Writer, Textile Artist, Plantswoman

Category: Gardening (Page 2 of 2)

Garden Update: End of Easter Week

The weather has been wonderful up until yesterday. The sun, the air, the warmth of the soil, the plants in the greenhouse—all contributing to a deep sense of well being that evaporated yesterday afternoon as the skies darkened and the air grew chilly. Thankfully, we got the potatoes in. We’re trying a “no dig” method, although we actually had to dig because of all of the rocks and roots. Even that felt good. At one point I was beginning to feel a bit low but an hour of forking over the strip between the hedging and the raspberries had me feeling lighter at heart. The very air itself felt tingly and sweet.

The “no dig” method has the seed potatoes (properly chitted) planted and covered with compost instead of with the heavier garden dirt. The hilling up will also be compost and mulch and the hope is that the harvesting will be a simple matter of pulling up the stems. At least that’s what Charles Dowding says.

We have two long drills, an early variety ‘Orla’ and a main crop ‘Cara’. We also planted up three potato bags with varieties you can’t buy in shops here like ‘Setanta’ and ‘Maris Peer’, and ‘Yukon Gold’ which is common in the US but not in Ireland.

I had my first disaster. In the joy of the warm weather, I planted out my ‘Blauhilde’ climbing beans and they seemed to get on really well for a couple of days. And then I came out and they were all shriveled and unhappy looking. I was worried about leaving them in the greenhouse because they were getting a little too tall for the shelves… so I planted them out. I really should have put them in the cold frame for a full week or two to harden off. Lesson learned. I’ll sow some more and be more careful. Everything else that looks ready has been moved to the cold frame where it will stay until at least next weekend (May the 4th be with you, little seedlings!)

Things are slowly shaping up. I’m seeing great signs of beauty to come. The peonies are pushing up, the transplanted Heuchera looks happy in its new home, the climbing roses are leafing and budding, the valerian in the stone wall is just about to flower, and the jasmine has wound itself around the greenman on the gable end of the shed. And May is less than two weeks away!



Garden Update: The Week Before Easter

Wow! It’s been 10 days since I last posted anything here. Where did the time go? In fairness, the weather has been so good that being out in the garden or the gazebo has been the main attraction. We had our first picnic meal of the season out under the gazebo a week ago Friday — fresh hake from a Duncannon, Wexford fishmonger who sells from his van in the nearby SuperValu carpark. Getting there early is key and I was, for some reason, up with the birds, and out to the shop for the OAP time slot because we needed a few things to get us through the weekend. Add to that, salad made from our own spring onions and lambs lettuce (and a tin of peas for Robbie—because it’s fish, after all), and you have a feast!


I tackled the first of many small garden paths—this one in brick because it follows the clothes line and it’s critical to have a solid, dry path to follow when you’re hanging laundry in the winter months.

I had plenty of beautiful old bricks, (from Mark at Landmark Salvage) and just enough sand for the small strip that will eventually feed into the main path, yet to be dug out and currently marked by a lot of blue cardboard. With all of the paths, we want to have them look like they’ve been there since the house was built over 200 years ago. I have left myself with a problem as there’s quite a drop off at the end where the main path will be gradually sloped. It will be fine in the end but, for now, I have to mind myself so I don’t step out into thin air while hanging on to a clothes peg!

I have to confess, I rather like hard landscaping. You really get to see what you’ve accomplished by the end of the day. Plants, on the other hand, take a while to settle in before filling in the spaces you’ve left for them to grow into. It’s slow and takes patience.

COVID Distraction

Speaking of laundry, the major distraction of the past week is COVID-19 related. A little over a week ago, I read a report in The Guardian suggesting that everyone should be wearing a face mask because you may be carrying the coronavirus—indeed, are your most infectious—for up to a week before you even experience symptoms yourself. This is disquieting. So, my first notion was to see if there was a way I could help people out by supplying them with bits of fabric from my (it turns out) humongous stash of quilt fabric… everything from small pre-cut squares to 9 yard swathes intended for backing bed-sized quilts. I didn’t BUY all of this fabric. Bins of it was gifted to me by my friend Delia who was moving from a grand Victorian in Newtonville to a tiny apartment in New York. No room for her to quilt, let alone to stash fabric.

9-Patch block alternated with Hourglass block using scrap fabric.

That had to have been 20 years ago or more and I’m only now appreciating how much fabric she gave me. While Delia’s interests shifted way from quilting to writing and NYC cultural diversions, my life took a turn with a change in jobs, a jump to a 70 hour work week and a return to Grad school. The quilt I was working on at the time got rolled up and stuffed under the bed where it stayed until the son for whom it was intended, decided to get married. A new wedding quilt in the works meant taking THAT quilt off the frame and folding it up to be continued at a later time—and place. That turned out to be here, in Ireland, in our new home where it graces our bed in the winter time.

