Falling in love again……

‘Planting and Gardening addes much to the Health and Content of Man’

Moses Cook The manner of raising, ordering and improving forest-trees 1676

I wrote the piece below over a year ago. It is interesting as I really had done a lot more in the garden than I had given myself credit for, which of course I only now realise with the benefit of both hindsight and present observations:

Gertrude Jekyll said in 1899 that ‘the love of gardening is a seed that once won never dies, but grown and grows to and enduring and ever increasing source of happiness’, although I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment, it can on occasion, as in every love affair, cause a great deal of heartache, not to say backache. After losing interest in the garden in late autumn and actually – most uncharacteristically for me -falling out of love with it during the winter months I am feeling cheered and galvanised again. I am not sure what it was about last autumn but I have never, ever been so slack in the garden. Perhaps it was on account of the fine weather and lack of rainfall that the demands of watering and staking plants drooping in the heat began to bore me. There were also the competing demands of the come hither and alluring seashore which enticed me away from ever-present and high-maintenance first love.  Never was there such a year for swimming and chatting on the rocks between dips with friends in the long hours of daylight and warm sunshine.  With the callousness of a faithless lover I turned my back on the flowerbeds.  Weeds grew with abandon, stalks drooped, promiscuous plants were left to seed as others shrivelled with neglect and the patch of lawn became a small, yellowing meadow.    By the time the spell was broken by the return to normal meteorological service I felt defeated by the amount of work to be done and decided to leave things until spring. I paid a heavy price for my philandering and had to get down to work extra early. the hellebores sprang from the traps particularly prematurely this year – not just the Helleborus nigra – so called the Christmas rose but all the hybrids popped up, including some plants that I don’t usually see until April. This only drew attention to the scandalous wreckage of the garden, so instead of sitting back and enjoying the early spring I had to get out in the freezing cold and do a lot of the jobs that should have been done months before.   For all of you who worked hard on the autumn tidy up last year, March named after the Roman god of war is, appropriately enough, the beginning of the martial year and the true start of the gardening year when we gardeners once more set to war with nature, attacking slugs and beasties, weeding and pruning and trying to put manners on the garden.

So get out there and smell the fresh air, feel the first rays of thin sunshine on your back, listen to the frogs noisy lovemaking in the pond and fall back in love with the outdoors and get down to your jobs for spring as detailed below!

Ash Dieback & Horse Chestnut Moths

 

 

There are a number of diseases around which devastate trees and shrubs. Some, like the Sclerotinia fungus, which decimates Griselinia hedges is, as far as I am concerned, manna from heaven. Anything that will clear the suburbs of that horribly, nasty, shiny green-leaved bore of a plant is good news. There are a couple of very serious threats to our forest and decorative trees however that are extremely worrying and could be as catastrophic as Dutch Elm disease was in the late 1970s and 1980s. One affects the beloved horse chestnut and the other our native ash. You have probably heard a lot about Ash Dieback disease already. But to recap, this is a serious disease of the Ash (Fraxinus species) caused by a nasty fungus, Hymenoscyphus fraxineus affecting trees of any age in the wild, gardens and plant collections. The disease can be fatal, particularly among younger trees and leaves older trees looking very depressed indeed.   Ash is such a common tree in Ireland that there is great potential for this disease to forever alter the appearance and biodiversity of our hedgerows and woodlands. It is important to spot the symptoms of Ash Dieback early, and if you find an infected tree, it will need to be felled and burnt immediately. As a precaution don’t ever use the leaves of ash to make leaf-mould. If you have ash in your garden, try and collect and burn all fallen leaves. Symptoms to look out for are as follows:

  • Leaves which wilt during the summertime, turning black.
  • shoots die from the tip back to a branch
  • open wounds where a stalk meets the main stem of saplings
  • leaf discolouration and loss

Forest and land owners are asked to be vigilant for the disease and to report (with photographs, if possible) any sites where they have concerns about unusual ill health in ash, to the: Forest Service, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, by e-mail forestprotection@agriculture.gov.ie or phone (01-607 2651).

