Six on Saturday: 11 Sep 21: Keep it in the family

The Balat Greenhouse, 1854

This week’s Six on Saturday comes from my favourite section of Belgium’s botanical garden at Meise, just north of Brussels. It’s called the Cronquist garden (after the American botanist, Arthur Cronquist) and houses an enthralling collection of herbaceous plants, arranged neatly by family in beds – Cronquist was apparently instrumental in developing a new classification system for plant families. The beds are set off by an elegant glass and steel greenhouse built by Alphonse Balat, the court architect of Belgian King Leopold II. I was there on a rainy Friday this week, so apart from the gardener, I had the place pretty much to myself and was happy as Larry, darting around from one eye-catching plant to another.

1 Ipomoea lobata, also known as the fire vine, firecracker vine or Spanish flag. This really was like a firecracker, immediately catching my attention as I entered the garden and making me wonder why I didn’t have one of these beauties in my garden. I love the gradation in colour in those flower buds. It’s native to Mexico and Brazil; I have a theory that plants from that part of the world have done really well this year due to the intense humidity.

Ipomoea lobata

What was quite clever was the way it was planted up a simple steel grid structure, with individual vines planted on either side, seven in total. The height was also perfect, not much taller than me, so around 1.6 metres, or 5 foot 4 inches if you prefer imperial – so no ladders required!

2 Aster novi-belgii. Every garden should have an aster for a September display, and this one doesn’t disappoint.

Aster novi-belgii

3 Tagetes patula. These are French marigolds, or are they? The French think of them as Indian, as in their common name Oiellet d’Inde, but the Dutch associate them with Africa, Kleine Africaan. But they’re all wrong, they are native to Mexico and Guatemala! In any case, whatever we call them, these are delightful, with purple hints in the stems and leaves, and good height of around 1 metre.

Here’s an idea of how to combine them in a border. Just look at that yellow Helenium behind, weighed down with all those flowers, and there’s a tall Eupatorium on the other side.

4 Phyla nodiflora. I thought this was a charming little combo from the Verbenaceae family: an endearing little ground cover plant growing around a lemon verbena, Aloysia citrodora. The Spanish and Portuguese brought lemon verbena over from South America in the 17th C and cultivated it for its oil. I am less familiar with the Phyla nodiflora, aka the frogfruit or turkey tangle, presumably it got that name in the southern United States, where it is commonly grown as groundcover and perhaps where turkeys get tangled up in it, poor things!

5 Abelmoschus esculentus. Out of the corner of my eye, I spied these wonderful-looking seed pods, but it’s only when I checked the label that I realised these were Okra, or Lady’s Fingers, making them both delicious and beautiful. Who would have thought we could grow these here and end up with such a fine specimen for the September garden and the main ingredient for a delicious ‘bamya’ stew: okra cooked in tomato sauce with whole garlic cloves and served with basmati rice? I absolutely must try growing them next year!

Abelmoschus esculentus

6 Periscaria orientalis. Now, judging from my own garden, there are a lot of floppy plants at this time of year, weighed down with the weight of their blooms. But not this one, standing proud and poised as a ballerina.

Periscaria orientalis

Well I had to tear myself away from this lovely garden, where I could easily spend hours examining plants, and I also have to tear myself away from writing more as I’ve reached the limit of six, which is just as well, otherwise you’d all get bored dear readers! You’ll find other botanical sixes from all around the globe here too, on the Propagator’s site.

In my own garden, I’ve tasted the first of the sweetcorn, which was delicious but the cobs were only half-developed, probably not enough sun and heat this year. There are still a few sweet peppers and chillis coming along, and I think there are some radishes growing up on the shed roof, I really should get up there to investigate! Hope everyone has a good weekend – it’s looking a bit gloomy outside but I might try to get a bike ride in.

36 thoughts on “Six on Saturday: 11 Sep 21: Keep it in the family

  1. How fortunate to have such a garden to visit. We are sitting here discussing whether we will cut the grass or go visit a garden…I think the garden visit will win!

    1. I think that’s the right call! For me, it’s worth the trek through Brussels’ inner city districts and the urban jungle to get to this garden, right on the other side of town.

  2. Great post. So many interesting plants and lovely photos too. The Persicaria is interesting – the flowers are familiar looking but the upright form is very different from any other Persicarias I know. It sounds like a brilliant place to visit!

  3. What a fabulous garden – and that greenhouse leaves me speechless. I think all the different names for the marigolds were fascinating. I’ve never seen an okra plant and had no idea that’s what it would look like. I do love an okra curry.

    1. They do wonderful things with glass and steel in Belgium, at its finest in the art nouveau style, and I think the famous art nouveau architect Victor Horta was an apprentice of Alphonse Balat, maker of this lovely greenhouse.

  4. Thank you for the tour of this fascinating garden. I like the sound of banyan stew! I haven’t seen a tall persicaria here as we see mostly the low red one that runs rampantly everywhere if you let it. I can see there are others that are far more desirable.

    1. You’re welcome! I had heard that Periscaria are considered invasive species in some parts of the world, but this one seems so elegant. I would love to have one in my garden!

  5. There is something special about visiting other gardens large or small, and nice of you to share your favourites with us.

  6. Okra flowers are very pretty and I also wanted to try in the next few years. We will maybe try together at the same time ! This garden looks very pretty. ( And last thing , the persicaria orientalis is very elegant, I grew it 3 years ago, but the next 2 years it didn’t survive where I planted it. Not enough watering when I was on vacation …)

    1. I would love to try both okra and periscaria orientalis – did you find the plant at a garden centre or grow from seed? It would be fun to try growing the okra together!

    1. Haha, yes I know what you mean. Am really thinking of trying to get hold of that persicaria – maybe a stealthy visit in a month or so and an accidental brush against the plant, resulting in seeds somehow ending up in my pocket 😉

  7. I love visiting gardens both to enjoy the planting and also get ideas. Though putting the ideas from a several acre sized plot into my teacup sized garden is always a challenge! That glasshouse is simply stunningly beautiful. I so admire the details of those older buildings. One thing I shall take away from your post are those Tagetes. I never knew there were taller ones. Sarah Raven has a few nice varieties. And yes, please post more from your garden visits. I write about my gardens on my flower blog (I know it is very confusing that I actually have three blogs!)

      1. I took some time out from the garden blog especially as I hadn’t travelled out of Cornwall for several years until this May! Still have a few gardens to write about from that visit.

  8. What a beautiful garden, and I love the huge butterfly on top of the glass house! There is a wonderful selection of plants, and agree with OMAHGT about doing a sequel or two! A mass planting of the Ipomea is the best way to show off the plants stunning flowers. How tall was the okra plant? That’s a plant I have not grown before, but have been tempted to try.

    1. Thank you! The okra was about 1.3 metres I would say. It would probably grow well where you are, if it’s humid enough? Not 100% sure what its requirements are so will need to look that up!

  9. I can understand why you’d find it difficult to get away from such a garden. Some external inspiration works wonders.
    I think the Ipomoea is very similar to Mina lobata that I tried this year. Failed miserably. Not enough sunshine.

  10. I loved the height on the tagetes, they could be on the wish list and the persicaria was great too. Sarah Raven has seeds for sale and says that it is a Hardy Annual which gently self seeds itself, hmm could be another one on the list. A lovely garden to visit and what a beautiful glasshouse!

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