Six on Saturday: 23 Jan 2021: Catkins

I’m still a little high on the novelty of a patch of blue sky and a few weak but welcome rays of sunshine, which arrived here yesterday after weeks of grisaillle (the Belgian/French word for miserable, grey weather: as grim as it sounds). Today also looks promising and mild. I had a lovely bike ride in the forest yesterday, getting a bit carried away with archaeological imaginings at a 6,000 year-old Neolithic site, and noticed that the beech nuts on the forest floor were germinating. On that encouraging note, let’s get started with this week’s Six on Saturday (six things in the garden on Saturday):

1 Rose pruning. I’ve done the two climbers, and the six bushes along the front path. Tick! Next up is the more intimidating job of pruning the old and too tall apple tree. The other half will need to help (he can go up the ladder, I’ll stay safe on the ground holding it I think!).

2 Euphorbia characias ‘Silver Edge’. A dwarf euphorbia which I planted last autumn to bulk up the cottage garden planting near the pink roses. As I was doing my rose pruning, I noticed the slightest hint of pink on some of the leaves.

3 Pieris japonica ‘Variagata’. Another white, green and pink number. They say everyone has a good side and less flattering side in profile, and this is the good side of my Pieris. She’s rather bare on the other half, but never mind, perhaps she needs a good prune to stimulate growth.

4 Tropaeolum tuberosum. I had been looking out for a supplier for these edible nasturtium tubers. There was a waiting list for them with a French supplier that fellow gardening blogger Fred had recommended to me for seeds (merci Fred), and as soon as they became available again, I snapped them up. There are three tubers, one of which has already sprouted, so I had better pot them up this weekend.

5 Clematis armandii ‘Apple Blossom’. Really looking forward to seeing this in flower soon, just look at those fat buds. I have to admit, this was an impulse buy. I was supposed to be getting one for a friend while visiting a specialist clematis supplier deep in the Flemish countryside, but it was March, the plant was in flower, and was simply irresistible. Luckily, I happen to have a warm, sheltered wall for it to clamber up. Phew…

6 Hazel catkins. I have two trees planted next to each other, right outside the front of the house, and we get a pretty view of the yellow catkins from the living room window. Hazel is wind pollinated, and has both male and female flowers on the same plant (monoecious if you like a technical term). The male flowers are born in huge numbers on the catkins, and for the first time I noticed the tiny female flowers with their crimson styles (see last photo). No need to attract the bees, no need to be showy!

Tiny female flower visible just above the end catkin

So there we are, thanks as always to our host The Propagator, you’ll find many other Six on Saturday contributions on his blog from many corners of the globe. From this Belgian corner, I wish everyone a great weekend, may the weather be kind to you!

Six on Saturday: 16 Jan 2021: let there be light!

Mid January. At this time of year, I often feel like a participant in the Chinese communists’ famous 6,000 mile trek, the long march to freedom of the 1930’s, except that instead of the emergence of Chairman Mao as undisputed party leader, it’s the emergence of spring that we are marching towards (and perhaps freedom from the tyranny of Covid-19!). So let’s keep marching folks, the way seems long, but there are only two more Six on Saturdays until February! On this endurance feat, am keeping my spirits up with some good music (am flitting this week between Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and The Best of Bryan Ferry & Roxy Music), many cups of tea, some nice food and planning a new world order (or do I mean planting schemes?).

I’m going to start with some snow, a brief white interlude:

1 A dusting of snow. We were promised snow in Brussels this week, and this is all we got, it lasted for all of two hours on Thursday morning. I was mighty quick to get the camera, before it all melted. Honestly, I was expecting better, but hey ho, perhaps next time.

2 LED Plant Grow Lights. A new bit of kit! Arrived this week, can’t wait to try them out when I start sowing in February. Hopefully, goodbye leggy seedlings. It clips on easily to the window ledge, has four flexible arms, dimmers, timers for 4/8/12 hour bursts and a remote control! Cool. Here my Aloe is enjoying the full spectrum light. I feel like joining it.

