29 September 2013

Knee deep

I'm writing this one tonight sitting at my 'new' (to me) drawing table/desk. I got it in sad circumstances: it was very kindly given to me by a neighbour; it had belonged to her late husband and she didn't want it thrown out and I think she was glad to see it going to a good home. I'm delighted with it. It gives me space to have some drawing(s) on the go, while still having the laptop to hand for this class of thing; it has history: it must be over 30 years old and R had it from the time he was a student; it fits, just about, in my tiny room; and when I'm sitting at it, I'm looking out at my garden and the sky. Not bad!

A table of one's own
Although that picture is dark, you'll see the garden looks bright - in a late September Dublin! There's been some sort of low pressure zone sitting south west of Ireland that has kept a southerly airflow from the tropics coming across the island and we've had temperatures in the high teens and 20s. We've had mists too, rising off the local playing fields when Izzy and I walk just around dawn, and heavy dews, but the warmth is a gift. And this weather shortens the winter, which is a huge bonus for those of us who find the dark days hard. 

But in that lovely way that gardens have of always pulling your mind forward, it was definitely bulb-time this week. In other years, I've limited my bulb-planting to pots, and then placed the pots where I can see them from the windows at the back of the house, but this year I decided some changes had to be wrought and bulbs were a part of that. I've three birches in the tiny front garden, the smallest bit of woodland you're likely to find anywhere, and for many years, the ground beneath the trees has been covered with ivy through which inherited bulbs (of daffodils and narcissi) would struggle each spring. So, I decided to rip up a fair bit of the ivy and plant more bulbs in there, in the hope that there'll be more to see next Spring. Ultimately, I'd like to get some Trilliums and the like in there too, but I'm taking it one step at a time. There was a *lot* of ivy and some very tenacious herbaceous geraniums (thanks for the hard work on digging them up, B), but we managed and now the area is home to new daffs, narcissi, Iris reticulata and snowdrops. I don't know how many of them will survive: I couldn't plant them as deeply as they should go as a tightly woven tangle of ivy and birch tree roots made the going tough, but I compensated by adding a layer of our own compost on the top. 

And now... I wait. A little anticipation is a lovely thing. 

These cyclamen appeared when I pulled back the heavy carpet of ivy; I'd planted them years ago but for quite some time they've been the flower that bloomed unseen ... it's great to see them again
Of course, trying to get compost for the bulbs meant a marathon task of turning the heap (sort of) to get to the delicious, dark, crumbly, sweet-smelling stuff at the bottom. So there I was, yesterday and today, just about knee-deep in compost, shifting it with a fork, digging it out with a spade, lugging it to the front of the house and then later to some of the beds in the back. In a 'proper' (read bigger) garden, I'd have enough space to have a few compost heap enclosures on the go and could turn one heap into the next enclosure up, but that's never going to work in the one corner available down at the back of the greenhouse. So there's a lot of faffing and moving bits of half-rotted material around before I can get to the good stuff. But it's worth it. 

By the way, does anyone else find surprises when they go down around the back of their greenhouse? The one I found today was a bag of seriously smelly seaweed rotting away... a friend gave it to me in the summer and I'd completely forgotten about it. It smelt vile and looked worse, but it's full of good things and it's now buried safely in the reconsituted compost heap along with some fresh comfrey: my fond hope is that they'll both kick-start the heap again over the coming weeks. 

Easier on the back and arms was planting up a broken pot (the frost a couple of winters ago broke the rim off) with some Sempervivums; it's sitting on the edge of the pool now as the small Picea that was there has taken up duty with a couple of other pots at the front of the house. 

Sempervivums (let's hope they live up to their name) move in

Sempervivums in their new home. 
So, there was a lot of work out in the garden and at the new drawing table this week (I'm trying to work out if I can render the yew tree drawing in colour) so a walk in the woods was called for. 

And there we found that in spite of the unseasonal weather, autumn will have its way:

A burnished beech leaf lands on the safety net of Polystichum (spot the spider keeping it company)

Bracket fungi in the autumn woods

Still lovely, even after a dry summer: the Glencullen river
Have a good week all.

23 September 2013

Stone of the Heart

Gardens with a bit of a difference this week: went off to the Bots to see this year's Sculpture in Context, and then to Burtown House on Sunday, to hear Eileen McDonagh talk about her work, which is placed in the meadows of the garden, and which we'd spent time with and loved when we were there in the summer. I say 'in the summer' as though it were in the past, but it has hung on this weekend:  an Indian Summer has settled in, at least for a while, and we've had temperatures in the 20s ... as delightful as it is surprising.

