Writer, Textile Artist, Plantswoman

Category: Gardening (Page 1 of 2)

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.

OMG! Where did the time go??

I haven’t posted in MONTHS… I don’t know why. Except that hours and days don’t seem to be measured the same way in the time of COVID. Day follows day and time gets measured in terms of occasional important events (vaccination appointments) or what gets done in the garden. Even then, the winter/spring weather extended well into what is normally considered “summer” here in Ireland. It seems as if we’ve gone from early April to July… and then back to late May — and that’s just the way it’s been in these few weeks of June. Everything feels at least two weeks late in terms of what should go in the ground or be sown outside.

But now I am sitting at the table while the Euro 2021 is playing in the background, a glass of fizzy mint infused elderflower cordial—a significantly JUNE drink here—and feeling that maybe summer has finally arrived. This is a recipe from Happy Pear, twin brothers that created a wholefoods company here in Ireland. They combine their cordial with blueberries but we have a lovely mint growing in a pot outside our kitchen door. So I dug out the muddle my son-in-law got us for Christmas way back when, picked a couple of mint leaves, added the cordial and some soda water and VOILÁ! It is exceedingly refreshing. The elderflowers came from our own tree and the cordial will keep for up to a month in the fridge — if it lasts that long.

Yesterday, I foostered around (an Irish term) in the garden and came in with a bunch of small harvests—some kale for a smoothie (yum!), some amazingly huge but juicy radishes, 12 new potatoes and our first crop of spring chard. The potatoes (a first early called “Orla”) and chard we ate with some fresh hake for our midday meal. There is NOTHING quite as satisfying as picking something fresh from the garden and then sitting out in that garden to eat it with the sounds of the little waterfall and the birds all around you, feeding little bits of fish to the cat, who then bounces off in pursuit of a bee or butterfly. It’s definitely a “life is good” moment—a precious one in times like these.

Here’s hoping you get some of these moments yourself.

Garden Update: Hidden Treasures

I’ve been checking my tomatoes, french beans, sweet corn and courgette (zucchini), as well as the new Brussel sprout and lettuce seedlings, every day. We’re at the point where the things that are bearing fruit, especially the tomatoes growing in containers in the greenhouse, need feeding every week. Well, all that work is finally being rewarded. The big surprise this morning was a gleam of orange red behind the giant tomato leaves—two tomatoes ripening up! I was so excited, I went around the garden to find what else might be hiding from me under the leaves—aside from the dreaded slugs… ugh!

Today, our dinner was accompanied by yellow and green french beans and lovely new potatoes from our garden. Earlier today, I brought a big bunch of rainbow chard up to a neighbor for their dinner. In a little while, I will treat myself to a serving of gooseberry crumble, the fruit courtesy of another neighbor who was overwhelmed by the abundance of his bushes. Life here, in this moment, is very good.

I finally found the GIY website and their 12-week gardening videos—a homegrown Waterford success story! They are wonderful and inspiring. So much so that I’m ready to add another couple of raised beds for growing things in spaces we didn’t know what to do with. So I went to Quickcrop’s website and ordered a couple of VegTrugs—Hey Presto! One and a half square meters of garden without all the hard landscaping! I’m excited.

We also saw a home gardening video on BBC’s Gardeners World where a viewer has created a wall of strawberry plants, solving a couple of problems: the whole “straw” bedding thing to keep the dirt off the fruit… and greedy, sneaky slugs. You know what happens. You espy a lovely big strawberry a day or two away from being just perfect to pick and you come back the next morning to half of it eaten away. The disappointment! So Robbie and I are going to up-cycle a couple of sturdy pallets and create a “wall” with “shelves” for strawberry plants in pots in a nice south facing spot that has the added advantage of screening off the compost area. I’ll wait until the fall to transplant our strawberry plants to that new location and use the resulting ground space for more plants in the herb garden.

