Sylvia Clare’s Column – November 2014

Published: July 31, 2022



This morning the alarm went off at the usual time and it was still dark outside. I usually allow the sunrise to set my time for getting out of bed, but at this time of year that is too late for me. So it is nice to be able to get up and watch from my front windows as the sun rises from behind the down on the other side of the valley. The outline of Carisbrooke castle and the trees surrounding it are dark silhouettes against the growing light. The sky was just streaking with paler shades of grey when I first went outside, stunning as pale grey turned to a soft lilac…. and then the rose pink colours came in. I decided not to miss the opportunity and went to grab the camera. I have already been taking shots of autumn colour and seasonal abnormalities for this month's article and wondering what theme to take with it, but watching and recording the colour changes happening right in front of my eyes moment by moment left me in a deeply reflective and philosophical mood. The colours slowly shifted across the sky, and at the moment the sun actually reached the brow of the down opposite, it was as if someone had just turned the dimmer switch right up. So charming and so beautiful and a lot of why I love to be a gardener, watching the natural world and the seasons in a way that is matching their progress through each year. I can't believe where this year has gone. It seems only weeks ago that I was settling down for winter and this summer came and went so quickly, although individual midsummer days do still manage to seem to last forever. One's experience of time passing is so different to that which clocks and calendars would have us believe. I wonder, which is the more realistic perception? I suspect our own.


The other noticeable thing this morning even just at dawn was how mild it felt, given the sky was relatively clear, and even as I write this later in the day I am hot from having been outside pruning winter fruit trees wearing just a t-shirt and a thin fleece. This November has been so wet and dismal, and not really gardening weather except from those few areas which one can work from a path. However I have changed my normal routine for this time of year because of a decision taken in early spring, to open up for hellebores and early spring blooms under the auspices of the NGS in 2015. It is interesting that this little thing has changed my whole routine and makes me think for whom we garden. Normally I leave the old dry stems to do their winter thing and provide last minute seed head snacks for our happy local gang of goldfinches. However because I want things to look neat in spring I am already cutting back all the Aster and Monarda stems, the iris leaves (which are usually allowed to rot down in situ), and generally weeding and clearing in a way that would not usually happen here. I am also about to order a large truckload of well-rotted wood chippings since my own home-produced supply is insufficient for this change of routine. But I want a head start on getting things ready as much as possible as well as keeping on top of usual November tasks such as pruning fruit trees etc. So once the weeds are all out and dead heading complete I will be heavily mulching to do the job that is usually done by just leaving everything to do its own winter thing and having a general tidy up in spring.

The changes in climate and season bring interesting phenomena and as I wander around, taking down old hellebore foliage I notice how many are already in flower; alongside them are Cyclamen hederafolium -normal for November and also in flower.


My favourite winter colour shows have done well too, leaves and barks abound, especially Cotinus ‘Grace' which I can see from my kitchen window next to a fastigiated cherry and near by an Euonymous alatus and a small but gradually growing Ginkgo, and along side that is a Physocarpus ‘Diablo', its leaves also showing darker red just before they drop. A veritable feast of colour just for a couple of weeks but viewable from my kitchen chair regardless of weather.

Peeled back Tibetan cherry bark to reveal glorious colours underneath

I spent this early morning also taking flash shots of some of barks before it was light and it showed them up to great effect. One of my favourite little gardening diversions is to peel back the loose and flaking bark on the Tibetan cherries and Himalayan birches to reveal their shining new skins beneath. Sometimes I keep a piece of cherry bark and stroke it for its texture beneath my fingers, I love the way it curls like a ribbon that has been stretched against scissors. Lovely sensuous experiences! Also this morning while out with the camera before sunrise I found taking flash shots across the garden really highlighted the wonderful ethereal effect of silvery foliage in this near dark levels of dawn, especially a and the tassel like spent flower heads of Buddleia fallowiana giving a final sculptural display against the November skies.

Buddleia tassles

Finally the bees were out flying today in force and mostly they were heading for flowering native Ivy and also my Mahonia ‘Charity', and some found a flowering jasmine against the front of the house. What a glorious day this has been.

View across central circle garden to hillside across the valley

Sylvia Clare

Text and photographs by Sylvia Clare, who has been an HPS member for more than 10 years.