Six on Saturday: 19 June 2021: Bloomsday

The title for this week’s Six on Saturday is inspired by a small Bloomsday gathering I was invited to this week by an Irish friend/neighbour. The idea is to commemorate and celebrate the life of Irish writer James Joyce, whose famous novel Ulysses features the protagonist Leopold Bloom. Bloomsday takes place on 16 June, the same day the action takes place in the novel in 1904. The dress code for this high-brow evening was Edwardian, so I gathered the floppy peonies and scented roses in my garden to create an Edwardian hat:

The hat went down well, and the readings were fun and unusual: the language in that novel is rich and quirky, and unlike anything else I’ve ever read. Apparently some hard-core James Joyce aficionados hold marathon readings of the entire novel, lasting as long as 36 hours. So to turn to the gardening Odyssey that is Six on Saturday, hosted by chief protagonist The Propagator, I promise to be more concise: 36 hours is a lot of gardening time, and things are getting unruly out there:

1 Yellow roses. The roses are having a glorious year, but I have been a bit slack at tying them in and staking. This unknown climbing rose was knocked about by a heavy rainstorm on Thursday night, which had the unintended consequence of pushing one of the main flowering stems horizontally against the wall, luckily it didn’t break. This now looks better as one can appreciate the flowers at eye level.

The same cannot be said for the Pilgrim shrub rose, which is now weighed down to the ground with the weight of its flowers. Oh dear. Today I need make some belated wooden stakes.

2 Rose ‘Ballerina’. Luckily this hybrid musk, a variety that goes all the way back to 1937, bought as a bare root last autumn, needs no staking and so the gardener gets away with doing nothing. It is a cheerful little thing, appreciated by all manner of bugs and bees.

3 Unknown weed. More lax gardening now, but I am quite taken with this weed growing by the front gate, next to the Ballerina rose. With those little tufted hairs, it looks rather natty, and has a nice way of swaying in the breeze. Anyone know what it is?

4 Allium ‘Eros’. A new allium for me, this one has mixed well in the front path border with its neighbouring geraniums and Erysimum ‘Bowls Mauve’, its violet-pink blooms poking through at just the right height – about 40 cm – above and around them. It’s going over, with a nice papery effect.

5 Nasturtiums with Geranium ‘Brookside’. This narrow little bed was supposed to be the ‘pollinator border’, with a colourful mix of annuals sown from seed in the early spring. The weather and the slugs had other plans, and in our cold spring almost nothing came up, apart from nasturtium ‘Alaska’ which I grew in plugs and planted out here. So it didn’t end up being just a bed of nasturtiums, I added a couple of young Geranium ‘Brookside’ that I had in pots.

6 Lilium ‘Must See’. Growing in a pot on the terrace, this is taking up the gauntlet now that the Dutch iris are over. It’s got that lovely oily sheen that some lilies have.

So now I need to go out there with secateurs, stakes and string, and have a good tidy up, before more roses flop over and chaos reigns. The grapevine also needs a good prune, so I should do what my mother does so well with the leaves and make ‘dolma’ – vine leaves stuffed with rice, herbs, onion and spices – which is definitely a slow food dish that takes hours to make but is one of those things that tastes heavenly when homemade. But, to loop back to Bloomsday, it will be quicker than reciting Ulysses in a 36-hour reading marathon.

Six on Saturday: 05 June 2021: vibrant vibes

We’ve had a week of warmth and sunshine, though a big thunderstorm yesterday and lots of rain overnight means that there are a lot of floppy plants out in the garden now, being merrily slithered over by slugs. Luckily I took my photos before the storm, so it’s a summery feel here for Six on Saturday, hosted by The Propagator and bringing together gardening aficionados from far and wide.

1 The vibrant border is doing its thing, being obligingly vibrant. While I’m sorry to see the alliums going over, over the last week the salvias and oriental poppies have burst into flower, and the geums continue to bloom away cheerfully. I like how this works as a whole right now, though I know the poppies won’t last long (sob!). The plan is that the daylillies and echinaceas will then take over, and that the sunflowers, heleniums and tithonias that I planted at the back will get going in late summer if the slugs don’t get to them first. I have really enjoyed the process of planning this border and trying to get the continuity of flowering from spring through to autumn. Let’s take a closer look at some of the plants here.

