Friends Old & New

This old article seemed apposite as on Saturday two old friends Lois and Caroline were over bearing plastic bags for plants. I gave them lots of stuff, and happy to say it was all quality and any apt to run wild were given with all due caveats. Some gardeners are very mean about sharing, but I think it is a great idea – if you lose your own you can get some back from your pal (unless she is particularly mean, in which case drop her).One of the deep pleasures of gardening is the camaraderie amongst gardening friends. Yes, there is often a dreadful competitive element to plant collecting, who is first to get their mitts on the latest “in” plant, who has the best specimen, the most unusual colour, the choicest variety, and often these are guarded with a parsimony that would make the pre-salvation Silas Marner blush with shame. However, the sharing of plants with a like-minded friend – especially one who understands and appreciates the gesture – is a source of delight and deep gratification.Like a cocktail party in full swing, the summer garden is a babble of friends and acquaintances jockeying for attention, the old reliables mixing with the superstars – the elite crew presents from seriously smart gardeners, which is always a huge honour. I have some lovely snowdrops, a present from Robin Hall of Primrose Gardens in Lucan, given to me on a visit with my mother-in-law when I was just starting out, and a common or garden teasel, which originates from a seedling given by Helen Dillon, therefore elevating it to precious status.

Almost every plant in my garden has a story, one which adds an additional layer of interest. Sometimes it is unbearably poignant, a memory of a friend now gone, but living on in the delicate hues of a healthy plant. Others are bittersweet – a memory of a friendship that has cooled off or even irredeemably fractured, the sight of the first shoots opening the floodgates of memories, perhaps reinforcing the rift or even prompting the phone call that precipitates a reconciliation.

I have a couple of beautiful roses, Zephirine Drouhin and New Dawn, which my mother grew from slips from her own plants. Now crippled with arthritis, she is unable to manage the heavy work necessary to keep the garden going and her once beautiful patch is now mostly in shrubs for ease of maintenance. Please do share your plants, and remember that innocently “taking slips” from strangers’ gardens is actually theft and a cardinal breach of garden etiquette. I have a sedum my aunt gave me, which though lovely, still makes me wince with shame as it was given with the recommendation that it was a superior creature because it “came fromBlenheim Palace”. So Jack’s muscari, Janet’s hellebore, Sarah’s auricula, Isobel’s primulas and my darling ma’s roses, welcome to the party once again and long may you live and thrive.

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Blessington Basin

The Blessington Basin was developed as a result of the creation of the Royal Canal. Like its sibling, the Grand Canal, the Royal Canal was built to transfer freight and passenger boats from the Liffey at Dublin to the Shannon River, this was a hugely innovative plan and, prior to the building of the railways in the later half of the nineteenth century, the greatest infrastructural undertaking to date. The Royal Canal’s terminus was at Richmond Harbour at Cloondara in County Longford. Work on the main canal route began in 1790 and finished at the Shannon in 1817.  The canal mouth in Dublin reaches the Liffey through a wide sequence of dock and locks at Spencer Dock, with a final sea lock to manage access to the river and sea. In 1789 Dublin Corporation commissioned the Royal Canal Company to build a harbour on Constitution Hill, connected to the main canal at Phibsborough by a spur. The branch line was completed by 1796, the harbour’s location was chosen for its proximity to the City markets and the law courts.

Cities were dangerous places to live until the 20th century. City populations constantly had to be bolstered by an influx of workers from the countryside. Death rates were high for working people, mostly due to the dreadful lack of sanitation and clean water. Outbreaks of cholera and dysentry were frequent and infant mortality was shockingly high. Providing a clean water supply to the city was proving a difficulty to the City Corporation in the latter half of the eighteenth century, especially to the north side of this city which had been recently developed by the Gardiner family.  The Royal Canal Company saw an opportunity both to make an extra profit and

Blessington Street Basin

Blessington Street Basin

to remedy this with the completion of the canals. Between 1807 and 1809 a spur was built to Broadstone and the City Basin at Blessington Street was constructed.  Excavated soil from the basin works was sold to the Grand Canal Company for 5d per cubic yard in order to build up the banks of the Broadstone harbour, and Lord Palmerston purchased a substantial quantity of the spoil to raise the surface of upper Dominick Street. This money off set some of the costs of building the basin. The basin, which has a capacity of 5 million litres of water, was also used to supply water to the two large distilleries of Powers in Thomas Street and Jameson’s at Bow Lane.

In 1810 the basin was completed and a William Ferguson was appointed as basin-keeper at a salary of £1 per week.  The basin was used for recreational purposes from its inception (as were the other two basins at James’s street and Portobello – built 1812). The Blessington basin was less smart than the other two and appears to have had a rowdier clientele. The keeper Ferguson found an ingenious way to supplement his rather meagre salary by opening a sheebeen on the site. The city assembly shut this down in 1815 stating that ‘in future, none of the … basin keepers [are] allowed to sell porter, ale, or spirits at any of the city basins or to permit any person to do so on pain of dismissal’.

