Just the right shade of red, Your Majesty?

Tulipa ‘Dillenburg’ surrounded by day lily foliage

As the much anticipated tulips open up in our gardens, it’s a joyous moment, but also a curious one, as we see just how much the promised shade in the bulb catalogues or online suppliers matches the reality of what we see with our own eyes. I have found myself delighted with some of the new tulips I planted, and disappointed in others, which didn’t really seem to be the colour described or photographed in gardening books.

Tulipa ‘Dillenburg’

My favourite tulips to emerge this spring have been a very old Dutch variety, Dillenburg. Now I would describe these as a sumptuous and complex blend of sunset orange at the tips, fading almost imperceptibly to a soft pinky peach – a really ripe, delicious peach that is, one you bite into on a sweltering day in high summer, and your mouth is flooded with flavour, and the juices drool down your chin. However, my dear OH didn’t quite describe it in those terms. “What’s the red flower that you planted over there?”, he asked. Errrrr….

Tulipa ‘Aladdin’

Perhaps he meant the Aladdin tulips I have growing in pots against a cypress hedge. These catch the light very nicely in the morning, and have the fluted, elegant shape and long stems of Lily-flowered group tulips. The pointed tips of the petals are yellow, and the remainder is orangey-red.

The colour confusion called to mind a story I was told where a misunderstanding over colour led to royal displeasure. Sources must be protected but let’s just say during a cost-cutting exercise many years back, a clever British civil servant identified a significant savings opportunity by changing supplier for the flowers planted in beds very near to our most famous palace. These flowers were chosen to match to perfection the uniforms of our monarch’s guards, just the right shade of red. Unfortunately, the new flowers turned out to be quite a different shade: most definitely not ‘Royal Guard Red’. We were not pleased. It was communicated from on high that this had been noticed, and the whole lot had to be ripped out.

Geum ‘Scarlet Tempest’ with Tulipa ‘Dillenburg’

I won’t be ripping out my Abu Hassan tulips, belonging to the Triumph group, even though I have to say they are not quite the sultry shade of deep red contrasted with golden yellow margins that I had expected, and seen in a nicely photographed gardening book, The Pottery Gardener.

Tulipa ‘Abu Hassan’

There are more tulips still to emerge, so no doubt more surprises await me. Have you ever been surprised by a plant that looked quite different to what you were expecting?

Awaiting the flowering of Tulipa ‘Dream Touch’

Six on Saturday: 17 April 2021: still cold!

We’re having a very cold spring here: the garden table, optimistically uncovered earlier this month, is used mainly by the pigeons as a landing site for their droppings, as they roost in the trees above. It’s not exactly the kind of weather than induces much gardening. In fact, I’ve been away from the garden this week, as we took off for a refreshing change of scene in east Belgium, where we went for bracing walks on the fens and dodged snow storms. The region has an interesting history and a compelling, wild landscape which I wrote about here. So, very little gardening, but heavens it felt good to get away (said somewhat guiltily, thinking of those who yearn to but can’t yet). Despite my absence, the garden grows without the gardener, so there’s no getting out of Six on Saturday this week:

1 Aconitum ‘Henryi Spark’s Variety’. It’s been fascinating to watch this tower of shaggy foliage grow steadily upwards, and surprising to see flower buds. Isn’t Monkshood supposed to flower in late summer? The fact that it is deadly poisonous – you are advised not to plant it near your veg in case you end up eating a root by mistake – only adds to its allure. Just keep it away from your carrots.

2 Pulsatilla vulgaris ‘Alba’. The main reason for this being here is that I was green with envy after seeing Kind Hearts and Corydalis’ gorgeous photo of it in last week’s Six on Saturday. I happened to be at the garden centre and spotted it, and we all know how that story ends. It will be planted here to mix with the forget-me-nots and blue Anemone blanda.

3 Clematis alpina. The delicate nodding heads are just opening up now. Easy to miss, it’s been quietly climbing the wall, unpruned.

