25 August 2012

Turtleheads and Bones

For a few weeks now, we've had a sort of summer. Most evenings we've been eating outside (one of the measures of summer for me), the bees are back in the garden and greenhouse, the late summer/autumn flowers are looking happy, and there are even a few tomatoes starting to ripen! For the last few years, this late in August, we've been well used to harvesting both the cherry and ordinary tomatoes and we've even been known to give some of them away. Not this year - walking into the greenhouse I look for the red glow that signals the minor victory of one more ripe tomato. Honestly, I think most of them will end up as green tomato chutney; it's hard to imagine how many of them might ripen this late in the season. I'll still grow them next year though - the taste is so different to the ones we get in the shops. The same goes for apples grown at home--I tasted one of ours today and it was literally mouthwatering: crisp and juicy and sweet with just enough sour lingering inside to give it a real bite. It tasted of childhood and warm slanting sunlight and open air, as opposed to something that's like a cross between polystyrene and a damp sponge, which sadly most apples in the shops taste like now. I have no room to grow proper apple trees and I have just one small coronet tree, but I plan to get more and have the tiniest orchard ever seen. If gardens represent Eden, then every garden should surely have apple trees.

In the greenhouse the bees have been working their magic on the tardy tomatoes and chillies. In the garden, they have been enjoying the last florets on the Agapanthus flowerheads, tackling the pincushion heads of the scabious, and have been nuzzling their way in and out of the turtleheads (Chelone obliqua). The Chelone plants I have come from a plant my Da gave me a good few years ago; he got his from Assumpta Broomfield in Altamont when we visited it not long after it was newly opened to the public. They're handy plants: they'll take dog's abuse (and I know whereof I speak), come back year after year without complaint, they divide easily and well, and they provide late summer colour with short columns of pink turtlehead flowers above dark green toothed leaves. You don't have to travel to old gardens to find them, I saw some for sale today in a standard garden centre. One of the other plants we got that day was Nicandra physalodes (the shoo-fly plant), which is an annual that seeds fairly well and can apparently get a bit weedy. Mine had disappeared from the garden only to return last year in the greenhouse. They love the warmth there and grow very happily so I always leave at least one to grow and produce more seed. They're a member of the Solanaceae family and seem more than happy alongside their relatives, the tomatoes.

I mentioned that we'd been having some sort of summer, but this week it ended (again! unlike a friend in the eastern US who this week wrote of an everlasting summer...) and Autumn arrived. Rain. For a change. And cooler weather. We've been losing the light in the evenings for some time now though I hadn't the heart to mention it here, but from now on it becomes ever more noticeable. I found myself blundering through the twilight in the garden to the water butt the other evening and it was only nine pm or so. Gardening in the gloaming...

Actually my gardening was a bit curtailed this week by some bones slipping out of place. A trip to the bone-cruncher has put me to rights but it did mean more sitting in the greenhouse and reading about gardening than actually doing a whole lot. But at least walks were still permitted and on one of them I was delighted to find a collection of wild carrot in the local park. Have a look at the pics below: the flowers make the most beautiful shapes, especially as the seeds start to ripen and the umbel starts to curve in on itself making the characteristic bird's nest. Keep an eye out for them: if they're in my local suburban park, you'll probably find them somewhere near you (at least if you're in Ireland). Have a good week.

A bee makes its sated way out of a Turtlehead  (Chelone obliqua) flower 
Autumn arrives
Wild carrot, Daucus carota

Wild Carrot, Daucus carota
Wild Carrot, Daucus carota
Nicandra physalodes; unripe tomatoes; temporary rest for a crocked gardener; oh, and a spot-the-schnauzer... 

19 August 2012

Goddess and Hoar

A tree used as a place for meditation, a tree that's a symbol of the goddess Maej Bhawani. I didn't think I'd be starting the blog with that sort of a sentence this week, but it's Heritage Week here and on Sunday we visited an old house in the Dublin mountains--built in the 18th Century, home to political discussions with The Liberator and others in early 19th Century and now a retreat centre. How appropriate for its current incarnation that it should have a beautiful Oriental Plane tree on its front 'lawns', Platanus orientalis, called the Chinar Tree in India, where it was planted in places of worship in Kashmir: the hollow trunks of mighty old trees were used by meditators. The one we saw is a lovely thing, spreading its limbs wide and providing a fitting filter through which to view a bucolic scene, complete with pasture and cattle, before noticing the wide spread of Dublin city beyond. And all of this only a few kilometres from where we live in the suburbs. Sadly the gardens of the house are not maintained as gardens but more as 'grounds' and although they have some lovely places to sit and be still and perhaps pray, if that's your wont, they're not gardens as such. Since gardening on that scale is a very expensive business, this is no surprise and well done to all there for keeping the grounds as well as they do. Many thanks to the volunteers there who provided a warm welcome to all comers.

