15 December 2014

My turn

Well the year is about to turn... December Solstice this year is on Sunday, 21 December at 23:03 UTC.

My Solstice wreath this year, made from cuttings from the garden,
including the lovely Hedera helix 'Saggitifolia'
It's Winter Solstice where I'm sitting, but it'll be summer for some. I suffer from a terrible lack of imagination at this time of the year and find it almost impossible to imagine, in the depths of a cold, grey and rapidly darkening winter afternoon, just what things look like at the same time on a summer's day...

But some of you may remember the 'twenty-one' idea, which I hatched late last year. I wanted to record throughout the year the seasonal changes in some of the places I know well. I wanted to remind myself and you, dear reader, how the shifting light and temperatures ring the changes. At this latitude, on this western edge of the European continent, in the path of winds from the Atlantic Ocean, the seasons are not extreme, but they're different enough to require changes in plants and animals and us. The lack of light in the winter is a tough one for me, so I suppose this documenting of changes is a reminder to myself that, yes, the year is about to turn. And when it does, the light will return. Soon.

So, here we go, starting with the walk into my local park. It's a walk I do most mornings with Iz and so you may well spot a small schnauzer in some of these photos...

Heading into the park - at the solstices and equinoxes. 
The park is just a small suburban park in south Dublin. There's a mix of trees in there: scots pine, horse chestnut, oak, sycamore. There are also some very old conifers, including a giant redwood, some yews, and some others I'm not sure of - all no doubt left over from the original estate/demesne that was here before. And then there's the occasional surprise like the dogwood I spotted only this Spring, having missed it completely until then. Some observer I am...

Here are some of the oaks (and a scots pine or two!):

Scots pine and oak; some sycamore and ash lurking in the hedgerow

Sycamores, horse chestnuts and even a larch ring the changes throughout the year; I don't know how much longer that dead tree in the foreground will stand: the first storm of the autumn brought down a young ash tree in a nearby field

And finally, the year in a corner of my small north-facing garden
So having taken these photos throughout the year, and pulled them together this evening, what strikes me most is, not the changes in the plant life, but the changes in the angle and intensity of the light. Has this exercise helped my winter blues? Maybe a little. I hope it has helped yours too, if you suffer them!

As ever, I know that right now I just want to dive into Spring. And in the garden, the narcissi pushing through; the palest, tiniest buds on the snowdrops under the birches; the fattening flower-buds of the witch hazel... all of these are helping! This is yet another reason that I garden - the looking forward, the only constant being change. Love it.

It has been a tough year, but things are on the up; B is looking forward:

Good times ahead
And so am I. Happy Solstice all!

09 September 2014

Mind the gap

The indiscipline of it ... there I was doing weekly blogs over the last couple of years, didn't miss one. I changed to once a month this year and see how standards have slipped. A gap--no a yawning chasm--from early to late summer.

But it was a sort of limbo-summer. B needed time to get through all sorts of medical procedures and to concentrate on healing... And we're there! Good news a couple of weeks ago means that we can look forward again, plan new things, head into the autumn and winter with a fresh outlook.

In spite of all, we took time to enjoy the summer - and the weather conspired to help us. Summer is after all the time for being outside: in the garden, in the woods, up the hills, on the shore, in other people's gardens. We did some short trips and a week in wonderful Donegal and on the way we saw cwms (corries/cirques) and coasts, gardens and meadows.

(By the way,I should apologise now for the quality of the photos here, most of them are phone pics. Hopefully normal service will resume next time.)

Cwm with a view: looking down to the Copper Coast from Mahon Falls -- a waterfall that tumbles out of a corrie or cwm,
scoured out by a glacier quite some time ago
A trip to Waterford in early/mid summer brought us from the abundance of Peter Stam's bamboo nursery to the perfection of Paddy and Mary Tobin's garden: not an easy place for us to find, but well worth it! It's a plantsman's garden created with a good eye and caring husbandry. Lots of mini-habitats abound, in which Paddy and Mary indulge their love of plants and gardening: a wall becomes a crevice garden filled with gorgeous alpines; a pond is the setting for a graceful collection of Dieramas; some island beds become a white garden, the grass nearby now turning successfully into a small but perfectly formed meadow, where--to Mary's delight--a wild orchid has bloomed this year. The kitchen garden is exemplary: filled with fruit and vegetables bursting with health and vigour, and where even the compost heap is neat!

Donegal worked its usual magic, helped immeasureably this year by the most beautiful weather this island had seen for some time. Walking with Iz in the early morning through still and silent woods down to a warm, golden, deserted beach for a quiet swim was some sort of heaven. In both places where we stayed in that lovely county we were so-o-o well looked after by great and generous friends: many thanks to all, you know who you are...

