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: 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.

Six on Saturday: 7 November 2020

Hello everyone, I’m back for another SOS, slightly late in the day but I have a good excuse: I was out gardening! Also having a glass of Champagne to celebrate a certain world event that could mean that one good thing did happen in 2020. Anyway, it’s been perfect gardening weather in Brussels: mild, clear skies, and the earth is damp enough to crumble nicely between my fingers without being sodden or frozen. This means it’s been good timing for preparing the new bed mentioned last week – I’ve broken up the clods and I’ve also divided a Geum ‘Scarlet Tempest’ and an orange Oriental Poppy and popped these divisions in. Maybe I won’t need to buy any new plants after all. Sticking to my colour theme so far. Next up will be the bulb planting.

Here are my six highlights for this week:

1 Trees. These dominate both our garden and the view from our house on the hill, with a long band of mature trees stretching down to meet the forest. They give this place its personality and its sense of serenity (despite being in a capital city). They also mean that I could potentially go into business producing leaf mould.

Lime, Hornbeam and European Oak overhang the walled corner of the garden
A more easterly view, with the contorted outline of a Rowan, a very elegant tree
Directly facing east, the band of trees sweeps down the hill and eventually meets the forest. This marks the south-easterly edge of Brussels.

2 Viburnum and Miscanthus. A nice pair at this time of year.

These two look great together in the morning sunshine

3 Trumpet vine seed pods. This climber is so lovely when it in flower in the summer, but it also produces interesting seed pods as the leaves turn buttery yellow and fall. If only it wasn’t such a monster. It sends out suckers up to six metres away from its base, and I have a hard time controlling them. I’m not surprised it’s considered an invasive species in some parts of the world. These seed pods will certainly not be allowed to do their job.

Trumpet vine

4 Viburnum carlesii. This one turns fiery before dropping its leaves, and has strongly scented pompoms of white flowers in the spring. In this photo you can see the flower buds, which transform into tightly packed dark pink balls before opening up. Photos next spring!

5 Silver. The foliage on this Buddleja davidii ‘Black Knight’, in its first year here, is turning a fabulous shade of silver. It is putting on a lot of new growth, and I wonder whether I should cut it back down to the ground in early spring, as the official advice goes, or leave it until its second year?

6 Grape Vine. I felt it should have some official recognition here, as it has the best year ever, with a bumper harvest of red grapes, from which I made jugs and jugs of grape juice, and many pots of red grape jelly. Thank you grape vine. Just in front, you can probably spot Rosa ‘The Pilgrim’, still throwing out buds, when will it ever stop?

That’s it for this Saturday. I hope everyone is managing OK with the various lockdowns around the world, and that your gardens are giving you pleasure and hope. Don’t forget to check out other Six on Saturday contributions over at The Propagator’s blog. Till next time.