***

I’ll be honest. Last week I was feeling a bit negative about the garden. I had a case of weed fixation—it seemed that the only thing I noticed growing in the garden was the weeds. And the weather made it too miserable to even contemplate getting down on my knees to get at them. People waiting in line at the bottom of our drive for the Fish Fellas were commenting on how lovely the garden looked and I had to bite my tongue to stop from pointing out every flaw, straggly seed head and weedy patch. I simply could not see the beauty for the weeds.

The three lovely sunfilled days we had at the beginning of this week have worked their magic. And the on again/off again rain we’ve had the last few days has filled the water butts and cleaned the air. The garden is lush and green with bright flashes of yellows and reds from the dahlias and poppies. The views from my kitchen window and from the bottom of the garden, underscored by the burble of the pond stream, punctuated by the flutter of wings at the bird feeders give me the feeling of having been dropped into a midsummer Garden of Eden.

 

 

 

Catching up: Better late than never…

Forgive me readers for I have sinned… it’s been a month (and four days) since my last post. I wish I could say that was because I was busier than usual—I wasn’t. And it wasn’t because I didn’t have stories to tell or projects to report on—I did, although some of the newsy bits are sadly out of date or obsolete and there are always projects.

It was just because.

The Sound of Music?

The most recent project was cutting my hair… something that took two of us, a cordless clipper and a pair of (cheap) scissors. I later found out that a close neighbor of mine had trained as a hairdresser and, had I known, I would have happily paid her whatever she asked to do this. I can deal with the emerging COVID gray/grey. It was the frizzy ends and unflattering length of the “coiffure” that was getting me down the last four or five days. I haven’t seen a hairdresser since January—that’s how bad it has gotten.

So with the full length mirror out on the kitchen patio and armed with the cordless clipper Robbie bought on Amazon, I set about trying to tame the sad condition of my COVID hair. I had to call Robbie in to help with the back after I cut it way too short and too far up because, despite the fact that my children believed I had eyes in the back of my head, I simply could not see or control or evaluate what my hands—and the clippers—were doing. So now I have what I like to think is the Julie Andrews/Maria von Trapp haircut from the Sound of Music.

There’s a Mouse in the house

We have a new member of the household—Mouse O’Líní (“líní” is as gaeilge for “lines” like the ones on the top of his head). We brought him home on June 15th, when he could easily fit in the palm of your hand. He has since doubled in size.

He is adorable, small for his age, but fearless in everything he does. Which is why we are very careful not to let him out of the house as he’d get flattened in no time by a hay tractor or milk tanker passing by on the road.

Having a “house” cat is not part of the cat owning culture here. Our garden has a parade of cats that wander freely from the various houses all around us. Most don’t have collars and some might be wilder than others. We shoo them away in the interest of saving the birds Robbie has worked so hard to attract. When Mouse is big enough to go out into the garden at all, he will be sporting a bell on his collar. Until then, he stays in the house with only supervised explorations of the outside world. He won’t stay this small and cute forever so we are enjoying this time to its fullest.

The Garden is a Jungle!

Back in late May, early June, it looked like this was going to be a hot, dry summer. As soon as Uisce/Irish Water (the water services board) declared a hosepipe ban due to water shortages, we started to get rain—every day. Sometimes an inch or so, more often just an annoying drizzle that made it unpleasant to work outside, or go for a walk or do anything. Every once in a while we’d get a burst of sunshine, the temperature would go up into the 70s in the sun and the heat loving plants like corn, tomatoes, and squash, would be grateful.

Over the past week the winter squash has taken over the paths and the courgette (zucchini) has commandeered the corner lot. The potatoes have overtaken where the raspberries are staked and all the herbs in the small kitchen garden have filled out and spread into each other. On the other side of the path the verbena bonariensis are taller than me and the dahlias are putting out new blooms every morning. In the front cottage garden, the tall daisies and crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ I rescued from the back garden in November when we were regrading it are more than happy in their new location. It was a gamble and it really paid off.

