I truly hadn’t intended to do an EOMV post for November. I didn’t see the point – I’ll be moving next year, so the greatest value of this meme (to me), as a tool for assessing and improving areas of the garden, doesn’t apply. Add in that I am ill and exhausted from decorating and really sad because of TNG’s Uncle’s long illness and eventual death last Sunday, and frankly I didn’t want to bother. Thank goodness for the blogging community – when I finally started to catch up with all the blog posts I have been ignoring for the past couple of weeks I came across Anna’s post on plants that die disgracefully. In the space of 10 minutes I went from maudlin reflections on how a “good death” for a loved one seems to depend on the nearest and dearest going to hell and back to musing about why some plants seem to work so well in the garden even in death. I realised that I had set myself to learn as much as I can from this garden before moving on to the next one, and that understanding what plants still look good at this time of year – and which truly don’t – would be a Good Thing. So once again I found myself outside in my dressing gown grappling with my camera, trying to avoid damp knees, to put together a EMOV post. So thank you to Anna, for inadvertently kicking me out of my depressed state and to Helen for hosting such a great meme. Check out her blog for what is happening in other people’s gardens – here is what is happening in mine.

Magnolia Border November 2011

This lousy picture of the magnolia border (a reminder that I really should put my EOMV posts together in time not to have to shoot in to the morning sun) nevertheless shows that there is still good structure here. From the magnolia itself, now almost denuded of buttery yellow leaves, and from the still very green Oakleaf hydrangea. You can also see some oddities. That splash of orange to the left?

Calendula defiance

A defiant marigold. You can’t see it – and I can’t seem to capture it on camera – but the large rosemary in a pot is trying to flower yet again, and of course the rose is still going. I refuse to post yet another picture of rose flowers blooming inappropriately late, instead I want to celebrate rosehips, which add colour and form, and even echo the faux terracotta pots full of currant bushes lining the decking.


My favourite thing in this border at the moment comes from the flashes of shimmering silver produced by the Honesty seedheads scattered throughout.

Honesty Seedheads

I found them almost impossible to capture this morning, and no photograph can do justice to the way they dance and shimmy in the slightest breeze. Definitely something I want to grow again in the future.

The veronicastrum, on the other hand, is no longer dying gracefully. Last year even when the leaves had blackened and fallen off, the remaining seedheads were wonderfully architectural. This year they seem to be too insubstantial to make a good contribution.

Veronicastrum Dying Badly

I like to leave as many seedheads etc. in the garden as I can, for as long as I can, to add interest over the winter, but the veronicastrum is just messy now, and will have to get chopped back.

Hydrangea Seedhead

I’ve given up on the dream that the hydrangea would follow its first year of flowering properly with a gorgeous autumn show on the leaf colour front, it remains defiantly green, but at least it is wonderfully architectural with those enormous leaves, and the spent flower heads are still beautiful.

Pond Bed November 2011

Switching to the pond bed, it too is looking surprisingly green. This is partly due to the pontedera in the pond still going strong, though I will soon be uprooting it, splitting it, and giving chunks away to anyone I can find who wants some as I take the pond apart before the winter really sets in. The other major contributor to the green look is the ever-defiant Acanthus mollis, or Bear’s Breeches. I planted this about seven years ago, it flowered once, got horribly mildewed, and I have been trying to dig it out ever since. The soil enrichment and re-planting of the past couple of years seems to have given it a new lease of life.

Acanthus mollis - defiant survivor

I love the leaves, but when I take out the pond border I am going to do my very best to excavate all traces of it, since the last thing I want is to lay grass in the Spring and then have it defiantly popping up through the new turf!

Thriving Geum

One of the great things about the long mild “autumn” is that the new perennials I planted this year are putting on lots of growth, so they will hopefully be really good specimens next year. This is one of the geums – again, more lovely foliage.

Autumnal Hakonechloa macra

At around this time of year, every year, I make yet another attempt to capture how wonderful one of my favourite grasses is in the autumn, producing a rich tapestry of golden and then straw coloured leaves and delicate seedheads. And I always fail. This is the best I managed this year – Hakonechloa macra makes neat mounds and is a great foil for other plants that die well, such as the annual rudbekias that have so delighted me this year.

