Six on Saturday: 14 Nov 2020

Feels like it’s been a long week, am probably getting lock-down fatigue. Work has been slow, with a lot of student cancellations this week, my son is still not back at school after the half term break, to be honest even the cat is getting on my nerves, following me around from room to room and being ever present. I have managed to do a few productive, redeeming things, including getting my Christmas cards printed, using a sketch I made of a robin last week, and I’ve been taking out my frustration on the new bed, which now is almost ready for the bulb planting stage. Better get on with that while the weather is still mild!

Here are my 6 highlights this week. Thanks to The Propagator for hosting, check out his site for more contributions!

1 Helleborus Argutifolius. The Corsican hellebore has just opened its first apple-green flowers, although we’re still a long way from January, when it’s supposed to flower. I think this is a trend a lot of gardeners are seeing this year – things are flowering on into autumn for longer, and the winter performers are turning up surprisingly early. I do like this hellebore, with its healthy, interesting foliage all year round, and its ability to thrive in tough conditions without complaint.

The Hellebore in the glade, with Fuchsia magellanica, Geranium, Viburnum and a Japanese Quince against the wall, plus some shouldn’t-be-there Trumpet Vine suckers.

2 Shasta Daisies. Who would have thought it, fresh as a daisy in mid-November? They are flopping about languidly along my front path, and some are a bit ragged, but they seem keen to keep on going. I did remember to deadhead them this year, so that might have helped.

Leucanthemum still quite perky, with Euphorbia characias ‘Silver Edge’
Scruffy yet enthusiastic Shasta daisies

3 Rose Hips. These need a perfectly bright blue sky to look their best, and luckily that’s just what we had one bright mid-week morning. I haven’t collected them to make cough syrup, as a couple of readers suggested, because they are too pretty to take down. I did get some very strange looks from my neighbour as I was trying to photograph them (not very successfully, I kept getting entangled in the bramble under the rose).

4 Copper and silver/white. We have a lot of beech around the place – a beech hedge along one end of the garden, a neighbour has a beech tree, and there’s an entire forest of beech at the bottom of the hill. Hence I have a ready-made copper mulch, and this makes a pleasing contrast with silvery foliage plants at this time of year. Here we have Carex ‘Everest’ and Pulmonaria, along the front path, and Cyclamen hederifolium in the back garden glade. It would be nice to add some Cyclamen coum here along the front path to pop up between the tussocks.

5 More leaves. Leaf clearance in this essentially woodland garden is a regular and at times seemingly thankless task. Nonetheless, it can also be quite zen, and I spent a pleasant hour raking the lawn one grey yet mild afternoon, while I set my still-not-back-at-school-son to clearing the terrace/decking area. This meant that for about ten minutes, things looked remarkably neat! There’s also some satisfaction in thinking of the leaves as a harvest, in the form of lead mold, which I have got serious about this year, with a new and improved leaf mold collection space at the bottom of the garden. There will be plenty more leaves to go in; as you can see from the photo, the Lime trees have yet to shed, yikes.

Tidy, for a moment!

6 Hosta. This is the last I’ll be seeing of my hostas for this year. They are all in pots now, as I see no point in putting them out in the ground as slug food. Here is one with a bronze Carex. The ornate Italian terracotta pot is a present from my hubbie. I hope nothing has to be taken out, as its got a wide belly and narrow top, but practicality aside, it’s nice to have a good pot or two on the terrace.

Oh, and a bonus number, here’s the robin sketch that will feature on my Christmas cards this year…

Six on Saturday: 7 November 2020

Hello everyone, I’m back for another SOS, slightly late in the day but I have a good excuse: I was out gardening! Also having a glass of Champagne to celebrate a certain world event that could mean that one good thing did happen in 2020. Anyway, it’s been perfect gardening weather in Brussels: mild, clear skies, and the earth is damp enough to crumble nicely between my fingers without being sodden or frozen. This means it’s been good timing for preparing the new bed mentioned last week – I’ve broken up the clods and I’ve also divided a Geum ‘Scarlet Tempest’ and an orange Oriental Poppy and popped these divisions in. Maybe I won’t need to buy any new plants after all. Sticking to my colour theme so far. Next up will be the bulb planting.