4 Oakleaf lettuce and upcycling. At least the lettuces don’t mind the cold. They’re growing on well in the mini greenhouse, so OH was tasked with drilling holes into wooden crates, which will be lined with old compost bags, also with holes, and then the lettuces will be planted and housed on the flat roof of the shed (I’ll show you pics of this novelty planting site when it’s up and running – the hope is that slugs won’t take up mountaineering to reach them). Meanwhile, my tomatoes, which are on a sunny windowsill indoors, are growing about a foot a day, it seems, which is alarming because it’s definitely too cold for them to go out yet but they desperately need potting on. They have reached the top of the window, so from the outside of the house, if you happen to be in the street and glance up, it looks suspiciously like there’s a cannabis factory on the top floor.

5 Heuchera ‘Caramel’. I like the way this one is constantly changing colour. The grape hyacinths make quite a bold contrast. Maybe too bold? Some geraniums have been divided and put into pots while I decide what to do with them, that could take a while. In the background, the viburnum with its snowball blossoms continues to fill the air with delicious scent.

6 Tulip ‘Abu Hassan’. These are the first of my tulips to get going – well, they are almost there. They were described to me in a gardening book as ‘dramatic’ and I can see they have the potential to be, more so perhaps if the hedge behind them could be the Moroccan blue shade of the pot in the background. The book that inspired me to plant them – The Pottery Gardener – has them in a metal container against a black background, and there they look sumptuous.

If you seek more gardening drama, have a look at The Propagator’s Six on Saturday page and enjoy the show in the comments section. I believe that our host also has some theatrical tulips to showcase this week. I hope that everyone has a great weekend, and that the weather warms up round these parts. I now need to call a man about some chickens, for the time has come to welcome our feathered friends back into the garden: watch this space.

Six on Saturday: 10 April 2021

Plans for a leisurely Easter break pottering about the garden were stymied by the fickle weather. Snow only looks pretty when there isn’t gardening to be done, and I was most disappointed to see the garden on Wednesday looking like this:

The delicate spring blossoms were all smothered in snow, although the viburnum did carry it off rather jauntily:

Thankfully, the snowy interlude was a brief one, and by Thursday afternoon all was green and abundant in leaf and bud again. The roses are filling out with their fresh new foliage, geraniums are appearing where I’d forgotten I had any, and forget-me-nots are asserting that spring really is in full swing. Let’s dip into Six on Saturday:

1 Gardening for Bumblebees. Afternoon tea in the garden with a good book, one day after the snowy interruption. This delightful book, ‘a practical guide to creating a paradise for pollinators’, is filled with beautiful photographs, useful identification charts and an interesting classification of the best plants for pollinators. Different flower shapes suit short-tongued or long-tongued bees, while as Charles Darwin discovered, some clever bees simply make a hole in the side of the flower to access nectar. I’ve already started chasing bumblebees around to try to identify if they are Buff-tailed or Early Bumblebees, and I’ve noticed Queens scanning the ground for suitable nest sites.

2 Forget-me-nots (Myosotis, which endearingly translates as mouse’s ear in Ancient Greek). Here they surround a much-prized Honesty, which was sowed as a seed back in August last year, planted out in the autumn and is now almost at the point of flowering. Quite thrilling. It’s a damp and cloudy morning, so the anemone blanda have not deigned to open their flowers.

3 Iris. It’s always surprising when a strappy leaf suddenly becomes a flower bud, and even more exciting when you’re not quite sure what colour it is or how it’s going to turn out. Irises are new to me, and were acquired as part of a local plant-swap last summer. They’re in a hot spot at the front gate, somewhat nibbled but the bud is perfection itself.

4 Narcissi in pots. There comes a point at which defeat has to be conceded. My narcissi in pots were all a total disaster this year. I think that the hard Siberian freeze in February did for them: as you can see, the growing tips were scorched, and the buds shrivelled up and died. Am not sure what to do with them now – plant them out and hope they restore themselves for next year, or tip them onto the compost heap? Has such a calamity befallen anyone else growing narcissi in pots?

