Six on Saturday: 12 June 2021

Could this be the best week of the year in the garden? I think we’re reaching peak abundance, a generosity of growth and flowering that takes my breath away. This is the time to savour everything, and take far too many photos, and have far too many choices of what to put in Six on Saturday, and hope nobody minds too much that six is interpreted with much flexibility this week.

1 Rosa ‘Compassion’. I’m having doubts. I wonder if I should have gone for such a pink and blousy one here. I’ve got nothing against the rose itself – and what makes a good rose is so subjective – but I wonder if it’s right for its context. Perhaps something with smaller, more delicate blooms would have been better. What I can’t deny is that this rose is very healthy, strong and vigorous, and on its third season it’s reached the top of the arch. Btw you can just spot ‘Alberic Barbier’ rambling on the back wall there.

2 Front path roses. Lots of cottage garden frills here. The three roses you can see – the soft pink, the fuchsia-red and the soft yellow of ‘The Pilgrim’, were all here when we moved to this house, but the surrounding plants were not. I like the look of roses pushing through a mass of nepeta, geraniums, alliums, alchemilla etc. I would love to replace the not-very-attractive mesh fence with a white picket wooden one.

3 Rosa ‘Heritage’. I have added a few of my own to the front path, and this is my favourite. Its scent is the perfect rose scent, it’s what every rose aspires to smell like. It also has a beautiful porcelain delicacy. Well done David Austin on this one.

Here’s a close up of the fuchsia-red, almost magenta one, I don’t know the variety, so ID suggestions are welcome. It’s got a good, strong perfume and the shrub is upright and rather leggy. Seriously prone to blackspot but the flowers are lovely I think.

And here’s the pinky one, rather frou-frou but quite romantic mixed with the nepeta.

4 Rosa ‘The Pilgrim’. Another David Austin triumph, this rose flowers with such abundance. It makes a big shrub here, and judging by the sheer number of buds, I’ll be regretting not staking this better before long.

5 Companion planting with roses. I’m squeezing a few more photos in here, as the roses wouldn’t be complete without their companions, and to be honest, much as I love roses, I hate to see a leggy rose, so these plants do a great job hiding the spindly bits. The big stars here are the geraniums, the alchemilla (which has grown to monstrous proportions this year), and the nepeta. These are bringing in the pollinators and aphid-eaters in large numbers. I’ve experimented this year with leaving all the aphids untouched on the roses, and I can’t see any negative consequences at all so far.

6 Iris hollandica ‘Frans Hals’. I’ve got a pot of these on the terrace. I love the colours, and this bee with a rather pollinated bottom trying to squeeze in.

That’s all for this week. Hope you’re all keeping busy, but not too busy, in your gardens. I’ll be busy solving the conundrum of where to put the remaining dahlias, given that the ‘spaces’ in the borders that exist in my imagination are strangely occupied by other plants. How inconvenient. Similar issues exist in the veg patch, where peas, now producing an abundant harvest, appear to have bagged the space meant for the sweetcorn. I will have to have stern words. Have a great weekend and thanks for reading.

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: 23 Jan 2021: Catkins

I’m still a little high on the novelty of a patch of blue sky and a few weak but welcome rays of sunshine, which arrived here yesterday after weeks of grisaillle (the Belgian/French word for miserable, grey weather: as grim as it sounds). Today also looks promising and mild. I had a lovely bike ride in the forest yesterday, getting a bit carried away with archaeological imaginings at a 6,000 year-old Neolithic site, and noticed that the beech nuts on the forest floor were germinating. On that encouraging note, let’s get started with this week’s Six on Saturday (six things in the garden on Saturday):

1 Rose pruning. I’ve done the two climbers, and the six bushes along the front path. Tick! Next up is the more intimidating job of pruning the old and too tall apple tree. The other half will need to help (he can go up the ladder, I’ll stay safe on the ground holding it I think!).

2 Euphorbia characias ‘Silver Edge’. A dwarf euphorbia which I planted last autumn to bulk up the cottage garden planting near the pink roses. As I was doing my rose pruning, I noticed the slightest hint of pink on some of the leaves.

3 Pieris japonica ‘Variagata’. Another white, green and pink number. They say everyone has a good side and less flattering side in profile, and this is the good side of my Pieris. She’s rather bare on the other half, but never mind, perhaps she needs a good prune to stimulate growth.

4 Tropaeolum tuberosum. I had been looking out for a supplier for these edible nasturtium tubers. There was a waiting list for them with a French supplier that fellow gardening blogger Fred had recommended to me for seeds (merci Fred), and as soon as they became available again, I snapped them up. There are three tubers, one of which has already sprouted, so I had better pot them up this weekend.

5 Clematis armandii ‘Apple Blossom’. Really looking forward to seeing this in flower soon, just look at those fat buds. I have to admit, this was an impulse buy. I was supposed to be getting one for a friend while visiting a specialist clematis supplier deep in the Flemish countryside, but it was March, the plant was in flower, and was simply irresistible. Luckily, I happen to have a warm, sheltered wall for it to clamber up. Phew…

6 Hazel catkins. I have two trees planted next to each other, right outside the front of the house, and we get a pretty view of the yellow catkins from the living room window. Hazel is wind pollinated, and has both male and female flowers on the same plant (monoecious if you like a technical term). The male flowers are born in huge numbers on the catkins, and for the first time I noticed the tiny female flowers with their crimson styles (see last photo). No need to attract the bees, no need to be showy!

Tiny female flower visible just above the end catkin

So there we are, thanks as always to our host The Propagator, you’ll find many other Six on Saturday contributions on his blog from many corners of the globe. From this Belgian corner, I wish everyone a great weekend, may the weather be kind to you!

In a vase on Monday: A tale of two seasons

Each Monday Cathy at Rambling In The Garden invites us to share a vase of materials gathered from our gardens.

I have to confess that on a grey day like today (I know, another one!), I didn’t think I’d even venture out into the garden, but then I did anyway, without high hopes. I picked a sprig of Helleborus argutifolius, mainly going to seed now, as I find the lime green quite cheering. Then I started pruning some of the roses along the front path, and there were still some soft pink blooms bravely hanging on. So we have a combo of June flowering roses and winter flowering Hellebore. Well, it takes all sorts.

I added a few sprigs of variagated ivy, a couple of fern leaves that have still remained green despite usually being brown at this time of year, and then finally one of my favourites, silver helichrysum. My hand now smells slightly of curry, but that’s ok, because the vase itself smells of roses!

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…