26 May 2013

Galloping gastropods

As I write this, at 22:34 on a May evening, with twilight just about to give way to night, B is out in the garden  with a torch/flashlight in one hand, hell bent on destruction. The telltale snail and slug trails have been spotted on my alpines, which are in a box of sand, up on a workbench, in the greenhouse and *still* the snails manage to have their raspy way with them. Yuk. Yes, I know, we should love all living things, but it's hard to be tolerant of galloping gastropods when your lettuces are shredded, your hostas fretted and your alpines grazed. Thanks B.

Not too many words this week. Just some photos from my own garden. Beautiful weather (set to end tonight) has meant I've spent many hours in the garden, lapping up the sunshine. Already, rain and gale-force winds are on their way across the country, so we have enjoyed every minute we could.

I took some time away from the garden to do a bit more work on the Yew and to go to my last drawing class for now - and what a lovely one it was. We spent it in the Bots, both in the greenhouses and out in the gardens. Lots of sketching: one-minute, five-minute with our teacher calling time. This concentrated the mind very well and even allowed me to blank out the passing visitors and curious onlookers most of the time. Thanks IM!

And from sketching in the Botanic gardens to the first annual Bloom Botanical Art exhibition, which opened today in the Phoenix Park. There's some really lovely work there, some of it from women I've come to know over the last few months and it was great to see their work in person. A lot of talent around, but a difficult enough niche to sell work in I'd imagine.  For all that, a couple of works had sold before the white wine had warmed in the glasses, so I hope that augurs well for the artists whose work is there.

Allium 'Purple Sensation' and various Aquilegia in the garden

Cercis canadensis - every year it's a surprise when the pink flowers buds emerge straight from grey branches

Geum 'Koi', that I've just put into a pot

Aquilegia (Granny's Bonnet)
YewTwo - dabbling with paint

Finally, a spot-the-schnauzer in the local park one morning this week. This is especially for CH, who's heading off for a few months and may be reading this blog from time to time in India: bon voyage and may the work go well.

Have a good week all.

19 May 2013

Thank You for the Days

I'm going to open this week with a song. From the late Kirsty McColl: do have a listen, although it's on youtube, there's no video, just the music and McColl's gentle, low-key voice: Thank You For The Days.

Thank you for the days is kind of how I'm feeling this evening. First of all it has been a most beautiful summer's day here in Dublin today. It might be our last  for this season, but we made the best of it. All day in the garden, moving plants, potting up stray seedlings that have popped up in the garden (who knows when they might come in handy?); lunch, dinner, and a bit of just sitting, in disbelief, under a blue cloudless sky. We weren't the only ones - finally we welcomed some bees into the garden today. There were bumble bees knocking around this morning at about half-past seven--filling the gaps in the blackbird's song with their low, comfortable drone--and later in the day, some plain old honey bees trying to nudge the Cotoneaster flowers to open their still tight buds. The garden has really filled out in the last couple of weeks, racing to catch up with the season after such an abysmally long, grey spring: the graceful arches of Solomon's Seal are echoed in the unfurling Adiantum. The pendulous Bleeding Hearts are a more show-offey reminder of the fairly demure-looking bells on the Enkianthus. And a gorgeous Erysimum, that I bought from an alpine gardener in April at one of the shows, does just what I wanted it to do--its colours a perfect foil to the purpley-black foliage of the Ophiopogon. (Any artist reading this, do feel free to let me know just what those colours are?)

