28 July 2013

Only Yew

And so we headed north. To Donegal. Time to recharge. Time to laugh with friends. Time to swim, to walk, to draw perhaps, to read. Time to hear the early morning sounds when humans have yet to make their aural mark on the day, time to sit on Dooey beach after a swim, relaxing into the sounds of waves, the breeze from the shore, the sunshine.

But first, there was a yew tree to be found. Together with the National Botanic Gardens,the ISBA are running a project over this year on the Irish Botanical Alphabet. Eighteen letters, native plants, some very gifted artists and a few tryers like me (they're a very inclusive bunch). So, each person has been assigned a letter and a plant. Mine is I, for Iúr, the native Irish Yew. This is not the fastigiate (upright) yew that you see growing in so many graveyards and which is commonly called the Irish Yew since the first of its kind appeared in a Fermanagh garden over 200 years ago. No, mine is the native yew, Taxus baccata, which was once widespread over the whole island, but now is confined to pockets of native woodland here and there. Yew shows up in many placenames (Terenure, Newry, Achadh an Iúir (Virginia), Ture, Nure) testifying to its distribution before agriculture and later developments removed it from the landscape.

It's quite hard now to find native yew growing undisturbed: there's a remnant of native yew woodland in Killarney National Park apparently, but I haven't been there for a long time. Instead though, since we were travelling up to Donegal this week, I thought it would a good plan to check out the two old yews on Crom Estate on the shores of Upper Lough Erne in Co. Fermanagh.

What a great idea! It was a hot sunny day, we had a picnic near the old boathouses, near the lakeshore, and then walked through meadows and scrub that were still in the mid-afternoon heat but animated by lots of butterflies and dragonflies.

Butterfly in Crom Estate, photo by B (catchlight)
Old castle in Crom Estate, photo by B ((catchlight)
Close to the old castle, we found the two ancient yew trees I'd come looking for. About 800 years old, they are a male and female yew that have grown intertwined over the years, like trees from some old ballad about star-crossed lovers with "a kind of love that grows so hard in sorrow" who only become united after death (listen to June Tabor with another take on this in Maybe Then I'll be a Rose [words Les Barker, music Savourna Stevenson]).

While many of the artists taking part in the ISBA project have spent quite some time looking for tiny plants in bogs and other places, wondering how to fill a 30-cm square with the subtle delights of small flowers, delicate leaves and tendrils, I have a problem of a different kind:

Underneath the Crom Estate yew trees

How shall I capture a sense of this?

After a lovely not-quite-two hours, a sketch ... Clearly I'll be back
I sat within the canopy of the intertwined trees and drew for almost two hours. Outside, B took some beautiful photos and Izzy mooched. But by late afternoon, it was time to head on to meet friends. The plan now is to return on the way home and spend some more time with the ancient trees.

In Donegal, the early mornings are as lovely as ever, the beaches stretch for miles, the water this year is more inviting than ever since we're having such a warm summer and Izzy has discovered sheep up on the heath...

Schnauzer and sheep
And so now, it's time for a swim. I'm off.
Have a good week all (especially my Montréal sons).

21 July 2013

Green Garden

We really can say high summer now. It's so summery, there's such heat that yesterday we stayed indoors for some of the afternoon: too hot! But oh, the evenings in the garden ... sitting out right through into the darkness at 11 and beyond. The verbena starts to glow as twilight falls, each small head holding the fading light. The honeysuckle gets to work filling the garden with its sweet scent, the now-beaded Dierama arches over the pool with the sedge. We light a few lanterns to create tiny puddles of warm light, and an occasional flitting, fleeting shadow confirms the pipistrelles are still around. The air is warm, not hot. There isn't a breath of a breeze, the pool is still and the water hawthorn gleams whitely in the green water. Friends have joined us on a few evenings and made the time in the garden even better.

This is why I make a garden.

I get frustrated that it's so small. I berate myself for the choice of plants, for not growing them well, for not placing them right. And on an on.

But I come back to this truth time and again: the garden is first and foremost a place to be, a place to sit, a place to spend time in with friends and family laughing and chatting and eating and drinking; a place to be silent, in the early morning before the neighbours wake up and get the power tools out, when only the birds (quiet now in moulting season) and the dog break the silence, or in the evening when twilight falls and the blue haze of televisions fills sitting rooms and bedrooms and outside in the garden the trees and rooftops form deeper and deeper green silhouettes against the palest lemon yellow sky. A place to sit in the shade on these hot days, under the honeysuckle, just looking: at the grasses now coming into flower, at the Inula, each one its own tiny sun with orbiting bees and hoverflies, at the lilies arching their petals back in the true bright sunshine. A place where the green provides rest for eyes weary of screens like the one you're using right now...

Dierama beads; thanks for the photo  B, (www.catchlight.ie)
The lilies are loving the hot weather

No really, they are ...


A new Sedum settles in, in front of the Inula (for more see here: http://www.facebook.com/Catchlight.Ireland)

And speaking of green and garden, here's another video. Now, I know Ian Dury might have been a bit much, or a bit too eighties, last week, but please please, if you never watch another video from this site, listen to/watch this one. If it doesn't work for you on Vimeo, I've included a YouTube link too. The happiness in this video is just right for summer in a Green Garden:

Wendy Morgan-Laura Mvula- Green Garden from Believe Media on Vimeo.

And as an aside, I'm still working away at colour... here's a sketch of a fuchsia blossom.

tricky fuchsia
Have a good week all!

14 July 2013

Part Three

Who remembers Ian Dury and the Blockheads? Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 3:

Great crack.

