THE HEDGE GOT CUT TODAY

Well, believe it or not but today the hedge got cut, and it wasn’t me that did it ūüôā I tried, and did not manage it, so I got someone else to do it, he was a nice and precise guy and he worked real hard. My little helper was here too, and he had so much fun watching and even trying to help a bit with clearing up.

I just had to do something about the height and thickness of that hedge, as discussed in an earlier blog post. Half of the height was cut down, this means that we can see some of the neighbour houses, and some of the town below, but it does not matter, around here all the people are real nice, and down the little town there is no industry at all. All we can see are things such as warehouses and building suppliers, or hardware stores and some other residential areas. Further along we see a wooded hill (the Atlantic Ocean is beyond that), and flowing pastoral scenes sometimes with sheep in the fields, how much better can it get if you live urban. Now that the hedges are lower the sun today was illuminating and warming the soggy, wooden, raised beds, all is wet and sad enough looking, all the raised beds badly need attention. I am hoping that the garden will become dryer now that the wind can reach everything better, yes it is more exposed now so I will have to take that into account during the winter months.

A brilliant day had by all, and much work done, now I feel more motivated to work on my raised beds again.
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A hole in the hedge waiting for tender loving care (new plants in other words)  And my elderberry sapling.

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My little helper having fun, and afterwards inside we were preparing garlic for planting.

AUTUMN MIRTH

“To-day I think
Only with scents, – scents dead leaves yield,
And bracken, and wild carrot’s seed,
And the square mustard field;

Odours that rise
When the spade wounds the root of tree,
Rose, currant, raspberry, or goutweed,
Rhubarb or celery;

The smoke’s smell, too,
Flowing from where a bonfire burns
The dead, the waste, the dangerous,
And all to sweetness turns.

It is enough
To smell, to crumble the dark earth,
While the robin sings over again
Sad songs of Autumn mirth.”

From a poem called DIGGING.‚ÄĚ
Edward Thomas, Collected Poems

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MY JOURNEY TO NAXOS

Some years ago I partook of a wonderful holiday in Naxos, the largest but least touristic island of the Cyclades in the Aegean Sea, where with some friends we walked the ancient Donkey trails. And because of it being spring time, the whole of the island was covered in the blooms of wild flowers and herbs, a wonderful sight to behold! The fragrance of Oregano, Thyme, Chamomile, Lavender, and Melissa were a daily delight.

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The island is also very rich in archaeological finds and remains as it has been lived on constantly for the past 3000 years.
Simple but beautiful Byzantine churches and monasteries are to be found all over the island, many containing icons of great artistic value, covered in gold leaf and intricate painting, some are also half covered in silver to protect the paintings. The architecture of these churches, while simple, I found very graceful and atheistically pleasing, painted in brilliant white with some of the domes in Greek blue, and the older ones, of which we saw quite a few, are built in natural stone, even the roofs are.

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The highest mountain on the island is called Zas and is 1004 metres high; I only ever saw it with its head in the clouds. Some people believe that Zeus was born here while others think that he was born on Crete and grew up here. Naxos is supposed to be the island where Theseus left behind the Cretan princess Ariadne after she helped him escape from the labyrinth where he had killed the Minotaur. Ariadne is then supposed to have fallen in love with Dionysus. Mythology abounds in the Greek islands and it was just lovely to see with my own eyes things that I would have read about long ago.

Gosh, the food was marvellous and I refused to eat anything which was not really Greek. So I had lots of Greek salads made with organic and sun ripened tomatoes, olives, and cucumbers and covered in the most delicious local feta cheese and olive oil. Then there were the goat and lamb dishes, the bean and tomato dishes, absolutely mouth watering, and always the fried potatoes.
They are fond there too of sweet things, lots of honey and sesame seeds and almonds, all this baked scrumptiously, wrapped in filo pastry and served with strong Greek coffee in tiny cups. My favourite was some sort of sweetmeat covered in dry icing sugar and with a delicate flavour of rose essence. Not to forget the drinks, the Ozo I found overrated and did not take to, but there is another drink, a liquor made from the leaves of a tree, a hybrid between lemon and grapefruit, it is called Citron and pronounced Kitron, they come in three different colours, supposed to be three different strengths but the Naxiots were unclear which colour was the strongest! I fancied them all as this drink gave a nice gentle sense of tipsiness which did not last too long and had no nasty after effects and a pleasant enough taste.
The meal that I can remember as being the most wonderful, we ate at a tavern in a remote village after a long strenuous walk through the mountains. Rosemarie, our guide, knew the people and she was welcomed with open arms. We were served a lovely goats stew flavoured with the sort of aromatic herbs we had been walking through, there were long, podgy, green beans in a tomato sauce, potatoes fried in olive oil and rice wrapped in olive leaves and tasting real good. The woman running the place was very fond of roses and not only did she have lovely old scented roses in vases all over the place, they were also on the napkins and tablecloths.