Rudbekia Seedheads

Which brings me to the question, what makes a good perennial for long lasting interest over winter? Nothing too floppy, that’s for sure, the site of a delicate plant flattened by rain/wind/snow only contributes to a sense of gloom, which is not what I want in the middle of January when I am trying to remember that Spring really will be coming soon. I think there has to be strong form to it. Eupatorium ‘Chocolate’ is a majestic perennial that has lovely autumn colour, but it doesn’t die well.

Ugly Eupatorium

The veronicastrum has lost all the statuesque qualities that made it such a great plant in the magnolia border – the eupatorium turns into an even bigger mess, becoming an amporphous mass of blackened foliage and indistinct dying flowers. Using black and white hammers the message home.

Amorphous Eupatorium

Far from adding structural interest, I think it detracts from the grace of the miscanthus, which would be seen to much better effect with a void in between them – so the eupatorium will get chopped back as soon as I get around to actually getting dressed.

Strong Shapes For Winter

By contrast, the mini hedgehog shapes of the echinacea seedheads make a wonderful contrast to the linear leaves of the crocosmia and the wafting elegance of the miscanthus, a picture that should stand up to lousy weather until Spring arrives. I think that blousy, airy plants work wonderfully in the spring and summer garden, but in autumn and winter you need strong structure – and strong stems – to give you something to look at other than ugly dying foliage.

Glowing Birch Leaves

Bill was a keen gardener, and over the years turned a barren acre of land in Arizona into a rich landscape full of desert plants. He understood texture and form, and barrowed ton after ton of soil to create levels that made the runoff from storms go where he wanted it to go. One day, when I am up to it, I mean to go through the photographs I and others have taken of his garden over the years and do a blog post to celebrate his vision. I had always assumed that I would get back out there one day soon, and would be able to wander around the garden with him at my side explaining what the plants were that are so alien to me and that he understood so well. It brings home the need to cherish the life you have and the people you love, and never take either for granted.

Bill had that most elusive of things, a good death – he was at home, surrounded by people who loved him, and in no pain. He will be missed, but his garden will live on as a testimony to at least part of who he was. I am grateful for the blogging community and the many fascinating posts out there that are going to help me navigate the sadness and will, eventually, give me a platform to celebrate Bill’s life.

Sunlight Through Birch Leaves

62 thoughts on “End of Month View November 2011: Dying Well

  1. Huge sympathies for your loss. I’m glad that you decided to join in, despite your sadness and the garden slipping out of your care in the future. The plumes of your miscanthus are the stars of the show, but there are many other lovely (and not so lovely!) contrasts of colour, shape and form.

  2. Foliage, seedheads, and evergreens make a good composition for an autumn/winter garden :)

    Sorry to hear about what has happened in the past few days, and hopefully you’ll feel better soon. Glad to know that at least Bill’s passing has been pain free and comfortable. If you get the chance do post photos of Bill’s garden. I’m very interested in seeing them. And I’m sure your other readers are too. Would love to see Bill’s achievement and legacy.

    1. Thank you. I’ll definitely do a post about Bill’s garden, he’d love it and it feels like a really good way of celebrating his rich and creative life.

  3. I am so sorry for your loss, Janet. Though you can take comfort from the fact that Bill had a peaceful death, that still doesn’t make it any easier to accept his loss. I hope you’ll share his garden with us one day; my daughter lives in Arizona, and as you say, the plant life there looks alien to me, though fascinating.

    Thanks for taking the time to share your dying garden with us today. It’s been so cold and windy here the last few days that I haven’t even wanted to venture outside. Maybe the first snow will get me motivated to take some photos again.

    1. Hi Rose, I didn’t realise your daughter lived in Arizona, I’ve fallen in love with the state since we started visiting Bill, such amazing plant life. Snow would be lovely but so far it is December and the dahlias are still flowering. Crazy.

  4. hello Janet, sorry to read of you and your family’s loss. it’s nice that he went peacefully but still hard on those left behind, sorry also that you still have health problems, with moving it is enough to tire anyone just thinking of all these things, glad you found some comfort in your garden and the garden blooging community,
    I love your 2 B&W photos they show so well the wonderful contrast of tone you have in your garden perhaps we should all take a few B&W photos occasionally, I too have marigolds still trying to flower though the recent gales have probably flattened them, you have quite a lot of colour and the sun on the golden leaves look beautiful, Frances

    1. Thank you, it has been – and is – very sad, but I have so many great memories of Bill too, which helps. B&W photos are a great way to see the structure and shapes in the garden without the distraction of the colours, I find it really useful.

