Six on Saturday: 19 June 2021: Bloomsday

The title for this week’s Six on Saturday is inspired by a small Bloomsday gathering I was invited to this week by an Irish friend/neighbour. The idea is to commemorate and celebrate the life of Irish writer James Joyce, whose famous novel Ulysses features the protagonist Leopold Bloom. Bloomsday takes place on 16 June, the same day the action takes place in the novel in 1904. The dress code for this high-brow evening was Edwardian, so I gathered the floppy peonies and scented roses in my garden to create an Edwardian hat:

The hat went down well, and the readings were fun and unusual: the language in that novel is rich and quirky, and unlike anything else I’ve ever read. Apparently some hard-core James Joyce aficionados hold marathon readings of the entire novel, lasting as long as 36 hours. So to turn to the gardening Odyssey that is Six on Saturday, hosted by chief protagonist The Propagator, I promise to be more concise: 36 hours is a lot of gardening time, and things are getting unruly out there:

1 Yellow roses. The roses are having a glorious year, but I have been a bit slack at tying them in and staking. This unknown climbing rose was knocked about by a heavy rainstorm on Thursday night, which had the unintended consequence of pushing one of the main flowering stems horizontally against the wall, luckily it didn’t break. This now looks better as one can appreciate the flowers at eye level.

The same cannot be said for the Pilgrim shrub rose, which is now weighed down to the ground with the weight of its flowers. Oh dear. Today I need make some belated wooden stakes.

2 Rose ‘Ballerina’. Luckily this hybrid musk, a variety that goes all the way back to 1937, bought as a bare root last autumn, needs no staking and so the gardener gets away with doing nothing. It is a cheerful little thing, appreciated by all manner of bugs and bees.

3 Unknown weed. More lax gardening now, but I am quite taken with this weed growing by the front gate, next to the Ballerina rose. With those little tufted hairs, it looks rather natty, and has a nice way of swaying in the breeze. Anyone know what it is?

4 Allium ‘Eros’. A new allium for me, this one has mixed well in the front path border with its neighbouring geraniums and Erysimum ‘Bowls Mauve’, its violet-pink blooms poking through at just the right height – about 40 cm – above and around them. It’s going over, with a nice papery effect.

5 Nasturtiums with Geranium ‘Brookside’. This narrow little bed was supposed to be the ‘pollinator border’, with a colourful mix of annuals sown from seed in the early spring. The weather and the slugs had other plans, and in our cold spring almost nothing came up, apart from nasturtium ‘Alaska’ which I grew in plugs and planted out here. So it didn’t end up being just a bed of nasturtiums, I added a couple of young Geranium ‘Brookside’ that I had in pots.

6 Lilium ‘Must See’. Growing in a pot on the terrace, this is taking up the gauntlet now that the Dutch iris are over. It’s got that lovely oily sheen that some lilies have.

So now I need to go out there with secateurs, stakes and string, and have a good tidy up, before more roses flop over and chaos reigns. The grapevine also needs a good prune, so I should do what my mother does so well with the leaves and make ‘dolma’ – vine leaves stuffed with rice, herbs, onion and spices – which is definitely a slow food dish that takes hours to make but is one of those things that tastes heavenly when homemade. But, to loop back to Bloomsday, it will be quicker than reciting Ulysses in a 36-hour reading marathon.

Six on Saturday: 12 June 2021

Could this be the best week of the year in the garden? I think we’re reaching peak abundance, a generosity of growth and flowering that takes my breath away. This is the time to savour everything, and take far too many photos, and have far too many choices of what to put in Six on Saturday, and hope nobody minds too much that six is interpreted with much flexibility this week.

1 Rosa ‘Compassion’. I’m having doubts. I wonder if I should have gone for such a pink and blousy one here. I’ve got nothing against the rose itself – and what makes a good rose is so subjective – but I wonder if it’s right for its context. Perhaps something with smaller, more delicate blooms would have been better. What I can’t deny is that this rose is very healthy, strong and vigorous, and on its third season it’s reached the top of the arch. Btw you can just spot ‘Alberic Barbier’ rambling on the back wall there.