3 Gaultheria mucronata berries. These are still doing well in their big blue pot.

4 Garlic. Planted in the veg bed in October, it’s pushing through healthily now. I counted about ten, which I think is how many cloves I planted.

5 Geum ‘Scarlet Tempest’. Already showing buds, this one flowers quite early in April. Although I lost two plants in the summer drought, one survived and I divided it into three, and planted these divisions in my new purple-orange themed border. They are a cheerful sight in flower – as shown in the second photo taken last spring.

6 Borage. Right plant, wrong place. I have decided that borage can’t grow in the veg bed. Simply gets too big, even though it’s an excellent decoy for blackfly/aphids, which left my veg alone last year, going for the borage instead. I love it though, so I’ll find a new place for it, but this fellow and his friends are going to have to come out. I wrote a post about borage, you can see it and photos of its brilliant blue flowers here. It’s worth growing not only for the beauty of the flowers and the bristly foliage that glimmers in morning sunshine, but also for its value to pollinators: scientists have found that after a bee visits a flower, it refills with nectar within two minutes, making it like a busy service station for bees!

To finish off, I’d like to thank readers for the great comments made on my post on herbs last week. I used all the herbs I mentioned to make this rather delicious topping for bread: chickpeas, red onion, lemon, olive oil, salt, pepper and all the fresh herbs I could lay my hands on. It felt like a taste of summer. That’s all from me this week. Check out the Prop’s site for lots of interesting Six on Saturday reads from all over the globle. Till next time.

In a vase on Monday: A tale of two seasons

Each Monday Cathy at Rambling In The Garden invites us to share a vase of materials gathered from our gardens.

I have to confess that on a grey day like today (I know, another one!), I didn’t think I’d even venture out into the garden, but then I did anyway, without high hopes. I picked a sprig of Helleborus argutifolius, mainly going to seed now, as I find the lime green quite cheering. Then I started pruning some of the roses along the front path, and there were still some soft pink blooms bravely hanging on. So we have a combo of June flowering roses and winter flowering Hellebore. Well, it takes all sorts.

I added a few sprigs of variagated ivy, a couple of fern leaves that have still remained green despite usually being brown at this time of year, and then finally one of my favourites, silver helichrysum. My hand now smells slightly of curry, but that’s ok, because the vase itself smells of roses!

Six on Saturday: Waiting: 09 Jan 2021

A cheery delivery.

This morning we woke up to the first frost of the year: a welcome change. All week, we’d had grey skies, cold and gloom, and in those circumstances what choice is there but to wait, to sit the month out? I’m waiting to sow all those seeds I mentioned last week, oh and a few more that just arrived in the post as an early birthday present for me. For my birthday tomorrow, my son promises to make me a chocolate cake (he has just recently learnt how).

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Six on Saturday: Seeds: 02 Jan 2021

Happy New Year to you all! As my featured image, I share a sunset in the forest on New Year’s day. Still no snow, not even a proper frost here, but weak winter sunshine through the trees.

Lots has been said already about hoping for a better year for us humans this year, and being a member of the human race I of course share that hope! But I also harbour another hope, and a recognition that 2020, while awful for many, was a year of recovery for the natural world, a respite from our dangerous incursions into it, and our thoughtless spoiling of our environment. So my hope is that the success of the vaccination programme isn’t accompanied by a return to pumping tons of carbon into our atmosphere. Given the likely origins of Covid-19, it would also be something if we could ban the trade in wildlife and while we’re at it, improve conditions for animals in our factory farms. Here’s hoping…

In the New Year my thoughts turn to all the things that will grow in my garden in the year ahead. If January starts to drag a bit, which inevitably it will, I check my seed packets: a nice pick-me-up, especially in this dry (alcohol-free) month. So the theme this week is seeds.

