DISCOVERIES IN A NEGLECTED GARDEN

A longwinded journey brought us from Gozo back to Ireland, via visits to family in Henham, Hertford, and Cambridge which was, of course, much enjoyed as was the mild spring weather and all the beauty of the English countryside this time of the year, but more about that in another blog.
So we arrived home here in West Cork greeted by my daughter and lovely grandchildren, that was a beautiful moment. Next day and after unpacking all our suitcases I went for a leisurely walk around our garden. Neglected as it was, it has not become totally overgrown yet and I was able to find many treasured wild plants and even vegetables among the grasses and on the beds. So I enjoyed myself with these discoveries, taking note of what I will be cooking in the next few days, and which wild plants I’ll be using, and also taking photos.

I found a little plant that is new to my garden, it grows wild around here in West Cork on walls, but here it came to grow in an old flowerpot, maybe birds dropped its seeds.  It is the little Ivy-leaved Toadflax.

Cymbalaria muralis - Ivy-leaved toadflax
Cymbalaria muralis – ivy-leaved toadflax
Forget-me-nots in flower
Myosotis arvensis – Forget-me-not

And a left over from last year, the lovely blue Forget-me-not I found blooming.

As far as herbs go, West Cork, because of its mild climate is good for growing these.  I found the Melissa doing just fine, the Oregano coming up, the Rosemary and Lavender doing really well.  So maybe it is time to add a few more herbs during this summer.

I was pleasantly surprised by the numerous Borage plants coming up all over the garden, even in the cracks of the concrete path.  The bees will be very happy about this.  The Chives are ready for cutting, and Nettles ready for the soup!  And I nearly forgot all the three corned wild Garlic which are just everywhere, so delicious in salads and mixed in an omelet.

Three cornered wild leeks
Three cornered wild Garlic

Delighted to have found a Mullein plant, this is also a medicinal plant of which I sowed a few last year.  And of all things I found a young silver Birch, well I know it was there as I put it in a pot to share with someone after it came growing in the garden, a baby of our large Birch.  The only damage during the winter was to our small greenhouses, wear and tear you could say.  I also found that the massive seedpods of my Evening Primrose plants had survived all the storms, these plants should be coming up soon by themselves I think.

Salad leaves are ready to eat.  Bay leaf tree is growing well and full of very green leaves which will be uses in soups nice and fresh.  I also found several broad bean plants in flower and all, Ian will be very happy about that, his favourite vegetable.  Leek plants which I planted out toward the end of last summer and just before we left are growing.  And finally, but not really finally as there is no saying what else I might find, the bed with the berries is absolutely full of flower buds, it promises to be a good summer for soft fruits.  The water barrel shows that here has been no shortage of rain!

I am totally happy with what I found, it is lovely to come back to my garden, and looking at the evidence, the garden has benefited from being left to itself for a while, there might be something in Permaculture after all.  It feels like nature is now growing what it likes to grow, and the soil in my garden is showing me what will thrive best.

I am taking note!

ORGANIC SMALLHOLDING IN WEST CORK

A few days ago we visited a smallholding belonging to old friends, this couple had emigrated from Belgium to Ireland in the late eighties. Back then they set up a smallholding and were soon self-sufficient. About two years ago they bought a smaller piece of land, just about one acre in size.

Being who they are, hard working people, they amazed us totally with the amount of vegetables and herbs they have growing in an already very organized garden, the one acre is totally utilized and apart from vegetables they keep hens, ducks, a cock, and goats, so they have eggs, and milk from the goats.

We found their way of life so inspiring, totally self sufficient, they are so very organized, because of yearly flooding of their land they have built raised beds, the soil they used in these beds is totally organic, there being organic waste from the goats, the chickens, and their own compost heap, and lots more go into a recipe that is excellent to enrich the soil. A local strawberry farm provides mulching material. So the vegetables and herbs grow very well, they look the picture of health.

Among one of the things that is very important to them is to save their own seeds.  They reckon that seeds saved from their own produce, and swapped perhaps with neighbours, will produce easy to grow crops.  Crops that would naturally grow well in this particular micro climate, and soils.  Some of the crops we saw were, potatoes, mais, beans, peas, broad beans, onions, leeks, carrots, spinach, oca, spring onions, asparagus, lettuce, quinoa, marrows, cucumbers, kale, broccoli, and lots of herbs, among them rosemary, oregano, chives, comfrey, milk thistle, angelica, bay leaf, mint, and so many more.  There is also a wide variety of berries that grow along the side of the acre.

There are six home-made tunnels in which the couple grow a variety from tomatoes and quinoa to millet, and all sorts of other interesting things. Along the beds the grass is kept short by guinea pigs, these do a good job. The guinea pigs are kept in specially made large wire cages, that get moved along the grass, they also have a larger cage inside, there seem to be quite a few of them, and they are looked after very well.

Use is also made of ferrets, these guys keep the rats down.