2 Front path roses. Lots of cottage garden frills here. The three roses you can see – the soft pink, the fuchsia-red and the soft yellow of ‘The Pilgrim’, were all here when we moved to this house, but the surrounding plants were not. I like the look of roses pushing through a mass of nepeta, geraniums, alliums, alchemilla etc. I would love to replace the not-very-attractive mesh fence with a white picket wooden one.

3 Rosa ‘Heritage’. I have added a few of my own to the front path, and this is my favourite. Its scent is the perfect rose scent, it’s what every rose aspires to smell like. It also has a beautiful porcelain delicacy. Well done David Austin on this one.

Here’s a close up of the fuchsia-red, almost magenta one, I don’t know the variety, so ID suggestions are welcome. It’s got a good, strong perfume and the shrub is upright and rather leggy. Seriously prone to blackspot but the flowers are lovely I think.

And here’s the pinky one, rather frou-frou but quite romantic mixed with the nepeta.

4 Rosa ‘The Pilgrim’. Another David Austin triumph, this rose flowers with such abundance. It makes a big shrub here, and judging by the sheer number of buds, I’ll be regretting not staking this better before long.

5 Companion planting with roses. I’m squeezing a few more photos in here, as the roses wouldn’t be complete without their companions, and to be honest, much as I love roses, I hate to see a leggy rose, so these plants do a great job hiding the spindly bits. The big stars here are the geraniums, the alchemilla (which has grown to monstrous proportions this year), and the nepeta. These are bringing in the pollinators and aphid-eaters in large numbers. I’ve experimented this year with leaving all the aphids untouched on the roses, and I can’t see any negative consequences at all so far.

6 Iris hollandica ‘Frans Hals’. I’ve got a pot of these on the terrace. I love the colours, and this bee with a rather pollinated bottom trying to squeeze in.

That’s all for this week. Hope you’re all keeping busy, but not too busy, in your gardens. I’ll be busy solving the conundrum of where to put the remaining dahlias, given that the ‘spaces’ in the borders that exist in my imagination are strangely occupied by other plants. How inconvenient. Similar issues exist in the veg patch, where peas, now producing an abundant harvest, appear to have bagged the space meant for the sweetcorn. I will have to have stern words. Have a great weekend and thanks for reading.

Six on Saturday: 05 June 2021: vibrant vibes

We’ve had a week of warmth and sunshine, though a big thunderstorm yesterday and lots of rain overnight means that there are a lot of floppy plants out in the garden now, being merrily slithered over by slugs. Luckily I took my photos before the storm, so it’s a summery feel here for Six on Saturday, hosted by The Propagator and bringing together gardening aficionados from far and wide.

1 The vibrant border is doing its thing, being obligingly vibrant. While I’m sorry to see the alliums going over, over the last week the salvias and oriental poppies have burst into flower, and the geums continue to bloom away cheerfully. I like how this works as a whole right now, though I know the poppies won’t last long (sob!). The plan is that the daylillies and echinaceas will then take over, and that the sunflowers, heleniums and tithonias that I planted at the back will get going in late summer if the slugs don’t get to them first. I have really enjoyed the process of planning this border and trying to get the continuity of flowering from spring through to autumn. Let’s take a closer look at some of the plants here.

2 Oriental Poppies. What a plant! I absolutely adore it. It’s got impact, it’s got class, it’s got pollinator-friendly credentials. What is blooming here now came from one plant that I bought last summer, and then divided into three in the autumn and planted into the new vibrant border. Like a lot of the plants here, it has a definite lean towards to the sun but you don’t really notice it from afar. The bumblebees like to pop in and do their buzzy vibrations.

3 Salvia nemerosa ‘May Night’ and Salvia nemerosa ‘Caradonna’. The good thing about planting these two together is that the May Night comes into flower first, but makes a good match with those lovely dark purple stems of Caradonna. I think the flowers of May Night have more impact because they are fatter and the deep blue colour is a very good contrast with the other vibrant shades in the border. The spikiness is also fab against the roundness of the allium flowerheads.

4 Allium ‘Purple Sensation’. Regulars will know that this is not the first time it’s been featured recently, but even going over as it is, it just adds an excellent element of vertical and straight rather than floppy height to the area. I will be sorry to see the purple element fade but the seedheads are still looking good. I am just wondering if I can squeeze some echinacea between the bulbs without damaging them, to bring some extra interest later this summer.

