Six on Saturday: 08 May 2021: A walk up the front path

Looking down the path, sunny side on the left, shady side on the right with the big yew ball. The forget-me-nots have colonised the sunny side, and I’m hoping the white Honesty will too.

I associate May in Belgium with paddling pool weather, as when my son was younger he loved a splash in the garden at this time of year. But it’s far too chilly for paddling, I’m still wearing my woolly cardigan! At least it has rained, so the plants are content. I’ll only be content when I can sing along to “Here Comes the Sun”.

This week I’m going to show you the front path, which was once dolomite, laid to grass on either side, with some old roses on the sunny side. It made for extremely awkward mowing and represented, mais oui, a wasted planting opportunity. So, little by little, turf was lifted and things became more interesting. My first choice for this week’s Six on Saturday goes to a sun lover by the front gate:

1 Iris germanica (I think). The first time I’ve had an iris flowering in my garden. It’s with its other iris friends in the sun-baked front-end of the front path, right by the gate, but none of its friends have come out to play with it, which means it looks a bit silly all on its own. What’s the secret with Irises, are they tricky, do they need more than just sun?

2 Geranium. I’m a big fan of geraniums, if only I could remember all their names. This one is further up the front path, a nice, clean blue. I like the simplicity of the flower too.

3 Rhododendron ‘Horizon Monarch’. More front path action, but this is on the shadier side. I was horrified when the buds started to emerge in a saccharine peachy pink in the first year after I bought it, and I thought a terrible labelling error had occurred. Thankfully, the peach is just a teaser, the soft Cornish clotted cream yellow reveals itself splendidly when they open up, with just hints of peachy pink, phew. It’s an impactful shrub that doesn’t grow to the monstrous size of some rhododendrons, max 2 metres high.

4 Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’. Neighbouring the rhododendron is this bright wood spurge which has been adding zingy tones to this shady spot for weeks now, but got shoved off the Six on Saturday slot by limelight-hogging tulips. It’s time to remedy that, as this really is a super plant for those tricky spots in dry shade. I wish I had planted another patch on the other side, so I’ll try some cuttings this year. Has anyone tried this with Euphorbia? Behind it are ‘Fire King’ wallflowers, which seem happy enough here, but are out of sniffing range.

5 Tiarella ‘Pink Skyrocket’. Such a dainty little thing, but tougher than it looks, I’ve got three of these in the dry shadow of a large yew, shaped by the previous owner into a giant ball. They don’t seem to mind at all. When they’re not in flower, the deeply dissected leaves make an attractive ground-covering slowly spreading mat of purpley-green. Highly recommended for tricky spots.

6 Strawberries. When we laid new gravel on the path last year to replace the dolomite, the workmen thought I was a bit of an eccentric/batty English lady, insisting that they don’t remove the self-seeded strawberry plants that they called weeds. Belgians, I find, tend to favour clean straight lines and perfect symmetry in their gardens, but I like the ways these cheekily break into the gravel, and who can complain about picking wild strawberries just outside the front door? I will have to watch those runners though, otherwise the front path may become a strawberry field.

Well, hope you enjoyed that little stroll down the path, I’ll revisit it soon when the roses, catmint and more geraniums erupt into a frothy cottage-garden flower fest. So much to look forward to, and hopefully some paddling pool weather will be on its way too. There’s much more to see over at the Propagator’s Six on Saturday page, pop over and have a look. I need to decide what to do with all my pots of going over tulips, and hopefully do some planting out of seedlings in the greenhouse if the weather allows. Have a great weekend everyone.

Six on Saturday: 01 May 2021: Festival of Flowers

Wishing everyone a happy May Day: a significant festival for gardeners, as the first celebrations marked the festival of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers, during the Roman republican era.

Ah such a lovely morning to bring in the month of May, full of promise. I love this time of year. I decided to take a few pics of how the back garden is looking this morning, and pretty much all you see has been transformed from lawn and few lone shrubs when we moved here almost four years ago. You know what, I’m going to give myself just a little pat on the back, before I start thinking about how to improve it further.

