23 June 2013

Scents and senses

Wonderful though the web may be, it can bring you only visual (photos, videos and sometimes words) and occasionally auditory accounts of goings-on in the garden and the wider world. My love of the garden and my enjoyment of the wider natural world are of course bound up in my visual sense - those of you who've been reading the blog for a while will have seen a hint of that--subtle I know--in the few photos and drawings that show up here. 

Sounds play an important part too: blackbird song in the spring, robins mid-winter, the always sudden call of the wren, the unexpected 'plop' of a frog diving into the tiny pond, the whisper or rustle of winds and breezes, riffling through grasses and rippling the Acers. And that's just in the garden.

But gardens and 'nature' (oh hang on, does anyone remember the 'Nature Table' in the corner of their primary school classroom? I've only thought about that just now. I loved that corner!) are about our other senses too ... and at this time of the year, scent comes into its own. In the garden, our honeysuckle is out at last and it drenches the bench in scent each evening with a powerful perfume that lingers on until morning. In the wonderful weather we've been having of late (until today), we've been eating in the garden morning and evening, and the breakfast spot on these long, long days is right beside the pool. Early morning sun warms the corner and brings out the scent of a tiny alpine Dianthus that I have there. The surrounding walls trap the fragrance and keep it close. I have a couple of roses too, but truly, they deserve a better gardener than me: at the moment I can't get close enough to them to inhale their scent--a mini-wilderness of a  Chaenomeles tangle, fronted by a mass of Inula hookeri, wild (mildew-ridden) honeysuckle winding through, and a collapsing very old trellis that's now at a 10 degree angle from the vertical, all conspire to hide the roses. They'll have to fend for themselves until autumn, when that whole area will have to be sternly reconsidered.

And then there's taste.

This last week I made the first of our elderflower cordial: easy-peasy. Elderflowers, lemons, sugar and water and hey presto - summer airiness delighting our tastebuds. We gather the elderflowers from a nearby hedgerow that lines one side of some playing fields (away from traffic and other nasties). In my own patch, I had to cut back masses of perennial rocket that was swamping the chives, and so one night we had rocket pesto on pasta for our dinner: rocket, garlic, olive oil, lemon, a few capers, parmesan, and roasted almond and sunflower seeds (they're what I had in the cupboard, I don't really care for pine nuts, which all recipes seem to call for). Home-made pesto eaten in the evening sunshine in the garden ... it was like we lived somewhere altogether more southern ...

What about touch? 'Lamb's lugs' (Stachys) of course, and Nasella teniussima (which was Stipa tenuissima until about five minutes ago; no doubt it'll be called something else by the time you read this); I've both of these in the garden and I don't think anyone can walk by either of them without touching them. Well alright, I can't. And this week in the wider world, a walk on nearby Ticknock brought us the feathery fluffy delights of bog cotton - both types: Eriophorum vaginatum and E. angustifolium. I don't remember seeing bog cotton as bountiful as it is this year: the brown upland heath was silvered in the sunlight with drifts and drifts of it. Another walker we met agreed - she'd never seen it looking so good. The same is true for so many plants this year: over on the Guardian Gardens FB group, gardeners have been marvelling at the lushness of growth in all our gardens. And in the wild, it's not only the bog cotton that's doing so well, buttercups are so astonishing in their vigour and numbers that they've making it onto radio and into print (on national radio and our paper of record -- you have to love that).

No, I didn't miss Summer Solstice... duly noted and toasted! And for those who have a clear sky tonight - it's a full moon at its perigee: a super moon, no less, the nearest and brightest that we can see it. Have a look!

A tiny Dianthus brings a scent of cloves to the morning 

Breakfast-time ...

Elderflower on a river bank

Soon-to-be elderflower cordial

When austerity gets to be too much, head for the hills
Eriophorum, Bog cotton (Ceannbhán) silvers the heath
Eriophorum angustifolium on Ticknock

A first sketch of Eriophorum vaginatum, hard to get the fluffiness of the seed head! 
Have a good week all.

