a garden AWAKENING

Forsythia in bloom

SPRING UPDATE FROM OUR GARDEN

It’s that time of year when work starts seriously in our gardens. But the first outdoor job for me is to walk among my plants, see what is growing, analyse and decide what to leave and what to move or remove. And that’s what I have been doing during the week. Lots of delightful discoveries came my way.  Many self-seeding plants had already come up during last autumn and survived our mild winter, others are still only appearing, delicately but vigorously.  Foxgloves for example have self-seeded last autumn and have shown strong leaves even after the frosty nights. The garden is full of them, I’ve moved some of the young plants to other areas as they packed out the vegetable beds, but many I left where they came growing because of the beautiful natural arrangement they made.  The base leaves of the foxgloves are very nice, very symmetrical, so satisfying for the eye.  At this time of the year the leaves look fresh and vibrant.

Three-cornered Leek is another wild plant that is flourishing right now, loads of it, and even while I use it in cooking, it has overgrown some of the vegetable beds so a decision has been made to eradicate a lot of it by pulling the little bulbs from the soil.  Many Dandelions are now in flower and feeding the pollinators. Most of these bright yellow flowers will stay, some to be used in salads later.  Young nettles are starting to make an appearance too, I picked some for tea, some I removed but others I will let grow as they are an amazing food filled with minerals both for humans and plants.  Borage and Feverfew are growing nicely, and the comfrey (for compost) are all appearing healthy and robust, in fact the Borage is coming into flower already.

Most of my herbs are starting to look healthy but apart from Sage, Rosemary, Bay leaf and Mallow they are still to tender and young to use in the kitchen. My Lemon Verbena died during the winter, I should have grown this plant in a pot and taken it inside as it is not frost-proof, I now realise.  It makes a wonderful tea so I will buy a new plant and pot it up.

All the flowering shrubs are starting to look more vibrant now, some, like the white Azalea, the Daphne, and the Californian Lilac are already in bud and the Viburnum is fully in flower and spreading its scent over the patio, wonderful!  I was looking for signs of the Houttuynia but could not see any yet. The Hypericum on the other hand is showing strong signs of life and even the Spiraea is carefully starting to show some leaves. Our Forsythia is finally giving us some lovely flowers but our Camellia has not flowered for several years, it needs attention. Then there are the perennials some of which I bought, some I sowed last year. Here Erysimum is a wonderful plant, it has been flowering from early spring last year until well in the winter and already it has started to flower again. I think we used to call this plant a wallflower.  The small blue flowers of the Lithodora have flowered most of the winter, this is a wonderful border perennial.  Marigolds are self-seeded in our garden and are always around, I use the petals and I love their bright and cheerful colours.  I also found quite a few young Herb Robin and Willow herb plants, some of those I leave as they are rather nice and very good for the pollinators. One of the plants in our garden that attracts most pollinators, bees, bumblebees, hoverflies and others is the white little flower of the oregano plant.  Different spring bulbs are flowering too giving plenty of cheer in the awakening garden.

Our white flowering Azalea

And among all these there are still last autumn’s Leeks, Kale, Broccoli and Spinach to be found, we are eating from those.

Now it is a case of finding space for our potatoes which are presently chitting inside. Other vegetables have been sown and are sprouting well. The abundance of plants, wild and cultured is welcome and amazing, and lording it over it all our Hawthorn, Birch, Chestnut and Oak trees are filled with the sound of finches, sparrows, black birds, a wren, a robin and a dunnock singing, chattering and mate calling… our wild garden… it is a wonderful place to work in or sit with a cup of tea taking a rest, admiring all this growth. 

No matter how small, our gardens can be an oasis of rest and replenishment of our energy, and giving us solace for our souls.

I feel very grateful towards nature.

a GLIMPSE into our winter garden

Early one morning about a week ago there had been a night frost. Everything in the garden looked sugar-coated until the first rays of the sun touched the plants. I took my chance to go out and enjoy all the beauty while shooting some pictures to share here, an enjoyable activity first thing in the day ! We have had a few small roses flowering since summer, this bush was a potted plant we received as a gift and I eventually transplanted it into the garden. It is doing very well. The young camellia bush does not seem to have large buds yet, but then it is only January. It only gave us one flower last year so I am hoping that in another few weeks we will get a nice display.