1 Garden seed harvest. Isn’t wonderful that free seeds abound in our gardens? I have got better at harvesting them. I have never tried growing Asters from seed though, it seems easier to take the little plantlets that form around the parent. I will collect and sow some of the Hollyhock seeds, which itself arrived as a surprise gift seedling in my veg patch in 2019.

2 Panicum Frosted Explosion. Another gift, this one first arrived two summers ago in a crack in the pavement by our front gate. What chance, as this is a superb annual grass, that creates a misty frothiness around whatever it grows around, and is too insubstantial to block out the light. It has now popped up all over the place, and I’m saving some seed to use more deliberately. It could be fun in containers with other annuals, like the frilly pink Cosmos.

3 Aquilegia and other seeds in the ground. I was given a load of Aquilegia seeds in a plant swap last summer, and I just scattered them on the earth and hoped for the best. I think these are them, coming up here along the front path. There’s something else too, the frillier leaves, could be Chamomile. Part of the fun is waiting to see what pops up.

4 New flowering plant seeds. Probably the most exciting of the lot? New plants I haven’t tried before, including two types of Tithonia or Mexican Sunflower, which I probably don’t have the space for but hope to squeeze into the new border (purple/orange themed). Will they be happy? Who knows, it’s a gamble. A surer bet are the Nasturtiums, which I love and grow among veg and in pots, but have never tried the variegated version, Alaska. There’s also a sunflower with an enticing name, Velvet Queen, which I will have to save from the slugs but which will be nice to grow as food for the birds as well as a feast for the eyes.

5 New veg seeds. Ooooh, also exciting! I’ve never grown Cucamelons, or Mouse Melon, which is possibly the cutest name for a vegetable that I’ve ever heard. Another gamble, am going to try these in a large container growing up the south-facing brick wall of our terrace. Handy if we’re out sipping gin and tonics, and fancy a zingy addition to our drinks. Last year I grew a squash up this wall quite successfully, so fingers crossed.

6 Seeds sown in the autumn. Here in the mini-greenhouse, we have nicely labelled pots which in theory have seeds in the them, but no sign of life. The Bomarea edulis is an exotic addition thanks to the generosity of another Six-on-Saturday blogger, know for his unusual plants. Regulars may be able to guess who. The Nigella is from an old seed pack, so I just hope the expiry date can be ignored!

I will have to wait just a little bit longer before I can start sowing in earnest. Meanwhile, there are other important things that need doing, including a bit of hard landscaping and putting in paths where the mud has become intolerable, pruning etc. I wonder what other gardeners have planned – to find out, check out The Propagator’s blog, the host for the excellent Six on Saturday theme. Have a great gardening year everyone!

Six on Saturday: 26 Dec 2020

I thought I would give today’s Six on Saturday a miss, but the sun is shining, and after the torpor of yesterday’s Christmas lunch, I felt invigorated by an early morning Boxing Day bike ride, so here I am. I hope everyone had a pleasant Christmas day and is feeling hopeful for the new year ahead.

1 Rainbow. Hope is the theme of my first photo, taken on Christmas day, of our habitual view of the flanks of the forest. Surely a sign of better things to come?

2 Spanish bluebells. More hopeful signs on the ground. First sightings of the bluebells poking through. I know a lot of people have taken against Spanish bluebells, with some British gardeners seeing them as an invasive non-native species, which I think is a little unfair and disproportionate. They behave themselves pretty well in the garden, and haven’t colonised any other areas.

3 Fuschia magellanica seeds. The transformation from flowers to seeds took me by surprise this year. The others are all still in flower.

4 Chamomile. Lovely to see how well this has self-seeded itself along the front path. I will be making tea with this bunch in the summer, all being well.

5 Rosemary. Something has been nibbling away at it, and here is the culprit. I seem to have a lot of these rosemary beetles this year, and this unfortunate creature and accompanying grubs have been put on the bird feeder. This mild winter seems to suit them.

