31 March 2013

Phenological blog

It's official, on these islands our Spring is about five weeks behind those of recent years. I had reckoned as much, looking at my blog entries here from roughly this time last year. The Horse Chestnut trees are way behind, the Smilicina in my garden is too, so are the daffodils... Oddly enough, only the wood anemones seem to be at much the same point.

Wood anemones turn their back on the cold weather

Late daffs along our local stream
In keeping with the cold season, our Easter 'decor' was low key: some Japanese quince and a Birch branch pruned from its tree by the wind, both from the garden. And with them, some small painted eggs that my son won in primary school and we've kept carefully since then.
To echo the season, we took a minimalist approach to Easter decor

But at least the sun came out this week, even if temperatures have stayed at 2-3C. On Good Friday we headed down to Mount Usher gardens, where a friend treated us to lunch (thanks BL!), and we were delighted to see a goldcrest flitting through the bushes outside the window of the restaurant. It's a gorgeous little bird--our smallest apparently (smaller than the wren even)--and its big dark eyes and gold crest are unmistakable. I don't remember seeing one before, but they're common. Like wrens their shyness and diminutive size keep them out of our sight I suppose. A post-prandial promenade in Bray meant braving the bracing winds, but at least there was blue sky over the choppy sea.
Easterly winds keep Easter cold (the view from Bray back to Dalkey and Howth)
The clocks went forward too which means we'll have more chances to view the golden evening light:
A magpie catches the evening sunlight in the back garden

A busy week didn't leave too much time for drawing, but sketching a Muscari was fun. Lord but paint is hard though ...
Muscari sketches, pencil and watercolour
Not much inspiration this week so I'll end with the easiest spot-the-schnauzer we've had so far...

Eh... spot the schnauzer? (Alright then, spot the scillas)
Have a good week all. And Happy (major) Birthday DM xx

24 March 2013

Close to the Edge

Yes, we're all close to the edge at this stage...

Those of you of a certain age will have caught the cunning wordplay in that opening phrase and may even have followed the link to indulge in some nostalgia. For those who don't know what I'm talking about, do have a listen to at least the first minute-and-a-half or so of the soundfile on that link. 1 min 14sec is when some gorgeous bass comes; after that you're on your own (in Prog Rock heaven or hell depending on your point of view). I really can't last long with the music now but remember being amazed by it when I was a slip of a girl listening to her big brother's album with the ver-r-r-y seventies cool sleeve art.

But I digress.

We're close to the edge, we're at the end of our tether, we're heading for the coldest March in 50 years here, and it's worse just up the road in Northern Ireland, across the sea in Britain and across the ocean in North America. We've had relentless rain and it's now really cold (didn't get above 2C here today).

Minor flooding in our local park

BUT, I'm determined to bring you thoughts of Spring; after all we had the Spring Equinox this week and the daylight wins from here on--not a moment before time.

Okay, few sounds are more spring-like than a blackbird staking its claim from the top of a tree as the light fades on a spring evening. As I wheeled my bike into the garden the other evening, this was the sound that greeted me:

(I cheated a bit with the picture, that's my garden last April. It's looking a lot bleaker at the moment).

Few flowers are more March-like than daffodils and since it's too cold to be in the garden to enjoy them, I brought them in... not only their jolly yellowness but their fresh spring scent came in with them.

Daffs adjust to the warmth of a kitchen window sill

In spite of the temperatures, some plants are just getting on with it: the false spikenard has pushed through; the rhubarb is uncrinkling; the Enkianthus is dotted with green buds, and on the witchhazel the curved buds hold the tree inside a series of furry parentheses. Although in the close-up pic below, the bud seems more, eh, profanely gestural, showing its opinion of the low temperature. Or might that just be me?

Rhubarb braves the elements

Witch hazel parenthesis
Gardeners everywhere are fretting: can't get seeds sown, the soil temperature is too low to plant out seedlings they have started indoors, the air temperatures are too low to enjoy the garden and in Dublin the alpine gardeners in particular are nervous: how will plants be ready for the upcoming show when the season is so behind? Heady with the success of a recent first in a tiny local show, I wonder if anything I have is worth bringing to the main show ... I've no idea, and so have emailed some 'grown-ups' with pictures to check if the plants might be up to scratch or if they're just too shabby. We shall see!

