Six on Saturday: 17 July 21: Après le déluge

Well that was an awful lot of rain. You will have no doubt heard about the floods in eastern Belgium and seen the devastation on the news. Towns that we drove through in spring when we went to that region for a lovely holiday have been reduced to mud, upturned vehicles and rubble, it’s quite astonishing. Here in the centre of the country, perched on a hill on the outskirts of Brussels, we were spared flooding but it rained, and rained, and rained. Climate change is coming home. Thankfully, the weather is improving now, and the sun has come out as I’m writing this on Saturday morning, yes it’s Six on Saturday time:

1 Respite after the rain. The poor chickens have not been enjoying the weather, their feathery feet have been getting soggy, and it’s only now that they are able to come out to roost and wander about. You can see they still look a little put-out.

2 Platycodon grandiflorus. Otherwise known as the balloon flower for its strange buds that swell up as if someone’s blowing into them, before opening out into these bright violet-blue flowers. A white-flowered variety hasn’t yet come into flower. They have been relocated to the cool shades/pond border, where all the plants are thriving in the damp conditions.

3 Dahlia ‘Bora Bora’. A saturated, attention-grabbing pink, this cactus Dahlia is growing well in a large pot next to the veg patch. I stuck a strip of copper tape around the rim of the pot, and I don’t see any slug damage at all. The same for a pot of Dahlia ‘Antibes’. My conclusion: the copper tape really does seem to work, especially if you make sure the slugs can’t get in from the drainage holes underneath.

4 Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’. A bright splash of chartreuse makes for great edging for the cool shades border. This grass completely disappeared over winter, leading me to wonder if it had died, but it reappeared timidly in spring, and it’s been gradually getting shaggier and shaggier as the season progresses. A Japanese forest grass, it loves the wet.

5 Geranium ‘Rozanne’. This one needs no introduction, as it’s become one of the most popular geraniums around, with good reason – it’s got real flower-power. However, I am not entirely happy with this upper end of the cool shades border, essentially a steep, rubbly slope with shallow soil. I feel Rozanne needs a contrast, though she hasn’t left much space for one. I’m also annoyed that the pink Japanese anemones that I dug up last year have returned, uninvited (top right corner). Finally a pot of Collarette Dahlias have totally been decimated by slugs (no copper tape on this one), so I’m going to replant, maybe with a few ferns I have to spare. Anyone got any other slug-proof ideas for pots in part-shade?

6 Potato harvest. The first potato crop, growing in repurposed compost bags as part of a space-saving experiment. The verdict? Well, these are still rather small – perhaps because they are congested, or perhaps it’s just a little early – these are King Edwards, so have a long growing season. The taste test? Absolutely magnificent, I haven’t tasted a potato this good, with such earthy creaminess, since the last home-grown one. I’m curious to see how Fred, a French gardener’s bin-grown potatoes turned out – he has been conducting a similar experiment.

I’m looking forward to some sunshine and gardening time, as it’s been impossible to do much this last week. You’ll find more sixes from around the world on The Propagator’s blog. Have a great weekend everyone, whatever the weather throws at you.

Six on Saturday: 26 June 2021: Harvests

Well the sunglasses, suncream and flip-flops are all getting decidedly dusty through under-use, as the weather hasn’t been cooperating with the idea of summer and all it brings to mind. It’s been a dank, wet week, that has emboldened the slugs but dampened my spirits. Along with some 3 million Brits who live abroad, we’re heading into summer with the added uncertainty of not knowing when we’ll be allowed to travel freely, sans quarantine, to our own country again, and see our families – too bad I’m not a rich and powerful football magnate, the rules don’t apply to them. But in their wisdom, they’ve put St Helena on the Green List, that remote South Atlantic island, size 162 square miles, population 6,100, final island prison and burial place of Napoleon Bonaparte after his defeat at Waterloo. Perhaps the Emperor’s ghost fancies a trip to Blighty for old times’ sake: he can pop over with no need to quarantine, it’s on the Green List!

Oh I know, I digress, but this sorry state of affairs might explain why I’ve got so much gardening done this week, it’s cathartic. A pond has been dug and planted up, peas have been harvested and dug out, sweetcorn has been planted in its place, the last of the dahlias have been squeezed into gaps, catmint and salvias have been cut back, roses deadheaded, somewhat ruthlessly, and the chickens have even begun laying cute bantam-sized eggs (that last bit is independent of my will). Six on Saturday will restore equilibrium:

1 Harvests. A little collage of harvests this week to soothe the soul. The peas were fantastic, each picture is a separate harvest: we had loads to eat and even some leftover to freeze. The eggs are barely bigger than a 2 euro coin. The wild strawberries are such a treat, and even roses were harvested, saved from the drizzle or imminent collapse.

2 Redcurrants. Another harvest. These drip like little rubies from the branches, so enticing that most of them get eaten by me on the spot. The blackcurrants are not far behind, though I have less of them as my two bushes are still only a couple of years old.

3 Blackberries. This bush is abuzz with bumblebees, honeybees and hoverflies, and the fruit is already beginning to set. My mouth is watering at the thought of blackberry jam. Time to raid the larder, get the empty jars out and start scrubbing the labels off. I’m not sure we’ll get an olive harvest from the little standard olive tree just in front there..