15 June 2013

For Da

Are you familiar with those 'interviews' in magazines where someone more or less well known is asked a set of questions? You know the ones: who would you invite to your ideal dinner party; when were you happiest, and so on... I don't know about you, but I sometimes play the game of how I'd answer. In gardening magazines, one of the questions is invariably something like 'What's your earliest garden memory?' For me, it's the taste of a strawberry, still warm from the sun, exploding into a song of sweetness in my mouth. It was my Da who grew that first strawberry of my memory, picked it when it was warmed by the morning sun, and who wanted his (then very small) daughter to relish it. It seemed magical to me then and in a sense it still does - that first burst of summer sweetness on the tongue: each year when that happens, I remind myself that strawberries are the best fruit in the garden.

And then a couple of weeks later, I taste the raspberries and realise that no, they're the best.

And then I make some loganberry jam and I think, no hang on...

Such dilemmas; such an embarrassment of riches, all in a small plot.

And all, ultimately, thanks to my Da. It was he, no doubt about it, who passed on his love of growing things, and his delight in nature in fields and farms and forests, and in our own back garden. It was he who brought us all on walks through woods and along beaches, where we'd spend what seemed like hours peering into rockpools, watching scurrying crabs and trying to catch 'pinkeens'. It was he who always had a hammer in the boot of his car, and a pair of old boots, so that if he ever found himself on the back of the right mountain, he might try his luck at finding fossils or quartz or calcite crystals. It was he who'd be found on a summer's afternoon sitting on an old sugán stool in the back garden methodically picking red currants to make into jelly for mid-winter feasts, or to eat straight away with fresh cream and pavlova, their tartness upping the ante on their sugary companions. It was he who proudly grew his first greenhouse tomatoes in his fifties, and then one year grew ornamental gourds too, just to see what they were like. It was he who never walked his lawn without his penknife ready to carefully prise out any daisy or dandelion foolish enough to take its chances.

It's not yet three years since Da died, after a very long and very difficult illness. I still think of him every day, never more so than when I'm in the garden. When I'm carefully unweaving the bittercress from the Irish moss, I think of Da and the lawn. When I'm picking raspberries or strawberries from the garden, and later making jam, I think of him doing just the same, the summer kitchen air thick with the aroma of cooking berries.  When I'm pinching out the side-shoots of the tomatoes, when I'm grappling with the thorny stems of loganberries, when I pick sage and chives and parsley and lettuce, when I see the Welsh poppies jollying up the garden, when I marvel at the daffodils in the spring, or the haws and sloes in the autumn hedgerows, I think of him.

What a lucky daughter to have had such a father.

The last place Da sat in my garden, one of his favourite spots. Note the yellow Welsh poppy! 
This year's strawberries, still to come ...
A Pelargonium in my greenhouse; I grow them in memory of Da who loved them (and the brighter the better)

I still love to mess about in rock pools. A small crab claw and a sketch I did this week.
Happy Father's Day to any dads reading this.

Have a good week all.

09 June 2013

To the waters and the wild

We're reeling. Reeling! Such sunshine. And warmth. And it has been like this for more than a week now; it feels like the whole country is en fête. 

Summer woodland
Summer park
D has been swimming most days since he got back from Canada, in the Atlantic and the Irish Sea. We ate in the garden, we sat in the garden, I drew in the garden, B took photographs in the garden. Oh, and we gardened in the garden... Gorgeous. We dug up a lovely Miscanthus zebrinus and another grass whose name I've forgotten, and they're now in a new home in Donegal, which will be something of a shock for them: I hope they settle in... Hidden beneath a Lot of ivy and those grasses were old tree stumps that I'd put in the garden I'd say about 15 years ago. I haven't removed them as they've been home to all sorts of beetles and the like for many years and I don't want the garden to be without them. I'll have to think of a new way to surround them... if the Inula hookeri doesn't engulf them first. I like the gap now, which allows us to see the alliums etc. Other gardening tasks during the week included moving the alpines out of the too-hot greenhouse, watering the tomatoes and willing them to grow (an important part of any gardening, I find), and tying in the new loganberry canes, which are growing startlingly and stealthily so that overnight they can snag a passing gardener.

The week was mostly busy with some hard family business, but that meant it was all the more important to take some time away from the tough bits to head for the hills (on Monday) or the back garden, every day.

In the Wicklow hills we went to one of our favourite picnic spots, along a peat-stained, amber-coloured river edged with white granite sand and sprightly green mosses and grasses. The place we normally stop had changed from sand to cobbles--clearly the winter and late spring rains caused the river to swell and carry a bedload it wouldn't normally sustain--but we found another place upstream that was equally good. The high water had also torn at the river banks reducing the lovely green Polytrichum mosses to dreadlocks in one spot and what looked like a very bad hair transplant in another.