5 Geum ‘Scarlet Tempest’. I like the way this is adding an orange understorey and long-lasting colour. When the tulips had gone over in the border, I felt that on its own it dominated too much, but now it’s got company it’s back in my good books. Also, in good news, it seems that contrary to what was happening in May, the bees are visiting this plant too. I was concerned enough about the lack of pollinator activity to contact Professor Dave Goulson, author of Gardening for Bumblebees, to ask him if geums really are pollinator-friendly, as often advertised. He very kindly wrote an email back to me, and said: “Many lists of good plants for pollinators are not accurate. I have never tried either of these [G. Scarlet Tempest and G. Mrs J Bradshaw], but have rarely noticed many insects on garden geums. If nothing visits them in your garden then they can’t be very good!”. The only thing he forgot to consider was the weather: it was so cold in May that few bees were about, and now that’s changed, the bees do visit them, though perhaps not as enthusiastically as some of the other plants here.

6 No-Mow-May leftover. Not strictly part of the vibrant border, but facing it, is the remnants of our unmown lawn, vaguely in the shape of a UFO. This lozenge stays for a little longer, a visual representation of marital compromise (there was some debate with OH about how long no-mow-may should extend into June, so this is the result after I got my hands on the mower!).

I now feel like I need to write another Six on Saturday to show you the front path, which is a pastel heaven, very different to the vibrant border, but I think that will have to be in another post. For today’s tasks, I’ve got sweetcorn plants that could do with being planted, but the space is still being occupied by peas, so I think I’ll have to pot the sweetcorn on and just wait. It’s really the time to sit back and enjoy our gardens now after all the hard work earlier.

Six on Saturday: 29 May 2021: Feels like summer

Ahhhh, when I opened the kitchen door onto the garden this morning, it felt like stepping out into summer, with the added bonus that everything looked, felt and smelt so fresh after being drenched in rain for days. Outdoor living can recommence, and I might have to move the plants that have inevitably colonised the outdoor table so that we can have lunch on the terrace today. So today’s Six on Saturday marks that heartening transition from late spring into early summer:

1 Allium purple sensation. Couldn’t resist another photo of these from a funky angle, they are the most photogenic plants. Now that the weather’s improving, the bees are visiting them again in larger numbers.

2 Phacelia tanacetifolia. Speaking of bees, this one is a magnet for them. I used it as a green manure in the veg bed last autumn-winter, and I vaguely remember throwing some seed onto the vibrant border. It’s now popping up obligingly here and there, making a great little filler with its pretty foliage and eye-catching blooms, that look like hairy caterpillars before they unfurl.

3 Nepeta x faassenii ‘Walker’s Low’. One of my absolute favourite garden plants. This one edges the front path in a cottage garden mix with geraniums, lavender, roses and a few more alliums. Its a great one to sit beside for a few minutes and just watch bees buzz in and out all the time.

4 Geranium cantabrigiense ‘Cambridge’. Raised at Cambridge University botanic garden apparently. It’s a nice, neat and tidy geranium that edges the front path between the nepeta, and adds to the cottage garden feel of this section. Anyone following my blog will know that I am rather fond of germaniums, and if you are too, you can see two of my favourites in blue/violet flowering now on A Tale of Two Geraniums.

5 Houseplant holiday. They need a change of scene just like we do, and a good wash for that matter! I rarely have the patience or time to individually dust the leaves of my indoor plants, and why bother when they can all just come outside for a good, long shower? The rain has many upsides. Just ask the Hosta, which has revelled in it, I’ve never seen it look so fulsome, with not a single slug hole – they don’t come up here onto the table.

6 Glade upgrade. We do like to create extra work for ourselves, don’t we? Gardeners are deep down an unsatisfied bunch, always wanting to improve, to tinker and to transform. I definitely fall into that category! The glade is fading out of its spring colour now, and is increasingly shaded by the overhanging trees, but I felt that it needs a little path from the terrace round to the lawn, a miniscule little bit of mystery, leading to a Lilliputian bench which I’ve yet to acquire. I’m going to use our hazel rods to make an edging, tied together with strong cord, and fill in the path with bark chips. Does it need a lining too or can I get away without using one?

