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.

The horse, the goats and an outraged heron

“Something very odd is going on in that field. Will you take a look at that? Really, it’s hardly decent!”, thinks the young heron, watching the goings-on across the lake.

“Looks fairly normal to me, just a tranquil horse munching some grass…”, thinks the photographer.

“Hang on a second, are those goats? Goats and horses, do they mix? Well it seems they do, and as it happens everyone seems to be getting on just fine”, concludes the photographer.

“Well, you said fine, but you know, boys will be boys, and goats will be goats”, says the horse. It seems that there is a bit of competition for the attentions of a certain lady goat.

“It wasn’t me!”, says one male goat.

“Wasn’t me either!”, says the other male goat.

“Err, that’s not what I saw”, says the young and slightly outraged heron.

“Seen it all before. No big deal”, says the horse. “Think I’ll eat some more grass”.

“Well, spring is in the air”, thinks the photographer. “Wait a minute, we’re in December, we haven’t even had Christmas yet…very strange times we are living through”.

The Debonaire Great Blue Heron

It was a glorious afternoon at the forest lakes by Rouge Cloitre (the Augustinian Priory of Red Cloister, on the outskirts of Brussels). My friend the heron is often there, standing contemplative by the edge of the lake. On this day, he was sporting a nice spikey quiff, giving him a rather debonaire look.

He had positioned himself on a fallen branch, and had been preening himself. Those fluffy feathers at the very tip of his beak give it away.

This is his rather special home, a medieval priory nestled in the woods, surrounded by lakes. Like the medieval monks who once lived here, the heron is rather found of a spot of fishing, as well as some quiet contemplation of course.

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.

Silent Sunday: Cosy

I wonder how many others are sitting in front of their fires on this chilly evening in Northern Europe (or further afield, the blogging community is wonderfully global). Finding the fire mesmerising after another session of leaf clearance in the garden with help from my son, who is eager for more pocket money. There’s nothing like getting cold outdoors, watching the night draw in and then warming up in front of a fire in winter.

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.

Picasso’s Tree

So named because if you can spot the face on this tree, you will find only one eye, a misshapen nose and a turned down mouth. Can you see him? It’s hard to believe that some kids haven’t been carving shapes out with a knife, but I think it’s natural. The light is a bit gloomy, as this was taken just as the sun was going down in the forest this afternoon, but I think it suits the general gloominess of the expression and perhaps the general mood at this time of year, this year in particular.

It was good to get out on my bike, as I’d spent the morning doing tedious admin tasks, and the early afternoon coaching a very tired, run-down student. As usual, the forest was a great tonic, and shared with just a few hurried dog walkers and the odd dedicated jogger. I cycled up Dreve de Bonne Odeur (though I have never smelt anything in particular on this path other than the general foresty leafy odours). Another thing that stood out in the gloom was the silver birch trunks of these young trees, which contrast well I thought with the dark beech and the colours of the undergrowth. I haven’t got the kind of definition I would like on this image, but there are some good bands of colour.

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.