Frightful

I’m tucked cosily inside, my chores for the day are done and I think it’d be a good time to break open the Kindle.

Oh the weather outside is frightful!
But the fire is so delightful.

I’m humming that to myself to the tune of “Oh the weather outside is frightful.” Meanwhile, I’m tucked cosily inside, my chores for the day are done and I think it’d be a good time to break open the Kindle.

It’s a new year and I’m looking forward to it. This beautiful splash of colour is helping me to stay positive. When all around is cold and miserable, the little cyclamen stands tall against everything that winter throws at it.

Despite the frost last night, this fern is carrying on regardless. It’s very sheltered and hasn’t died back fully as yet. I think there were only two or three frost nights in November/December.

Would you look at that? The daffodils are peeping up, but what caught my eye is the pot that is lopsided. It’s tilted noticeably but the emerging stems are upright. Time to get these pots out from their hiding corner. That’s a job for Saturday. The heating is on, the stove is lit and I’ve an hour to read before dinner.

I’m reading “We Don’t Know Ourselves” written by journalist Fintan O’Toole. It’s a personal history of Ireland since 1958. Fintan was born just a few months ahead of me that year. Since then, he’s been ahead of me in the writing game too.

Regular readers here will have noticed my absence since October. I’d had my annual downturn and my motivation to write was gone. That said, I’m back on track, helped in no small way by regular slow winter cycling.

What will 2022 bring? Whatever, I’m ready for the off! Bring it on!

Six-on-Saturday – Conveyor Belt Required

It would be good to add vibrant red to the new Raised Seating Corner. But I’ll save that for later. I don’t want to be seen to accept suggestions too quickly.

17th April 2021.

I’ll tell you one thing, and one thing only. It would kill a saint. I’m not really much into saints, but I’d imagine that a saint would take a serious amount of killing.

Here’s the thing… I’ve got five large planters with three begonias in each. They do not fit anywhere in the glasshouse because they’re too heavy for the shelving. I have them in the shed by night, and they need to be brought out every morning. I cannot even leave them in the cold-frame because it has been removed to make way for the planting of my maincrop spuds. I think this daily pilgrimage will need to continue until the end of this month, particularly if night temperatures don’t pick up a bit. A conveyor belt would lighten my daily load.

Rather than dwell on this demanding daily ritual, it would be better to highlight some things in the garden that are sparkling, things that bring joy and comfort. How many things, I wonder? Why, of course… it’s Saturday, so six should do it! Let us begin.

Unfurling

My Lovely Fern is unfurling. It’s a bit blurred, but no matter. I had left last year’s growth in place until the middle of last month. It’s a way of providing shelter to the core of the plant during the coldest months. In this case, the plant is in a very sheltered spot and only some of the outer sections were frost-damaged.

As soon as I cut back the old growth, I admired the formation at the centre. As in previous years, I would check progress almost daily as I pass by, waiting for The Unfurling. When it happens, it’s just stunning. Unbe-ferny-lievable! I wish I could put a camera on it for a few days and do a bit of advanced time-lapse trickery.

Note: My Lovely Fern is a variation of My Lovely Horse, taken from the very successful BBC comedy Father Ted. The only difference is that My Lovely Horse is a song, and the other one is… not a song. Would you like to sing along? You can do so here. Much laughing is encouraged, but doing both together takes from the beauty of the music.

Building Castles

Last year I worked part-time at my local garden centre. For the most part, I enjoyed it very much. Of course, it became very clear to me that I wanted to spend most of my wages on plants and accessories! One other bright spot in this experience was that I had an almost unlimited access to used plastic pots. However, since last year, I’ve undertaken an enormous growing project. Presently, there are over a hundred little plants in the glasshouse, and that’s after the giving-to-friends that started last week. Pots need to be washed and sterilised in order to keep Abbeyside infection free, but it’s a job I do not like. I had been given lots of pots by friends but I had left them in water for three weeks. Finally, on Wednesday last, I got round to finishing the job.