Back to COVID. The mask idea was not a great success. The no-sew versions didn’t work really work with quilt fabric and the ones you could sew really needed specialized fabric and elastic that, while I know I have yards of it somewhere, I simply cannot find. Besides, I didn’t want to get involved in the manufacturing of face masks given that there’s no guarantee they would prevent the spread of the virus. They are just another of the many precautions that help. If it was at all feasible, I thought I could offer my friends and neighbors something to do while they were on “lock-in,” if they were so inclined. But now I was knee deep in the fabric I had dug out of boxes and bins, washed, line dried and ironed—yes… IRONED! I, who have avoided buying any clothes that require pressing of any description for the past decade, have spent hours every evening of the past 10 days ironing yards and yards of fabric.

The Challenge

Well, I’m deep into it now… stacks of folded colorful fabric all over the sitting room. My husband says our house smells like an industrial laundry—which is not a bad thing. There are certainly worse! I’ve always loved the smell of laundry fresh off the line after a day of sunshine. Ask anyone who’s been a neighbor of ours over the past 40 years.

Here’s my little confession: I think I was just waiting for an opportunity to get all those sewing and quilting things sorted out so I could get started on a project. Clearing the decks, visually organizing what I have to see if there’s an idea buried in there. It’s difficult to see ideas if everything is in a box buried deep in a cupboard. That goes for writing a book, making a garden, or designing a quilt.

I willingly gave up on the mask idea, but when I admitted that to our Community Virus Response leader, Richard, I also mentioned that I thought it was too bad we couldn’t make a community quilt. He seemed to be intrigued and, when I told him I used to teach Basic Patchwork years ago, he suggested I put a plan together. His idea was that we could make something to hang in the Heritage Centre. My idea is that whatever we make could be raffled off to benefit Tidy Towns or some other charity. Richard suggested I put together a plan and “directions” and he’d put it up on Facebook to see if anyone is interested.

The basic 9-Patch quilt block. Notice that this is one of the two blocks in the quilt shown above. *

I went back to the premise of my first Basic Patchwork class: a Sampler quilt based on 9-patch construction. Any block design that can be constructed from 9 equally sized squares will follow the same construction method: Three squares per row, three rows per block. Each square can be constructed from other shapes: triangles, rectangles, squares. As long as each of the 9 squares finishes at 4″ and each block is 12″ plus 1/4″ seam allowance all around, you can combine all different kinds of 9-patch blocks into a harmonious quilt top. Of course, other construction methods work too… but this is about learning simple techniques that get progressively more complex while using the same basic framework.

I started doing research from my library of quilt books and magazines (when I wasn’t washing, hanging out on the line, ironing, or gardening) and found over 60 different quilt blocks and a few lovely variations that were roughly the same as another block but carried a different name. The original course I taught was 12 weeks long so we concentrated on 9 patches and the last few weeks were focused on assembling and fastening the quilt layers. The original patches included the simple ones, each week learning a new design:

  • Row 1: 9-Patch, Shoo Fly, Monkey Wrench,
  • Row 2: Ohio Star, Variable Star, Swamp Angel,
  • Row 3: Tulip Lady Fingers, Quatrefoils, Weather Vane.

Not everyone wanted to move on to the more difficult squares so they were able to do variations on the easier blocks by reversing the lights and darks of the fabric pieces. It never ceased to amaze me how the dullest or most garish of fabrics, when combined with others into new patterns yielded something beautiful—it was a magic revelation with each new piecing.

So I will put this together and start a new category on this blog called 9-patch Quilt Challenge. To be frank, even if no one is interested, I will start creating one of each of the 65 different “9 patch” quilt blocks I found. I have a head start. At the bottom of one of the bins of fabric I found two completed blocks, Shoo Fly and Pinwheels, and lots of squares and triangles already cut!

Back to the Garden

However, this is a GARDEN post, so here are a few images I collected over the week… and my intention to make something out of all the “garden” titled quilt blocks I’ve found.

This week in the garden…

* Note that the sample blocks are grayscale. The color value of the patchwork piece (from light to dark) gives you an idea of how the block is set up so that the maker can decide whether to follow a simple monochromatic design (all the pieces in different shades of blue) or a polychromatic design (two or more hues of varying shades.)

Garden Update: Almost the weekend

The first tulip to bloom!

