Six on Saturday: 11 Sep 21: Keep it in the family

The Balat Greenhouse, 1854

This week’s Six on Saturday comes from my favourite section of Belgium’s botanical garden at Meise, just north of Brussels. It’s called the Cronquist garden (after the American botanist, Arthur Cronquist) and houses an enthralling collection of herbaceous plants, arranged neatly by family in beds – Cronquist was apparently instrumental in developing a new classification system for plant families. The beds are set off by an elegant glass and steel greenhouse built by Alphonse Balat, the court architect of Belgian King Leopold II. I was there on a rainy Friday this week, so apart from the gardener, I had the place pretty much to myself and was happy as Larry, darting around from one eye-catching plant to another.

1 Ipomoea lobata, also known as the fire vine, firecracker vine or Spanish flag. This really was like a firecracker, immediately catching my attention as I entered the garden and making me wonder why I didn’t have one of these beauties in my garden. I love the gradation in colour in those flower buds. It’s native to Mexico and Brazil; I have a theory that plants from that part of the world have done really well this year due to the intense humidity.

Ipomoea lobata

What was quite clever was the way it was planted up a simple steel grid structure, with individual vines planted on either side, seven in total. The height was also perfect, not much taller than me, so around 1.6 metres, or 5 foot 4 inches if you prefer imperial – so no ladders required!

2 Aster novi-belgii. Every garden should have an aster for a September display, and this one doesn’t disappoint.

Aster novi-belgii

3 Tagetes patula. These are French marigolds, or are they? The French think of them as Indian, as in their common name Oiellet d’Inde, but the Dutch associate them with Africa, Kleine Africaan. But they’re all wrong, they are native to Mexico and Guatemala! In any case, whatever we call them, these are delightful, with purple hints in the stems and leaves, and good height of around 1 metre.

Here’s an idea of how to combine them in a border. Just look at that yellow Helenium behind, weighed down with all those flowers, and there’s a tall Eupatorium on the other side.

4 Phyla nodiflora. I thought this was a charming little combo from the Verbenaceae family: an endearing little ground cover plant growing around a lemon verbena, Aloysia citrodora. The Spanish and Portuguese brought lemon verbena over from South America in the 17th C and cultivated it for its oil. I am less familiar with the Phyla nodiflora, aka the frogfruit or turkey tangle, presumably it got that name in the southern United States, where it is commonly grown as groundcover and perhaps where turkeys get tangled up in it, poor things!

5 Abelmoschus esculentus. Out of the corner of my eye, I spied these wonderful-looking seed pods, but it’s only when I checked the label that I realised these were Okra, or Lady’s Fingers, making them both delicious and beautiful. Who would have thought we could grow these here and end up with such a fine specimen for the September garden and the main ingredient for a delicious ‘bamya’ stew: okra cooked in tomato sauce with whole garlic cloves and served with basmati rice? I absolutely must try growing them next year!

Abelmoschus esculentus

6 Periscaria orientalis. Now, judging from my own garden, there are a lot of floppy plants at this time of year, weighed down with the weight of their blooms. But not this one, standing proud and poised as a ballerina.

Periscaria orientalis

Well I had to tear myself away from this lovely garden, where I could easily spend hours examining plants, and I also have to tear myself away from writing more as I’ve reached the limit of six, which is just as well, otherwise you’d all get bored dear readers! You’ll find other botanical sixes from all around the globe here too, on the Propagator’s site.

In my own garden, I’ve tasted the first of the sweetcorn, which was delicious but the cobs were only half-developed, probably not enough sun and heat this year. There are still a few sweet peppers and chillis coming along, and I think there are some radishes growing up on the shed roof, I really should get up there to investigate! Hope everyone has a good weekend – it’s looking a bit gloomy outside but I might try to get a bike ride in.