Female Royalty

On Monday I visited the garden centre to buy spray for potato blight and came home with a few extras. These seeds will provide great colour over the summer, and into next year in the case of the Penstemon. What caught my eye at home, as I added them to My Seed List, was that there’s an inbuilt Royalty Theme, as all are given female titles… Queen, Duchess and Empress. Does an Empress outrank a queen? I may return next week to search for some male equivalents.

I wonder is it a marketing ploy? Do plants with female names sell better than Bishop’s Children, Sweet William, Bachelor’s Buttons, Rosa Just Joey or Cotoneaster Tom Thumb? I can’t imagine Tom being up to much in the company of the distinguished ladies.

Home Sweet Home

I was doing a clean-up in the shed on Monday and I spotted this hanging from the ceiling. I think it’s a wasp’s next. Can anyone confirm or inform me otherwise? Unfortunately, in my efforts to see if there was anything inside, I knocked it. It is incredibly fragile and the interior is a marvel. As it turns out, I wouldn’t have been happy having this nest within the shed.

Update: yes it has been confirmed as as wasp nest,and some advice too…

It would get to be twice the size of a football with maybe 5000 wasps in it. It is started at this time of the year, by a queen wasp, just after coming out of hibernation. And grows exponentially,  as the number of worker wasps increases. I would flatten it now with the back of a spade if I were you.

D. H.

I’ll be very busy between now and the end of May. That’s the date I have in my head to get all the big work done, and after that, it’s time to relax and enjoy the summer garden. With the exception of tending vegetables and watering plants, June, July and August are mostly for sitting and relaxing, eating and socialising. Oh, please let there be some socialising!

Lily Gurt Mór

I had been reading back through my article about Lily Gurt Mór, written last July. Here’s the state of play right now. There are four that are about 10cm above ground. I had been waiting for them, wondering had they survived the winter, dejected when I thought they hadn’t, and overjoyed to finally see them pop through. It’s time now to add some fresh topsoil and start feeding them.

Lily Gurt Mór is the name I’ve given to these trumpet Lilies. Gurt is South West England vernacular, meaning very large, used semi-frequently by Devon bloggers of note. I like it, and have added “mór”, our Irish equivalent, to emphasise just how tall these Lilies will climb.

Vibrant Red

This brightly-coloured pot, with polyanthus and cyclamen is on the opposite end of the Gurt Mór ladder. Bought just before Christmas, there was also a type of frosted conifer that soon died. Now, the remaining combination is having a second flush. I’ve moved it around a bit, and it looks great just under the budding fuchsia. Having said that, I’m tempted to follow Nora’s advice. It would be good to add vibrant red to the new Raised Seating Corner. But I’ll save that for later. I don’t want to be seen to accept suggestions too quickly!

I’m regularly skinning my head going in and out of the glasshouse because the lintel is too low. But this week, I’ve done further damage. While pruning my little Hebe Rhubarb & Custard with the very sharp new secateurs, I snipped a little piece of something other than the plant. Just happened that the top of my thumb was in the wrong place. There was perfect calm as I was bandaged up, but plenty screaming and doubling over the following day when I hit it off a bedside locker while assisting with the changing of sheets. I really will have to stop doing bedsheets. Interestingly, tieing shirt buttons, shoelaces and washing face with one hand are wonderful experiences that are teaching me lessons.

The unfortunate event has added a whole new meaning to the Covid catchphrase Stay Safe! That’s my lot for this week, a cháirde. Thumbs up! I’ll be back with more next Saturday an Satharn seo chugainn. In the meantime, please visit Mr. Propagator’s garden blog where you can find many more Six on Saturday articles from around the world, together with details of how to participate if that’s your thing. I hope you have a great week. Slán go fóill.

Pádraig.

Six-on-Saturday – I’m Dreaming Of…

I wish you a Merry Christmas and all the very best for the year ahead. May your spuds sprout early and your snails drown in beer.

26th December 2020.

I added some Christmas cheer to the garden this week. Bowls of cyclamen, ivy, Jerusalem cherry, primrose and tiny conifers have been beautifully planted up (by someone other than me) to add to the occasion.

It has been an Annus Horibilis, yet I take this opportunity to wish all my loyal subjects across the shrinking empire a happy and safe Christmas. Having got that out of the way slí, my floral additions below come with some thoughts for this very special time of the year bliain.