After last week’s tribulations with tomatoes, things have calmed down a bit, especially as new homes have been found for at least half of them, considerably easing my work load. Also, we have focused on welcoming our cute feathered friends to their new abode – they are of course featured on this week’s Six on Saturday round-up:

1 The Vibrant Border. It’s living up to its name, with three main party-goers having a good time together: orangey-red Tulipa Dillenburg and Geum ‘Scarlet Tempest’ have been joined this week by fuchsia pink tulip ‘Barcelona’. This border reminds me of a Spanish fiesta at the moment. Hard to believe it was a patch of bare clay just last autumn, and before that just lawn. Things will calm down once the tulips are over, but am hoping that alliums, oriental poppies and day lilies will take up the baton. Meanwhile, seedlings of Tithonia, sunflowers and Cleome, and Dahlias, are being nurtured in the greenhouse for late summer colour.

2 Tulipa Cassini. Yes, more tulips, I’ve gone a bit tulip mad this year (or last autumn, to be more accurate, it must have been the weather, or an attempt to distract myself from grim reality). Here two pots of Cassini are brightening up a corner of the veg patch, they are a bit short and dumpy but I like to soft orange shade. I like the lime green growth on the box hedge too, which has finally become a hedge rather than individual little plants, it took about three years. Argh the box blight, argh the box tree caterpillar, I hear you cry, but I am deaf to these portents of doom, all is well and green for now.

3 Bluebells, Hyacinthoides hispanica. Onto something cooler and calmer, let’s head to the glade, where ferns are unfurling gracefully, Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Spessart’ is flowering daintily and the bluebells are nodding their pretty heads. There’s a perfect unblemished Hosta in a pot, I love the blue-green colour but don’t know the variety. Keeping Hostas in pots is the only way to stop them looking a total slug-ravaged mess in my garden!

4 The potato trials. I’m participating in an experiment to grow potatoes in containers this year, along with Fred a French Gardener, Piglet in Portugal and N20 Gardener. I’ve got one large bin filled with four King Edwards, and three compost bags with two or three potatoes per bag. Here you can see pics taken earlier in the week, pre and post earthing up with fresh compost, and finally a photo taken this morning to show how quickly new growth emerges after earthing up. So far, so good.

5 Lettuces on the rooftop. Another intrepid experiment, to grow lettuces on the roof of our shed, in the vain hope that slugs will not scamper up here to dine on Lollo Rosso, Oakleaf Red and Paris Island Cos. What a menu, they might be tempted to make the trek! As an afterthought since taking this photo, I covered the crates with chicken wire cloches just in case the roosting pigeons in the trees overhead felt like a free lunch.

6 Our new garden inhabitants. Welcome to our Pekin bantams! They are still very shy and getting used to their new surroundings. Much smaller than the normal breed of layer, they are round, have feathered feet, and – I quote – “are generally less destructive of ornamental gardens”. It’s great to have chickens back in the garden again.

That’s all from me this week, be sure to browse The Propagator’s Six on Saturday post for links to fabulous gardens with dedicated custodians from around the world.

Six on Saturday: 24 Apr 2021: Tulips and Tomatoes

‘Can you all get in an orderly line please?’, I feel like saying to all the seedlings that are clamouring to be potted on, and particularly to the 19 tomato plants, which have demanded a lot of my time and attention this week. All of them had to be potted on, staked and tied in, but after doing about fifteen of the them, I got fed up and decided to plonk four straight into the veg bed where they can frankly take their chances. I’ve been kind enough to give them a fleece covering at night, making a sort of makeshift greenhouse. Despite giving quite a few away, I still have too many – I am reminded of that each evening when I have to bring them all in after hardening off on the sunny terrace during the day. Phew…

Well, apart from feeling tomatoed out, I’ve really enjoyed the glorious spring weather we’ve been having, although it’s been so dry, it won’t be long before the water butt is empty. I’ve even had to get the hosepipe out to water the veg bed. Is this a sign of what’s to come as our planet warms up and spring is over by April? I’m increasingly thinking about which plants will survive best in these conditions, and try to focus more on drought-tolerant species that won’t need constant watering (the dahlias definitely don’t fit into this category).

Right, let’s do Six on Saturday:

1 Tomatoes. You’ve heard my complaints! So here are a few images of potting on, hardening off, greenhouse contraptions and all that other ritualistic stuff.

2 Tulips. They’ve been putting on quite a show. I haven’t chosen subtle, soft tones this year, it’s all loud and energising this year, and unapologetically cheerful. Here are the lily-flowered tulips Aladdin.

3 Tulips in the vibrant border. Here I’ve planted a drift of the old Dutch variety ‘Dillenburg’ which is flowering at the same time as Geum ‘Scarlet Tempest’. There are also some magenta ‘Barcelona’ tulips to add even more zing, but they are only just coming into flower.