  5. Hi Janet,

    So sorry to hear about your family’s loss, I hope you are all doing well. It’s always tough losing family, especially if you’re a close family.

    I also hope that you begin to feel better soon and don’t tire yourself out with all the decorating! Time for some time off me thinks :D
    I know what you mean about the roses, and I am guilty of taking photos of them… And I need to follow your example and begin to turn my attention to the beauty in dying; I’ve missed that golden period where everything is still vibrant in its decay and we’re now into the plain old rotten mushy stage… Bah.

    1. Hi Liz, I have had two very lazy days which is helping, so feeling a lot better thanks. I think Bill dying just made all the rest harder too.

      I hate the black mushy stage, so do please post beautiful photos of roses, at least until there are beautiful photos of frost-decorated plants to replace them with!

  6. Glad that despite all that has happened, you managed to get outside, take some lovely shots and do a post. I noticed your absence and thought you might be away – I’m sorry that the actual reason was more painful. Hope you avoided damp knees and when you have the time and energy and mindset, I too would like to read about Bill and his garden.


    1. Thanks Dave, I am hoping to start sorting through some photos tomorrow, though I suspect that I will need some help identifying the plants correctly. Thank goodness for google…

  7. It’s good to see that you’re coming to terms with the situation and being philosophical about it, despite your loss. Everyone has to go sometime, and at least it sounds as if Bill’s passing was dignified and peaceful. I would hope to go that way myself too, when my time comes. Look forward to more good times ahead, in just the way that Spring follows Winter in your garden.

  8. Sorry to hear about your family’s loss.
    Missed you Janet. Hope you get better soon.

    Your rudbeckias were beautiful in life and in death. I also like sedums after they have died, I wont break off the stalks till spring.

    1. Thanks b-a-g, nice to be missed, good to be back. I spent ages trying to photograph one of my sedums for this post and just couldn’t get the camera to focus on what I wanted it to, so gave up! But I agree, great winter interest plants, and you have a fine collection from what I remember.

  9. Oh Janet I am so sorry to hear about your loss. It must give you some comfort that Bill left this world gently. Do post more about his garden when you are ready and take care of yourself ((()))

    Glad to be of assistance in giving you a nudge to get out in your dressing gown camera in hand. I would love to be able to do that but unfortunately living near a main road rules out such decadent behaviour :) Honesty is such a value for money plant with its spring flowers and those magical seed purses. I used to have the variegated white flowering one and your post has made me think that I must track seeds down again. Your comments about your Bear’s Breaches saw my head nodding ruefully in agreement. I’ve probably have had this plant for twice as long as you – its one and only flowering was in 2007 but can I get rid? :)

    1. Hi Anna, thank you, I will definitely post about Bill’s garden, I found it so fascinating seeing what a totally different atmosphere he created with all those desert natives and cultivars, so architectural. And thanks again for helping me get out, I am lucky that I can do so in pyjamas without getting spotted! Your acanthus woes are scary… Honesty is so much more well behaved! Maybe you should do a post on thugs to be avoided.

  10. I am saddened to hear of your loss. There has been too much loss as of late. Hope you are not feeling ill either. Too much of that as well. As for plants that die well, I prefer the ones that add structural interest, add food value for critters, and look good dressed in snow. They are some of the prettiest images when the wildlife come to feed, and plants are dusted in fresh snow.

    1. Hi Donna, it has been a little grim. I agree that plants that feed critters as well as looking good are invaluable. Snow seems a distant dream, however. Not even a hard frost yet, certainly no sign of anything as wintery as a dusting of the white stuff.

  11. Sorry to hear you’ve had such a tough spell of late. It’s been a difficult month for our family too but the garden does bring some cheer still, thank goodness. The Honesty seed heads are so enticing. When you mentioned how they move in the breeze it made me think of my windmill palm. The leaves move in such a way that they kind of twist ever so slightly in the breeze and they are lovely. I can imagine your seeds are similar.

    1. Hi Cat, sorry to hear that things have been rough for your family too. I love the sound of your dancing palm, plants that add that little bit of magic are wonderful to have, particularly when everything else is dying back.

  12. I love the way you use black and white photos to show texture and form in the garden. Everyone could learn so much from doing this. Having said that your last image with the light shining on yellow leaves shows why we all like colour. Christina, ps take care of yourself and don’t over do it!

    1. Thanks Christina, I do enjoy using black and white images to understand why things are working – or not! The light through the birch leaves was one of those magical moments, it had generally been really gloomy. Had a very lazy day today, so feeling much better.

