29 July 2012

Moorhens and Gauzehawks

I don't think I've mentioned the day-job here (the one that pays the bills) but I reluctantly bring it up this week for two reasons: the first that it has taken up a lot of time of late and so things likes the garden, the allotment and walks have been displaced; the second that since we have moved office recently I am fortunate now to have a canal to walk along at lunchtime.

Canals are benign highways cutting their own Victorian way through and under streets and estates, alongside Georgian terraces and industrial wastelands, all the time providing slow-moving watery shelter to countless flying and swimming beasties. Sometimes the gliding ghostly grace of swans, sometimes the everyday scurrying of moorhens. Look closer and you'll see the gentle dance of pond skaters, at the end of each foot a tiny dimple on the water's skin. As you watch you may be lucky enough to catch a streak of azure or amber: another dance, this one in the air.  Blue dragons and gauze-hawks as Richard Foerster would tell us; Odonata: dragonflies and damselflies. This last week I saw two, what I suspect were a Common Blue Damselfly and perhaps a Brown Hawker. Regardless of their names, their presence was enough to light up a couple of very busy days more noted for grey office interiors than air and colour. The Odonata are an ancient species - they've been darting through the air of this planet for over 300 million years; their forebears  in the Carboniferous swamps had wingspans of up to 75cm. Something that size would cause a bit of a stir on the Grand Canal today...

Busy or not, I've still made time for the morning walks with Iz and water features on these too (I am trying not to mention rain...): the local stream, the Slang, looked beautiful on Saturday morning, running clear, reflecting light and leaves.

While we've been waiting in vain for summer, the plants and animals have been getting on with it: ash trees producing keys, rowan trees their berries. The skimming swallows that confound Izzy as she chases them in circles know that it will be time to head south soon. It's going to be August next week--the 1st of August is Lammas or LĂșnasa, a harvest festival--and so it's the start of Autumn here in Ireland. The Lammas growth is showing on the young oaks in the local field and at home in the garden the summer raspberries have just about finished. But the loganberries and strawberries (late this year) are still ripening as my son, returning from Canada, found to his delight this week - off the plane and into the garden, eating purply-red loganberries off the bushes, making yummy sounds :-). Welcome home DM and CB.

In the glasshouse, the tomatoes reproachfully wait for some pollinators to find their way in, and my attempts to replace the nuzzling bees with a tiny paintbrush have had limited success. The cold and the rain have meant that bees and other pollinators just aren't flying in the numbers we need. But I'm growing cucumbers for the first time and am delighted with the results (pic below and no sniggering down the back please).

Blight has hit the potatoes at the allotment, but I managed to rescue some today along with lettuce and broad beans. The beans are coming up to Donegal with us on Wednesday, a promise to our gracious hosts, one of whom battled against bitter winds to cover those same beans with fleece early in the year, the other of whom simply loves broad beans--good enough reason to grow and share, I say.
Victorian engineering on the Grand Canal

Scurrying moorhen

Slang and Elder 
Ash keys on the way
Lammas growth on a young oak
Cucumber success!
In the absence of the real thing, I'll finish this week with homemade sunshine blooming in the garden at the moment. 

Cephalaria gigantea

Erigeron sp.

Inula hookeri

20 July 2012

Blessed are the weeds...

... for there's little doubt they'll inherit the earth. Or at least the bits of the earth that we think are ours and carefully tend and guard. Turn your back though (or go away to Holland for a few days) and there they are, en masse.

Yes, I was back up at the allotment this week and in spite of the wonderful efforts of my allotment partner to impose some sort of tidiness with a shears (thanks SOT), it was still amazing, not to mention depressing, to see the numbers of seedlings and more of dock, creeping buttercup, scutch grass, speedwell, bindweed, silverweed, thistle and many others whose names I'm not sure of. I spent a couple of hours weeding the onions and leeks, the beetroot and chard, and at the end of it all, I treated us to some fresh broad beans and Sharpe's Express potatoes. I had to harvest something! The beans were gorgeous. I haven't grown them before, but they'll be on the list from now on.

In the garden at home there's been a bit of harvesting going on too - some extreme fruit picking. The summer has been so dreadful that I haven't done some of the normal tasks in the fruit patch at home, so the raspberries and loganberries have been running a bit crazy, as have the gooseberries. Some judicious tying in and tidying is needed, but it's hard to do when everything is dripping wet. All of which means that picking fruit, particularly the loganberries, can mean getting snagged by thorny branches. It's worth it though - fresh raspberries and strawberries for breakfast make a nice start to the day. And loganberry jam is the best.

Still on a food theme, I added some 'Sauce Hollandaise' to the garden this week: a rather lovely Anthemis. It's a member of the Asteraceae family, which I have always known as the Compositae. I love the Compositae: think daisies, asters, sunflowers, heleniums, coneflowers, cornflowers, scabious... the list goes on and on. Their complexity is wonderful - what we perceive as a flower is actually a highly complex series of florets (the middle of your typical daisy) surrounded by a series of bracts (which look like the petals to most of us). And their success as colonisers is awe-inspiring, whether you're looking at it from the perspective of a frustrated gardener with a dandelion- and daisy-speckled lawn, or--on a slightly larger scale--considering that there are over 24,000 species in the family and they're on every continent except Antarctica.  There's something relentlessly cheery about the daisy-like flowers and I couldn't resist this particular Anthemis when I saw it. It has settled in nicely since, right in front of the glasshouse.

Here's a question: how can grazing trails be a clue that your garden bench needs cleaning? Hmmm, well if you can see them at all, it means there's so much algae on the bench that gastropods of some sort have been rasping away, leaving the telltale trails behind. Time to get out the sander and a damp cloth. Or better yet, get someone else out with same (thanks BvG).

