A LITTLE DETOUR

Bantry Bay

Yes a little detour in this remote part of Ireland is always exciting to say the least, I knew that I was going to do it, I knew that I was going to take photos and I also knew that it was going to be a lovely break. So after my appointment in Bantry I drove into a little side lane off the N71 and followed it down to the rocky seashore. Magnificent views of Bantry bay with the Caha mountains in the distance greeted me. I strolled along the path leading beside the air-strip, quite a few people and dogs were walking there and one man had his fishing rod out into the sea. The rocks were colourful. The air smelled of seaweed and was very fresh. Somewhere far away I could hear a blackbird singing, one of my favourite birdsongs. When I walked back to my car this last view surprised me, I thought that I could easily have been in Canada probably because of the lovely pine trees. Peaceful and at the same time invigorating, this little diversion to my day gave me plenty, I realised all of a sudden that I had been doing an exercise that my recently bought book on photography in nature advised me. That is, spending 10 minutes in nature, breathing deeply, really observing nature, taking note of what you see, hear, smell and how that makes you feel, how that affects the photos, and all that even while I often spend much longer in nature, but then I probably don’t always take it in so intensely.

View towards Shrone Hill
Sugarloaf mountain to the left
I’m actually totally in love with these mountains and hills
Beautiful Bantry Bay
This view gave me much pleasure

This book I am currently using to inspire my nature photography, only just started it and finding it helpful and enjoyable. (translation title… Grip on creativity, developing your own style in nature photography).
It gives me a new perspective on the endless photos that I take. It is mainly about creativity. I will talk more about this book when I have read and practised a bit more of what it teaches. Here’s one of my try-outs.

AN OLD RUSTY BARN

On my walk today I noticed an old rusty barn in the middle of a large field. It looked interesting and colourful in the landscape. The long valley in which Skibbereen town lies and where the river Ilen flows through on its way to the sea at Baltimore was this morning filled with sunshine, a beautiful early spring day. I was thinking that this barn would have had great use in the olden days, or maybe it is used still. It has its own beauty. I wonder at its story.

Signs of spring are also upon us, the buds of trees are to be seen all around. I think that it is a little early in the year to talk about real spring as it can still get very cold in February and March, but this winter has been mild and we have not seen the usual stormy and very wet weather. That the daffodils are open is normal for this time of year though.

The barn looks a little uneasy here, and seems to be surrounded by rushes which we know grow in wet ground

A nice short walk and yet so much to be seen even at this time of year, a real pleasure showing that things do not have to be perfect for us to enjoy them and that older building can have a beauty all of their own.

I feel that the old barn does make this landscape beautiful even in all its imperfection. Its colours blend perfectly into its surroundings. Along a modern highway it connects us with the past and with the people that were working the land, and maybe still are. I am particularly interested in the older buildings around town and around the area, always wondering about their story and the story of the people that lived and worked and built those buildings.

While preparing this post I came across a quote by Diana Athill which spoke to me so strongly, I know that what she is saying has been true for me and so I never take anything special that I see for granted. I have a large collection of these hidden gems in my mind that I can access anytime I want and I do and I find it very beneficial.

Here the quote: “Looking at things is never time wasted. If your children want to stand and stare, let them. When I was marvelling at the beauty of a painting or enjoying a great view it did not occur to me that the experience, however intense, would be of value many years later. But there it has remained, tucked away in hidden bits of my mind and now it comes, shouldering aside even the most passionate love affairs”.  Diana Athill

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.

MORNING WALK AT LOCH INE

The light at the forested area around Loch Ine was subdued and the sun was missing from this lovely scene but that did not take away from the beauty of our walk. Across the lake we saw the early morning swimmers, a group of women who swim there right through the winter. I did not touch up my photos, the colour of the water here in this photo is really how we saw it, how it was. And it was beautiful and special, I think that it was a trick of the light.

My daughter Tjorven had invited me to go on one of her morning walks and I am so glad that I accepted, we had some great mother – daughter chats, lightly as we are both wanting to use time in nature cheerfully during this frustrating time of covid.

Bare gnarled branches, looking like some rheumatic old creatures, line the lovely country lane.

The lake, which by the way is a salt water lake, narrows into a creek just along here and the water was like a mirror just then.

