30 June 2012

Green is not the only colour

Agapanthus candles prepare to ignite
Like tall green candles, the Agapanthus buds flare green in the morning garden; soon they'll ignite into bursts of sky-blue, echoing the Geranium behind and the Veronica carpeting the pebbles nearby. The contrasting yellow flowers of the ubiquitous Welsh poppies lighten the mood a little. 

I've mentioned before that I'm not great with colour in the garden, I tend to be wa-a-a-y too subtle for my own good, and then I wonder why my garden looks dull. The crazy thing is, I love to see what others do with colour in their gardens, it's just that I lose faith when I try to, you know, do something wonderful with massed colour in my own little patch. It's partly a lack of courage, partly a lack of space: if you start to mess about with colour with more enthusiasm than skill, your garden could end up looking like someone overturned a bin in it, scraps of unrelated colour littering the place and hurting the eyes...

So, since one of the nicest way to learn in gardening is by seeing  what other people do, where better to go than June Blake's garden: it's a place that makes sense of the idea that gardens were originally considered as reminders of Eden. Last Sunday we went along, bringing two friends who hadn't been there yet, but who now intend to return. What a treat; as ever. June is a woman of many talents (jewellery-making and sheep-farming among them), but surely gardening is her vocation. She's a plantswoman but also a gardener who has a flawless sense of design and colour. It's a pleasure, always, to visit her garden. She does the hot beds/cool beds thing, but the structure and the combinations of the plants mean that you scarcely notice that this is what's going on, you just realise that it all works...

A hot corner - lupins and poppies in June Blake's garden
And it's not just colour that delights the eye, her meditative garden is full of soft greens and wonderful textures; there are a small number of eye-catching (sometimes quirky) sculptures here and there; there's a great use of grasses and bamboos; and through it all a subtle and pleasing sense of rhythm, framed at one point by the elegant stretch of Larch above. It's dynamic too: in the last couple of years, June has created patches of meadow, some softly contoured grassed mounds and just this year she removed two trees to open up a view to the blue hills of the Leinster granite to the east.
Just go... even if you're not a gardener, you'll be enchanted. Oh, and the coffee and homebaked cakes, served up by a friend of June's, will delight your taste buds too.
Speaking of taste buds, the soft fruit in my own garden is on the go now. And in spite of the rain, the raspberries and loganberries are ripening. But there are problems with mould, so I've been picking the fruit in between showers and other rainy patches and then turning most of the raspberries into jam. The loganberries will meet the same fate, but the early strawberries (that I cosseted in the glasshouse) we eat one by one, savouring every delicious red, sweet bite. 
Raspberries, ready for jam
Loganberries, not quite there yet
Strawberries, slowly savoured
And just in case, after all my moaning, you think there's no colour at all in my garden, here are a few splashes:

Dierama, near the tiny pond

Dierama, near the pool
Poppy in the rain
I very carefully didn't mention the weather this week, except in passing, as I was worried that this blog was turning into Erica's weather rather than Erica's garden. So just to say: it has been mixed. Here's a sycamore leaf brought down by the wind and rain in Enniskerry last weekend, but some of the days were beautifully warm too: there's still hope of a summer!

Sycamore down
Sycamore sunlight
And a sort of a PS, for those of you who enjoy looking for the embedded schnauzer.

Phygelius to  accompany the red Dierama

22 June 2012

What the Light Was Like

Okay, let's get the wet weather out of the way first... autumnal is the only polite way to describe it. The continuing wind and rain have left damage in their wake - like those soft new tips of spruce (I think) battered and broken off the trees in Djouce, carpeting the forest floor. The local field is flooded and in the park, under the Scots pines, large puddles catch the morning light. The snails are enjoying it though, a pair I found on top of the (overflowing of course!) water barrel next to the greenhouse, were taking their sweet hermaphroditic time... 
Summer Spruce tips hit the ground
Puddling weather
Taking their time...
Morning light on a Scots Pine
But solstice is about the light and though the weather feels autumnal, the light arrives early and lingers long to give us the grey nights of summer. We've had some sunny mornings and the light through the lime trees or making patterns on the Scots pine bark is beautiful. 

