Putting the garden to bed

I call this the ‘putting to bed’ month. I use sheep’s fleece extensively in the garden as it gives good winter protection. It doesn’t hold water and, best of all, it doesn’t blow about in the wind. When laid directly on to the soil, during the summer, it keeps down weeds and preserves moisture, and during the winter, it keeps the soil warm. It will decompose over two to three years and improve the structure of the soil, at the same time as adding nutrients. I have a number of plants that need protection in the winter, the largest quantity of which are the globe artichokes. The plants are cut down leaving about 25cm of stalk, and on to this I place a piece of sheep’s fleece large enough to protect the crown during the winter – you could say it’s rather like putting a woolly jumper on them!

We don’t bother to lift and store dahlias; the tubers are left in situ and, as they are, like everything else here, grown through the ground-covering membrane, I just lay a fleece on top for added insulation.

The gladioli corms are also left in the ground, and here I try to lay the fleece around the stems so that in the spring the new shoots will be able to come up through it. This way, I need only to renew the fleece every two years, and during the summer, it acts as an extra weed-suppressing mulch.

If the weather has been kind, I will continue to pick roses right through November, and at the same time ensure that any remaining tall stems are cut down so the bushes will not get rocked by the winter winds. This will make the later winter pruning a much easier job. The rosebuds cut at this time of year come out well in the house and last for at least a week. Just Joey is particularly reliable.

There are still a few harvesting jobs to be done-one of which is the harvest of fennel seeds. Those we fail to collect tend to sow themselves around the garden. I leave root vegetables such as beetroot, carrots and scorzonera in the ground and lay some sheep’s fleece over them to protect them from the frost.

I also dig up the chicory roots this month and expose them to the air for a few days to stop them growing. I then pot them up in suitable containers and put them in a dark, frost-free place. You can bring them into a warmer place when you want them to produce some blanched leaves for winter salads, but you must keep them in total darkness.

We cut down all the top growth on the perennial plants before winter. With a large bed of perennials, the easiest way to do it is by mowing through the border with a hedge-trimmer, rather than secateurs. All the sawn-off material is put on the compost heap, trodden well down and covered with an old piece of carpet or some well-matted sheep’s fleece.

I think what I enjoy most in November is doing the seed orders for the following year. At first glance, one might think that all the seed companies are offering much the same things, but as I have particular varieties that I prefer, as well as looking for the more unusual things, I find that I end up ordering from at least 10 different catalogues.

My favourite seed companies are Chiltern Seeds (01229 581137, www.chilternseeds.co.uk), the Organic Gardening Catalogue (0845 130 1304, www.organiccatalog.com) and Plants of Distinction (www.plantsofdistinction.co.uk). This is where the computer comes into play – a detailed database ensures that I don’t order the same seeds 10 different times.

Chef’s tip: We make good use of the store of squashes and marrows this month, making chutney with the addition of onions, a few tomatoes, sugar and white wine vinegar. This is served with cheese or pâté. You can also make a velouté of squash and serve it with parmesan and truffle oil.

Next week: In My Garden comes from Herefordshire, where Roy Strong explores ways of protecting his garden statues over winter and plants next spring’s tulip displays.

Swinton Park hotel and restaurant is at Masham, Ripon, North Yorkshire. Telephone 01765 680900 or www.swintonpark.com