Dwarf conifer, Picea abies; making a show of itself?
I'll leave the weather now, but not before gracing this page with a two-line poem from Michael Longley:

Makes bead curtains of the rain,
Of the mist a paper screen.
Michael Longley
Away from the weather this week, I finished the drawing/sketch of the licheney twig, started back at Saturday morning classes (great to see you all again, and thanks Y for the lovely venue), and tried once again to work on my fear of colour...

A moss- and lichen-covered twig from some woods in Kilkenny
Trying out Muscari colours
Have a good week all.

17 March 2013

With the old moon in her arm

Chatting with a friend (in the real world, not online) this week, I remarked that one of the things I enjoy about compiling this blog is that I think about it a fair bit even when I'm not sitting in front of the laptop. Whether I'm walking with Iz in the mornings, or cycling, or doing bits and pieces in the garden, or visiting friends, I have the inner as well as the outer eye open to what's around. So, thanks dear readers (yes, there are some of you out there, a small but perfectly formed audience as I like to think of you) and sons for putting up with these maunderings and giving me the opportunity to look at my small corner of the world more closely.

Doing just that this week, I saw a tree creeper in our local park. It was a cold morning and I had paused underneath some scots pines to enjoy the gentle warmth of the early morning sun on my back; I saw some movement high up on the main trunk of one of the trees. The way the bird crept up the bole of the tree, the flash of its white breast and its size were all easy enough to conjugate into tree creeper when I got home and checked. I'm a bad birdwatcher, a la Simon Barnes: I look, I see a bird, I enjoy it. Other birds that caught my eye this last week or so have been the ubiquitous gulls and wood pigeons on the local playing fields, a swirling cloud of starlings and a hawk along the motorway today, and of course the normal--and always welcome--sparrows, blackcaps, chaffinches and blackbirds in the garden. I think I caught a glimpse of a greenfinch in the garden too this week, but I'm not certain.

An old ballad came into my head this week on my cycling commute when I had to stop to enjoy the new moon with the old moon in her arm; reflected light from our planet was illuminating that bit of the moon not directly lit by the sun and the whole disc showed faintly within the embrace of the bright arc; it's a beautiful sight. This weekend while walking in the cold midland mists of a Kilkenny dawn, I found that being up early has its rewards: a dawn chorus (that you can listen to here), trees and skeletal umbels rimed with a hoar frost, and a lengthy misted sunrise.
Morning mist and a spot-the-schnauzer

Winter umbels
Close to the spring equinox, but winter weather
The cold weather continues to confound us all. There hasn't been a lot of gardening going on, though I'm conscious I should at least have sown tomato seeds by now! I resolve to this coming week. No, really. While visiting friends in Kilkenny at the weekend I was put to shame by all their seedlings (tomatoes, peppers, lettuces) looking  happy and healthy. I was able to scratch the gardening itch while down there by doing a few tasks in their lovely garden, although I secretly suffered the usual space envy that suburban gardeners get when we visit those who garden on a few acres and live surrounded by fields and trees. Lucky me to have generous friends who share their space so graciously. Thanks C and W for a good dose of laughter (helped by B and the death star) and great cooking and baking thrown in. And thanks to A for sharing some salchicha from home.

Inside, away from the cold, I've been trying to draw different textures... with limited success. (Practise, practise, practise).

Texture time: cherry tomatoes and a start on a lichen- and moss-covered branch

Have a good week all.

10 March 2013

Not drab at all

Did someone say Spring? Hah! We're back to Winter with a vengeance.  It's warmer in MontrĂ©al today than it is in Dublin. We've frost and snow forecast for this evening and tomorrow. We've weather alerts, bitterly cold winds, even the possibility of blizzards. It's the kind of weather that makes those who don't know the difference between weather and climate say things like "what global warming? what climate change?"

Here's something that combines winter and spring into one beautiful image. I had tried earlier to take a quick macro photo of the first blossoms on our tiny dwarf cherry, braving the rain and the wintry weather. But 'quick macro' is an oxymoron. So I wandered indoors and asked our wonderful resident photographer to do the needful. Here's what he did:

Dwarf cherry in the garden, photo by BvG, more at catchlight.ie
So, the weather forecast had me trotting out to the glasshouse this evening to cover the alpines and other plants in the greenhouse with a few layers of newspaper, in the hopes of protecting them from the frost tonight. You see I have to get serious about cosseting those alpines now because I came first in one of the categories at our local alpine show this weekend. Am I nerdy or what? To add to the delight (not to mention the astonishment) the plant that won was the one I was seriously worried about a couple of months ago, in the depths of winter when it was a seriously drab Draba.