4 Tulipa ‘Dream Touch’. These are more sophisticated! I like the shape and there’s the subtlest white border to the very tips of the petals that gives them a good outline, especially against the gravel of the new path.

5 Pollinator border. I’ve sowed lots of cheerful annuals here. It’s a sunny south-facing small border right by the front door, but the soil isn’t deep, there are pipes and other obstacles lurking underneath, so it’s been a tricky planting site. After reading more about bumblebees and other pollinators, who face an uncertain future as their traditional habitats disappear, I’ve planted nectar and pollen-rich selection including Phacelia, Calendula, Nasturtium, corn flowers, poppies and French marigolds. Let’s see what comes up! The trellis is to keep our feline friends off.

6 Honesty and forget-me-nots. Along the sunny side of the front path, Honesty, Lunaria annua, is in flower. I’ve also just added in five Hesperis matronalis, or sweet rocket, or even dame’s rocket, which I think will blend in well with this naturalistic planting and is another great plant for pollinators, plus it smells nice in the evening (the clue is in the name: Hesperis is the Greek word for evening).

It promises to be another lovely day. Potting on is the big priority right now: lettuces and some annuals sown earlier, Cosmos, Cleome, Larkspur and Coreopsis all need dealing with. It’s a really busy time for gardeners right now, but let’s all take a moment to sit back and peruse the multitude of Six on Saturday posts over at the Propagator’s site – the perfect excuse to put the kettle on.

Six on Saturday: 17 April 2021: still cold!

We’re having a very cold spring here: the garden table, optimistically uncovered earlier this month, is used mainly by the pigeons as a landing site for their droppings, as they roost in the trees above. It’s not exactly the kind of weather than induces much gardening. In fact, I’ve been away from the garden this week, as we took off for a refreshing change of scene in east Belgium, where we went for bracing walks on the fens and dodged snow storms. The region has an interesting history and a compelling, wild landscape which I wrote about here. So, very little gardening, but heavens it felt good to get away (said somewhat guiltily, thinking of those who yearn to but can’t yet). Despite my absence, the garden grows without the gardener, so there’s no getting out of Six on Saturday this week:

1 Aconitum ‘Henryi Spark’s Variety’. It’s been fascinating to watch this tower of shaggy foliage grow steadily upwards, and surprising to see flower buds. Isn’t Monkshood supposed to flower in late summer? The fact that it is deadly poisonous – you are advised not to plant it near your veg in case you end up eating a root by mistake – only adds to its allure. Just keep it away from your carrots.

2 Pulsatilla vulgaris ‘Alba’. The main reason for this being here is that I was green with envy after seeing Kind Hearts and Corydalis’ gorgeous photo of it in last week’s Six on Saturday. I happened to be at the garden centre and spotted it, and we all know how that story ends. It will be planted here to mix with the forget-me-nots and blue Anemone blanda.

3 Clematis alpina. The delicate nodding heads are just opening up now. Easy to miss, it’s been quietly climbing the wall, unpruned.

4 Oakleaf lettuce and upcycling. At least the lettuces don’t mind the cold. They’re growing on well in the mini greenhouse, so OH was tasked with drilling holes into wooden crates, which will be lined with old compost bags, also with holes, and then the lettuces will be planted and housed on the flat roof of the shed (I’ll show you pics of this novelty planting site when it’s up and running – the hope is that slugs won’t take up mountaineering to reach them). Meanwhile, my tomatoes, which are on a sunny windowsill indoors, are growing about a foot a day, it seems, which is alarming because it’s definitely too cold for them to go out yet but they desperately need potting on. They have reached the top of the window, so from the outside of the house, if you happen to be in the street and glance up, it looks suspiciously like there’s a cannabis factory on the top floor.

5 Heuchera ‘Caramel’. I like the way this one is constantly changing colour. The grape hyacinths make quite a bold contrast. Maybe too bold? Some geraniums have been divided and put into pots while I decide what to do with them, that could take a while. In the background, the viburnum with its snowball blossoms continues to fill the air with delicious scent.

6 Tulip ‘Abu Hassan’. These are the first of my tulips to get going – well, they are almost there. They were described to me in a gardening book as ‘dramatic’ and I can see they have the potential to be, more so perhaps if the hedge behind them could be the Moroccan blue shade of the pot in the background. The book that inspired me to plant them – The Pottery Gardener – has them in a metal container against a black background, and there they look sumptuous.

