Six on Saturday: 25 Sep 2021: Wishes and Karma

I’m publishing two posts today – a rather excitable one on the new allotment I’ve got a share in – and this week’s Six on Saturday, as there’s still plenty to revel in as September draws to a close.

1 Salvia ‘Ember’s Wish’ was an impulse buy as I was killing some time last Saturday afternoon while my son did his theatre class. There’s a nice little garden centre run by some friendly Flems nearby, so this inevitably means picking up a plant or two. This one stood out. It’s one of the Wish collection salvias from Australia, and part of the sale proceeds go towards granting wishes for children with life-threatening medical conditions. The flowers are a lovely coral-red with dusky pink bracts and there are purple tones to the leaves and stems. Only downside – it’s not fully hardy, but I will enjoy it through autumn.

2 Begonia ‘Picotee Sunburst’ is described as ‘an indefatigable bloomer from mid summer to the first frosts’ but my three in pots seem very fatigued. They have been growing at a snail’s pace since spring, and only now are deigning to flower. I’m probably not giving them something they need, and so they are sulking. Never grown them before.

3 Calendula ‘Daisies Mixed’ – many thanks to One Man and His Garden Trowel for the seeds for both this calendula and number 4. I was late sowing these, so they are flowering much later than my ordinary orange calendulas, but they are worth the wait. I’ll let them set seed and grow more of these next year.

4 Calendula ‘Snow Princess’ is an interesting colour mix, the petals starting off a soft yellow and then turning white, but retaining a hint of that yellow towards the centre, and the very tips of the petals are brushed with brown.

5 Dahlia ‘Bora bora’ is flowering again, this time in combo with some perennial sunflowers in the background. I really can’t get enough of this cactus dahlia.

6 Pot luck. We’ve got a neighbourhood WhatsApp group for a small collective garden managed by a very sociable Italian (is there any other kind?) up the road. I recently dug up some overgrown Alchemilla mollis, divided them and offered them to the group. They went like hot cakes. Then another neighbour offered some aged terracotta pots he didn’t want, so I was very pleased to get hold of these four, just in time for planting up bulbs. A bit of gardening Karma.

Plenty more Six on Saturdays to see on The Propagator’s site. Wishing everyone a great weekend. Here we have another glorious sunny September morning, so hope the weather is good wherever you are.

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: 31 July 2021: Save the insects!

A bumblebee enjoys the Oregano

It’s been a week of gusty winds and unsettled weather, but also of good-ish news: double-vaccinated EU residents are finally going to be allowed to travel to England without the need to quarantine, allowing families (like ours) to reunite. Except for anyone coming from or going through France to reach the shores of Albion, which we do. We’re told this is because there are cases of the beta variant of Covid-19 on Reunion, an island in the Indian Ocean which happens to be an overseas French territory. Now I know we’ve been fighting wars with the French for much of our history, and there’s a bit of a love-hate thing going on, with recent seismic events testing the love a little bit, but surely this is going trop loin?

I’ll leave you to ponder that and move on to the less testy and altogether more wholesome Six on Saturday, as hosted with aplomb every week by The Propagator. Here are my favourites this week:

1 Oregano. A great nectar-provider at this time of year, the bees have really been enjoying it, as have the cabbage white butterflies. We also enjoy it, especially in an omelette or with tomatoes (it’s a lot less fussy than basil).

2. Bee beetle (Trichius gallicus) on Leucanthemum. I’ve downloaded a new app to help me identify insects, and have found one that also logs observations on a website for scientific monitoring (for Belgian readers check out Waarnemingen). Given how much trouble insects are in, especially after the cold spring we had this year, and the effects of climate change on weather, this seems like a good idea. This sweet little beetle is apparently relatively common and a native species, though it’s the first time I’ve seen one.

3. Salvias. I’ve developed quite the little collection of these wonderful plants: they’re long-flowering, disease-resistant, aromatic, pretty and excellent nectar providers from summer through to autumn. British gardener Sarah Raven claims that if you plant these next to roses, the roses won’t suffer from blackspot. I’ve put a few near my roses to see what happens and will report back to you on the results, but even if it doesn’t work, these plants are useful to extend the interest of the shorter rose-flowering season and are great for insects. I couldn’t decide which to feature, so here’s a gallery of my favourites flowering now in the garden.

4. Aconitum henryi ‘Sparks Variety’. The intense blue of this aconite is quite compelling, I find. I had another aconite that flowered in the spring, which was less branching than this one and a touch lighter in colour, and had confused them: it seems I have somehow got two different varieties, not sure how that happened!

