Six on Saturday 03 Apr 2021 – Happy Easter

Spring in a good mood: neighbours’ cherry blossom and Magnolia

Oh what a capricious time of year, as spring toys with us, flitting cruelly between a glorious taste of summer and the slap of a ten degree drop in temperature and the threat of snow next week. Today, we’re being slapped, but for the past week, we basked in the magnificent sunshine. Mind you, I did not sit on my laurels, I was busy as a bee, merrily ticking a few things off the gardening to-do list, and occasionally just stopping to marvel at the lovely things growing all around.

1 Bramble support. One big job ticked off the list. Our savage bramble, which redeems itself with the tastiest blackberries for what is probably my favourite jam, has been tamed for now, with a trellis frame. Order has been temporarily restored.

2 Tomatoes. I can not believe the rate at which these are growing. They seem to like their sunny windowsill very much. I have far too many: currently 7 cherry toms Miel de Mexique, 7 Davis all-rounders, and 5 beefsteak Portuguese. The Nostalgic Gardener has become The Generous Gardener, dolling out tomatoes to Irish neighbours and Swedish friends, and soon others from a panoply of international and Belgian residents will find themselves the recipients of green gifts.

3 Dahlia potting up. The upside of early school closures in Belgium is that I had my son on hand to help pot up the Dahlia tubers. It’s great to have a garden helper and it made the job fun and efficient: we set up a little assembly line, with my son putting the tubers in and filling with compost, and with me labelling and watering, it was all done in a flash. There are now fifteen pots – some were squeezed into the greenhouse, and these others are sitting it out against the back wall and will need to be moved into the shed when we get slapped with that threat of snow.

4 Viburnum carlesii. Onto the pretty stuff. A few days apart, photo one shows those pink buds about to burst, and then ta-daa! the tiny flowers appear daintily, and the garden is completely flooded with sweet scent on a sunny afternoon. Another name for this lovely, elegant shrub is Koreanspice Viburnum, and there is an exotic spiciness along with the intense sweetness to the perfume. When this comes into flower, it’s one of those wow moments in the garden.

5 Clematis armandii with Japanese quince. This is the clematis’ fourth week in flower, and as well as looking good, it’s combining with the quince to give the bees both a first course and mains. They are buzzing around this area non-stop. I tried to photograph them without much luck, so you’ll just have to enjoy the flowers.

Spot the bee tucking in?

6 Ferns unfurling. What, we’re at six already? Alright then, the final slot goes to the little aliens in found in conversation.

Tomorrow these little creatures may clasp a chocolate Easter egg between them, as I think a garden Easter egg hunt is in order. There may be more Easter surprises to discover on the Six on Saturday page hosted by The Propagator and enjoyed by many a gardening bunny. So it remains for me to wish you all a Happy Easter, Joyeuses Pâques, Prettig Paasfeest, may the Easter bunny be generous to you, whether in the form of tomato plants from an overly-enthusiastic gardener, or just lots of chocolate, preferably of the Belgian variety – it’s the best in the world, you know.

Six on Saturday: 20 March 2021

Strange to think that this time last year, we were in our first lockdown in Belgium. Strange too that I have pleasant memories of it: glorious spring weather, afternoon tea in the garden, our first chickens to fuss over and tut-tut indulgently as they sampled my plants in an all-you-can-eat buffet, commuting time freed up to do more gardening…all enjoyable, but the wider context less so. Now, it’s different: though not in lockdown, I am getting itchy feet, and will really miss our usual Easter visit to Blighty. Luckily, the garden distracts and beguiles, with unfurling of leaf and fullness of bud, and Six on Saturday gives the perfect excuse to indulge in some gardening mindfulness.

1 Daffodils. There’s no doubt now that spring is here.

2 Anemone blanda. I rather cruelly dismissed these a couple of weeks ago as under-performers, but since then more have popped up and are still appearing, looking happy with the daffodils alongside the front path. We finally had some glorious sunshine yesterday, so they were posing for the camera. Forget-me-nots all around them will be next in line.

3 Peas ‘Douce de Provence’ have germinated well and I think I’ll put them in the raised veg bed soon. I could have put them directly in the ground, but I like to keep an eye on them in the early stages, as this minimises losses from slugs, which have a particularly voracious appetite at this time of year. I’ll do a second sowing in a few weeks, we love peas.

4 Rosemary. Now a less edifying sight. Despite temperatures of -11 degrees C this winter, the rosemary beetles are clearly alive and well, and have been feasting on my rosemary. Why these southern European visitors are thriving after such cold temperatures is a bit of a mystery: all the southern Europeans I know struggle to get through a cold Belgian winter. I pick them off whenever I see their shiny metallic coats, which you can see on a post from December, but the grey grubs are harder to spot. I did take rosemary cuttings, but they don’t look so alive either. Has anyone else had trouble with these bugs?

5 Trees. I love the moment at which they are about to burst into new life. Soon, when it’s warm enough to do some morning exercises on the terrace, I’ll be looking up into their leafy canopy. Now, let me be honest, they do create an awful lot of mess for me – lime trees and hornbeam deposit much in the way of stuff and stickiness on the decking – but I wouldn’t be without them, and neither would the birds, squirrels and other creatures that enjoy them.

