Weekend Work: Make the most of the unexpectedly mild weather

By Anna Pavord

What to do

Unexpectedly mild weather at the beginning of the month made gardening more of a pleasure than it usually is in November. The cyclamen are still on the go, the viburnums are in full, smelly flow, the fuchsias are flowering more wildly than they have at any time before. The light frost that knocked back the courgettes and the corn at the bottom of the garden has not touched the fuchsias at the top.

One sad blow concerns 'Cyclamen coum'. I had always thought of these as bomb-proof as far as disease is concerned, but discovered that the corms filling one whole patch had disintegrated into a hideous pulp. Why, I asked a member of the Cyclamen Society? He said that it was a fungus that seems to attack corms particularly when wet autumn weather follows dry. No work has been done on the fungus, in terms of working out a preventative medicine and it is not mentioned in Christopher Grey-Wilson's monograph 'Cyclamen' (Batsford £30). Another illusion shatters. I have planted a small new colony in a different place.

Use bucketfuls of raked-up leaves to provide insulation for slightly tender shrubs and perennials. I heap them round melianthus, for instance, and pack them into and around a big clump of arum lilies. On the bank where the ground is now cleared between shrubs and ground cover, leaves go on as a top mulch and gradually get pulled down to feed our soil. Burning leaves is a waste of good humus.

Perennials such as herbaceous geraniums and polygonums should be cut back and top dressed with sieved compost mixed with bonemeal. November is a good month for adding long-term sustenance to the soil.

You can also cut back the old leaves of Lenten hellebores and top dress the clumps before the new buds and leaves begin to show.

What to see

National Tree Week runs from Wednesday to 7 December with various events throughout the country celebrating the tree, and workshops explaining how best to look after them. For details of bark rubbing workshops and a children's tree dressing event, contact the RHS garden at Hyde Hall, Buckhatch Lane, Rettendon, Chelmsford, Essex CM3 8ET, 01245 400256, or visit rhs.org.uk/hydehall

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