5 Hydrangea paniculata ‘Vanille Fraise’. It’s been a great year for the water-loving hydrangeas, after all they’ve had plenty of it! They are brimming with health and vigour, as this one demonstrates.

6 Vegetables. The first cucumber is about ready to pick, don’t you think? Last week I had to remove all the tomatoes because of blight, but the cucumber has really enjoyed this year’s humidity and is climbing up the wall as if it plans to go visit the neighbour. The sweetcorn is also looking promising, as are the Thai Red Dragon chilli peppers.

We’re off on holiday next week, so I might not be posting for a little while. I just hope the designated care-takers keep chickens, cat and seedlings of biennials and veg alive. Have a great weekend, may the weather be kind to you and hope to catch up with you again soon.

Six on Saturday: 05 June 2021: vibrant vibes

We’ve had a week of warmth and sunshine, though a big thunderstorm yesterday and lots of rain overnight means that there are a lot of floppy plants out in the garden now, being merrily slithered over by slugs. Luckily I took my photos before the storm, so it’s a summery feel here for Six on Saturday, hosted by The Propagator and bringing together gardening aficionados from far and wide.

1 The vibrant border is doing its thing, being obligingly vibrant. While I’m sorry to see the alliums going over, over the last week the salvias and oriental poppies have burst into flower, and the geums continue to bloom away cheerfully. I like how this works as a whole right now, though I know the poppies won’t last long (sob!). The plan is that the daylillies and echinaceas will then take over, and that the sunflowers, heleniums and tithonias that I planted at the back will get going in late summer if the slugs don’t get to them first. I have really enjoyed the process of planning this border and trying to get the continuity of flowering from spring through to autumn. Let’s take a closer look at some of the plants here.

2 Oriental Poppies. What a plant! I absolutely adore it. It’s got impact, it’s got class, it’s got pollinator-friendly credentials. What is blooming here now came from one plant that I bought last summer, and then divided into three in the autumn and planted into the new vibrant border. Like a lot of the plants here, it has a definite lean towards to the sun but you don’t really notice it from afar. The bumblebees like to pop in and do their buzzy vibrations.

3 Salvia nemerosa ‘May Night’ and Salvia nemerosa ‘Caradonna’. The good thing about planting these two together is that the May Night comes into flower first, but makes a good match with those lovely dark purple stems of Caradonna. I think the flowers of May Night have more impact because they are fatter and the deep blue colour is a very good contrast with the other vibrant shades in the border. The spikiness is also fab against the roundness of the allium flowerheads.

4 Allium ‘Purple Sensation’. Regulars will know that this is not the first time it’s been featured recently, but even going over as it is, it just adds an excellent element of vertical and straight rather than floppy height to the area. I will be sorry to see the purple element fade but the seedheads are still looking good. I am just wondering if I can squeeze some echinacea between the bulbs without damaging them, to bring some extra interest later this summer.

5 Geum ‘Scarlet Tempest’. I like the way this is adding an orange understorey and long-lasting colour. When the tulips had gone over in the border, I felt that on its own it dominated too much, but now it’s got company it’s back in my good books. Also, in good news, it seems that contrary to what was happening in May, the bees are visiting this plant too. I was concerned enough about the lack of pollinator activity to contact Professor Dave Goulson, author of Gardening for Bumblebees, to ask him if geums really are pollinator-friendly, as often advertised. He very kindly wrote an email back to me, and said: “Many lists of good plants for pollinators are not accurate. I have never tried either of these [G. Scarlet Tempest and G. Mrs J Bradshaw], but have rarely noticed many insects on garden geums. If nothing visits them in your garden then they can’t be very good!”. The only thing he forgot to consider was the weather: it was so cold in May that few bees were about, and now that’s changed, the bees do visit them, though perhaps not as enthusiastically as some of the other plants here.

6 No-Mow-May leftover. Not strictly part of the vibrant border, but facing it, is the remnants of our unmown lawn, vaguely in the shape of a UFO. This lozenge stays for a little longer, a visual representation of marital compromise (there was some debate with OH about how long no-mow-may should extend into June, so this is the result after I got my hands on the mower!).

I now feel like I need to write another Six on Saturday to show you the front path, which is a pastel heaven, very different to the vibrant border, but I think that will have to be in another post. For today’s tasks, I’ve got sweetcorn plants that could do with being planted, but the space is still being occupied by peas, so I think I’ll have to pot the sweetcorn on and just wait. It’s really the time to sit back and enjoy our gardens now after all the hard work earlier.