5 Rosemary cuttings. Let’s quickly move on to something more positive. The rosemary cuttings have rooted well, despite earlier appearances to the contrary, and have now been potted up into fresh compost, so am hoping they put on some decent leaves now. Just as well I have these, as the predations of the rosemary beetles on my established plants continue, and I caught two of them in flagrante making the next generation earlier. I had to leave them to it, some things are sacred, but will return to place them onto the bird table later.

6 Violas. There are quite a few things coming into flower now: the Pieris, the first geraniums, pulmonarias, wallflowers, and the tulips are almost there. I’m going to give the sixth slot this week to these perky little violas, perched up in a pot on the back wall. They deserve the prize for both effort and achievement, as they’ve been performing superbly for weeks without flagging.

As I’m writing this, am listening to the radio (BBC), which is replete with tributes to the Duke of Edinburgh. What an interesting life, from his stateless beginnings to his role as support to the Queen and champion of many causes. I would like to salute his work promoting environmental causes and conservation long before it became fashionable.

“We depend on being part of the web of life, we depend on every other living thing on this planet, just as much as they depend on us”, he once said.

“If we as humans have got this power of life and death, not just life and death but extinction and survival, we ought to exercise it with some sort of moral sense. Why make something extinct if we don’t have to?”. As I read my book on bumblebees, sadly noting that three species in the UK have become extinct, these words resonate more than ever.

I wonder how many other Six-on-Saturday bloggers from different corners of the globe will mention the late Prince? There’s only one way to find out: have a look at the posts on the Propagator’s page. Have a lovely weekend and thanks for reading!

Annuals or Perennials? Can’t we have both?

Calendula flowering in July

In researching an article on annuals for a gardening newsletter (while it snows outside), I came across this startling quote:

“An annual is a plant that lives and dies in one growing season. A perennial regrows and reblooms year after year. In our busy world, why plant anything but perennials?


– Jeanette Marantos, The Los Angeles Times, 28 Feb. 2020 – quoted on merriam-webster.com

Now this is a position I find it hard to get my head around. We could start by throwing back this: in our busy world, why plant anything at all? For me, the whole point about gardening is that it is an escape from ‘our busy world’, not just another task to be fitted into it. Has anyone read one of those self-help books about how to bulldoze your way through your to-do list in half the time and at double the efficiency, while simultaneously getting your hair done and paying your gas bill? If efficiency were the goal of gardening, would we end up with a garden? I think not.

Phacelia growing in a pot

Philosophical quandaries aside, I decided to think up as many reasons as I could to encourage readers to try annuals. Here is my list so far – do let me know if you can think of some more:

  • Annuals grow fast and perform well in the only year they have, whereas perennials can often take two, three or more years to look good.
  • Annuals often flower for many months rather than just a few short weeks, especially if you deadhead them regularly (remove the spent blooms so fresh ones grow in their place).
  • Annuals are often cheap and easy to grow from seed, and many can be sown directly into the ground with minimum fuss.
  • They are great gap-fillers, while you wait for other plants to get established, or perhaps until you decide on how you want to plant up an area more permanently.
  • They can be used to attract pollinators such as bees, butterflies and hover flies to your garden, and are invaluable for growing alongside veg for this reason.
  • They can add quick colour to pots on terraces, balconies, window boxes and hanging baskets.
  • While annuals might only live for one year, their babies might come back the next year if you let them self-seed freely.
Alyssum growing happily in an awkward dry spot, flowering all summer long

So I would be bereft without my annuals. One of my favourite sights in the garden is to see the cheerful jostling of calendulas and nasturtiums in the veg bed, creating a long-lasting riot of colour and bringing in the bees, butterflies and hover flies.

Veg bed summer exuberance

I have featured some photos here of just a few of the annuals I like to grow, and I wouldn’t be without them. Do you have a favourite annual that you always grow?