2 Oriental Poppies. What a plant! I absolutely adore it. It’s got impact, it’s got class, it’s got pollinator-friendly credentials. What is blooming here now came from one plant that I bought last summer, and then divided into three in the autumn and planted into the new vibrant border. Like a lot of the plants here, it has a definite lean towards to the sun but you don’t really notice it from afar. The bumblebees like to pop in and do their buzzy vibrations.

3 Salvia nemerosa ‘May Night’ and Salvia nemerosa ‘Caradonna’. The good thing about planting these two together is that the May Night comes into flower first, but makes a good match with those lovely dark purple stems of Caradonna. I think the flowers of May Night have more impact because they are fatter and the deep blue colour is a very good contrast with the other vibrant shades in the border. The spikiness is also fab against the roundness of the allium flowerheads.

4 Allium ‘Purple Sensation’. Regulars will know that this is not the first time it’s been featured recently, but even going over as it is, it just adds an excellent element of vertical and straight rather than floppy height to the area. I will be sorry to see the purple element fade but the seedheads are still looking good. I am just wondering if I can squeeze some echinacea between the bulbs without damaging them, to bring some extra interest later this summer.

5 Geum ‘Scarlet Tempest’. I like the way this is adding an orange understorey and long-lasting colour. When the tulips had gone over in the border, I felt that on its own it dominated too much, but now it’s got company it’s back in my good books. Also, in good news, it seems that contrary to what was happening in May, the bees are visiting this plant too. I was concerned enough about the lack of pollinator activity to contact Professor Dave Goulson, author of Gardening for Bumblebees, to ask him if geums really are pollinator-friendly, as often advertised. He very kindly wrote an email back to me, and said: “Many lists of good plants for pollinators are not accurate. I have never tried either of these [G. Scarlet Tempest and G. Mrs J Bradshaw], but have rarely noticed many insects on garden geums. If nothing visits them in your garden then they can’t be very good!”. The only thing he forgot to consider was the weather: it was so cold in May that few bees were about, and now that’s changed, the bees do visit them, though perhaps not as enthusiastically as some of the other plants here.

6 No-Mow-May leftover. Not strictly part of the vibrant border, but facing it, is the remnants of our unmown lawn, vaguely in the shape of a UFO. This lozenge stays for a little longer, a visual representation of marital compromise (there was some debate with OH about how long no-mow-may should extend into June, so this is the result after I got my hands on the mower!).

I now feel like I need to write another Six on Saturday to show you the front path, which is a pastel heaven, very different to the vibrant border, but I think that will have to be in another post. For today’s tasks, I’ve got sweetcorn plants that could do with being planted, but the space is still being occupied by peas, so I think I’ll have to pot the sweetcorn on and just wait. It’s really the time to sit back and enjoy our gardens now after all the hard work earlier.

Six on Saturday: 29 May 2021: Feels like summer

Ahhhh, when I opened the kitchen door onto the garden this morning, it felt like stepping out into summer, with the added bonus that everything looked, felt and smelt so fresh after being drenched in rain for days. Outdoor living can recommence, and I might have to move the plants that have inevitably colonised the outdoor table so that we can have lunch on the terrace today. So today’s Six on Saturday marks that heartening transition from late spring into early summer:

1 Allium purple sensation. Couldn’t resist another photo of these from a funky angle, they are the most photogenic plants. Now that the weather’s improving, the bees are visiting them again in larger numbers.

2 Phacelia tanacetifolia. Speaking of bees, this one is a magnet for them. I used it as a green manure in the veg bed last autumn-winter, and I vaguely remember throwing some seed onto the vibrant border. It’s now popping up obligingly here and there, making a great little filler with its pretty foliage and eye-catching blooms, that look like hairy caterpillars before they unfurl.

