Storm damage

More torrential rain in Belgium with further flooding in places, more upturned cars (a phone typo had this as ‘upturned cats’, as far as I know this isn’t a phenomenon but you never know) and muddy streets. Hope those climate talks are going well. A particularly heavy shower today brought down a heavy dahlia stem, so in they came!

The sea urchin is Dahlia ‘Bora bora’, and there’s also Dahlia ‘Antibes’ and scented pelargonium leaves. Sometimes I am reluctant to cut perfectly good flowers for a vase, but in this case the weather decided for me.

Six on Saturday: 10 July 2021: tribulations

Coping with loss, failure, and disappointment is as much the gardener’s lot as the more celebrated joys and triumphs of successfully growing beautiful plants and bringing in bountiful harvests. Perhaps inevitably, we highlight the good stuff and tuck away the bad stuff, well away from the camera lens and our brightly edited versions of our gardens. But this year has been tough in more ways than one, and the garden has not always been a source of undiluted pleasure. So far, summer in northern Europe has been unrelentingly wet, and a boom in slug and snail numbers of which locals have never seen the like has wrought untold destruction. Of course, it can never be all bad in the garden, so this week there’s still some solace among the slimey trails. For example:

1 Dahlias. Yes, this is the beautiful, almost black Dahlia, Chat Noir. The reason I know that is from the label. I was looking forward to these sultry beauties contrasting with the daylilies, but alas it was not meant to be. Despite numerous slug patrols and controls, Chat Noir was too tasty. But apparently not Dahlia Antibes, planted right alongside. This was was unscathed until the hapless gardener took a photo, and then recklessly knocked the bud off while attempting to move a potted Dahlia into the empty space occupied by the Chat Noir skeleton. Can’t blame everything on the slugs.

Rest in peace: Dahlia Chat Noir
Dahlia Antibes

2. Lavender and weeds. More tribulations. This is the first year I’ve seen bind weed take hold here in the lavender hedge along the front path, where it grows in a sweet spot unreachable from both our side and our neighbour’s side of the fence. Someone’s going to have to crawl under and attempt to locate the roots, and I get the feeling it’s going to be me. But perhaps I can take consolation from the more welcome weed that has self-seeded just in front: the wild mallow, which is looking a bit dishevelled but rather pretty.

3. Cosmos ‘Xanthos’. Somehow this made it through the ravages of slugs and weather, and is adding a welcome lemon tone to the front path border.

4. Ligustrum ovalifolium: Privet. Look what happens when you leave Privet to grow into a small tree, saved from the clippers. It produces sweetly scented flowers in abundance, that are a magnet for honeybees and other pollinators, including hoverflies. It also does a good job of screening the neighbour’s bright highlighter-orange brick shed. Another consolation.

Phone photo of privet, with salvia in the foreground

5. Hemerocallis. I have been awaiting these daylilies in the vibrant border with much anticipation, and here they are at last. A deep terracotta brick colour with a golden centre, it really works for me. They contrast quite nicely with the allium seedheads too.

Hemerocallis, unknown variety
Allium seedheads with Hemerocallis behind

6. Blackcurrants. So, I’ve lost a bell pepper and a chilli pepper planted out in the veg patch to slugs, and I can tell you the courgettes are valiantly struggling through but it’s looking iffy for them too. Thankfully these juicy blackcurrants are not to the molluscs’ taste.

That’s all from me this week, although you might see more from me next week as my teaching commitments are easing off now that most of my students are off on their holidays, quite a relief. You’ll find more in the way of gardening trials, tribulations and triumphs on The Propagator’s Six on Saturday page. Wishing you all a great weekend.

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: 13 Feb 2021: whitewash

Many of us in the Northern hemisphere have had a snowy, cold interlude, thanks to a Siberian weather front, and whether or not you have enjoyed this probably depends on how many half-hardy plants you have in the garden! In my case, the wonderful bright light, blue skies and glimmer of frozen lakes has lifted my spirits. A change is as good as a rest, especially during these monotonous Covid days. As for the plants, well we’ll find out which have made it through soon enough. Onto Six on Saturday, the weekly garden round-up…

1 White, white, everywhere. Obligatory photos of the snow-clad garden taken earlier this week, before the sun came out and before snowball fights made a mess. I wonder if the chard in the veg patch will still be edible after the thaw. On the terrace, fleece has been deployed to help out the sage, and a Fatsia japonica, hardy to minus 10 degrees C. We got down to minus 11 one night, so it’s touch and go.

2 Crocus. Remember last week’s hopeful flowers? Well, they’re still here…tough plants.

3 Sedum with a bobble. Just for fun, and to show that sedum is a plant that looks good all year round.

4 Chilli seedlings. For those curious as to how my LED plant lights are working out, take a look at these straight chilli seedlings. I’ve had a great germination rate on the Thai Dragon (5/6), not bad on the Biquinho (4/6) and zero on my experiment using seeds from a shop-bought green pepper.