I seem to have become obsessed with the vegetable side of gardening. I wonder if that has anything to do with food anxiety—like, “If this COVID thing goes on for months, will we have any food??” I’m sure I’m not the only one with that thought because all of my favourite online garden sites have temporarily stopped taking orders. It’s only for a little while, they tell us, until they can catch up with the deluge of orders they got once people realized they would be stuck at home for weeks with nothing to do. Well, at least the flowers seem to be doing okay on their own. I’ll just have to wait to put in new bedding plants.

In the 10’x12′ greenhouse garden (so-called because it’s the garden bed closest to the greenhouse), I finally got the 25 strawberry plants in the ground. This was a huge undertaking because we had been walking over that section while we built the compost bin system and it had pretty much dried into concrete. I spent a couple of days forking it over, then raking it and pulling out stones and roots until I had a reasonable tilth. I then mounded, added compost and went to work putting the bare root strawberries in place.

This is the same bed with the new Crabapple tree and the Rhubarb. I’m still dithering about what I’ll put in the middle but I think an herb garden is the front runner.

In the greenhouse itself, things are happening… some faster than others.

The corn germinated but the climbing beans have taken off! True leaves are out and I swear they grew three inches in one day. I’m concerned that I’ll have to put them out too early. But maybe not. We are in the “sunny south” after all — Don’t laugh! That’s what we call it.

Here’s a list of everything sown (or planted) in the greenhouse since the Equinox:

  • Sweet peas
  • Sugar snap peas ‘Nairobi’
  • Oregon Sugar pod peas
  • Regular peas
  • Climbing beans (Blauhilde)
  • Sweet corn
  • Buttercup winter squash
  • Rainbow chard
  • Lettuce ‘Roxy’ – I just HAD to!
  • Lettuce ‘Matilda’
  • Dwarf beans ‘Helios’ and ‘Maxi’
  • Runner beans ‘Enorma’
  • Comfrey (nowhere near as much as I need though!)
  • Lemon balm (from the free little Lidl peat pots)
  • Thyme (from the free little Lidl peat pots)
  • Delphinium
  • Tomatoes, ‘Gardener’s Delight’,
  • Basil
  • Cape gooseberries
  • 2 Dahlias
  • Cornflowers
  • Courgettes from a free MiracleGro peat pot
  • Cucumbers from a free MiracleGro peat pot

And out in the upper level of the garden, we sowed a bee-friendly wildflower patch — but I might need to get some yellow rattle to keep the grass from regrowing there. The question is, will I be able to get those seeds if the online seed sellers aren’t taking orders.

I think I will have to turn my attention to the flowers tomorrow. If I don’t weed those beds soon, I’ll have three times the work later—by which time I’ll be too busy putting out all those vegetables!

Garden Update: Week of March 29th

Gardening in a different climate makes one call into question the accumulated wisdom and practices of the past. For instance, I was taught to soak beans and peas for 24 hours before planting them. I don’t remember if that was before planting them in modules or planting seed in the ground once the bed was warm enough. If you’re planting in modules, does it make a difference? I don’t know, so we’re going to find out. I have three bean varieties for the keyhole raised bed veg garden outside my studio. Right now, the middle bed just has garlic and red onion… nothing going down the middle. It’s a good spot for a line of peas flanked by dwarf green beans. But I don’t want these to be decimated by slugs and snails so I’m going to grow them in the greenhouse until they are strong enough to survive those pests.

I have a module tray and I’m sowing eight seeds of three varieties, two of which are dwarf beans (‘Helios’ and ‘Maxi’) and one is a runner bean (‘Enorma’) that will get planted elsewhere using bamboo stick supports. Yesterday, I took 4 of each variety and soaked it on a cardboard tray in wet paper towel. These I left for 24 hours. Then I sowed dry beans every other row. Today, I planted the empty cells with the soaked beans. It was handy that each variety was a different color!

Should the control seeds (planted yesterday) germinate at the same time as the soaked seeds, I will conclude that there’s no advantage to soaking the beans before sowing. However, if the soaked seeds germinate and show their first leaves BEFORE the control seeds, I will know that there is a germination advantage to soaking. I will continue to see if there is any other effect by marking the soaked seed plants when I plant them out into the garden.


The tomato and basil seeds have sprouted!! And I spotted some corn shoots this afternoon.  What a joy it is to have a greenhouse!!

Garden Notes: The Three Sisters

I just ordered a raised bed from Quickcrop to do some “square foot” gardening. I’m going to use it for an experimental “Three Sisters” bed.

4×4′ area staked out. Raspberries tied in to their frames in the background.