Six on Saturday 03 Apr 2021 – Happy Easter

Spring in a good mood: neighbours’ cherry blossom and Magnolia

Oh what a capricious time of year, as spring toys with us, flitting cruelly between a glorious taste of summer and the slap of a ten degree drop in temperature and the threat of snow next week. Today, we’re being slapped, but for the past week, we basked in the magnificent sunshine. Mind you, I did not sit on my laurels, I was busy as a bee, merrily ticking a few things off the gardening to-do list, and occasionally just stopping to marvel at the lovely things growing all around.

1 Bramble support. One big job ticked off the list. Our savage bramble, which redeems itself with the tastiest blackberries for what is probably my favourite jam, has been tamed for now, with a trellis frame. Order has been temporarily restored.

2 Tomatoes. I can not believe the rate at which these are growing. They seem to like their sunny windowsill very much. I have far too many: currently 7 cherry toms Miel de Mexique, 7 Davis all-rounders, and 5 beefsteak Portuguese. The Nostalgic Gardener has become The Generous Gardener, dolling out tomatoes to Irish neighbours and Swedish friends, and soon others from a panoply of international and Belgian residents will find themselves the recipients of green gifts.

3 Dahlia potting up. The upside of early school closures in Belgium is that I had my son on hand to help pot up the Dahlia tubers. It’s great to have a garden helper and it made the job fun and efficient: we set up a little assembly line, with my son putting the tubers in and filling with compost, and with me labelling and watering, it was all done in a flash. There are now fifteen pots – some were squeezed into the greenhouse, and these others are sitting it out against the back wall and will need to be moved into the shed when we get slapped with that threat of snow.

4 Viburnum carlesii. Onto the pretty stuff. A few days apart, photo one shows those pink buds about to burst, and then ta-daa! the tiny flowers appear daintily, and the garden is completely flooded with sweet scent on a sunny afternoon. Another name for this lovely, elegant shrub is Koreanspice Viburnum, and there is an exotic spiciness along with the intense sweetness to the perfume. When this comes into flower, it’s one of those wow moments in the garden.

5 Clematis armandii with Japanese quince. This is the clematis’ fourth week in flower, and as well as looking good, it’s combining with the quince to give the bees both a first course and mains. They are buzzing around this area non-stop. I tried to photograph them without much luck, so you’ll just have to enjoy the flowers.

Spot the bee tucking in?

6 Ferns unfurling. What, we’re at six already? Alright then, the final slot goes to the little aliens in found in conversation.

Tomorrow these little creatures may clasp a chocolate Easter egg between them, as I think a garden Easter egg hunt is in order. There may be more Easter surprises to discover on the Six on Saturday page hosted by The Propagator and enjoyed by many a gardening bunny. So it remains for me to wish you all a Happy Easter, Joyeuses Pâques, Prettig Paasfeest, may the Easter bunny be generous to you, whether in the form of tomato plants from an overly-enthusiastic gardener, or just lots of chocolate, preferably of the Belgian variety – it’s the best in the world, you know.

Six on Saturday: 27 March 2021

It’s Six on Saturday time, the virtual garden tour hosted by The Propagator and his growing (hee, hee) band of followers. Isn’t his Prunus incisa ‘kojo no mai’, featured today, absolutely gorgeous? There’s lots going on at this time of year, and I’ve also got a spring newsletter to send out to my Gardening in Belgium group this morning, so let’s dive straight in:

1 Hyacinth ‘Woodstock’. I find this dusky shade of purple – the colour of my favourite childhood juice Ribena, made from blackcurrants – quite fetching, and it’s surprisingly un-hyacinth-like in form, as the blooms are usually much denser. The tips got frost damaged as you can see. I’ve never grown hyacinth before, I think it would look good with primroses and maybe some muscari in the hopefully trumpet-vine-free glade (more on that later).

