DISTRACTED BY LIFE

As it was an overcast but still very nice day, I decided to do some work in our own garden. I cleared one raised bed ready for growing some plants, but I am delighted with what is growing there already, there are plenty of herbs, such as rosemary, lemon balm, lavender, evening primrose, oca, oregano (two types), and of all things some Jerusalem artichokes have come up too. So I just took out some grass and some other stuff that was smothering those plants. Ian decided to come and work with me, so he cleared the path on his knees with a small little knife, no easy task to be sure.  Now and then we took a rest, either for tea or chat, or to admire the creatures flying or crawling around.  Meanwhile I took a few shots of them.

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These are three wild plants that I am keeping my eye on very closely, number one is a huge thistle, it is almost in flower, I know that the seeds are what the gold finch feed on and that is why I want to keep it, to attract these birds and see how it goes.  The second one is our comfrey plant, it’s flourishing and what I am watching is the amount of insects that are using it, most of what I see are the bumblebees and I would love to see some honey bees on the comfrey too, of course.  The third plant is two years old, I grew it as a salad plant but it was so beautiful that I did not want to eat it, so I let it grow, and when we returned from Gozo it was so large and I recognised it as a plant you see a lot around here in the wild, a type of sorrel perhaps.  These three are on my watch list.

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And this is a view of our garden, we have had the pleasure to sit under the hawthorn tree all week for our meals, in the dappled sunlight with the garden scents all around us and the birds singing, what a perfect summer weather, aware that for people in other lands, not as lucky just then because of rains and floods.

Always nice to appreciate what we have in the moment.

GARDEN SURPRISES

It’s amazing what can be of interest or beauty in the garden even in December while all the tree branches are bare and stark against the winter sky.  For a while I have been watching the barks of our five trees, and the knots one can see in them, I actually never knew the connection between a knot in the bark and a branch, and that a knot is a branch that got enclosed in the wood of the trunk during years of growth. I see these knots all the time in the wood panelling inside the house. Today I took note of them outside in the garden. My Hawthorn tree has many knots, the douglas fir, chestnut, oak and birch less so. While observing the fir tree bark I found a variety of colours, some quite red, the bark is also covered in white in certain areas, not sure if it is lichen, fungus, or even bird droppings, there are quite a few birds that like to use this tree, this morning a lot of twittering came from it, there was only one starling sitting on it’s branches though.   On the fir I came across a tiny little snail, and on the hawthorn bark around the knot there was a slug to be seen, so I guess bark is quite important for wildlife.  Once I was thinking that I would have to cut down the fir, but during last summer I observed so many of our garden birds using this tree, I decided to keep it despite having to sacrifice a little bit of vegetables due to less light, as birds are after all so precious, and some of them are declining, sad to say.

At this moment another big storm has been forecasted for Ireland, we have had more stormy days than quiet ones the last week or two, but today was a perfect day, wind still and 10C.

As Barbara Winkler once said:

“Every gardener knows that under the cloak of winter lies a miracle. . .
a seed waiting to sprout, a bulb opening to the light, a bud straining
to unfurl.  And the anticipation nurtures our dream.”

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THE CROW FAMILY AT HOME

For many years some of the crow family have felt very much at home in our garden and on top of the roof, eating from the bird table and nesting in an old empty chimney. When seen in detail they are all very beautiful birds. The rooks have a bluish shine on their very finely preened feathers, they shine. The hooded crows have both black and grey feathers and they only venture on to the patio from time to time, they mostly feed on carrion somewhere else. The jackdaws, also belonging to the crow family feed side to side with the rooks, they are not afraid of these black birds with huge beaks. One of the rooks, we call him Charlie, is very noisy and demonstrates his superior voice quality whenever there is something happening that he does not like around the place. Rooks are very sociable and we see them in groups of about a dozen, intermixed with jackdaws. They are said to hide food into a hole but I have never seen them do that around here. I have seen them play catch in the skies above the garden here, while being very vocal they fly after each other creating great manoeuvres. At times when I go into the garden, one of them, sitting on the roof will give out being very vocal and goodness knows what he is communicating to the others, they know I feed them every day in winter (mainly seeds and peanuts, sometimes table leftovers).
It is a pleasure to have them around, though in a way I might be fonder of the little birds with highly coloured feathers. The crow family are very welcome in our garden, and quite interesting to observe.
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YOUNG ROBIN AND PLANTING OUT FOR WINTER

For some weeks now we have a new friend, and she is becoming more and more familiar with us, coming inside and exploring, hovering up any crumbs under the table. When I am in the garden she comes very close. Nice to see wildlife in the garden, it’s such a joy.

This morning it was already 20C in the sun and the day has not disappointed, if we get an Indian summer this will be very much appreciated by both humans and plants!

In between some showers during the afternoon I found some energy to plant out 10 salad plants for the winter months, and some rocket also. Hopefully the slugs will only take one or two. The garden is very full up with all sorts of vegetables and it is a pleasure to see it all grow so well. Ireland is never sort of rain water and even while we get much less sunshine than everywhere else, there is still good enough growth. The winters are mild also. Several vegetables, herbs or flowers will give a second crop during the long growing season. For example, my lemon balm, nettles, dandelions and comfrey plants are on to there second show of lush leaves. Flowering broccoli also is giving a second show, and the marigolds are flowering fully again too. I put lots of my dried leaves into jars today and labelled them with name and date. Used up last years dried nettle in the soup too today.

