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: 24 July 21: summer’s here

Summer days are here, the living is pretty easy, especially now that work has slowed right down and the sun has come out to play. After all the rain we had here, I’m relieved, and cat-like, I enjoy basking in the dry heat. The deckchairs are out and the BBQ is in use.

Morning sun, full of promise

For Six on Saturday, I’m going to start with a dazzling dahlia:

1 Dahlia ‘Bora Bora’. I featured this last week, but look how it’s changed to the most unusual sea urchin! I love it. This almost makes up for the slug decimation of Chat Noir and other dahlias that were supposed to be on parade.

2 Blight on tomatoes. OK, let’s get this one over with. As mentioned earlier this week, we’ve got blight for the first time ever. Everyone seems to have it round here this year. I was really hoping I could save these tomatoes by stripping off the bad leaves and letting them ripen in the sun, but it’s not looking too good, is it?

Veg-bed tomatoes

What to do now? I noticed that the ones I’ve got growing in pots against the back wall are looking a bit better, although the leaves aren’t too good. It will be a poorer summer indeed without tomatoes, or courgettes – these have been destroyed by slugs of course.

Wall tomatoes

3 Begonia in a big blue pot. Onto better things. I mentioned that I felt Geranium Rozanne was lacking a little je ne sais pas quoi in this corner near the back door, perhaps a bit too dominant in pale blue. So I’ve added some white to draw the eye with this begonia (which I found in the garden centre, no label: does anyone know it?).

4 Daylily ‘Stafford’. Another one that’s been featured recently, for those who may remember, but it’s adding such great impact now with those warm, spicey tones and I’ve also figured out its name: Stafford. Seems too traditional for it. Daylilies do very well on our Belgian clay, so naturally I am tempted to try a few more.

5 Lantana camara ‘Orange’. I had an unusual, somewhat unsettled childhood, with expat parents who were very adventurous and moved around the place a lot. So when I was seven years old, I found myself in Jordan. My Dad worked at a university outside a small town, and so we lived on campus and my friends and I had free reign to play outside within its perimeter all day long. The almost traffic-free roads were lined with Lantana camara, so this takes me right back. I love the intensely aromatic leaves (the oils of the plant are used in insect repellents) and the tiny florets which always fascinated me (seven-year-old me liked to unpick each little flower from the main floret). For the first time, I managed to get this plant through a European winter – it sulked in the cellar in front of a south-facing window, but has really picked up now.

6 Hypericum kalmianum ‘Gemo’. I prefer this compact but showy little shrub to the larger Hypericums. It stays quite small but flowers enthusiastically from now through to September within minimum fuss, and adds a cheerful note right by the front steps. It looks good pretty much all year round, retaining its dark seed pods and a nice woody structure in winter, so that’s not bad for the front of house.

Well, I was hoping the sun would stay with us a little longer so that I could lounge in my deckchair and read a good book, but today starts overcast. I’ve sown some biennials for flowers next year (foxgloves, wallflowers and sweet williams) and pulled some more bindweed out here and there. The garlic is ready to harvest, and the blackberries are starting to come in, I might sow some radicchio. It’s a nice time of year, without too many urgent tasks.

For more delightful Six on Saturday posts from gardeners far and wide, see The Propagator’s site.

Six on Saturday: 17 July 21: Après le déluge

Well that was an awful lot of rain. You will have no doubt heard about the floods in eastern Belgium and seen the devastation on the news. Towns that we drove through in spring when we went to that region for a lovely holiday have been reduced to mud, upturned vehicles and rubble, it’s quite astonishing. Here in the centre of the country, perched on a hill on the outskirts of Brussels, we were spared flooding but it rained, and rained, and rained. Climate change is coming home. Thankfully, the weather is improving now, and the sun has come out as I’m writing this on Saturday morning, yes it’s Six on Saturday time:

1 Respite after the rain. The poor chickens have not been enjoying the weather, their feathery feet have been getting soggy, and it’s only now that they are able to come out to roost and wander about. You can see they still look a little put-out.

