Writer, Textile Artist, Plantswoman

Category: Gardening (Page 1 of 3)

May has come and gone…


This post is dedicated to my sister Elise who is 71 today. She was my first roommate and confidant, although I admit we did fight like cats when it came to things like cleaning up our room. I remember that on one of these occasions, my father strode into the room, took all the bedding off the beds and threw it all out into the hall. He then picked up everything else and tossed it on the pile he had made. “There!” he said. “Maybe now I can get some peace.” When he stomped off, Elise and I looked at each other and collapsed laughing. And then we cleaned up the mess and went out to play.

She has a mischievous sense of humor and a ready smile. A true healer, she is gentle, kind, patient and a gift to everyone who knows her. Elise, I hope you have the best birthday! No one deserves it more ❤️🎂❤️

Elise 70 years ago today!

The news media reports that May was the driest month. I don’t know where they got that impression. Down here in the southwest of Ireland, with the exception of a couple of days in the middle and the end of the month, it was gray, gray, gray and almost always wet, even when it wasn’t actively raining. Nothing got enough light and heat to actually dry out much. The ground was still too cold for things to come forth. Even the peas took at least a week longer to germinate and are only now starting to flower, some six weeks after I sowed them. In any event, with all that rain, everything looks lush and green.

Happily, all that rain meant I spent a lot of time knitting and piecing quilts. I have one quilt ready to put on the frame. I’m doing that one for my granddaughter. I’m planning another for a daughter-in-law. These will have to be finished by September when the family will be over here for a weeklong trip. I may get going on those projects this week. In the meantime, I’m finished with the second project (a cowl) in one KAL (Knit Along) club and coming to the end of another KAL (a cardigan). Sadly, I have not even started with the third one but as it’s a blanket throw made of twenty 10” squares I should catch up soon. I really must get my impulse to buy yarn and patterns and join project clubs under control! I had great intentions of using up as much of the wool in my stash as I could but my desire to learn new techniques and undertake the challenges of a mystery knit along is hard to resist.

I did get up to Dublin for a Mother’s Day theatre matinée. I’m lucky, I also get Irish Mother’s Day in March! I went to The Gate Theatre with cousin Paula Bán where we saw “The Pull of the Stars” based on a book by Emma Donoghue. It was amazing, moving, and powerful. At the end, even before the curtain call, the audience was on its feet roaring its applause. I want to read the book but it will have to wait until I can give it the space to be its own thing.

The day had threatened rain but cleared as soon as we came out and strolled down O’Connell Street (oddly the setting for the play) toward Dublin Castle to Café Max, a sweet little French bistro nestled in Parliament Street, the shortest street in Dublin, I think. Moules Frites, a Côtes de Provence white wine and great company. It was a lovely relaxing day. I think we’ll make it a tradition.

On the Blackwater Cruise

There were some family things in May that got us out of the house and back into the swing of things. Robbie’s cousin Leish brought the ashes of their cousin Cáit to be interred in the family plot in Carrick-on-Suir. The following Tuesday we took Leish and her husband with us on Tony Gallagher’s boat up the Blackwater—the long trip with a picnic in Villierstown. While the sun wasn’t actually shining (no surprise there), it was pleasant and almost warm and, as my mother would say, any day on the water is a great day. Later that month, Máirtín de Cógáin invited us to a session at The Local in Dungarvan. Robbie’s cousin Dónal was there with an amazing box player, Joseph Mannion—definitely a man to watch! Robbie reckons he’ll get the All-Ireland this year. At some point in the evening a Bodhrán solo started. It soon became FOUR bodhráns. Often that’s considered three too many but not this night! See the video: Bodhránimania!

It’s election time here, and we are voting for local councilors and EU representatives. Next year is the national election. We’ve had weeks of the doorbell ringing and campaign flyers in the mailbox. Friday, we went to the local school and cast our ballots and now we are keeping “radio silence” as nothing will be finalized for about a week and the airwaves are full of speculation until all the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. votes are redistributed. It’s proportional representation here. You vote for as many candidates as you are willing to support in the order of preference. Counting the votes is time consuming.

I often wonder how history would have been different had a similar system be used in the United States for federal elections. For instance, would Al Gore have been clearly elected when Ralph Nader’s second preference votes were redistributed, assuming that anyone voting for Nader would have been unlikely to have chosen Bush as a second preference? Would we finally be able to divest ourselves of the Electoral College—an 18th century compromise institution that was invented when news travelled on horseback and now results in a handful of states wielding greater power than their populations warrant? From where I’m sitting, it seems to me that more people would actually vote if they could vote their conscience—if they could vote for the person they most strongly support first and then for whichever they consider the lesser of the remaining evils as second preference, and so forth. How much more invested would we be if the person who wins the election was someone we actually were FOR, even if they were our second or third preference? After all, no one has to vote for someone they absolutely do not support. That would feel unethical. All these questions (and indeed, this whole paragraph) is dedicated to my dear friend June who is herself an elected representative in Rhode Island as well as a professor of Political Science.

Back to less contentious matters. Below are photos I took throughout May (and maybe into June…). Now that we are a week into June, things are looking much better. The roses on the corner of the shed have never been so abundant, the potatoes we planted in the beds outside the studio have really come on—we scrabbled around for some early potatoes and, while they weren’t very big, they were very tasty.

Belated April Post

It appears that birthday wishes aren’t the only things that can be belated. I was taking photos and thinking about things for an April post all month long but never got there. I have inundated myself with various knitting projects (see links below) and, by the end of the month, got started on a new quilt. Keeping my hands busy has been my salvation through what has seemed an unending series of April showers and torrential downpours. To be fair, we did have a few days where the sun came out and it only rained after dark—but only a few. May, at least so far, seems to be following suit.

