I have been doing the last bit of clearing in old family home before the sale is competed tomorrow. It has been a strange couple of years. It has taken me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I am no longer young. A lot of the ageing process is painful and sad, even humiliating on the physical decrepitude side. I am terribly sad about the ever increasing routines of funerals – parents, friend’s parents and most heartbreaking of all, peers. There are upsides to this being a bit of an old biddy status too. A devil may care attitude and ‘if they don’t like it they can lump it’ sensibility is no bad thing. I have been reading Colm O’Regan’s hilarious Irish Mammies book and am a little alarmed at how familiar she is to me. I am sure that Mr O’Regan has secretly been bugging my house and telephone conversations. This is rather disturbing as until quite recently I was in a happy delusional state and still reckoned I was a bit of an old hipster (which clearly I am not – AT ALL). One minute I was a pretty presentable young chick and now am a bit of an old broiler. An insurance company in Britain has now famously produced a list of 50 signs that one is an oldie; here is mine:
Your own and your friends parents dying
Having to take care of elderly parents
Friends become ill, and start to die
You have a fine collection of Tupperware
You save old jam jars – for making jam and chutney
Collecting elderflowers and sloes for wine and cordial
You don’t recognise yourself in photographs (who is that old trout with three chins and a scraggy neck?)
You embrace huge pants
Sexy matching lingerie doesn’t look sexy and has little appeal
You love gardening
You play bridge
Inexplicably your waistbands appear to have shrunk by several inches
You have bra fat
‘Is it just me or is it absolutely boiling hot in here?’
You only ever get the glad eye or get chatted up by very old men
One eyebrow appears to be about 3 inches higher than the other one
Some eyebrow hairs are unusually long and stand perpendicular to your forehead
Horrible realisation that you are mutton dressed as lamb
Your teeth become a serious cause for concern
You read Now or Grazia (in the hairdressers only of course) and make like an old judge – ‘who are these people?’
Becoming totally out of touch with the latest music
Listening to new hotly tipped bands and thinking they are rubbish and nothing like as good as the old days
RTEs newsround, nature and history programmes lovely and soothing
Big night parties on Saturday take until at least Wednesday to recover from
Sitting in with good book or telly frequently more appealing than a night out
Getting dolled up to go into town or for plane trip
Watching your child’s eyes turn to saucers when you tell them about the milkman and his horse, the pig farm that is now a builder’s suppliers, Bewley’s herd of Jersey cows, the open-backed buses, bus conductors….
Nobody but you smokes any more
People feel entitled to tick one off about smoking
When you have a fat tummy nobody asks if you might be pregnant
Your friends are grannies
Comfy shoes are more important than high fashion shoes
You are obsessed with finding clothes with sleeves
Nobody ever gives you big eye meets across the dinner table or at parties (unless they are someone’s dad or uncle)
You are offered a seat on the DART
Weird white pubic hairs growing from crown of head
Owning a dozen pairs of reading glasses and often wearing three pairs on head at once
Becoming deaf as a post
Finding shrubs extremely interesting
Writing endless to do lists
Telling the same story again and again, and yet again
Boring people at parties and watching their eyes glaze over as the pop up to the loo and go and sit somewhere else
Not giving so much of a damn
Not stressing too much about the enormous muffin top
So the summer continues and the garden is going bananas. My mother has sold her house and my sisters and I were up there emptying it for the new owners. The garden which we had tidied up only two weeks ago is astonishing: it is like a jungle. The grass is knee high and has gone to seed like unkempt meadow (oddly enough it looks nothing like a wildflower meadow at all). Weeds have abounded and bindweed has entwined itself, serpent-like around the climbing roses and tall plants. Her dahlias and other slug-gastro plants have been obliterated. If this can happen in a couple of weeks, just imagine what an untended garden would do. It always amazes me the way visitors comment on my own garden. ‘You are so lucky – there are no weeds!’ they note in astonishment; as though by some magical serendipitous collusion between biology and soil conditions I live in a weed-free environment. My hands, which look like those of an eighty year old navvy, bear witness to endless, back-breaking sessions of weeding. I try to do a bit every single day at this time of year and still they flourish amongst the plants. Another frequent comment is ‘God, mine died on me, how come yours do so well’ directed with a harrumphing stare at a fine specimen. Well the simple answer is that plants – like pets and children – take a lot of pampering in order to ‘do well’. Weeding aside, they need to be fed, watered, staked when appropriate, protected from slugs, deadheaded, divided regularly and de-loused. Thaw in a plant in any old place, in bone dry soil which has been leached of nutrients and leave it to do its own thing and it will not flourish (unless of course it is a weed).