If you seek more gardening drama, have a look at The Propagator’s Six on Saturday page and enjoy the show in the comments section. I believe that our host also has some theatrical tulips to showcase this week. I hope that everyone has a great weekend, and that the weather warms up round these parts. I now need to call a man about some chickens, for the time has come to welcome our feathered friends back into the garden: watch this space.

Six on Saturday: 10 April 2021

Plans for a leisurely Easter break pottering about the garden were stymied by the fickle weather. Snow only looks pretty when there isn’t gardening to be done, and I was most disappointed to see the garden on Wednesday looking like this:

The delicate spring blossoms were all smothered in snow, although the viburnum did carry it off rather jauntily:

Thankfully, the snowy interlude was a brief one, and by Thursday afternoon all was green and abundant in leaf and bud again. The roses are filling out with their fresh new foliage, geraniums are appearing where I’d forgotten I had any, and forget-me-nots are asserting that spring really is in full swing. Let’s dip into Six on Saturday:

1 Gardening for Bumblebees. Afternoon tea in the garden with a good book, one day after the snowy interruption. This delightful book, ‘a practical guide to creating a paradise for pollinators’, is filled with beautiful photographs, useful identification charts and an interesting classification of the best plants for pollinators. Different flower shapes suit short-tongued or long-tongued bees, while as Charles Darwin discovered, some clever bees simply make a hole in the side of the flower to access nectar. I’ve already started chasing bumblebees around to try to identify if they are Buff-tailed or Early Bumblebees, and I’ve noticed Queens scanning the ground for suitable nest sites.

2 Forget-me-nots (Myosotis, which endearingly translates as mouse’s ear in Ancient Greek). Here they surround a much-prized Honesty, which was sowed as a seed back in August last year, planted out in the autumn and is now almost at the point of flowering. Quite thrilling. It’s a damp and cloudy morning, so the anemone blanda have not deigned to open their flowers.

3 Iris. It’s always surprising when a strappy leaf suddenly becomes a flower bud, and even more exciting when you’re not quite sure what colour it is or how it’s going to turn out. Irises are new to me, and were acquired as part of a local plant-swap last summer. They’re in a hot spot at the front gate, somewhat nibbled but the bud is perfection itself.

4 Narcissi in pots. There comes a point at which defeat has to be conceded. My narcissi in pots were all a total disaster this year. I think that the hard Siberian freeze in February did for them: as you can see, the growing tips were scorched, and the buds shrivelled up and died. Am not sure what to do with them now – plant them out and hope they restore themselves for next year, or tip them onto the compost heap? Has such a calamity befallen anyone else growing narcissi in pots?

5 Rosemary cuttings. Let’s quickly move on to something more positive. The rosemary cuttings have rooted well, despite earlier appearances to the contrary, and have now been potted up into fresh compost, so am hoping they put on some decent leaves now. Just as well I have these, as the predations of the rosemary beetles on my established plants continue, and I caught two of them in flagrante making the next generation earlier. I had to leave them to it, some things are sacred, but will return to place them onto the bird table later.

6 Violas. There are quite a few things coming into flower now: the Pieris, the first geraniums, pulmonarias, wallflowers, and the tulips are almost there. I’m going to give the sixth slot this week to these perky little violas, perched up in a pot on the back wall. They deserve the prize for both effort and achievement, as they’ve been performing superbly for weeks without flagging.

As I’m writing this, am listening to the radio (BBC), which is replete with tributes to the Duke of Edinburgh. What an interesting life, from his stateless beginnings to his role as support to the Queen and champion of many causes. I would like to salute his work promoting environmental causes and conservation long before it became fashionable.

“We depend on being part of the web of life, we depend on every other living thing on this planet, just as much as they depend on us”, he once said.

“If we as humans have got this power of life and death, not just life and death but extinction and survival, we ought to exercise it with some sort of moral sense. Why make something extinct if we don’t have to?”. As I read my book on bumblebees, sadly noting that three species in the UK have become extinct, these words resonate more than ever.

I wonder how many other Six-on-Saturday bloggers from different corners of the globe will mention the late Prince? There’s only one way to find out: have a look at the posts on the Propagator’s page. Have a lovely weekend and thanks for reading!