It comes a surprise when the weather has been so unkind, but it's good to remember that it's day length that makes a huge difference to the plants. Fruits are ripening in the garden: the raspberries gave me a pleasant surprise this week, the loganberries are starting to turn, and the blueberries are changing from
chartreuse to a pale grey-green before they head for that delicious wild-tasting ripeness that tastes so good. Green gooseberries are also fattening up nicely and soon I'll combine them with water, sugar and elderflowers to make a wonderfully summery jelly; already we've been enjoying elderflower cordial. 

Loganberries start to ripen
Gooseberries swell
Up at the allotment, things have been moving along too, primarily the weeds: knee-high grasses hide the raised beds; twisted infinite cords of bindweed find their way up the pea sticks; thistles lurk amongst the spinach to stab the unwary gardener; and slugs have discovered the (now ex-) runner beans and courgettes. BUT! we tasted our first spuds this week, mixed with three different mints, rocket, chives and garlic chives from the garden. Yum. The red onions are swelling nicely and we might even get some broad beans and peas and beets. 
New Potatoes from the allotment
I borrowed the title of this week's blog from a poem (and book) by Amy Clampitt. And while looking for a link to her on the web, I found this:

"... Watching the longest day take cover under
a monk's-cowl overcast,
with thunder, rain and wind, then waiting,
we drop everything to listen as a
hermit thrush distills its fragmentary,
hesitant, in the end

unbroken music."

from A Hermit Thrush by Amy Clampitt

Appropriate lines for the sort of solstice that dawned this week...

Clampitt came to mind for a few reasons--the light of course since we've reached summer solstice--but also because this week marks six months since my brother died close to the winter solstice, and it was he who introduced me to Clampitt's poetry. That particular poem, What the Light Was Like, is about someone dying, but is also a dense, lyrical paean to a place as well as a person - its complexity, its language and its richness would have appealed very much to my big brother.


15 June 2012

If it's June...

Rosa Blue Moon
...there must be roses.
I don't have many roses in my garden, I've never been sure how/where to fit them in, and I'm hopeless about spraying them, so that the one I've had longest, 'Zepherine Drouhin' (which my father warned me is "a martyr to blackspot") is now a sorry shadow of its former self.

But the rose in the picture is holding up well - it's 'Blue Moon' and I bought it from Helen Dillon a couple of summers ago. It's a lovely rose, looks a lot less pink in real life than it does in the picture. It's beautifully scented (and really, what is the point of a rose without fragrance?) and very forgiving. A bit of judicious pruning in March or so, keep an eye out for aphids, and the rest it does itself. So far. But I'll have to check out if it might benefit from the odd dose of organic feed.

You know a blog/the web can do many things: bring you images (still and moving), words and sounds, but it can't bring you scent. So this week, I ask any of you who can to get out there and find some roses and then breathe in their delicious perfume. What could be lovelier?

Here's June Tabor asking Pierre-Joseph Redouté to paint a Malmaison rose for her love:

Honeysuckle, Lonicera periclymenum
... there must be honeysuckle. 
And just when I think the fragrance of roses is the best in the world and is the signature of summer, I'm arrested by the scent of honeysuckle. The wonderful thing about honeysuckle (or woodbine, Lonicera periclymenum) is you don't even have to get up close and personal. It wafts its scent out onto the evening air to attract moths, its main pollinators. Adapting to the moths, honeysuckle has long stamens and stigma, and a long throat of the flower itself (moths have a long proboscis that can reach to the nectar within). Mind you, the bees have a go too during the day.

Have you ever been caught short by the smell of honeysuckle as you walked down a country road? The first time I really noticed this was when I was in Irish college in Béal Átha'n Ghaorthaidh/Ballingeary in west Cork, many years ago. The roads were lined with hedgerows, each with its own tangle of honeysuckle working its way up through bushes and trees to open its golden blossom which glowed in the evening sun. Walking from our house to the evening céilí we'd suddenly catch that scent - and it's never just where the blossom is, you always have to look for it.  Wonderful. Close to Ballingeary is Gugán Barra/Gougane Barra, a beautiful place, with a strong spiritual feel. It would be hard to sum it up better than James Harpur does.

The honeysuckle I grow is a garden variety, with deep pinks and reds on the closed buds, opening to the characteristic gold, and with dark green leaves. It's vigorous and not as susceptible to mildew as some other varieties. It fills the garden with scent in the evening, and I've planted it near the breakfast bench (gets the morning sun) as the scent lingers on into the morning.