May (Bealtaine in Irish—click link for how to pronounce it) is supposed to be the beginning of summer in the Irish calendar. Hence, June 21st, the summer solstice, is called mid-summer’s eve. From that point on, the days will begin to shorten, but it’s too soon to think about that. Let’s hope next week will begin to show us the summer we’ve been waiting for.

I did get my tomato seeds sown in the greenhouse. It will be a while before it will be warm enough for them to thrive outside, if we do that at all. They may just have to stay in the greenhouse when everything else gets planted out. I will be potting them on this coming week, along with Cosmos, and Dahlias (Bishop’s Children) and anything else that’s in need of something more sustaining than seed compost. I sowed the sweet corn into regular compost in deep root trainers because it will be at least 6 weeks before I’ll be able to plant them out. I have Patty Pan and Butternut squash to companion plant with the corn and I’ll probably put in some climbing beans, but only one climber per stalk! Volunteer potato plants have sprung up in the beds I planned to use for the corn, squash and beans (see Three Sisters) so we’ll just harvest them for those little baby potatoes that we love. I’ll top up with compost and manure and put everything in when the weather is warmer and a little drier. Those are my grand plans. We’ll see how they come out.

Knitting Projects—All from Stolen Stitches:

  • Grianchloch Shawl #4 — for my Physio therapist. I told her if she bought the yarn, I’d knit it up for her.
  • Torc Cardigan — something for me 🙂 and a KAL (Knit Along) that’s still open to join!
  • Galway Blanket — using the wool from Galway Sheep
  • Blanket Club KAL — a collaboration between Carol Feller and Thea Coman
  • Celtic Knits Club — So far it’s been a hat and mitts… waiting to see what the next project will be.
  • Ravi Nua Cardigan — I’m planning this one for my dear friend Kate (since our dear friend June is getting a shawl.) The yarn color is “Hatters Teal Party”!

More about the Quilt project later this month when I have photos. It’s made entirely from HST (half square triangles) with a couple of borders. It’s something I can do down in my studio on these rainy days when I can’t be in the garden.

Until then, here is the garden update:

Signs of Spring Garden Post

While the weather is nothing to boast of—3 1/2″ of rain over the past two days, much of it last night—the temperatures are rather mild. A quick gander around the garden shows signs of spring that gladden the heart.

I planted 16 seed potatoes in two of the raised beds outside my studio so we could just nip out and dig some up for dinner in June. I might do a few in bags. I’ll be sowing peas in a week or so, as soon as I get fresh seeds from Quickcrop.

I’ll probably sow some lettuce in the greenhouse along with some Bishop’s Children dahlias and a few other flowers. It’s just getting warm enough to spend some time out there, although not dry enough to clear everything out and get things in order. Lots of things to pot up (dahlias, pelargoniums, and some peonies I got on sale that we’ll want to plant out in a new area.) But all that can wait until the end of the month. March is still too soon I think. Too much rain and too many weather surprises.

The Cat King of Cardboard

Sometimes I think that my relationship with Amazon (or any of the online shopping I use) is less about buying things and more about getting things in big cardboard boxes. Cardboard—especially the brown, uncoated kind—is a boon to a “no dig” gardener (see Charles Dowding primer). Lay some down on a weed and grass covered patch, mulch generously (about 4 inches) with compost, wood chip or bark mulch, and you’ll have far less weeding, more organic matter and, over time, more fertile soil for whatever you want to plant.

However, I have competition for any cardboard that comes my way—Mouse, the cat.

Minutes after I have taken out whatever I have ordered and towed the box and the packaging outside to put paper or straw in the compost and strip off any tape, especially the non-biodegradable stuff, I turn around to find the cat has taken possession.

He does this with little piles of dirt and detritus I sweep up on the path as well as newly cleared and composted VegTrug beds and potato bags… even my “potting bowl”! (See below for a gallery of places he has overtaken.)

I’m not sure what the attraction is. Himself (Robbie) says it’s because these are things I’m working with and that Mouse sees me as his “mommy”—heaven forbid!

But maybe he has a point… because the other day I turned my back on a selection of fabric for a quilt I was planning in order to contemplate my “almost neatly stacked” fabric shelves of scraps and pieces for possible additions. When I turned back… behold! He had, yet again, taken possession of my stuff! I call this his Mandarin Pose—and I think he knows it.

The Cat Who Would be King of All Cardboard
(and straw and dirt and planting places)

Lá Fhéile Bríde Shona Daoibh!

Imbolc (Imbolg)– the first day of Spring and the feast of Brigid!

Signs of spring are already showing up in our garden, green things pushing up through the ground, the sun rising earlier and earlier, bird song abounds and, the most heart lifting of all, there’s a stretch in the evening—that soft blue gloaming in the west that stretches the light after sundown.

This year will be the first time a feast day celebrating Bríd (both the mythic and saint) will be a public holiday. It falls on the first Monday of February, completing the cycle of the four Celtic feasts for which there is a public holiday, the other three being Samhain (November 1), Bealtaine (May 1), and Lughnasadh (August 1).

Lá Fhéile Bríde is the first public holiday that celebrates women—even Nollaig na mBan, Women’s Christmas doesn’t do that. As is fitting, some of Ireland’s finest traditional musicians have composed and choreographed pieces for the day. I’ve posted these pieces by Caitlín Nic Gabhann—a slip jig Lá ‘le Bríde, Síle Denvir’s song Seo í isteach mo Bhrídeog, and Louise Mulcahy’s jig Port Naomh Bríd.

Enjoy the day and celebrate the end of Winter—even if it doesn’t look much like it wherever you are.

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.

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

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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