Here are my six highlights for this week:

1 Trees. These dominate both our garden and the view from our house on the hill, with a long band of mature trees stretching down to meet the forest. They give this place its personality and its sense of serenity (despite being in a capital city). They also mean that I could potentially go into business producing leaf mould.

Lime, Hornbeam and European Oak overhang the walled corner of the garden
A more easterly view, with the contorted outline of a Rowan, a very elegant tree
Directly facing east, the band of trees sweeps down the hill and eventually meets the forest. This marks the south-easterly edge of Brussels.

2 Viburnum and Miscanthus. A nice pair at this time of year.

These two look great together in the morning sunshine

3 Trumpet vine seed pods. This climber is so lovely when it in flower in the summer, but it also produces interesting seed pods as the leaves turn buttery yellow and fall. If only it wasn’t such a monster. It sends out suckers up to six metres away from its base, and I have a hard time controlling them. I’m not surprised it’s considered an invasive species in some parts of the world. These seed pods will certainly not be allowed to do their job.

Trumpet vine

4 Viburnum carlesii. This one turns fiery before dropping its leaves, and has strongly scented pompoms of white flowers in the spring. In this photo you can see the flower buds, which transform into tightly packed dark pink balls before opening up. Photos next spring!

5 Silver. The foliage on this Buddleja davidii ‘Black Knight’, in its first year here, is turning a fabulous shade of silver. It is putting on a lot of new growth, and I wonder whether I should cut it back down to the ground in early spring, as the official advice goes, or leave it until its second year?

6 Grape Vine. I felt it should have some official recognition here, as it has the best year ever, with a bumper harvest of red grapes, from which I made jugs and jugs of grape juice, and many pots of red grape jelly. Thank you grape vine. Just in front, you can probably spot Rosa ‘The Pilgrim’, still throwing out buds, when will it ever stop?

That’s it for this Saturday. I hope everyone is managing OK with the various lockdowns around the world, and that your gardens are giving you pleasure and hope. Don’t forget to check out other Six on Saturday contributions over at The Propagator’s blog. Till next time.

Earthy tones: in a vase on Monday

My dahlias are on borrowed time now, so I saved a couple from the wild, wet weather, and added the richly scented Viburnum farreri to this earthy tones arrangement. As mentioned in a previous post for Six on Saturday, this shrub is down by my compost heap so it seemed like I should do it the favour of more sustained attention! The scent is wonderfully sweet, but the flowers drop off very quickly indoors, so it’s a question of enjoying it for an evening. The terracotta figures of Anthony Gormley’s Field for the British Isles are just visible on the print above, they are looking on intently.

There are also a couple of orange rose hips, some Pennisetum sprigs and a few Continus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ leaves. Thanks to Cathy for the idea of In a Vase on Monday.

Six on Saturday: 31 October 2020

I’m back for another six! Thoroughly enjoyed my first foray last week into the gardening blogging sensation that is Six on Saturday, hosted by the Propagator. Thinking about what to feature here and running out to take photos when the light is good between English classes is either i) a sign of an obsession gone too far or ii) a very welcome distraction from Covid gloom, impending lockdown and the cancellation of most of my extracurricular activities. Gardening, what would we do without you?

1 Cotinus coggygria. This week the star turn has to go to my Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’, which is bringing zing to the garden with her terracotta tones. If I was a genious garden designer, I would have deliberately chosen this super plant to reflect the old brick with its blotches of purple and warm earthy colours on my house wall, but really this is a happy coincidence.

2 Strawberry. The runner up for autumn colour is this astonishing strawberry, which seems to think it is a Japanese Acer or something. It’s the only one of my strawberries that is having an autumnal fling, the others are all a pedestrian but sensible dark green.

A strawberry with personality

3 Hollyhock. Onto something with more subtlety. This paper-thin, almost translucent flower had flopped onto my gravel front path after a wet night. A gift from the skies, this plant first turned up last year in my veg patch, and I moved it to the front path, which has a cottage garden vibe. Of course the expensive dark flowered hollyhocks that I bought from a garden fair a year and a half ago were a dismal failure, and just produced lots of growth but no flowers (I assume because my clay soil is too fertile for them), so I am grateful for the effortless flowers on this one.