3 Nepeta x faassenii ‘Walker’s Low’. One of my absolute favourite garden plants. This one edges the front path in a cottage garden mix with geraniums, lavender, roses and a few more alliums. Its a great one to sit beside for a few minutes and just watch bees buzz in and out all the time.

4 Geranium cantabrigiense ‘Cambridge’. Raised at Cambridge University botanic garden apparently. It’s a nice, neat and tidy geranium that edges the front path between the nepeta, and adds to the cottage garden feel of this section. Anyone following my blog will know that I am rather fond of germaniums, and if you are too, you can see two of my favourites in blue/violet flowering now on A Tale of Two Geraniums.

5 Houseplant holiday. They need a change of scene just like we do, and a good wash for that matter! I rarely have the patience or time to individually dust the leaves of my indoor plants, and why bother when they can all just come outside for a good, long shower? The rain has many upsides. Just ask the Hosta, which has revelled in it, I’ve never seen it look so fulsome, with not a single slug hole – they don’t come up here onto the table.

6 Glade upgrade. We do like to create extra work for ourselves, don’t we? Gardeners are deep down an unsatisfied bunch, always wanting to improve, to tinker and to transform. I definitely fall into that category! The glade is fading out of its spring colour now, and is increasingly shaded by the overhanging trees, but I felt that it needs a little path from the terrace round to the lawn, a miniscule little bit of mystery, leading to a Lilliputian bench which I’ve yet to acquire. I’m going to use our hazel rods to make an edging, tied together with strong cord, and fill in the path with bark chips. Does it need a lining too or can I get away without using one?

So, what am I going to do today? Well, the sun is shining, I’m very tempted to follow the example of one of our locals, and just lounge around. The gardening can wait. Thank you all for reading, and thanks as ever to The Propagator who leads us in the merry Six on Saturday dance, have a lovely weekend.

Six on Saturday: 22 May 2021

I’m late posting today as I had an early morning appointment to get my first Covid vaccine. Hopefully my antibodies are swinging into action as I write. So without further ado, let me dive straight into this week’s Six on Saturday:

1 Alliums. We’re back to the purple and orange contrasts in the new vibrant border, with Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ joining the manic-flowering Geum ‘Scarlet Tempest’, which I’ve cut back quite a bit as it was getting a little domineering in orange. Lovely to see the honey bees and bumblebees enjoying the alliums. The only slight disappointment is that the pollinators show no interest at all in the geums, and I wonder why – are they low in nectar and/or pollen? It’s a pity because they flower so profusely and are good garden plants, and while not every garden plant has to be planted for a pollinator, it is something I’m aiming towards.

2 Rosa x Cantabrigiensis. I featured it in my Soggy Garden post earlier this week, but I like these new photos of it even more. Newly planted last autumn as a bare root, am delighted with this delicate, primrose yellow rose, developed in Cambridge in the 1930’s. The single flowers have the advantage of being more accessible to pollinators, though I’ve got plenty of the big, blousy ones on their way.

3 Hesperis matronalis with grape vine. The pale violet flowers of the sweet rocket are adding to the front path action, and the vine on the fence behind them looks promising, except for the fact that it’s got lots of bumpy spots from a tiny insect that borrows into the leaves. It is harmless, and doesn’t affect the grape harvest, but looks a bit unsightly. When the leaves get a bit bigger, I will remove the worst affected to control the problem a bit.

4 Potatoes. They have been growing like mad in all this rain we’ve been having! I wonder if I should earth them up some more – the compost bags containers can be further unfolded if need be.

5 Lettuces. They have also been growing like mad in this rain, and I can triumphantly confirm that the ones growing up on the roof of the shed have been totally untouched by slugs, with no protective measures taken. I’ve cracked it people! Grow your lettuces up high, find the highest point you can reach and put them up there. Harvesting and checking up on them only involves a quick climb out of a landing window and a hop over a small pitched roof – the athletics are worth the effort! The champagne box planter has Asiatic leaves which add a good peppery flavour to lift the salads.

