Six on Saturday: 15 June 2021: busy as a bee

The garden’s had a good drink, as it’s rained quite heavily over the last few days, and it looks much refreshed for it. The risk of frost is almost certainly past now, so there’s planting out to do. Larkspur and Coreopsis seedlings have gone out, sweet peppers have been potted up into big pots, and I’ve planted Calabrese broccoli in the veg patch, plus the odd remaining tomato plant, I’ve pruned the forsythia and contemplated its utter destruction again and thought about replacing it with an Elder (Sambucus)…it’s time to be as busy as a bee, speaking of which, and onto my first item for this week’s six:

1 Honey bee swarm. Our neighbour keeps a hive on her shed roof, but things were probably getting overcrowded for them, so some of them decided to up sticks last Sunday. Their first port of call was our apple tree, where they swarmed in preparation for going out to find a new home. Before they got the chance, the local beekeeping network was alerted and someone came to collect them to make a new hive. I would like to keep bees one day.

2 The last of the tulips. What a wonderful display it was this year, they all did so well both in pots and in the border. All good things come to an end however, as you can see in my deadheading bucket! What to do with the tulips now is always the question: many in the border have been left in situ, hoping they’ll return next year, but others have been dug out to make space for other plants and chucked into plastic pots and put out of the way. I’m not quite sure I can bring myself to treat Tulips as ‘annuals’ and throw them all out.

3 Oh wait, there’s still Tulipa clusiana ‘Peppermint-stick’. This was the very last to flower for me this year, a bit strange as I thought they were supposed to be early. They are very different to the big and bold Tulips above, and they do flop about a bit in their planter, but are really quite lovely, especially when they catch the light. I will plant these in the ground now and hope they come back next year.

4 Clematis alpina. Nearly finished now, the blooms have opened up fully and look to me like they’re doing a can-can dancing routine: “the main features of the dance are the vigorous manipulation of skirts and petticoats, along with high kicks, splits and cartwheels”, if you get the idea. I’ve unfortunately lost the label, so am not sure what variety this is. This is its third season, and it’s really come into its own now.

5 Herbs and violas. Right by the kitchen door, I’ve got a handy collection of herbs in pots, perfectly placed for a quick dash out to grab something to enliven a soup, stir-fry, salad, sandwich, omelette, virtually anything really. You can just spot rosemary, curly parsley and one of my mints in the photo, and I think these violas match them perfectly, with a grassy Carex in the big pot behind them. The second photo is my mother’s day gift (it was last Sunday in Belgium): lemon thyme, lemon verbena, a flowering nasturtium Alaska, and two pots of French tarragon. The verbena is a new herb for me to grow, I’ll put it in a pot and use the leaves to make a citrusy, uplifting herbal tea.

6 Matteuccia struthiopteris, the shuttlecock fern. This fern is naturalised in the garden, and there’s a large patch of it under the arch by the glade. It’s at its freshest and best now. It produces many, many baby plants, which I lift and relocate, or give to friends. It’s an accommodating and handsome fern, growing happily in sun or shade, moist or dry soil.

Well, it’s a splendid time of year in these parts, full of lush green growth and life. Thank you all for reading, and if you fancy a peek at more gardens, as ever you can visit the Propagator’s Six on Saturday page. Have a lovely weekend everyone, I’ve got lots of planting to do, so I’d better get on with it!

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).

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Borage: bread for bees

Shimmering in the morning light

Bring some elven magic into your garden with borage (Borago officinalis, also known as Starflower). It seems to have walked right out of one of the flower fairy books I had as a child, with its bright blue star-shaped blooms perfectly displayed in a silvery haze of hirsute nodding flower heads. When you get up close, it really does look otherworldly, but even from afar it’s what catches my eye when I look out of the sitting room window in the morning towards the veg patch, as it is perfectly silhouetted by the morning sun.

There are many reasons to grow this beautiful annual herb. First of all, it is absolutely adored by bees and other pollinators too, hence it is also known as ‘bee bread’. So, if you grow it with your veg, you can be sure that you won’t have any problems with pollination. Apparently, if you have a honeybee colony, borage gives the honey a wonderful taste. My neighbour has a hive, so I wonder if she’ll taste the difference this year (I may have to demand a taste test).

A bee buzzes in for a nectar-rich snack

Borage also has an interesting history. Native to the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean region, it was prized by the Romans, who introduced it to Britain (along with a great many other plants). They used borage tea mixed with wine to give courage to their soldiers before battle. Victorian ladies also drunk it in a ‘claret cup’ with various alcoholic additions to ward off the blues. The sixteenth century herbalist and gardener John Gerard says of the leaves and flowers, when “put into wine make men and women glad and merry, driving away all sadness, dullness and melancholy”.

Borage oil continues to be used today in herbal treatments and is said to alleviate stress associated with cardiovascular conditions. The leaves are also nutritious, high in minerals like calcium and iron, and can be added to salads. I would only use the very young fresh leaves, as the older ones are a little bit too hairy! Or you could simply use the flowers, which look wonderful mixed with nasturtium and calendula flowers.

I love making ice cubes with the flowers for snazzy summer drinks. Simply pick fresh flowers, pop them into your ice cube tray, add water and freeze. If you want, you can add other aromatic edibles, like sprigs of mint, rosemary or thyme. Last year, I made a batch with viola flowers, which look perfect in a glass of sparkling elderflower cordial.

A pretty ice-cube with viola. Borage flowers work really well too.

Borage suits naturalistic planting schemes well, and in my little veg patch it does take up a bit of room, as these are bushy plants reaching up to 60cm tall, but for me it’s no great sacrifice given both its beauty and its pollinator credentials. As you can see, my plot is home to flowers almost as much as it is to veg: I try to let in as many of the pollinating plants as possible, on the condition that they don’t impede the growth of the vegetables.

Borage grows among shallots and self-seeded calendula, just coming into flower

As a little aside, I was delighted to find some self-seeded chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) in the patch, close to the borage. Goodness knows how it got there, but that’s part of the magic, right? I managed to pick just enough flowers from plants around the garden for a cup of chamomile tea.

Cheery self-seeded chamomile

So, plenty of reasons to find a nice sunny spot for borage. Once it’s in, it will be there for years, as it’s a reliable self-seeder, without being overwhelming. It seems to grow happily in clay. If you can, place it where it catches the morning sun for that shimmery, silvery effect.

Borage flower up close