Everything has a use, there is no sentimentality at the smallholding. We shared a meal with this couple and it was delicious, all produce out of the garden, except the fish which had been locally sourced too. From the photos you can see how efficient the place looks, lots of hard work goes into it, but I think that the satisfaction one gets when all runs smoothly and the produce is great, is wonderful.

JAN & NADIA'S SMALLHOLDING

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DIFFERENCE SOURCES OF MANURE FOR THE LAND
DIFFERENCE SOURCES OF MANURE FOR THE LAND

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MIDSUMMER IN OUR IRISH GARDEN

Well it is midsummer now, there has been a stillness in the air all day, now as the sun slowly disappears behind Mount Gabriel, the swifts are making merry above the houses here, probably the coolness of the evening has allowed the insects to dans around making easy prey for those happily swooping birds.
It is wind still.

How nice after the emotional and exciting last two days after voting results came out, Brexit is out….. will chaos follow, or not!

I was out in the garden today, looking at what is growing, and was pleasantly surprised with the flowers and the herbs, there is not much else growing as I did not plant any vegetables, but there are quite a few wild edible plants which I am using. I did not sow nor did I plant this year because this coming autumn we are going away again, but more about that another time. There are some berries growing and producing, strawberries, red currants, raspberries, are all doing really well. The herbs too have never grown better, makes me very happy.

Though I am leaving every single flower wild or not, I am disappointed with the lack of bees and other insects, despite there being a beehive just in next door’s garden! I still have to see my first butterfly too this summer, even though I spent days in the midst of nature last week. I hope that will change soon.

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.

COMMUNITY GARDEN IN SKIBBEREEN

Today a few of us went to work in our Community Garden in the town of Skibbereen, which is a little town in the South West of Ireland. Some years ago a local group of the GIY organisation was set up in this town and monthly meetings were held, discussions, seed swapping, information nights and more were organised and it was real interesting and encouraging. Around the same time I also started with my own organic garden following permaculture principles, so I learnt a lot by attending these events and meetings. Now with the warm weather and the long evenings we meet regularly at the Community garden and we do some work. Part of the work that is done in Skibbereen is to facilitate school children to learn a bit more about growing vegetables, something that I have become involved with this very day. We had a class of about twenty-two 9 or 10 year olds from the girls school, they came with their water bottles filled (not just for themselves but also to water the plants), and they looked enthusiastic and happy. The day was hot, the sun blazing down on us. I was allocated my little group of about 7 girls and after introductions we started with looking at our plot and discussing what we were going to do, in fact we were going to plant some chive plants, but first we had to take away some weeds, then we had to add just a little lime and we had to water the very dry soil, I explained how important it is to prepare the soil before we plant anything in it. There were some herbs growing in the plot too, so they all had to smell those and tell their stories of how their mums or baby-sitters did or did not use oregano and rosemary in their cooking. Next the planting was started and they all got a go of digging a hole and putting in the chives, hardly a scream was heard when they encountered an earwig or a snail, anyway to make a long story short, we then pulled some grass away from the edges, and they watered their newly planted chives, we also discussed the beautiful purple flowers of the chive plants, they all loved the colour purple (surprise!) they all agreed that the flowers were beautiful.

Lots of fun was had while all this was going on, they were very well behaved children, they were very kind to one another and took turns with the work.

Afterwards we did a tour of the rest of the garden, lots of stories about vegetable use and some home traditions were coming from each child, I was impressed, quite a few of the girls knew bits about the plants, the fruit trees, and the berry bushes, so nice to see this in children.

We also helped a hazelnut tree along, by stamping on the high grass around it, covering the grass with cardboard, and then again with some grass, in this way the water is retained and the trees are getting extra compost when it all breaks down (I think – I’m still learning too).

A lovely morning was enjoyed by the children and adults alike. It is so nice to see the children soak in the knowledge and to see them get their hands in the soil and getting in contact with the earth.

For me this is a newly discovered joy, I worked with children before during my library work, story reading, and St. Brigid’s cross workshops, or helping them pick books. I also worked with children in India, helping them with their English. And I have five delightful grandchildren who I love to have around and teach them about nature or art, so I would like to continue my involvement with this Community Garden in a small way, share what I know, and learn as I go.
COMMUNITY GARDEN 3 JUNE 2016

THE GIFTS OF MOTHER EARTH

Just when I thought that it could not get any better, and this while I was taking delight in the garden the day after we arrived home again in Ireland, mother nature has given me another two beautiful surprises, first I discovered that there were several patches of forget-me-nots flowering, their blue a delight to the eye, then I discovered that there are several lilies of the valley flowers almost opening, how truly magical! I had not known what to expect of the garden on our return, no sooner were we home than I went to inspect, and that’s when I found lots of surprises, vegetables wild and not so wild, and waiting for me to make soup of them, kale and leeks and other goodies, they were not ready when we left in March, but now they are just waiting to be made into delicious dishes. Herbs too are doing well and looking very lush, the lemon balm has never looked so good, rosemary, lavender, comfrey and others are all ready to be used. Then I saw that the cold frames looked a bit bulky, and checked it out, to my amazement there was one plant of lettuce which had grown to become a monstrosity, the leaves so huge that one leaf would do a whole meal 🙂 Not sure what happened there!  Some grass had also grown large inside. Lots of work to be done that is for sure, but I already have helpers lined up, my grandchildren, one of them had a birthday today, she is now four, and she wants a wheelbarrow, she wants to do gardening, and no fear of that, because she is small she can fit into the cold frames easily so she can do the weeding in there if she likes, looking forward to that. Anyway we are back in West Cork, and we are now already fully occupied with our work here in garden and house. Plans have been made for later in the year when we will be returning to the island of Gozo where we spent a wonderful two months, a time that will stay with us for very long.