  13. Sorry you’ve been through a rough patch – I noticed you’d been quiet and was wondering if you were OK. It can be really good to have some motivation to get out and get moving, and I’m glad you found it in the EOMV, because your garden still looks wonderful.

    (I’m looking forward to a post about Bill’s garden – a celebratory one would be a lovely thing to do…)

    1. Hi Kate, I do sometimes need a kick up the posterior to get out and about again. It felt good to reconnect with outside.

  14. So sorry to hear of your family’s loss, it will take time to come to terms with what has happened, but you will get there. I will look forward to a post about Bill’s garden, what a lovely way to be remembered. Take care.

    1. Thanks Pauline, I think I will find putting a post together about Bill’s garden a good way to remember him and celebrate the man he was.

  15. My very new hydrangea is still green too. I’m not expecting it to flower or anything next year so if it does it will be a bonus!

    I also like to leave seed heads for the birds!

    1. Hi Sue, at least the long mild spell will help your new hydrangea to establish well.

  16. Sorry for your recent loss. A good death is an elusive thing but it sounds like Bill achieved that.
    Garden wise this is the time of damp mushiness. Frankly a blanket of snow could only be an improvement.
    Good luck with the Acanthus removal – I suspect it may still pop up like mine :-)

    1. A good covering of snow certainly covers up a multitude of sins!!

  17. I noticed things had gone quiet. I’m sorry to hear you’ve a had a rough time. Saying good bye is difficult and you need time for your mind and body to come to terms with everything. I’m always amazed and cheered by the power of nature be it the countryside, our gardens or allotments to make people feel a bit better. Wellyman’s grandad passed away at the start of the year, at the same time we took on the allotment. We inherited his gardening tools and being able to work on the plot was great therapy. Thanks for sharing your photos if it would stop raining I might try and take some in my garden.

    1. I agree, being outdoors does seem to help. How lovely to be able to use Wellyman’s grandad’s tools.

  18. Janet, I’m very sorry to hear your news but I’m very glad to see another glimpse of your garden as the season progresses. Your photos are a learning experience for me as well as you. I planted Eupatorium this year and was very surprised to find how it blackened and withered. I thought as a larger plant it might stand up over the winter but now I can see it won’t.

    1. Hi Marguerite, thank you. I agree, I’d though exactly the same about Eupatorium, it dies somewhat disgracefully. A lovely plant in much of the rest of the season though.

  19. So sorry for your loss, Janet. I know that feeling that sometimes hits–“why bother.” But I’m glad you did, because this post is inspiring. I don’t think you failed with the photo of the grasses, by the way. It’s very effective with the Rudbeckias in the foreground. Your garden has tons of autumn and winter interest.

    1. Thank you – I really must try to remember that it is often when you feel least like going out and gardening that it does the most good! And there is something rather therapeutic about shredding old plant material…

  20. My sympathies both on your illness and bereavement. It’s always hard but especially so at this time of year. I hope that you’re now feeling better and coming to terms with your loss.
    This post really does show what a wonderful month it was in the garden so thanks for bothering. I think that the comments here show you that it was well worthwhile doing!
    Take care, xx

    1. Thank you Flighty, it has been a really sad week, but we’re getting to grips with it. The comments have been lovely, and very much appreciated.

  21. Welcome back Janet. It was good to see your comment on my last post, I havent seen you for a while. I am sorry for your loss, the illness of a loved one is very draining. I havent done an EMOV because the garden looks so uninteresting at the moment. However, your photos are so wonderful they have spurred me on to take my camera out tomorrow and write a belated EMOV. Take care R

    1. Hi Ronnie, sorry, yes I haven’t been around much recently. Will look forward to reading your EOMV. I think my favourite thing about the meme is that it helps show the good and the bad, and to work out what to do differently (or the same!) next year.

  22. I am so sorry that your family has suffered a loss. I hope when my time comes it is not in the spring or summer, but late fall seems appropriate. I also hope I have no time to contemplate it.

    1. Thanks Les. I agree, this is an appropriate time for a gardener’s life to end, though not much Fall in Arizona. Like you, I’d rather not know it’s coming either.

  23. Hello, it’s nice to meet you. Although this is my first visit to your space, I can envision your beautiful garden in all of its glory. Ever closer to winter slumber, your garden is lovely.

