November can be a depressing month weather-wise, particularly in the UK, but with the right plant combinations in your garden, you can help lift the gloom of the coming winter months.


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Arbutus unedo ‘Rubra’ – Killarney strawberry tree

This evergreen shrub / small tree is great at the back of a border. It has pinkish/white flowers from September to November along with large reddish fruits that mature from the previous year’s flowers. Arbutus prefer a moist, well-drained soil that is neutral to acid but will tolerate some alkalinity. They grow best in full sun. Too much shade makes them quite leggy. They also have an attractive bark. When combined with the dwarf Pampas grass, the ‘strawberry tree’, as it’s commonly known, creates a lovely contrast.

Cornus alba Sibirica Variegata

This is one of my favourite dogwoods. The white variegated foliage provides a beautiful backdrop to flowering plants and shrubs and the red stems look amazing throughout the winter months. It prefers a bit more moisture than the average shrub, but it can tolerate quite a wide range of conditions. Combined with the dark foliage of the Arbutus and the white plumes of the Pampas grass, the red winter stems are further complimented with the red tinged leaves of the Bergenias.

Cortaderia selloana ‘Pumila’ (dwarf Pampas or Tussock Grass)

I’m cheating a little with this one, as November is more or less its last month of flowering. It starts to produce the showy plumes in August, looking stunning through September and October. This is a surprising choice for me because I’ve never used it in a garden (yet). I’ve always associated it with gardens of the 70’s where one giant specimen appeared in most front gardens as focal point, only to end up being dug or burnt out a few years later when it had become too enormous and difficult to maintain.

What changed my mind on this plant was a recent trip driving around the northern coast of Spain. Pampas grass are everywhere along the roadsides. To the Spanish they no doubt feel like weeds, but seeing them planted en masse made a spectacular display.  Yes, the statuesque Picos mountains and palm trees backdrop did enhance their charms, but even so I was captivated by them.

I’ve chosen a dwarf variety of Pampas grass and in larger spaces encourage you to group plant them for full effect. I still don’t like seeing them as stand alone plant, it’s the group that creates the magic with these. Be careful of the larger varieties as these can become quite invasive.

Bergenia cordifolia – Elephant’s ears

I love Bergenias. They are so versatile. They will grow in virtually any soil. They are evergreen, flower in April/May and have great autumn colour and to top it off they will grow in full sun to quite deep shade. Yet strangely enough, this is the one plant that can provoke more dislikes than any other and I’ve no idea why! I love the big bold foliage as it gives a unique structure to planting schemes. Its evergreen form makes it perfect at the front of borders and helps it be a good contrast with softer, fluffier, flowering plants or grasses.

Again, I think Bergenias work best when planted in groups. Individually they can look a bit floppy with their large leaves. In groups though, they are really eye-catching.

Heuchera Crimson Curls

These are another great, low-growing, herbaceous perennial and work well with the Bergenias for an extra hit of colour. Again, this isn’t their peak season, but just because they aren’t flowering, doesn’t mean they don’t still have a lot to offer with their foliage. They are a little pickier about their growing conditions than Bergenias, but they still tolerate quite a wide range of conditions. They prefer full sun to light shade and are semi-evergreen in milder climates.

Their flowers aren’t overly showy, so Heucheras tend to be grown more for their burgundy coloured foliage. To be completely honest, from a distance, it doesn’t really matter which purple leaf variety you have, as most of them look pretty similar. Crimson Curls is perhaps the exception, as the undersides of the leaves have an almost pink appearance, which does make it stand out.


What are you favourite plants for November?

Let me know what looks good in your part of the world in the comments boxes below – I’d love to hear how you brighten up your garden at this time of year. That includes you southern hemisphere folks, you’ve got it much easier than we do this time of year! 

BUT do be warned, plants alone will NOT give you a stunning garden – you have to get the design layout right first. If you don’t know how to do that then…

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Rachel Mathews
Rachel Mathews

Professional international garden designer for over 30 years. My mission is to de-mystify garden design and make it easy for people to successfully design their own garden - without needing to spend a fortune!

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