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: 16 Jan 2021: let there be light!

Mid January. At this time of year, I often feel like a participant in the Chinese communists’ famous 6,000 mile trek, the long march to freedom of the 1930’s, except that instead of the emergence of Chairman Mao as undisputed party leader, it’s the emergence of spring that we are marching towards (and perhaps freedom from the tyranny of Covid-19!). So let’s keep marching folks, the way seems long, but there are only two more Six on Saturdays until February! On this endurance feat, am keeping my spirits up with some good music (am flitting this week between Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and The Best of Bryan Ferry & Roxy Music), many cups of tea, some nice food and planning a new world order (or do I mean planting schemes?).

I’m going to start with some snow, a brief white interlude:

1 A dusting of snow. We were promised snow in Brussels this week, and this is all we got, it lasted for all of two hours on Thursday morning. I was mighty quick to get the camera, before it all melted. Honestly, I was expecting better, but hey ho, perhaps next time.

2 LED Plant Grow Lights. A new bit of kit! Arrived this week, can’t wait to try them out when I start sowing in February. Hopefully, goodbye leggy seedlings. It clips on easily to the window ledge, has four flexible arms, dimmers, timers for 4/8/12 hour bursts and a remote control! Cool. Here my Aloe is enjoying the full spectrum light. I feel like joining it.

3 Gaultheria mucronata berries. These are still doing well in their big blue pot.

4 Garlic. Planted in the veg bed in October, it’s pushing through healthily now. I counted about ten, which I think is how many cloves I planted.

5 Geum ‘Scarlet Tempest’. Already showing buds, this one flowers quite early in April. Although I lost two plants in the summer drought, one survived and I divided it into three, and planted these divisions in my new purple-orange themed border. They are a cheerful sight in flower – as shown in the second photo taken last spring.

6 Borage. Right plant, wrong place. I have decided that borage can’t grow in the veg bed. Simply gets too big, even though it’s an excellent decoy for blackfly/aphids, which left my veg alone last year, going for the borage instead. I love it though, so I’ll find a new place for it, but this fellow and his friends are going to have to come out. I wrote a post about borage, you can see it and photos of its brilliant blue flowers here. It’s worth growing not only for the beauty of the flowers and the bristly foliage that glimmers in morning sunshine, but also for its value to pollinators: scientists have found that after a bee visits a flower, it refills with nectar within two minutes, making it like a busy service station for bees!

To finish off, I’d like to thank readers for the great comments made on my post on herbs last week. I used all the herbs I mentioned to make this rather delicious topping for bread: chickpeas, red onion, lemon, olive oil, salt, pepper and all the fresh herbs I could lay my hands on. It felt like a taste of summer. That’s all from me this week. Check out the Prop’s site for lots of interesting Six on Saturday reads from all over the globle. Till next time.

Six on Saturday: Waiting: 09 Jan 2021

A cheery delivery.

This morning we woke up to the first frost of the year: a welcome change. All week, we’d had grey skies, cold and gloom, and in those circumstances what choice is there but to wait, to sit the month out? I’m waiting to sow all those seeds I mentioned last week, oh and a few more that just arrived in the post as an early birthday present for me. For my birthday tomorrow, my son promises to make me a chocolate cake (he has just recently learnt how).

Continue reading

Six on Saturday: Seeds: 02 Jan 2021

Happy New Year to you all! As my featured image, I share a sunset in the forest on New Year’s day. Still no snow, not even a proper frost here, but weak winter sunshine through the trees.

Lots has been said already about hoping for a better year for us humans this year, and being a member of the human race I of course share that hope! But I also harbour another hope, and a recognition that 2020, while awful for many, was a year of recovery for the natural world, a respite from our dangerous incursions into it, and our thoughtless spoiling of our environment. So my hope is that the success of the vaccination programme isn’t accompanied by a return to pumping tons of carbon into our atmosphere. Given the likely origins of Covid-19, it would also be something if we could ban the trade in wildlife and while we’re at it, improve conditions for animals in our factory farms. Here’s hoping…

In the New Year my thoughts turn to all the things that will grow in my garden in the year ahead. If January starts to drag a bit, which inevitably it will, I check my seed packets: a nice pick-me-up, especially in this dry (alcohol-free) month. So the theme this week is seeds.