Six on Saturday 03 Apr 2021 – Happy Easter

Spring in a good mood: neighbours’ cherry blossom and Magnolia

Oh what a capricious time of year, as spring toys with us, flitting cruelly between a glorious taste of summer and the slap of a ten degree drop in temperature and the threat of snow next week. Today, we’re being slapped, but for the past week, we basked in the magnificent sunshine. Mind you, I did not sit on my laurels, I was busy as a bee, merrily ticking a few things off the gardening to-do list, and occasionally just stopping to marvel at the lovely things growing all around.

1 Bramble support. One big job ticked off the list. Our savage bramble, which redeems itself with the tastiest blackberries for what is probably my favourite jam, has been tamed for now, with a trellis frame. Order has been temporarily restored.

2 Tomatoes. I can not believe the rate at which these are growing. They seem to like their sunny windowsill very much. I have far too many: currently 7 cherry toms Miel de Mexique, 7 Davis all-rounders, and 5 beefsteak Portuguese. The Nostalgic Gardener has become The Generous Gardener, dolling out tomatoes to Irish neighbours and Swedish friends, and soon others from a panoply of international and Belgian residents will find themselves the recipients of green gifts.

3 Dahlia potting up. The upside of early school closures in Belgium is that I had my son on hand to help pot up the Dahlia tubers. It’s great to have a garden helper and it made the job fun and efficient: we set up a little assembly line, with my son putting the tubers in and filling with compost, and with me labelling and watering, it was all done in a flash. There are now fifteen pots – some were squeezed into the greenhouse, and these others are sitting it out against the back wall and will need to be moved into the shed when we get slapped with that threat of snow.

4 Viburnum carlesii. Onto the pretty stuff. A few days apart, photo one shows those pink buds about to burst, and then ta-daa! the tiny flowers appear daintily, and the garden is completely flooded with sweet scent on a sunny afternoon. Another name for this lovely, elegant shrub is Koreanspice Viburnum, and there is an exotic spiciness along with the intense sweetness to the perfume. When this comes into flower, it’s one of those wow moments in the garden.

5 Clematis armandii with Japanese quince. This is the clematis’ fourth week in flower, and as well as looking good, it’s combining with the quince to give the bees both a first course and mains. They are buzzing around this area non-stop. I tried to photograph them without much luck, so you’ll just have to enjoy the flowers.

Spot the bee tucking in?

6 Ferns unfurling. What, we’re at six already? Alright then, the final slot goes to the little aliens in found in conversation.

Tomorrow these little creatures may clasp a chocolate Easter egg between them, as I think a garden Easter egg hunt is in order. There may be more Easter surprises to discover on the Six on Saturday page hosted by The Propagator and enjoyed by many a gardening bunny. So it remains for me to wish you all a Happy Easter, Joyeuses Pâques, Prettig Paasfeest, may the Easter bunny be generous to you, whether in the form of tomato plants from an overly-enthusiastic gardener, or just lots of chocolate, preferably of the Belgian variety – it’s the best in the world, you know.

Six on Saturday: 27 March 2021

It’s Six on Saturday time, the virtual garden tour hosted by The Propagator and his growing (hee, hee) band of followers. Isn’t his Prunus incisa ‘kojo no mai’, featured today, absolutely gorgeous? There’s lots going on at this time of year, and I’ve also got a spring newsletter to send out to my Gardening in Belgium group this morning, so let’s dive straight in:

1 Hyacinth ‘Woodstock’. I find this dusky shade of purple – the colour of my favourite childhood juice Ribena, made from blackcurrants – quite fetching, and it’s surprisingly un-hyacinth-like in form, as the blooms are usually much denser. The tips got frost damaged as you can see. I’ve never grown hyacinth before, I think it would look good with primroses and maybe some muscari in the hopefully trumpet-vine-free glade (more on that later).

Hyacinth ‘Woodstock’

2 Malus ‘Evereste’. A new tree! It was a tough decision, choosing between all the possibilities, but I finally opted for a lovely crab apple. They say it’s one of the best trees for wildlife in the garden, and it has a long season of interest, also important in a small garden. This variety was created by a French governmental institution dedicated to agricultural and horticultural research in the 1970’s, hence it’s Everste with an ‘e’ at the end. It was dug out of a beautiful tree nursery for me, bare root, and I planted it that very afternoon near the glade, to connect up with the neighbour’s larger trees just the other side of the wall. I’ve underplanted with my two hellebores and some transplanted primroses, more of which will be added when I have a moment.

