25 August 2013

Just once

Getting out and about wasn't really on the cards this weekend, and the weekdays were back at work, so this week's dispatch comes straight from the back garden. Probably not a bad thing in itself--the blog is called erica's garden after all--but it feels like a bit of a challenge.

Now there's no way of getting 'round it, we're heading into autumn. And although that always heralds a certain level of dread in me as I face the ever shorter days (we're losing four minutes of daylight a day at the moment!), this year is not quite so bad. No really! I'm more ready for autumn since we've had such an astonishing summmer. It's as though we've stored up that summer heat in our bones and in our hearts and of course in our memories. Someone will have to remind me of this in November...

So yes, autumn is here and where better to see it than in the growing things:

Opium poppies:

Opium poppy seed capsule fattens up nicely

Opium poppy seed capsules prepare for the change of season
 Species roses (Rosa glauca):

A bit like the Alchemilla in May or the snowdrops in February,
autumn isn't complete without the obligatory rose-hip picture; these ones are on a Rosa glauca in the garden

Even hostas:

We get so focused on growing hostas for their foliage that we sometimes forget to pay attention to the rest;
hosta seed pods
In spite of the shortening days, the weather is still warm and the garden is still flowering. The Verbena bonariensis has never looked better, the Agapanthus was late but it's already moving on, the Eupatorium (Joe Pye weed) that I got last year is looking great, the deep deep burgundy stems holding aloft the slightly shaggy purple flowers that the bees, hoverflies and butterflies just love... and the Sacred Bamboo (Nandina domestica) is flowering better than I've ever seen it and it was shimmering with hoverflies today! I walked out into the garden in early afterinoon and the air was alive with movement: bumble bees, worker bees, hoverflies and various other flying visitors whirring, droning and buzzing above the Inula, Nandina, Eupatorium and Agapanthus. After the slow, slow start, the hoverflies at least seem to have made up for lost time, and I've also seen more butterflies this year than I have for quite a few summers. Long may it last.

Autumn still brings flowers

And flowers (Eupatorium/Joe Pye Weed) bring bees ... 

...and hoverflies (on Nandina domestica/Sacred Bamboo)

Warm enough still for new waterlily buds to open
This week brought us a most beautiful full moon, which was also a Blue Moon, which leads me to offer you a choice, Nanci Griffith or Mary Black singing Patrick Alger's song:

Have a good week all.

18 August 2013


I seem to have run out of words this evening. After three weeks of shores and hills and gardens, it's time to return to grey walls and 'buff files' tomorrow morning; I'll leave the words this time to Dennis O'Driscoll:

While Stocks Last

As long as a blackbird
still mounts the podium
of the aspen tree, making
an impassioned plea for song.

As long as blue tits, painted
like endangered tribesmen,
survive in their rain-forest
of soaking larch.

As long as the trilling lasts
above the office car park
and hands tingle to inscribe
in the margins of buff files,

‘The skywriting of a bird
is more permanent than ink’
or ‘The robin’s eagle eye
questions these projections.’

Dennis O'Driscoll

Travels this week took us back to Crom Estate to the yew tree again; to Heywood House in Co. Laois to see a slightly forlorn Lutyens/Jekyll garden; to Helen Dillon's garden in Dublin and back to Burtown House in Co. Kildare where I was delighted to find a yew tree with lots of berries...

Heywood House, steps 

Heywood House - Lutyens
Heywood House - Lutyens

Heywood House - 'let Nature never be forgot'
Helen Dillon's reflecting 'canal'

Helen Dillon - colour

Helen Dillon - Agapanthus and Alstromeria

Burtown House - a beautiful selection of Clematis spp. 

Burtown House sweetpea (photo by B: www.catchlight.ie)
Burtown House Yew with berries, trying out colours

Crom Estate yew, I added to the drawing

Crom Estate Yew, I started a sketch of a moss-covered twig
Have a good week all.

11 August 2013


Sunday evening, nine-thirty, and though it's only mid-August, I'm acutely aware that the light fades from the sky ever earlier as Autumn approaches. But we've had such an amazing summer and the good weather continues... Tonight is the one of the nights for looking out for the Perseids, but it has clouded over here in Dublin. Damn! Maybe it'll be clearer tomorrow.

This evening, the honeysuckle I brought in from the garden fills the room with its scent and I look at its blooms and see combinations of madder and magenta and yellow ochre because the whole coloured pencil thing is so on my mind these days:

Pencil heaven, honeysuckle scent (some black elder and some Knautia in there too)
My coloured pencil collection was augmented nicely last Friday when a friend brought me back some great colours from Egypt. Yes, I know, but there were still art shops open... (Many thanks SD!) She also provided some great feedback on composition as I had started to try out some ideas for the yew tree and the letter I for the ISBA Alphabet project. This is a (very) unfinished sketch of how the final thing won't look ... it's based on the drawing I did a couple of weeks ago, but applying colour.

Crumpled and sketchy, a start at compostion: this is what won't work
The letter will have to be grey in the final piece and I didn't think a graphite drawing would look too appealing behind a grey letter so I am trying colour... There's loads more to do obviously, I will try a different way to arrange the sprigs of yew, for example, and of course there'll be berries in there too. I hope to head back to Crom Estate tomorrow to visit the ancient yews there again. We didn't have a chance on the journey home from Donegal as a detour wasn't in the revised plans on the early trip home.

