and life is generally quieter, giving us more time to stop and take notice of these things, time for walks and more time in the garden than usual.
After the bright and varied colours of summer, and the flashy display of autumn leaf colour in October, November really can feel a bit drab and lacking in flowers. It’s kind of a floral limbo-land, not quite into winter with it’s pretty snowdrops, cyclamen, crocuses and hellebores, and not really part of the swan song flowers of autumn.
In terms of flowers to draw, these aren't necessarily the ones I would get excited about, but for as a gardeners it's good to know that there are still some flowers trying their best to brighten up these damp, cold days. Here are just a few of them that might add some colour to your late autumn garden.
For winter flowers, starting in November you can’t beat Viburnum bodnantense which has delightful, blossom-like flowers on bare stems in November, after it’s leaves have given their fantastic autumn show in October. The flowers are clusters a bit like lilac, and have a sweet scent, so it’s perfect for positioning in a front garden where you will be able to smell it on a daily basis going to and from the front door. Try Viburnum bodnantense Dawn, or Viburnum bodnantense Charles Lamont for fantastic flowers.
Their slightly more shy and delicate cousin Viburnum minus is a winter staple, with smaller, more delicate flowers, along with evergreen leaves (bodnantense is deciduous).
Winter jasmine - Jasminum nudiflorum
If you love bright coloured flowers in autumn then this one is for you.
Winter jasmine starts flowering in early November and can last for 6-8 weeks, right through to March. This is often grown as a climber, although it will need some support as it doesn’t cling like other jasmines, but if grown along a wall or fence, that structure will be covered in a wall of yellow for the winter months. Even during the summer when not flowering, the stems remain an attractive bright green.
Mahonia varieties really come into their own in winter. During the summer months the large, spikey green leaves act as a backdrop to other plants and add height to the border, but in November their clustered racemes of sometimes fragrant yellow flowers bring a much needed lift to the late autumn/early winter border.
Not only do the flowers have a lovely scent, but they also provide a valuable source of pollen and nectar for bees that are active in winter.
Try Mahonia x media ‘Charity’, ‘Winter Sun’ or ‘Lionel Fortescue’.
Euonymus europaeus ‘Red Cascade’
There are many kinds of Euonymus, many of which are fairly unassuming, but this is one that will shine in autumn. It might be a bit of a cheat because the actual flowers are easy to miss in summer time, but what sets it apart is is gorgeous orange and pink winged fruit which remain on the plant long after the bright red autumn leaves have fallen in October. The seeds are so pretty they look like flowers, and with a clash of colours that is so wrong and yet so right. Looks fantastic in full sun where the colours will really shine.
I’ll be honest, I’ve never been an enormous fan of heather, but for early winter colour in a flower garden this one is a must. I tend to enjoy flowers I can draw and I think I would need a magnifying glass for this one, but the more I look into this plant and see the varieties that are available, there is something to appeal to most flower lovers. Personally, I adore heather in its native habitat such as the moorlands of Northumberland when you see that lovely haze of pink and purple across a large landscape. In a garden they are plants that can really be seen and enjoyed close up rather than en masse, and when you take the time to look closely they really are quite pretty.
Try Calluna vulgaris ‘Jana’ has really pretty bright pink flowers, Erica crane ’Springwood White’ and Erica x darleyensis ‘white perfection’ for white flowers.
There are a number of other plants that aren’t traditionally November flowering, but if you’re lucky they’ll still be putting on a show in late autumn. On a walk in my home town in Kent this morning I saw Erigeron still going strong, some beautiful deep purple Penstemon, Erysimum, and even some gorgeous pink Cosmos. Also some pretty Sedum, Calendular and Rosemary. You might be lucky with these lasting the season, but I would think of these as an added bonus.
There is colour in the garden in other forms in November.
One of my favourites of these is Cornus, which if you prune it right earlier in the year will give you stunning bare red stems in autumn and through the winter. These are especially beautiful if you position them where the evening sun will shine through it and pick out their colour, whether red or yellow or green.
Cotoneaster and Pyracanthus have shades of berries from yellow through to red which not only add some colour to the borders but provide much needed sustenance for birds in winter. I have to say I think Pyracantha berries might not be the birds favourites as they tend to remain on the bush for a long time through winter, but all the better for us to enjoy their fiery colour (they are also known as firethorn). In addition to their bright autumn berries they are one of the best security bushes - you don’t want to go anywhere near their long thorns without serious protection - and they’re evergreen.
The crabapple fruits can hang on the tree long after the leaves have gone and to me they always look like little baubles making them look quite Christmassy. Crabapple trees have some of the most beautiful blossom in spring, and some varieties with persistent hanging fruit are Malus ‘Candymint’ with stunning pink blossom and red fruits, and Malus ‘Comtesse de Paris’, with white blossom and yellow fruits.
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