1 Garden seed harvest. Isn’t wonderful that free seeds abound in our gardens? I have got better at harvesting them. I have never tried growing Asters from seed though, it seems easier to take the little plantlets that form around the parent. I will collect and sow some of the Hollyhock seeds, which itself arrived as a surprise gift seedling in my veg patch in 2019.

2 Panicum Frosted Explosion. Another gift, this one first arrived two summers ago in a crack in the pavement by our front gate. What chance, as this is a superb annual grass, that creates a misty frothiness around whatever it grows around, and is too insubstantial to block out the light. It has now popped up all over the place, and I’m saving some seed to use more deliberately. It could be fun in containers with other annuals, like the frilly pink Cosmos.

3 Aquilegia and other seeds in the ground. I was given a load of Aquilegia seeds in a plant swap last summer, and I just scattered them on the earth and hoped for the best. I think these are them, coming up here along the front path. There’s something else too, the frillier leaves, could be Chamomile. Part of the fun is waiting to see what pops up.

4 New flowering plant seeds. Probably the most exciting of the lot? New plants I haven’t tried before, including two types of Tithonia or Mexican Sunflower, which I probably don’t have the space for but hope to squeeze into the new border (purple/orange themed). Will they be happy? Who knows, it’s a gamble. A surer bet are the Nasturtiums, which I love and grow among veg and in pots, but have never tried the variegated version, Alaska. There’s also a sunflower with an enticing name, Velvet Queen, which I will have to save from the slugs but which will be nice to grow as food for the birds as well as a feast for the eyes.

5 New veg seeds. Ooooh, also exciting! I’ve never grown Cucamelons, or Mouse Melon, which is possibly the cutest name for a vegetable that I’ve ever heard. Another gamble, am going to try these in a large container growing up the south-facing brick wall of our terrace. Handy if we’re out sipping gin and tonics, and fancy a zingy addition to our drinks. Last year I grew a squash up this wall quite successfully, so fingers crossed.

6 Seeds sown in the autumn. Here in the mini-greenhouse, we have nicely labelled pots which in theory have seeds in the them, but no sign of life. The Bomarea edulis is an exotic addition thanks to the generosity of another Six-on-Saturday blogger, know for his unusual plants. Regulars may be able to guess who. The Nigella is from an old seed pack, so I just hope the expiry date can be ignored!

I will have to wait just a little bit longer before I can start sowing in earnest. Meanwhile, there are other important things that need doing, including a bit of hard landscaping and putting in paths where the mud has become intolerable, pruning etc. I wonder what other gardeners have planned – to find out, check out The Propagator’s blog, the host for the excellent Six on Saturday theme. Have a great gardening year everyone!

Six on Saturday: 26 Dec 2020

I thought I would give today’s Six on Saturday a miss, but the sun is shining, and after the torpor of yesterday’s Christmas lunch, I felt invigorated by an early morning Boxing Day bike ride, so here I am. I hope everyone had a pleasant Christmas day and is feeling hopeful for the new year ahead.

1 Rainbow. Hope is the theme of my first photo, taken on Christmas day, of our habitual view of the flanks of the forest. Surely a sign of better things to come?

2 Spanish bluebells. More hopeful signs on the ground. First sightings of the bluebells poking through. I know a lot of people have taken against Spanish bluebells, with some British gardeners seeing them as an invasive non-native species, which I think is a little unfair and disproportionate. They behave themselves pretty well in the garden, and haven’t colonised any other areas.

3 Fuschia magellanica seeds. The transformation from flowers to seeds took me by surprise this year. The others are all still in flower.

4 Chamomile. Lovely to see how well this has self-seeded itself along the front path. I will be making tea with this bunch in the summer, all being well.

5 Rosemary. Something has been nibbling away at it, and here is the culprit. I seem to have a lot of these rosemary beetles this year, and this unfortunate creature and accompanying grubs have been put on the bird feeder. This mild winter seems to suit them.

6 Snapdragons. I really wasn’t expecting these to still be in flower after Christmas! Perhaps it will pull through the winter? My garden is pretty sheltered by trees and brick walls, and you can see in the second photo that this little bed still looks decent. Apart from the ferns, not a lot has died back, the herbs are all fine and the Heucheras are happy here.

That’s all for this week, I’ll be back for a New Year Six on Saturday. There are still dedicated Six on Saturday regulars to be found on The Propagator’s blog, and they all go to show that there’s still plenty going on the garden, you just need to look.