Hollyhock

4 Shield bugs. I was removing some black-spot ridden leaves from a climbing rose and disturbed a group of shield bugs huddling together for warmth and shelter. When I first saw these heraldic beasties after moving to this house and garden about three and a half years ago, I didn’t know if they were friend or foe. Turns out they are totally harmless, and feed off the debris we get from the overhanging lime trees. I find their war-markings absolutely amazing, surely somebody painted them on?

5 Champagne feeder. Upcycling time! I got my hubby to create a roof made from the lid of a champagne box for this planter-turned-bird feeder. I hope that this works for the little birds that can fit through the metal squares. The aim is to keep the parakeets off (we have a colony that visits from time to time, they totally hog the feeders).

The new bird feeder

6 Planning a new border. When we moved in here, the garden was all laid to lawn with some occasional shrubs and just one east-facing border adjoining the side of the house. I haven’t stopped lifting turf since then, albeit in small bite-size sections. The latest move is to dig up this west-facing section, that gets a good amount of afternoon sun. I want to get Tulip ‘Barcelona’ (fuschia/purple blooms) and Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ planted in here soon, and build it up from there. I aim to focus on purple, magenta, silver and pops of warm orange – purple Salvias, warm-toned Day Lilies, silvery Helichrysum, magenta Nicotiana…some ideas. Let’s see if I have the self-discipline to stick to a colour theme!

Border in the making

So there are my six, I hope we get some good weather for getting out into the garden, this morning already looks promising with a clear pale blue sky here in Brussels. A walk in the woods is next. Check out The Propagator’s SOS page for more inspiration. Enjoy your day everyone and see you for another Six on Saturday next week.

Six on Saturday: 24 Oct 2020

I’m joining the online blogging community this week with “Six on Saturday”, the idea of a clever gardening blogger known as The Propagator, where we all highlight six things in the garden. Gosh, am finding it hard to restrict myself to six! Here is a link to The Propagator’s six by the way: https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2020/10/24/six-on-saturday-24-10-2020/

1 Grasses in autumnal sunlight. One of the highlights of this season for me. To be honest, we haven’t seen much of the sun this last week, but I took this photo as I was going out for an early morning bike ride in the forest, before the drizzle set in. The rays are highlighting my newbies in autumn pots: Heucherella ‘Sweet Tea’, Carex testacea ‘Prairy Fire’ and a little Gaultheria procumbens ‘Big Berry’. The sun is also illuminating the feathery fronds of a Miscanthus just in front of the pergola.

Morning light

2 Geranium x wallichianum ‘Hexham Velvet’. The colour of the flowers is more purple than pink, so the second photo is closer to what it really looks like. I like this low-spreading ground cover geranium, it has been flowering on and off for a long season in a semi-shaded spot in my front path border. The flowers have an attention-grabbing way of standing up proudly from the foliage, and I am happy with the slightly relaxed feel of the grouping (with Alchemilla and ferns).

Geranium wallichianum ‘Hexham Velvet’ with Alchemilla mollis and a fern.
Slightly fuzzy close-up, a contrast of purpley-pink and lime green from the Alchemilla flower

3 Heuchera ‘Caramel’. Back to my autumn pots, this one was picked out by my son at the garden centre. He isn’t massively enthused by gardening at the nonchalant age of 13, but when given free choice to take his pick of plants and create an ensemble, he gave me some useful artistic direction. I adore the colour combo of this Heuchera: buttery caramel leaves with pink undersides. We teamed it up with a fern, Dryoptreis atrata, that has fresh bright green foliage.

Heuchera ‘Caramel’

4 Viburnum Farreri. When we are blogging away in the future, maybe there will be a ‘release scent’ button which will allow you to be as surprised as I am every time I go to the compost heap with my kitchen scraps, and am hit with the dense sugary aroma of this Viburnum. It is flowering very early this year, well before the leaves have fallen. Sometimes described rather disparagingly as “an old fashioned shrub”, for most of the year it is totally unremarkable, but these tiny blooms really do pack a punch and make the regular trip to the compost heap quite pleasant!

Viburnum Farreri – I think!

5 Garlic. After relative success with shallots this summer, I was very enthusiastic about trying garlic in my little veg bed. Just one bulb of the variety Thermidrome – about 10 cloves – went into the ground in a right angle L planting pattern. The chicken wire is to stop our local foxes and cats availing themselves of the facilities. I must say it is nice to get that planting thrill this late in the year!