6 Clematis armandii ‘Apple Blossom’. I promised to feature this climber again, and here it is being fully appreciated by the bees. This baby is my star performer right now, don’t be surprised if she makes an appearance again next week!

These sunny pictures belie the reality of what was quite a soggy week, which meant that I didn’t get out into that garden as much I should have. Instead, I potted on my tomatoes and wrote about why I enjoy growing them so much, and I avoided the dreaded trench digging task of Operation Control Trumpet Vine, mentioned last week. I will have to get to that, but first I’ve got a date in a muddy Flemish field this afternoon, to dig out horse-manure from what sounds like a very large pile of the stuff. I’m doing it for the roses! I had better get my wellies out. You’ll find other marvellous contributions to The Propagator’s Six on Saturday weekly gardening fest on his site, so do visit to see what everyone is up to. Have a lovely weekend one and all!

Six on Saturday: 13 March 2021

Our twig supply has increased greatly thanks to the windy weather we’ve been having. Earlier this week, I audaciously went for a very breezy bike ride in the forest (wearing a helmet) – anything for a thrill these days, right? As the wind got up, I was caught in one of those flurries of leaves that race around with the frenzy of school children let out for break when the bell sounds.

Reckless behaviour aside, it’s been sedate on the gardening front, with two exceptions: we finally pruned the big apple tree, which always feels a little dangerous: OH up the big ladder, me climbing into the branches (my Dad was a mountain climber, but it’s easier to get up than to get down). The other excitement was the arrival of a beautifully packaged box of bare-root perennials from Farmer Gracy, which supplies Europe from the Netherlands. So here we go, it’s six on Saturday time:

1 Clematis armandii ‘Apple Blosson’ is just bursting with buds, I’ll have to show you this one again next week. First flowers have just sprung from all that amazing potential, shown in my first photo above.

2 Chaenomeles japonica. The Japanese quince had been earmarked for the chop, but it got a reprieve and seems to begging for mercy. I may be merciful. It flowers bountifully, and the bees enjoy it.

3 Forsythia. This one is on borrowed time. For me, it’s the suburban shrub extraordinaire, we had one in our garden in south London, and we have one here. I didn’t plant either one. When you get up to the flowers nice and close, they are quite pretty. Step back, though, and it’s just a bit messy, and as for the rest of the year, it does little to justify itself.

Pretty up close
Nothing special from a distance. Spot the robin playing peekaboo?

4 Helloborus x hybridus. From the ordinary to the sublime, I couldn’t resist including these again, this time photographed in their place of residence chez moi.

5 Bare-root perennials. I ordered some geraniums, Geranium phaeum ‘Springtime’ and Geranium bohemicum ‘Brookside’, because frankly you can never have too many Geraniums. Also Echinacea ‘Fatal Attraction’, and some Gladiolus byzantinus corms, which flowers in a fabulous magenta shade. The Geraniums have been potted up for now.

6 Tulips in pots. There were quite a few contenders for slot number six this week, especially as my daffodils are just coming into flower, but I feel most excited about the nine pots of tulips here. The great news is that even the Aladdin tulip bulbs, that had looked a bit dodgy and slightly mouldy at planting time, are in fine fettle. All the pots have been washed and positioned in front of the Cyprus hedge, on the mulch, facing Fort Knox cat protection system.

Depending on the weather, I may or may not finish digging a trench this weekend to make one last attempt at controlling the trumpet vine, which has travelled way beyond its limit on the wall and last year sent up suckers all over the place, I even found it climbing up into my clematis on an arbour several metres away. In the photo here you can see those blasted roots, which I’m going to try to trace and remove, then create a trench and line it with large ceramic tiles that are sitting in the shed.

Trench warfare

Well, wish me luck with that! And do visit The Propagator’s site for more Six on Saturday contributions, and if you like gardening, join in the fun. Have a wonderful weekend, thanks for reading and see you again soon.

Six on Saturday: 23 Jan 2021: Catkins

I’m still a little high on the novelty of a patch of blue sky and a few weak but welcome rays of sunshine, which arrived here yesterday after weeks of grisaillle (the Belgian/French word for miserable, grey weather: as grim as it sounds). Today also looks promising and mild. I had a lovely bike ride in the forest yesterday, getting a bit carried away with archaeological imaginings at a 6,000 year-old Neolithic site, and noticed that the beech nuts on the forest floor were germinating. On that encouraging note, let’s get started with this week’s Six on Saturday (six things in the garden on Saturday):

1 Rose pruning. I’ve done the two climbers, and the six bushes along the front path. Tick! Next up is the more intimidating job of pruning the old and too tall apple tree. The other half will need to help (he can go up the ladder, I’ll stay safe on the ground holding it I think!).

2 Euphorbia characias ‘Silver Edge’. A dwarf euphorbia which I planted last autumn to bulk up the cottage garden planting near the pink roses. As I was doing my rose pruning, I noticed the slightest hint of pink on some of the leaves.