Solomon's Seal and friends

Adiantum unfurls

Smilicina and Rodgersia

Erysimum and Ophiopogon
The blossom on my lone tiny apple tree is really prolific this year: don't know if it's the late spring this year or the wet summer last year (all the plants in the garden are very lush this year) but I've noticed it all over the place. And particularly in the orchard at Kilfane Glen and Waterfall, where I spent part of Saturday with some mighty women talking about botanical art, how a society of botanical artists might work, and how it might be funded. Many thanks to SM for the use of the cottage ornée for the meeting and for being such a gracious hostess, and to SM again, as well as JT, SD and YP, for great discussions and a delicious lunch. As a friend remarked later, "it's far from cottages ornées you were reared...", and she's not wrong, but as a venue for a meeting I'd have to recommend this one, except for the noisy, rackety waterfall outside of course :-). The only regret I had was that I couldn't stay longer: we had walked down through the woodland, but we came back up through the garden, but without enough time to stop and exclaim as often as I wanted. It was on this part of the journey that I saw the orchard: concentric rings of lichen-clad, blossom-laden trees, underplanted with camassias and bluebells in the outer ring and tulips in the inner ring. Artful and beautiful, as you'd expect in such a place. I know there was lots more to see, but maybe there'll be another opportunity.

It's tough, having to go to these meetings.... Cottage orneé in Kilfane Glen

Osmunda regalis does the crozier thing in Kilfane Glen

Tulips and (in the outer circle) Camassias and bluebells in the orchard at Kilfane
Kilfane blossom
Kilfane wasn't the only beautiful garden I was in at the weekend. The sun shone down on Burtown House on Friday when a group of botanical artists visited the home of Wendy Walsh and her family. I'll be writing about that trip elsewhere, but will just say here that it was a magical day - wandering through an early 18th century house filled with paintings, being given a guided tour of the lovely gardens by their designer, eating a delicious lunch in the sunny courtyard with a bunch of gardeners and artists (with the odd historian/architect thrown in for good measure).

I mourned my own Acer palmatum dissectum all the more when I saw this one at Burtown House

A lovely example of the small garden trees (the Cornus and the Acer)
complementing  and echoing the mature trees behind. 

The meadow

Sculpture in the meadow

Viola 'Molly Sanderson' by Wendy Walsh; one redoubtable woman saluting another.
And if you're still in the mood for music, this is one of the richest folk voices ever:
Stan Rogers singing Dark-Eyed Molly
My own garden looked even smaller on my return from such grand places, but it's my haven, filled these morning and evenings with scents from my False Spikenard and my neighbour's Berberis and with plants racing into early summer growth and birds and insects (see B's photos here) completing the whole. Which is just about where I came in.

Have a good week all.

12 May 2013

Donegal Dispatch

Amber sky and lavender hills, a buzzard crying and wheeling through the morning air, a pair of deer still and startled and then disappearing into the woods, the pale glimmer of primroses offset by the depths of violets and bluebells ... not a bad start to my first morning in Donegal. As the sun rose, a walk through woodland brought me and Izzy (and Molly, her Spaniel host) to a gorgeous cove with golden sand, shushing waves and a magical just-after-dawn light.

There are compensations to being woken very early by an impatient Schnauzer.

Donegal sunrise

A walk is often better shared - Iz and Molly blaze the trail

Donegal sunrise - Shell Beach
The sun rises higher, and is caught behind the cliffs of Ards Quartzite

Primroses in the woodland
North Donegal, the Ards peninsula, a Capuchin friary on an old estate, generous hosts, lots of laughs and this year's first swim in the c-o-l-d Atlantic! It truly was a retreat from quotidian worries. Thanks to JW and family (including S. of course) for such a lovely time.

As well as woodland, the old estate had a five-acre (yes, you read that correctly) walled garden. Sadly neglected now as the friary has only a handful or brothers and priests still resident, it must have been an astonishing enterprise in its day. All the glasshouses, complete with underfloor heating, are gone, and only some of the fruit trees and the ruins of the Head Gardener's house (built into the structure of the walled garden) remain.

The door to the secret garden, photo by catchlight.ie (thanks B.)

Remnants of a different time
The old orchard in the walled garden at twilight
There wasn't too much time for drawing (lots of other things going on) but I tried a bit of seaweed attached to a limpet, complete with its own collection of small barnacles, elevator doors shut tight, and also started sketching Yew foliage, for a project that the Irish Society of Botanical Artists--together with the National Botanic Gardens--is running this year.

