Here Comes the Rain


 Collecting's free of water charges!

I, for one am very pleased the cooler, wetter weather has come. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watering as much as the next gardener, but it’s far more satisfying when I can collect the water from a butt that is full from a fresh downpour. The plants love it too and respond far more to the trace elements in the rain than they would with the tap water. Rain is free too. 

The onset of autumn, which also brings the wind, has another added benefit for me too. I’m (nearly) as sociable as the next person, but over the past few months I have seen a massive increase in the amount of people who use our local park. This type of social activity is generally relished by myself and I love the idea of standing around on a sunny day passing the time chatting. The issue I have is that my dogs don’t feel the same and it makes what should be a relaxing jaunt through the park, a major obstacle course as I attempt to avoid other people with pets.  My two, normally friendly dogs have taken it upon themselves to attack any other dog that comes near them. I say “any other” dog, what I really mean is anything four legged a lot smaller or older than they are. I think if they were humans they would be antisocial bullies. I do hope in this case that their owner isn’t like their dogs. Chips, our eldest dog, who has one eye and the brain the size of a walnut, tends to aim for cyclists too and will be guaranteed to trip over at least one jogger a day. The other dog Bow will charge up to anyone who has got food, and rummage around until he has scoffed the lot, much to the annoyance of picnickers. So as you can gather I don’t get much time for relaxation and pondering my day around the park when the sun shines. When it rains though I can go for an hour without seeing anyone. It might be a bit lonely but I get my day planned out, the dogs don’t get into fights and no cyclist has been run off the path. Getting outside makes you realise that it’s never really as bad as it looks from the comfort of the warm house when looking through the window. When I get home I’m set up to keep working, regardless, you only get wet once.

Jobs to do in the rain
The title might be a bit misleading here, what I really mean is what to look out for if it’s been really wet over the week. I’m not expecting anyone to go out and work on wet ground, neither of you would be happy.  Instead look for damage that rain might be doing.

Washed away. Check that soil isn’t being washed away. You could build up a raised area to contain the soil or better still find plants that will hold the soil together with their fibrous roots. Smaller areas can be saved by simply adding a bit of winter bedding or if it’s in the veggie patch some winter nitrogen fixers such as mustard.

Run off. Check buildings for water run off. Walls of sheds and the house don’t like water dripping on them constantly so see if all of the drainpipes and run offs are in good order.

Plant damage. Heavy rains can cause plant damage, and extended periods of wet weather can lead to plant diseases such as powdery mildew, or other bacteria. After a big downpour, check your plants. If only a few leaves have been damaged, you can remove them, or if a plant has been bent over from the force of the rain, you may be able to stake it back up. If the stems are snapped they can go into the compost bin. Check the roots to see the soil hasn’t been washed away too.

Replenish Nutrients. Rain and flooding can carry much-needed nutrients away from your vegetable plants. After severe storms, it is a good idea to replace those nutrients by adding compost or an organic fertilizer to your soil.

Check for slugs. We need to do this all year really but slugs and snail love this weather so check under the old pots and containers. 

Some weeds also love the wetter weather so keep an eye out for ones taking over. Best to keep off the soil though until things dry up a bit.

The main thing is to relish and enjoy the wetter weather. The more rain, the more we can collect and use for ourselves.

Playing in the River


Week two of my art course. This week we found ourselves in Ness woods drawing bits of nature and playing in the river. It sounds like fun, and it was, especially the water bit. 

We partnered up and were given a piece of paper with some images from naturalist artist Andy Goldsworthy and then told to go and create something ourselves from what was lying around. The other two teams did land sculptures, one of a fox made from a dead tree stump (it did look like a fox too) and the other team made a floating hoop made from ivy and fishing line. My partner and I opted for the water and made a large circle from the river stones and then a smaller one on the inside. We called it “Going with the Flow” as we thought that didn’t sound pretentious at all.
I realised our piece fell into three art categories. Firstly we drew what we had done, next we made a piece of disposable art (the next heavy rain will see to that) that will catch people’s attention as they walk the dogs and also we made something that wouldn’t have looked out of place as a permanent feature in a garden. It didn’t have to be in the water either; a feature such as this could be filled with herbs or perennials.

Linking art with garden design is even more apparent with the classroom assignment. We have been asked to research and write about the Paris based 19th century Impressionist Art Movement, which include masters such as Monet and Renoir. Their style of painting was more fluid and painters enjoyed getting out and about experiencing real life situations such as people going about their working day or industrial scenes as well as landscapes as opposed to working from pictures in studios. 

Communal parks were becoming popular for the middle and working classes and this is where a lot of the artists hung out. So the landscapers were instrumental in creating the artists backdrops for their work. Monet himself drew a Japanese bridge hundreds of times, which was actually created in his own garden for convenience. There was a garden designer behind installing that and planting the lilies in the pond too.
Impressionist art, like garden design isn’t linear. The ideas and paintings came from every direction; Turner and Constable were seemingly painting impressionist art some 50 years before the Paris movement and before the phrase was coined and this is just one of millions of examples going all the way back to cave paintings. 