2 Platycodon grandiflorus. Otherwise known as the balloon flower for its strange buds that swell up as if someone’s blowing into them, before opening out into these bright violet-blue flowers. A white-flowered variety hasn’t yet come into flower. They have been relocated to the cool shades/pond border, where all the plants are thriving in the damp conditions.

3 Dahlia ‘Bora Bora’. A saturated, attention-grabbing pink, this cactus Dahlia is growing well in a large pot next to the veg patch. I stuck a strip of copper tape around the rim of the pot, and I don’t see any slug damage at all. The same for a pot of Dahlia ‘Antibes’. My conclusion: the copper tape really does seem to work, especially if you make sure the slugs can’t get in from the drainage holes underneath.

4 Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’. A bright splash of chartreuse makes for great edging for the cool shades border. This grass completely disappeared over winter, leading me to wonder if it had died, but it reappeared timidly in spring, and it’s been gradually getting shaggier and shaggier as the season progresses. A Japanese forest grass, it loves the wet.

5 Geranium ‘Rozanne’. This one needs no introduction, as it’s become one of the most popular geraniums around, with good reason – it’s got real flower-power. However, I am not entirely happy with this upper end of the cool shades border, essentially a steep, rubbly slope with shallow soil. I feel Rozanne needs a contrast, though she hasn’t left much space for one. I’m also annoyed that the pink Japanese anemones that I dug up last year have returned, uninvited (top right corner). Finally a pot of Collarette Dahlias have totally been decimated by slugs (no copper tape on this one), so I’m going to replant, maybe with a few ferns I have to spare. Anyone got any other slug-proof ideas for pots in part-shade?

6 Potato harvest. The first potato crop, growing in repurposed compost bags as part of a space-saving experiment. The verdict? Well, these are still rather small – perhaps because they are congested, or perhaps it’s just a little early – these are King Edwards, so have a long growing season. The taste test? Absolutely magnificent, I haven’t tasted a potato this good, with such earthy creaminess, since the last home-grown one. I’m curious to see how Fred, a French gardener’s bin-grown potatoes turned out – he has been conducting a similar experiment.

I’m looking forward to some sunshine and gardening time, as it’s been impossible to do much this last week. You’ll find more sixes from around the world on The Propagator’s blog. Have a great weekend everyone, whatever the weather throws at you.

Six on Saturday: 10 July 2021: tribulations

Coping with loss, failure, and disappointment is as much the gardener’s lot as the more celebrated joys and triumphs of successfully growing beautiful plants and bringing in bountiful harvests. Perhaps inevitably, we highlight the good stuff and tuck away the bad stuff, well away from the camera lens and our brightly edited versions of our gardens. But this year has been tough in more ways than one, and the garden has not always been a source of undiluted pleasure. So far, summer in northern Europe has been unrelentingly wet, and a boom in slug and snail numbers of which locals have never seen the like has wrought untold destruction. Of course, it can never be all bad in the garden, so this week there’s still some solace among the slimey trails. For example:

1 Dahlias. Yes, this is the beautiful, almost black Dahlia, Chat Noir. The reason I know that is from the label. I was looking forward to these sultry beauties contrasting with the daylilies, but alas it was not meant to be. Despite numerous slug patrols and controls, Chat Noir was too tasty. But apparently not Dahlia Antibes, planted right alongside. This was was unscathed until the hapless gardener took a photo, and then recklessly knocked the bud off while attempting to move a potted Dahlia into the empty space occupied by the Chat Noir skeleton. Can’t blame everything on the slugs.

Rest in peace: Dahlia Chat Noir
Dahlia Antibes

2. Lavender and weeds. More tribulations. This is the first year I’ve seen bind weed take hold here in the lavender hedge along the front path, where it grows in a sweet spot unreachable from both our side and our neighbour’s side of the fence. Someone’s going to have to crawl under and attempt to locate the roots, and I get the feeling it’s going to be me. But perhaps I can take consolation from the more welcome weed that has self-seeded just in front: the wild mallow, which is looking a bit dishevelled but rather pretty.

