Writer, Textile Artist, Plantswoman

Year: 2022

We’re having a heat wave…

Or as one neighbor put it, “It’s Costa del Clashmore!” We are none of us accustomed to this kind of heat, let alone four or five days of it. But if we slow down and stay in the shade, it’s nice to get summer weather in the actual summer. Generally, summer is the last week of May and the first few weeks of June when the students are doing their exams, after which we get clouds and rain and weather cold enough to light the fire.

Where the garden has dense planting, there’s still enough moisture in the soil. The window boxes and containers, however, need almost daily watering. I harvested a lot of black currants and raspberries as the heat was ripening them at full speed. I’ve been freezing the fruit and sometimes baking a Summer Berry Picnic Cake (recipe from Elizabeth Atia) The raspberries are in an area that is naturally dry due to the very big sycamore tree… so those canes, and the kale I just planted, got the sprinkler every 3 or 4 days, as did the corn, beans and peas in the front veg garden.

Speaking of peas—the hot weather really accelerated the mangetout peas—so much so that only a small percentage were still edible as pods. And the plants themselves went absolutely crazy BIG! The whole pea teepee went askew under the weight leaving me with the Leaning Tower of Peas. The picture below is AFTER I cut back half the pea vines and pulled the supports back up—still not entirely upright but it should hold until later in the week when I’ll harvest the rest and clear that part of the bed for some Chard. Anyone remember shelling peas? It’s quite a peaceful, meditative activity, perfect for a warm summer day if you can do it in the shade.

So the end of this week is supposed to get much cooler and we might get a little rain. A month from now I will be flying to the States for a month of family visits—a couple of important birthdays, a wedding celebration and a family reunion in Quebec. I’m looking forward to it. I will try not to think of what the garden will look like when I get back—I’m sure “it’ll be grand.”

Stroke of genius?

ASometimes the garden just sends you a message. For a while now we’ve been concerned at the height of our raspberry canes… at least 10 ft tall when the frame we built is only 6 ft. It can get a bit windy up there and I’ve watched the canes get a bit of a whipping and that’s not good. When we first set up the raspberry frame, we put up two… one for summer bearing and the other for autumn bearing, although they don’t generally need a frame. We just thought it would be tidier. The summer raspberries took off from the get-go. The autumn berries just never delivered… and we tried twice. However, because we have two frames about 5 feet apart, I can do something pretty neat… put bamboo stakes across the two frames like a pergola and tie in the very tall canes like a grape
arbor! The raised bed below is asparagus in its first year in place with some strawberries down the middle. It will be a couple of years before we will be able to harvest there. But its aspect is south east so it gets plenty of light, especially when the leaves haven’t come out on the trees yet.

As for the empty frame, I have plans… At the moment there’s some kale that has gone into flower. We’ve been eating the sprouts and they are fantastic—something you only get to eat if you grow your own! But I’ll be pulling that up and planting some winter squash to train UP the frame in bags of compost, their favorite medium. My plan for the bed that is currently growing red onion and shallots is to put some cavallo negro kale there, bordered by marigold to discourage any pests (and pets). So I had better get sowing!

 

March update…

Spring is definitely on its way—even if we had hail, sleet and thunderstorms yesterday. The hills and valleys are showing signs of winter’s retreat. The furze are in flower, primula peeking out from under the hedges and a verdant glow on the fields makes you stop… and breath the clean earthy air.

I’ve lightened up on the scanning and Ancestry projects. The weather, while still unpredictable, has been sunnier and a little warmer. The greenhouse is calling. A week ago I sowed my first “propagator” seed. I bought a propagator last fall when I saw they were back in stock. I’ve discovered that there’s no point in waiting until you need something to order it. Everyone else in the gardening world seemed to have done that and now there’s nothing left. So I keep a mental list of the things I need/want and when I see they are available or even ON SALE, I hop on it. The propagator stayed in its box for months but now I’ve put it to work and it does a great job. My tomato, basil and jalapeño pepper seedlings have come up. The sunflowers have not appeared yet but they do take longer. I’ll sow some Sweet Pea today and check on the chitted potatoes. We want the earlies in by Patrick’s Day. For the record, this is what the garden looks like today. I’ll try to remember to post what it looks like on April 13!