It is reassuring to see the profuse harvest of all sorts of foods coming in from such a small garden.
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A WALK THROUGH MY SISTER’S GARDEN

My sister Meave has a beautiful garden, it is situated on the coast of the beautiful Bantry Bay in the South West of Ireland. The area there is sub tropical and though near the sea everything grows real well. I went visiting the other day and with her permission took many photos to illustrate my writing in this blog. Meave has worked wonders with this garden over the last ten years or so, and by now plants have matured and a nice vegetable plot, in the raised bed that her husband Jay made, is giving her plenty of produce. A walk through this garden is truly wonderful, the more so as Meave has a love of the wild birds with plenty of feeding and bathing areas, it is a delight to see all the different birds, and listen to them too.  The climate is mild due to the gulf stream coming from Mexico Bay, this means that many of the plants cultivated here are sub tropical.  One of the trees growing here, for example, is the Arbutus, also called the strawberry tree.  Palm trees are quite common, also the tree fern which is rather beautiful and special.  Meave has let a lot of native shrubs such as the fuchsia and hawthorn grow and they make her garden really natural looking, she also cultivated many otherwise wild growing roses which do extremely well in her garden.  She pointed out several plants and shrub which were given to her by various sisters and friends and which have special meaning for her, it is lovely to see these grow so well.  Altogether a beautiful garden where butterflies, bees, and other wildlife find a welcome and good home.

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A view towards the sea, the garden slopes down towards the coastline.  Looking towards Sheepshead peninsula.

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Palm trees are quite common around here.  And a dark type of Marsh Mallow flower is growing profusely.

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A flowering shrub that I don’t know the name of, and the Rose of Sharon, a shrub which is seen a lot here too.

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Sheep in the surrounding fields giving a very pastoral feel.

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An old Irish kettle filled with geraniums and one of Meave’s cats, this one is called Trooper!

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The raised bed full of delicious looking vegetables and herbs.

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Another little corner with loving attention to detail, and the bird table surrounded with protection from cats.

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A wild thistle almost in flower, it’s seeds will be great for the goldfinches.  This shrub I think is Berberis vulgaris.

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Rose bushes everywhere with lots of different varieties, lovely scents.

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Fuchsias and foxgloves growing wild in hedgerows, also in the garden.

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Another beautifully scented rose, and I do not know the name of this yellow flower.

STALE PIZZA FOR DINNER

A lone rook comes to check out what is on offer this evening in the garden.

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He thinks there might be a good meal to be had, and he takes a taste.

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Soon he is devouring and making a big hole in the pizza which was left on the table (unsuitable for human consumption.)

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A few more come checking it out, and soon, in less than ten minutes the whole meal was finished, polished off.

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The crow family, and in this case the rooks, are scavengers, anything I cannot compost gets eaten by them in the wink of an eye.  Thank you crows, rooks, and jackdaws for your excellent service to us humankind.

BIRDS SONG AND CROCUSES

The last two days we have had no sunshine, it has been misty, but early in the morning the birds are singing to their hearts content. It’s lovely to wake up to these beautiful sounds and it sure makes you feel that spring is here though the weather seems to be a little behind just now.

This little Wren is one of our residents in the garden, it is lovely to have these perky little birds around, soon they will make their nests in our hedge.

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And bright yellow Crocuses opening up in the garden.

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The song of the Blackbird is one of my favourites, and I hope that we have a lot of visitors also this summer so we can enjoy their song everyday.  The Finch family is well represented, today I also saw a green Finch, a female.  Let them all nest and produce lots of offspring so that we can enjoy a good variety of beautiful birds in our gardens, they are lovely company.

FEEDING AT THE BIRD TABLE

Every winter it’s bird feeding time, but especially when it gets very cold, and the months early in the year when a lot of the berries have been eaten, and food might be scarce. So it is an every morning pleasant shore to put seeds out for a variety of birds. New this year are several Great Tits, they mainly feed from the peanut feeder. We also have Blue Tits and sometimes have seen a Coal Tit. Robins at the last count was only two, it seems they might be a pair. First birds on the bird table are mostly the Collared Doves, we have up to six of them. Then come the Rooks, the Jackdows, The Hooded Crows, and the Starlings, last year there were very many Starlings, but this year so far I have only counted one! Sparrows and Dunnocks are also plentiful, and a variety of finches of course. I sometimes see a little Wren and it makes my day as they sing so beautifully and we hope that they will nest in the hedgerows. We don’t have pets like cats or dogs, but the wild birds are taken very seriously and enjoyed greatly.
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A MILD WINTER’S EVENING

Today has been very mild (around 6 degrees Celsius, with sunshine, and a little drizzle this afternoon. I was able to go out and give some attention to the garden. There were a few Kale that still needed planting out, so I did that, and discovered that the soil is improving, it has become more crumbly, though in places still very wet. Well I mulched a bit around the newly planted Kale. Took in some bamboo sticks that were still sticking in the soil, and checked how the garlic are doing. I also still harvested some beetroot which is nice and fat. There were two Robins in the garden with me, coming quite close to pick some creatures out of the soil. This evening we were treated to an amazing sunset once again, which I’d like to share with everyone.
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