The threat to horse chestnuts is the eponymous horse chestnut leaf-mining moth (Cameraria ohridella). The moths feed on the leaves of trees, turning them brown and causing them to drop in the late summer. Infested leaves are often brown and appear quite dry and make trees look very unsightly.

Although infestation itself does not kill the trees, it can weaken the tree’s immune system and make it vulnerable to other diseases, including bleeding canker, a bacterial disease that creates unsightly leaking lesions on the trunk.

If you spot the moths or their caterpillars on trees, or suspect you may have an infestation  http://www.mothsireland.com/ would love to hear from you and you should also contact the Department of Agriculture your local plant health inspector or contact:  The British Conker Tree Science project is urging people to record sightings of moth-infected trees on its website to help track the spread of disease.

For further information, visit: www.teagasc.ie/forestry and www.agriculture.gov.ie

 

Jobs for Winter

Jobs for winter

storingdahlias2jpg-ef786e8963928182

January and February are usually the coldest months and the time to plan ahead for summer and autumn.

  • Soggy, bald lawns should be prodded with a fork and a bit of sand added to improve drainage
  • Cut back dead foliage that is looking droopy
  • Clear dead leaves and debris
  • Check stored dahlia tubers for mould or drying out. If they look very shrivelled you can plump them out again by plunging in water
  • Repot or top dress container plants
  • Order seeds and summer bulbs
  • Sow summer bedding under glass

Colour in the Winter Garden

January and February are the most challenging months in the garden and are the real test of a good gardener. Really, with a bit of money thrown at it, anyone’s garden can have a lively show in summer, but winter is where forward thinking and a little thought ensure that the winter garden need not be bereft of colour and interest. First published in 1957, Graham Stuart Thomas’s Colour in the Winter Garden is a classic of garden literature and still the greatest authority on creating year round interest in the garden and if you find a copy in your local library I urge you to borrow it. The winter garden is not flash or brash, rather it is subtle, relying on foliage, bark and gentle modest flowers to bring it to life. Here are some lists of plants to get you started:

Foliage:

Bergenia purpurascens: The large, waxy leaves of this great ground-cover plant turn deeper and deeper red the colder it gets.

Elaeagnus pungens ‘Dicksonii’: This evergreen shrub has lovely elliptical, shiny dark green leaves edged in yellow. Great for flower arrangements for the house.

Hedera canariensis ‘Gloire de Marengo’: really good ivy, with ripples of dark green and silver and edged with white.

Iris Foetidissima ‘Variegata’: the dreariest, stinkiest of plants has its Cinderella moment now, it has green and white variegated, strap shaped leaves and beautiful seed pods bursting with red fruits.

Arum italicum ‘Pictum’: lovely, crinkly spotted leaves make this arum a must for the winter garden, looks great with hellebores and snowdrops.

Mahonia ‘Heterophylla’: long spindly serrated leaves in russet brown – and the bonus of yellow flower spikes later on.

Berries:

For berries try holly,  Pyracantha, Skimmia japonica and any of the Cotoneasters.

Flowers:

Winter wouldn’t be complete without snowdrops, there are lots of varieties, singles, doubles, large and small flowered, from the thick grey leaved Elwesii species, to the pretty small naturalised Nivalis, all are hardy and with time and lots of lovely hummus will bulk up into significant clumps in a few years. Delicate, tiny little Cyclamen coum are perfect partners for snowdrops.

Flowering shrubs:

Most winter flowering shrubs have the most delicious scent too, the best being Viburnum x bodnantense and Daphne mezereum and Skimmia.

Bark and stems:

Don’t forget that bare branches and lovely barks come into their own now. All the dogwoods are stunning right now, from bright red to yellow the Cornus stems will lift any garden.

Acers are famous for their beautiful bark, particular good examples are davidii, laxiflorum and griseum. Also good are silver birch, the brightest whites are Betula albo-sinensis, Betula nigra and Betula pendula

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.