Elder, Sambucus nigra 'Black Beauty'
...there must be sunshine? 
Well no, as it turns out, not in Ireland, not this summer... As I write this on Friday morning, it's raining steadily outside, it's about 12C, it has been raining all night and for much of yesterday. This summer is not shaping up well. A friend comments each summer about how "full" my garden is (I think he means crowded). And indeed it is, which is fine except on wet mornings such as this, where the obstacle course of very wet plants is a challenge on the way to the compost heap. Especially at the corner of the glasshouse where a beautiful dark elder reaches out its deep burgundy leaves to drench an unwary gardener.

Well, all that rain isn't doing the pool any harm, and it shows off the Valentia Slate rather nicely. Sadly too, in this picture, the continuing damage to my lovely Japanese maple is clear to see. I mentioned it to a friend--and very gifted gardener--last week, and she suggested that it might be honey fungus. I'll have to take a closer look at the plant to see but if it is, that's not good news.

Pool on a wet morning
Androsace sp.
So to end on a more positive note. I visited two gardens last weekend, both not far from where I live, both belonging to members of the Alpine Garden Society. Perfection abounded.

I don't think I have the patience to be a committed alpine gardener, raising beauties such as this tiny but perfectly formed Androsace. (The plant label in the pot gives you some idea of the scale).

But I can marvel at them all the same, and at the sort of pool/pond I'd like to have in my garden if only I had more space! Lucky for me then that I have occasional visiting rights. 

Garden pond, Cornus controversa variegata and a glimpse of fellow garden visitors

07 June 2012

Beauty and the Beasts

Allium bulgaricum, photo by BvG
After a dose of the urban and historical niceties of Prague, it was back to the simpler environment of the garden this week. A gentler place at many levels, but not without its own tiny empires and "local rows". While much of what we praise and love about our gardens focuses on the beauty within them, those same gardens are home to all sorts of life - some welcome, some not so welcome, but all deserving of their place, even if that means disaster of a sort for the gardener herself. This week then, there's a look at some of the bugs and beasties that share the garden, but because I can't help myself and because B took some lovely photos, I started with some of the beauty: Allium bulgaricum, which I've loved in other people's gardens for ages and finally got around to popping in to my own last Autumn. Not expensive, easy to find, easy to grow, and beautiful. My kind of plant.

The beasts: well there are frogs of course and still some tadpoles in the larger pool, although it's had trouble adjusting to the influx of organic matter from the rotting spawn and the whole thing has had its own mini-eutrophication going on I think. It may be moving into recovery mode now, but only time will tell. Anyway, the mature frogs have taken refuge in the tiny pond, and some immature ones can be found in damp sheltered places such as rotting rhubarb leaves. Frogs really only need water for reproduction (and for hanging around in, I suppose), otherwise they'll hide in other damp places under vegetation or in compost heaps that aren't too warm, where they can find tasty morsels and hide from predators and mini schnauzers.

Adult frog in the tiny pond
Tiny frog shelters in old rhubarb leaves
And then there are the slugs, the snails, the aphids. I don't use chemical deterrents or pesticides, hoping that all will balance out, but it's hard sometimes - look at those damn aphids on some new rose shoots; look at that acrobatic slug, doing a slow-motion back flip to get to the tasty water hawthorn flowers... reminds me of a hapless tourist trying to kiss the blarney stone.

The dreaded aphids
Blarney slug
But with the invertebrates that we don't like come the good guys. Most years we have lots of hoverflies (and their larvae love aphids). Oh, I've just read that in parts of Kentucky, hoverflies are called 'steady bees', what a lovely name. And of course there are the real bees! Any time we can--and the weather has not been kind since that short burst of summer at the end of May--we sit out in the garden; that is what a garden is for after all. For us, sitting out often means means sitting near the Cotoneaster hoizontalis which brims and buzzes with bees of all sorts. The sound is gorgeous, and while I know that many 'proper' garden writers are a bit sniffy about C. horizontalis, I love having it for the bees in the early summer, for the berries in the winter (which the birds love) and for the fact that the blue tits, coal tits and wrens clearly find other bugs in there, as there's always someone flitting in and out of its branches. There are all sorts of worries about bee populations and Colony Collapse Disorder at the moment, but I'm happy to report that we seem to have lots of bees in our small suburban patch.

A hoverfly rests on an opium poppy
A bee takes a breather on a Welsh poppy
Part of the joy of having all these beasts in the garden is the opportunity for attentiveness: watching hoverflies do their mating dances in the spring/early summer sunlight (I can hover better than him, look how still I am, marvel at my prowess, choose me for a mate) or spying on bees methodically working their way through the complex florets of a Giant Scabious (Cephalaria) or buzzing furiously within the tissue-paper confines of a Welsh poppy.