Hyacinth ‘Woodstock’

2 Malus ‘Evereste’. A new tree! It was a tough decision, choosing between all the possibilities, but I finally opted for a lovely crab apple. They say it’s one of the best trees for wildlife in the garden, and it has a long season of interest, also important in a small garden. This variety was created by a French governmental institution dedicated to agricultural and horticultural research in the 1970’s, hence it’s Everste with an ‘e’ at the end. It was dug out of a beautiful tree nursery for me, bare root, and I planted it that very afternoon near the glade, to connect up with the neighbour’s larger trees just the other side of the wall. I’ve underplanted with my two hellebores and some transplanted primroses, more of which will be added when I have a moment.

Malus ‘Evereste’

3 Acer palmatum ‘Katsura’ and ‘Amagi shigure’. After selecting my crab apple, I had a little wander round the tree nursery, which was huge and had all sorts of wonderful shrubs too. I couldn’t resist either of these for the glade. Katsura has interesting spring foliage, and Amagi shigure is a new Japanese cultivar that is bright pinky-red. I think that Japanese acers have such elegance. I can see them working well with some heucheras, ferns and carex, all of which I have, so it’s just a question now of rescuing the glade from its muddy upheavals, moving a buddleia and getting creative.

4 Potatoes. It was a comment by French blogger Fred on a post by Irish blogger Padraig that gave me the idea to try growing potatoes in a bin. Such is the ease of learning from other Six on Saturday participants: thank you. This bin has no bottom, so I added a layer of horse manure and a layer of compost, then four King Edward potatoes, then more compost. Earthing up will be easy, just add more compost. The remaining potatoes have been planted in re-purposed old compost bags, with holes added for drainage, aesthetically challenging, but I want to keep space in the main veg bed for other things.

5 Seeds. It’s around this time of year that I get a bit anxious about sowing seeds, after the initial euphorbia of those first peppers and tomatoes has worth off, and the realisation dawns of just how many seed packets I ordered during winter’s day-dreams of summer glory. It’s like the feeling you get after over-indulging in an all-you-can-eat-buffet. Now it’s an all-you-can-sow-race-against-time and something of a logistical challenge to get these seeds going. So far, I’ve managed some lettuces, carrots, broccoli, broad beans, calendulas, nasturtiums, cosmos, coreopsis, larkspur and now, miraculously, more cleome have germinated too.

Lettuces germinating in the mini green house outside

6 Osmanthus x burkwoodii. “An evergreen saved from ignominy by by pure heads of sweetly fragrant white flowers in mid spring – good at lighting up a semi-shady corner behind ferns or glimmering white narcissi” says Val Bourne, a garden writer. It’s true that this in not my most exciting shrub, but it smells divine right now, and it’s no trouble at all. Can’t complain!

I’m adding a PS. My ongoing battle with the trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) has been the most tiring and tiresome of garden jobs this week (actually there are two of them, one monster isn’t enough). The beast has insinuated itself into most of my glade, and after much tracing and digging up of roots, this was the result:

Make of that what you will: murder or manslaughter, on the grounds of diminished responsibility, you decide. In my defence, these are testing times, and getting testier as Belgium tightens Covid-19 measures today (schools are shut, shops are shut, you can see fewer people). One trumpet vine remains, for now.

The remaining trumpet vine is next to the spade against the wall, but for how much longer?

That’s all this week, I suppose I’ll be sowing more seeds. If you’re in Europe, enjoy the extra hour of evening daylight as the clocks go forward this weekend – the icing on the cake is that in Belgium we’re promised warm weather next week too. The good times are coming!

Six on Saturday: 20 March 2021

Strange to think that this time last year, we were in our first lockdown in Belgium. Strange too that I have pleasant memories of it: glorious spring weather, afternoon tea in the garden, our first chickens to fuss over and tut-tut indulgently as they sampled my plants in an all-you-can-eat buffet, commuting time freed up to do more gardening…all enjoyable, but the wider context less so. Now, it’s different: though not in lockdown, I am getting itchy feet, and will really miss our usual Easter visit to Blighty. Luckily, the garden distracts and beguiles, with unfurling of leaf and fullness of bud, and Six on Saturday gives the perfect excuse to indulge in some gardening mindfulness.