4 Shady border. Or should I now call this the pond border, as the little pond is just along from here. A deviation from my harvest theme, but I like this combo. Miraculously two flowerheads of Hydrangea arborescens ‘Anabelle’ survived a ruthless slug onslaught, along with Astrantia, Astible, and ferns. There’s a rugosa rose trying to push through too. Everything is covered with a confetti of rose petals from the yellow climbing rose above.

5 Tanacetum parthenium, or Feverfew. Now a potential medicinal harvest that could cure headaches brought on by listening to the news. I’m sure one can make tea with these, but I’ve never tried. They are looking so healthy that I might well try. The aphids like to colonise the stems, no harm done. These flowers cheer me up, and hoverflies like them too. If they choose to lay their eggs here, their larvae can enjoy the aphids, another harvest there.

6 Clover. The garden harvests are made possible thanks in no small part to the bees, who pollinate the flowers that then turn to fruit. It seems only right that I should give something back in thanks. So here is a lawn full of clover for them to enjoy. When the sun comes out to shine, this place will be buzzing.

I feel a little bit better now. The expression ‘You reap what you sow’ is often deployed in an admonishing way, but for the gardener, who quite literally reaps what they sow, this has a positive and uplifting resonance. Now matter how small, each harvest, whether of fruits or flowers, brings great pleasure. Head over to the Propagator to marvel at more harvests and other gardening miracles. And have a lovely weekend.

Six on Saturday: 01 May 2021: Festival of Flowers

Wishing everyone a happy May Day: a significant festival for gardeners, as the first celebrations marked the festival of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers, during the Roman republican era.

Ah such a lovely morning to bring in the month of May, full of promise. I love this time of year. I decided to take a few pics of how the back garden is looking this morning, and pretty much all you see has been transformed from lawn and few lone shrubs when we moved here almost four years ago. You know what, I’m going to give myself just a little pat on the back, before I start thinking about how to improve it further.

After last week’s tribulations with tomatoes, things have calmed down a bit, especially as new homes have been found for at least half of them, considerably easing my work load. Also, we have focused on welcoming our cute feathered friends to their new abode – they are of course featured on this week’s Six on Saturday round-up:

1 The Vibrant Border. It’s living up to its name, with three main party-goers having a good time together: orangey-red Tulipa Dillenburg and Geum ‘Scarlet Tempest’ have been joined this week by fuchsia pink tulip ‘Barcelona’. This border reminds me of a Spanish fiesta at the moment. Hard to believe it was a patch of bare clay just last autumn, and before that just lawn. Things will calm down once the tulips are over, but am hoping that alliums, oriental poppies and day lilies will take up the baton. Meanwhile, seedlings of Tithonia, sunflowers and Cleome, and Dahlias, are being nurtured in the greenhouse for late summer colour.

2 Tulipa Cassini. Yes, more tulips, I’ve gone a bit tulip mad this year (or last autumn, to be more accurate, it must have been the weather, or an attempt to distract myself from grim reality). Here two pots of Cassini are brightening up a corner of the veg patch, they are a bit short and dumpy but I like to soft orange shade. I like the lime green growth on the box hedge too, which has finally become a hedge rather than individual little plants, it took about three years. Argh the box blight, argh the box tree caterpillar, I hear you cry, but I am deaf to these portents of doom, all is well and green for now.

3 Bluebells, Hyacinthoides hispanica. Onto something cooler and calmer, let’s head to the glade, where ferns are unfurling gracefully, Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Spessart’ is flowering daintily and the bluebells are nodding their pretty heads. There’s a perfect unblemished Hosta in a pot, I love the blue-green colour but don’t know the variety. Keeping Hostas in pots is the only way to stop them looking a total slug-ravaged mess in my garden!

4 The potato trials. I’m participating in an experiment to grow potatoes in containers this year, along with Fred a French Gardener, Piglet in Portugal and N20 Gardener. I’ve got one large bin filled with four King Edwards, and three compost bags with two or three potatoes per bag. Here you can see pics taken earlier in the week, pre and post earthing up with fresh compost, and finally a photo taken this morning to show how quickly new growth emerges after earthing up. So far, so good.

5 Lettuces on the rooftop. Another intrepid experiment, to grow lettuces on the roof of our shed, in the vain hope that slugs will not scamper up here to dine on Lollo Rosso, Oakleaf Red and Paris Island Cos. What a menu, they might be tempted to make the trek! As an afterthought since taking this photo, I covered the crates with chicken wire cloches just in case the roosting pigeons in the trees overhead felt like a free lunch.

6 Our new garden inhabitants. Welcome to our Pekin bantams! They are still very shy and getting used to their new surroundings. Much smaller than the normal breed of layer, they are round, have feathered feet, and – I quote – “are generally less destructive of ornamental gardens”. It’s great to have chickens back in the garden again.

That’s all from me this week, be sure to browse The Propagator’s Six on Saturday post for links to fabulous gardens with dedicated custodians from around the world.