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The town of Naxos or Hora as it is called and where we had our accommodation is built on a hill forming a natural acropolis, on top of which is a fortress, dating from the occupation by the Venetians. Along the sides is a labyrinth of streets, narrow and stepped, the houses are a brilliant white and the doors and windows blue, arches are everywhere and some are very low so that even I had to bend down to pass through them. Here and there geraniums and bougainvillea flowers throw a lovely dash of added colour making the whole a beautiful place full of photo opportunities. Word has it that the town was built in this way to fool the pirates and give the town folk the chance to escape when being attacked, apparently the arches connected from house to house, who knows. It is a delightful town and I got lost several times in the labyrinth but enjoyed finding my way out again eventually.

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One of the first days we passed the main Greek orthodox cathedral, built on the site of an earlier small church (Zoodochos Pighi), it took its present form in 1780-7, and it is dedicated to St.Nicodemus the Athonite and to St.Nektarios. Large quantities of materials from ancient temples were used in its construction! Its solid granite pillars are supposed to have come from the ruins of Delos. Anyway, we were curious as to what was going on inside as we could hear the singing of a low male voice. At our entrance we were invited in to take part of the baptism of a child. The priest, with a long white beard, was singing and doing his rituals. There was the scent of incense, and candles were lit all over the place. The child was totally undressed as it would then be dressed in a whole set of elaborate new clothes. The church looked interesting; it was covered in icons some of which were exquisite art.

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Along the promenade there were the many restaurants, most of them for the tourists but some were clearly the haunts of the locals, mainly the men sitting drinking their Ozo and talking, or is it philosophising which the Greeks do (?), while overhead the octopus were hanging to dry on wooden sticks in the sun.

The walks took us over hills and rocks and through meadows and even over a small river in one valley. The views were magnificent, especially the white villages hugging the mountainsides, Filotis being one of the nicest and nearest to Mount Zas. We passed the olive groves along the valleys. And went along the rocky mountain paths were we would come across herds of goats, we also saw ducks and a lone turkey. We noticed that there are very few cattle here on the island.
There was a lot more that we were delighted to see; there was the Kouros, an ancient statue never fully erected and still lying in its ancient quarry. The marble quarries and the emery and obsidian stone. The ruins of the temple to Demetre. The colour of the deep blue of the Aegean Sea. The interesting looking moths, butterflies, lizards and beetles. The beautiful sunsets. The lovely little shops full of copies of artefacts, some of which I saw in the local archaeological museum, very ancient remnants of life in Naxos and the Cyclades.

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I came home very energised and happy, and with lots of photos and stones. On our way back we stopped for one day in Athens and visited the Acropolis. I must say that I was surprised at the effect it had on me, I was very impressed. We also saw the change of the guards which I thought was very funny! We saw the remains of the temple to Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch. Our hotel was very close to this area and the evening of our arrival we hung out in the colourful Plaka district, little streets, some paved in marble, full of life, shops looking vibrant and lively and very full of all sorts of souvenirs but also local produce and stunning Greek tunics and other clothing and jewellery, they were pulsating with the laughter of Greeks and tourists alike all of whom seemed excited to be alive! There was music, and in line with Greek tradition, carnations thrown all over the place.
There is lovely architecture to be seen here too in the houses, so this is a great place for an evening walk.

So flying back after a very satisfying and lovely holiday I feel energised and ready to tackle life in this quiet but lush and green corner of the earth. I have had my shot of travel again for a little while, though some plans are already forming in my head, heartstrings are being pulled…..
I’ll say no more.

HERBAL MEDICINE WORKSHOP

Today at the Hollies I attended a workshop which taught me more about how to make some medicinal herbal teas, tinctures, syrups, creams, and ointments for regular use, for small ailments. We learnt to identify the plants first on a walk through the land, as I have an interest in herbs for a long time, I had no difficulty recognising them all. What I was hoping to get out of the workshop was a bit more knowledge on how to make a cream or an ointment from infused oils, compresses, poultices, and I found it not only interesting, I also found it inspiring. We went through so much information, took notes, took photos, chatted, and listened, and of course we tasted and tried stuff we made, and we smelled every plant we used, and what a variety; Mullein, echinacea, hypericum, fennel, plantain, hawthorn, periwinkle, rosehip, sage, marsh mallow, calendula, rosemary, comfrey, yarrow, and elderberry. After a few hours of identifying and picking plants, we went inside and enjoyed a nice lunch of nettle soup, homemade bread and hummus, after that we got stuck into brewing up our stuff, first we chopped up some rosemary and also some comfrey root, we made a tea of the rosemary leaves, and cooked up the comfrey root in hot oil (au bain marie), we strained it, and added it to the beeswax which we had cut up and melted (au bain marie) also. Finally we mixed all the ingredients together and poured into little jars. This ointment is said to be good for sprains.

