Six on Saturday: 29 May 2021: Feels like summer

Ahhhh, when I opened the kitchen door onto the garden this morning, it felt like stepping out into summer, with the added bonus that everything looked, felt and smelt so fresh after being drenched in rain for days. Outdoor living can recommence, and I might have to move the plants that have inevitably colonised the outdoor table so that we can have lunch on the terrace today. So today’s Six on Saturday marks that heartening transition from late spring into early summer:

1 Allium purple sensation. Couldn’t resist another photo of these from a funky angle, they are the most photogenic plants. Now that the weather’s improving, the bees are visiting them again in larger numbers.

2 Phacelia tanacetifolia. Speaking of bees, this one is a magnet for them. I used it as a green manure in the veg bed last autumn-winter, and I vaguely remember throwing some seed onto the vibrant border. It’s now popping up obligingly here and there, making a great little filler with its pretty foliage and eye-catching blooms, that look like hairy caterpillars before they unfurl.

3 Nepeta x faassenii ‘Walker’s Low’. One of my absolute favourite garden plants. This one edges the front path in a cottage garden mix with geraniums, lavender, roses and a few more alliums. Its a great one to sit beside for a few minutes and just watch bees buzz in and out all the time.

4 Geranium cantabrigiense ‘Cambridge’. Raised at Cambridge University botanic garden apparently. It’s a nice, neat and tidy geranium that edges the front path between the nepeta, and adds to the cottage garden feel of this section. Anyone following my blog will know that I am rather fond of germaniums, and if you are too, you can see two of my favourites in blue/violet flowering now on A Tale of Two Geraniums.

5 Houseplant holiday. They need a change of scene just like we do, and a good wash for that matter! I rarely have the patience or time to individually dust the leaves of my indoor plants, and why bother when they can all just come outside for a good, long shower? The rain has many upsides. Just ask the Hosta, which has revelled in it, I’ve never seen it look so fulsome, with not a single slug hole – they don’t come up here onto the table.

6 Glade upgrade. We do like to create extra work for ourselves, don’t we? Gardeners are deep down an unsatisfied bunch, always wanting to improve, to tinker and to transform. I definitely fall into that category! The glade is fading out of its spring colour now, and is increasingly shaded by the overhanging trees, but I felt that it needs a little path from the terrace round to the lawn, a miniscule little bit of mystery, leading to a Lilliputian bench which I’ve yet to acquire. I’m going to use our hazel rods to make an edging, tied together with strong cord, and fill in the path with bark chips. Does it need a lining too or can I get away without using one?

So, what am I going to do today? Well, the sun is shining, I’m very tempted to follow the example of one of our locals, and just lounge around. The gardening can wait. Thank you all for reading, and thanks as ever to The Propagator who leads us in the merry Six on Saturday dance, have a lovely weekend.

A tale of two geraniums

Having recently emerged from a 48-hour post vaccine fuzz, I decided to try a bit of gorilla gardening today as it’s a public holiday in Belgium. Given our weather conditions in northern Europe this month, this meant making surreptitious raids to sow a quick lettuce crop or pop some gladioli bulbs into the border, before being forced to beat a hasty retreat by the superior firepower raining down on me from the heavens.

Geranium sylvaticum in the border

During one such sortie, I appreciated two geraniums bringing late spring splashes of colour to the garden. These are not bold and show-stopping like the peonies or roses coming into bloom soon, but they bridge the gap between spring and summer in a dainty and pretty way, and they lend themselves to all sorts of interesting combinations.

Geranium sylvaticum ‘Mayflower’

The first is Geranium sylvaticum ‘Mayflower’. As the name implies, its a woodland geranium, native to Europe, that likes cool conditions, so is perfect both for this weather and for my east-facing ‘cool shades’ border.

The flower has an intensity of colour between blue and violet that I find very appealing, and it has tightly packed clusters of buds, promising a reasonably long flowering period. It makes a nice upright mound of foliage, about 70 cm high.

G. sylavaticum ‘Mayflower’ with sweet woodruff

I’ve combined it with the white dazzle of sweet woodruff, Galium odoratum, which is enthusiastically spreading, some young Japanese forest grass, Hakonechloa macra (I like a bit of lime green in a shady border) and higher up, Aconite.

G. himalayense ‘Gravetye’

Geranium himalayense ‘Gravetye’ is a strong blue, with large cup-shaped flowers that have violet veins and striking black stamens. I think this one does well with a bit more sun – I’ve got it at the top end of my front path border, where it’s in lightly dappled shade. It was found growing in Turkestan; the ‘Gravetye’ refers to Gravetye Manor, the English country home of a nineteenth century garden writer named William Robinson.

G. himalayense ‘Gravetye’ in the border

I like the contrast of blue and orange, so here I’ve combined it with Geum ‘Scarlet Tempest’ which is another good bloomer for this time of year. The Geum is a bit sprawly and lanky, but that means that the flowers intermingle with the low growing Geranium’s quite nicely.

