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.