For the cream we made we used calendula flowers, and rosemary leaves, the method was straight forward enough, as was the method to make a tincture, or a syrup.

I think that I finally have found the motivation to use more of the herbs I am growing, and some of the oils that have been waiting to be turned into creams and ointments.

So much to look forward to.
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A great group of interested people gathered around so many herbs.

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Making the cream was of even more interest to me, we made it of calendula flowers and rosemary, the result was great.

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Stirring the cream before pouring it into the little jars, labelling is also very important.  Creams would usually last for about a year.  And of course we got good recommendation of books, some of which I might look out for.

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Digging up the comfrey root, and washing it before taking the peel off and cutting it up for use.

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Cutting the comfrey root, and pouring the finished product into little jars.

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Comfrey used in a poultice, and students listening and taking notes in the gardens.

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Picking off the elderberries to make a syrup, and getting the hawthorn berries ready to make a tincture.

GRANDPA SCRATCHY

What a mellow, mild, and wind still autumn day it was, so nice to spend time outside in the garden today. And Ruben came, and Ian felt like splitting some of the larger logs, so a lot of activity was happening in the garden. At first Ruben and I were pruning soft fruits, Ruben was collecting the leaves and twigs, then we went and dug out a forgotten potato plant, Ruben got one big potato and some babies which he was very happy about, then there were broad beans to pick and gather. After that I lost my little helper to Ian who came out to split his logs. Ruben takes such an interest and is learning all the time, he gathered up the logs as they fell, with the biggest of smiles on his face, he just loves helping Ian. He even had a little go at letting the hammer fall on the axe, under the eagle eyed supervision from amma (that’s me) of course, and grandpa scratchy too. Grandpa scratchy got his name from his little grandson, (because of his beard), and now he’s grandpa scratchy for my grandson too. We are both very fond of Ruben and love to see him grow and do so well with everything he learns about.
To end the day we all sat down for the usual cup of tea, a worker deserves their break isn’t it, it is a ‘thing’ between Ruben and us, the cup of tea while having a rest from working in the garden. A good feeling.

These beautiful mild autumn days are just what we need here in West Cork after a wet and cool summer. How blessed we really are.

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Sorting the garlic for planting,    And playing with his block, trucks, and grandpa scratchy!

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A VERY TROUBLESOME HEGDE

No, not a very troublesome hedge, but a whole garden full of troublesome hedges, that is the score! It sure is a challenge, and it is one that is going to be tackled during this coming winter Рhopefully by me Рone way or another the hedges are going to be tamed. The roughly 1000square meter garden is surrounded by old hedging, we planted it well over 25 years ago, the plants were not bought but were all grown from cuttings picked up when other gardeners discarded them, that was the way it was in those days, money was not spent on plants. It is a mismatch of different shrubs. There is plenty of ligustrum, easy to grow, but grows fast, and now it is hard to keep up with it growing several feet a year. I love it though, as at times it gets flowers, these are the most delicately scented. Then there is the Grisilinia, a lovely soft wooded hedging, easy to cut or trim, some of it is variegated, some just green. Towards the back of the garden there is a huge tangle of what I think is Lonicera nitidia, very hard to keep it tidy, as well as that it has been overgrown with blackberry. There is still some fuchsia which had been stuck among the other hedging plants, lately one friend trimmed the hedges but left the fuchsia grow, it now towers over the rest of the greenery, pale pink flowers that will probably bloom well into November. On the other side of the garden there is one type of hedging that I do not know the name of, it does not grow too fast which is good, but it keeps coming up in the soil surrounding the hedge where I tirelessly pull it up.   During the winter of 2010 we had severe frost here and some of the hedging died, so here and there the hedge is very thin, and there is a hole at one place, so some new planting needs to be done too.

And that is the hedge situation at number fifty!

It gives me pleasure to think of this project, to trim, and tidy and make the hedges look as beautiful as can be, but I am also thinking of the extra air and sun that will help my vegetables grow.  And I must make sure that there is enough left so that the birds can still make their nest among foliage.

It is all good.
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Ligustrum hedge, badly cut and overgrown, and very high indeed.