While B stayed to shoot the hills, the water and the rocks (and hope for dragonflies), Iz and I walked upstream and found when I'm fairly sure are badger setts, which was a nice surprise. Happily there's not quite enough of a terrier strain in the schnauzer to persuade her to investigate any further.

A good spot for a picnic
one man and his dog
Polytrichum - bad hair day
Polytrichum - dreads
Polytrichum - all is well

I think this is a badger sett, there were lots of entrances in the area and a huge amount of debris,
including old grasses from cleaning out the sett from time to time
Away from the waters and the wild, the warm weather encouraged this exquisite Iris to bloom. Apologies that I don't have the name, but isn't it incredible? I got it last year from Mount Venus Nursery and you can see why I wanted to add it to the garden. Such a deep colour and such an elegant shape. I wouldn't dream of trying to draw it yet, but I did have a go at the ubiquitous Welsh poppies that punctuate my garden with bright spots of yellow. And I've just discovered that they're not true poppies, but belong to the genus Meconopsis (poppy-like). More here, at the wonderful Wildflowers of Ireland site. 

Iris - words fail

Welsh poppy (Meconopsis cambrica) a pencil sketch
And a coloured pencil sketch - a bit of work to do ...
Have a good week all. 

03 June 2013

A dog's life

First of all, two pics this week from my life (there'll be a view from someone else's in a moment): one taken on a walk from work along the Grand Canal, where the yellow flags are signalling summer. It was a fine evening when I took the photo and the Dublin brick houses along the canal were warmly lit by an evening sun. The second photo is this year's Alchemilla mollis pic: every year should have one I reckon. Sometimes it's an on April morning or sometimes it's in May when the dew, the sunlight and the leaves of the Lady's Mantle (the common name for Alchemilla) conspire to create a moment of beauty.

Yellow flag irises along the Grand Canal
Beaded mantle
You know, there's a lot of philosophising in the gardeny-bloggy world about what a garden is or should be: a haven for wildlife in an increasingly habitat-hostile world; a productive plot, bursting with fruit and veg, the airmiles on your own food down to nothing; a room outdoors (aarrghh, a pet hate of mine to be honest); a carefully wrought landscape architect's creation, where everything has its place and the plants' job is simply to show off or soften the hard structures; a canvas for the sure touch of a master designer, where drifts of plants  weave a wonderful tapestry of colour and texture through place and time; or a plant collector's catalogue (in some cases read 'mish-mash') of one plant type or many. These are things I think about too, when I have time, but to be honest, I got a bit tired this week of designers writing at length about what designed gardens should be, and whether they themselves should Dare (gasp!) to publish photos of their own garden, which might just fall short of the ideal. And so on (and, sometimes, on). But really, the plants and animals in our gardens will just get on with it, unconcerned with human angst about motivation and creation.

So I'm just going to get a little silly this week...

I was thinking today of those with whom I share the garden (because for me, gardens are best when they're shared): one brilliant photographer of course, a wonderful son (or two, when my other son is home from afar), friends of all of us, lots of different birds and insects and amphibians, and ... one schnauzer.

So I thought, forget the human motivation, forget the pride/shame about the tiny patch of garden, instead I decided to consider what my garden must look like from a schnauzer's point of view :-) ... Why not!?

And so here it is. There's a pic from above at first, where those of you who don't know the garden can see just how tiny it is (!).

A sort of aerial view of my small garden, damaged pond and all...
And the rest of the photos are taken from a small dog's point of view, where it looks way more interesting. Mind you, being a schnauzer, it's common scents that Izzy's after, and I've no doubt her favourite time in the garden is a damp morning when a fox or two has been by, or some cats; when the wood pigeons and other birds have been loitering around the bird feeder; when the frogs have made their wet way through the undergrowth ...  The aesthetics and the fretting she leaves to us humans.

It's a dog's life... 

Nothing to see here, just a Hosta and some ferns
Enter the jungle?

There may be a way through here ...
Another damn pot [of Rhodohypoxis, Ed.] in the way...

Oh hang on, that's better ...

If that gate was open ... 
... a curious schnauzer could investigate ...

... but it's just more boring herbs...

Time to check the small pond for frogs
Have a good week all.