Young Camellia plant
The morning sun is already peeking through the hedge
A good supply of fresh dandelion leaves has been growing all winter, they are getting ready for our salad bowl!
Morning sun lighting up the background of these young foxgloves plants
As the sun melts the frost, the consistency of the ice changes
Early sunshine, like evening sun, has this special quality I always think and is more beautiful. And of course can look great in a photo.

Iced grass blades, and a look down the garden

Somewhere in the back of the garden I discovered this beautiful summer flower, still in full bloom and beautifully covered in crystals.

My thoughts at this time of the year turn to plans for next season’s growth, and this year I am going to revert back to what I did a few years ago – letting the wild plants do what they want to do – grow. I’ve made a list of over 38 herb and wild plants, some of which I use for food, that are growing now in our garden. And another list of a few that I need to buy at the market.

Plants already established are: Feverfew, Borage, Nettles, Mint (3 different types), Rosemary, Bay leaf, Lavender, Sage, Oregano, Thyme, Herb Robin, Dandelion, St. John’s wort, Lemon balm, Plantain, Sow-thistle, Tansy, Three-cornered-leeks, violet, comfrey, Lemon Verbena, Mallow, Rue, Cleavers, Wild Rose, Nasturtium, Willow herb, Calendula, Solidago, Shepherd’s Purse, Clover, Purple Loosestrife, Ivy, Dock, Mullein, Groundsel, and wild garlic. Quite a few of these self-seed every year, and some of course are perennials.

And those that I want to buy are: Yarrow, Fennel, Parsley and Evening primrose.

Most likely we will be seeing some of the larger purple Thistles which are good when they come into seed as they attract and feed Gold finches.

It is a time to get very excited about seeing all the wild plants and the herbs doing so well despite it being winter. I am looking forward very much to enjoying them all once spring starts, but for the moment I let them be dormant and let them enjoy their winter rest.

So how is your garden doing my dear readers? I will be most interested in reading your comments.

THE SEASON CONTINUES

While we are well into November we are still experiencing mild, dry, and even windless weather which is a little unusual for West Cork at this time. What I observe in my garden is young growth all around, the garden is bursting with life! It promises to be an abundance of wild plants next spring and summer. I see strong young plants of foxgloves and borage, sturdy young nettles, feverfew, and tansy plants, mullein and forget-me-nots, comfrey, evening primrose and lemon balm, lemon verbena too. And fabulous displays of herb robin! The variety of green shades is wonderful and the vibrant energy coming from all this young life is super! I’m not worried that these plants will die during the winter unless we have an extra cold one, as this growth happens every autumn and you can see what you have in store for the following season. I might have to thin out some of the foxgloves even as there are so many of them coming up. I did not sow any of these plants, they self-seed, they get on with their own lives and I let them be. Such a pleasure to see them grow.

Flowers are still brightening some spaces in the garden which is important for any pollinators that are still around. We saw bumblebees well into October this year, it was so mild and there was very little rain and wind. This summer, late summer I should say as they did not arrive until August… there were more butterflies than I normally see in the garden. In the beginning I only saw the whites, but then it was mostly the tortoise but also some admirals and peacock butterflies. I will be making a better record next season after I recently read a book on butterfly conservation, I will also leave some branches at the back of the garden which I was planning to clear. Nature gives us less work if we start to understand it properly!

Some inside snaps, as the days draw in our attention also goes inside the house a little more. I am lining some of the curtains with thermal lining. Ian is working on his project, while I am enjoying my study very much too, it is cosy and we both enjoy each other’s company and are excited about our separate projects.

We have started to feed our wild birds again too, we are still waiting for the chaffinches to arrive. Last winter we had one or two with the dreaded disease trichomoniasis, it was sad to see this. We are really looking forward to their return soon, some of them are migrants, some are home-birds. Apart from a whole host of wild birds we have three collared doves that feed everyday in our garden.

Well, this is more or less what is going on during this first part of November. I wish you all a good autumn, enjoy and hope you are well wherever you are.

OCTOBER IN THE GARDEN

October has always been one of my favourite months in the year, the light is mellow and the colours are so beautiful. This year the Rudbeckias have done very well and are still flowering strongly. I will certainly grow those again for next season. The colours are just fantastic and every time I go into the garden I feast my eyes on them.

