Belgium’s most famous bluebells

This morning I was in Hallerbos (Dutch for Halle Forest), a stretch of woodland in Flemish Brabant, just half an hour’s drive from Brussels. It’s famed for its carpet of blue at this time of year: it’s not just England that can boast this beautiful spring phenomenon!

Bluebells are often an indicator of very old woodland, and Hallerbos is a remnant of the ancient charcoal forest that once covered vast swathes of Europe, now scattered and dissected by roads and settlements, and of course greatly reduced from its original size. Hallerbos also suffered the misfortune of being razed by German forces during world war one, but was replanted, mainly with tall, stately beech, between 1930-1950.

Now in the interests of honesty, I will tell you that this lovely forest has a major downside. There’s a great big roaring motorway running right alongside, audible above the birdsong even when you venture deep inside. I notice that people tend not to mention this in their Facebook posts. I suppose it’s a reminder that true wilderness is getter harder and harder to find.

Six on Saturday: 30 Jan 2021: Citrus boost

This week I was reminded that January brings one of the best harvests, from the citrus groves of Sicily. We have an Italian neighbour who has a connection to a grower on that sun-soaked, fertile island, and brings in a lorry-load of crates laden with oranges, lemons, grapefruit and clementines, which he stores in his garage and sells to neighbours. We got a box of oranges and another of lemons, so should be able to make it through the rest of winter with enough Vitamin C!

Night time in the neighbour’s garage!

No visions of citrus from today’s rain sodden garden though, but let’s see it has to offer in this week’s Six on Saturday, hosted by the committed Propagator.

1 Narcissus ‘Paperwhite’. Indoors rather than outdoors, this has just started flowering. It has a very sweet, spicy scent, which would be cloying as a perfume but is fine for the occasional sniff.

2 Sarcococca confusa. Perfume outside now, in a pot on the patio the sweet box is coming into flower. It’s not overwhelming me with scent, to be honest, but it’s only just getting going, and it could do with a less damp atmosphere to play its part.

3 Helleborus argutifolius. I’ve featured this before but it deserves another turn. None of the coy downward facing flowers of the oriental hellebores, pretty as they may be, this is a vision of health and vibrancy. It shines from its corner in the glade, even more so in the rain, which given how much it’s raining this year is a definite plus.

4 Spanish bluebells. Next to the hellebore is a spreading clump of Spanish bluebells. Previous owner here was Spanish, so there might be a connection there. I am looking forward to these, even if they are not quite as delicate as the English bluebells.

5 Asiatic salad. In the little greenhouse I’ve got a tray of Asiatic salad which I sowed a tad late last autumn. The roots are coming through the holes in the tray, so I need to transfer to a larger container and hopefully get fresh salad leaves soon. In front is an experiment in autumn-sowing sweet pea Matucana, they’re ok but a bit floppy.

6 Chillis: Thai Red Dragon and Biquinho. Let’s loop back indoors now to show you my LED lights in action, giving my just-germinated chillis a helping hand. I’ve gone for two ends of the scale this year, a hot Red Dragon for our Thai curries, and a very mild yellow Biquinho for adding to salads, making salsas etc. There is a third row of yet to germinate sweet green peppers. By the way this is how dark it is at 9 a.m. on a rainy Saturday – urgh!

That’s all for this rather wet week. We are now trapped in Belgium with closed borders, and haven’t seen family in the UK since last August. This is a strange feeling, to have your freedom of movement restricted, and in a foreign country, though I totally understand the reasoning behind it. I feel a slight sense of creeping claustrophobia though, but then I realise I am not alone in that, and many are aching to get out and about again. I hope the garden and the lengthening days provide welcome distractions for all.