Sketch of seaweed, limpet and barnacles
Yew sketches
This week gets off to a different start as the day-job requires me to sit in large meeting rooms in Brussels ... thoughts of far Atlantic horizons, golden sand and the haunting glow of bluebells won't be far away.

Small dog, golden beach
Have a good week all.

03 May 2013


We don't take time off from work or school, we drive or walk under them in our suburbs and towns without paying them enough attention, but oh... the cherry blossoms! And this year more than ever, as the grey winter morphed into a cold late spring, I know I longed for blossoms of any sort. Weeks went by and no sign. LB's birthday (always blossom time) toward the end of April was flower-free; my tiny dwarf cherry, which normally blooms quite early, opened its white petals to shy sun and then lost them to rain and wind and cold. I think the same happened to quite a few of the similar larger trees, including my favourite in the whole city: the one I visit every year and which--when I detoured to see it this week--was all leaf and scarcely any blossom. But! those pink cherry trees, so reminiscent of 70s childhoods, have really come into their own this year and so they feature in my own tiny online Hanami this week.  And you know, in the right setting, near red brick houses in particular, they look not bad at all. The *very* leafy suburb (home to the late Garret the Good) where my favourites are, has quiet roads with large red-brick houses and gardens big enough to let the cherry trees spread their limbs wide, as they're supposed to. The wider the reach, the more delightful blossom you can see as you walk underneath.

Pretty in Pink
Even in more ordinary suburbs, the aging cherries still manage to light up dull streets. The sad thing is that most of the cherry trees we see now are getting old and will soon die and they're not being replaced with similar trees - more utilitarian trees such as birches (which I love) mean that we'll lose that thrill of knowing that spring truly has arrived and summer can't be far behind. I think we need more seasonality in our urban planting: so many who live in urban environments and travel to work by car or bus or tram aren't easily tuned in to seasonal change. Trees, shrubs, bulbs in suburban plantings could remind us all, but too often it's the safe (and dull) option that councils seem to go for instead.

Lighting up time
Nothing dull mind you about a cottage garden I cycle past most days - filled to the brim with colour, all year. I'd been thinking about taking a pic for this blog, but felt I should ask and yesterday spotted a young woman walking in. It's her parents' garden and when I remarked how much I liked it and asked if I could take a photo she said "It's very wild! And messy. But go on, he'll be delighted." Hardly wild and not messy, it's not something I'd do myself, but it's one of the happiest gardens in the area. I've stopped there before on my way home when the gardener himself was there and complimented him on his work. He didn't appear this time, but I hope to meet him again anon.

Spring ...

Other quieter delights in the city and 'burbs include magnolias in a neighbour's garden, their goblet-shaped flowers pollinated by beetles as the magnolias evolved before pollinating bees did... they bring a sense of time to an ordinary suburb, they've been around for 50 or 60 million years. And that's a blink of an eye compared to the fossils in the Dublin Calp Limestone which come from sea lilies and other shelly things that basked in the warmth of a shallow tropical sea about 340 million years ago... The ones below I spotted on a lunchtime walk this week in a nearby mews.

Magnolia brings a sense of history to the 'burbs
And the stone in an old building in a Dublin mews ...
... has its own secrets - a layer of  broken fossil sea lilies and other shelly debris from a warm tropical sea
on this spot (or near enough) about 340 million years ago
Morning sunlight in the local park coaxes the oak leaves to open and the cowslips to bloom, the cowslips reminding us of the wilder past the park once had, probably only about 50 years ago.

The oak opens
The cowslip blooms
The morning sun lights the park
(and it has been a while so this is a spot the schnauzer too)

We'll be far from urban cherry trees this weekend but there'll be other compensations. Expect a Donegal Dispatch next week.

Finally, just to note that May is a good month for birthdays - Happy Birthday MM and BL!

Have a good week all.