So, what am I going to do today? Well, the sun is shining, I’m very tempted to follow the example of one of our locals, and just lounge around. The gardening can wait. Thank you all for reading, and thanks as ever to The Propagator who leads us in the merry Six on Saturday dance, have a lovely weekend.

Les bonnes nouvelles (good news)

Some scenes from an afternoon bike ride through forest and orchard, and a pit stop at my favourite local café, where good news was on offer.

The forest was lush and green
Long grass in the orchard
Wildflowers aplenty: clover and buttercups here
A favourite café in the neighbourhood

A list of good news from around the world was displayed on the board on the pavement outside the café, including:

  • Mexico has banned glyphosate (a broad-spectrum herbicide, used in weed killers) and GM corn.
  • Kazakhstan has abolished the death penalty.
  • Electric fishing is banned in Europe.
  • Herrings communicate through passing gas (good news? Or just funny?)
  • A European law has just been passed against the obsolescence of smart phones and washing machines, which should now have a repairability rating.
  • In the state of Virginia, in the US, capital punishment has been abolished. It is the first southern state in the US to do so.
  • Species previously thought extinct are reappearing, including a species of turtle, wild dog and frog.

It’s a lefty, liberal, environmentally friendly kind of neighbourhood, and I love it for that. I haven’t fact-checked the items on the good news list, but it certainly added an extra touch of sweetness to my latte and crepe with lemon and sugar.

A tale of two geraniums

Having recently emerged from a 48-hour post vaccine fuzz, I decided to try a bit of gorilla gardening today as it’s a public holiday in Belgium. Given our weather conditions in northern Europe this month, this meant making surreptitious raids to sow a quick lettuce crop or pop some gladioli bulbs into the border, before being forced to beat a hasty retreat by the superior firepower raining down on me from the heavens.

Geranium sylvaticum in the border

During one such sortie, I appreciated two geraniums bringing late spring splashes of colour to the garden. These are not bold and show-stopping like the peonies or roses coming into bloom soon, but they bridge the gap between spring and summer in a dainty and pretty way, and they lend themselves to all sorts of interesting combinations.

Geranium sylvaticum ‘Mayflower’

The first is Geranium sylvaticum ‘Mayflower’. As the name implies, its a woodland geranium, native to Europe, that likes cool conditions, so is perfect both for this weather and for my east-facing ‘cool shades’ border.

The flower has an intensity of colour between blue and violet that I find very appealing, and it has tightly packed clusters of buds, promising a reasonably long flowering period. It makes a nice upright mound of foliage, about 70 cm high.

G. sylavaticum ‘Mayflower’ with sweet woodruff

I’ve combined it with the white dazzle of sweet woodruff, Galium odoratum, which is enthusiastically spreading, some young Japanese forest grass, Hakonechloa macra (I like a bit of lime green in a shady border) and higher up, Aconite.

G. himalayense ‘Gravetye’

Geranium himalayense ‘Gravetye’ is a strong blue, with large cup-shaped flowers that have violet veins and striking black stamens. I think this one does well with a bit more sun – I’ve got it at the top end of my front path border, where it’s in lightly dappled shade. It was found growing in Turkestan; the ‘Gravetye’ refers to Gravetye Manor, the English country home of a nineteenth century garden writer named William Robinson.

G. himalayense ‘Gravetye’ in the border

I like the contrast of blue and orange, so here I’ve combined it with Geum ‘Scarlet Tempest’ which is another good bloomer for this time of year. The Geum is a bit sprawly and lanky, but that means that the flowers intermingle with the low growing Geranium’s quite nicely.

Geranium himalayense ‘Gravetye’ with Geum ‘Scarlet Tempest’

It looks like more gorilla gardening for me until the weather improves, which it’s supposed to do towards the end of this week. Will we finally be soaking up some sunshine? I live in hope.

Six on Saturday: 22 May 2021

I’m late posting today as I had an early morning appointment to get my first Covid vaccine. Hopefully my antibodies are swinging into action as I write. So without further ado, let me dive straight into this week’s Six on Saturday:

1 Alliums. We’re back to the purple and orange contrasts in the new vibrant border, with Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ joining the manic-flowering Geum ‘Scarlet Tempest’, which I’ve cut back quite a bit as it was getting a little domineering in orange. Lovely to see the honey bees and bumblebees enjoying the alliums. The only slight disappointment is that the pollinators show no interest at all in the geums, and I wonder why – are they low in nectar and/or pollen? It’s a pity because they flower so profusely and are good garden plants, and while not every garden plant has to be planted for a pollinator, it is something I’m aiming towards.