6 Chickens. Well I was going to take a photo of the flowering rhododendrons in the corner of the garden, but my camera lens was drawn inevitably to the Pekin bantams. They love it under the shrubby growth here, and I feel that the rhododendrons are finally serving a purpose (I find them rather gloomy for most of the year). Tabitha, Jennifer and Grimy are settling in well and are a bit less jittery when we approach them. I trust that they are fully engaged in slug control.

So there we are, another wet week goes by without much gardening but with plenty of plant growth nonetheless. Seedlings of Tithonia, Salvia and sunflowers as well as courgettes and sweetcorn are giving my accusatory glances each time I open up the greenhouse, but I suppose no harm will come from waiting a bit longer before planting out. Thanks to the Propagator for hosting, and hope everyone has a lovely weekend.

Cottage garden favourites

My front path is at its best in May and into the beginning of June. The roses are in full swing, and they look really good now with their cottage garden companions: Nepeta (cat mint), alliums and geraniums.

Nepeta, geraniums and alliums jostle with the roses

I’ve chosen these plants for three main reasons:

  • They attract pollinators, especially bees. This area has been buzzing non-stop ever since the Nepeta came into flower in early May.
  • They are pretty drought tolerant. This is a hot south-facing spot, and our summers, even our springs it seems, are getting drier and drier. It seemed like a good idea to minimize watering.
  • They hide the extremely straggly, downright ugly legs of the old roses, and make a romantic unashamedly cottage garden colour combo of soft pinks, blues and purples, offset by the gentle creamy yellow of Rosa ‘The Pilgrim’ further up the path.
The soft and delicate Rosa ‘Heritage’ against Nepeta

A year ago, this part of the garden looked completely different. Both sides of the path were long strips of lawn, interspersed neatly with the established roses that were already here. As this is one of the sunniest sections, it felt like a wasted planting opportunity, and mowing it was a pain, involving complex contortions with the mower to get it around the roses and along the narrow strip.

Looking up the path towards the house. The exuberant soft yellow rose is Rosa ‘The Pilgrim’, a David Austin English rose.

I love the way the Nepeta tumbles over the path, it is just the right height to brush against and I love rubbing my hands through it as I walk past for that aromatic Mediterranean scent. I have to be careful not to rub a bee by mistake, as they are here all the time. This variety is Nepeta faassenii ‘Walker’s Low’, which isn’t particularly low as you can see. It’s a fantastic value plant, as it is so easy to take cuttings and make new plants, and it will flower again later this season if I take the shears to it soon. I will definitely take some more cuttings too, as I think it would be nice to have another patch of this blue fuzziness repeated further up the path. You can also make tea from the dried leaves and flowers, although I haven’t tried this yet so if any readers have any tips on that, I’d love to hear them.

The alliums, all Allium ‘Christophii’, are adding a nice little bit of spikiness to this soft and gentle theme, and they hang above the other plants at just the right height. I am so glad I moved them here, before this they were rather sad and uninspiring in an east-facing border and are much happier here in full sun. I remove the seed heads around now because they tend to flop over, and hang them in the house to dry and hopefully use for Christmas decorations.

As for the other part of this trio, the pink Geranium, this was given to me by my mother-in-law, from her country garden in Kent, England. I don’t know the variety, but it is a wilder form of geranium, loved by the bees but with a tendency to grow outwards energetically, baring it’s centre. This isn’t the best look to be honest, but it doesn’t show up too badly here with all the other planting, and can be remedied by cutting back hard when flowering time is almost up.

While it always feels like such a pity to cut back the Nepeta, the good news is that a large patch of lavender is just coming into flower at the bottom of the path, making a perfect nectar bridge for the bees, who will soon to moving on to that. They have also been feasting on the bramble flowers, and it looks like we’re going to have an incredible harvest this year, and an early one too – the fruit is already setting and it’s only early June. I will freeze some so that there will be plenty for apple and blackberry pie in the autumn, probably one of the most divine ways to enjoy blackberries, hot from the oven with lots of cream! Yum, yum…