Six on Saturday: 03 July 2021: Tweeting

Not the time-wasting, relentless drivel kind of tweeting (there you have my views on Twitter, although plant tweets are perhaps the only reason I might be tempted back to it one day), I’m talking about the insistent tweeting of the little family of great tits, who have set up home in the bird box in the glade. They have been here for several weeks, and I’ve still failed to take a decent photo, but watching the parents dash to and fro relentlessly all day long, popping in and out with tasty morsels for their hungry brood, I wonder they don’t get burnt-out. It’s the first time the bird box has been occupied by birds, although previous years saw bees of some kind take up residence. The posher-looking house next door remains empty, these birdies are not interested in keeping up appearances.

Spot the birdie

As we enter July, there’s a definite change in the garden atmosphere here, as half of the back garden is under the now-heavier shade of the mature trees, while the veg patch and front path have a more summery vibe. The shedding phase is well underway, so from now until November the lime and hornbeam trees will deposit first faded flowers, then seeds, and finally leaves. It’s a real pain, everything on the back terrace and decking gets covered in muck every time it rains, which is a lot these days. A certain scruffiness is the price we pay for the woodland feel, and all the wildlife that supports – insects and grubs for our resident great tit family, and scrambling space for the lovely red squirrels (one day I’ll get a photo for you, promise).

1 Clematis ‘Etoile Violette’ with Clematis ‘Betty Corning’. This covers one side of the arch that is close to the bird box/glade. Both seem very happy here, I think they like the woodland vibe, but as this section essentially faces south, they get a combo of coolness and sunshine.

I love the deep purple of Etoile Violette, which this year is smoothered in blooms, and the fairy-like delicacy of Betty Corning.

2 Lonicera periclymenum ‘Belgica’. I don’t hang the Belgian flag out front to show my support for my host-country’s football team (there are a lot of unhappy Belgians this morning, but the huge Italian-origin community here will be ecstatic). But I do have ‘Belgica’, which is a lovely honeysuckle, am getting wonderful whiffs of it when out gardening. A Belgian lady that came over earlier this week for a quick plant swap told me that it’s called Chevre-feuille in French, meaning Goat-leaf, although the link with goats was very unclear to both of us. This is a great nectar source for moths though, every garden should have one.

3 Digitalis grandiflora. Staying with the woodland-feel of the glade, there is inevitably less colour in this area at this time of year, but these foxgloves bring a welcome soft yellow. This is a perennial foxglove, which is wonderful, as unfortunately my biennial foxgloves, although they self-seed, get eaten by slugs, especially at the delicate seedling stage.

4 Lavender. Change of pace! We’re in summer-mode along the front path, where my neighbour’s lavender hedge kindly flowers more gloriously on my side than on theirs, as the best of the sun is here. I think this is English lavender, possibly Hidcote. The photo was taken on the only properly sunny day all week, which was yesterday, prompting me to think of Provence, if only for a short while.

Looking up the path towards the house
Looking towards the road and the glorious purple beech trees on the hill

4 Leucanthemum. More summery tones are provided by the ox-eye daisies. We are told by clever garden designers that it’s a good idea to repeat plants up a border to create a sense of rhythm and coherence. So I dutifully split clumps from the original patch and now have three vigorous clumps. They are perhaps a bit too vigorous, threatening to engulf the neighbouring plants, so I’ll have to police these.

6 Veg patch colour. Sorry, I couldn’t chose between Eucomis autumnalis, and the Calendula, which are jazzing up the veg patch. I find the aptly named Pineapple Lily really sweet, I don’t have a lot of exotica, but this brings just a touch of something different. I think I first came across it on a Six on Saturday post, could it have been Thistles and Kiwis all the way over in New Zealand? The Calendula can’t be beaten for vibrancy, though I’ve also got some other shades on the way, including ‘Touch of Red Buff’ which is just coming up behind the Pineapple Lily, I’ll show you that next week perhaps.

I’m off now to the Botanical Gardens at Meise, just north of Brussels, for some plant zen. Although it’s a grey day, threatening rain, they do have a wonderful palm-house that I can retreat to if need be. It’s one of the largest botanical gardens in the world, and is set in acres of glorious parkland, so I might take some photos to share with you mid-week. I’ll look in later in the day at other Six on Saturdays available on The Propagator’s page, where you will find lots to marvel at. Have a great weekend, till next time.

Chaos theory in the garden

How much chaos is tolerable in the garden, and to what extent should we strive for order and its accompanying neatness? I’ve been thinking about this recently as I wonder just how many exuberant nasturtiums and calendulas I should weed out of my veg plot. When romantic tumbling cottage garden charm becomes untidy, is it time to be ruthless?

Colourful chaos – there are veg in there somewhere!

Ordered rows of veg and flowers can be both extremely practical and visually appealing, like well-turned out units on a military parade. Each veg group occupies its own space, and as a whole the crisp, clean lines exude efficiency and pride. Weeding and harvesting is easier, and there is less competition for space and light.

A stray calendula provides a resting spot for a colourful visitor.

There are no military parades in my plot this year, it’s more like an improvised demonstration of unruly students. A bit messy for sure. The amazing thing is that the veg still pull through, mingling with the flowers and popping up cheerfully yet haphazardly here and there.

Broccoli pops up!

There’s something lovely about seeing the veg like this, mixed in with everything else. You start seeing them as plants in their own right, with beautiful leaves, striking forms and interesting fruit. The grey-blue brocoli pictured here is a wonderful contrast to the greener growth around it. It has a strong presence and its flower head is not only edible but interesting, like a sedum.

Sweetcorn going strong.

One of the biggest stars for me this year has been the sweetcorn. I have just seven plants, grown from seed. They look as statuesque and handsome as any bamboo, and mine are just starting to show their feathery flower-heads. Beneath them is a magnificent courgette with massive marbled leaves, a great contrast with the tall, straight stems of the corn.

Courgette and corn combo.

Apart from the interesting effects of mixing the veg up with other plants and flowers, there’s also the value to wildlife. This year I planted some colourful varieties of echinacea and some salvia right by my veg area, and the bees and butterflies love them. The borage was also a huge hit with the bees, though it did get out of hand and sadly I had to pull a lot of it out. Perhaps it’s just a bit too unruly for a small space, and next year I should try to plan a separate borage patch nearby.

Echinacea and butterfly
The bees loved the salvia, backed by day lilies.
A dwarf sunflower – there is almost always a bee in here!

So overall, I’ve embraced a bit of chaos in my garden this year. The veg are still coming on strong, the flowers are doing their thing and the insects are definitely at home. It would be a good idea to keep a few straight lines in for paths and tidy up the edging, but apart from that I think I prefer my unruly students to the neat parades of veg, disciplined as they are.