3. Cosmos ‘Xanthos’. Somehow this made it through the ravages of slugs and weather, and is adding a welcome lemon tone to the front path border.

4. Ligustrum ovalifolium: Privet. Look what happens when you leave Privet to grow into a small tree, saved from the clippers. It produces sweetly scented flowers in abundance, that are a magnet for honeybees and other pollinators, including hoverflies. It also does a good job of screening the neighbour’s bright highlighter-orange brick shed. Another consolation.

Phone photo of privet, with salvia in the foreground

5. Hemerocallis. I have been awaiting these daylilies in the vibrant border with much anticipation, and here they are at last. A deep terracotta brick colour with a golden centre, it really works for me. They contrast quite nicely with the allium seedheads too.

Hemerocallis, unknown variety
Allium seedheads with Hemerocallis behind

6. Blackcurrants. So, I’ve lost a bell pepper and a chilli pepper planted out in the veg patch to slugs, and I can tell you the courgettes are valiantly struggling through but it’s looking iffy for them too. Thankfully these juicy blackcurrants are not to the molluscs’ taste.

That’s all from me this week, although you might see more from me next week as my teaching commitments are easing off now that most of my students are off on their holidays, quite a relief. You’ll find more in the way of gardening trials, tribulations and triumphs on The Propagator’s Six on Saturday page. Wishing you all a great weekend.

Six on Saturday: 03 July 2021: Tweeting

Not the time-wasting, relentless drivel kind of tweeting (there you have my views on Twitter, although plant tweets are perhaps the only reason I might be tempted back to it one day), I’m talking about the insistent tweeting of the little family of great tits, who have set up home in the bird box in the glade. They have been here for several weeks, and I’ve still failed to take a decent photo, but watching the parents dash to and fro relentlessly all day long, popping in and out with tasty morsels for their hungry brood, I wonder they don’t get burnt-out. It’s the first time the bird box has been occupied by birds, although previous years saw bees of some kind take up residence. The posher-looking house next door remains empty, these birdies are not interested in keeping up appearances.

Spot the birdie

As we enter July, there’s a definite change in the garden atmosphere here, as half of the back garden is under the now-heavier shade of the mature trees, while the veg patch and front path have a more summery vibe. The shedding phase is well underway, so from now until November the lime and hornbeam trees will deposit first faded flowers, then seeds, and finally leaves. It’s a real pain, everything on the back terrace and decking gets covered in muck every time it rains, which is a lot these days. A certain scruffiness is the price we pay for the woodland feel, and all the wildlife that supports – insects and grubs for our resident great tit family, and scrambling space for the lovely red squirrels (one day I’ll get a photo for you, promise).

1 Clematis ‘Etoile Violette’ with Clematis ‘Betty Corning’. This covers one side of the arch that is close to the bird box/glade. Both seem very happy here, I think they like the woodland vibe, but as this section essentially faces south, they get a combo of coolness and sunshine.

I love the deep purple of Etoile Violette, which this year is smoothered in blooms, and the fairy-like delicacy of Betty Corning.

2 Lonicera periclymenum ‘Belgica’. I don’t hang the Belgian flag out front to show my support for my host-country’s football team (there are a lot of unhappy Belgians this morning, but the huge Italian-origin community here will be ecstatic). But I do have ‘Belgica’, which is a lovely honeysuckle, am getting wonderful whiffs of it when out gardening. A Belgian lady that came over earlier this week for a quick plant swap told me that it’s called Chevre-feuille in French, meaning Goat-leaf, although the link with goats was very unclear to both of us. This is a great nectar source for moths though, every garden should have one.

