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 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.

Compensations of the season

Harvesting time for these red grapes

August is over, September is upon us, and there’s a bit of a feeling in the garden, and maybe more generally too, that the party’s pretty much over. Things just look a bit tired, with many plants having given their best and others struggling on gamely but clearly not as fresh and vigorous as they were earlier. Well it happens to the best of us.

Davis UC-82 with some courgettes

So it’s not the most exciting time of year in the garden for me, but there are as always compensations. The first and most obvious is the harvest of late summer fruit and veg. I’m having a good year for tomatoes, with all three of my seed-sown batches doing well and tasting delicious. Miel de Mexique, from an organic seed packet I bought in the garden centre here in Brussels, is a lovely juicy sweet cherry tomato which comes from Mexico, as the name implies, and is a good choice for drought tolerance, although I water mine frequently as I grow most of my tomatoes in pots. Next is Davis UC-82 (odd name but great taste) a nice, deep red, reliable plum-shaped tomato, that’s good for passata and tomato soup. Finally I was given some beautiful beef-steak Portuguese tomatoes as seedlings. We are really enjoying these roasted in the oven with onions, garlic, squashes, mushrooms….yum. They were thirsty plants, but well worth the effort of a bit of extra watering. The combo of the different types and sizes worked well, one to try again next year.

The delicious Miel de Mexique

Another great hit this year is the sweetcorn: what an amazing thing it has been to see these grow from their single corn seed into little seedlings, which I remember anxiously protecting from the cold by taking them into the shed each night in April when it got very chilly, then developing into towering majestic 5-6 foot tall plants and finally the miracle of a corn (or “ear”) from each of the seven plants in my little patch! They taste so delicate, sweet, with a soft melt-in-the mouth texture. The variety, Golden Bantam, is an heirloom one that became popular in the early 1900’s in the US, at a time when only white corn was considered good enough to eat, but Golden Bantam changed that. The seed company says they are robust plants producing two corns/ears per plant. Well I only got one per plant, but I’m still pretty pleased with them! I think I will grow sweetcorn every year from now on, they are the supermodels of the veg patch.

Sweetcorn a little earlier this season

On the fruit front, we’re well into the apple season now, and here it’s been a mixed bag. We have two trees, a very old Cox variety and a 3 year old “Reine des Reinettes”, a very old French variety which is known as “King of the Pippins” in the UK. The old tree seems to be giving up, and we’ve hardly had anything from it, and those we do have are far too high up to reach, so what is up there is for the birds and the wasps. Our 3 year old Reine des Reinettes, however, is coming on strong, and we’ve enjoyed the slightly sharp but very juicy fruit, with its very pretty red-blushed skin.

Reine des Reinettes

On top of that, we’ve got a very big grape harvest coming up. The bunches on the vine, which grows alongside a section of our front path, are looking very healthy this year, and are now turning a gorgeous deep purple colour. Last year I made grape jelly with them, which turned out well, so I think I’ll do the same this year. As I’ve been vegetarian for over a year now, I don’t plan to eat the jelly in “the traditional way” with meat, but there are plenty of other combos: great with goat’s cheese and oatcakes; spread on toast for breakfast, or on a tea cake or Victoria Sponge…it also gives a good, sweet flavour to sauces and stews. Yes I know it’s full of sugar and bad for you, but we are only talking a teaspoon or two at a time here!

There’s another activity that makes me realise all is not quite over yet in the garden, and that is taking cuttings and offsets. There are new plants to be had, and they are right there growing in the garden, all one needs to do is take a cutting, cut some leaves off, add to a vermiculite-compost mix in a small pot and then wait for roots to form. I’ve done this with some rosemary, and might do the same with catmint (such a useful little plant) and a stupendous purple berberis growing in a nearby front garden: I’m sure the owner won’t miss a couple of sprigs of that. For me, berberis has the most breathtaking autumn colour, I have always wanted one, and damn it I will find a spot for it somewhere!

So, even if bits of the garden feel a bit drab, it’s worth reminding ourselves that there is lots to look forward to, just around the corner.

To finish off, here is a snapshot of what’s still looking good for the time of year.