So my top tips this week are:
Weed, weed and more weeding
Obliterate greenfly, blackfly, white fly and any other nasty insects
Feed plants, especially those in pots periodically
Water your plants in dry spells, again especially pot plants
Dead head. This means removing spent flowers and flower spikes. This will frustrate the plants biological imperative of setting seeds and cause them to put on more flowers
Stake and prop up plants that are floppy. Apart from looking better and preventing the stems breaking, it will stop weeds and slugs making their home under horizontal foliage.
I am officially an old trout. My friend Rocky and set out for Bloom good and early on Saturday morning wearing sensible shoes and hats in bags in case of rain. Being a pair of thrifty protestant ladies of d’un certain age we headed straight for the media tent to fortify ourselves with free coffee and sticky buns. Thank God for the sensible shoes, but we could have left the hats at home; it was a glorious day. First off we got the show gardens out of the way. Normally I find these a great disappointment. Compared to Chelsea the gardens up to now seemed a bit feeble and amateur, especially the small plots. This year we were both really impressed and agreed that the standard has improved dramatically. Many of the small gardens were really beautiful and the planting delightful. The larger gardens were even better, the surprise of the day being the Woodies DIY entry. As ever designer Paul Martin’s garden was heaven, with lovely soft planting. Perhaps dictated by the very late spring, the theme of the year seemed to be woodland and damp shady planting – lots of lovely myrhus odorata, ferns, iris siberica, astilbe and hostas (none eaten by slugs). There were some hackneyed ideas, always seen at Chelsea too, topiaised box balls, pleached trees and dinky water features. One plant that popped up a lot was Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Tom Thumb’. This was treated like box and clipped into balls which looked quite interesting especially as the new growth is bright green contrasting sharply with the rich claret leaves beneath.
The floral marquee is always my favourite part of the show. The best stands as ever were Mount Venus, Boyne Valley, Kilmurry and Camolin. We bought lots of three for twenty euro bargains and divided them between us. As usual I discovered that one of the Siberian irises I bought was identical to one I already have at home. A thug, which I am always dividing and giving away. My greed and folly know no bounds.
After a spot of lunch in the Bord Bia area we did a quick lash around the commercial outdoor stands and bought some dahlia tubers and were tempted by lots of gardening gizmos which we resisted having blown all our cash on plants.
I am giddy with delight at the unexpected sunshine! It has been a glorious week for gardeners. I have been out with the trowels and secateurs and making like a loon in my fetching gardening gear (muttony shorts and deeply unflattering wife beater) moving things and fighting with climbing roses. Of course it is TOTALLY the wrong time to be moving plants in flower: a) it traumatises them and b) they just flop and wilt, but it does mean that I won’t forget what I wanted to do and yes, there is always next year and with plenty of water, TLC and a severe haircut they will come back again.
There has been a monstrous invasion of slimy creatures this year. Each night I go out with rubber gloves and pick off literally hundreds of slugs and snails and the next night their ranks seem to have swelled rather than diminished. The usual suspects have been decimated – rudbeckia, hostas, emerging dahlias and salad leaves but something very strange has been happening. I don’t know if it is due to the ridiculously long and cold spring or if the hot weather has just gone to the beasties heads, but the pests have been acting most uncharacteristically. Firstly a beautiful variegated Astrantia Major kindly donated by Catherine G has been completely munched away by slugs. Astrantia normally never attracts slugs, but there it sits, a bedraggled and denuded pathetic looking stalk. Likewise my auriculas, agapanthus and tough old bergenias have been turned into doilies. Another unusual phenomenon is the aphids – normally content to destroy roses and other sappy growth, they have completely colonised my lupins. They are weak and sticky and slimy and I have never seen anything like it. Any feeble and vague notions I had about not spraying have been knocked on the head; I have been out with slug tox and spray (the sort that is supposedly kind to pets and friendly bugs and birds). A pal Fiona actually keeps a large carton of slug pellets with her at all times and dispenses them when she visits friend’s gardens.
I have a couple of other very odd things happening and would be glad to hear if anyone has any answers; one – and only one of my beautiful oriental poppies, Patty’s plum has got some odd disease. The buds dry up before flowering and the foliage is pale yellow and very ragged and parts have died off. I have checked for vine weevils and other visible pests but none are to be seen. An Iris Italicum marmoratum beside this plant is also looking pale and shrivelled. Across the way in another bed my Eryngium have come up distorted and shrivelled with similarly brown foliage. This is not due to pesticides as I only sprayed yesterday. Any ideas?