3 Digitalis grandiflora. Staying with the woodland-feel of the glade, there is inevitably less colour in this area at this time of year, but these foxgloves bring a welcome soft yellow. This is a perennial foxglove, which is wonderful, as unfortunately my biennial foxgloves, although they self-seed, get eaten by slugs, especially at the delicate seedling stage.

4 Lavender. Change of pace! We’re in summer-mode along the front path, where my neighbour’s lavender hedge kindly flowers more gloriously on my side than on theirs, as the best of the sun is here. I think this is English lavender, possibly Hidcote. The photo was taken on the only properly sunny day all week, which was yesterday, prompting me to think of Provence, if only for a short while.

Looking up the path towards the house
Looking towards the road and the glorious purple beech trees on the hill

4 Leucanthemum. More summery tones are provided by the ox-eye daisies. We are told by clever garden designers that it’s a good idea to repeat plants up a border to create a sense of rhythm and coherence. So I dutifully split clumps from the original patch and now have three vigorous clumps. They are perhaps a bit too vigorous, threatening to engulf the neighbouring plants, so I’ll have to police these.

6 Veg patch colour. Sorry, I couldn’t chose between Eucomis autumnalis, and the Calendula, which are jazzing up the veg patch. I find the aptly named Pineapple Lily really sweet, I don’t have a lot of exotica, but this brings just a touch of something different. I think I first came across it on a Six on Saturday post, could it have been Thistles and Kiwis all the way over in New Zealand? The Calendula can’t be beaten for vibrancy, though I’ve also got some other shades on the way, including ‘Touch of Red Buff’ which is just coming up behind the Pineapple Lily, I’ll show you that next week perhaps.

I’m off now to the Botanical Gardens at Meise, just north of Brussels, for some plant zen. Although it’s a grey day, threatening rain, they do have a wonderful palm-house that I can retreat to if need be. It’s one of the largest botanical gardens in the world, and is set in acres of glorious parkland, so I might take some photos to share with you mid-week. I’ll look in later in the day at other Six on Saturdays available on The Propagator’s page, where you will find lots to marvel at. Have a great weekend, till next time.

Six on Saturday: 26 June 2021: Harvests

Well the sunglasses, suncream and flip-flops are all getting decidedly dusty through under-use, as the weather hasn’t been cooperating with the idea of summer and all it brings to mind. It’s been a dank, wet week, that has emboldened the slugs but dampened my spirits. Along with some 3 million Brits who live abroad, we’re heading into summer with the added uncertainty of not knowing when we’ll be allowed to travel freely, sans quarantine, to our own country again, and see our families – too bad I’m not a rich and powerful football magnate, the rules don’t apply to them. But in their wisdom, they’ve put St Helena on the Green List, that remote South Atlantic island, size 162 square miles, population 6,100, final island prison and burial place of Napoleon Bonaparte after his defeat at Waterloo. Perhaps the Emperor’s ghost fancies a trip to Blighty for old times’ sake: he can pop over with no need to quarantine, it’s on the Green List!

Oh I know, I digress, but this sorry state of affairs might explain why I’ve got so much gardening done this week, it’s cathartic. A pond has been dug and planted up, peas have been harvested and dug out, sweetcorn has been planted in its place, the last of the dahlias have been squeezed into gaps, catmint and salvias have been cut back, roses deadheaded, somewhat ruthlessly, and the chickens have even begun laying cute bantam-sized eggs (that last bit is independent of my will). Six on Saturday will restore equilibrium:

1 Harvests. A little collage of harvests this week to soothe the soul. The peas were fantastic, each picture is a separate harvest: we had loads to eat and even some leftover to freeze. The eggs are barely bigger than a 2 euro coin. The wild strawberries are such a treat, and even roses were harvested, saved from the drizzle or imminent collapse.

2 Redcurrants. Another harvest. These drip like little rubies from the branches, so enticing that most of them get eaten by me on the spot. The blackcurrants are not far behind, though I have less of them as my two bushes are still only a couple of years old.