Malus ‘Evereste’

3 Acer palmatum ‘Katsura’ and ‘Amagi shigure’. After selecting my crab apple, I had a little wander round the tree nursery, which was huge and had all sorts of wonderful shrubs too. I couldn’t resist either of these for the glade. Katsura has interesting spring foliage, and Amagi shigure is a new Japanese cultivar that is bright pinky-red. I think that Japanese acers have such elegance. I can see them working well with some heucheras, ferns and carex, all of which I have, so it’s just a question now of rescuing the glade from its muddy upheavals, moving a buddleia and getting creative.

4 Potatoes. It was a comment by French blogger Fred on a post by Irish blogger Padraig that gave me the idea to try growing potatoes in a bin. Such is the ease of learning from other Six on Saturday participants: thank you. This bin has no bottom, so I added a layer of horse manure and a layer of compost, then four King Edward potatoes, then more compost. Earthing up will be easy, just add more compost. The remaining potatoes have been planted in re-purposed old compost bags, with holes added for drainage, aesthetically challenging, but I want to keep space in the main veg bed for other things.

5 Seeds. It’s around this time of year that I get a bit anxious about sowing seeds, after the initial euphorbia of those first peppers and tomatoes has worth off, and the realisation dawns of just how many seed packets I ordered during winter’s day-dreams of summer glory. It’s like the feeling you get after over-indulging in an all-you-can-eat-buffet. Now it’s an all-you-can-sow-race-against-time and something of a logistical challenge to get these seeds going. So far, I’ve managed some lettuces, carrots, broccoli, broad beans, calendulas, nasturtiums, cosmos, coreopsis, larkspur and now, miraculously, more cleome have germinated too.

Lettuces germinating in the mini green house outside

6 Osmanthus x burkwoodii. “An evergreen saved from ignominy by by pure heads of sweetly fragrant white flowers in mid spring – good at lighting up a semi-shady corner behind ferns or glimmering white narcissi” says Val Bourne, a garden writer. It’s true that this in not my most exciting shrub, but it smells divine right now, and it’s no trouble at all. Can’t complain!

I’m adding a PS. My ongoing battle with the trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) has been the most tiring and tiresome of garden jobs this week (actually there are two of them, one monster isn’t enough). The beast has insinuated itself into most of my glade, and after much tracing and digging up of roots, this was the result:

Make of that what you will: murder or manslaughter, on the grounds of diminished responsibility, you decide. In my defence, these are testing times, and getting testier as Belgium tightens Covid-19 measures today (schools are shut, shops are shut, you can see fewer people). One trumpet vine remains, for now.

The remaining trumpet vine is next to the spade against the wall, but for how much longer?

That’s all this week, I suppose I’ll be sowing more seeds. If you’re in Europe, enjoy the extra hour of evening daylight as the clocks go forward this weekend – the icing on the cake is that in Belgium we’re promised warm weather next week too. The good times are coming!

Six on Saturday: 20 March 2021

Strange to think that this time last year, we were in our first lockdown in Belgium. Strange too that I have pleasant memories of it: glorious spring weather, afternoon tea in the garden, our first chickens to fuss over and tut-tut indulgently as they sampled my plants in an all-you-can-eat buffet, commuting time freed up to do more gardening…all enjoyable, but the wider context less so. Now, it’s different: though not in lockdown, I am getting itchy feet, and will really miss our usual Easter visit to Blighty. Luckily, the garden distracts and beguiles, with unfurling of leaf and fullness of bud, and Six on Saturday gives the perfect excuse to indulge in some gardening mindfulness.

1 Daffodils. There’s no doubt now that spring is here.

2 Anemone blanda. I rather cruelly dismissed these a couple of weeks ago as under-performers, but since then more have popped up and are still appearing, looking happy with the daffodils alongside the front path. We finally had some glorious sunshine yesterday, so they were posing for the camera. Forget-me-nots all around them will be next in line.

3 Peas ‘Douce de Provence’ have germinated well and I think I’ll put them in the raised veg bed soon. I could have put them directly in the ground, but I like to keep an eye on them in the early stages, as this minimises losses from slugs, which have a particularly voracious appetite at this time of year. I’ll do a second sowing in a few weeks, we love peas.

