Six on Saturday: 31 July 2021: Save the insects!

A bumblebee enjoys the Oregano

It’s been a week of gusty winds and unsettled weather, but also of good-ish news: double-vaccinated EU residents are finally going to be allowed to travel to England without the need to quarantine, allowing families (like ours) to reunite. Except for anyone coming from or going through France to reach the shores of Albion, which we do. We’re told this is because there are cases of the beta variant of Covid-19 on Reunion, an island in the Indian Ocean which happens to be an overseas French territory. Now I know we’ve been fighting wars with the French for much of our history, and there’s a bit of a love-hate thing going on, with recent seismic events testing the love a little bit, but surely this is going trop loin?

I’ll leave you to ponder that and move on to the less testy and altogether more wholesome Six on Saturday, as hosted with aplomb every week by The Propagator. Here are my favourites this week:

1 Oregano. A great nectar-provider at this time of year, the bees have really been enjoying it, as have the cabbage white butterflies. We also enjoy it, especially in an omelette or with tomatoes (it’s a lot less fussy than basil).

2. Bee beetle (Trichius gallicus) on Leucanthemum. I’ve downloaded a new app to help me identify insects, and have found one that also logs observations on a website for scientific monitoring (for Belgian readers check out Waarnemingen). Given how much trouble insects are in, especially after the cold spring we had this year, and the effects of climate change on weather, this seems like a good idea. This sweet little beetle is apparently relatively common and a native species, though it’s the first time I’ve seen one.

3. Salvias. I’ve developed quite the little collection of these wonderful plants: they’re long-flowering, disease-resistant, aromatic, pretty and excellent nectar providers from summer through to autumn. British gardener Sarah Raven claims that if you plant these next to roses, the roses won’t suffer from blackspot. I’ve put a few near my roses to see what happens and will report back to you on the results, but even if it doesn’t work, these plants are useful to extend the interest of the shorter rose-flowering season and are great for insects. I couldn’t decide which to feature, so here’s a gallery of my favourites flowering now in the garden.

4. Aconitum henryi ‘Sparks Variety’. The intense blue of this aconite is quite compelling, I find. I had another aconite that flowered in the spring, which was less branching than this one and a touch lighter in colour, and had confused them: it seems I have somehow got two different varieties, not sure how that happened!

5 Hydrangea paniculata ‘Vanille Fraise’. It’s been a great year for the water-loving hydrangeas, after all they’ve had plenty of it! They are brimming with health and vigour, as this one demonstrates.

6 Vegetables. The first cucumber is about ready to pick, don’t you think? Last week I had to remove all the tomatoes because of blight, but the cucumber has really enjoyed this year’s humidity and is climbing up the wall as if it plans to go visit the neighbour. The sweetcorn is also looking promising, as are the Thai Red Dragon chilli peppers.

We’re off on holiday next week, so I might not be posting for a little while. I just hope the designated care-takers keep chickens, cat and seedlings of biennials and veg alive. Have a great weekend, may the weather be kind to you and hope to catch up with you again soon.

Notes from a soggy garden

It’s been raining, a lot, a deluge that just keeps on coming. Gardeners up and down the country have been complaining, somewhat bitterly, that growth is slow, seedlings are sulking, French beans aren’t germinating and slugs are thriving; but on the other hand, the plants themselves just go about their business: growing, flowering, preparing to reproduce.

Aquilegia vulgaris

The plants in the ‘cool shades’ east-facing border seem unperturbed by the wet, if anything they are revelling in it. The aquilegias are now at their prettiest. I was given the dark purple wild ones by a neighbour in a swap (she got tomatoes from me in return), and the white one was picked up on a quick visit to the garden centre. It sports fabulous spurs, and looks good with the Ostrich or Shuttlecock ferns in the background.

Aquilegia vulgaris ‘Alba’

The aconite has begun its mysterious unfurling. The tight new buds higher up the stem look like inscrutable little aliens, while the opened petals bring to mind their common name, Monk’s hood, although I like to think of them as deadly cloaked assassins, fleeing from the scene of their unspeakable crime. Aconite is a highly poisonous plant, so this role of assassin suits them.

Aconitum napellus ‘Spark’s variety’

Another dusky plant, Geranium phaeum ‘Springtime’ is a quiet character in the border, but its satin sheen gives it grace and allure, and this variety also has striking white and green marbled foliage.

Geranium phaeum ‘Springtime’

Alchemilla mollis is at its best when bejewelled by rain drops, although at this point only a couple remained. It’s growing at an astonishing rate daily, and threatens to engulf its neighbours. The frothy lime flowers will be out soon to make lovely contrasts.

Geraniums don’t mind the rain either. Many of them are just getting into their flowering.

G. himalayense ‘Gravetye’

So hard to pick a favourite geranium, but I love G. himalayense ‘Gravetye’, which has lovely large cup-shaped petals with violet veins and black stamens. There’s a Geum, ‘Scarlet Tempest’, upping the tempo in the background. Both are in dappled shade at the top end of the front path.

Further down the path, a clump of chives is in full bud – I love this stage – with some chamomile also coming into flower.

And while we might bemoan the rain, don’t these glistening drops add magic to the buds of oriental poppies, which remind me so much of dinosaur eggs that I expect pterodactyls to hatch out any day now. Even in the humble veg patch, the rain adds a touch of magic to the flowers of peas, this one is ‘Douce de Provence’.

To top it all off, the first rose to open up in the garden: what a moment, I feel a glass of Prosecco is in order! This one is a lovely botanical rose, single flowers of soft primrose yellow, and interesting almost fern-like foliage. It’s Rosa¬†x¬†cantabrigiensis, a rose developed in Cambridge botanic gardens in the 1930’s.

Rosa x cantabrigiensis

So really one feels much better after a tour of the garden, to see things alive and well, by and large, in their soggy domain.