Preparing The Watch House for Winter

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When I left my garden, in early October, it was still a summer garden. By the time I returned, at the end of the month, it was definitely an autumn one. The change was subtle, yet profound; sad, yet inevitable. The point of no return had been reached and there was nothing for it other than to accept that it was time to prepare for the approach of winter.

I don’t think it rained significantly during the three weeks of my absence, as my dahlias had all succumbed to disfiguring mildew. Those that hadn’t did not escape the advance of a gazillion baby snails, which had reduced the leaves to skeletons. My dahlias were a huge disappointment this year, so much so that I have decided not to grow so many next year. I will concentrate on foliage plants instead, as these generally keep on giving whatever the weather. Despite their floral allure, dahlias offer little in the way of beautiful leaves. The dark ones are attractive enough, but when the flowers don’t come, dahlias really are party-poopers.


Finding bright spaces indoors for all my aeoniums is an annual challenge. This season they have grown especially well.


The majority of permanent plants at The Watch House were chosen to look good throughout the colder months. The selection is so good that it can be hard to tell what season it is, even in the depths of winter. Ever since the garden was built I have been fighting to introduce greater seasonality, which has mostly been achieved through the use of bulbs and semi-hardy plants in pots.

November is change-over month, when those potted plants requiring winter protection come indoors. The most attractive are re-homed in the garden room, from whence I write this blog; those that need light and shelter go into the cold greenhouse, and any that die down naturally, such as gingers and lilies, are stashed at the back of the garage, where they will be dry and frost-free. Before I relocate any potted plants I check them over for pests and diseases so as not to bring them inside and create myself ongoing problems. Miniature slugs and snails are the main nuisances I look out for. I also try to hold out for a dry period when the pots will be lighter and less back-breaking to move.


Despite a few cold nights, Fuchsia splendens is still looking splendid


Some evergreen or ‘usually-green’ plants benefit from a September Shear; a bit like the Chelsea Chop, only later. This removes tired leaves and spent flowers, whilst encouraging the formation of tighter, more water-resistant crowns. Zantedeschias benefit from this treatment, as do the shrubby salvias such as S. ‘Hot Lips’. The latter is luxuriant and covered in flowers six weeks after being reduced to about 2ft, providing a last supper for the few bumble bees that have not gone into hibernation.

Being elsewhere for the month of October means I must get ahead of myself in September, and that I will find myself playing catch up in November. I had planted all my narcissi before departing, but have hundreds of tulip bulbs still awaiting my attention in the garage. Adjusting to the cold and dark, I do not find the prospect of kneeling on a cold, drafty, concrete floor very appealing at the moment, but do it I must. The arrangements in my newly acquired garage are rather primitive at the moment, having blown my budget elsewhere, but I have promised myself a sturdy potting bench when I find the right one …. and an electric light would be handy too. TFG.


Round one of bulb planting was completed at the end of September



Categories: Annoyances, Bulbs, Container gardening, Flowers, Foliage, Our Coastal Garden, Perennials, Photography, Plants, Weather

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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18 comments On "Preparing The Watch House for Winter"

  1. I feel equal parts smug and empathetic. Finished my tulip planting today, more or less. Such a pain, but worth it. We shan’t talk about the 100 plus bulbs arriving next week that I seem to have ordered sort of by accident…

      1. It is an awfully big name, but the few common names are not much better. I think that the most accurate is ‘fernleaf Santa Catalina Island ironwood’, but that is too much. ‘Catlina ironwood’ is too short. It like trying to decide on a name for Doctor Martin Luther King Junior. If one leaves out any part, as is typical, something is lacking.

  2. Thanks for sharing the misses, as well as the hits. And don’t be sad about November, it makes the waking up time sweeter.

  3. Dearest Dan as I have spent the day in the garden pruning, watering and planting in 28 degree heat I must say I don’t envy you in the dank garage, but it will be worth it when those bulbs explode in colour. Dahlias – well two weeks ago I planted out a long bed in the veggie patch with so many varieties and I have no idea what they are because somehow all the tubers got mixed up when i removed them from pots last year – will be a total lucky dip! Will probably have 2 metre cactus at the front and 30mm pom poms at the back – Have gardnening! love H xx

  4. Although I don’t wish failure on anyone, it is a bit of a relief to know I’m not the only one whose dahlias have been a real let-down. Whether to try again next year in my very small garden? Maybe, but they’ve never been a passion, was seduced by the ones at Salutation, it might be better to concentrate on the things that I know will give me joy.

  5. I know you have told me before dan but do you water your ginger lilies stashed in the garage over winter or not? I bought a new one this year and don’t want to do the wrong thing!

    1. I don’t touch them between putting them away and getting them back out again in April / May. If they are not growing, it’s best to keep them on the dry side, although not dust dry. A certain amount of moisture keeps the rhizomes plump.

  6. I’m with you concerning the coming of winter; I know it makes us appreciate spring more when it arrives, and I do appreciate the break from garden work — but only for the first couple of months and then I’m ready to begin again … and at that point winter’s only half over! And then there’s the whole death and dying aspect of autumn — not a cheery idea for most humans…. But having indoor plants and a sunny room to loll about in does make winter a lot more tolerable. I hope you are making progress in getting things put to bed for the winter — I still have huge number of bulbs to plant too. Best, -Beth

  7. I love Winter’s starkness and the symbols bare branches draw, but I find endearing the way you seem to be a Summer gardener at heart. 🙂

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