The path to the beach, early on a divine summer's morning

Clear Atlantic water
I have no pictures (so I've given some links here to some of B's from his Catchlight facebook page). but we also visited Philip Hollwey's beautiful garden near Bunclody in Co. Wexford and Knockrose garden closer to home near the Scalp. Both inspiring in different ways. Philip's meadow is beautiful and the whole garden is a coherent and cohesive approach to design and environment. The boundaries of the garden merge seamlessly with the surrounding fields and woods, and the garden itself becomes more formal and deliberate as it approaches the house. I loved it and hope to get back there again if he opens it next summer.

Knockrose is a very different place: it's on a north-facing slope at the northern tip of the Scalp: not a very promising location for a garden you'd imagine, but Patricia and Tom Farrell have created a series of spaces through which any visitor is enticed to walk, each one more delightful than the last, and each with a place to stop and savour where you are: garden seats, a Dutch light greenhouse, a home-built garden 'hut' (hut is too humble a word for it). The whole is put together with an artist's eye for texture and colour, a plantswoman's love of her garden inhabitants, and, I suspect, a philosopher's love of spaces to allow for contemplation. We had to go back a second time and there's no doubt we'll go again too. 

Back in my own garden, the opportunity to spend more time there than in recent summers meant that I was able to take the first step in growing some alpines from seed.

Some of the alpine seedlings in July (thanks to the AGS Seed Exchange)
As I write this in September, some of them have actually made it this far and I'm delighted, but there's a long autumn and winter ahead! If you're not a nerdy plant person, scroll down now, but for those of you with an interest, so far I have seedlings of:

Aquilegia flabellata alba
Androsace septontrionalis
Antirrhinum braun-blanquetii
Dianthus deltoides 'Albus'
Dodecathon media
Gentiana septemfida
Semiaquilegia ecalcarata
Silene pusilla

Watch this space to see how many make it through to Spring 2015.

As well as seedlings, the greenhouse provided a home for tomatoes (which didn't get enough proper care for me and so haven't done too well) and cucumbers, which were great! I grew the cucumbers along string up across the interior of the greenhouse and that worked very nicely indeed. A curious young robin came into the greenhouse to 'help' from time to time, and a very hot mini-schnauzer discovered that digging down into the soil below the greenhouse bench provided a shady spot to cool off. She wasn't a bit concerned that soil was then scattered all over the place and the alpine seedlings were in danger of being disturbed. Funny how these sorts of garden hazards don't make it into too many 'how-to' guides...

Cucumbers on the go
Always handy to have help in the greenhouse
Outside the greenhouse, the garden relished the good summer too:

No garden should be without fruit: luscious loganberries
One of my Dieramas blooms by the pool earlier in the summer
Late summer... Do you see that tall Joe Pye weed in the middle?
... no garden should be without Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium sp.) as the pollinators cannot resist it: hoverflies and bees earlier in the summer and then in autumn, the butterflies descend...

a Red Admiral stops by (thanks to catchlight for the photo)
So, with a busy summer on the go and a garden and greenhouse to be looked after, was there time for drawing? Well, yes, a little. And I'm trying to work on the basis that drawing can be done *any*where. Just have a pencil/pen and any paper to hand and you can always give it a shot:

if you want to draw, you'll draw anywhere (a welcome distraction from the ST crossword)
One of the goals I set myself this summer was to learn more about colour. I was going to stick with coloured pencils (Faber Castell Polychromos and Caran d'Ache Luminance, gorgeous pencils all) so I had some sort of control of the medium -- it's just not funny to see me sloshing watercolours around the place. Early in the year I'd been invited to take part in a sketchbook exchange and I was all set but had to decline as plans changed... I've been keeping an eye on the amazing and beautiful work that the artists who are taking part are doing for each other (you can find out more on their blog here) and a part of me is hugely relieved that I wasn't able to take part, I simply wouldn't have been in the right league at all... But I decided to soldier ahead in my own sketchbook and also to use it without any pressure and as a sort of diary too - small notes on what was happening on the day I sketched; bits of poems that I love; and so on. I've enjoyed it enormously and at least it has allowed me to flex the drawing muscles a little. So much still to learn though. Anyway, here are a few bits and bobs from the sketching over the summer. A very mixed bag and you can see I didn't have too much time, but it has been enjoyable and I've loved the learning.

purples... Wallflower and Rosa 'Rhapsody in Blue'
sketching seaweed from a Donegal beach

and turning sketches into a drawing: of  I think Fucus vesiculosis?, drawn with coloured pencil
and a mussel; well alright: a partly done mussel 

couple of little unripe rose hips (coloured pencil again)
conker in graphite

conker in coloured pencil -- too tentative!
can't leave those conkers alone ... more coloured pencil
I think that's enough for now. If you've made it this far, thank you! I'll end with an image from today; B had a final procedure to go through and afterwards we enjoyed lunch in the late summer sun in Airfield:

onward and upward
Go well all.