It’s late Christmas evening final edits time, so I’m moving one beyond six. It’s a Magnificent Seven. I made a promise to live on the edge. I’m sure Jon Propagator will agree that it’s the season for love and understanding. All other garden writers will be popping links (Six, I’d imagine) to what’s going on in worldwide Gardens today so do pop over for a look.

I’m dreaming of… a Coronaviris-free world. I hope it will happen very soon. The year has seen unnecessary death, misery, and stress. So, join me please by doing the right things to help keep ourselves and others safe.

I dream also of a Trumpless administration. Wear your mask, wash your hands. There will be no pardoning of gardeners.

I’m dreaming of… an end to homelessness. The very idea of a person not having a home is so very sad. Home is a place that allows us to find the strength to fight adversity, to love and be loved, to be creative and, in our case, to plant a garden as a hope for the future.

Dreaming doesn’t really help, so I’m pledging to decide how action on my part in 2021 will help. Actioning activates dreaming.

I include in my thoughts those who have a home but are unable to be there because of travel restrictions. Even in a world of Zoom, there’s nothing quite like pulling a cracker.

I’m remembering… my brother who passed away at the young age of twenty-eight. I’m remembering also all those from my extended family who are no longer with us to celebrate this Christmas, and I expand that thought to include your departed loved ones.

I’m patiently waiting for… a new bike. It will not arrive until mid-May because of supply-chain issues. Whatever you’re waiting for in 2021, may it bring you joy and contentment. Rule 29.b.2 is important here. Waiting is exciting, knowing that by doing the groundwork, the end result is almost inevitable.

I’m grateful for… the peace of mind that my gardening has given me. There’s been a lot written this year about the mental health benefits of gardening. In my case, I know that to be very true, not just this year.

I’m hoping for… continued gardening through these bleak months. There’s not much doing at the moment but plans are afoot. After the Christmas pudding and presents I assisted with the cleanup prior to a cold afternoon cycle and spent a while looking through my seed packets while watching The Incredible Showman. The propagator will appear from the attic on New Year’s Eve.

I watched the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter during the week. There’s some theory or other that this would be the best time to plant something or other sa gáirdín, but I’m not a believer. This coming together of the two superballs is the closest since 1623 and will not happen again until 2080. In the meantime, it’s a Nollaig Shona from me here in South-East Ireland. I wish you all the very best for the year ahead. May your spuds sprout early and your snails drown in beer.

Pádraig.

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Winter Pansies And Dunking Chocolate

Reading time: 6-8 mins.
Winter officially starts tomorrow, November 1st. The clocks went back an hour last weekend, and daylight time in the garden is reduced. Yesterday, I made very good use of my time in the garden. Initially, I did not expect to be able to, because my morning was taken up with other stuff including the dreaded grocery shopping. My wife and I take it in turns every second week, but I found the silver lining! Laden with supplies of edibles, I drove past my local Country Life garden centre and did an immediate about-turn to have a browse. Afterwards, I was happy that I did, because I returned home with winter plants including pansies, violas and cyclamens packed side-by-side in the car with avocados, gluten-free bread and socks from Aldi.