3 Blackberries. This bush is abuzz with bumblebees, honeybees and hoverflies, and the fruit is already beginning to set. My mouth is watering at the thought of blackberry jam. Time to raid the larder, get the empty jars out and start scrubbing the labels off. I’m not sure we’ll get an olive harvest from the little standard olive tree just in front there..

4 Shady border. Or should I now call this the pond border, as the little pond is just along from here. A deviation from my harvest theme, but I like this combo. Miraculously two flowerheads of Hydrangea arborescens ‘Anabelle’ survived a ruthless slug onslaught, along with Astrantia, Astible, and ferns. There’s a rugosa rose trying to push through too. Everything is covered with a confetti of rose petals from the yellow climbing rose above.

5 Tanacetum parthenium, or Feverfew. Now a potential medicinal harvest that could cure headaches brought on by listening to the news. I’m sure one can make tea with these, but I’ve never tried. They are looking so healthy that I might well try. The aphids like to colonise the stems, no harm done. These flowers cheer me up, and hoverflies like them too. If they choose to lay their eggs here, their larvae can enjoy the aphids, another harvest there.

6 Clover. The garden harvests are made possible thanks in no small part to the bees, who pollinate the flowers that then turn to fruit. It seems only right that I should give something back in thanks. So here is a lawn full of clover for them to enjoy. When the sun comes out to shine, this place will be buzzing.

I feel a little bit better now. The expression ‘You reap what you sow’ is often deployed in an admonishing way, but for the gardener, who quite literally reaps what they sow, this has a positive and uplifting resonance. Now matter how small, each harvest, whether of fruits or flowers, brings great pleasure. Head over to the Propagator to marvel at more harvests and other gardening miracles. And have a lovely weekend.

Six on Saturday: 19 June 2021: Bloomsday

The title for this week’s Six on Saturday is inspired by a small Bloomsday gathering I was invited to this week by an Irish friend/neighbour. The idea is to commemorate and celebrate the life of Irish writer James Joyce, whose famous novel Ulysses features the protagonist Leopold Bloom. Bloomsday takes place on 16 June, the same day the action takes place in the novel in 1904. The dress code for this high-brow evening was Edwardian, so I gathered the floppy peonies and scented roses in my garden to create an Edwardian hat:

The hat went down well, and the readings were fun and unusual: the language in that novel is rich and quirky, and unlike anything else I’ve ever read. Apparently some hard-core James Joyce aficionados hold marathon readings of the entire novel, lasting as long as 36 hours. So to turn to the gardening Odyssey that is Six on Saturday, hosted by chief protagonist The Propagator, I promise to be more concise: 36 hours is a lot of gardening time, and things are getting unruly out there:

1 Yellow roses. The roses are having a glorious year, but I have been a bit slack at tying them in and staking. This unknown climbing rose was knocked about by a heavy rainstorm on Thursday night, which had the unintended consequence of pushing one of the main flowering stems horizontally against the wall, luckily it didn’t break. This now looks better as one can appreciate the flowers at eye level.

The same cannot be said for the Pilgrim shrub rose, which is now weighed down to the ground with the weight of its flowers. Oh dear. Today I need make some belated wooden stakes.

2 Rose ‘Ballerina’. Luckily this hybrid musk, a variety that goes all the way back to 1937, bought as a bare root last autumn, needs no staking and so the gardener gets away with doing nothing. It is a cheerful little thing, appreciated by all manner of bugs and bees.

3 Unknown weed. More lax gardening now, but I am quite taken with this weed growing by the front gate, next to the Ballerina rose. With those little tufted hairs, it looks rather natty, and has a nice way of swaying in the breeze. Anyone know what it is?

4 Allium ‘Eros’. A new allium for me, this one has mixed well in the front path border with its neighbouring geraniums and Erysimum ‘Bowls Mauve’, its violet-pink blooms poking through at just the right height – about 40 cm – above and around them. It’s going over, with a nice papery effect.