6 Snapdragons. I really wasn’t expecting these to still be in flower after Christmas! Perhaps it will pull through the winter? My garden is pretty sheltered by trees and brick walls, and you can see in the second photo that this little bed still looks decent. Apart from the ferns, not a lot has died back, the herbs are all fine and the Heucheras are happy here.

That’s all for this week, I’ll be back for a New Year Six on Saturday. There are still dedicated Six on Saturday regulars to be found on The Propagator’s blog, and they all go to show that there’s still plenty going on the garden, you just need to look.

Wishing you all a happy, healthy and more hopeful year in 2021, and thank you for reading!

Six on Saturday: 19 Dec 2020

The best thing about this week has been the weather. Lots of bright sunshine, very mild, with an almost spring-like softness in the air. This has been invigorating; I have done quite a bit of gardening. To be enjoyed as long as it lasts! Sorry for those bloggers in Ireland who seem to have had nothing but rain!

Here are this week’s Six on Saturday, six things in or about the garden, as hosted by The Propagator.

1 Great spotted woodpecker. He was my reward for clearing almost the last of the sodden Lime tree leaves from the terrace, and as I collected and swept, he tap-tap-tapped above my head.

2 Hot Pepper ‘Apache’. Still going strong, and still far too hot to add to anything! Must try a milder chilli next year. This one is great on a sunny windowsill though.

3 Rainbow Chard. It’s nice to have just a few veg still giving it their all in December, and Chard is one of my favourites at this time of year. Good for a small patch like mine, and perfect for a stir-fry with plenty of ginger, garlic and chilli (not Apache!).

4 Seed storage. I admit to being a bit jealous of Jon’s good-looking seed drawers, which he posted last week. Nonetheless, I can do some virtue-signalling through the re-use of old wine and champagne boxes (we lead a decadent life here in Brussels). They do the job nicely.

5 Dried flowers. These may be only a faint reminder of the glories of last summer’s flowers, but reminder they are. Are dried flowers frumpy and boring? I am in two minds.

6 Party-time Alliums. For a more snazzy look, I dressed up a couple of my Allium Christophii for a night out on the town. As I, like many, am missing out on both office Christmas party and nights out this Christmas, I clearly have far too much time on my hands to mess around with stuff like this!

It remains to wish you all a Merry Christmas, as merry as you can muster! This year, I have discovered blogging, Six on Saturday, and am learning about photography. I have been able to spend time getting to know my friend the Great Blue Heron. These are things I am grateful for, along with good health, and I hope you readers too have found simple pleasures and compensations among all the upheavals of this trying year.

Six on Saturday: 12 Dec 2020

Inertia is setting in, as I enter deeper hibernation mode. This happens to me every year at this time, and it comes as no surprise. Humans, in my view, are no different to other animals, and other animals slow down in winter, or just pack it in and go to sleep until it’s worth waking up again in the spring! I take my cue from the rodents and hedgehogs, and dig deeper into my burrow.

As a result, there hasn’t been much activity in the garden, apart from a swift sortie to plant 75 tulips into pots, my insurance policy against those that went a bit fungal in the shed but were planted out anyway. These newly bought tulips are Abu Hassan and Cassini, both Truimph tulips in invigorating shades of scarlet and orange. When I come out of my hibernation, they will gladden my heart.

This weeks Six on Saturday starts with…

1 Christmas wreath. It has taken me a while to get into the festive spirit this year, knowing that we are going to have a very quiet Christmas in Belgium a trois, but I’ve finally got the box of Christmas decorations out of the cellar, and made the wreath with my son’s creative assistance. Everything was very hastily collected from the garden in the cold and wet, plus a couple of decorations stuck on.

2 Narcissus paperwhite. I don’t think these will be out in time for Christmas. Perhaps they need warmer temperatures for a boost? Mine are in the cellar, radiator turned off, but with plenty of light from a south-facing window.