Village Life — FISH!

Wonderful things have come to pass in this little village. The Fish Fellas, Danny and Adam, started selling fresh fish from their van every Thursday—right here at the bottom of our garden! They have their own boats in Ballycotton and come here with the freshest fish ever! We generally buy enough for two days and haven’t been disappointed.

Then, a couple of weeks later, another member of the Ballycotton boat family, Vanessa, brought her gourmet fish and chips “airstream” to the village and set up by the river. They sold out of everything the first time and looks like they’ll sell out again tonight. Of course, this is better news for Robbie as I cannot eat anything battered in flour, HOWEVER, they use a different fryer for the chips!! So I have had my first feed of chips in what feels like decades but is really only SIX months! It made my weekend—I actually saved half to have tomorrow reheated in the oven. Irish chips are not like those skinny “french fries” you often get, all precut and frozen. They are freshly cut, thick and floury and taste like real potatoes. I can’t use malt vinegar (that coeliac thing again) but I’ve discovered that mayonnaise is yummy on chips, as is organic ketchup. I’m covered for the rest of the summer.

Village Life — the Big “C”

June was “100 K in 30 days” for Breast Cancer Ireland. I got more than 100k in even though I started a little late and I loved walking with my neighbors and friends, two of which were in treatment at the time. Their determination, cheerfulness and camaraderie was inspiring. Sometimes we were only four or five walking, other times we had 14 or 15 walkers, husbands and children joining in with the late evening sun shining down on us. A highlight was the 10 km walk up into the hills behind Mount Stuart church arranged by the Clashmore Set Dancers. At one point, we were up above the wind turbines. We walked by a freshly harvest timber farm that had turned into a field of foxglove and meadowsweet as far as the eye could see. It was stunning but I don’t know if I could do it again for a while—not at the pace that was set anyway.

Most days our walks would bring us in a 4 k figure eight leading up the hill and down to the river Lickey, back to the grotto, down the river walk to Raheen Quay and back. One evening, I walked out on my own, earbuds tuned to a book on Audible, up the village and out the back road to Dungarvan. I’d never walked that way before and I was surprised at how peaceful it was and how walking on one’s own can be centering. In the last weeks of the challenge, one of my neighbors undergoing breast cancer treatment got the word that she was clear and her elation was beautiful to see.

Sadly, a few weeks later, she discovered that, while she no longer had any evidence of breast cancer, there was cancer in her liver and it was quite advanced. She died shortly after. We were devastated—it seemed that everyone from the village and beyond stood for a mile on both sides of the road in a “guard of honor” on Monday as the funeral cortege passed by. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam.

So, while June was full of sun and walking and gardening, July has been tougher so far. My hope is that the rest of the month will lighten up a bit and bring us some long evenings sitting by the pond in the gloaming—tine, fíon, cairde agus scéalta—with the chiminea burning, the wine flowing, friends appropriately spaced, with stories and laughter lifting our spirits. It’s how it should be.

Garden Update: First week of June

June is, indeed, busting out all over… although these last couple of days have been more early April than June. The tomato plants in the green house are flowering… as are the five tomatoes planted outside, although those are slower in growing taller. My guess is overall production might be less with the outside tomatoes — but maybe more flavorful for having been grown out in the ground.

I also planted out Cape Gooseberries in three different locations to see which would work best. You’ve probably seen these as garnish in a trendy restaurant. They are also called ground cherries. I have a few more plants I hope to give to some friends to try. I decided to transplant the one rhubarb plant that seemed to be floundering. I reckoned I was going to lose it anyway so I may as well try it in a different spot. I cut away any of the big floppy looking stems, gave it a big drink of water and mulched with composted horse manure. In a day it put up new shoots and it looks like it will pull through. Yay!

I have some video of the garden as of 8 pm on June 1…
The Garden and Greenhouse on June 1, 2020

We have since mulched all of the garden (except the strawberry-herb garden which will get done today) and we’ve got all the garden beds planted up. So, apart from watering, weeding and feeding, things should progress from here.