5 Nasturtiums with Geranium ‘Brookside’. This narrow little bed was supposed to be the ‘pollinator border’, with a colourful mix of annuals sown from seed in the early spring. The weather and the slugs had other plans, and in our cold spring almost nothing came up, apart from nasturtium ‘Alaska’ which I grew in plugs and planted out here. So it didn’t end up being just a bed of nasturtiums, I added a couple of young Geranium ‘Brookside’ that I had in pots.

6 Lilium ‘Must See’. Growing in a pot on the terrace, this is taking up the gauntlet now that the Dutch iris are over. It’s got that lovely oily sheen that some lilies have.

So now I need to go out there with secateurs, stakes and string, and have a good tidy up, before more roses flop over and chaos reigns. The grapevine also needs a good prune, so I should do what my mother does so well with the leaves and make ‘dolma’ – vine leaves stuffed with rice, herbs, onion and spices – which is definitely a slow food dish that takes hours to make but is one of those things that tastes heavenly when homemade. But, to loop back to Bloomsday, it will be quicker than reciting Ulysses in a 36-hour reading marathon.

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.

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.

Six on Saturday: 29 May 2021: Feels like summer

Ahhhh, when I opened the kitchen door onto the garden this morning, it felt like stepping out into summer, with the added bonus that everything looked, felt and smelt so fresh after being drenched in rain for days. Outdoor living can recommence, and I might have to move the plants that have inevitably colonised the outdoor table so that we can have lunch on the terrace today. So today’s Six on Saturday marks that heartening transition from late spring into early summer:

1 Allium purple sensation. Couldn’t resist another photo of these from a funky angle, they are the most photogenic plants. Now that the weather’s improving, the bees are visiting them again in larger numbers.

2 Phacelia tanacetifolia. Speaking of bees, this one is a magnet for them. I used it as a green manure in the veg bed last autumn-winter, and I vaguely remember throwing some seed onto the vibrant border. It’s now popping up obligingly here and there, making a great little filler with its pretty foliage and eye-catching blooms, that look like hairy caterpillars before they unfurl.

3 Nepeta x faassenii ‘Walker’s Low’. One of my absolute favourite garden plants. This one edges the front path in a cottage garden mix with geraniums, lavender, roses and a few more alliums. Its a great one to sit beside for a few minutes and just watch bees buzz in and out all the time.

4 Geranium cantabrigiense ‘Cambridge’. Raised at Cambridge University botanic garden apparently. It’s a nice, neat and tidy geranium that edges the front path between the nepeta, and adds to the cottage garden feel of this section. Anyone following my blog will know that I am rather fond of germaniums, and if you are too, you can see two of my favourites in blue/violet flowering now on A Tale of Two Geraniums.

5 Houseplant holiday. They need a change of scene just like we do, and a good wash for that matter! I rarely have the patience or time to individually dust the leaves of my indoor plants, and why bother when they can all just come outside for a good, long shower? The rain has many upsides. Just ask the Hosta, which has revelled in it, I’ve never seen it look so fulsome, with not a single slug hole – they don’t come up here onto the table.

6 Glade upgrade. We do like to create extra work for ourselves, don’t we? Gardeners are deep down an unsatisfied bunch, always wanting to improve, to tinker and to transform. I definitely fall into that category! The glade is fading out of its spring colour now, and is increasingly shaded by the overhanging trees, but I felt that it needs a little path from the terrace round to the lawn, a miniscule little bit of mystery, leading to a Lilliputian bench which I’ve yet to acquire. I’m going to use our hazel rods to make an edging, tied together with strong cord, and fill in the path with bark chips. Does it need a lining too or can I get away without using one?

So, what am I going to do today? Well, the sun is shining, I’m very tempted to follow the example of one of our locals, and just lounge around. The gardening can wait. Thank you all for reading, and thanks as ever to The Propagator who leads us in the merry Six on Saturday dance, have a lovely weekend.