Okay, this week is Reasons to be Cheerful!
Only a small selection and in no particular order:

The weather!
Inline images 1

Blue skies:
Blue sky in the garden pool

Trips to inspiring gardens:
Sculpture in Burtown House gardens

The first taste of this season's loganberry jam:
The first few pots of loganberry jam cool on the windowsill

Eating outside every day:
Breakfast right here every morning ...
The poppies blooming in the garden:
Opium poppy blooms brilliantly and briefly. See here for more.

Let's bláth with Draw-hín (I know, only a couple of you are going to get that one :-)):
Trying out colours for yew bark

Fun with fishing rods (very sketchy Dierama pulcherrimum)
The thoughts of harvests to come:
Bramble/blackberry flower in Knocksink Woods
Have a good week all.

07 July 2013

Gateway to summer

Early morning, mist and an almost rain. A soft day. Crows lining the wires, hunched and implacable, without any of the nervous jitteriness that the swallows will show later in the year when they line up on the same wire, alighting and flitting and circling and swooping, preparing for the long flights ahead. But none of that now: it's high summer. The swallows whirr across fields and shorn meadows, enjoying mid-summer bounty.

Early morning. Izzy and I head off down the road near D's house in the middle of the countryside; or actually in the middle of the country: only a very short distance as the crow flies (when it flaps untidily up off the wire) is the Cat Stone, on the Hill of Uisneach, where the first of the Bealtaine fires used to be lit, and the place deemed to be the centre of the country, where all four provinces came together.

But none of that now on a mist-laden morning, warm, but Met Éireann's promise of sun not showing yet. The local roadways, grass running up the centre, are quiet, no-one up and about at this hour, old gates half-open, wildflowers blooming in the verges and on the limestone walls: ox-eye daisies, vetches, trefoils, orchids, meadow-sweet, honeysuckle, and--always--a myriad grasses, panicles this morning glinting with mist, though not for long as the sun warms the air.

Early crows

Worth investigation?

Common Spotted Orchid, Dactylorhiza fuchsii subsp. fuchsii

Ox eye daisy, Leucanthemum vulgare

Greater Bird's Foot Trefoil, Lotus pedunculatus
Later, the sun does indeed come out and we head out across the countryside, visiting old churchyards and ending up in Tullynally Castle, where after a restorative coffee, we walk some of the 12-acre gardens, admire the parkland, the trees and the ornamental lakes from the castle terrace (and I have a Jane Austen moment, as one does when confronted by such things). We vow to return.

Church gate

"To sit in the shade on a fine day and look upon verdure in the most perfect refreshment"
Jane Austen, Mansfield Park
(thanks LB)

Kissing gate, Tullynally
Thanks to D and B for such a lovely time. And thanks to the motor-gods for a car that actually started and got us home again.

At home, the sunshine has encouraged sunbathers to bask wetly and froggily on the edge of the tiny pond. Nearby the angel's fishing rods gently sway and nod and provide me with blooms to test my coloured pencils on  - will magenta and manganese violet (and a little white to blend) come close? What's the difference in the texture on cartridge paper or bristol board? Can I even draw the thing!?

Bring on the sunshine

Angel's fishing rods (Dierama pulcherrimum) and friends

Sketches of one flower of an angel's fishing rod, on cartridge paper (above) and bristol board.
Coloured pencils. 
Have a good week all.

01 July 2013

Respect your elders

A sacred tree, but not the one I was looking for. Sacked priories, their still-thick walls and towers bearing silent witness to conflicts of centuries ago. Warm grey limestone, cut and shaped and built and re-built; cerulean skies seen above and through the remnants of traceries and arches long open to the winds and the wind-riders: the ever-astonishing swallows and martins.

Wa-a-y more than a mere forty shades in a June countryside brimming over with growth as if in recompense for the dreadful weather that has gone before. Every grass in flower -- shimmering mauves, creams and purples turning the moving air into something almost with mass. And unforgettable elders, tree after tree hidden beneath an array of creamy umbels--broad discs of pale buttery masses of tiny flowers--brighter and larger than I have ever seen them. Surely this summer of 2013 will be remembered by those who care about such things as one of the most abundant and floriferous ever. If the weather keeps its early summer promises, there'll be some harvest this autumn; it might even be as rich a time as the summer/autumn of '84.

A weekend trip to counties Kilkenny and Carlow brought us to Kilfane (of which more another time), Monavaddra, Kells, Gowran and Old Leighlin. We visited new acquaintances and stayed with old friends. We enjoyed the Irish countryside at its very best, we wandered around ruined priories and churches; I was searching for very old yew trees for the Irish Botanical Alphabet project and while I didn't find the kind I was looking for, I met some great people in St Mary's Church in Gowran (thanks OPW!) and St Laserian's Cathedral in Old Leighlin who were so-o-o helpful, interested, and interesting.

Thanks as always to generous hosts and good friends.
No more words this evening, just a few pics.

Kilfane Waterfall and a spot-the-schnauzer

Is there a yew here? (Graveyard outside the walls of Kells Priory, on the banks of the King's River). 

The same place, photo by B: catchlight.ie 
Remnants of Kells Priory (more here)

Wind in the Willows
Wild rose in a Monavaddra hedgerow

Off to explore a summer lane (less scary than a few months ago)
Wild thistles have their own beauty

A sacred hawthorn at a holy well near Old Leighlin, Co Kilkenny.
The well is dedicated to St Laserian, and is close to where  the original sacred Yew (the Tree of Ross), one of the five sacred trees in pre-Christian Ireland, is said to have stood. 
Have a good week all.