Six on Saturday: 17 April 2021: still cold!

We’re having a very cold spring here: the garden table, optimistically uncovered earlier this month, is used mainly by the pigeons as a landing site for their droppings, as they roost in the trees above. It’s not exactly the kind of weather than induces much gardening. In fact, I’ve been away from the garden this week, as we took off for a refreshing change of scene in east Belgium, where we went for bracing walks on the fens and dodged snow storms. The region has an interesting history and a compelling, wild landscape which I wrote about here. So, very little gardening, but heavens it felt good to get away (said somewhat guiltily, thinking of those who yearn to but can’t yet). Despite my absence, the garden grows without the gardener, so there’s no getting out of Six on Saturday this week:

1 Aconitum ‘Henryi Spark’s Variety’. It’s been fascinating to watch this tower of shaggy foliage grow steadily upwards, and surprising to see flower buds. Isn’t Monkshood supposed to flower in late summer? The fact that it is deadly poisonous – you are advised not to plant it near your veg in case you end up eating a root by mistake – only adds to its allure. Just keep it away from your carrots.

2 Pulsatilla vulgaris ‘Alba’. The main reason for this being here is that I was green with envy after seeing Kind Hearts and Corydalis’ gorgeous photo of it in last week’s Six on Saturday. I happened to be at the garden centre and spotted it, and we all know how that story ends. It will be planted here to mix with the forget-me-nots and blue Anemone blanda.

3 Clematis alpina. The delicate nodding heads are just opening up now. Easy to miss, it’s been quietly climbing the wall, unpruned.

4 Oakleaf lettuce and upcycling. At least the lettuces don’t mind the cold. They’re growing on well in the mini greenhouse, so OH was tasked with drilling holes into wooden crates, which will be lined with old compost bags, also with holes, and then the lettuces will be planted and housed on the flat roof of the shed (I’ll show you pics of this novelty planting site when it’s up and running – the hope is that slugs won’t take up mountaineering to reach them). Meanwhile, my tomatoes, which are on a sunny windowsill indoors, are growing about a foot a day, it seems, which is alarming because it’s definitely too cold for them to go out yet but they desperately need potting on. They have reached the top of the window, so from the outside of the house, if you happen to be in the street and glance up, it looks suspiciously like there’s a cannabis factory on the top floor.

5 Heuchera ‘Caramel’. I like the way this one is constantly changing colour. The grape hyacinths make quite a bold contrast. Maybe too bold? Some geraniums have been divided and put into pots while I decide what to do with them, that could take a while. In the background, the viburnum with its snowball blossoms continues to fill the air with delicious scent.

6 Tulip ‘Abu Hassan’. These are the first of my tulips to get going – well, they are almost there. They were described to me in a gardening book as ‘dramatic’ and I can see they have the potential to be, more so perhaps if the hedge behind them could be the Moroccan blue shade of the pot in the background. The book that inspired me to plant them – The Pottery Gardener – has them in a metal container against a black background, and there they look sumptuous.

If you seek more gardening drama, have a look at The Propagator’s Six on Saturday page and enjoy the show in the comments section. I believe that our host also has some theatrical tulips to showcase this week. I hope that everyone has a great weekend, and that the weather warms up round these parts. I now need to call a man about some chickens, for the time has come to welcome our feathered friends back into the garden: watch this space.

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!

Shady Characters

Shuttlecock Fern and Nasturtium leaf contrasts

I decided to write about the shadier woodland section of my garden for my second post, mainly because the weather has been damp and a tad grey lately, and in these conditions I think the sun-lovers always look like they are missing something. By contrast, the shadier sections don’t seem to care, and even revel in damp drizzle (unlike me!). I just love the way, for instance, that the Nasturtium leaves catch and hold onto droplets of rain.

Shuttlecock fern with Heuchera and Geranium macrorrhizum

I have the good fortune to have a lot of shuttlecock ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris, also known as the ostrich fern) growing here, more by accident than design, but they really suit the situation, and don’t mind the overhanging trees (lime and hornbeam) in the least. They are statuesque, spreading slowly but surely via their rhizomes, and adding a really vibrant splash of fresh green: perfect in drizzle! I like the contrast they make with the Heucheras, and with Geranium macrorrhizum, which flowers earlier in spring to coincide with the newly unfurled and incredibly fresh-looking ferns.

My cat, of a nervous disposition, feels safe looking out from her ferny vantage point

When we moved here almost exactly three years ago, this area was essentially a huge patch of geraniums, interspersed with a few of the ferns, and overhung by our neighbour’s mature lime and hornbeam trees. Although they are next door, the trees really do feel part of the garden, and we added a raised wooden deck here, which is our main garden seating and eating area. It actually gets a fair bit of sun, facing south, but with the overhanging trees, so it’s an unusual combination (and quite challenging for some plants, I have discovered, as the tree roots suck out a lot of moisture, and in autumn their fallen leaves smother everything).

A woodland feel but with some herbs, which like this sunny edge. Rosa ‘Compassion’ is making its way slowly up the pergola

I added a pergola to one edge of the decking, to add some interest, give more of a sense of enclosure and frankly what gardener can resist a chance to experiment with a few extra climbers? I’ve gone with a climbing rose on one side, Rosa ‘Compassion’, which is doing quite well for its second year, and two clematis on the other side: Clematis ‘Etoile Violette’ and Clematis ‘Betty Corning’, both from the small-flowered, summer-flowering Viticella group, and both flowering now. They are quite old varieties, ‘Etoile Violette’ dating from 1885, with ‘Betty Corning’ around fifty years on its heels, launched in the US in 1932. There’s something special about growing plants that were enjoyed by gardeners living in centuries past, and the thought that they were getting the same pleasure from them as we do today, despite the world having changed beyond recognition in so many other ways.

The gorgeous plush purple flowers of Etoile Violette, offset perfectly by its yellow stamens
The romantic nodding heads of Clematis ‘Betty Corning’

It’s such a pleasure to see plants growing well, and these two clematis seem so content in their woodland setting. All that lush growth has certainly attracted the aphids, and if you look carefully you will probably spot them on my photos, but the clematis really don’t seem bothered, and are flowering away quite happily. I’ve noticed ladybirds in other sections of the garden, and I’m hoping that the presence of large amounts of prey for them will attract them over here.

Speaking of predators, here is another one who was hopping around as I took these photos, a very welcome visitor. I would love to know what kind of frog he is if anyone reading this has an idea….