3 Lantana camara. I have tried for many years to get Lantana through winter, and have failed every time. So this year, instead of going into an unheated mini greenhouse outside, it has been brought into the cellar. It seems to be doing alright for now. I adore this plant because it reminds me of my childhood in Jordan, where it grew into great, big, colourful hedges outside our home, and because it looks fabulous with Dahlias like Bishop’s children. Behind the Lantana is lemongrass, still alive and flavouring the occasional Thai curry.

4 Tradescantia zebrina. After seeing Katharine’s fabulous display of house plants on last week’s SOS, also featuring this plant, I thought I would give mine a moment of limelight. This one has spent summer outside trying its best to hide my water but, and I have to say it seems to have benefited hugely from its holiday outdoors. What it lacks is a decent spot in the house to drape down from – it’s currently on an Amazon box in the hallway, poor thing!

5 Christmas cactus. This one just might make it in time. It’s a cutting given to me by my mother-in-law, whose plant in turn is a cutting from her mother’s plant, so this one’s got history. First blooms just appearing in party-time pink.

6 Seeds in French. I hesitate to mention to dreaded B-word on here, but the reality is that I will need to improve my horticultural French. I’ve traditionally ordered seeds from British companies – I particularly like Premier Seeds – but they sent me an email last week saying that without a trade deal, it will now cost them 125 GDP per order to ship seeds to Europe, due to the red tape, which is a bit hefty for a few sunflower seeds, so I’m looking at a Belgian catalogue here, and thinking, thank heavens for Latin names! I like the pretty drawings.

Well mes amis, that’s all for this week. It’s looking dull and misty outside, so I think we will get the Christmas tree in today and start decorating that.

Do check out The Propagator and friends for more Six on Saturdays.

Six on Saturday: 05 Dec 2020

Nipped out into the garden on Friday afternoon to take some photos, nearly froze my hands off, there was a very lively, bone-chilling easterly blowing. This could be the one that finally strips bare the Lime trees, adding the final valuable consignment to the leaf mould pile. The sky was wiped clean to reveal a raw, stunning blue.

Looking down towards the forest from the back patio on Friday afternoon

In keeping with this winter season of reckoning and contemplation, I’ll be taking a broader view with my Six on Saturday, looking ahead to next year, and mulling over a few changes.

1 Leaf Mould. Next year’s potting mix and mulch, I hope. Being more organised about it this year. The pile is looking respectable, and am even keeping it damp. Still got some clearing up to do, as you can see.

Looking up from the back patio, these Lime leaves will bulk up the leaf mould.

2 Compost. Every gardener’s biggest investment in the future, I think. I turned the pile, and am happy with this dark, crumbly result. Good compost is a beautiful thing. When you compost, you are participating in the life cycle of the garden. Am also very happy with the recycled crates, free from the garden centre, and assembled by hubby, which almost make a feature out of this area under the old apple tree.

3 Veg patch pathways. The main raised bed will be going into its third year of production next spring. A lot of things have congregated around it, pots of strawberries, a new apple tree, some herbs, a blackcurrant, and a raspberry bush or two. So I need to get some decent pathways around this area. Landscaping fabric and woodchips over the top might do it, what do you think? Or will the slugs make it their abode?

The veg patch

4 The neighbour’s shed. I call this colour Highlighter Orange, I imagine it might look good under the sun somewhere like Buenos Aires, but it’s not a colour for our Northern European light. As the large Forsythia drops its leaves, we see more and more of it. The dilemma is, how can I screen it without entirely cutting off this point of contact with my neighbour? We occasionally chat over the gap, and I have handed over my chickens (sadly not with us these days) to do slug clearance in her garden. Seeds, veg, plants and even honey (see her beehive on the roof?) get swapped this way too. In front is the new border, waiting to spring into life.