It seems that despite this, intrusion by the public was still a problem as in 1828 the walls were raised and finished with round topped coping and shards of glass. Guide books and gazetteers from the 19th century describe James’s street as having a gravel walk and being used for promenading, whereas Blessington basin was ‘encompassed by a terrace and enclosed by a strong close hedge.

There were problems with the cleanliness of the water in the royal canal, in 1835 the corporation complained to the canal company about ‘the practices of painting the bottoms of canal boats with gas tar, and suffering manure from boats to fall into the water., the problem was solved by John Semple, the corporation architects and engineer to the pipe water works. Semple designed a sewer which would bring water directly from the canal to a screw chamber from whence it would be issued into the mains. The sewer was built to Semple’s specifications by James Hickey to provide an adequate temporary supply of water while the reservoir was thoroughly cleaned out.

The basin continued to in use as a reservoir, but with the advent of the Vartry water supply in 1868 it was no longer used for domestic purposes and its primary function was to supply the distilleries.

In 1887 it was decided to convert the basin into a public park under the open spaces act, as it ‘would be of great benefit to the inhabitants of the surrounding district, which comprise a large number of the artisan classes’. The conversion included construction of a public promenade around the water’s edge, surrounded by a hedge for safety, and a small play-area was provided for children near the main entrance. A caretaker was appointed to take charge of the grounds, and a gate-lodge was built to the designer of the city engineer, spencer Harty.

The Blessington street Park opened in 1891. In 1900 it was proposed to bid a band stand at the basin ‘for the performance of music for the education and benefit of the people’, however this plan was abandoned as there was found to be no room for one without filling in part of the basin. A Tudor cottage-style lodge was designed and built by Spencer Harty.

The aqueduct and canal that once linked the site to the Royal canal are gone almost without a trace and what the Neo-Egyptian railway station is now a bus depot and garage. The canal was filled in at around 1927 and Phibsborough Library was built on top of it.

In 1993, after decades of stagnation and neglect, Dublin Corporation’s Parks Department began restoring it as a recreational facility, removing 6000 tons of silt and debris, adding a fountain, enlarging the central island for wildlife and undertaking extensive replanting. The Blessington Basin still obtains its water from the canal above the 8th lock, two miles away, but is now a picturesque walled park of one and a quarter acres, with a paved and landscaped walk around  the basin fenced off by wrought-iron railings, and scattered with sculptures and places to sit.

Gatecrashers: watch out for unwanted guests.

 

Plants are like people … Well, so much for my waxing lyrical about the joyous party that is the garden; I forgot to mention the gate crashers and other tricky customers that inevitably show up to make a nuisance of themselves – weeds. My particular bugbear is that absolute pest, oxalis, an odious little pernicious uninvited guest. Similarly, hairy bittercress has that “it’s only me!” characteristic of a bore, popping up on top of the rhizomes of irises, in pots, and anywhere you really don’t want it. If you leave it too late, it will have developed seed pods and the second you touch it, they burst, pinging thousands of their irritating offspring into the surrounding soil. This year’s stop/start weather seems to suit them just down to the ground – a few days of heavy rain, then sunshine, allows them to germinate, then a few more days of rain keeps us out of the garden and gives them an opportunity to put on growth. Infuriating. Some of these party poopers were actually invited into the garden in the first place, plants like Japanese anemones, which I initially loved but now hate with a passion. It is like a really annoying ex-boyfriend, who every time you think you have got rid of him turns up to stalk you at the most inopportune moment, insinuating himself right into the middle of an otherwise lovely gathering. While in this anthropomorphic vein, what about delphiniums? They are like extremely beautiful, refined, but ultimately incredibly tiresome women; high maintenance, needing rich compost (as opposed to men), staking and constant protection from slugs and snails. As friends, you put up with them for years until finally a eureka moment happens and you are able to say “no more!” and cut them out of your lives. I am replacing mine with steadier, ever-reliable and easy alternatives, Aconitum napellus ‘Arendsii’ and a really good campanula persicifolia or glomerata ‘Superba’. Both of these plants will provide the height and deep blues of delphinium without the constant care and attendance the latter need. July can be a tricky month. The garden is often neglected for long periods of time due to holidays and away days, the early flowering stars are over, and the great late summer/early autumn stalwarts – dahlias, heleniums, crocosmias and rudbeckias – are not in flower yet, so fill up with long-flowering and easy standbys. These are the old dependable friends, ones we often take for granted and don’t nurture as much as we should – acanthus, achillea, anthemis (all the As), knautia and lychnis – all easy and long-flowering, drought-tolerant and can manage without staking or much faffing around, and slugs hate them. Happy gardening, and fingers crossed the sun will shine on us.