Butterflies, on Verbena bonariensis, making the most of the Indian Summer in the garden this week,
The sunshine we had throughout the summer--and which continues now--has meant that the tomatoes in the greenhouse are sweeter than ever this year. I didn't ever really like tomatoes until I first tasted them fresh from the plant in a friend's back yard in Canada years ago. What a revelation! They were so-o-o sweet and juicy and tasted very moreish. I hadn't known tomatoes could taste sweet and I couldn't believe these were the same fruit/veg (I know, I know, it's a fruit--it carries seeds--but everyone thinks of it as a vegetable) as the swollen tasteless things I was used to that had to be covered in salt to deliver any flavour at all. There and then I promised myself that at some point, somewhere, I'd grow my own tomatoes... it took a while, and I've a lot to learn still about growing them well, but still, we have the pleasure of wandering out to the greenhouse and picking them as we need them and eating or cooking them straightaway. It's hard to beat tomatoes picked two minutes ago and fried gently for a couple more minutes in olive oil (with or without a little garlic and Malden salt). Yum. This year I've Gardeners' Delight (as always), Ailsa Craig, a small yellow 'gem' bush variety and some Plum tomatoes, which I haven't grown before. In spite of a bit of neglect mid-summer they're providing more fruit than I deserve. 

But far away from my faltering husbandry, the gardens and palm house and gallery in the Botanic Gardens were well worth a visit this week to see over 100 sculptures (there are 150 altogether this year) in the Sculpture in Context 2013 exhibition. I'm not linking to their website as it hasn't been updated since May this year, which is a bit bizarre given that their exhibition has been underway since the start of this month... go figure.

Anyway, there was a huge variety of work: from first-time exhibitors (some of whom I knew: well done folks!) to established artists; from tiny works to large; and in all sorts of media -- ceramic, stone, cement, copper, textile, blown glass, bronze, stone, paper, willow. Three of us spent most of the day there, in warm sunshine, walking through the late summer borders, under huge trees, through the curvilinear and palm houses, into the walled garden ... and everywhere we went there was sculpture. We all had favourites, we agreed on which ones the Bots should keep, and all in all it was an inspiring day. There is such talent in the country and it's great to see it have an outlet. Well done to the Bots for hosting the exhibition - it's such a lovely venue. I've included a few rather faulty pics here of the more gardeny pieces.  

'Silently', Ceramic, Tara Butler-Frey

'Talking Heads', Ceramic, Louise O'Sheehan

'Time', Steel, Copper, Glass, Patricia Karellas
 (if you look carefully, you'll see the floating 'seeds' suspended from the tree branch to the right)
A part of 'Liber', Paper, Cord, Sandi Sexton
'Tree Dressings', Blown Glass Forms, Mags O'Dea
That last one caught my eye for a few reasons, it's a yew tree (which I'm a bit obsessed with at the moment), the glass forms look as though they belong to the tree yet they're a bit surreal too, which I like; and it turns out I know the artist! (Hi Mags). 

While we were in the vicinity of the yew trees, I noticed this gem:

Yew tree with golden berries in the Botanic Gardens
(if I were a 'proper' gardener I'd have recorded the name, but I was in culture mode not botanical mode on the day)
I'd urge anyone reading this who lives in or near Dublin to go to the exhibition, it's free in--as always in the Bots, how great is that?--and there is some exquisite work there. I loved 'Making Waves' by Philip O'Neill, 'Songs for Prakriti' by Pertiwi, 'Liber' by Sandi Sexton, 'Aberrant Filaments' by Orla Kaminska and 'Council of the Seven Chieftain Trees of Ancient Ireland' by Gráinne Doyle ... the list goes on. Just go and have a look yourselves! 

Friday night was Culture Night across the country and some places chose to extend the idea throughout the weekend. Burtown House was one of those places and on Sunday we headed down to hear Eileen McDonagh talk about her works there. What a pleasure - delicious lunch in the sunny courtyard followed by an enlightening and entertaining talk by someone who clearly loves what she does. And oh, does she do it well... If any of you reading this ever win the lottery and are feeling very flathúileach, feel free to buy a McDonagh piece for my garden. This artist knows and loves the stone she works with so well: she talked about the untreated rock surface as being 'living', that it gets 'deadened' when it's damaged, that sometimes it needs polishing and sometimes it doesn't, that it takes a while to work out the intervention she wants to make, that sometimes she has to wait years before she can start or indeed finish a piece she loves. I've loved rock for most of my adult life, but having been a geologist by trade, I've known it from the scientific point of view; but to see the work Eileen does and to hear her talk about stone from an artist's viewpoint was simply wonderful.

And the more we manage to find wonder in our lives, the better. 

Have a good week all. 

15 September 2013

Life actually

Life this week in pictures

Hedgerow happiness in the local field:



Haws and sky

Blackberries on the way
From the greenhouse:

Lunch from the greenhouse
Wildlife of a sort on the footpath:


Autumn in the garden:

Waterlilies still doing their thing

Life this week in drawings

Acorns with coloured pencil

A quick and very sketchy sketch of hazels

A tiny piece of sea urchin shell (loving the new embossing tool)

Life this week in sound

A disgruntled rook in the garden early one morning. Sounds a bit like I felt at one or two meetings recently in the day job...

Life this week with a different bloggy hat on:

Hip Operation

Have a good week all.