Speaking of potatoes and Patrick’s Day, the few sprouting potatoes I planted in a grow bag in the green house have taken off and we’re hoping to harvest some for the day that’s in it (Thursday!). They may not be very big, but they will be VERY new potatoes. And we’re still harvesting chard so that will make a nice dinner.

We watched the first Gardeners’ World episode for 2022 on Saturday. It has become a ritual with us to listen to the soothing tones of Monty Don and make notes about planting trees, sowing seed, and pruning. This week featured cyclamen coum and I’m planning to get some for the grotto. It is hardy and will self-seed in the shady areas. That and some snow drops and hellebore will make the woodland areas we are planting out have color and interest through the winter and into the spring. Last Sunday we planted out shrubs and perennials with the Foróige Junior Tidy Towns committee. Six young people planted and as many adults supervised.

Now it’s time for me to swing into quilting. I picked the fabric months ago for a friend’s wedding quilt. The colors I chose were blue white and yellow—blue and white being the Waterford hurling colors and, as it turns out, blue and yellow are the colors for An Rinn’s team. And they look fantastic together—bright and cheerful. Never did I imagine that the quilt would take on a geo-political theme. It will make working on it interesting as the conflict in northeast Europe plays out. Let’s hope that as I finish it, the war, too, will have come to a satisfactory end.

Four generations

As people marry and have children later and later in their lives, having four generations in the same photo is increasingly a rare event. Going through the family archives I came across two photos taken shortly after my birth. The first is with my mother Mariette, her mother Marie Rose and her maternal grandmother Clarina. The second is with my father Paul, his mother Cécile and his maternal grandmother Delia. Had I not inherited the photo albums of both my grandmothers, it’s unlikely I would have ever seen these.

 

 

Mackerel Skies…

I’ve been kept inside by the weather—Storm Dudley followed by Storm Eunice. Strong winds and lots of rain, although to be honest, we needed the rain. It’s been a dry year so far and 6 inches down, the soil had little moisture in it. So it’s odd that my indoor occupation—going through the family archives and scanning photos—unearthed a sheet of lined paper with these nautical weather rhymes on it. It could be my father’s writing but I’m not 100% sure.

Mackerel skies and mares’ tails
Make tall ships carry short sail.

When the wind shift against the sun
Trust it not for back it will run.
When the wind follows the sun
Fine weather will never be done.

If the wind is North East, three days without rain.
Eight days will go by before South again.

If wooly fleeces deck the heavenly way,
Be sure no rain will mar a summer’s day.

With rain before the wind
Stays and topsails you must mind.
But with the wind before the rain,
Your topsails you may set again.

When the sea hog (porpoise) jumps,
Stand by at your pumps.

First rise after low
Foretells a stronger blow.

Seagull, seagull, sit on the sand.
It’s never good weather when you’r on the land.

Match the Picture with its name

This is for our Clashmore Tidy Towns Foróige team.

All the plants we are going to plant in the grotto are in this photo gallery. See if you can match the plant to its name on the handout! You can click on the picture to see a bigger image. Treats if you can get them all matched and if you can tell me if they like SUN or SHADE… or a little of BOTH. You can absolutely use Google or Wikipedia 🙂

Latin Name Common Name Variety
Camellia japonica Camellia Buttermint
Cornus Sanguinea Dogwood Anny’s Winter Orange
Diosma Hirsuta Sunset Gold
Edgeworthia chrysantha Oriental Paperbush Grandiflora
Hydrangea quercifolia Oak leaf Hydrangea
Pennisetum Fountain Grass
Rhododendron Green Gift
Rosemarinus officinalis Rosemary ‘Pyramid’
Spiraea japonica Shirobana

Family ties and mystery faces

In the post Christmas clean-up, I tackled the trunk we use as a coffee table in the loft room that is Robbie’s “office”. I thought it was full of home movie reels and 35 mm slides on carousels—and, yes, there were those, but there were also a couple of shoe boxes crammed with photos and letters and a crate of photo albums from my grandmother Marie-Rose. A wave of despair came over me. I thought I had found and scanned ALL of the old photos already!