I grew some pumpkins for the first time, I grew them from seeds that came out of Halloween pumpkins that I bought in the shop. I hope that these are edible but just for sheer autumn feel they are a joy to behold. I love seeing them grow and become bigger and bigger (some of them) 🙂

These blue flowers (Salvia) have been flowering since spring time, it was the first time that I sowed them, they are down for re-sowing for next season as well, definitely.

This morning
An African marigold of some sort, they grow tall, first time growing these also from seed.
This was during September when the first signs of autumn started to show.
A few minutes away from our house is this wonderful view, partly over the town below in the valley and also toward the hills of Dunmanway, and on some days further mountains can be seen. This view does a lot for me, it gives me a sense of place, a sense of where I live in the greater geographical sense.

It has been a while since I visited my blog (or any other blog) and did some blogging, a change in laptop and photo editing apps has slowed me down a bit, but hopefully I am going to be on track again further on in winter. I am hoping that all my old friends and followers, together with all my new ones will keep enjoying my blogs ~ as I do yours.

Stay well, happy and blessed everyone.

SURPRISES IN A LATE SUMMER GARDEN

Not having worked in the garden for over a week, I am being surprised and delighted with all sorts of late summer growth. Our pumpkins (if indeed they are pumpkins) have really come on well, apart from having the most beautiful flowers, they have a subtle scent, and then there are the actual pumpkins that keep appearing among the foliage and surprise me with their fast growth, spreading over paths and over our bit of lawn, they are a joy to behold and I am thinking… pumpkin soup! In Gozo, while we were there, I used to make it often. The shops there are full of pumpkins during the winter and they sell these in slices so that you can buy a fresh supply everyday, it makes the most delicious soup.

The flowers are almost golden, such brightness cheering up an overgrown and sometimes tired late summer garden.

Pumpkins surprising me everywhere between the foliage, and many more in the earliest stage of development. If the weather stays kind then we should have a good harvest. Last year I saved seeds from a pumpkin that I used in cooking and these plants are the result. They actually don’t look to me like the orange pumpkins that I know but we’ll see what they turn into. It’s an experiment. The little yellow one came up as Lemon summer squash on Google.

A willow herb (epilobium hirsutum) that came growing beside the patio has almost totally covered the path down to the rest of the garden, but this wild plant has been so beautiful all summer and it has attracted so many insects. The large daisies were a gift from a kind neighbour, these will be lovely in the border next summer, they grow well here and multiply fast. The oregano I grew in an old bottomless bucket and it’s given us much joy all summer. A lone rudbeckia flower has a beautiful dark pink colour, and a tiny little bumblebee is taking nectar from a marigold.

Above are the variegated oregano. Some marigolds, one of our wild purple marsh woundwort (Stachys palustris) and the wild scented roses have finally flowered and show some lovely red rosehips now. The gladiola is flowering for the first time and that was another nice surprise for me. The mallow I had planted this past springtime and it’s nice to see how this has spread and flowered all summer.

A little word about our variegated oregano (origanum vulgare) plant. I planted it about five years ago, it flowers during august and it attracts an enormous amount of insects, from bees to hoverflies, a variety of bumblebees, butterflies, ladybirds, drone flies, and many more lovely creatures. Oregano stays green all winter long although it dies down a good bit, the climate here is mild in the winter (so far so good) and that is why the plant survives so easily. Until I looked it up I never realised that oregano is a plant from the Mint family. Looking at it closely I can see it alright. It is a culinary herb but I don’t use it quite enough, I usually leave it to the insects.

Another nice surprise is that several young plants are now appearing by themselves, from experience I know that they will survive the winter and will flower beautifully next spring and summer. So far I have come across borage, foxgloves, comfrey, and feverfew, too many of them to leave them all grow, all of them self-seeded. Last year I had several evening primrose plants, but this summer they did not show up. My kale plants that I grew last winter is also self-sowing and some young plants appearing here and there. Last month I have planted some autumn leeks and they are doing well. Our potatoes were a disaster so hopefully next year better. In the next few weeks I will plant some more winter vegetables when I get to the market to purchase the plants.

Plenty to think about and to plan, the garden, as ever giving us much pleasure and also quite a bit of work, but that is good for me.