Geranium himalayense ‘Gravetye’ with Geum ‘Scarlet Tempest’

It looks like more gorilla gardening for me until the weather improves, which it’s supposed to do towards the end of this week. Will we finally be soaking up some sunshine? I live in hope.

Notes from a soggy garden

It’s been raining, a lot, a deluge that just keeps on coming. Gardeners up and down the country have been complaining, somewhat bitterly, that growth is slow, seedlings are sulking, French beans aren’t germinating and slugs are thriving; but on the other hand, the plants themselves just go about their business: growing, flowering, preparing to reproduce.

Aquilegia vulgaris

The plants in the ‘cool shades’ east-facing border seem unperturbed by the wet, if anything they are revelling in it. The aquilegias are now at their prettiest. I was given the dark purple wild ones by a neighbour in a swap (she got tomatoes from me in return), and the white one was picked up on a quick visit to the garden centre. It sports fabulous spurs, and looks good with the Ostrich or Shuttlecock ferns in the background.

Aquilegia vulgaris ‘Alba’

The aconite has begun its mysterious unfurling. The tight new buds higher up the stem look like inscrutable little aliens, while the opened petals bring to mind their common name, Monk’s hood, although I like to think of them as deadly cloaked assassins, fleeing from the scene of their unspeakable crime. Aconite is a highly poisonous plant, so this role of assassin suits them.

Aconitum napellus ‘Spark’s variety’

Another dusky plant, Geranium phaeum ‘Springtime’ is a quiet character in the border, but its satin sheen gives it grace and allure, and this variety also has striking white and green marbled foliage.

Geranium phaeum ‘Springtime’

Alchemilla mollis is at its best when bejewelled by rain drops, although at this point only a couple remained. It’s growing at an astonishing rate daily, and threatens to engulf its neighbours. The frothy lime flowers will be out soon to make lovely contrasts.

Geraniums don’t mind the rain either. Many of them are just getting into their flowering.

G. himalayense ‘Gravetye’

So hard to pick a favourite geranium, but I love G. himalayense ‘Gravetye’, which has lovely large cup-shaped petals with violet veins and black stamens. There’s a Geum, ‘Scarlet Tempest’, upping the tempo in the background. Both are in dappled shade at the top end of the front path.

Further down the path, a clump of chives is in full bud – I love this stage – with some chamomile also coming into flower.

And while we might bemoan the rain, don’t these glistening drops add magic to the buds of oriental poppies, which remind me so much of dinosaur eggs that I expect pterodactyls to hatch out any day now. Even in the humble veg patch, the rain adds a touch of magic to the flowers of peas, this one is ‘Douce de Provence’.

To top it all off, the first rose to open up in the garden: what a moment, I feel a glass of Prosecco is in order! This one is a lovely botanical rose, single flowers of soft primrose yellow, and interesting almost fern-like foliage. It’s Rosa¬†x¬†cantabrigiensis, a rose developed in Cambridge botanic gardens in the 1930’s.

Rosa x cantabrigiensis

So really one feels much better after a tour of the garden, to see things alive and well, by and large, in their soggy domain.

Six on Saturday: 08 May 2021: A walk up the front path

Looking down the path, sunny side on the left, shady side on the right with the big yew ball. The forget-me-nots have colonised the sunny side, and I’m hoping the white Honesty will too.

I associate May in Belgium with paddling pool weather, as when my son was younger he loved a splash in the garden at this time of year. But it’s far too chilly for paddling, I’m still wearing my woolly cardigan! At least it has rained, so the plants are content. I’ll only be content when I can sing along to “Here Comes the Sun”.

This week I’m going to show you the front path, which was once dolomite, laid to grass on either side, with some old roses on the sunny side. It made for extremely awkward mowing and represented, mais oui, a wasted planting opportunity. So, little by little, turf was lifted and things became more interesting. My first choice for this week’s Six on Saturday goes to a sun lover by the front gate:

1 Iris germanica (I think). The first time I’ve had an iris flowering in my garden. It’s with its other iris friends in the sun-baked front-end of the front path, right by the gate, but none of its friends have come out to play with it, which means it looks a bit silly all on its own. What’s the secret with Irises, are they tricky, do they need more than just sun?

2 Geranium. I’m a big fan of geraniums, if only I could remember all their names. This one is further up the front path, a nice, clean blue. I like the simplicity of the flower too.

3 Rhododendron ‘Horizon Monarch’. More front path action, but this is on the shadier side. I was horrified when the buds started to emerge in a saccharine peachy pink in the first year after I bought it, and I thought a terrible labelling error had occurred. Thankfully, the peach is just a teaser, the soft Cornish clotted cream yellow reveals itself splendidly when they open up, with just hints of peachy pink, phew. It’s an impactful shrub that doesn’t grow to the monstrous size of some rhododendrons, max 2 metres high.

