Six on Saturday: 15 June 2021: busy as a bee

The garden’s had a good drink, as it’s rained quite heavily over the last few days, and it looks much refreshed for it. The risk of frost is almost certainly past now, so there’s planting out to do. Larkspur and Coreopsis seedlings have gone out, sweet peppers have been potted up into big pots, and I’ve planted Calabrese broccoli in the veg patch, plus the odd remaining tomato plant, I’ve pruned the forsythia and contemplated its utter destruction again and thought about replacing it with an Elder (Sambucus)…it’s time to be as busy as a bee, speaking of which, and onto my first item for this week’s six:

1 Honey bee swarm. Our neighbour keeps a hive on her shed roof, but things were probably getting overcrowded for them, so some of them decided to up sticks last Sunday. Their first port of call was our apple tree, where they swarmed in preparation for going out to find a new home. Before they got the chance, the local beekeeping network was alerted and someone came to collect them to make a new hive. I would like to keep bees one day.

2 The last of the tulips. What a wonderful display it was this year, they all did so well both in pots and in the border. All good things come to an end however, as you can see in my deadheading bucket! What to do with the tulips now is always the question: many in the border have been left in situ, hoping they’ll return next year, but others have been dug out to make space for other plants and chucked into plastic pots and put out of the way. I’m not quite sure I can bring myself to treat Tulips as ‘annuals’ and throw them all out.

3 Oh wait, there’s still Tulipa clusiana ‘Peppermint-stick’. This was the very last to flower for me this year, a bit strange as I thought they were supposed to be early. They are very different to the big and bold Tulips above, and they do flop about a bit in their planter, but are really quite lovely, especially when they catch the light. I will plant these in the ground now and hope they come back next year.

4 Clematis alpina. Nearly finished now, the blooms have opened up fully and look to me like they’re doing a can-can dancing routine: “the main features of the dance are the vigorous manipulation of skirts and petticoats, along with high kicks, splits and cartwheels”, if you get the idea. I’ve unfortunately lost the label, so am not sure what variety this is. This is its third season, and it’s really come into its own now.

5 Herbs and violas. Right by the kitchen door, I’ve got a handy collection of herbs in pots, perfectly placed for a quick dash out to grab something to enliven a soup, stir-fry, salad, sandwich, omelette, virtually anything really. You can just spot rosemary, curly parsley and one of my mints in the photo, and I think these violas match them perfectly, with a grassy Carex in the big pot behind them. The second photo is my mother’s day gift (it was last Sunday in Belgium): lemon thyme, lemon verbena, a flowering nasturtium Alaska, and two pots of French tarragon. The verbena is a new herb for me to grow, I’ll put it in a pot and use the leaves to make a citrusy, uplifting herbal tea.

6 Matteuccia struthiopteris, the shuttlecock fern. This fern is naturalised in the garden, and there’s a large patch of it under the arch by the glade. It’s at its freshest and best now. It produces many, many baby plants, which I lift and relocate, or give to friends. It’s an accommodating and handsome fern, growing happily in sun or shade, moist or dry soil.

Well, it’s a splendid time of year in these parts, full of lush green growth and life. Thank you all for reading, and if you fancy a peek at more gardens, as ever you can visit the Propagator’s Six on Saturday page. Have a lovely weekend everyone, I’ve got lots of planting to do, so I’d better get on with it!

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.

Just the right shade of red, Your Majesty?

Tulipa ‘Dillenburg’ surrounded by day lily foliage

As the much anticipated tulips open up in our gardens, it’s a joyous moment, but also a curious one, as we see just how much the promised shade in the bulb catalogues or online suppliers matches the reality of what we see with our own eyes. I have found myself delighted with some of the new tulips I planted, and disappointed in others, which didn’t really seem to be the colour described or photographed in gardening books.

Tulipa ‘Dillenburg’

My favourite tulips to emerge this spring have been a very old Dutch variety, Dillenburg. Now I would describe these as a sumptuous and complex blend of sunset orange at the tips, fading almost imperceptibly to a soft pinky peach – a really ripe, delicious peach that is, one you bite into on a sweltering day in high summer, and your mouth is flooded with flavour, and the juices drool down your chin. However, my dear OH didn’t quite describe it in those terms. “What’s the red flower that you planted over there?”, he asked. Errrrr….

Tulipa ‘Aladdin’

Perhaps he meant the Aladdin tulips I have growing in pots against a cypress hedge. These catch the light very nicely in the morning, and have the fluted, elegant shape and long stems of Lily-flowered group tulips. The pointed tips of the petals are yellow, and the remainder is orangey-red.

The colour confusion called to mind a story I was told where a misunderstanding over colour led to royal displeasure. Sources must be protected but let’s just say during a cost-cutting exercise many years back, a clever British civil servant identified a significant savings opportunity by changing supplier for the flowers planted in beds very near to our most famous palace. These flowers were chosen to match to perfection the uniforms of our monarch’s guards, just the right shade of red. Unfortunately, the new flowers turned out to be quite a different shade: most definitely not ‘Royal Guard Red’. We were not pleased. It was communicated from on high that this had been noticed, and the whole lot had to be ripped out.

Geum ‘Scarlet Tempest’ with Tulipa ‘Dillenburg’

I won’t be ripping out my Abu Hassan tulips, belonging to the Triumph group, even though I have to say they are not quite the sultry shade of deep red contrasted with golden yellow margins that I had expected, and seen in a nicely photographed gardening book, The Pottery Gardener.

Tulipa ‘Abu Hassan’

There are more tulips still to emerge, so no doubt more surprises await me. Have you ever been surprised by a plant that looked quite different to what you were expecting?

Awaiting the flowering of Tulipa ‘Dream Touch’

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: 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.