Six on Saturday: 27 Feb 2021: action

Wooo-hoooo, it’s almost March! A month that seemed so out of reach in the gloomy depths of January, and the dog days of February. We are the survivors of that long trek to freedom through winter (for me, spring begins on 1st March, at least psychologically). We’ve had stupendously lovely weather in Belgium this week: many sunny days, with Thursday afternoon hitting 19 degrees C, adding to the sense of anticipation. This has propelled me into action, including seriously ODing on gardening on my day off on Wednesday, to the detriment of my non-gardening to-do list and my back. I only wish that we’d finished our winter pruning earlier, as now there’s so much to do.

This leads me on to Six on Saturday, the gardening pick-and-mix where we celebrate or bemoan weekly happenings in our gardens, hosted by the Propagator. PS this week’s photos are all quick snaps on the iphone, as I transition between cameras, apologies for the lack of artistry!

1 Hazel pruning. We have two hazel trees in the garden, giving us valuable privacy from neighbours. These supremely useful sticks will be used to make wigwams for sweet peas, edible peas, beans and morning glory, and maybe even the odd trellis structure if I figure out how – the oracle Youtube may be consulted. It’s been a time-consuming and boring task stripping the side shoots off, but we’re nearly done.

2 Iris reticulata ‘Harmony’. These flowered in time for the first alfresco breakfast of the year on the terrace. I love their intense colours.

3 Mulching. Remember my free supply of wood chips / green trimmings from the farm? I’ve used up the remainder to tidy up the area around the raised veg bed, which was getting weedy and untidy, as this area is impossible to mow. The two-stage process involved firstly laying carboard down (after arduously taking off all the labels and sticky tape), and then covering with a generous layer of mulch. Looks a whole lot better now, phew!

4 Veg bed tidy-up. While I was at the mulching, I decided I could now longer tolerate the mess of decimated chard, slug-munched spinach and feline toilet products that was the veg bed. So out it all came, while the green manure of Phacelia was dug in, and a new protection system against the cats was set up using the hazel rods – inspired by fellow gardening blogger Padraig’s bamboo cane technique. The autumn-sown garlic stayed in.

5 Seed-sowing. This has begun in earnest now, with broad beans, peas ‘Douce de Provence’, parsley and three varieties of tomato all sown. A new batch of sweet peas were sown on Valentine’s Day to replace those destroyed by the freezing weather earlier this month – they were in the unheated mini plastic greenhouse and didn’t make it. This is a pity, as I wanted to do an experiment to see if it really is true that autumn or early winter-sown sweet peas perform better than those sown around this time. Has anyone else tried both?

Sweet peas in the cellar

6 King Edward potatoes. These are being chitted on the window-sill of the cellar. Almost all Belgian houses have cellars, and they are incredibly useful. Stuff can be stowed away in them (nothing sinister mind), citrus consignments from Italy can be stored, and as you see, potatoes can be chitted. Ideal conditions here – cool but light, as the window faces south.

That’s all from me, so have a lovely weekend, thanks for reading and may the weather be with you.

Six on Saturday: 20 Feb 2021

There are multiple reasons to be cheerful this morning: waking up to the sound of bird song, looking out of the window at 7 am to see light already seeping into the sky, getting out into the garden at 8 am when it’s already light enough to take photos for Six on Saturday and looking at the weather forecast to see a continuous list of sunny days. The tide has turned! The tempo is quickening! Gardening is afoot, seeds need to be sowed, there’s lots to do. I’ll be visiting a chateau garden known as ‘the Versailles of Belgium’ that has opened this week for the school holidays, so there’s the added excitement of an outing today. Am writing this speedily before I head out, so let’s get started with Six on Saturday:

1 Wood chippings and green strimmings. Very lucky to have a free supply of these provided by our local urban farm. I’ve filled 8 compost-bags and am using them to line the chicken run paths, and to mulch around the compost area and the veg patch. Here I am shovelling away earlier this week.

The chicken run path, newly mulched

2 Casualties. The big freeze we had recently, when night-time temperatures dropped to -11 degrees C, has inevitably resulted in a few plant victims, though not as many as I had feared. I think this pot of cyclamen on the terrace table has bitten the dust. Then again, I do see a couple of upright new shoots, so perhaps I should give it a chance before chucking it on the compost.

Cyclamen in distress

3 Survivors. This Fatsia japonica, hardy to -10 degrees, was one of the plants that I didn’t want to risk losing, so it got molly-coddled with a nice fleece wrap during the cold spell, and looks absolutely fine. The sage in little tubs was also protected, but I’m not yet sure if my ornamental salvias made it (they got covered in old leaves and fern fronds). What about the little Agapanthus, given to me as a baby plant last summer? I think it’s tougher than it looks right now. Fingers crossed…

4 First primrose. I have a little collection of self-seeded primroses in a bit of lawn near the front door. We are planning to remove this lawn area to make room for a mini-gravel patio and a gravel path leading round to the back of the house. Work is due to start at the beginning of March, so I’m going to have to dig as many primroses up as possible and rehouse them. Soon!