1 Daffodils. There’s no doubt now that spring is here.

2 Anemone blanda. I rather cruelly dismissed these a couple of weeks ago as under-performers, but since then more have popped up and are still appearing, looking happy with the daffodils alongside the front path. We finally had some glorious sunshine yesterday, so they were posing for the camera. Forget-me-nots all around them will be next in line.

3 Peas ‘Douce de Provence’ have germinated well and I think I’ll put them in the raised veg bed soon. I could have put them directly in the ground, but I like to keep an eye on them in the early stages, as this minimises losses from slugs, which have a particularly voracious appetite at this time of year. I’ll do a second sowing in a few weeks, we love peas.

4 Rosemary. Now a less edifying sight. Despite temperatures of -11 degrees C this winter, the rosemary beetles are clearly alive and well, and have been feasting on my rosemary. Why these southern European visitors are thriving after such cold temperatures is a bit of a mystery: all the southern Europeans I know struggle to get through a cold Belgian winter. I pick them off whenever I see their shiny metallic coats, which you can see on a post from December, but the grey grubs are harder to spot. I did take rosemary cuttings, but they don’t look so alive either. Has anyone else had trouble with these bugs?

5 Trees. I love the moment at which they are about to burst into new life. Soon, when it’s warm enough to do some morning exercises on the terrace, I’ll be looking up into their leafy canopy. Now, let me be honest, they do create an awful lot of mess for me – lime trees and hornbeam deposit much in the way of stuff and stickiness on the decking – but I wouldn’t be without them, and neither would the birds, squirrels and other creatures that enjoy them.

6 Clematis armandii ‘Apple Blossom’. I promised to feature this climber again, and here it is being fully appreciated by the bees. This baby is my star performer right now, don’t be surprised if she makes an appearance again next week!

These sunny pictures belie the reality of what was quite a soggy week, which meant that I didn’t get out into that garden as much I should have. Instead, I potted on my tomatoes and wrote about why I enjoy growing them so much, and I avoided the dreaded trench digging task of Operation Control Trumpet Vine, mentioned last week. I will have to get to that, but first I’ve got a date in a muddy Flemish field this afternoon, to dig out horse-manure from what sounds like a very large pile of the stuff. I’m doing it for the roses! I had better get my wellies out. You’ll find other marvellous contributions to The Propagator’s Six on Saturday weekly gardening fest on his site, so do visit to see what everyone is up to. Have a lovely weekend one and all!

The comforting rituals of growing tomatoes

Last summer’s harvest: Davis tomatoes with yellow courgettes

I love growing all kinds of veg, from the humble radish to the stately sweetcorn, but for me there is always something special about tomatoes. While it’s only recently that I’ve had the opportunity to grow a wider array of vegetables, I’ve been growing tomatoes since we bought our first shared-garden flat in south London in my mid 20’s, and it would now be an impoverished summer indeed with home-grown toms.

Who, after all, doesn’t like tomatoes? And who, given the choice, would choose an imported, cold and watery one wrapped in plastic on a supermarket shelf over a warm, sun-ripened jewel-like beauty growing in your own garden (or balcony)?

Cherry tomato ‘Miel de Mexique’ growing against the wall

They’re incredibly versatile and easy to fit in around everything else. I used to grow them in black plastic pots up the concrete steps leading down into our little garden. I still grow some of them in plastic pots, but these days it’s against a warm, sunny wall. Others go into the ground, or scramble up the framework of those mini-plastic greenhouses.

Portuguese beef tomatoes growing in the veg bed, supported by chestnut fencing and sticks

I love the ritualistic nature of growing them most of all. Firstly, selecting varieties from the enormous choice out there. This year, it was easy. I chose the same three varieties I grew last year, because they were all so good. A Portuguese beef tomato, given to me as seedlings last year by neighbours, who bought the seed in Portugal. Then a dependable all-rounder with with a boring name but perfect plum-shaped fruits and good disease resistance, Davis UC-82, and finally, a sweet, juicy and prolific cherry tomato, Miel du Mexique (Mexican Honey – a variety that copes with some drought).