3 Pieris japonica ‘Variagata’. Another white, green and pink number. They say everyone has a good side and less flattering side in profile, and this is the good side of my Pieris. She’s rather bare on the other half, but never mind, perhaps she needs a good prune to stimulate growth.

4 Tropaeolum tuberosum. I had been looking out for a supplier for these edible nasturtium tubers. There was a waiting list for them with a French supplier that fellow gardening blogger Fred had recommended to me for seeds (merci Fred), and as soon as they became available again, I snapped them up. There are three tubers, one of which has already sprouted, so I had better pot them up this weekend.

5 Clematis armandii ‘Apple Blossom’. Really looking forward to seeing this in flower soon, just look at those fat buds. I have to admit, this was an impulse buy. I was supposed to be getting one for a friend while visiting a specialist clematis supplier deep in the Flemish countryside, but it was March, the plant was in flower, and was simply irresistible. Luckily, I happen to have a warm, sheltered wall for it to clamber up. Phew…

6 Hazel catkins. I have two trees planted next to each other, right outside the front of the house, and we get a pretty view of the yellow catkins from the living room window. Hazel is wind pollinated, and has both male and female flowers on the same plant (monoecious if you like a technical term). The male flowers are born in huge numbers on the catkins, and for the first time I noticed the tiny female flowers with their crimson styles (see last photo). No need to attract the bees, no need to be showy!

Tiny female flower visible just above the end catkin

So there we are, thanks as always to our host The Propagator, you’ll find many other Six on Saturday contributions on his blog from many corners of the globe. From this Belgian corner, I wish everyone a great weekend, may the weather be kind to you!

Six on Saturday: 05 Dec 2020

Nipped out into the garden on Friday afternoon to take some photos, nearly froze my hands off, there was a very lively, bone-chilling easterly blowing. This could be the one that finally strips bare the Lime trees, adding the final valuable consignment to the leaf mould pile. The sky was wiped clean to reveal a raw, stunning blue.

Looking down towards the forest from the back patio on Friday afternoon

In keeping with this winter season of reckoning and contemplation, I’ll be taking a broader view with my Six on Saturday, looking ahead to next year, and mulling over a few changes.

1 Leaf Mould. Next year’s potting mix and mulch, I hope. Being more organised about it this year. The pile is looking respectable, and am even keeping it damp. Still got some clearing up to do, as you can see.

Looking up from the back patio, these Lime leaves will bulk up the leaf mould.

2 Compost. Every gardener’s biggest investment in the future, I think. I turned the pile, and am happy with this dark, crumbly result. Good compost is a beautiful thing. When you compost, you are participating in the life cycle of the garden. Am also very happy with the recycled crates, free from the garden centre, and assembled by hubby, which almost make a feature out of this area under the old apple tree.

3 Veg patch pathways. The main raised bed will be going into its third year of production next spring. A lot of things have congregated around it, pots of strawberries, a new apple tree, some herbs, a blackcurrant, and a raspberry bush or two. So I need to get some decent pathways around this area. Landscaping fabric and woodchips over the top might do it, what do you think? Or will the slugs make it their abode?

The veg patch

4 The neighbour’s shed. I call this colour Highlighter Orange, I imagine it might look good under the sun somewhere like Buenos Aires, but it’s not a colour for our Northern European light. As the large Forsythia drops its leaves, we see more and more of it. The dilemma is, how can I screen it without entirely cutting off this point of contact with my neighbour? We occasionally chat over the gap, and I have handed over my chickens (sadly not with us these days) to do slug clearance in her garden. Seeds, veg, plants and even honey (see her beehive on the roof?) get swapped this way too. In front is the new border, waiting to spring into life.

5 Time to remove the Japanese Quince. I have always been underwhelmed by this Chaenomeles japonica, currently in flower against the back wall. This is very warm and sheltered spot, south facing, under the trees just the other side of the wall, but not too shaded by them. I was thinking a fig tree trained against the wall could work well, though it would have to do battle with the climbers (Clematis armandii, Trumpet Vine and the Rambling Rose ‘Alberic Barbier’).

Close up of the Quince, admittedly it looks better from this angle
The overall effect, a bit wishy-washy I think
Just above the Quince, Clematis armandii ‘Apple Blossom’ is thriving

6 The Christmas Tree. So pleased it made it for a year in its pot and is looking decent. A bit scruffy in places, but nothing that can’t be hidden with some strategically placed decorations. It’s been cleaned, combed and brought up onto the patio by the back door, and it will have a brief sojourn inside over Christmas.

Speaking of Christmas, I hope everyone is staying calm in the face of it. Here in Belgium, there is little sentimentality. If you want to meet up over the festive season, you are allowed one guest from outside your household, or a maximum of four people in the garden (if this can be reached without going into the house). One of those four people is allowed to use the toilet in the house. This country is well know for its surrealism (see Magritte’s painting: Ceci n’est pas une pipe, etc.). How to negotiate who gets to use the toilet? I suppose if the other three garden guests are desperate, there’s always the compost heap!

Looking forward to seeing other gardeners’ gardens on the Propagator’s Six on Saturday page. Till next time.