Six on Saturday: 24 July 21: summer’s here

Summer days are here, the living is pretty easy, especially now that work has slowed right down and the sun has come out to play. After all the rain we had here, I’m relieved, and cat-like, I enjoy basking in the dry heat. The deckchairs are out and the BBQ is in use.

Morning sun, full of promise

For Six on Saturday, I’m going to start with a dazzling dahlia:

1 Dahlia ‘Bora Bora’. I featured this last week, but look how it’s changed to the most unusual sea urchin! I love it. This almost makes up for the slug decimation of Chat Noir and other dahlias that were supposed to be on parade.

2 Blight on tomatoes. OK, let’s get this one over with. As mentioned earlier this week, we’ve got blight for the first time ever. Everyone seems to have it round here this year. I was really hoping I could save these tomatoes by stripping off the bad leaves and letting them ripen in the sun, but it’s not looking too good, is it?

Veg-bed tomatoes

What to do now? I noticed that the ones I’ve got growing in pots against the back wall are looking a bit better, although the leaves aren’t too good. It will be a poorer summer indeed without tomatoes, or courgettes – these have been destroyed by slugs of course.

Wall tomatoes

3 Begonia in a big blue pot. Onto better things. I mentioned that I felt Geranium Rozanne was lacking a little je ne sais pas quoi in this corner near the back door, perhaps a bit too dominant in pale blue. So I’ve added some white to draw the eye with this begonia (which I found in the garden centre, no label: does anyone know it?).

4 Daylily ‘Stafford’. Another one that’s been featured recently, for those who may remember, but it’s adding such great impact now with those warm, spicey tones and I’ve also figured out its name: Stafford. Seems too traditional for it. Daylilies do very well on our Belgian clay, so naturally I am tempted to try a few more.

5 Lantana camara ‘Orange’. I had an unusual, somewhat unsettled childhood, with expat parents who were very adventurous and moved around the place a lot. So when I was seven years old, I found myself in Jordan. My Dad worked at a university outside a small town, and so we lived on campus and my friends and I had free reign to play outside within its perimeter all day long. The almost traffic-free roads were lined with Lantana camara, so this takes me right back. I love the intensely aromatic leaves (the oils of the plant are used in insect repellents) and the tiny florets which always fascinated me (seven-year-old me liked to unpick each little flower from the main floret). For the first time, I managed to get this plant through a European winter – it sulked in the cellar in front of a south-facing window, but has really picked up now.

6 Hypericum kalmianum ‘Gemo’. I prefer this compact but showy little shrub to the larger Hypericums. It stays quite small but flowers enthusiastically from now through to September within minimum fuss, and adds a cheerful note right by the front steps. It looks good pretty much all year round, retaining its dark seed pods and a nice woody structure in winter, so that’s not bad for the front of house.

Well, I was hoping the sun would stay with us a little longer so that I could lounge in my deckchair and read a good book, but today starts overcast. I’ve sown some biennials for flowers next year (foxgloves, wallflowers and sweet williams) and pulled some more bindweed out here and there. The garlic is ready to harvest, and the blackberries are starting to come in, I might sow some radicchio. It’s a nice time of year, without too many urgent tasks.

For more delightful Six on Saturday posts from gardeners far and wide, see The Propagator’s site.

Summer days: butterflies, blight and Banksy

Guide to common butterflies in Belgium

Things are rarely entirely good or entirely bad, and so it is with summer in Belgium this year. On the bad side, we had the terrible weather and the terrible flooding in parts of the country. The clean-up is going to be long and expensive. Plus, we still have the confusion and uncertainty over how and when we can get to the motherland for our longed-for visit to see friends and family, and just imbibe our culture for a while. I want fish and chips, and a dip in the channel, and a lazy Sunday morning with the papers.

A Red Admiral on Buddleia

The garden brings its share of good and bad too. The sad news here is that, perhaps unsurprisingly given the unprecedented wet and humidity of previous weeks, blight has struck. I’ve got to this point in my gardening life without ever having had to lose a tomato plant to this fungal disease which can devastate entire countries, as happened during the Irish potato famine. So it was with a heavy heart that I pulled out several plants and binned them before the problem got any worse. I also had to harvest all the potatoes rather too early, they were also affected. I’ve left the tomatoes with the best-developed fruits, removing most of the leaves, to see if they can ripen nice and quickly. Has anyone dealt with Blight successfully? Am I doing the right thing? Advice appreciated.

Tomatoes ripening

Good news in the garden includes:

A frog has moved into our new pond (bad news: the cat has discovered this and has to be repeated chased off with the hose…grrrrr).

The great tit family has successfully reared its young and they have fledged the nest. The youngsters are hanging around the garden excitedly chirping as their parents teach them how to survive in the big, bad world (bad news: the cat is harassing them, grrrrr).

Butterfly counting has commenced. A local charity is asking members to identify and count those that visit their gardens. They have sent a helpful identification guide which I’ve pinned to the fridge (bad news: French common names for butterflies are nothing like the English ones. Good news: my French vocabulary is expanding into yet another new area).

A Red Admiral

It’s good to see Red Admiral (French: Vulcain) and Peacock (French: Paon du jour) visiting the Buddleia davidii ‘Black night’ that I planted specifically to attract butterflies.

Peacock butterfly and a Red Admiral feeding

The cabbage whites (French: PiĆ©ride du Chou – at least that’s easy, as chou is cabbage) are also here, quite a lot of those. They are particularly enjoying the lavender and oregano, and also like the flowering privet. Luckily I don’t grow cabbages.

A Cabbage White butterfly feeds on oregano

As well as a month for butterflies, July is also the month of the sales in the shops. My son and I have been fully inoculated against these after visiting a Banksy exhibition in Brussels recently. One of the key messages of the British street artist is that worshipping at the altar of consumer capitalism is going to get us into an awful lot of trouble. A better occupation might be to count the butterflies.

A work by Banksy

Here’s to flower power.

A work by Banksy: one of his most iconic images

Finally, here’s a little slideshow of what’s flowering well this month in the garden.

Are you also counting butterflies in your garden or out in the countryside? Have you noticed numbers going up or down, or fewer types than before?