Pansy White Blotch

In some instances, my plants might remain unplanted for up to a week, but the afternoon was mild and pleasant so I donned my old jogging shoes and my painting shirt to get stuck in. Two hours later I rested to review my efforts, and I enjoyed a cappuccino with a side order of just one square of 70% chocolate. In the same way that some dunk a biscuit into tea or coffee, I did just that with the chocolate.
On the previous Bank Holiday Monday, I had started taking my 42 Begonias indoors. In some cases, I merely moved the pots into the glasshouse. Others needed to be carefully removed from window boxes and home-made raised wooden troughs. All of them were dying rapidly, and some light frosts over the weekend hastened their demise. Begonias are tender tubers. This means that they will die fatally if left outdoors. Over the coming weeks I will repot these wonderful bundles of energy, and keep them safely in the glasshouse until late spring. The soil will be allowed to dry out almost completely, and in March I will make sure that they begin to sprout. Actually, it is not I that miraculously lures the tuber into re-birth. It’s in their DNA to do this. I am merely required to not go against nature and will provide the best conditions when I see the slightest new growth.
But I digress. All of this work to bring my precious begonias into hibernation came about because as I planted the 46 newly-acquired pansies, violas and cyclamens above, I discovered that I was short of potting compost. However, as I was in my painting shirt and had soil all over my clean hands, I did not much feel like returning to Country Life to replenish supplies. I was rescued (once more) by my wife Marion who agreed to go on my behalf, while I had another coffee, this time with no added chocolate. An hour later, I had recycled much of the depleted soil from the Begonia pots. I was amazed that the soil was so good, even though it had hosted plants since early May. I do remember doing a good job when planting, and the richness of the soil made for a great summer show, so I was very reluctant to not use it further. I did add some fresh compost with some sand/grit and fed the plants well when they were settled into their new winter home.

I was not overly pleased with this arrangement
The leg of the P is too long

I needed steak and onions to follow all this washed-down coffee, and retired for the evening to the warmth of the stove with my footstool. I listened to some good music but the garden was still on my mind. Gardening does not stop when darkness falls. It is the time for online gardening, and this time of the year is perfect for two aspects among others:

Finally, an arrangement I like and can change next week

On this eve of winter, I chose to get cracking on the catalogues. In previous years I had requested catalogues from Thompson & Morgan and Unwins so these ones will automatically arrive in the post any day now. I broadened the list this year to include:

  1. Jersey Plants Direct
  2. Kings Seeds
  3. Marshalls Seeds (actually owned by T&M, I think)
  4. Farmer Gracy
An hour later, all the account creating was finished, all the boxes ticked (except for the boxes I chose not to tick!) and the catalogue processing is happening overnight. While waiting for the hard copies, I browsed further at 1 and 4, handed over my money in exchange for a few spring bulbs (including rare Elite Collection Alliums) and slept contentedly for an hour by the fire in advance sleeping contentedly in my own bed, satisfied that a good day was had.

The buying continues at Farmer Gracy

Interestingly, I’m on the lookout for online Irish seed/plant catalogues, but that’s a story for another day. I say this because, while UK and European companies can deliver seeds and bulbs to Ireland, they are unable to deliver plants. It had to do with Irish customs restrictions, perhaps because we want to keep riff-raff species out. Anyway, I thought I was being very smart last spring as I attempted to bypass Mr. Customs Inspector. I registered for an Address Pal account with An Post, the Irish postal system company. This service allowed me to have UK deliveries sent to a holding depot, to be forwarded to me by An Post. Full of excitement, I ordered plants from Unwins. The order was processed and delivered to a warehouse somewhere. Unfortunately, I forgot to note that An Post was also unable to deliver a parcel containing riff-raff plants to Ireland. Following several emails to and fro, the parcel was returned to Unwins five weeks later; the plants were very likely fatally dead, and I was unable to recover my €64. Unwins kept the money and the said dead plants. Dead money, you might say!
Last night I deliberately ordered spring/summer bulbs only, and I await unhindered speedy delivery. Watch this space, and in the meantime: enjoy your gardening, whether by day or by night.
Cyclamen are not always frost-hardy.
Queries to readers:
  1. Do you have a favourite online seeds/plants supplier?
  2. Describe your painting shirt in less than 20 words.
  3. Do you like avocados and/or Customs Officials?
Footnote: While I write this garden blog specifically for myself in order to remember everything that I’ll have forgotten when I forget it, I was delighted that last week’s article about my memories of mam’s garden got so much exposure. The feedback is lovely to have. As always, comments are optional and always will be. Páraig will never email you looking for feedback, but if you would like to comment, then please do. Remember, it is optional, but rude comments will be composted.

There’s that White Blotch Pansy again!
Páraig is the author of Petals by Paraig. He loves winter pansies, avocados and browsing hard-copy garden catalogues. He also loves Jersey Plants Direct and cappuccino, but not going to the garden centre in his painting shirt. He does love everyone (well, almost everyone) who chooses to follow him on Instagram or on his Facebook Page