Not quite winter, but on damp dull days it feels like it - it is easy to imagine that now is the moment to down tools until March - but nothing could be further from the truth. I can never understand why the BBC's Gardener's World shuts up shop in October when, in reality, there is so much you can do in the winter months. Here are some ideas of things to keep you busy:
IN THE ORNAMENTAL GARDEN
Finish planting those spring bulbs. I always have a few bulbs left to plant at the beginning of November and they still seem to flower on time, even when planted now, so don't delay and get them in the ground. Tulips are the exception - you should delay planting them until November anyway, so now is the moment to put your tulip bulbs in pots or in the ground ready from displays next year. Remember they like good drainage, so add grit underneath if you are planting in heavy soil and, if you are planning to naturalise your tulips - that is plant them in the ground and leave them there to multiply naturally over the years - then the best types to do this with are species tulips rather than the usual hybrid forms.
Cut down unattractive or rotting foliage from perennials and remove spent annuals. The garden really starts to look weary at this time of year, so it it time to remove yellowing rotting foliage which can attract disease and harbour pests. Cut it up and compost it , making sure that you do not accidentally add any perennial weeds to your compost mix. I leave grasses as they look beautiful throughout winter, anything which is still attractive structurally - such as some seed heads - and anything which is going to protect the crown of tender plants.
Keep on top of weeds. As you remove spent foliage remove any weeds before they get the opportunity to establish themselves over the winter. Give the bare soil at a quick rake or cultivate over the surface to gently aerate it and discourage new weeds from taking root.
Remove fallen leaves. Throughout November, as trees lose their leaves, the garden will accumulate a thick layer of leaves. If left they will starve the ground beneath of light, water and food. In natural woodland this does not matter as leaf litter can comfortably be left to take years to decompose, adding a rich natural layer of leaf mould to the forest floor, but in an ornamental garden it is not helpful. Rake up the leaves. Thick leathery ones or ones with sharp spikes can be disposed of via your dechetterie where they should be composted professionally, but deciduous leaves - such as hornbeam, fig, walnut etc. should be stored in a leaf mould bin in your garden where they will rot down at their own pace.
At this time of year our leaf mould and compost bins are overflowing - but more about that later this month.
Protect the vulnerable. Now is the time to mulch over the crowns of vulnerable plants. Use a dry mulch such as straw, bamboo leaves or, in the case of banana plants, the dead and dry banana leaves from the current years. And don't forget to drain external pumps or lag the external water tap. Watch the weather forecast closely and bring in tender pots or wrap tender plants in fleece (and their pots in bubble wrap or similar to protect the roots from freezing).
IN THE POTAGER
Keep vegetable beds weed free - dig over if you like to dig your potager and mulch heavily, so that worms have all winter to distribute the mulch throughout the soil.
Clean dead and decaying leaves away from winter greens such as chard and kales and from perennial vegetables.
Cut off the stems of any remaining beans and dig in the roots (do not remove them as they add nitrogen to the soil.
Plant broad beans - sow a variety called Claudia Aquadulce as this is the best for overwintering.
Plant garlic cloves - they need a spell of cold weather if they are to develop into healthy bulbs the following year. Separate the cloves from a bulb of garlic and bury them up to their noses in the soil - but watch out for mice and birds, who may try to eat them; being French they love a bit of garlic.
If you have a greenhouse or cold frames then clean the glass to allow maximum light to get through in the winter months.
Mulch over anything which is tender with a dry mulch.
Try lifting and bringing indoors any remaining chilli plants as they can survive and give you chillies earlier next year.
Continue to plant out winter lettuce seedlings which may be available in the market (or raise your own, of course) and continue to harvest winter salads such as rocket, mustard and corn salad.
IN THE KITCHEN
Time to use up those last quince. They keep for weeks after picking and add a wonderful aroma to the kitchen....but they will not remain in good condition for much longer. Try making quince jelly; poaching the peeled and chopped fruit in a light sugar syrup for breakfast with muesli and/or yoghurt, making membrillo - a Portuguese/Spanish recipe for a solid quince paste which is great with cheese or, if short of time, just peel, core and chop, then bag them up in small quantities for use later.
Crab apples and sloes are ripe now - leave them for the birds or for decoration on the trees or use the apples to make a jelly and the sloes to make sloe gin - it will be ready for drinking early in the New Year.
On rainy days dig into the freezer, unearth some of the fruit you stored earlier this year and make some jam, jelly or fruit chutney.
On the right is a photo of quince juice which is being strained into a jelly bag ready to be made into quince jelly.
Below is a pan of chutney ingredients ready for cooking. Each year we make "Roland's Chutney" - named after of our house, and which has mainly ingredients we grow ourselves - apples, chillies, tomatoes and plums.
Pumpkins and butternut squash may be showing signs of age - if you suspect one might be about to "go over" make soup or roast and then mash it and freeze small quantities as a quick alternative to mashed potatoes.
A WORD ABOUT WILDLIFE
Start feeding the birds - the seedheads of your garden plants will probably be spent (or eaten) by now so start putting out peanuts (in suitable feeders), fat balls and sunflower seeds for garden birds. I find an excellent website for wild bird food and accessories is https://www.vivara.fr/
If you have a pond - float a tennis ball in it. This stops the water completely freezing over and allows the fish to breath.
Build a haven for small mammals and reptiles with logs, stones and sticks. Site it somewhere where it will remain undisturbed all winter.