04 June 2014

Late Date

Can't help it, I'm in love with May. It's June as I write this--I'm late with this blog--but I'll write not about June, but about wonderful, fresh, scented, rich, green May. May is what I dream about the rest of the year. May is when all gardeners congratulate themselves on their amazing gardens, but it's the time of the year when, really, we can take little credit for the beauty in those gardens, because May does all the work for us. And this year seemed better than ever: it has been so lush, with such flowers! And the smell of May in the early morning is almost untenable - it's new and fresh and burgeoning and green and ... who knows what else, all carried on the dewy scent of a May morning. The woods are a most earthly green; the whitethorn froths over a granite wall in the 'burbs, carrying memories of fields and hedgerows, home to carolling blackbirds and thrushes and wrens and robins; in the park the sycamores and horse chestnuts are proudly displaying their new foliage and buttercups bring another bit of the wild into a quiet corner that the council can't reach to raze short. 

May green

A vain search for squirrels under the horse chestnuts

My favourite sycamore in the early morning

In the garden, Da's Welsh poppies punctuate the new green growth with serendipitous dots of yellow; and close to the purple orbs of Allium, day lilies from Glenarm Castle make their own tiny galaxy of yellow stars. This year, the Echiums are blooming: two buzzing babel towers of violet blue, visited by all the garden bees.  

Hemerocallis (Day lilies) and Alliums

Echiums delight the bees

At the end of May the irises started to bloom
May this year was a happy time for other reasons too - a son delighted his mammy by coming home from Canada for a short spell (so good to see you CM) and my yew tree drawing was on display (with many other wonderful paintings) in the Botanic Gardens! Yes, the AibĂ­tir exhibition ran in the Bots for most of May. Three Irish alphabets, some amazing paintings, and an opening by the doyenne of Botanical Art collection, Dr Shirley Sherwood ... altogether a great inaugural event for the newly formed ISBA.  I was over the moon that at least three prints of my Yew sold during the exhibition (and I only knew one of the buyers, thanks DW!).

My Yew tree made it... I was more than a bit excited
Another first was the postcard garden made by the Alpine Garden Society here in Dublin for Bloom 2014. I did a stint on the stand with another AGS member on the Friday of Bloom, and what a lovely afternoon it was. A steady stream of visitors came with almost equal measures of delight and amazement and questions. We wanted to show people how much you can do with even a tiny space (the postcard gardens are only 2x3 metres) and to get them thinking about alpine plants in a different way. I think we accomplished that, thanks to the expertise of those who designed and built the garden and grew the plants for it. It was all the more challenging as we weren't allowed dig into the ground so the whole garden had to be assembled on the surface but look as though it belonged there... 

AGS garden for Bloom 2014 (thanks to Bernard van Giessen for the photo)

Twenty One

The twenty-one photos were a pleasure in May: an early sunny morning, the kind I can't imagine when the planet is tilted the other way mid-winter... I'll be coming back to these photos time and again.

The field trees are fully green now

Heading into the park is a pleasure

The Scots Pine shadows point to the newly green oaks

Such bright sunshine slanting in

Coming home from the walk to my own bit of May
A bit too green, that pool ... but the plants are doing fine
Go well all.

23 April 2014

Happy Donegal

Six or so on a quiet morning in Donegal, the sun rising, a happy schnauzer and I are about to head up the hill behind the house onto the heath, and I stop for a moment just to listen to birdsong in the surrounding hedgerows. Here's one minute's worth. You'll hear a pheasant and a nearby cock crowing too.

Here's what the morning looked like:

The sun rises in Donegal
So Yes! we went to Donegal, far from hospitals and work and the city. We basked in warm sunshine (and being Spring, there wasn't a midge to be seen, or felt), walked the beaches, drank white wine and played scrabble outside in that amazing sunshine, ate well, visited the neighbours, and all in all, had a restorative and happy time of it. Many many thanks to our hosts who spoiled us so nicely.