I’m going to try to do it the traditional native American way. Their technique was to put two fish at the bottom of the planting hole where the corn would go. This would feed the hungry corn and bean plants throughout the season. These fish were often menhaden (from munnawhatteaug — “that which manures”) and likely alewives (herring) which would be running up even small rivers around mid-April when planting time was approaching. When I was young, my parents would bring us to Cape Cod’s Stony Brook herring run in Brewster, usually on Patriot’s Day weekend, to watch the alewives jump the ladders that were all along the brook up to the mill pond—a tradition we kept with our own children when we moved from Ireland to Massachusetts back in the late ’70s. My problem will be finding “throwaway” fish during this COVID-19 pandemic… are the fishing boats still going out? I’ll be asking friends. I’ll need 32 for my 4×4 foot raised bed.

The type of beans native Americans grew 400-500 years ago would probably be less heavily productive than modern varieties, so they would have planted six to eight seeds around the corn once the stalk was about a foot high. To that they added squash (probably some kind of pumpkin) around the plot to let the squash ramble, providing cooling shade to the soil.

I’m planting a variety of sweet corn, ‘True Gold,’ that is supposed to work in our Irish climate. For beans, I’m using a purple French climbing bean, ‘Blauhilde’ (a Monty Don favourite as seen on Gardeners’ World). And then I’m using ‘Buttercup’ (Cucurbita maxima), a dark green winter squash with golden flesh that can be baked. I will keep a record here as I go along because I want to document this… for me and for anyone else who’s homesick for a taste of homegrown sweet corn.

I am starting these off in the greenhouse… the corn and beans in root-trainers because they don’t like their long roots disturbed, and the squash in 9 cm pots.

Gardening runs deep in my family’s culture. My Canadian cousins all seem to have a garden going and it’s the first thing you are invited to inspect when you stop by for a visit. My grandfather’s grandmother was a Mohawk from Kahnawake in Quebec, Canada, and he grew up in the Beauce region south of Quebec City. My grandmother grew up on a farm in Stornoway, the middle child in a family of 10 or 12. I’m never sure because my grandfather also had a huge family of brothers and sisters. They both grew up on tillage farms with tracts of sugar maples for sugaring in the spring. I have fond memories of dribbling wooden spoonfuls of the boiling hot syrup over pans of pristine snow to make maple candy, and Sunday brunches at the Cabane au Sucre in St. Eustache.

My grandmother grew the Three Sisters in her garden, but on a bigger scale than I can in our small garden. She also grew tomatoes, peas, onions, potatoes and whatever else she had room for. My love for Rhubarb comes from the row of red-stemmed plants that stretched along the brick foundation of her house. She would give my sisters and I each a small jar with some sugar at the bottom, instructing us to pull up a stalk, lick it, stick it into the jar, and eat it for a snack—but NOT the leaves! She also put up preserves of just about everything she harvested and would bring us cases of piccalilli (green tomato relish), apple jelly, apple sauce, stewed tomatoes and crisp green beans and pickles in jars. My mother had an entire wall of cabinets in our kitchen dedicated to storing these and other foodstuffs.

My mother’s cousin Gaëtan, who lives in Sherbrooke, south of Trois-Rivière and Quebec City, does an annual “corn shuck” family reunion in August. I haven’t been able to go for a few years, but the routine is this: they set out wheelbarrows filled with huge hessian bags of freshly picked corn… you pick out as many ears as you yourself commit to eat—no waste in this family! You shuck your own corn (the husks going into a pile to be shredded for compost) and pop the ears into the already boiling water. You get yourself another beer or lemonade and fill up your plate with cold chicken, potato salad, green salad… and your hot buttery corn.

However, I now live in Ireland, not known for the kind of weather best suited to sweet corn—at least, not until recent summers. Nevertheless, I am homesick for the taste of real late August sweet corn. Not the starchy frozen stuff you find in shops, but the kind you only get when you can pick the ear off the stalk when the water is boiling and then serve salted and dripping with butter. Bliss!

Signs of Spring

During this COVID-19 situation, our household — along with the rest in our village — is “self isolating”. It’s not too difficult if you are already a bit of an introvert, love books, and have a garden. While the daffodils have been up for a while and more flowers are blooming, there are other things happening in the garden that lighten the heart and mind. I decided to document them…

I’ve been spending time in the new greenhouse sowing seeds. I especially want to try a “Three Sisters” plot — sweet corn, climbing beans and winter squash. So on Saturday — the Spring Equinox — I set to putting my seeds in root trainers and pots. I’m still preparing the soil where this plot will go. But I’m looking forward to some real corn on the cob in August!


Garden Update: Week of March 21st

It’s the Vernal Equinox… I’ll be planting stuff in the greenhouse — which is finally DONE! We brought our Heron decoy out and put her at the top of our little waterfall. I don’t think she fools anyone but she looks lovely.

Here’s what’s growing:

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