08 September 2013


A Keatsian moment this morning: a light rain so soft it was almost a mist, blackberries ripening, haws a rich, satiny scarlet and elderberries a deep inky blue-black, like a magpie's wing. And all of this in the hedgerow along the local playing fields. On our walk this morning, Iz looked on in puzzlement as I paused to pick the blackberries, emerging with wine-stained hands, scratches and nettle stings (where there are brambles there are often nettles too). But it was worth it! A few hours later we had the season's first blackberry and apple crumble. Yumm.

The first blackberry-and-apple crumble, in the making
And so the season shifts, the swallows and house martins have left, but the robins have returned and we have one now who sings again from the top of the neighbour's tree. Blackbirds stutter in alarm under the hedges, and in the field the crows and seagulls rise lazily from their foraging in the (still dry) grass when Izzy runs toward them. She spotted a quarry of a different kind in the park one morning and gave chase to a grey squirrel that had wandered rather far from the haven of the trees. It was touch and go whether the squirrel would get to the nearest tree in time, but ... it did, leaving one very confused schnauzer to leap around underneath staring upwards at an apparently empty tree.

The place to be now in the morning garden is the small bench underneath the honeysuckle and black elder: filtered by the delicate flowerheads of Molinia 'Transparent', the low autumn light still warms up the bench nicely.

Leisurely breakfasts on the bench while late summer lingers

Autumn light comes through Molinia and Dierama
But while the week ended in autumn, it started in late summer, still warm (15C or so) just after dawn at the start of the week. In the garden, the hoverflies and bees were still busy on the late poppies and verbena, and tomatoes ripened in the greenhouse. But for me, being in an office meant that the late summer sunshine was glimpsed on lunchtime walks, with blue skies seen between red-brick houses or reflected in the canal.

Blue sky in the city
Blue sky in the canal
Indoors at home, I've been struggling a bit with the ISBA Alphabet project. We had a great meeting recently where lots of people did a 'show-and-tell' of their work, and there was some beautiful work there. Just as interesting though were the stories of artists' searches for their plants, or the vagaries of those plants either in cultivation or in differing habitats in the wild. There were artists who spent hours in dunes or on their knees in bogs looking for their elusive and/or tiny plants; there were those who travelled across the country having received the call that their plant was now in flower. There were those who combined history (and trips to the Bots Library and herbarium) with botany in their final piece. But what came through time after time was that each person had come to really know their plant, and in some cases to love it. One of the outcomes of the project will no doubt be an array of beautiful plant portraits, but there'll also be a group of people who have come to know and appreciate plants that might previously have been completely unknown to them. All of which I delight in, but the struggle came with the fear that I may not be able to get what's in my head onto the paper, and more immediately, a problem with composition. A visit from an artist friend solved the composition problem (thanks LB!) so now I just have to draw the thing!

As a little light relief, I was inspired by a 'challenge' on the go at the moment to paint/sketch/draw a found thing each day ... I won't be able to do this daily, but will certainly try a few. And what could be more seasonal than a conker:

Conker season! 
Have a good week all.

01 September 2013

A breach in the language itself


We have no prairies
To slice a big sun at evening--
Everywhere the eye concedes to
Encroaching horizon,

Is wooed into the cyclops' eye
Of a tarn. Our unfenced country
Is bog that keeps crusting
Between the sights of the sun.

They've taken the skeleton
Of the Great Irish Elk
Out of the peat, set it up
An astounding crate full of air.

Butter sunk under
More than a hundred years
Was recovered salty and white.
The ground itself is kind, black butter

Melting and opening underfoot,
Missing its last definition
By millions of years.
They'll never dig coal here,

Only the waterlogged trunks
Of great firs, soft as pulp.
Our pioneers keep striking
Inwards and downwards,

Every layer they strip
Seems camped on before.
The bogholes might be Atlantic seepage,
The wet centre is bottomless.

Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)

Those who know Ireland realise it's a country that operates like a small town; Dublin masquerades as a city but is really a village. And so we're all about connections. We live in a place where it's possible for an ordinary person to come across a Nobel Laureate poet in ordinary places: a restaurant in south Dublin, a small poetry reading in a city-centre bookshop, the holiday home of good friends in Donegal, where Seamus Heaney and his wife stayed when it was owned by another poet. There are so many people in Ireland who have stories to tell about Heaney, how his poetry engaged them, spoke to or for them, how they met him, when they heard him, where they saw him. And I'm just another one.

The poem I copied out here tonight is from a book given to me in 1982 as a gift by my late brother, who would have turned 57 this week. In 1982, I was living on the Canadian prairies and missing the boglands of home. My brother's inscription reads "To remind you of the place you've never left". Heaney's poetry did just that. More recently, on the death of my father, a friend gave me a copy of Heaney's "The Human Chain" in the hope that it would "offer better words of consolation", and it did. For these reasons, and more, Heaney's loss feels almost personal.

Don Paterson rightly said "The death of this beloved man seems to have left a breach in the language itself", but Michael Longley was right too when he said that "...there are tens of thousands of people today who will be feeling personally bereaved because he had a great presence. Just as his presence filled a room, his marvellous poems filled the hearts of generations of readers."

That's all for this week, apart from wishing a dear son Happy Birthday: have a great one CM.

And have a good week all.