4 Rosemary. Now a less edifying sight. Despite temperatures of -11 degrees C this winter, the rosemary beetles are clearly alive and well, and have been feasting on my rosemary. Why these southern European visitors are thriving after such cold temperatures is a bit of a mystery: all the southern Europeans I know struggle to get through a cold Belgian winter. I pick them off whenever I see their shiny metallic coats, which you can see on a post from December, but the grey grubs are harder to spot. I did take rosemary cuttings, but they don’t look so alive either. Has anyone else had trouble with these bugs?

5 Trees. I love the moment at which they are about to burst into new life. Soon, when it’s warm enough to do some morning exercises on the terrace, I’ll be looking up into their leafy canopy. Now, let me be honest, they do create an awful lot of mess for me – lime trees and hornbeam deposit much in the way of stuff and stickiness on the decking – but I wouldn’t be without them, and neither would the birds, squirrels and other creatures that enjoy them.

6 Clematis armandii ‘Apple Blossom’. I promised to feature this climber again, and here it is being fully appreciated by the bees. This baby is my star performer right now, don’t be surprised if she makes an appearance again next week!

These sunny pictures belie the reality of what was quite a soggy week, which meant that I didn’t get out into that garden as much I should have. Instead, I potted on my tomatoes and wrote about why I enjoy growing them so much, and I avoided the dreaded trench digging task of Operation Control Trumpet Vine, mentioned last week. I will have to get to that, but first I’ve got a date in a muddy Flemish field this afternoon, to dig out horse-manure from what sounds like a very large pile of the stuff. I’m doing it for the roses! I had better get my wellies out. You’ll find other marvellous contributions to The Propagator’s Six on Saturday weekly gardening fest on his site, so do visit to see what everyone is up to. Have a lovely weekend one and all!

Six on Saturday: 13 March 2021

Our twig supply has increased greatly thanks to the windy weather we’ve been having. Earlier this week, I audaciously went for a very breezy bike ride in the forest (wearing a helmet) – anything for a thrill these days, right? As the wind got up, I was caught in one of those flurries of leaves that race around with the frenzy of school children let out for break when the bell sounds.

Reckless behaviour aside, it’s been sedate on the gardening front, with two exceptions: we finally pruned the big apple tree, which always feels a little dangerous: OH up the big ladder, me climbing into the branches (my Dad was a mountain climber, but it’s easier to get up than to get down). The other excitement was the arrival of a beautifully packaged box of bare-root perennials from Farmer Gracy, which supplies Europe from the Netherlands. So here we go, it’s six on Saturday time:

1 Clematis armandii ‘Apple Blosson’ is just bursting with buds, I’ll have to show you this one again next week. First flowers have just sprung from all that amazing potential, shown in my first photo above.

2 Chaenomeles japonica. The Japanese quince had been earmarked for the chop, but it got a reprieve and seems to begging for mercy. I may be merciful. It flowers bountifully, and the bees enjoy it.

3 Forsythia. This one is on borrowed time. For me, it’s the suburban shrub extraordinaire, we had one in our garden in south London, and we have one here. I didn’t plant either one. When you get up to the flowers nice and close, they are quite pretty. Step back, though, and it’s just a bit messy, and as for the rest of the year, it does little to justify itself.

Pretty up close
Nothing special from a distance. Spot the robin playing peekaboo?

4 Helloborus x hybridus. From the ordinary to the sublime, I couldn’t resist including these again, this time photographed in their place of residence chez moi.

5 Bare-root perennials. I ordered some geraniums, Geranium phaeum ‘Springtime’ and Geranium bohemicum ‘Brookside’, because frankly you can never have too many Geraniums. Also Echinacea ‘Fatal Attraction’, and some Gladiolus byzantinus corms, which flowers in a fabulous magenta shade. The Geraniums have been potted up for now.

6 Tulips in pots. There were quite a few contenders for slot number six this week, especially as my daffodils are just coming into flower, but I feel most excited about the nine pots of tulips here. The great news is that even the Aladdin tulip bulbs, that had looked a bit dodgy and slightly mouldy at planting time, are in fine fettle. All the pots have been washed and positioned in front of the Cyprus hedge, on the mulch, facing Fort Knox cat protection system.

Depending on the weather, I may or may not finish digging a trench this weekend to make one last attempt at controlling the trumpet vine, which has travelled way beyond its limit on the wall and last year sent up suckers all over the place, I even found it climbing up into my clematis on an arbour several metres away. In the photo here you can see those blasted roots, which I’m going to try to trace and remove, then create a trench and line it with large ceramic tiles that are sitting in the shed.