Wishing you all a happy, healthy and more hopeful year in 2021, and thank you for reading!

Six on Saturday: 19 Dec 2020

The best thing about this week has been the weather. Lots of bright sunshine, very mild, with an almost spring-like softness in the air. This has been invigorating; I have done quite a bit of gardening. To be enjoyed as long as it lasts! Sorry for those bloggers in Ireland who seem to have had nothing but rain!

Here are this week’s Six on Saturday, six things in or about the garden, as hosted by The Propagator.

1 Great spotted woodpecker. He was my reward for clearing almost the last of the sodden Lime tree leaves from the terrace, and as I collected and swept, he tap-tap-tapped above my head.

2 Hot Pepper ‘Apache’. Still going strong, and still far too hot to add to anything! Must try a milder chilli next year. This one is great on a sunny windowsill though.

3 Rainbow Chard. It’s nice to have just a few veg still giving it their all in December, and Chard is one of my favourites at this time of year. Good for a small patch like mine, and perfect for a stir-fry with plenty of ginger, garlic and chilli (not Apache!).

4 Seed storage. I admit to being a bit jealous of Jon’s good-looking seed drawers, which he posted last week. Nonetheless, I can do some virtue-signalling through the re-use of old wine and champagne boxes (we lead a decadent life here in Brussels). They do the job nicely.

5 Dried flowers. These may be only a faint reminder of the glories of last summer’s flowers, but reminder they are. Are dried flowers frumpy and boring? I am in two minds.

6 Party-time Alliums. For a more snazzy look, I dressed up a couple of my Allium Christophii for a night out on the town. As I, like many, am missing out on both office Christmas party and nights out this Christmas, I clearly have far too much time on my hands to mess around with stuff like this!

It remains to wish you all a Merry Christmas, as merry as you can muster! This year, I have discovered blogging, Six on Saturday, and am learning about photography. I have been able to spend time getting to know my friend the Great Blue Heron. These are things I am grateful for, along with good health, and I hope you readers too have found simple pleasures and compensations among all the upheavals of this trying year.

Six on Saturday: 24 Oct 2020

I’m joining the online blogging community this week with “Six on Saturday”, the idea of a clever gardening blogger known as The Propagator, where we all highlight six things in the garden. Gosh, am finding it hard to restrict myself to six! Here is a link to The Propagator’s six by the way: https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2020/10/24/six-on-saturday-24-10-2020/

1 Grasses in autumnal sunlight. One of the highlights of this season for me. To be honest, we haven’t seen much of the sun this last week, but I took this photo as I was going out for an early morning bike ride in the forest, before the drizzle set in. The rays are highlighting my newbies in autumn pots: Heucherella ‘Sweet Tea’, Carex testacea ‘Prairy Fire’ and a little Gaultheria procumbens ‘Big Berry’. The sun is also illuminating the feathery fronds of a Miscanthus just in front of the pergola.

Morning light

2 Geranium x wallichianum ‘Hexham Velvet’. The colour of the flowers is more purple than pink, so the second photo is closer to what it really looks like. I like this low-spreading ground cover geranium, it has been flowering on and off for a long season in a semi-shaded spot in my front path border. The flowers have an attention-grabbing way of standing up proudly from the foliage, and I am happy with the slightly relaxed feel of the grouping (with Alchemilla and ferns).

Geranium wallichianum ‘Hexham Velvet’ with Alchemilla mollis and a fern.
Slightly fuzzy close-up, a contrast of purpley-pink and lime green from the Alchemilla flower

3 Heuchera ‘Caramel’. Back to my autumn pots, this one was picked out by my son at the garden centre. He isn’t massively enthused by gardening at the nonchalant age of 13, but when given free choice to take his pick of plants and create an ensemble, he gave me some useful artistic direction. I adore the colour combo of this Heuchera: buttery caramel leaves with pink undersides. We teamed it up with a fern, Dryoptreis atrata, that has fresh bright green foliage.

Heuchera ‘Caramel’

4 Viburnum Farreri. When we are blogging away in the future, maybe there will be a ‘release scent’ button which will allow you to be as surprised as I am every time I go to the compost heap with my kitchen scraps, and am hit with the dense sugary aroma of this Viburnum. It is flowering very early this year, well before the leaves have fallen. Sometimes described rather disparagingly as “an old fashioned shrub”, for most of the year it is totally unremarkable, but these tiny blooms really do pack a punch and make the regular trip to the compost heap quite pleasant!