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Griselinia and very untidy Lonicera nitidia

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A hole in the hedge that needs new planting.

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A patch where during the very cold winter of 2010 some of the hedging died, and a close up of the unidentified hedge plant.

THE LONG STRAND AND SEAWEED

A very refreshing walk on the beach at Long Strand this Sunday held a pleasant surprise for us, apart from being just wonderful as it was a mild, wind still day. The beach had just a few people and dogs walking on it, and there were some surfers playing on the waves, it was relaxing and very tranquil. And to our surprise we found a lot of loose seaweed lying around, the tide was coming in so we took some of it over to the car, to use in the garden, when it is well rotted and the salt is removed. So I have now got it soaking in the bath. I am really happy about finding the seaweed as it is priceless for use as compost. Nature is so bountiful, everywhere you turn it gives us rich pickings for use to improve our soil. The other day I gathered the brown leaves from the front garden to make it into leaf mould which is extraordinary stuff to use.

This new week is going to be a busy one in the garden, planting garlic, dealing with the seaweed, some pruning (got a book out from the library), taking down the last of the bean plants, taking out old strawberry plants, and much more… hopefully the weather stays calm and dry. This is a most beautiful time of the year, full of beautiful and vibrant colours and earthy scents, I love it so much.
A time to celebrate harvests of all sorts, and to be thankful for so many blessings.

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AUTUMN GARDEN

The Indian summer looks as if it has come to an end for the time being, that does not mean that October cannot be a great month though. We have had showers which are really welcome in the garden. There is more wind and the leaves, now in browns and yellows are flying all over the place, yes it is autumn – big time – and I love it, though not so much the dark days without any sun at all.

The garden birds have come back, plenty of sparrows this year, but I am delighted to say that we have a variety of tits, including blue tits, coal tits and the great tit, and this morning I saw a gold crest, these are the little birds in the pine and the birch tree that I had difficulty identifying, that is because I could only hear them, not see them properly, but this morning one was feeding at the bird table, what a lovely sight, I hope to catch them on camera one of these days. I’ve also seen gold finches, and we are planning to plant some thistles next year especially to see these lovely creatures feeding. It was the garden next door where it was full of thistles that attracted the gold finches into the area last year, this year though our neighbour cut all his grass, and also the thistles, a pity that is for the birds. Our robin is still around too, and the collared doves have returned, of course we always have the rooks and jackdaws, and so far I have noticed quite a few starlings too. Finches always abound in our garden, they are great users of the bird table. Other than that there is the resident wren, some blackbirds and the occasional song thrush. So delighted all over as we both enjoy these birds very much.

And this morning I planted out some round black radish among the leeks, looking forward to cooking with them later in the winter. I picked another generous bunch of sweet peas, they are still flowering profusely, and beautifully scented. The roses too are in full bloom. I was surprised to find an evening primrose plant flowering among other herbs this week, I sowed these during spring and then forgot about them, a lovely yellow flower and medicinal herb.  Some of the other produce still in the garden is the broccoli and some of that is for dinner tonight, lovely freshly picked.

Still seedlings are coming up and these plants will go into the cold frames later on, it are winter salad leaves mostly. Though I was out of action for a whole week, it is always great to spend time in the garden no matter what the weather.
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CENTRE FOR PRACTICAL SUSTAINABILITY

Last Sunday we visited the Hollies, not very far from where we live, this is a centre for practical sustainability. There was an open day, which we enjoyed very much and learnt quite a few things. We walked the gardens and I noticed how much flowers grew bordering the vegetables which were laid out in narrow plots to minimize compacting the soil.

This community offers a variety of courses, I have booked one of them for later in the month. Gardening skills are taught, managing poly tunnels, growing food for the family, wild food foraging, building a baking oven, and how to create a bio-diverse garden to name a few.
What I found most interesting, and new to me is the amount of cob houses that are on the land (around 30acres), some of them half built which gave us an idea what goes on in building them, all the different steps were explained to us on the walk. It is fascinating how a beautiful house can be build just using earth, some lime, clay, pebbles, and straw (I hope that I got that right). But building by this method takes a long time, as layer upon layer has to dry out before one can proceed.
This is what I picked up from going there for a few hours, it was a first introduction to this community but we will go there again and learn more.
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Discussing manure in one of the poly tunnels, and lots of leeks growing for the winter.

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Some features of a cob house, and one half built.

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Dry-lining is not required, this is foundation under wall.  And the chimney in middle of room in this case.

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A living roof, and some of the clay and straw ready for use.

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A roof from the inside of a cob house, beautifully made, and other part of the room.