MY GARDEN ~ AT THIS TIME

It is just a few days short of midsummer, and at four in the morning the light appears on the horizon. Equally at eleven thirty in the evening there are still streaks of light to be seen in the western sky. Summer is moving along smoothly even if the weather does not always help to remind us of the ‘lazy summer days’ of the past. We accept that, no two summers are alike and this year we have a cool one with a few days here and there of stunning sunshine. It is then that we think we are living in a paradise here in West Cork!

Meanwhile there is a lot happening in the garden, albeit slowly.

There are corners in the garden that are special, that remind me of older, walled-in gardens, these areas give a lot pleasure and it is nice to quietly take some time to soak in their atmosphere. As well as that I am mindfully creating such areas, they don’t need to be large, just certain well placed plants or items can work to create such views and feelings. Here are a few.

And more regular features in the following photos, the garden is coming up to its most mature time.

Though I am introducing more shrubs this year, I also still need to grow vegetables. I failed to get the potatoes in before it was too late, and I only have a very poor show of a few of last years potatoes that came up. At the market this morning I bought autumn leeks, and a variety of leaves, scallions, and spinach, delicious salads are promised but planting out in the next few days will be essential. I’m growing a few endive plants too and runner beans.
The Tansy is now taller than the Lavender, I am awaiting its yellow herby flowers to display a nice bouquet inside.
Lavender harvest

While observing our garden I came to the conclusion that what grows best are the different herbal plants and the wild plants. Some of the vegetables do well also, for example last winter’s kale and chard did extremely well, those not eaten became gigantic plants in the end and I left whatever was still there after the winter go into flower early in spring to provide food for the bumblebees. A beautiful yellow show it was. I cannot seem to grow beans, no success at all, but leeks do great every winter. Lavender does marvellous too.

A little catch up on the shed restoration. Brendan, the man that has been helping us did great work but has not been able to come for several weeks now and so the work has been stopped for a while, hopefully next week that will get moving again. I am still determined to finish this project before the end of summer. It is funny that Pinterest keeps sending me ideas on how to build my potting bench, a subject I was exploring recently. Well, I am a bit of a dreamer too and I like to look at ideas, partly for inspiration but also just to dream…..and Pinterest is great for that.

Wishing all my dear friends, family and followers a blessed midsummer time, and I hope to connect soon again with all of you.

UPCYCLING THE AGING GARDENSHED

Long in the planning, a planning that I enjoyed as much as I now enjoy doing the work. However, the work has caused me some challenges along the way. The plan was to make a start back in January 2020, but before the work got underway a lockdown was called, and the most important section of my clearing out, the moving of the stuff to the dump, was thwarted. Without being able to get rid of all the old stuff, which happened to be the key to making progress with the shed, I had to shelve my plans until the lockdown would be over. But the lockdown took longer than I thought it would and before I knew it the weather was deteriorating and nothing had been done. However later in 2020 we came to know Brendan, and Brendan made a start with repairing the sheds. Again another level 5 lockdown was called and Brendan had to stop his work, but by then, it was just after Christmas, he had a good part of the repair work done, and when the restrictions were eased last week Brendan came back and got going again. Meanwhile I had made great work of almost emptying the sheds and pilling all the stuff up for Brendan to take away. The first load went last week and the next load is ready to go this week. As well as that I started to clear the back of the garden, the old wooden fence was rotting and I took that all away. My plan is to use the bit of land that I am freeing up to plant one or two small apple trees, a lilac tree and some extra raspberries bushes. It is a work in progress. Below is a photo taken before the work was done.

And here is a photo taken after the work was done

And now it is on to a new vision of the inside of the potting shed (read SHE-shed)

The following photo below is a picture of what I have had in my mind for our shed, that is, I am just using this beautiful illustration to work on my imagination and not to copy it exactly. I will probably use some of the colours eventually on the shed walls, and certainly will use the idea of the flowers. I’ve kept this image in my mind as an aim to achieve what I want to achieve, like an encouragement ~ and it works!

(Picture borrowed from (ideastand.com) on Pinterest)

And here a look at the very unfinished work at the back of garden after I took away the old fence. The oak tree is doing very well after my son-in-law, who is a tree surgeon, did some work on it. Now it is my turn to cut the ivy that is growing on it away. There is an old tree trunk which we cannot move so I will grow some flowering plants in its nooks and crannies. I need to organise a new compost heap too. Another two planned projects are making a potting bench (dead easy if you follow YouTube advice), and repairing and painting the old bench. Enough work to keep anyone busy and out of mischief for a while (and sane during Covid times).