5 Dahlia splurge. A visit to the garden centre to get some seed compost and a packet of seeds resulted in the purchase of nine new Dahlia tubers, three each of Chat Noir, Bora Bora and Antibes. The tropics await me!

6 Robin. The ultimate cute winter bird. He was photographed on a walk in a nearby nature reserve, but as this is the best photo I’ve got of a robin so far, he deserves an inclusion here. Forgive me for breaking the rules.

That’s it for this week, let’s see what other gardeners have been up to around the globe on The Propagator’s site. Have a lovely weekend everyone.

My monthly Fab Five: October

So, mid-October, there is a nip in the air, and the garden is dominated by the slow but steady leaf fall from our neighbours’ lime and hornbeam trees, which cover almost everything in about half of our back garden. Yes, they make a terrible mess and it’s a lot of work clearing them, so nowadays I have kind of given up on having a tidy garden, and I leave the leaves as a mulch on the borders. Human laziness, I tell myself, is good for the insects, grubs and worms, who will enjoy the cover and will work the rotting leaves into the soil, improving its texture.

I’m trying out a new format for my blog this month, here goes…

My monthly Fab Five: five fabulous things in the garden, month by month.

  1. Dahlias

I almost gave up on growing Dahlias last year – in other words, the slugs almost won. They really had a go at my plants, and those that remained didn’t flower so well. I realise now that the slug damage can be minimised by growing them in pots (and perhaps the chickens helped clear them earlier in the year), so I have got three large pots filled with Dahlia Bishop of Llandaff (bright scarlet), Dahlia Bishop’s Children (shades of red and orange, they are a seed strain from Bishop of Llandaff) and Dahlia Catherine Deneuve (a real sultry sunset orange-yellow beauty). I have also been kinder to them this year, keeping them well watered and feeding them with liquid tomato feed when I remember. They’ve paid me back by bringing a mood-lifting zing to a corner of my garden, near the front door of the house, and I am now an avid fan. Grow them, they will transform October for you.

Dahlia Bishop’s Children
Dahlia Bishop of Llandaff, with Lantana Camara in the foreground

2. Salvia ‘Hot Lips’

Slightly outrageous name, even more outrageous performance from this Salvia, which is sprawling all over the place by my front-of-house bed. Here she is caressing one of my little statues. We got these fellas from a local artist who exhibited in our garden as part of a local art event. Her sculptures looked so at home here that we decided to buy a couple and make them permanent features. Anyway, back to Hot Lips, she really is getting a bit out of bounds, but I’ll forgive her because she is putting on quite a show well into October, and all summer long too. She’ll get trimmed back in spring. I’m really getting into Salvias now, and am trying out some of the purple varieties (Salvia nemerosa Caradonna is a lovely one) in other bits of the garden, but these have pretty much finished flowering. For those who want to help the bees, Salvias have excellent nectar-rich flowers.

Salvia Hot Lips

3. Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’

This Japanese Hybrid Anemone had a slow couple of years, but this year she’s really coming into her stride. She’s also flowering her socks off long after her pink Anemone x hybrida sisters have given up. With the light levels really dropping off, she seems to shine out even more, and she’s in a part-shade east-facing border, which seems to suit her well. If you’ve got a shadier spot, I would really recommend this plant. I’ve paired her up with Geranium ‘Rozanne’, growing in front, which is also still flowering. You can also spot Pyracantha ‘Golden Charmer’ in a massive blue pot behind her, am hoping this will grow fast to cover the modern brick wall.

Anemone Honorine Jobert, with Geranium Rozanne

4. Beetroot and Spinach

No it’s not all over in the veg patch! The spinach and beetroot have survived their cross-country journey as seedlings (I sowed them in August at my Mum’s house in Kent, UK and brought them back to Belgium, miraculously they didn’t get squashed in our heavily over-packed car). They were transferred to the veg patch in early September and will be ready for harvesting young leaves from now on. I’ve also got chard growing alongside them, which is my go-to winter veg, it’s virtually indestructible and keeps on giving for months on end. And no, I don’t think it tastes horrible, why do people say that?! It’s perfect for a winter stew with butternut squash, lentils, carrots, you name it.

Young beetroot and spinach in the veg patch, plus a few self-seeded plants

5. Rose hips

No idea what variety this tall shrub rose is, but I do love its autumn hips. I’m not doing it justice with this photo, taken on a dull day, but wanted to include it in my Fab Five this month. It is a perfect fit for the shades of autumn. I haven’t tried using the hips for anything, but have heard that it can be made into rose hip tea, has anyone tried making that?

Well, there are my Fab Five for this month. If anyone fancies joining in with their monthly Fab Five – it can be anything you find fabulous in your garden at this time of year – then do join in or put your favourites in the comments section. Thanks for reading and have a fab gardening month!

Rose hips