Garlic goes in

6 Winter Purslane. Also known as Miner’s Lettuce, or here in Belgium as Pourpier d’Hiver. The seed was sown in August, and we’re enjoying the fresh, mild leaves now. Annoyingly some little flies got into the mini greenhouse and are messing about with the leaves, and some are damaged and have odd brown spots, but there’s enough of the good stuff for a decent salad, excellent with a pumpkin quiche. Hoping to extend the cut and come again salads with an Asiatic seed mix I sowed this week – it’s late, I know, but am trying my luck.

Winter Purslane harvest
…and lunch featuring the Purslane

There are my Six on Saturday. This has been fun, I may become a regular Sixer. Have a great weekend everyone!

My monthly Fab Five: October

So, mid-October, there is a nip in the air, and the garden is dominated by the slow but steady leaf fall from our neighbours’ lime and hornbeam trees, which cover almost everything in about half of our back garden. Yes, they make a terrible mess and it’s a lot of work clearing them, so nowadays I have kind of given up on having a tidy garden, and I leave the leaves as a mulch on the borders. Human laziness, I tell myself, is good for the insects, grubs and worms, who will enjoy the cover and will work the rotting leaves into the soil, improving its texture.

I’m trying out a new format for my blog this month, here goes…

My monthly Fab Five: five fabulous things in the garden, month by month.

  1. Dahlias

I almost gave up on growing Dahlias last year – in other words, the slugs almost won. They really had a go at my plants, and those that remained didn’t flower so well. I realise now that the slug damage can be minimised by growing them in pots (and perhaps the chickens helped clear them earlier in the year), so I have got three large pots filled with Dahlia Bishop of Llandaff (bright scarlet), Dahlia Bishop’s Children (shades of red and orange, they are a seed strain from Bishop of Llandaff) and Dahlia Catherine Deneuve (a real sultry sunset orange-yellow beauty). I have also been kinder to them this year, keeping them well watered and feeding them with liquid tomato feed when I remember. They’ve paid me back by bringing a mood-lifting zing to a corner of my garden, near the front door of the house, and I am now an avid fan. Grow them, they will transform October for you.

Dahlia Bishop’s Children
Dahlia Bishop of Llandaff, with Lantana Camara in the foreground

2. Salvia ‘Hot Lips’

Slightly outrageous name, even more outrageous performance from this Salvia, which is sprawling all over the place by my front-of-house bed. Here she is caressing one of my little statues. We got these fellas from a local artist who exhibited in our garden as part of a local art event. Her sculptures looked so at home here that we decided to buy a couple and make them permanent features. Anyway, back to Hot Lips, she really is getting a bit out of bounds, but I’ll forgive her because she is putting on quite a show well into October, and all summer long too. She’ll get trimmed back in spring. I’m really getting into Salvias now, and am trying out some of the purple varieties (Salvia nemerosa Caradonna is a lovely one) in other bits of the garden, but these have pretty much finished flowering. For those who want to help the bees, Salvias have excellent nectar-rich flowers.

Salvia Hot Lips

3. Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’

This Japanese Hybrid Anemone had a slow couple of years, but this year she’s really coming into her stride. She’s also flowering her socks off long after her pink Anemone x hybrida sisters have given up. With the light levels really dropping off, she seems to shine out even more, and she’s in a part-shade east-facing border, which seems to suit her well. If you’ve got a shadier spot, I would really recommend this plant. I’ve paired her up with Geranium ‘Rozanne’, growing in front, which is also still flowering. You can also spot Pyracantha ‘Golden Charmer’ in a massive blue pot behind her, am hoping this will grow fast to cover the modern brick wall.

Anemone Honorine Jobert, with Geranium Rozanne

4. Beetroot and Spinach

No it’s not all over in the veg patch! The spinach and beetroot have survived their cross-country journey as seedlings (I sowed them in August at my Mum’s house in Kent, UK and brought them back to Belgium, miraculously they didn’t get squashed in our heavily over-packed car). They were transferred to the veg patch in early September and will be ready for harvesting young leaves from now on. I’ve also got chard growing alongside them, which is my go-to winter veg, it’s virtually indestructible and keeps on giving for months on end. And no, I don’t think it tastes horrible, why do people say that?! It’s perfect for a winter stew with butternut squash, lentils, carrots, you name it.