Then comes the sowing stage. They are some of the earliest seeds to be sown, in dismal, dark mid February, when the thrill of handling seed and soil is like a shot of horticultural Prozac.

The first signs of life on a dark mid-February morning
These LED lights are fantastic for helping along seedlings

Then come all the stages in between. The germination – helped with a bit of warmth from one of those plug-in heat mats also enjoyed by geckos, and this year, with assistance from LED plant lights, which I wholeheartedly recommend as a cure for leggy seedlings, but which are a luxury, not a necessity. Then, potting on, which I am getting on with now, as each seedling is carefully transferred to its very own little nine inch pot.

The first potted on tomatoes this year

Then, in May, the planting out, into big pots or into the raised veg bed. Regular watering begins now too, daily if the weather is hot, and once the fruit set, feeding with tomato feed every couple of weeks – these are hungry plants and need the extra TLC. The staking and tying in of course accompany this stage – neglect this to your peril, as your tomatoes will flop to the ground and often break their stems with the weight of the fruit.

Lots of support is essential to stop flopping over – a bit haphazard here!

Then comes one of my favourite tomato-growing rituals, the pinching out (for the cordon varieties only – if you’re not keen on this, the bush varieties are lower-maintenance). It was my late father-in-law, an enthusiastic tomato grower, who first showed me how to pinch out the side shoots so that the plant’s energy goes up into the central stem’s fruit trusses. Do this in the morning, when the stems are firmer, and enjoy the satisfaction of it.

Then, as the fruit set, there’s the waiting stage, which feels interminable, and you wonder if those green tomatoes will ever turn red. One day, miraculously they do, and that’s a great day.

Then, you wonder, what happens when you have too many tomatoes? No such thing! They go with virtually everything, and if you get a glut, just roast them in the oven with herbs and garlic, and whizz into a sauce that you can then freeze.

A tomato-based supper: lasagne and salad

So, tomato growing requires faith, hope, dedication and service. The rituals nourish the believer, and give the faithful flock of growers a sense of purpose and fulfilment. So, worship, yee faithful, at the altar of tomato growing: it can only be good for your soul!

Six on Saturday: 13 March 2021

Our twig supply has increased greatly thanks to the windy weather we’ve been having. Earlier this week, I audaciously went for a very breezy bike ride in the forest (wearing a helmet) – anything for a thrill these days, right? As the wind got up, I was caught in one of those flurries of leaves that race around with the frenzy of school children let out for break when the bell sounds.

Reckless behaviour aside, it’s been sedate on the gardening front, with two exceptions: we finally pruned the big apple tree, which always feels a little dangerous: OH up the big ladder, me climbing into the branches (my Dad was a mountain climber, but it’s easier to get up than to get down). The other excitement was the arrival of a beautifully packaged box of bare-root perennials from Farmer Gracy, which supplies Europe from the Netherlands. So here we go, it’s six on Saturday time:

1 Clematis armandii ‘Apple Blosson’ is just bursting with buds, I’ll have to show you this one again next week. First flowers have just sprung from all that amazing potential, shown in my first photo above.

2 Chaenomeles japonica. The Japanese quince had been earmarked for the chop, but it got a reprieve and seems to begging for mercy. I may be merciful. It flowers bountifully, and the bees enjoy it.

3 Forsythia. This one is on borrowed time. For me, it’s the suburban shrub extraordinaire, we had one in our garden in south London, and we have one here. I didn’t plant either one. When you get up to the flowers nice and close, they are quite pretty. Step back, though, and it’s just a bit messy, and as for the rest of the year, it does little to justify itself.

Pretty up close
Nothing special from a distance. Spot the robin playing peekaboo?