Bee and Giant Scabious, Mark II from Erica cinerea on Vimeo.

There are larger animals in the garden too - neighbours' cats prowl their way through from time to time, and some of the local foxes too. And then there's this beastie:
I mentioned potential disasters at the start of this week's piece, and sadly, this week there has been a bit of a disaster in the garden... at least one of my Acers has been struck by a mysterious ailment - I checked with Liat Schurmann of Mount Venus Nursery, which has a collection of stunning Japanese maples, about what it might be. She thinks perhaps some sort of fungal disease (I had suspected as much, but hoped I was wrong) and says that a similar malady struck some of the maples in her German garden. Cut off the affected branches and hope for the best was her advice, so late last week the saw came out and my small but perfectly formed Acer palmatum dissectum was beheaded... And now it's a waiting game to see what happens. I just hope that the same fungus hasn't had a chance to spread its spores to the other maples in the garden, but I fear it might have, already there are some strange brown splotches on some of the leaves, that I'd been hoping might have been late frost damage or scorching, but now I'm not so sure. Watch this space...
Acer palmatum dissectum, in April, before its tonsure...
... and, this week, after
I can't end on that sort of a note though, so here's a glimpse of beauty as imagined and realised by others--we went to the Bloom festival last week and while none of the gardens really stood out and some were, well, a bit ho-hum really, there were a couple of things that caught my eye. One was this lovely plant association in the Green Room garden designed by Patricia Tyrrell and Deirdre Prince:
Cirsium rivulare atropurpureum, Digitalis 'Pam's Choice', Lychnis White Robin
That White Robin was one of the plants that showed up a few times this year (the foxgloves too) and the other plant du jour was Hazel. There were lovely Turkish Hazels in one of the gardens and multi-stemmed 'ordinary' hazels in the Machnamh garden by Deirdre Pender of Talamh Landscapes, which made lovely use of a sunken garden effect: garden as haven, a woman after my own heart. 
Multi-stemmed Hazel, Corylus avellana

01 June 2012

Suddenly Summer

At last the Ash, Fraxinus excelsior
Well! Summer arrived in some style this last week. Ireland basked in sunshine, in warm temperatures; the fair-skinned locals turned pink with delight and sunburn; hardy folk (including a son of mine - well done DM) swam in the Forty Foot in Sandycove in the shadow of the James Joyce tower ; gardens and allotments changed almost overnight; and finally the reticent ash buds opened to the sun.

Thanks BL
This week I found myself a bit stuck about what or how to write. I've been reading back over some of the earlier posts and they do seem to vary: more heartfelt writing in the winter and spring perhaps, and less so now we're in summer? Perhaps because there's less yearning and more doing going on in the summer since it's here: the light is wonderful, the days are long and the garden is growing (well mostly). I can now sit in the garden through the dusk, watching the local pipistrelle dart through the fading light, ears winnowing the air to home in on the tiny flying things it needs. I can watch the daylight fade slowly from the sky and at the same time gently drain its reflection from the pool. I can watch the water hawthorn glow and notice the first blossoms of honeysuckle open to fill the twilight with scent. And with some lanterns I can create warm pools of light that don't interfere with the dimming of the day...

Speaking of which, here's Bonnie Raitt singing The Dimming of the Day, accompanied by its writer, the often melancholy Richard Thompson. The singing of Richard and Linda Thompson was first introduced to me by my brother who died only a few months ago--midwinter--and who's very much in my thoughts as we head into June and midsummer.

While summer was getting off to a good start here in Ireland, we flew off to a few days of a Prague summer: also warm and *very* crowded. The grandeur of Prague is probably well known to most of you, its place as the centre of the Holy Roman Empire; its Jewish quarter, where Rabbi Loew made his golem; its architecture (including a lot of Baroque excessorising...). So: no photos of any of those here, just a few details that caught my eye along the way.
Oh no... not more tourists
After so much culture and crowd, it was home to welcome emptiness and sky: a picnic by a river in the Wicklow wilds. Iz chased dragonflies, we sat by a peaty-amber river on white granite sand specked with mica, the sun shone, and larks and stonechats provided the only sound. Not a bad country we live in...

Wild Wicklow