Young beetroot and spinach in the veg patch, plus a few self-seeded plants

5. Rose hips

No idea what variety this tall shrub rose is, but I do love its autumn hips. I’m not doing it justice with this photo, taken on a dull day, but wanted to include it in my Fab Five this month. It is a perfect fit for the shades of autumn. I haven’t tried using the hips for anything, but have heard that it can be made into rose hip tea, has anyone tried making that?

Well, there are my Fab Five for this month. If anyone fancies joining in with their monthly Fab Five – it can be anything you find fabulous in your garden at this time of year – then do join in or put your favourites in the comments section. Thanks for reading and have a fab gardening month!

Rose hips

Early autumn stars

It’s been raining heavily for days here, but this morning when the sun came out I could really see how the plants had benefited from a good and long-awaited drenching! They looked fresh and full of life, so I took some pics of my top performers right now. Here they are:

Rain then sunshine: a combo that is made for Alchemilla Mollis (Lady’s Mantle), a native of southern Europe. It’s worth having a few plants in your garden for this reason alone, as the leaves look like they are studded with jewels made of pure water! I recently learned that the name Alchemilla is from the Arabic, meaning magical or with the properties of alchemy (the prefix “Al” is the definitive article in Arabic, and a lot of English words that begin with Al are indeed of Arabic origin, including algebra, the Alhambra in Southern Spain, or the dreaded algorithm). In the Middle Ages, it was believed that the droplets of water collected from the plants in the early morning had healing and magical properties. If you look closely at my photo, you can see the hundreds of tiny hairs on the leaves that catch the drops and hold them in place. So, another amazing plant then.

The Japanese anemones add a freshness at this time of year, and look particularly good against the crisp autumn light of early morning. Mine are all in a border facing east, and they were suffering rather from the lack of rain earlier in the season, some even succumbing to mildew. The latest deluge has really refreshed them though, and there are plenty of new button-like buds reaching for the skies. I have the white variety, ‘Honorine Jobert’, which is from the Anemone hybrida group, as well as the traditional soft pink varieties, and a deeper, more intense pink which seems to have popped up of its own accord, and has proved very popular with the bees, so it must be richer in nectar than the others.

Still on the pink theme, my aster (can’t remember the variety) is just coming into bloom now. I always wait for this with anticipation, as it makes a wonderful show of daisy freshness, being quite large now, and reaching over a metre tall. In fact, it is getting very floppy, and hasn’t been looking that elegant, slumped over the lawn, so I have grabbed some spare chestnut fencing to keep it upright. This is why the flowers in my photo are all facing the wrong way, as they were previously trying to flower from lawn height! No doubt they will sort themselves out in a couple of days.

OK, now for some berries, of which I am a great fan. I absolutely adore the golden orange tones of this newly bought Pyracantha ‘Golden Charmer’. It’s perfect for the season, and it’s hopefully going to do a good job of covering a modern red brick wall, which I always thought looked odd as the rest of the house is a more mellow, aged brick. I’ve noticed that Pyracanthas grow really well here, and several houses in the area are densely covered in the cheerful orange, red or yellow berries. This plant also has a great name: from the Greek, “pyr” is fire and “akanthos” is thorn, hence the common name of Firethorn. It does indeed have killer thorns – that should keep the burglars away from my kitchen window! They are native to a wide region, from Southwest Europe to Southeast Asia, and they are a brilliant choice for wildlife friendly gardens, as the summer flowers are loved by bees, and birds enjoy the berries (if they dare come so close to the house to grab them, we shall see…).

Finally, some Skimmia japonica putting on a good show. I’ve acquired two little plants that are growing along the shadier side of my front path, next to a privet hedge. It’s quite a tough growing environment, as the soil is rather dry and a bit shallow here, but these are tough plants to I think they’ll do alright. Skimmia is another native of Japan and China, and here I’ve just got the female plants, as I wanted them for the berries. It will need pollinating by a male plant next year, so I will probably need to get one to be sure that it happens, even though to be honest I’m not so keen on their inflorescence, probably because I associate them with municipal parks and Tesco car parks!