4 Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’. Neighbouring the rhododendron is this bright wood spurge which has been adding zingy tones to this shady spot for weeks now, but got shoved off the Six on Saturday slot by limelight-hogging tulips. It’s time to remedy that, as this really is a super plant for those tricky spots in dry shade. I wish I had planted another patch on the other side, so I’ll try some cuttings this year. Has anyone tried this with Euphorbia? Behind it are ‘Fire King’ wallflowers, which seem happy enough here, but are out of sniffing range.

5 Tiarella ‘Pink Skyrocket’. Such a dainty little thing, but tougher than it looks, I’ve got three of these in the dry shadow of a large yew, shaped by the previous owner into a giant ball. They don’t seem to mind at all. When they’re not in flower, the deeply dissected leaves make an attractive ground-covering slowly spreading mat of purpley-green. Highly recommended for tricky spots.

6 Strawberries. When we laid new gravel on the path last year to replace the dolomite, the workmen thought I was a bit of an eccentric/batty English lady, insisting that they don’t remove the self-seeded strawberry plants that they called weeds. Belgians, I find, tend to favour clean straight lines and perfect symmetry in their gardens, but I like the ways these cheekily break into the gravel, and who can complain about picking wild strawberries just outside the front door? I will have to watch those runners though, otherwise the front path may become a strawberry field.

Well, hope you enjoyed that little stroll down the path, I’ll revisit it soon when the roses, catmint and more geraniums erupt into a frothy cottage-garden flower fest. So much to look forward to, and hopefully some paddling pool weather will be on its way too. There’s much more to see over at the Propagator’s Six on Saturday page, pop over and have a look. I need to decide what to do with all my pots of going over tulips, and hopefully do some planting out of seedlings in the greenhouse if the weather allows. Have a great weekend everyone.

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!

Cottage garden favourites

My front path is at its best in May and into the beginning of June. The roses are in full swing, and they look really good now with their cottage garden companions: Nepeta (cat mint), alliums and geraniums.

Nepeta, geraniums and alliums jostle with the roses

I’ve chosen these plants for three main reasons:

  • They attract pollinators, especially bees. This area has been buzzing non-stop ever since the Nepeta came into flower in early May.
  • They are pretty drought tolerant. This is a hot south-facing spot, and our summers, even our springs it seems, are getting drier and drier. It seemed like a good idea to minimize watering.
  • They hide the extremely straggly, downright ugly legs of the old roses, and make a romantic unashamedly cottage garden colour combo of soft pinks, blues and purples, offset by the gentle creamy yellow of Rosa ‘The Pilgrim’ further up the path.
The soft and delicate Rosa ‘Heritage’ against Nepeta

A year ago, this part of the garden looked completely different. Both sides of the path were long strips of lawn, interspersed neatly with the established roses that were already here. As this is one of the sunniest sections, it felt like a wasted planting opportunity, and mowing it was a pain, involving complex contortions with the mower to get it around the roses and along the narrow strip.

Looking up the path towards the house. The exuberant soft yellow rose is Rosa ‘The Pilgrim’, a David Austin English rose.

I love the way the Nepeta tumbles over the path, it is just the right height to brush against and I love rubbing my hands through it as I walk past for that aromatic Mediterranean scent. I have to be careful not to rub a bee by mistake, as they are here all the time. This variety is Nepeta faassenii ‘Walker’s Low’, which isn’t particularly low as you can see. It’s a fantastic value plant, as it is so easy to take cuttings and make new plants, and it will flower again later this season if I take the shears to it soon. I will definitely take some more cuttings too, as I think it would be nice to have another patch of this blue fuzziness repeated further up the path. You can also make tea from the dried leaves and flowers, although I haven’t tried this yet so if any readers have any tips on that, I’d love to hear them.

The alliums, all Allium ‘Christophii’, are adding a nice little bit of spikiness to this soft and gentle theme, and they hang above the other plants at just the right height. I am so glad I moved them here, before this they were rather sad and uninspiring in an east-facing border and are much happier here in full sun. I remove the seed heads around now because they tend to flop over, and hang them in the house to dry and hopefully use for Christmas decorations.

As for the other part of this trio, the pink Geranium, this was given to me by my mother-in-law, from her country garden in Kent, England. I don’t know the variety, but it is a wilder form of geranium, loved by the bees but with a tendency to grow outwards energetically, baring it’s centre. This isn’t the best look to be honest, but it doesn’t show up too badly here with all the other planting, and can be remedied by cutting back hard when flowering time is almost up.

While it always feels like such a pity to cut back the Nepeta, the good news is that a large patch of lavender is just coming into flower at the bottom of the path, making a perfect nectar bridge for the bees, who will soon to moving on to that. They have also been feasting on the bramble flowers, and it looks like we’re going to have an incredible harvest this year, and an early one too – the fruit is already setting and it’s only early June. I will freeze some so that there will be plenty for apple and blackberry pie in the autumn, probably one of the most divine ways to enjoy blackberries, hot from the oven with lots of cream! Yum, yum…