Every morning, Iz and I walked up onto the heath behind the house, to tramp through the heather, and watch the sun rise from the sitting stone up on the hill (me) and investigate all that the heath had to offer (Iz), including rather of lot of this:

Donegal granite, sheep poo and a lucky grass seedling with its own stash of manure...
what caught my eye was the contrast in textures and the flash of green
Up there on the hill, the distant roar of the waves on Dooey strand forms the backdrop to an otherwise quiet morning, a constant that's replaced as we walk towards the lake by the gentle whomp whomp of the nearby windmills. On the first morning though, it was so still as the sun rose that the windmills weren't moving at all - a rare occurrence on the Atlantic coastline! After only a few minutes, first one and then another started to turn slowly slowly...

A still morning at the lake

Slowly the windmills start to turn (can you spot the moon and a passing seagull?)
The heath looks bare in this photo, and it is, although full of hidden treasures in the shape of mosses (Sphagnum mostly) and some tough little shrubs and perennials. The sheltered hill on the way up though is covered in hazel scrub, with birches and hawthorns making a stand (literally) here and there. At this time of year, the roots of trees are brightened with primroses and violets, standing out against the faded ochres and golds of last year's bracken. While the blackthorns are festooned with white blossom now, on bare dark traceries of branch, the hawthorn (or whitethorn) comes into leaf first, saving its blossom for May. Can't wait!

Spring and schnauzer (in Wicklow, not Donegal)

But the heath and granite and other rocks aren't the only offering from Donegal, the Atlantic shoreline is its secret weapon, the pull of its tide pulling at our memory and always bringing us back.

Bringing us back this year to changed shorelines: after the ferocious storms of January and February scoured the beaches and ravaged the dunes, the beaches are pristine when you look in one direction:

Dooey, scoured clean
and, so sadly, anything but when you look in the other; here are the two most 'picturesque' bits of debris, but there was an awful lot more of less-than-beautiful plastic and other rubbish at the base of the newly scoured dunes, left there by tides and waves that must have been higher and stronger than any that Dooey has seen for some time.
An old lobster pot dragged up onto the beach by winter storms; 

and some coax. cable, just what every beach needs ...

But with the blue skies, who could stay glum for long, and light like that has to caught by catchlight himself:

One man and his dog (and his Hasselblad), on the pier at Portnoo

The countryside on the way to and from Donegal was looking beautiful in the spring sunshine, and the blackthorns are frothier and whiter and more blossomy than I've ever seen them. They missed out last year as the really good blossoming happened a bit later (the hawthorn and elders), but they've more than made up for it this year. If the season continues well, there'll be a lot of sloe gin on the go this winter.

At home, the days have been filled with quiet pursuits. In the quest to learn something about coloured pencils, I've bought a copy of Ann Swan's book, and tried one of the demonstrations/exercises in it. Here's an iris of hers, re-drawn by me, step by step as she recommends. Layering is the thing with coloured pencils, and you generally start with the darker areas and work up to the light... (forgive the dodgy phone pics here):

Trying to build up an iris, starting with the darker areas ...

gradually layering up the colours

to produce the final flower
It was a great exercise and taught me a lot, including how much I have to learn about colour... very interesting!

As well as trying to draw flowers, a friend's significant birthday gave me the chance to create lovely combinations of colour and shape for her wonderful party:

Jugs of flowers ready to add to the party. Happy Birthday again lb! 
And it's that time of the year, so the gardener in me is thinking alpine thoughts:

Draba  'Buttermilk', flowering too early for the upcoming Alpine show, but I've enjoyed it in the greenhouse
Other gardeny work has included first attempts at sowing alpine seeds and some other bits and bobs:
Bulblets of lilies, some small plants for the sale at the alpine show, and some seeds sown a couple of weeks ago

A pleasing combination in the garden, wallflowers from a very generous alpine gardener, some Ophiopogon, and Molinia caerula
And in a garden on an altogether different scale, Farmleigh, we celebrated Japanese culture and enjoyed the spring flowers in abundance:
Anemones and friends at Farmleigh

Hanami and haiku under Prunus 'Mt Fuji'

Twenty one

Twenty-four hours later than usual and in a bit of rush, I took the twenty-one pics early on a misty, grey Tuesday morning:

At last , the trees at the edge of the field are greening up nicely

into the park...

The oak trees are coming into leaf

The horse chestnut has been first out of the blocks as always, but the sycamores are catching up
 (though the dead one on the left will stay bare)

At home in the garden, things are on the move too (compare this to last month's pic!)

You can just see the False Spikenard to the left - beautiful scent from this soon
And to end, let's go back to Happy Donegal... much more happiness than rhythm in this, but it's great fun:

Go well all.