5 Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’. Unusually-coloured foliage with red tips, looking ready to get going along the shadier side of the front path. There are wallflowers behind it in bright orangey shades, so I hope this will make a nice combo in the spring.

6 Trapaeolum tuberosum: a tuberous meal. In the pot is the first shoot of edible nasturtium. I bought three tubers earlier this year, and was surprised to see that this one has decided to sprout already. By this autumn, I might be able to harvest the tubers and eat them in a meal like this, made for a mid-week supper with tubers from the local market. Adds an interesting sweet almond flavour to roast vegetables. You can also eat Dahlia tubers, but I’m not sure how tasty they are: it might be better just to enjoy the flowers!

That’s all for this week. I’ll be back later in the day after my sortie to the Belgian Versailles to check out the other contributions from Six on Saturday regulars, who can be found at our host The Propagator’s site. Have a great weekend everyone, thanks for reading!

Six on Saturday: 13 Feb 2021: whitewash

Many of us in the Northern hemisphere have had a snowy, cold interlude, thanks to a Siberian weather front, and whether or not you have enjoyed this probably depends on how many half-hardy plants you have in the garden! In my case, the wonderful bright light, blue skies and glimmer of frozen lakes has lifted my spirits. A change is as good as a rest, especially during these monotonous Covid days. As for the plants, well we’ll find out which have made it through soon enough. Onto Six on Saturday, the weekly garden round-up…

1 White, white, everywhere. Obligatory photos of the snow-clad garden taken earlier this week, before the sun came out and before snowball fights made a mess. I wonder if the chard in the veg patch will still be edible after the thaw. On the terrace, fleece has been deployed to help out the sage, and a Fatsia japonica, hardy to minus 10 degrees C. We got down to minus 11 one night, so it’s touch and go.

2 Crocus. Remember last week’s hopeful flowers? Well, they’re still here…tough plants.

3 Sedum with a bobble. Just for fun, and to show that sedum is a plant that looks good all year round.

4 Chilli seedlings. For those curious as to how my LED plant lights are working out, take a look at these straight chilli seedlings. I’ve had a great germination rate on the Thai Dragon (5/6), not bad on the Biquinho (4/6) and zero on my experiment using seeds from a shop-bought green pepper.

5 Dahlia splurge. A visit to the garden centre to get some seed compost and a packet of seeds resulted in the purchase of nine new Dahlia tubers, three each of Chat Noir, Bora Bora and Antibes. The tropics await me!

6 Robin. The ultimate cute winter bird. He was photographed on a walk in a nearby nature reserve, but as this is the best photo I’ve got of a robin so far, he deserves an inclusion here. Forgive me for breaking the rules.

That’s it for this week, let’s see what other gardeners have been up to around the globe on The Propagator’s site. Have a lovely weekend everyone.

Six on Saturday: 06 Feb 2021: Optimism

The weather is see-sawing between some truly optimistic, sunny, mild days and wintry, cold, misty days, confusing for all of us, but I think we get the sense that we’re heading in the right direction now, and gardening beckons! I’m going to ignore the forecast for temperature drops to -9 for next week (yikes, got to save my Salvias!). So here are six interesting things from the garden, my contribution to Six on Saturday, hosted by The Propagator and followed by many an avid gardener.

1 Sunbathing. I’ll stat this week’s Six on Saturday with a delightfully warm moment on Thursday, when I got a chair out onto the terrace between lessons and basked in the sun with a ladybird. That was the most lovely half hour of my week.

2 Crocus. I should have taken photos of these in the sun. I like the purple flush to white one, growing along the front path.

3 Rhododendron ‘Horizon monarch’ buds. There are three rhododendrons in the garden, and this is the only one I planted myself, along the shadier side of the front path. These buds hold so much promise, and I like the yellow tinge on the petioles and veins.

4 Rose hips. More from the front path. A few of these are still plump and ruddy, while many others have succumbed to the inevitable.

5 Green manure. Every year, I try a different technique to overwinter the sections of the raised veg bed that are not in use. Last year, I used cardboard. This year, it’s Phacelia tanacetifolia, a green manure. Such fresh, lovely lacey foliage that it seems a shame to have to dig it in. It’s a pretty plant in flower too, I grew it for its blue flowers along the front path last summer. Incredibly popular with the bees.

6 Narcissus ‘Paperwhite’. This has exploded into flower now, and what a pretty sight and an intoxicating perfume! I think I might have to grow the bulbs indoors every year, I have fallen in love…

So, regretfully that’s it for this week, there are many photos I haven’t included of new growth and sunny spells, but am going to be disciplined and stick to six. If an extra photo finds its way in, it’s clearly a glitch. Have a lovely weekend everyone!

A sunny spell, highlighting the hazel in full catkins down the hill.

Six on Saturday: 30 Jan 2021: Citrus boost

This week I was reminded that January brings one of the best harvests, from the citrus groves of Sicily. We have an Italian neighbour who has a connection to a grower on that sun-soaked, fertile island, and brings in a lorry-load of crates laden with oranges, lemons, grapefruit and clementines, which he stores in his garage and sells to neighbours. We got a box of oranges and another of lemons, so should be able to make it through the rest of winter with enough Vitamin C!