Blessington Street Basin

Blessington Street Basin

A bit about soil

Winter is a great time to make plans for next year.  Take a good, long, hard look at the garden and be your harshest critic. Think what you have got wrong and be ruthless – whatever didn’t perform this year take out and either donate to a friend or pot up and give to your nearest charity shop or jumble sale. When plants don’t perform it means that they are unhappy in their surroundings. That is why it is important to read a bit about where they originate. A plant that is native to woodlands is not going to do well in a sandy garden on a windswept hillside by the sea, likewise a plant that is native to the Spanish mountains will not thrive if plant in a soggy bog garden.

There are a few key factors to think about when planting:

a. does the plant like sun or shade, or what is called dappled shade, i.e. gentle fluttering shadows cast by a leafy tree nearby.

b. if the plant is a shade-lover, what kind of shade does it like? There is an enormous difference between dry shade – which is very difficult and wet shade, which isn’t so bad.

c. does the plant like a sheltered position or is it happiest out in the open? Praire plants such as echinacea fall into the latter category.

d. what kind of soil does the plant like?

The last question is possibly the most important. If you haven’t figured out what kind of soil you have do so now. Broadly speaking you will have sandy, clay or loamy soil. Clay soil is heavy and frequently waterlogged. This soil benefits from the addition of gritty material to improve drainage but is generally very fertile. You will find keeping Mediterranean or alpine plants tricky. A sandy soil is very light and free-draining, so you will need to add lots of organic material to improve fertility, and you will be best going for drought tolerant and seaside plants. A loamy soil is the perfect growing medium, and if you have it, you are very lucky and grow almost anything. Soil Ph. is the other major consideration when planning what to plant in your garden.  You can buy Ph. soil testing kits in all garden centres and if you have an acid soil, lime lovers are out. Go instead for all those plants many of us would love to grow but can’t without a lot of faff and bother and importation of copious amounts of ericaceous compost – Rhododendrons, azaleas, blue hydrangea and go for a lovely Robinsonian wild garden look. If you have an alkaline or limey soil, it tends to be chalky and needs plants that will not just tolerate but thrive in such conditions. Limey soils are perfect for creating wildflower meadows and will take lots of drought tolerant species and are suitable for Mediterranean style gardens.  Last of all consider the shape of your beds and your hard landscaping. Avoid curvy beds and go instead for a sharp formal layout. You can soften hard edges with plant material, but a strong series of straight lines gives a better framework to work from.

Cyclamen, Arum italicum and Hellebore

Cyclamen, Arum italicum and Hellebore on humus rich soil in light shade

Who’s Afraid of Germaine Greer?

Very interesting blog from a transgender woman. I have come to believe that ‘3rd wave feminists’ such as those who are no platforming Germaine Greer are just eegits really. I firmly accept that some people feel body dysmorphia, uncomfortable with who and what they are and would like to identify or ‘pass’ for the other sex. I have no problem with anyone doing so. I believe in live and let live, so long as you don’t involve, or hurt childrena animals. I just don’t get the ‘I feel like a woman, therefore I am a women’ school of thought – how? What does a woman ‘feel’ like? how would one know? Clearly this line of thinking’s logical conclusion is an acceptance that females are mentally different, i.e. have different brains – ‘I hate maths, cars and rugby, ergo I have a female, girly brain’ – which is what feminists have been trying to get away from and disprove. We women can do anything we want, we are not different, more stupid or incapable of anything. We are no longer hobbled by physical weakness or fertility and we can, and should be able to to do anything and have the same opportunities as men. That is what we ask. A man who wears dresses, even if he has his dick removed and takes hormones has no idea of what it is to be born, raised and educated as a woman. I also find it deepy disturbing and worrying that young children are being treated and medically interfered with. I have a very feminine and happy to be female family member who as a child cried if put in a dress, had short hair, played with boys and boys toys and would only answer to a boy’s name. It was accepted that this was ‘tomboy’ behaviour and that was it. I also wonder how many men are truly accepting of female to male trans as true men. I see nothing wrong with deciding to be trans, each to their own, but I don’t really think trans women are women. Now shoot me and start throwing the rotten fruit.

