Six on Saturday: 18 Sep 2021: soft and gentle

September is proving to be a soft, mellow and gentle month, just as it should be, so at last the weather is doing what it’s supposed to. Though the days are shorter, and the night is encroaching ever further into the evenings, the sun still has a lovely warmth to it – we need to bask in it while we can. I feel like I’m on borrowed time, and even as I write this, am looking at that bench thinking I ought to be sitting on it! It’s a bit of a raggedy time in the garden, frankly, but grasses are throwing out their seed heads, and little pops of colour are brightening the vibrant border – still in its first year, so a bit gappy but pulling through.

A clump of Tithonia and a few bits and pieces

1 Sunflower: Helianthus annus ‘Velvet Queen’ was supposed to be one of the less tall, spreading varieties. Ahem. You can see its tall, very silly, spindly stem in the photo above, so it’s not at the right height at all, but the flowers are a nice russet colour. Silliness aside, I hope the birds will enjoy the seeds in winter.

2 Dahlia ‘Antibes’ has survived the usual ravages of slugs in the border, and is throwing out appropriately autumnal reddish blooms.

3 Pennisetum ‘Fireworks’ with Salvia ‘Nachtvlinder’ make a nice pairing. The seed heads of the Pennisetum are soft and furry, like rabbit’s ears. Nachtvlinder, now becoming rather trendy, is a sultry velvety shade, and is doing pretty well for its first year.

4 Gladiolus byzantinus has finally appeared, planted out this spring. There are more on the way I hope. In the morning light, it looks pinker, but it has a nice magenta tone in the petals.

5 Gladiolus ‘Velvet Eyes’ came as a bit of a surprise. I’d planted a bunch in the spring of last year, and they all flowered last August, with terrible timing as I’d gone to the UK for three weeks during that ‘Covid opening’ phase of last summer, so I missed them. Then I lifted and stored them in the shed last winter, and the bulbs went mouldy. This single survivor was missed and left in the border, surviving one of our harshest winters. There’s a lesson in there!

6 Pyracantha ‘Golden Charmer’. Coming to six already, I realise how much is still going on in the garden, but I have to include some of these delightful berries. Pyracantha is one of those plants that divide opinion. My neighbours have one and call it ‘the devil shrub’ because they hate pruning it, getting caught up in its admittedly rather spikey thorns – but they prune it so much that it doesn’t have a chance to produce berries, so no wonder they don’t like it, they are missing its best feature! I really enjoy these generous clusters of berries and have two in pots near the house.

That’s all from me this week, I need to get to that bench, quickly before the day and all its activities take over. For more Six on Saturdays from around the world, visit The Propagator, and have yourselves a lovely weekend.

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.