To bring some of those thoughts home for a moment and so of course to scale them down, I wanted to come back to the contemplative thing... I've mentioned before that for me gardens work well when they serve as havens. Even the smallest garden can provide a place to be 'away' for a while: as long as there's some sort of beauty there; and a place to sit and take time out; and--for those winter days (or wet summer ones)--a view from the windows of the house that is as pleasing as possible. The great thing is, this doesn't have to be expensive. I have three areas to sit in the garden (four if you count the glasshouse, and we do, in the Spring and Autumn) and none of them was expensive to make: the bench was made for me by my brother-in-law many years ago and the chairs by the pool come from a DIY chain. The chairs and table where we eat whenever we can were a bit more expensive, but only came into the garden last year, and that was after years of hand-me-down or cheap tables that did the job just fine.

Each of the sitting areas works well at different times of the day or season. The bench is great in the morning, and has the bonus of being washed in the moonlight of a winter night; the table and chairs catch the evening sunshine throughout the summer (which is when we eat there), and the chairs by the pool we use at any time, as they're just outside the back door. Making it easy to be out there in the garden is the key: when the furniture is there all the time, there's no faffing about finding it, unfolding it, dusting it down or whatever else. When you add something to make the seating areas places to linger, well all the better! I added honeysuckle over the bench and some Irish moss (Sagina subulata) to rest bare feet on in front of it; and we added a pool outside the back door because there's nothing better than a body of water, no matter how small, to encourage quietness and a dose of daydreaming. Since I moved the bamboos down to the far end of the pool last week, I've been enjoying their reflections as well as how they glow in the morning and evening light.

A word about the Irish moss - it's gorgeous, soft underfoot, a glowing green and it is starred with tiny white flowers throughout the summer (which means it's not a moss at all of course), but I've discovered it doesn't go too well with a small dog who not only loves to lie on it--which is fine and who could blame her--but who also, ermmm, leaves her mark. Perhaps I should have read this article by Helen Dillon...

Anyway, I'll finish this week with some flowers and fruits: most pics from my garden, one from an old orchard up the mountains.  Have a good week all.

Platanus orientalis, and cows, Orlagh Retreat Centre, Dublin hills
Morning/Moonlight bench

Honeysuckle: scent and structure: the small buds look like satellites around the blossom
A place in the sun
Out the back door
Iz enjoying the Irish Moss, Sagina subulata
Stepping stones and, sigh, burnt patches in the Irish Moss

Anemone Honorine Jobert; glows in shady spaces

Agapanthus again, who could resist?

Making a virtue of necessity, cutting back unruly plants brings the garden inside

And sometimes I cut them just because I like the combination

Apple on my tiny Coronet apple tree

Same tree, different apple; great for small gardens

Hoary old apple tree in the orchard at Orlagh

12 August 2012

Bilberries, Beads and Poets

Home to the east of the country this week. Home to harvests and tidying up. Home to smaller spaces and suburban walks.

I spent a few wonderful days (in Donegal/Dún na nGall/Tír Chonaill) walking along beaches or through springy heather, swimming in the Atlantic and trying to figure out how to poetically ask for a cup of sugar from neighbours (one of whom is a poet) who were having our Nobel Laureate to stay for a couple of days. Happily for us all, I forbore and left the bard and his wife in peace. I would have been tongue-tied and twisted anyway...

All in all, a lovely break (thanks again all) and I hope the alder tree we planted up there a couple of years ago, which was moved this time 'round, will be happy in its new home.

Home then, and some lovely weather at last. Tackled the loganberries and raspberries in the back garden  - this year's canes cut down and next years tied in. Took a bit of doing as all that rain this summer has meant a lot of growth. It was great to do it under no pressure of time as I had taken the rest of the week off. It's lovely to be in the garden with no 'have to' attached - you can take as long as you need (or wish) to complete any task. With the logans and summer raspberries gone, breakfast now includes blueberries, which are ripening nicely at the moment. Their wild cousins are too, and away from the garden we spent some time in the Wicklow hills, where the fraughans/bilberries were ripening nicely: deep blue-black with a wild taste of open air and a hard living - mountain bogs and heaths are not an easy place to make your way and the flora there need to be tough and hardy to succeed. We're coming into one of the best times for the hills - the heathers are just right now and the late summer and autumn light will show their gorgeous purples at their best. Erica cinerea (Bell Heather) is one of my favourites of the heathers but Calluna vulgaris (Ling) quietly contributes to the wonderful glow of purple on the hills too. I love heathers on the hillsides but can't be doing with them in small gardens or--worse still--in pots. It's just wrong: they should be in wide sweeps on open mountain heaths not bound and trapped in the wrong setting.