Miss Gwenllian

–Mary Daly
fak
“Reminder that sex is fake”
— Jenna Costigan (male transwoman)
^can you spot the difference?^

Early on in my transition, when I was living in Vancouver, I was physically assaulted whilst boarding a bus. My back had been turned, my hands occupied with digging in my purse for a ticket . . . when a solid fist struck me from the side, a peripheral sucker punch in the form of a hockey player’s slug.

He yelled “TRANNY!” and trotted away at a mild gait, unhindered by any witnesses.

This thug’s annoyance resulted from me having just declined his offer of a nugget of crack cocaine (or meth, as if I can tell …) in exchange for an alleyway blowjob. Since I was a transwoman waiting for public transit, I was clearly available to be propositioned for…

View original post 1,652 more words

More Autumn Thoughts & Ideas….

Autumn is a great time to make plans for next year.  Take a good, long, hard look at the garden and be your harshest critic. Think what you have got wrong and be ruthless – whatever didn’t perform this year take out and either donate to a friend or pot up and give to your nearest charity shop or jumble sale. When plants don’t perform it means that they are unhappy in their surroundings. That is why it is important to read a bit about where they originate. A plant that is native to woodlands is not going to do well in a sandy garden on a windswept hillside by the sea, likewise a plant that is native to the Spanish mountains will not thrive if plant in a soggy bog garden. If you haven’t figured out what kind of soil you have do so now. Broadly speaking you will have sandy, clay or loamy soil. Clay soil is heavy and frequently waterlogged. This soil benefits from the addition of gritty material to improve drainage but is generally very fertile. You will find keeping Mediterranean or alpine plants tricky. A sandy soil is very light and free-draining, so you will need to add lots of organic material to improve fertility, and you will be best going for drought tolerant and seaside plants. A loamy soil is the perfect growing medium, and if you have it, you are very lucky and grow almost anything. Soil Ph. is the other major consideration when planning what to plant in your garden.  You can buy Ph. soil testing kits in all garden centres and if you have an acid soil, lime lovers are out. Go instead for all those plants many of us would love to grow but can’t without a lot of faff and bother and importation of copious amounts of ericaceous compost – Rhododendrons, azaleas, blue hydrangea and go for a lovely Robinsonian wild garden look. If you have an alkaline or limey soil, it tends to be chalky and needs plants that will not just tolerate but thrive in such conditions. Limey soils are perfect for creating wildflower meadows and will take lots of drought tolerant species and are suitable for Mediterranean style gardens.  Last of all consider the shape of your beds and your hard landscaping. Avoid curvy beds and go instead for a sharp formal layout. You can soften hard edges with plant material, but a strong series of straight lines gives a better framework to work from.

September and October truly are the very last gasp to be sucked from the fag-end of summer. It is as if the herbaceous plants know that their number is up and they put their last energies into a final terrific show. Dahlias and Asters are the stars of the season, along with Sedum, Rudbeckia, Echinacea and other early-flowering plants which, if cut back immediately after flowering, will give a second flush now. To keep the garden looking its best and to avoid that dried out, worn out, dusty appearance keep deadheading and staking.

As the nights become shorter and colder it is time to think about bringing in tender plants, certainly don’t risk leaving them out in October as there can be surprise hard frosts around Hallow’een time.  Visiting gardens is a great way to learn new tricks and get tips. This summer I got a great lesson from Josie Murphy on how to keep those summer stalwarts, pelargoniums (called, erroneously geraniums,) going from year to year. Many people just throw them out or allow them to take their chances with the frost as they have no greenhouse or cold frame, whereupon the generally turn black and rot. I generally try and bring a few indoors where they sit looking untidy and miserable on the windowsill. Josie, who has a really spectacular display, says she just puts them in the shed in autumn. She really does; she puts them into the semi-dark shed, allows them to dry out and ignores them until spring. She tells me that she then takes the plants out and sits the pots in buckets of water laced with plant food and once they are fully soaked she leaves them in a sunny spot to come on again.  I am determined to try this as I don’t see why it shouldn’t work as I have had great success doing exactly the same thing with spring flowering cyclamen. Once the plants have finished flowering I leave them to dry out, in their pots and chuck them in an out of the way shady spot in the garden.  After Christmas I pop them into window boxes and feed and water them and they generally flower really well.