It was a week for colour! When I wasn't messing about with pencils, I was revelling in the colours of June Blake's garden in Co. Wicklow. I visit June's garden at least once each summer, if not more, and on each visit I think I'm there at the best time, but honestly, this time was astonishing ... and June herself says that her garden shines in late summer. Just look at these colours. At least some of this blog is supposed to be about words but honestly words fail as I try to capture the delight of June's work (and play) with colour and plants and structure and rhythm and time. Those of you who can, just go!

Lilies and friends in June Blake's garden

Reflecting pool cools down the hot beds in June Blake's garden
Cool colours, hot schnauzer, June Blake's Garden
Crocosmia, Cotinus and Lilies, June Blake's Garden

June's garden was thrumming with bees and the air was dancing with butterflies, including this lovely Peacock
One of the reasons we were there is that B will be running three photography workshops there this September and he wanted to take some time to do some work there (if you follow that link, you'll see some beautiful images of the garden and its plant associations). It was no hardship for me to immerse myself in the garden (there are strategically placed benches and seats at various places throughout the garden) and I even did a couple of sketches:

Sketches of Ligularia, Inula and Primula in June's garden
Back in the humdrum setting of my own patch, I tried to practise some good husbandry and I cut back all this year's raspberry canes and most of the loganberry ones too (one of the many signs that seasonal change is imminent); I then got into a bit of a tidying frenzy and dragged B in to help. So: ivy hedges trimmed, neighbouring trees that were overhanging too much have been lopped back, the ivy down behind the greenhouse has had some manners put on it, as has the black elder. And the birches in the front garden have had some lower branches cut off too so that passers-by who are taller than me (just about everyone, in other words) will no longer have to stoop as they walk by...

All of that activity and an occasional walk in the woods and hills helped to keep my mind off (some of the time) how my sick son was doing far away in Montréal - the good news is he's on the mend, helped along in no small measure by his brother and dad. (Happy news DM!).

Deputy's Pass, Co. Wicklow

Young oak wood in Deputy's Pass
Have a good week all.

04 August 2013

The road to god knows where ...

A road on Cruit Island
Small winding roads, meandering around headlands, up and down sandy hills and granite outcrops, grass growing up the middle, the edges lined--this summer in particular--with the most astonishing abundance of wildflowers: the frothy cream of meadow sweet, the purples of thistle and knapweed with the yellows of ragwort and the pale ochre of ripe grasses as a counterfoil. And when we finally arrived on Cruit (pronounced 'critch') Island, the even quieter roads were lined with harebells and, in places, orchids.

Harebells, for me, are the quintessential flowers of the sandy fields and ditches of the west coast from Connemara to Donegal. And to see them under a blue sky, as we have so often this summer, well all the better. Always moving, in even the slightest breeze, and though appearing delicate, continuing to hold their own when Atlantic winds grow stronger; they bloom from June to October and truly are a gift to anyone who walks or cycles or just sits and looks, anywhere in the west.

Cruit Island was wonderful (and thanks for the suggestion and directions, AW). Joined to the mainland by a bridge (on which young teenagers crouched, wrapped in beach towels, having jumped off the bridge into the waters below, we assumed!), it nevertheless has that island feel, and looking back to the louring quartzite peaks, or out to Owey island, the otherness that islands always have was palpable. At one end of the island, we found small golden coves, perfect for swimming in, each one hemmed in by rounded and sea-sculpted red granite. The sun shone, there was no-one else about, and I swam and marvelled at the tree-like shapes that the seaweed assumed as the tide went down and the tops of the fronds spread out. Izzy kept a quizzical and beady eye on proceedings: she still hasn't sorted out why one of her humans insists on disappearing into a huge body of shifting salty water with, of all things, breaking waves...

Harebells (Campanula rotundifolia) on Cruit Island

Orchid on Cruit Island

Schnauzer on Cruit Island
Quartzite peaks (Errigal on the right) seen from Cruit Island
We'd made a journey of a different kind earlier in the week, when we went to visit Salthill Gardens, near Mountcharles. We'd been there three years ago but it was high time we returned. This time, the garden owner and designer herself was there (Elizabeth Temple) and she very graciously showed us around and chatted to us about her coming to a neglected piece of ground surrounded by protective walls almost thirty years ago, being told to read a copy of Hilliers Manual of Trees and Shrubs, and just starting from there. Today the garden is a place apart, combining artistry, husbandry, creativity and a wonderful knowledge of plants to create a place that beckons you in and then leads you from one delight to another: banks of daylilies, or groves (almost!) of Eupatorium, Echinops and Eryngium. Neat rows of healthy robust vegetables lead to a hidden grotto, lined with pots of succulents and decorated with shells like an 18th-Century folly; carefully chosen trees (Fagus sylvatica 'Cockle Shell' and Golden Fastigiate Yews, amongst others) and well-tended lawns counter the exuberance of the perennials, and the whole thing is put together with grace and more than a little hard work.
Salthill Garden all started with a walled space (seen through the window here) and a copy of Hilliers ...

CSQ loved the hot colours and I promised him a pic

Carpe diem (Day lilies!)
But the sun had to set on our holiday up north, and--earlier than we'd planned, due to family concerns in Dublin--we said our goodbyes and thank yous to our great hosts, watched our last Donegal sunset for this summer and headed home.
Narin evening

Narin sunset (and a spot-the-schnauzer) 
My own garden looked very small after the huge skies and silver and gold stretches of Donegal beaches, not to mention the scale of the garden in Salthill, but the blooming waterlilies were a nice welcome home.

Waterlilies in the pool at home
Have a good week all.
(And a speedy recovery DM, xx).