2 Rosa x Cantabrigiensis. I featured it in my Soggy Garden post earlier this week, but I like these new photos of it even more. Newly planted last autumn as a bare root, am delighted with this delicate, primrose yellow rose, developed in Cambridge in the 1930’s. The single flowers have the advantage of being more accessible to pollinators, though I’ve got plenty of the big, blousy ones on their way.

3 Hesperis matronalis with grape vine. The pale violet flowers of the sweet rocket are adding to the front path action, and the vine on the fence behind them looks promising, except for the fact that it’s got lots of bumpy spots from a tiny insect that borrows into the leaves. It is harmless, and doesn’t affect the grape harvest, but looks a bit unsightly. When the leaves get a bit bigger, I will remove the worst affected to control the problem a bit.

4 Potatoes. They have been growing like mad in all this rain we’ve been having! I wonder if I should earth them up some more – the compost bags containers can be further unfolded if need be.

5 Lettuces. They have also been growing like mad in this rain, and I can triumphantly confirm that the ones growing up on the roof of the shed have been totally untouched by slugs, with no protective measures taken. I’ve cracked it people! Grow your lettuces up high, find the highest point you can reach and put them up there. Harvesting and checking up on them only involves a quick climb out of a landing window and a hop over a small pitched roof – the athletics are worth the effort! The champagne box planter has Asiatic leaves which add a good peppery flavour to lift the salads.

6 Chickens. Well I was going to take a photo of the flowering rhododendrons in the corner of the garden, but my camera lens was drawn inevitably to the Pekin bantams. They love it under the shrubby growth here, and I feel that the rhododendrons are finally serving a purpose (I find them rather gloomy for most of the year). Tabitha, Jennifer and Grimy are settling in well and are a bit less jittery when we approach them. I trust that they are fully engaged in slug control.

So there we are, another wet week goes by without much gardening but with plenty of plant growth nonetheless. Seedlings of Tithonia, Salvia and sunflowers as well as courgettes and sweetcorn are giving my accusatory glances each time I open up the greenhouse, but I suppose no harm will come from waiting a bit longer before planting out. Thanks to the Propagator for hosting, and hope everyone has a lovely weekend.

Notes from a soggy garden

It’s been raining, a lot, a deluge that just keeps on coming. Gardeners up and down the country have been complaining, somewhat bitterly, that growth is slow, seedlings are sulking, French beans aren’t germinating and slugs are thriving; but on the other hand, the plants themselves just go about their business: growing, flowering, preparing to reproduce.

Aquilegia vulgaris

The plants in the ‘cool shades’ east-facing border seem unperturbed by the wet, if anything they are revelling in it. The aquilegias are now at their prettiest. I was given the dark purple wild ones by a neighbour in a swap (she got tomatoes from me in return), and the white one was picked up on a quick visit to the garden centre. It sports fabulous spurs, and looks good with the Ostrich or Shuttlecock ferns in the background.

Aquilegia vulgaris ‘Alba’

The aconite has begun its mysterious unfurling. The tight new buds higher up the stem look like inscrutable little aliens, while the opened petals bring to mind their common name, Monk’s hood, although I like to think of them as deadly cloaked assassins, fleeing from the scene of their unspeakable crime. Aconite is a highly poisonous plant, so this role of assassin suits them.

Aconitum napellus ‘Spark’s variety’

Another dusky plant, Geranium phaeum ‘Springtime’ is a quiet character in the border, but its satin sheen gives it grace and allure, and this variety also has striking white and green marbled foliage.

Geranium phaeum ‘Springtime’

Alchemilla mollis is at its best when bejewelled by rain drops, although at this point only a couple remained. It’s growing at an astonishing rate daily, and threatens to engulf its neighbours. The frothy lime flowers will be out soon to make lovely contrasts.

Geraniums don’t mind the rain either. Many of them are just getting into their flowering.

G. himalayense ‘Gravetye’

So hard to pick a favourite geranium, but I love G. himalayense ‘Gravetye’, which has lovely large cup-shaped petals with violet veins and black stamens. There’s a Geum, ‘Scarlet Tempest’, upping the tempo in the background. Both are in dappled shade at the top end of the front path.