Viburnum Farreri – I think!

5 Garlic. After relative success with shallots this summer, I was very enthusiastic about trying garlic in my little veg bed. Just one bulb of the variety Thermidrome – about 10 cloves – went into the ground in a right angle L planting pattern. The chicken wire is to stop our local foxes and cats availing themselves of the facilities. I must say it is nice to get that planting thrill this late in the year!

Garlic goes in

6 Winter Purslane. Also known as Miner’s Lettuce, or here in Belgium as Pourpier d’Hiver. The seed was sown in August, and we’re enjoying the fresh, mild leaves now. Annoyingly some little flies got into the mini greenhouse and are messing about with the leaves, and some are damaged and have odd brown spots, but there’s enough of the good stuff for a decent salad, excellent with a pumpkin quiche. Hoping to extend the cut and come again salads with an Asiatic seed mix I sowed this week – it’s late, I know, but am trying my luck.

Winter Purslane harvest
…and lunch featuring the Purslane

There are my Six on Saturday. This has been fun, I may become a regular Sixer. Have a great 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

Early autumn stars

It’s been raining heavily for days here, but this morning when the sun came out I could really see how the plants had benefited from a good and long-awaited drenching! They looked fresh and full of life, so I took some pics of my top performers right now. Here they are:

Rain then sunshine: a combo that is made for Alchemilla Mollis (Lady’s Mantle), a native of southern Europe. It’s worth having a few plants in your garden for this reason alone, as the leaves look like they are studded with jewels made of pure water! I recently learned that the name Alchemilla is from the Arabic, meaning magical or with the properties of alchemy (the prefix “Al” is the definitive article in Arabic, and a lot of English words that begin with Al are indeed of Arabic origin, including algebra, the Alhambra in Southern Spain, or the dreaded algorithm). In the Middle Ages, it was believed that the droplets of water collected from the plants in the early morning had healing and magical properties. If you look closely at my photo, you can see the hundreds of tiny hairs on the leaves that catch the drops and hold them in place. So, another amazing plant then.

The Japanese anemones add a freshness at this time of year, and look particularly good against the crisp autumn light of early morning. Mine are all in a border facing east, and they were suffering rather from the lack of rain earlier in the season, some even succumbing to mildew. The latest deluge has really refreshed them though, and there are plenty of new button-like buds reaching for the skies. I have the white variety, ‘Honorine Jobert’, which is from the Anemone hybrida group, as well as the traditional soft pink varieties, and a deeper, more intense pink which seems to have popped up of its own accord, and has proved very popular with the bees, so it must be richer in nectar than the others.

Still on the pink theme, my aster (can’t remember the variety) is just coming into bloom now. I always wait for this with anticipation, as it makes a wonderful show of daisy freshness, being quite large now, and reaching over a metre tall. In fact, it is getting very floppy, and hasn’t been looking that elegant, slumped over the lawn, so I have grabbed some spare chestnut fencing to keep it upright. This is why the flowers in my photo are all facing the wrong way, as they were previously trying to flower from lawn height! No doubt they will sort themselves out in a couple of days.

OK, now for some berries, of which I am a great fan. I absolutely adore the golden orange tones of this newly bought Pyracantha ‘Golden Charmer’. It’s perfect for the season, and it’s hopefully going to do a good job of covering a modern red brick wall, which I always thought looked odd as the rest of the house is a more mellow, aged brick. I’ve noticed that Pyracanthas grow really well here, and several houses in the area are densely covered in the cheerful orange, red or yellow berries. This plant also has a great name: from the Greek, “pyr” is fire and “akanthos” is thorn, hence the common name of Firethorn. It does indeed have killer thorns – that should keep the burglars away from my kitchen window! They are native to a wide region, from Southwest Europe to Southeast Asia, and they are a brilliant choice for wildlife friendly gardens, as the summer flowers are loved by bees, and birds enjoy the berries (if they dare come so close to the house to grab them, we shall see…).

Finally, some Skimmia japonica putting on a good show. I’ve acquired two little plants that are growing along the shadier side of my front path, next to a privet hedge. It’s quite a tough growing environment, as the soil is rather dry and a bit shallow here, but these are tough plants to I think they’ll do alright. Skimmia is another native of Japan and China, and here I’ve just got the female plants, as I wanted them for the berries. It will need pollinating by a male plant next year, so I will probably need to get one to be sure that it happens, even though to be honest I’m not so keen on their inflorescence, probably because I associate them with municipal parks and Tesco car parks!