My monthly Fab Five: October

So, mid-October, there is a nip in the air, and the garden is dominated by the slow but steady leaf fall from our neighbours’ lime and hornbeam trees, which cover almost everything in about half of our back garden. Yes, they make a terrible mess and it’s a lot of work clearing them, so nowadays I have kind of given up on having a tidy garden, and I leave the leaves as a mulch on the borders. Human laziness, I tell myself, is good for the insects, grubs and worms, who will enjoy the cover and will work the rotting leaves into the soil, improving its texture.

I’m trying out a new format for my blog this month, here goes…

My monthly Fab Five: five fabulous things in the garden, month by month.

  1. Dahlias

I almost gave up on growing Dahlias last year – in other words, the slugs almost won. They really had a go at my plants, and those that remained didn’t flower so well. I realise now that the slug damage can be minimised by growing them in pots (and perhaps the chickens helped clear them earlier in the year), so I have got three large pots filled with Dahlia Bishop of Llandaff (bright scarlet), Dahlia Bishop’s Children (shades of red and orange, they are a seed strain from Bishop of Llandaff) and Dahlia Catherine Deneuve (a real sultry sunset orange-yellow beauty). I have also been kinder to them this year, keeping them well watered and feeding them with liquid tomato feed when I remember. They’ve paid me back by bringing a mood-lifting zing to a corner of my garden, near the front door of the house, and I am now an avid fan. Grow them, they will transform October for you.

Dahlia Bishop’s Children
Dahlia Bishop of Llandaff, with Lantana Camara in the foreground

2. Salvia ‘Hot Lips’

Slightly outrageous name, even more outrageous performance from this Salvia, which is sprawling all over the place by my front-of-house bed. Here she is caressing one of my little statues. We got these fellas from a local artist who exhibited in our garden as part of a local art event. Her sculptures looked so at home here that we decided to buy a couple and make them permanent features. Anyway, back to Hot Lips, she really is getting a bit out of bounds, but I’ll forgive her because she is putting on quite a show well into October, and all summer long too. She’ll get trimmed back in spring. I’m really getting into Salvias now, and am trying out some of the purple varieties (Salvia nemerosa Caradonna is a lovely one) in other bits of the garden, but these have pretty much finished flowering. For those who want to help the bees, Salvias have excellent nectar-rich flowers.

Salvia Hot Lips

3. Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’

This Japanese Hybrid Anemone had a slow couple of years, but this year she’s really coming into her stride. She’s also flowering her socks off long after her pink Anemone x hybrida sisters have given up. With the light levels really dropping off, she seems to shine out even more, and she’s in a part-shade east-facing border, which seems to suit her well. If you’ve got a shadier spot, I would really recommend this plant. I’ve paired her up with Geranium ‘Rozanne’, growing in front, which is also still flowering. You can also spot Pyracantha ‘Golden Charmer’ in a massive blue pot behind her, am hoping this will grow fast to cover the modern brick wall.

Anemone Honorine Jobert, with Geranium Rozanne

4. Beetroot and Spinach

No it’s not all over in the veg patch! The spinach and beetroot have survived their cross-country journey as seedlings (I sowed them in August at my Mum’s house in Kent, UK and brought them back to Belgium, miraculously they didn’t get squashed in our heavily over-packed car). They were transferred to the veg patch in early September and will be ready for harvesting young leaves from now on. I’ve also got chard growing alongside them, which is my go-to winter veg, it’s virtually indestructible and keeps on giving for months on end. And no, I don’t think it tastes horrible, why do people say that?! It’s perfect for a winter stew with butternut squash, lentils, carrots, you name it.

Young beetroot and spinach in the veg patch, plus a few self-seeded plants

5. Rose hips

No idea what variety this tall shrub rose is, but I do love its autumn hips. I’m not doing it justice with this photo, taken on a dull day, but wanted to include it in my Fab Five this month. It is a perfect fit for the shades of autumn. I haven’t tried using the hips for anything, but have heard that it can be made into rose hip tea, has anyone tried making that?

Well, there are my Fab Five for this month. If anyone fancies joining in with their monthly Fab Five – it can be anything you find fabulous in your garden at this time of year – then do join in or put your favourites in the comments section. Thanks for reading and have a fab gardening month!

Rose hips