Further down the path, a clump of chives is in full bud – I love this stage – with some chamomile also coming into flower.

And while we might bemoan the rain, don’t these glistening drops add magic to the buds of oriental poppies, which remind me so much of dinosaur eggs that I expect pterodactyls to hatch out any day now. Even in the humble veg patch, the rain adds a touch of magic to the flowers of peas, this one is ‘Douce de Provence’.

To top it all off, the first rose to open up in the garden: what a moment, I feel a glass of Prosecco is in order! This one is a lovely botanical rose, single flowers of soft primrose yellow, and interesting almost fern-like foliage. It’s Rosa x cantabrigiensis, a rose developed in Cambridge botanic gardens in the 1930’s.

Rosa x cantabrigiensis

So really one feels much better after a tour of the garden, to see things alive and well, by and large, in their soggy domain.

Six on Saturday: 15 June 2021: busy as a bee

The garden’s had a good drink, as it’s rained quite heavily over the last few days, and it looks much refreshed for it. The risk of frost is almost certainly past now, so there’s planting out to do. Larkspur and Coreopsis seedlings have gone out, sweet peppers have been potted up into big pots, and I’ve planted Calabrese broccoli in the veg patch, plus the odd remaining tomato plant, I’ve pruned the forsythia and contemplated its utter destruction again and thought about replacing it with an Elder (Sambucus)…it’s time to be as busy as a bee, speaking of which, and onto my first item for this week’s six:

1 Honey bee swarm. Our neighbour keeps a hive on her shed roof, but things were probably getting overcrowded for them, so some of them decided to up sticks last Sunday. Their first port of call was our apple tree, where they swarmed in preparation for going out to find a new home. Before they got the chance, the local beekeeping network was alerted and someone came to collect them to make a new hive. I would like to keep bees one day.

2 The last of the tulips. What a wonderful display it was this year, they all did so well both in pots and in the border. All good things come to an end however, as you can see in my deadheading bucket! What to do with the tulips now is always the question: many in the border have been left in situ, hoping they’ll return next year, but others have been dug out to make space for other plants and chucked into plastic pots and put out of the way. I’m not quite sure I can bring myself to treat Tulips as ‘annuals’ and throw them all out.

3 Oh wait, there’s still Tulipa clusiana ‘Peppermint-stick’. This was the very last to flower for me this year, a bit strange as I thought they were supposed to be early. They are very different to the big and bold Tulips above, and they do flop about a bit in their planter, but are really quite lovely, especially when they catch the light. I will plant these in the ground now and hope they come back next year.

4 Clematis alpina. Nearly finished now, the blooms have opened up fully and look to me like they’re doing a can-can dancing routine: “the main features of the dance are the vigorous manipulation of skirts and petticoats, along with high kicks, splits and cartwheels”, if you get the idea. I’ve unfortunately lost the label, so am not sure what variety this is. This is its third season, and it’s really come into its own now.

5 Herbs and violas. Right by the kitchen door, I’ve got a handy collection of herbs in pots, perfectly placed for a quick dash out to grab something to enliven a soup, stir-fry, salad, sandwich, omelette, virtually anything really. You can just spot rosemary, curly parsley and one of my mints in the photo, and I think these violas match them perfectly, with a grassy Carex in the big pot behind them. The second photo is my mother’s day gift (it was last Sunday in Belgium): lemon thyme, lemon verbena, a flowering nasturtium Alaska, and two pots of French tarragon. The verbena is a new herb for me to grow, I’ll put it in a pot and use the leaves to make a citrusy, uplifting herbal tea.

6 Matteuccia struthiopteris, the shuttlecock fern. This fern is naturalised in the garden, and there’s a large patch of it under the arch by the glade. It’s at its freshest and best now. It produces many, many baby plants, which I lift and relocate, or give to friends. It’s an accommodating and handsome fern, growing happily in sun or shade, moist or dry soil.

Well, it’s a splendid time of year in these parts, full of lush green growth and life. Thank you all for reading, and if you fancy a peek at more gardens, as ever you can visit the Propagator’s Six on Saturday page. Have a lovely weekend everyone, I’ve got lots of planting to do, so I’d better get on with it!