In Wicklow, as all over Ireland, the hills show many signs of the long departed glaciers (in this area it's around 10,000 years since there was last ice here in any measure - during the Nahanagan Stadial) and the place we walked during the week showed the classic U-shaped valley with its misfit of a river flowing through it, the bends in the river echoed coincidentally in tiny folded quartz veins in the rocks on the valley sides - rocks contorted by the pushy Leinster granite batholith.

Also in Wicklow is June Blake's garden and I couldn't resist another visit; if anything the colours are more fantastic (and I use that word in the sense of  'as if conceived by an unrestrained imagination') than ever. June's garden is large, by the standards of most suburban gardeners (such as me), but part of what this blog is about is showing what can be done in our small spaces, inspired by what we see in other places. Well alright, maybe it's copying... And so June has a large reflecting pond, and I have a small one. But it's not exactly Single White Female, I promise: there are only so many shapes for a pond in a garden and if you're not going for the natural pond look (which you can't really do in a garden as small as mine) then a formal rectangle will look best. Perhaps we could call it adapting rather than copying? Come to think of it, Helen Dillon has her canal too so inadvertently I'm in very exalted company. And I suppose ultimately we can all thank the gardeners of the Islamic world who had water at the heart of their courtyard gardens.

Anyway, this week in my own small garden I've moved some pots around the pool to see what the bamboos look like at the far end, and I think I'm happy enough with them. Although I'm still mourning the loss of the lovely, graceful Acer palmatum dissectum that I had to take out earlier in the summer. Also in the garden I delighted in the blue blooming Agapanthus and enjoyed the scent of honeysuckle that still fills the garden every morning and evening. I was less delighted to find what I'm fairly sure are slug eggs in the compost bag (I was rummaging for compost to re-pot some pelargoniums I planted up earlier in the summer). As an offering to some of our garden birds, I left the eggs--looking like a string of translucent prayer beads--on the edge of the compost pile; they were gone by the next day. Every garden writer on these islands has been bemoaning the slugs and snails this year - the wet summer has been very kind to them (the slugs, not the writers), and that same weather has meant happy frogs too. Izzy scared one of our residents out of the undergrowth near the pool and it hopped out to land on some pebbles. It can't have been too happy but it did the 'if I stay still they won't see me' thing until we went away.

This week I also mustered up the courage to head up to the allotment. And I was lucky enough to meet my lovely allotment partner (another poet! this blog is full of poets this week), who rather than dwelling on the knee-high grass and myriad thistles as I was doing, delighted in the harvest we both had: she gave me some of her potatoes (thanks CD) and in return took some of my broad beans and beetroots. I also took home my crop of red onions (we'd had a few sunny days but rain was forecast) to dry out before storage. Not a bad week, all in all.

And finally, the walks this week--while not as wonderful as walks by the wild Atlantic--yielded their own delights: tiny pale parasols of fungi in amongst the grass and clover in the park and a suitably magical looking tree in a late summer woodland.

Bilberries, Fraughans, Fraochán, Vaccinium myrtillis

Bell Heather, Erica cinerea

Ling, Calluna vulgaris

Wicklow Hills, after the ice has gone

Contorted quartz veins
June Blake Blues

June Blake, hot topics

June Blake, reflecting pool
And on a slightly smaller scale - in my own patch
Agapanthus blooms blue

Slug eggs, a small offering to the garden birds
You can't see me, I'm not here...
'Parasols': unidentified fungi and clover in the local park
Late summer woodland magic 

04 August 2012

Tír Chonaill

Just pics this week. Postcards from the western edge.

Just before an afternoon swim. (Iz checking out the beach too).
Click here for just after the swim 
Laminaria sp. Kelp.
Cakile maritima, Sea Rocket
Campanula rotundifolia, Harebell
Just before a morning swim.
Northwest sunset

Erica tetralix, Cross-leaved heath
Erica cinerea (well, she had to get a mention)
Euphrasia officinalis, Eyebright

Old apple trees in the orchard, still doing well

Thanks to our hosts as always. 
To Wildflowers of Ireland for help with some identification. 
And to the weather gods for some beautiful days.