4 Helloborus x hybridus. From the ordinary to the sublime, I couldn’t resist including these again, this time photographed in their place of residence chez moi.

5 Bare-root perennials. I ordered some geraniums, Geranium phaeum ‘Springtime’ and Geranium bohemicum ‘Brookside’, because frankly you can never have too many Geraniums. Also Echinacea ‘Fatal Attraction’, and some Gladiolus byzantinus corms, which flowers in a fabulous magenta shade. The Geraniums have been potted up for now.

6 Tulips in pots. There were quite a few contenders for slot number six this week, especially as my daffodils are just coming into flower, but I feel most excited about the nine pots of tulips here. The great news is that even the Aladdin tulip bulbs, that had looked a bit dodgy and slightly mouldy at planting time, are in fine fettle. All the pots have been washed and positioned in front of the Cyprus hedge, on the mulch, facing Fort Knox cat protection system.

Depending on the weather, I may or may not finish digging a trench this weekend to make one last attempt at controlling the trumpet vine, which has travelled way beyond its limit on the wall and last year sent up suckers all over the place, I even found it climbing up into my clematis on an arbour several metres away. In the photo here you can see those blasted roots, which I’m going to try to trace and remove, then create a trench and line it with large ceramic tiles that are sitting in the shed.

Trench warfare

Well, wish me luck with that! And do visit The Propagator’s site for more Six on Saturday contributions, and if you like gardening, join in the fun. Have a wonderful weekend, thanks for reading and see you again soon.

The only way to choose a tree

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Harry’

For a long time now, I’ve been umming and ahhing and being generally indecisive about getting a new tree for the garden. Regulars will know that I don’t have a big garden, it’s a medium-sized town garden but with a woodland/country feel to it. We live in an area known affectionately as ‘la campagne en ville’ – the countryside in town – and we are lucky to have a whole forest of trees nearby, and lots of trees in the neighbourhood.

Magnolia ‘lolanthe’ buds

I’m still aching for another tree though. One option swimming around my head is a witch hazel. I saw several of them in full flowering splendour at Kreftenbroeck arboretum, a privately owned garden in the Belgian province of Flemish Brabant, which I visited one Sunday in early March. The trees were stunning against a bright blue sky, and I’m enjoying thinking about that right now as today has been grey and cold.

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Moonlight’

The arboretum had a wonderful collection of witch hazels, mainly Hamamelis intermedia, which were grouped together along a secluded pathway that straddled the valley site. I would have missed them entirely, if I hadn’t caught a flash of colour and made my way up the hill to investigate.

A woodland pathway edged with Hamamelis at Kreftenbroeck

One thing that struck me about these trees is that while they are not large or tall, they are wide and spreading. Look how the branches expand outwards and even arch over the pathway. Although they are known to be slow growers, it is clear that they need space to expand and not be crowded out by others.

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘August Lamken’

At their most pretty against a blue sky, they need that backdrop for their flowers to stand out. This made me realise, that stunning as they are, they weren’t going to be right for my garden. The site I have in mind is enclosed on two sides by a wall, covered in climbers, and has the neighbour’s mature trees overhanging it. The space wouldn’t be wide enough, nor the sky expansive enough.

Sharp yet curvaceous beech hedging

This didn’t mean that there weren’t plenty of other ideas from Kreftenbroeck that could be applied even on a small scale. Look at the wonderful structure this curved beech hedge adds, enhancing the natural contours of the hill. Sharp hedging is a big thing in Belgian gardens, and it adds so much structure and interest when designed imaginatively.

Yew clipped to perfection to make an intriguing arch, softened by more organic shapes at ground level

The usefulness and practicality of wood, as well as its beauty, were nicely demonstrated in this unusual bench.

And finally, here’s an idea to hide an ugly or dead patch in a hedge. Clever, isn’t it?

Making the most of a gap in the hedge

So the lesson I learnt from those beautiful witch hazels was to always see a tree growing at its best, in maturity, before making that all important decision. Perhaps a crab apple then…