    The plant you refer to here as Honesty is called Money Plant in my area. I love the plant also. If it grows for you as well as it does here, it will reseed nicely.

    I am very sorry to learn of the loss of your gardening friend Bill. How wonderful that he left the legacy of a garden.

    1. Hi Debra, thanks for popping over and leaving a comment, I’ll return the compliment. “Money plant” is a very suitable name, they do look like little silver coins dancing in the breeze.

  24. Bill would be proud of such a lovely tribute. I also will look forward to the pictures of his garden in Arizona. I enjoyed your garden pictures and the stories along with them. The one in our garden which seems to die back most gracefully is Filipendula Rubra.

    1. Thank you Alistair. I’ll make a note of Filipendula Rubra, looks good. Am trying to sort through photos of Bill’s garden. Plant id might be the issue!

  25. I am sorry for your loss but am glad that the blogging community has helped a little. I perfectly understand the feeling of not wanting to bother but sometimes it is good to just make that bit of effort. I’m glad you joined in again this month though I think we will really struggle in December!!

    1. Hi Helen, that’s exactly it, sometimes it is when you least want to bother that it is more beneficial. I still have dahlias flowering at the moment, so I worry that I’ll still have them come the New Year…

  26. I love the comparison of the rudbeckia to little hedgehogs. My eupaortium ‘Chocolate’ is a hideous mess, too, but so pretty in the summer and fall. Have you found your next house yet?

    1. Glad I am not the only one with a messy eupatorium! We’re not looking seriously yet, particularly with MIL out of the country still. With the housing market as it is in the UK at the moment you pretty much have to get an offer on your own house before going out and finding your next one, or you risk losing the dream house because you can’t find a buyer. So, we’ll probably start narrowing down the area next Spring, all things being equal.

  27. Hi Janet, so sorry to hear of your loss. Death brings inner reflection. I am glad he was surrounded by family.
    Love your garden in the fall…..it has great structure. Love your oakleaf hydrangea…can’t believe it is still green! Mine are red now.

    1. Hi Janet, thank you, yes Bill was lucky in the end in that he was surrounded by people who loved him. My oak leaved hydrangea is STILL stubbornly green!! I don’t think it likes doing the orange leaf thing. Maybe if I move it to our new home, wherever that turns out to be, it will reconsider…

  28. Dear Janet – you’ve done such a thoughtful post amidst some difficult and sad days. Have to say what a very good garden writer you make and ‘Bill’s Garden’ am sure will be a marvellous living memorial

    All these ‘notes to self’ will be a great help with your next garden. The monochromes are a brilliant touch to reviewing structure. As for Acanthus they are like white elephant ears – disappearing and then popping up just when you thought they’d gone for good. Hard to dig out completely with a lawn over.
    p.s. even though they make great textural contrasts, think all grasses should have lots of space around them

    1. Hi Laura, thank you what a lovely comment, sorry it has taken me so long to reply, I have been taking some time out. I do know what you mean about space around grasses. I think I will just have to do my best with the acanthus before we put the lawn down and hope it doesn’t erupt before we agree a sale!!

  29. So many thoughts : sorry about your loss, don’t junk your acanthus ( I love it, can you send it here?), love the shape of the magnolia. Good luck with the next stage. Moving is hard but can be wonderful.

    1. Hi Elizabeth, sorry for the tardy response, I’ve been taking some time out. You are welsome to the acanthus – I’ll get in touch once I get around to digging it out! I plan on keeping some too just in case I can get to to do more than show off its lovely leaves at our next home, wherever that turns out to be. Am hoping that the “wonderful” makes up for the “hard” it about the moving!

  30. Hi Janet, just doing the rounds after my Winter break, I see yo haven’t been blogging, hope you are well. alistair

    1. Hi Alistair, hope you had a lovely Christmas, and thanks so much for leaving a comment, I appreciate it being noticed that I haven’t been blogging. I’ve been – am – rather ill at the moment, and not up to blogging, though I hope I will soon start to feel up to at least commenting on other people’s blogs.

  31. Hiya Janet – just a quickie to say hope you’re OK and just taking time out because you feel like it…

    1. Hi Kate, how lovely of you to leave a comment. Sadly I am being forced to take some time out because of a wretched CFS flare-up. I’m hoping I will soon have the energy to at least start reading some blogs, even if it is a while before I start blogging again myself. Hope your hand/arm issues are better? Catch you in the bloggosphere soon, I hope.

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