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On the last lot of photos, some onions which I had left in the kitchen sprouted, and are now ready to plant out.  Also I had some oca tubers in a pot and I found the shoots creeping through a hole in the lid and the whole pot filled with sprouts, how funny!

MARSAXLOKK’S SUNDAY MARKET

It started real early this morning, I heard the first vans arrive around five o’clock, and by the time we got up the market was in full swing. I enthusiastically said to Ian, that I knew about these markets, that I knew them from Belgium where they have them too every week, but not half an hour later, and after I started to walk along the stalls did I realise that this is not a Flemish market, by no means, it is definitely twice or three times as large, and has a lot larger variety of stalls. The fish stalls alone take up many meters, not to speak of the fruit and vegetables, and Maltese biscuits and goodies of all sorts.  Besides food there were stalls selling every kind of thing under the sun, from clothing, shoes, and baby things to plants and lightbulbs.

But we bought our supply of vegetables and lots of fruit, so colourful and smelling so nice. There were herbs there too and I treated us to fresh coriander, parsley, bayleaf, and very fragrant oregano. I then decided that I had to have fresh capers, they are grown locally said the elderly lady who sold them to me, she measured them in a small wooden barrel before she let them roll into a bag and handed them to me, telling me that they use them on bread spread with tomato.  Sound lovely!

Though I never cooked them before I bought some artichokes, fingers crossed I succeed in making them eadible and tasting good! We also bought local goats cheese, and some Maltese figrolls. And finally we got to the fish, we choose some white bait, but after having cleaned it tonight, and cooked it, there were so many bones in it that I don’t think it was worth it, maybe we shall try a less bony fish next time round.  I do like to try local foods, it is so exciting.  There is one food  that I do not have the courage to try yet, it are the snails, I’ve eaten escargo in Paris, no problem, but here the snails are small just like my garden snails, I cannot bear to think of cooking and then eating them, not yet anyway.

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An overview of a tiny section of the market stalls from our bedroom window.

Lovely fresh vegetables and juicy oranges straight from the trees.


Grapes, citrus fruits and fennel


All sorts of fish, most of which I don’t know the name and have never seen them before.

Many different types of beans, lentils, chickpeas, nuts, and dried peas.  Local honey too, and seeing that it was Palm Sunday today, there was a parade taking place right next to the market, with local people acting out the bible story of Christ entering into Jerusalem on a donkey, palm leaves were blessed today and children were carrying each their branches.


Fresh herbs from the gardens surrounding the village, and delicous strawberries.  I have noticed that once you walk passed the village houses here, that there are many terraced beds where vegetables and fruits are grown.  We have not found out how the Maltese view organic foods and if they are freely available, I am not sure if they use a lot of fertilizer or insecticides, so right now I don’t know whether all this lovely fresh produce is what we are used to back home where we use our own vegetables or organic produce from the local market.

It was a day a for leisurely stroll among the market stalls and enjoy the many local people, tourist also, Marsaxlokk is a famous market every Sunday, people come from far and wide to get their goods, or to enjoy a day out, and meet with friends and family, the ambience was just brilliant and the day was warm.  It was also a day for cooking and tasting new foods.  I have thoroughly enjoyed myself.  Now all is quiet again out there, the market people have packed up, cleaned the streets, and everyone has gone home.  We too are resting up, tomorrow we are hoping to hop on a bus for a tour of the island, and that too should be interesting!

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.

GOATS CHEESE TARTLETS AND MORE HERBAL HARVESTING

Almost coming to the end of September now, and there is already a colourful display of autumn shades to be seen in trees and shrubbery. My grandchildren were collecting some of these bright red and yellow leaves from the front garden yesterday.
And the harvesting in the garden is never ending, it is just amazing what keeps turning up. The leek and scallion seed heads were finally ready for picking and drying, as was the coriander. Also the seeds of the sweet pea, and poppy, all of them are hanging around the place, what an abundance it is.
This morning, after some years of inactivity, I attended my new yoga class, we did a chakra balancing, lovely stretches and relaxation, as well as some meditation, afterward we met up for soups or coffee, I met new people, was warmly welcomed by a group of nice women. Already looking forward to next weeks session. And I felt energised enough to cook up some goats cheese tartlets this evening which is a bit of a miracle in my kitchen! 🙂
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Goats cheese tartlets,  and fresh coriander seeds

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A variety of seeds to be dried, and a close up of the leek seeds.