Trench warfare

Well, wish me luck with that! And do visit The Propagator’s site for more Six on Saturday contributions, and if you like gardening, join in the fun. Have a wonderful weekend, thanks for reading and see you again soon.

Six on Saturday: 06 March 2021: hellebore hard sell

A bright, sunny and frosty morning in Brussels today, cold enough for the bird bath to have frozen solid. It’s been a busy week, work-wise and garden-wise, with quite a lot of clearing out in the borders, pruning a few climbers, tidying up the terrace, strengthening the cat defence system in the veg bed (yes, I’m afraid the cat was so tempted by the deluxe toilet facilities here that it crept under the chicken wire, but last week’s hazel pole system is still holding up well against feline ingenuity), and getting a new path put in. It feels like a good day to be sowing some more seeds, though space on windowsills is rapidly running out. I went on another garden jaunt last Sunday, to visit an Arboretum about 20 km away, where temptation awaited me in the form of a hellebore plant sale. So that leads me on to the first items in today’s Six on Saturday, the regular weekly garden round-up hosted without fail by The Propagator:

1 Hellebore x hybridus. I want you to imagine giant six foot high hellebores, their flowers proudly displayed against a perfect blue sky. You marvel at their beauty as you walk past, each flower exquisitely displayed at eye-level. You want to take them home with you. The reality? They were in pots on a tall shelving unit at the plant sale, so this may be the only time I see the flowers from below, unless I become a woodlouse with a camera. The grower’s hard sell technique was effective of course, even though I’ve been a hellebore sceptic up to now. I only took a limited about of cash with me, thankfully, so could only buy two, this one and number two.

2 Hellebore x hybridus. Now they need to be housed comfortably chez moi, without the shelving unit. I was thinking of the glade area (or glade-in-the-making), a dark green holly as their backdrop, the neighbour’s overhanging lime tree branches above, and planted with crocuses around them. Apparently they need light even during the summer, so planting under a high tree canopy is ideal. In Gardening with Woodland Plants, Karan Junker adds they are greedy, needing lots of organic matter dug in to sustain their deep root system before planting, and benefitting from a generous mulch in late summer, when they are forming next year’s flower buds. Note to self: don’t forget!

3 New path. Hopefully you can see before and after shots in the image compare. We have extended the gravel path to go round the house to the back terrace, where the back door and shed are. Or to be accurate, we got a couple of blokes in to do it for us, otherwise I very much doubt it would have been completed in one and a half days! The path will make for a less muddy experience all round and I think it adds some additional structure to the garden, as well as some path-side planting opportunities.

4 Anemone blanda. This is not a success story. I planted around 50 of the little bulbs last autumn, and so far I’ve seen about five flowers popping up here by the front path. On top of that, they’re shy and I’ve only seen them fully open once. I should have read the warning in the specific epithet ‘blanda’, meaning mild. I won’t bother with them again, and after seeing so many lovely early spring bulb combos created by fellow Six-on-Saturday bloggers – Hortus Baileyana and Paddy Tobin, an Irish Gardener come to mind – but there are many more – in future I’m going to put all the early spring bulbs in one place with the new hellebores.

4 The vibrant border. This is the new bed I created last autumn, planted up with tulips and allium Purple Sensation, plus divisions of existing plants such as orange oriental poppies and Geums. Some purple salvias are there too, having survived winter so far, and a clump of day lilies. Annuals sown this year will be added at the back – sunflower Velvet Queen, bright Tithonias, Cleome Violet Queen (maybe – see below) and probably nasturtiums at the front to replace the tulips. So, I know it doesn’t look like much now, but I have high hopes!

5 Cleome: the miracle seedling. Just one Cleome has germinated! After reading up about them, they apparently need lots of light plus changes in temperature to germinate, and they also hate root disturbance, so I probably should have sown them into deeper biodegradable pots. The chillies and sweet peppers are growing on well to the right.

6 Viburnum carlesii. I love seeing these flower buds emerge and develop. Looking forward to the incredible perfume when they open up into white pompoms.

So, I had better get on with sowing some seeds – I was thinking of carrots, radishes and some salads which can be put out in the plastic greenhouse – and then a few annuals – choices, choices. Wishing everyone a great weekend whatever you’re up to, and thanks for reading.