This being the first year, I don’t have expectations of berries or fruit—however, the tomatoes, potatoes and peas are definitely coming along and we should get plenty of veg in about a month’s time. I’ll post a video every week so we can see the progress.

We had a gorgeous double rainbow on Friday—it was one of those days when the sun and the rain played tag all day long. And our first dahlia, Bishop of Llandalf bloomed—a stunning red in the afternoon glow. And the days are still dry enough for haymaking. This will be the first week when people can go anywhere in their home county and, to other counties, 20 km from their home base. And we can have a small group (4-6) people over if we can maintain appropriate social distancing. That shouldn’t be a problem in our garden.

Garden Notes: Mother’s Day

There’s a rose flowering outside my studio door! It’s not a great looking rose—I think those that are still buds right now will be nicer. But still—there’s a rose outside my door!

So I’m posting a “Status Update” garden gallery here having gone around the back garden with my phone taking pictures so we can compare them to what we will see a month from now. Working on the reusable masks has taken up quite a bit of time—I try to keep that project to days when it’s gray and cloudy but that doesn’t always work out. Yesterday, I went into the greenhouse and did some pricking out and potting on, especially the Cape Gooseberries. Twelve seedlings came up and they were just at the point where the roots might get hopelessly entangled. I also pricked out the rest of the basil. I already gave four away small pots away to a neighbor who has a poly tunnel and will really enjoy planting them with her tomatoes.

I’ve never successfully raised tomato plants from seed before. I would either forget watering them or have them on a windowsill, all spindly craning toward the sun. I generally ended up getting plants from the garden centre and growing from there.

This year is different. I have three varieties that I’ve pricked out into pots and, much to my surprise, they are magnificent! I’m going to wait until Memorial Day weekend (May 25) and put the best into large pots to grown in the green house. I’ll try a couple outside as well in the front garden where there is sun all day. And I might try Gardener’s Delight in hanging baskets outside the kitchen door.

Another surprise is that the summer fruiting raspberries are setting blossoms. Not all the canes, but a few are showing signs of flower buds. We didn’t expect to see any fruit on those until next year. The blueberries also have little bell like flowers on them. I doubt we’ll have many fruits to pick because the birds will get to them first. But maybe that will convince Robbie that we need to build a couple of berry cages.

All the potato bags and drills have sprouted and we are only a day or so away from hilling up with more compost or straw. Robbie’s watercress has really taken off and is growing madly down our little brook to the pond.

My last garden task yesterday evening was planting out the sweet peas all around the Bird tree. It’s really a tall stump of a tree that died some time ago — long before we got here. It is the perfect edifice for the bird feeders and also is the anchor for our clothes line. All around the bottom we’ve planted primroses and laid rocks to keep the grass and weeds somewhat under control. I didn’t have much luck with sweet peas last year but I’m willing to try again. I’ve ringed the Bird tree with bamboo cane to give the peas something to climb on. Another experiment.

Here’s the Gallery of photos taken on May 9.

Garden Update: last week of April

I’ve splurged on gardening—plants, compost, manure and, now, window boxes.

Back in 2017, I bought a few blue plastic window boxes and filled them with red geraniums and all manner of small plants to set those off. Last year I planted, in those same boxes now faded to gray, pink geraniums with lobelia. The flowers were lovely but the containers were really showing signs of wear—some had cracks in them and wouldn’t hold water.

This week, Magda at my local garden centre suggested these lovely wicker containers that were lined with plastic and, if I remembered to bring them in to the toolshed and store them over the winter, should last me years and years. They certainly cost more, but the difference in how they look and how well they suit our old cottage, they are definitely worth every penny.

I’m posting an image of the way they look today, freshly planted. And then I will add another image in a few weeks and at the end of May, so you can see for yourselves… sometimes you just need to splurge!

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