Night time in the neighbour’s garage!

No visions of citrus from today’s rain sodden garden though, but let’s see it has to offer in this week’s Six on Saturday, hosted by the committed Propagator.

1 Narcissus ‘Paperwhite’. Indoors rather than outdoors, this has just started flowering. It has a very sweet, spicy scent, which would be cloying as a perfume but is fine for the occasional sniff.

2 Sarcococca confusa. Perfume outside now, in a pot on the patio the sweet box is coming into flower. It’s not overwhelming me with scent, to be honest, but it’s only just getting going, and it could do with a less damp atmosphere to play its part.

3 Helleborus argutifolius. I’ve featured this before but it deserves another turn. None of the coy downward facing flowers of the oriental hellebores, pretty as they may be, this is a vision of health and vibrancy. It shines from its corner in the glade, even more so in the rain, which given how much it’s raining this year is a definite plus.

4 Spanish bluebells. Next to the hellebore is a spreading clump of Spanish bluebells. Previous owner here was Spanish, so there might be a connection there. I am looking forward to these, even if they are not quite as delicate as the English bluebells.

5 Asiatic salad. In the little greenhouse I’ve got a tray of Asiatic salad which I sowed a tad late last autumn. The roots are coming through the holes in the tray, so I need to transfer to a larger container and hopefully get fresh salad leaves soon. In front is an experiment in autumn-sowing sweet pea Matucana, they’re ok but a bit floppy.

6 Chillis: Thai Red Dragon and Biquinho. Let’s loop back indoors now to show you my LED lights in action, giving my just-germinated chillis a helping hand. I’ve gone for two ends of the scale this year, a hot Red Dragon for our Thai curries, and a very mild yellow Biquinho for adding to salads, making salsas etc. There is a third row of yet to germinate sweet green peppers. By the way this is how dark it is at 9 a.m. on a rainy Saturday – urgh!

That’s all for this rather wet week. We are now trapped in Belgium with closed borders, and haven’t seen family in the UK since last August. This is a strange feeling, to have your freedom of movement restricted, and in a foreign country, though I totally understand the reasoning behind it. I feel a slight sense of creeping claustrophobia though, but then I realise I am not alone in that, and many are aching to get out and about again. I hope the garden and the lengthening days provide welcome distractions for all.

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!

Six on Saturday: 16 Jan 2021: let there be light!

Mid January. At this time of year, I often feel like a participant in the Chinese communists’ famous 6,000 mile trek, the long march to freedom of the 1930’s, except that instead of the emergence of Chairman Mao as undisputed party leader, it’s the emergence of spring that we are marching towards (and perhaps freedom from the tyranny of Covid-19!). So let’s keep marching folks, the way seems long, but there are only two more Six on Saturdays until February! On this endurance feat, am keeping my spirits up with some good music (am flitting this week between Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and The Best of Bryan Ferry & Roxy Music), many cups of tea, some nice food and planning a new world order (or do I mean planting schemes?).

I’m going to start with some snow, a brief white interlude:

1 A dusting of snow. We were promised snow in Brussels this week, and this is all we got, it lasted for all of two hours on Thursday morning. I was mighty quick to get the camera, before it all melted. Honestly, I was expecting better, but hey ho, perhaps next time.

2 LED Plant Grow Lights. A new bit of kit! Arrived this week, can’t wait to try them out when I start sowing in February. Hopefully, goodbye leggy seedlings. It clips on easily to the window ledge, has four flexible arms, dimmers, timers for 4/8/12 hour bursts and a remote control! Cool. Here my Aloe is enjoying the full spectrum light. I feel like joining it.

3 Gaultheria mucronata berries. These are still doing well in their big blue pot.

4 Garlic. Planted in the veg bed in October, it’s pushing through healthily now. I counted about ten, which I think is how many cloves I planted.

5 Geum ‘Scarlet Tempest’. Already showing buds, this one flowers quite early in April. Although I lost two plants in the summer drought, one survived and I divided it into three, and planted these divisions in my new purple-orange themed border. They are a cheerful sight in flower – as shown in the second photo taken last spring.

6 Borage. Right plant, wrong place. I have decided that borage can’t grow in the veg bed. Simply gets too big, even though it’s an excellent decoy for blackfly/aphids, which left my veg alone last year, going for the borage instead. I love it though, so I’ll find a new place for it, but this fellow and his friends are going to have to come out. I wrote a post about borage, you can see it and photos of its brilliant blue flowers here. It’s worth growing not only for the beauty of the flowers and the bristly foliage that glimmers in morning sunshine, but also for its value to pollinators: scientists have found that after a bee visits a flower, it refills with nectar within two minutes, making it like a busy service station for bees!

To finish off, I’d like to thank readers for the great comments made on my post on herbs last week. I used all the herbs I mentioned to make this rather delicious topping for bread: chickpeas, red onion, lemon, olive oil, salt, pepper and all the fresh herbs I could lay my hands on. It felt like a taste of summer. That’s all from me this week. Check out the Prop’s site for lots of interesting Six on Saturday reads from all over the globle. Till next time.