There were 12 albums altogether. Eleven were the kind where the photos were stuck to a backing with a cellophane film over them. Very 1990s. I think putting these albums together was what kept my grandmother busy when she moved to a little apartment in Marlboro to be closer to my mom and dad. There was one other with just the plastic pockets, each filled with a negative and multiple prints. I think she intended to make an album for each of us and perhaps I will sort these out and send them in packets to each of my sisters. She was living right in the center of Marlboro then and very near a CVS pharmacy and the camera shop. Nearly all of them are of me and my sisters when we were very small.

The sticky back albums posed a problem. I could not scan the photos while they were stuck to the backing. But removing them was a delicate operation. After a few mishaps, I decided I needed to get out the iron to warm up the glue. For each page, I pulled back the cellophane protection, covered it with a manilla file, opened to its full size, and gently pressed the page with my iron set very low, just slowly swirling the iron over the file paper. Sometimes it took two passes. Eventually, I was able to get all the photos out of the albums and could start scanning.

Some of these photos seem to be very old, from the 1920s and ’30s. But the clarity of those black and white photos is remarkable—much better than the color photos taken 50 years later.

A few have names or dates on them, but not many. I can recognize my grandparents and my great-grandparents, Damase and Clarina Breton. I recognize some of my mother’s aunts and uncles, especially those like Alfred and Juliette and Phillipe and Germaine who lived, as did my grandparents, in Connecticut. The other aunts and uncles are familiar but I get their names mixed up. I would have met them, repeatedly, at large family gatherings, the language barrier complicating things. And some names have just gone out of my head completely, only to pop back in hours later… but still disembodied.

I do remember going around towns and villages in Québec and Lewiston, Maine, with my grandparents, staying with one relation or another, meeting my mother’s cousins and their children. “On faire la visit”—”We make the visit”, a pilgrimage to the heart of family and family ties.

In the rambling farmhouse of one of my aunts or uncles, my sister and I would be put to bed in the room just above the kitchen, the warmest bedroom. Set in the floor there was usually a grill that allowed the heat from the kitchen to rise, a natural “central” heating. I remember lying down near the grill to listen to the grownups’ conversation. My “baby French” didn’t get me far—their Québecois French was so fast and truncated—but I would sometimes get the gist of bits and pieces—especially if I heard a name I knew. I remember there was a lot of laughing. My Pépère, Odias, and his brothers-in-law were great ones for earthy jokes.

It amazes me that there are so many group photos in this collection of close to 1000 photos spanning 70 years. I often wonder, who was the person with the camera? Clearly, every time they got together was an occasion for recording their family ties.

January has arrived… today!

After weeks of very mild weather—mostly wet—we woke to a blue sky, bright sun and a magical frosted landscape. The sun is still so low in the sky that much of the garden white with frost will stay that way all day, while other parts are rapidly returning to green. It is oddly cheering after so much fog, mist and rain—the three forms of wet we’ve been having for the past few months. Oh, we get the odd sunny spell thrown in. Just enough to draw us out for a walk, only to catch us with some windy rain halfway home. But we DO NOT complain! Because our kids—even those in Seattle—have been shoveling snow. We are grateful that we don’t face waking up to THAT.

Here’s what we did wake up to:

It’s strange to think that in less than three weeks, we will celebrate the Irish first day of spring, Bríd’s (or St. Brigid’s) Day. Six weeks after that we will (hopefully) have our potatoes in. Our favorite variety, Yukon Gold, is not available this year but I saved some from last year’s crop so maybe we’ll still have enough for a couple of weeks. The rest will be British Queens. We live in the middle of carrot and potato territory so getting lovely organically grown produce is not difficult. However, there is nothing quite like digging up a few spuds for you dinner, rinsing them off and steaming  them until they are smiling up at you. That’s definitely something we can look forward to on these chilly nights and frosty mornings.

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