I did various bits and pieces in the garden over the weekend, including a check of the fussy alpines in their very own Saint Emilion sandpit. But I also took some time to admire the emerging Agapanthus flowers, to sit on the now cleaned garden bench to admire the light-as-air flowerheads of Molinia caerula 'Transparent' and to enjoy the rare sunlight reflected in the pool.

Broad beans - from allotment to table in a couple of hours

yummm, Loganberry and Raspberry jam

Anthemis 'Sauce Hollandaise'

Gastropod grazing trail on garden bench

Spoilt alpines ...

Agapanthus flower starts to break free

Molinia caerula 'Transparent'

Sunlight in the pool

Sunlight in the park (and spot the Schnauzer)

13 July 2012

A wide sky

A wide high sky filled with light and growing towers of cloud; water everywhere, holding and reflecting that sky. Where else could this be but the low lands, the Netherlands, a country shaped by water, by the relationship of its people to that water.  Zeeland: sands and muds coalescing to form islands, inhabited since before Roman times, home now to the Delta Works - a very Dutch phenomenon: let's hold back the water when and where we need to, but allow the tides to move as they need to. Can we do it? Of course! Just call in the engineers. Gelderland: more of that wonderful sky, snaking rivers, their curves and bends traced in high relief by the dykes, farmhouses nestling on their lee side. Horizons interrupted by the symmetry of trees. Cattle picturesque in the canal-bordered fields. These light-filled landscapes are somehow familiar even to foreigners as we've seen them so many times in paintings by Vermeer, van Ruisdael and others. Having seen them now in person I can say it's small wonder that the Dutch painters were inspired to become masters of catching that light.

Nowadays it's not just the trees, the windmills and distant spires that provide the vertical: ubiquitous pylons stand astride the planar landscape, carrying power to the over 16m inhabitants of that small country. The pressure of people and their needs means that farms abut roads, industry and towns in a way that they don't here in Ireland. The landscape is never empty, and its practical people leave their mark everywhere: glasshouses cover huge areas of land, tree nurseries make corduroy of the fields with lines and lines of saplings, and on the rivers and the roads there's a constant movement of cargo. Sitting out having dinner on the quayside in Nijmegen we saw countless barges (from Holland, Belgium, Germany) moving up and down the river.

Holland is a busy place.

Some respite from the busyness came in the nurseries and gardens we visited: de Hessenhof and de Boschhoeve, both in Gelderland. The first very much in the northern European tradition of combining grasses and perennials in naturalistic combinations (seen also, beautifully wrought, in the middle of Rotterdam at the Second World War Memorial), the latter more formal with different spaces and gardens bounded by immaculate hedges. Both of them extremely well ordered, as you might expect! There are pics below for those who are interested. And thanks to Michael in Mount Venus for recommending de Hessenhof to us; they had only good things to say about him. In other garden news, we saw some very typical Dutch gardens in some of the villages we visited - formally pollarded and pruned trees, small box hedges and shrubs (especially a spectacular creamy white large-flowered Hydrangea (or Hortensia, as they call it in Holland).

[A big thanks here to AMK and SM for letting us stay in their home in Holland, and for their splendid dog-sitting here in Dublin.]

Back home, my own garden looked, well, unkempt and very unordered... The weather hasn't helped - lots of perennials have blown over or are keeling over due to floppy growth and constant falls of rain, so I've just homed in on two details: a gorgeous lily that I've grown from bulbs this year - Lilium Hiawatha. It complements perfectly the deep red Dierama and Phygelius nearby. In a neighbouring pot, Lilium Cappucino is about to emerge and I think it will add to the picture nicely. Nearby, a tiny Sempervivum--that I pushed into a hole in a railway sleeper step a couple of years ago--has bloomed with beautiful symmetry. Oh, and it turns out that the pot of Dierama that I bought from June Blake a couple of years ago contained not one, not two but three varieties! A beautiful white one emerged in the last couple of weeks. Surely they're among the most graceful of plants that we can have in the garden?

I have to celebrate the successes as there's many a disappointment in the garden, the glasshouse and on the allotment this year - but that's the advantage of online: gardens (and life!) can be filtered as desired.

At home:

Lilium Hiawatha

Sempervivum blossoms

Another Dierama!
Low lie the fields:

Heading out for dinner, via the Maas

Food with a view - the scene beside our dining table at 21:00 on a warm evening,
Villa Augustus, Dordrecht

Rotterdam Second World War Memorial Park: swathes of perennials,
echoing the buildings across the Maas
Rotterdam Second World War Memorial Park: plants reflecting a different architecture nearby
For another view, click here

Formality on a small scale

de Hessenhof - the 'Mother Beds'

de Hessenhof - a lovely combination of Thalictrum, Centaura, Allium sphaerocephalon  and  Geranium

de Boschhoeve, formality on a larger scale

de Boschhoeve, kitchen garden

de Boschhoeve, colour

de Boschhoeve, Sanguisorba tenuifolia 'Alba"
(I want one of these, but didn't think I could get it home on the plane)

03 July 2012

Holland, Haiku

Nymphaea alba

Off to the Netherlands this week so no blog this weekend. Since we did in fact get a warm wonderful summer's evening on the 2nd July, here's a haiku to celebrate along with two images that sort of match: one from the pool, the other of a bamboo I added to the garden this summer. Have a good week all (especially my two lovely sons in Montréal).

Golden evening
Swifts write summer on the sky

Fargesia jiuzhaigou