Compensations of the season

Harvesting time for these red grapes

August is over, September is upon us, and there’s a bit of a feeling in the garden, and maybe more generally too, that the party’s pretty much over. Things just look a bit tired, with many plants having given their best and others struggling on gamely but clearly not as fresh and vigorous as they were earlier. Well it happens to the best of us.

Davis UC-82 with some courgettes

So it’s not the most exciting time of year in the garden for me, but there are as always compensations. The first and most obvious is the harvest of late summer fruit and veg. I’m having a good year for tomatoes, with all three of my seed-sown batches doing well and tasting delicious. Miel de Mexique, from an organic seed packet I bought in the garden centre here in Brussels, is a lovely juicy sweet cherry tomato which comes from Mexico, as the name implies, and is a good choice for drought tolerance, although I water mine frequently as I grow most of my tomatoes in pots. Next is Davis UC-82 (odd name but great taste) a nice, deep red, reliable plum-shaped tomato, that’s good for passata and tomato soup. Finally I was given some beautiful beef-steak Portuguese tomatoes as seedlings. We are really enjoying these roasted in the oven with onions, garlic, squashes, mushrooms….yum. They were thirsty plants, but well worth the effort of a bit of extra watering. The combo of the different types and sizes worked well, one to try again next year.

The delicious Miel de Mexique

Another great hit this year is the sweetcorn: what an amazing thing it has been to see these grow from their single corn seed into little seedlings, which I remember anxiously protecting from the cold by taking them into the shed each night in April when it got very chilly, then developing into towering majestic 5-6 foot tall plants and finally the miracle of a corn (or “ear”) from each of the seven plants in my little patch! They taste so delicate, sweet, with a soft melt-in-the mouth texture. The variety, Golden Bantam, is an heirloom one that became popular in the early 1900’s in the US, at a time when only white corn was considered good enough to eat, but Golden Bantam changed that. The seed company says they are robust plants producing two corns/ears per plant. Well I only got one per plant, but I’m still pretty pleased with them! I think I will grow sweetcorn every year from now on, they are the supermodels of the veg patch.

Sweetcorn a little earlier this season

On the fruit front, we’re well into the apple season now, and here it’s been a mixed bag. We have two trees, a very old Cox variety and a 3 year old “Reine des Reinettes”, a very old French variety which is known as “King of the Pippins” in the UK. The old tree seems to be giving up, and we’ve hardly had anything from it, and those we do have are far too high up to reach, so what is up there is for the birds and the wasps. Our 3 year old Reine des Reinettes, however, is coming on strong, and we’ve enjoyed the slightly sharp but very juicy fruit, with its very pretty red-blushed skin.

Reine des Reinettes

On top of that, we’ve got a very big grape harvest coming up. The bunches on the vine, which grows alongside a section of our front path, are looking very healthy this year, and are now turning a gorgeous deep purple colour. Last year I made grape jelly with them, which turned out well, so I think I’ll do the same this year. As I’ve been vegetarian for over a year now, I don’t plan to eat the jelly in “the traditional way” with meat, but there are plenty of other combos: great with goat’s cheese and oatcakes; spread on toast for breakfast, or on a tea cake or Victoria Sponge…it also gives a good, sweet flavour to sauces and stews. Yes I know it’s full of sugar and bad for you, but we are only talking a teaspoon or two at a time here!

There’s another activity that makes me realise all is not quite over yet in the garden, and that is taking cuttings and offsets. There are new plants to be had, and they are right there growing in the garden, all one needs to do is take a cutting, cut some leaves off, add to a vermiculite-compost mix in a small pot and then wait for roots to form. I’ve done this with some rosemary, and might do the same with catmint (such a useful little plant) and a stupendous purple berberis growing in a nearby front garden: I’m sure the owner won’t miss a couple of sprigs of that. For me, berberis has the most breathtaking autumn colour, I have always wanted one, and damn it I will find a spot for it somewhere!

So, even if bits of the garden feel a bit drab, it’s worth reminding ourselves that there is lots to look forward to, just around the corner.

To finish off, here is a snapshot of what’s still looking good for the time of year.