Digging out horseradish

Digging out horseradish

Troubleshooting

My lovely friend Iseult has pointed out that I have posted twice on one topic and that this blog is not very clear, so please stick with it and I will try and sort it out. The best laid plans do tend to go awry, and my tenuous belief in Karma is often stretched to the limit. Take this morning: Clodagh and I decided to use her iphone ap (see, am not a technophobe at all) and go ‘from couch potato to 5K’ in 8 weeks. Now anyone who knows me will understand that jogging and anything involving greater exertion than lifting cake to mouth and chewing is an alien concept to me (I do make an exception for the garden, where I work myself to the bone like a navvie). Anyway we started the other week – a gentle stroll and one minutes jog at intervals, needless to say the jogging part seemed to go on forever and purple faced and wheezing we just about managed to complete the programme. I made sure before starting that the ambulance service was on speed dial lest one of us have a stroke or heart attack. We survived. Today we set out in very jolly form and before we got to jog my neighbour, who is the oddest and crossest man you are likely to meet appeared with his overly excitable and untrained mutt. The dog clearly has sheepdog genes somewhere in his multi-ethnic background as he immediately started to round us, another jack russell and my poor little scrap of a dog up, he then ran into poor Clodagh, knocked her to the ground causing a very sinister cracking sound to emit from her knee. No apology was forthcoming, the dog was not put on a lead. Clodagh gamely tried to hobble along and we then had to abandon our enterprise. Doomed. So Clodagh now at home with pack of frozen peas strapped to knee and I am going to make the most of the weather and do some weeding and try to get the hang of wordpress and blogging.

tootle pip!

A really great book for gardeners

Weeds, Weeding (& Darwin) – The Gardener’s Guide by William Edmonds
Frances Lincoln

This is a really fab book and exactly what I have been looking for for years, a comprehensive guide to weeds and wild flowers which grow in the wrong how place. It is full of pictures for identification and ways to get rid of these pesky inaders.
Weeds are infuriating to gardeners, but the fact is that weeds are just another plant. The ones that are most infuriating are native wild flowers and exotics that come from a similar climate. They love the conditions in our gardens, are adept at self-propagating and are vigorous so tend to run amok. William Edmonds, the author of this book sees Charles Darwin as his mentor. Darwin was intrigued by the nature of variation in plants and how this related to which plants thrived and survived. Informed by Darwin’s insights, and by over thirty years of gardening experience, Edmonds describes and illustrates one hundred significant garden weeds, arranged in the order in which they have evolved. For each there is a what to Do and a further chapter sets out the pros and cons of twenty tried and tested approaches to weeding. Learning to recognise, understand and deal with each weed will take you well on the way to coping in a relaxed – even enjoyable – tussle with these devilish despoilers. Weeds, Weeding (& Darwin) is an enlightening guidebook for every gardener.

Jobs to do for May & June

Jobs for May & June

• Sow seeds outdoors especially edible corps like radish, rocket, spring onions and mixed lettuce which you should sow in small batches re-sowing them on a bi-weekly basis to ensure regular cropping.

• Continue to murder as many slugs and snails as possible.

• Top dress spring bulbs that have died back to feed and swell the underground bulbs in readiness for next year’s display.

• Weed as if your life depended on it and whatever you do, stop them from seeding

Fill gaps with summer bedding such as Nicotiana and tender leaved perennials.

• Cut back the perennials such as oriental poppies, and early flowering geraniums. Cutting them back hard to the base as soon as the flowers are over will provide a fresh crop of foliage and in some cases a second round of flowers later in the summer when things lose that fresh green that is so plentiful now

• Grow your own strawberries

• Keep an eye on the sweet peas tying them in and pinching out the shoots to encourage branching. In dry weather water well or you’ll see the buds aborting and energies wasted.

• Chelsea chop late flowering perennials like asters and Sedum specatabilis to encourage later, more floriferous and less leggy plants.
Jobs for May & June

• Sow seeds outdoors especially edible corps like radish, rocket, spring onions and mixed lettuce which you should sow in small batches re-sowing them on a bi-weekly basis to ensure regular cropping.

• Continue to murder as many slugs and snails as possible.

• Top dress spring bulbs that have died back to feed and swell the underground bulbs in readiness for next year’s display.

• Weed as if your life depended on it and whatever you do, stop them from seeding

Fill gaps with summer bedding such as Nicotiana and tender leaved perennials.

• Cut back the perennials such as oriental poppies, and early flowering geraniums. Cutting them back hard to the base as soon as the flowers are over will provide a fresh crop of foliage and in some cases a second round of flowers later in the summer when things lose that fresh green that is so plentiful now

• Grow your own strawberries

• Keep an eye on the sweet peas tying them in and pinching out the shoots to encourage branching. In dry weather water well or you’ll see the buds aborting and energies wasted.

• Chelsea chop late flowering perennials like asters and Sedum specatabilis to encourage later, more floriferous and less leggy plants.