Watch this space my dear friends and followers, in another few weeks I will let you catch up with my achievements. Meanwhile I hope that you are all well and even enjoying some of the new freedoms that are now being allowed. I am sorry though for all those suffering bereavement, I am thinking of India in particular having such a difficult time. May you be strong!

HUMBLE WINTER VEGETABLES TELL A STORY

Kale, or to use its botanical name Brassica oleracea L. var. acephala, belongs to the Brassicaceae family. It is considered closest to the wild brassica plants. Wandering Celtic tribes most probably brought knowledge of its use to Northern Europe from the Mediterranean regions where it was cultivated even before the middle ages or long before that. These days it is a popular autumn and winter vegetable for the kitchen garden. It grows easy and is a pick and come back plant, it does not crop and leaves can be taken as needed. The Kale plant is full of vitamins, minerals like calcium or potassium, and it is said to be very beneficial, all though people with certain medical conditions should only eat it in moderation. Kale is also high in oxalic acid but that can be reduced during cooking.

A traditional dish in Ireland is called ‘Colcannon’, it is a mixture of mashed potatoes and kale. At Halloween it is served with sausages. I cannot remember ever having had kale in Belgium, not the present day kale as we know it here, but we did have ‘boerenkoolstampot’, this was a dish made using a very large dark green type of curly cabbage which was used in a similar way to Colcannon. It was mixed with mashed potatoes and served with fried bacon or worst. It was consumed when it was very cold. I remember seeing these dark green cabbages in our garden, covered in snow.

Beat leaf, or chard as it is known (Beta vulgaris) is a plant belonging to the family Amaranthaceae. I find that interesting, to think that chard belongs to the same family as the Amaranth. It is also full of vitamins and minerals, Iron being one of them. Chard was already grown 2500 years ago in the Middle East and spread from there all over the Europe and America. Again Chard is said to be high in Oxalate, the older leaves having a higher content than the younger leaves.

This season I have grown a Russian red kale, but decades ago we used to grow curly kale and ate from it all winter long. I’m also growing swiss chard in smaller numbers (only three plants).

This type of kale grew extremely well and so easily. It took very little attention or looking after. At some stage during the summer though I had to take off many caterpillars, and they did eat a good bit of the leaves but I had grown extra plants just for that reason.

Kale and chard is not only easy to grow, it’s very easy to cook and delicious too. Full of vitamins and minerals and adds a lovely fresh dimension to any dish. Today I made meatballs and mashed potatoes to go with this great greenery, it was a success with Ian. While washing these greens I had to rescue two earwigs and three shield bugs! Thank goodness I discovered those before cooking! They continue to live happily in the garden 🙂

EARLY IN THE MORNING ~ LENTICULAR CLOUDS

It was very early in the morning about a week ago that upon opening the curtains I saw this surreal sky out of my bedroom window. I had been hoping to see Lenticular clouds for a long time and I still don’t know what woke me that morning and gave me this amazing spectacle, because everywhere I looked I saw that the sky was dotted with these shaped clouds, I am not sure why Salvador Dali came to mind.

And so I walked out in the early morning air to check over the garden. Lots of lush growth has been happening since the rains started some weeks ago, the more delicate flowers and the lavender have been affected, but there are plenty of new flowers opening.

Some of the landscape around the lovely little town of Skibbereen, how beautiful it really is.

And so the summer is passing quite fast. We are not cocooning anymore but life is not yet back to normal. Nicest of all is that our grandchildren have been allowed to visit us again, and as we just heard that schools are to start again next month we are making the most of our times together.

At the moment I am working on an inventory of everything that grows in our garden, firstly because parts of it is very overgrown and I want an overview in order to plan better for next season. And secondly I like doing stuff like that. I find creating a word document with added photos works well, and I print out a page per raised bed and some pages besides for the rest of the garden. It’s a nice little project. I plan to grow at least some more flowering shrubs and right now I am checking out which ones would be most suitable for our smallish garden. I’m reading up on pruning too to look after the shrubs that I set last year. It’s such an absorbing activity. When I think of it my garden is my gym, it gives me a cardiac workout, it gives me fresh air, sunshine (sometimes), it de-stresses me and gives me plenty of possibility to meditate and enjoy its beauty and it even gives us organic and delicious vegetables.

What a fantastic blessing.