5 Time to remove the Japanese Quince. I have always been underwhelmed by this Chaenomeles japonica, currently in flower against the back wall. This is very warm and sheltered spot, south facing, under the trees just the other side of the wall, but not too shaded by them. I was thinking a fig tree trained against the wall could work well, though it would have to do battle with the climbers (Clematis armandii, Trumpet Vine and the Rambling Rose ‘Alberic Barbier’).

Close up of the Quince, admittedly it looks better from this angle
The overall effect, a bit wishy-washy I think
Just above the Quince, Clematis armandii ‘Apple Blossom’ is thriving

6 The Christmas Tree. So pleased it made it for a year in its pot and is looking decent. A bit scruffy in places, but nothing that can’t be hidden with some strategically placed decorations. It’s been cleaned, combed and brought up onto the patio by the back door, and it will have a brief sojourn inside over Christmas.

Speaking of Christmas, I hope everyone is staying calm in the face of it. Here in Belgium, there is little sentimentality. If you want to meet up over the festive season, you are allowed one guest from outside your household, or a maximum of four people in the garden (if this can be reached without going into the house). One of those four people is allowed to use the toilet in the house. This country is well know for its surrealism (see Magritte’s painting: Ceci n’est pas une pipe, etc.). How to negotiate who gets to use the toilet? I suppose if the other three garden guests are desperate, there’s always the compost heap!

Looking forward to seeing other gardeners’ gardens on the Propagator’s Six on Saturday page. Till next time.

Six on Saturday: 28 Nov 2020

I haven’t done much gardening this week, despite having had some lovely sunny days. There are still a few jobs to do, but there’s no sense of urgency now that the bulbs have all been planted, and I haven’t felt the urge to prune anything! I have been out taking photos though, and teaching myself a bit more about that. I may be getting a tripod for Christmas, and a book about digital photography, that might help.

Here are my Six on Saturday featuring wildlife, exotic and native, and a few plants of course. Join the tribe over at The Propagator’s blog to take part or just have a look.

1 Ring-necked Parakeets. Our exotic visitors are back. I have mixed feelings. They definitely add a splash of colour. However, they tend to hog the feeders, so that the little birds that come – tits, sparrows, finches, the robin – have to wait until they’ve gone. They are also very noisy and hang around in groups. Most importantly, they are a threat to indigenous birds, because they take over nesting and resting places. Back in 2014, there were 12,000 in Brussels. I imagine there are a lot more today. I will have to shoo them off.

2 Smaller native birds. This is more like it. Lots of blue tits and coal tits around, eating from the feeders and also nibbling some berries in the Viburnum bush. The bird bath is at their disposal in the glade, which is actually looking relatively pretty at this time of year.

3 Fern and Heuchera. Onto some plants. Most of the colour is fading out of the garden, but I quite like this toned-down combination of dying Ostrich fern leaf and resting Heuchera ‘Indian Summer Cranberry’. Both cope admirably with the dry conditions caused by the roots of the big trees nearby. I have another Heuchera, ‘Caramel’, in a pot, which would be nice planted out here.

4 Hakonechloa ‘All Gold’. I can never remember the name of this little tussocky grass, I had to look it up again. How on earth to pronounce it? It’s looking scruffy right now but I like the warm yellow colour and can’t get enough of it in my east-facing border, it brightens it up after the sun has gone. I want it to grow fast so I can divide it and add more in.

5 Miscanthus sinensis ‘Malepartus’. Still my favourite grass, with the seed heads now looking very fluffy. I only have one in a pot, I think I’ll have to divide this one too.

6 Fatsia japonica ‘Spider’s Web’. We haven’t had any proper frosts yet, but this Fatsia is nonetheless sporting a dapper ‘frosted look’. It’s in one of the Italian pots on the decking/terrace.

That’s it for this week, I hope we will all continue to find inspiration in our gardens and around us in nature to carry on blogging (or just carry on!). I intend to head out to the lakes at the edge of the forest with my camera to see what I can do.