We saw catkins growing on the hazel tree, some different species of ferns, many of them, fungi and one lone snowberry.

Ebony the collie came with us and was off the lead for a little while, a very obedient young dog she is.

Our surroundings are so beautiful, it is good to enjoy them as much as we can.

“Take a quiet walk with mother nature. It will nurture your mind, body, and soul.” A.D.Williams

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.

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.

A VISIT TO BREENY MOR GARDENS

Last week saw my daughter Tjorven, my five grandchildren and myself visit a most lovely and atmospheric open garden in West Cork. It had been a very long time since we had the privilege of doing this and luckily the weather was with us. The garden is situated at the site of a 19th century dairy farm and there are fabulous ruins to be found there. The townland of Breeny Mor (Na Bruine Mora in Gaelic – meaning “Great dwellings of the fairies) lies a few kilometres south of and uphill from the village of Kealkill. Close by is the beautiful Mealagh Valley and also Coomhola. I tried to find some more information about this dairy farm by checking the Census but the earliest records I could find for Breeny Mor was of one family by the name of Cronin where both the man and wife were dairy workers and that was in the Census of 1901. There were no other records of dairy men to be found and so I am wondering if this farm was still a working farm in the beginning of the 20th century and if these people were descendants of the original dairy farmers or were they just working at that site.

The ruins are quite well preserved and I found the window slits interesting, the present owner of the place said they would have been great for airing the place. In my imagination this building was a dairy where from the fresh milk the butter, cream, cheese, and yogurt was made, but maybe this was just a stable for the cattle? I am not well up on this sort of thing. I’d love to know more, visiting this place has made me very curious about the history of farming and especially dairy farming in this region of West Cork.

Close by this garden there are to be found a stone circle and boulder burials, which we did not visit this time but I would like to do this in the near future.

But for now I will let you all just wander around this place via my photos, I let you loose on this garden and hope you enjoy it too. For us and for the children it was a magical place.

In the photos just above here I am showing some of the old farm bits and pieces.

More information on this garden can be found at: Click on this link please: Breeny Mor – West Cork Garden Trail

HEALING FOREST AND WILD PLANTS

What is nicer and more calming than a walk in a forest. Listening to the sounds, the wind rustling in the canopies, smelling the trees and the herbs, looking at all the different shades of green or brown, feeling the roots or the rocks underfoot. Walking in a forest can be the ultimate sensory experience. When I walk in our local forests with my grandchildren I see them clambering over branches and rocks, paddling through some of the muddy paths, picking up pinecones and twigs with lichens or piece of old bark, and the youngest girl picks up and carries with her any dead branches and trails them behind her all along the walk. Their young minds are open to everything they see and experience no matter how often they actually do these walks. My daughter and son-in-law are real nature lovers and outdoor people and they take the children out on hikes, walks or beach days whenever they can. West Cork has good opportunities for this, and even the unsettle weather or rain does not faze them.

Right now the Irish native forests are full of new life, young plants, flowers and mosses. There are still night frosts and it is still a bit chilly but the sun is getting stronger by the day to our delight. We have had a real light April shower yesterday which refreshed everything and was good for growth. In the forest the spurges are giving a lovely show, the celandine, wood sorrel, blue bells, violets, stitchwort, and wild strawberries are equally blooming. The willow trees which are among the first to provide blossoms for the bees are now almost in full leaf. And already the bumblebees are buzzing!

I find a walk through the forest very calming but also refreshing, I think that it is the good air provided by the trees, the extra oxygen. But there is something more at work, Erich Fromm called it “Biophilia.” which is a love of life, an instinctive fondness for all that is living, our fellow humans, the plants, the trees, the animals. Our human brain craves greenery and an interaction with other living things. I read that we are naturally drawn to natural settings, and apparently things like ‘forest bathing’ can reduce our blood pressure, heart rate and lower our cortisol levels. But most of all it relaxes us and can quieten our often overstretched minds.

From a young age I have found it a need of mine to be surrounded by plants, whether it were houseplants or garden plants, now-a-days to see the green fields from some of our windows gives me great pleasure. But to actually be out in nature and get the full benefit of it has got to be far better still.

I hope that everyone is enjoying either spring or autumn seasons and also looking forward to less restrictions all over the globe.