Happy Draba longisiliqua
Sad Draba longisiliqua, in January
Draba back home with other alpine companions, including a new (to me) Saxifrage
There was lots of inspiration at the show, but I'll limit my nerdy self to just two photos:
Saxifrage grisebachii at our local Alpine show - love the pink and green

Saxifraga sp., also at the show, I suspect there's a Fibonacci spiral lurking here
Weather, family commitments and a dead car battery (many thanks to our gallant rescuers) meant that time outside was curtailed this weekend. While waiting for our Sir Galahads to arrive (complete with jump leads and AA membership), I walked the avenue of Powerscourt House and had a look at the beech and other trees. If I remember correctly, some of the older beech trees in the gardens and avenue there actually comprise several trees planted very closely together, which was a ruse at the time of planting so that the tree would appear of greater girth and age than it really was. Here's a rather dark photo--it was that sort of day--that seems to bear this out (look closely at the trunk, which is in fact made up of several trunks combined into one):

Powerscourt Beech(es)
Have a good week all.

03 March 2013


A Japanese deer scarer and spring in Ireland - what could the connection be? Well it's just that every year I notice that the much-anticipated, badly-needed arrival of spring seems to come slowly, slowly, slowly ... and then, whoosh, it tips over: suddenly the crab apple trees have unfurled their bright green leaves; suddenly there are more and more yellow-nodding daffodils along the nearby stream or on the roadside verges; suddenly the blossoms are out on the Purple-Leaf Plum on our road; suddenly the sunshine is warm, the neighbours are out in their gardens, the bittercress weeds are back ... And it struck me today that it's like the water trickling gently into the pipe in the shishi-odoshi: slowly, slowly and then 'whoosh' it tips over and 'DONK' it hits the stone.

Prunus cerasifera, Purple-Leaf plum

I know from previous years that (DONK) before I know it, it'll be the end of April and I'll be wondering how it happened so quickly and how come I didn't get all the garden movings and sowings and plantings done in time.

And that's okay, the tasks I *do* get done will bring great pleasure and anyway, since gardeners are really only stewards or landladies of their space, the residents and tenants will get on with their growing quite nicely thank you without a whole lot of help from me.

Still, I went out to the spring sunshine, leaving behind a tonal study of a walnut (!), and I pruned Blue Moon and Zepherine, I snipped and chopped and raked, I noted the False Spikenard heads starting to emerge along with the bruised-looking first foliage of the Bleeding Hearts. I gave the first dilute seaweed feed to some of the alpines and other plants in the greenhouse and I noticed that the Enkianthus buds are swelling and there's frog spawn now in the bigger pool too. All in all I enjoyed just being in the garden.

Trying to draw a walnut ...

I enjoyed too being in the Botanic Gardens this week - Friday sunshine and catching up with a friend meant a walk in the Bots, checking out the masses of crocuses under the still bare trees and seeing what an old-fashioned, well looked after lean-to glasshouse can be: nectarines and peach trees espaliered on the wall, all sorts of herbs and leafy crops up early and bursting with vitality.

Crocuses, looking lovely in the right setting

Greenhouse in the Herb Garden in the National Botanic Gardens
Of course as well as all that activity, there was the necessary tending to other parts of my life. Commutes (on a bicycle) to the day-job allow all sorts of things to come into view, including this beautiful camellia, seen in the city centre.  I include a glimpse of Georgian Dublin for those readers who don't live here, and a close-up of the camellia blossom for any botanical artists who might stop by.

Camellia blossoms in Georgian Dublin

Camellia, up close and personal
Family duties have, in a roundabout way, led to my taking ownership (at least for a while) of an orchid that my mum has looked after for years: her tending it involved mainly dousing it with the dregs of her teacup every day. The orchid has thrived. I only hope I can do as well!

Orchids move in for a while
I started out on a Japanese theme and I'll finish with what I hope might be an echo of Japanese sensibility, a beautiful pine tree in the Botanics:

Pinus sp. in the National Botanic Gardens
 Have a good week all.