Another tip I got on my visit was from Josie’s husband Brian, who has pipes attached to all the gutters around the roof. Some pipes feed water butts, which is something we should all be doing now we are faced with water charges (and it is very green). The thing that really impressed me is that Brian has rigged up one pipe which is used to feed a pond. When rain is very heavy the pond overflows into another pond below it, and then another, creating a lovely cascade, aerating the water and eventually overflowing into a small man-made stream which runs to the bottom of the garden. No pumps or fancy gizmos are necessary, just some flexible plastic piping and ingenuity.

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Autumn to do list

Spare a thought for poor John Keats – how could he have foreseen, when writing his Ode to Autumn that his line, which he probably felt quite chuffed about when he came up with it, about it being the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness would become a tooth-aching cliché to be trotted out annually by lazy journalists and dullards the world over. This year I am seeing less mist and mellow fruitfulness and more sunshine (yay!) and disgraceful messiness. I don’t know what it is with me – every year I spend January in a state of frenzied anticipation and excitement, fussing over early hellebore and photographing every new bloom. Spring is my favourite time of year in the garden, a triumph of hope and expectation over years of bitter experience. By early summer I am still gung ho and thrilled by each new emergent crown and bud but by August I am bored – bored, or bawd, bawd, bawd as Adrien in the Young Ones would say. Either the weather has been such a washout that it has put me in a terminal huff, or the weather so good that I have been idling by the sea, but the gloss somehow goes off the garden and my interest wanes. This is fatal as a couple of weeks of neglect in late summer means a hellish autumn clear up. I can honestly say that I have never, ever seen such enormous weedy euphorbia in the garden as this year, and each herbaceous plant I cut back reveals a mass of couch grass and other weeds, not to mention slugs and snails, making themselves at home around the base of the poor benighted plant. The plus side to the chaos is that my interest in the garden is always re-ignited at this time – I am full of plans again and keen to put manners on nature, plant bulbs, re-do the window boxes and make a literal clean sweep of the place.

I shall be doing some of the following and you might like to too:

  • Give shrubs a light autumn prune
  • Plant up autumn window boxes to last until Christmas. Try using evergreen perennials like heuchera, which now come in a huge range of colours from deepest plummy black to garish orange and yellow. Some that I wouldn’t let near a bed look amazing in containers. Mix with ornamental cabbages for a funky display.
  • Buy bulbs as soon as possible to avoid disappointment – I completely forgot last year and when I went looking all I could find were a few really awful dwarf varieties of tulips and some soft, soggy rotten bulbs that were no use to anyone.
  • Divide herbaceous perennials. Throw out the old, worn-out centres of plants and create fresh ones from the outer, newer growth. If you can’t use or don’t want any divisions, wrap them in damp newspaper and give them away to friends; put a notice up on social media and I guarantee you shall find homes for all.
  • Collect and sow seed from perennials and hardy annuals. Store in plain brown paper envelopes and remember to label! Keep your seeds in an old biscuit tin or similar dry place.
  • Cover ponds with netting if under or close to deciduous trees to avoid them getting clogged up and becoming stagnant.
  • Clean out and disinfect cold frames and greenhouses so that they are ready for use in the autumn
  • Start to plant spring flowering bulbs – leave tulips ‘til November or even December.
  • Clear up fallen autumn leaves regularly and collect to make lovely leaf mould.
  • Cut back perennials that have died down.
  • Move tender plants, including aquatic ones, into the greenhouse.
  • Prune climbing roses – be very firm, I was far too timid with my pruning for far too long and the resulting ugly, thorny mess was very difficult to fix.
  • Order seeds for next year.
  • Give lawns a last mow, patch up bald spots with turf and if the weather is warm enough, do one last spot zap of lawn weeds.

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