The Impressionist artists were influenced by their surroundings and they were products of their environment (such as the coffee shops in Paris where the Impressionist met up) by travel and each other. 

Like landscape designers, the impressionist artists shocked the world by their radical designs and use of bold colours and apparently unfinished pieces. As new paints were being created and put into tubes for convenience as artists liked to paint outside, so the botanists were travelling the world looking for new plants to brighten up our gardens. Initially they would have been for the upper classes, but eventually filtered down to the folks on the street. This was shocking in its day that these rare and wonderful plants could get into the hands of the working classes Impressionists like to use brash bold strokes to reflect movement and unlike their predecessors who painted smooth, detailed images of religious stories, the Impressionists painted people bathing and doing everyday things like hanging up the washing (Laundry, Berthe Morisot 1875) Shocking stuff indeed.

The structure of groups of individuals getting together and creating new ideas is something else that is open to all of us. I’m sure most of us are part of a group of some sort. Even in our own gardening clubs we can come up with some pretty radical new ideas. They may not become a movement that will influence the world, but they are important in the grand scale of things never the less. 

My influence presently comes from some of the Impressionists who, as they got older, simplified their paintings by not putting in anything that wasn’t needed. A figure could be reduced to one brushstroke and a sky could be made with just a few flashes of grey and blue paint. So in my quest for gardening excellence I’m planning to design a complete garden and just put one solitary plant in it. 

That should shock the gardening world.

First Week


It’s back to college this week. I had such a good time last year in my art portfolio evening class that I decided to sign up for a part time Art Diploma course at the Tech in Derry. Its one day a week, which should give me plenty of time to do all of the other things I do in the remaining six days.  I’m not sure what the ‘other things’ are besides gardening, but I’m sure I’ll fit them in.
Art History
The first thing we will be doing every week is looking at art history. There are a lot of well-known artists, although when I was asked who my main influences were I couldn’t think of anyone, not one artist. I have a lot to learn. I could reel off a list of ten great garden designers, but they didn’t count although they are great artists in their own right.
There are similarities to artists that work with canvas and those that work with a spade I think. One big difference that I see is when I design a garden I am thinking what it’s going to look like in 1, 5, or even 10 years’ time, drawing seems a bit more static although the use of colour is important in both. I’m going to enjoy comparing my gardening knowledge with the new art history class.
Lost the Plot                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                                                      I am enjoying the freedom to be creative. Our first project is to create a hat, the more flamboyant the better. Now you would think that I would link up gardening with this but I thought I’d try something a bit different. I have been obsessed with lamps and lampshades recently ( I think it’s something to do with the nights closing in and getting ready to hibernate) so it seemed obvious that I would take old bits and bobs in the garage like plastic pipes, cable ties, old buttons and turn them into a lampshade hat. I think it works well, it’s an oversized 1940’s German design with a real working light bulb in it (torch). It isn’t that practical though as the base is made from plasterboard so it’s a bit sore on the neck. I see a garden ornament coming when it’s finished.
It’s not all bizarre fun, frolics and goings on though. Next week we are heading out to Ness woods to draw, paint and take photos. It should be right up my street…my two biggest interests combined and no plasterboard in sight. Add a flask of tea to the mix and I am in heaven.
Bargain of the Week
I got a fantastic end of season bargain today. I got three 3metre rolls of heather screening reduced from 90 euro to 10 euro. I had to have them even though it was a total impulse buy and I had no idea where I was going to put them. I walked out of the shop extremely happy. 
As soon as I got home and a quick scan around the garden I realised that there were loads of places I could put a screen up. There’s always something to cover up and the priority for me is the oil tank. I did manage to obscure the view of it from the kitchen window this summer by carefully planted climbing bean plants, but they won’t be there in winter.  
Where to put it
I put one full piece of the screen around the oil tank and then tied it straight onto the plastic securing the top with a few heavy pots. It looks like a small haystack and although it won’t last more than a year or two it’ll do for now. The cabin veranda (sounds posh but it’s the stickie-out bit of the shed) overlooked the tank as well so that’s improved to view nicely. As the lengths are 3 metres high I cut the second one in half and that has gone along the neighbour’s fence which is giving us a bit more privacy. I am still deciding where to put the third screen, but I’m sure it won’t be long until it’s found a home.
Its best tenner I have spent in a long time!



There’s been a bit of a knock on effect after setting up the shed, sorry, cabin. I’m not talking about the culmination of youth sitting on the veranda playing music on their iphones, it’s more about the thick gungy algae that’s taking over the lawn.  Setting up the cabin meant that I needed to do a lot of walking around holding a cup of tea and looking at the levels for the base. This has resulted in me compacting the ground quite considerably. 

The ground was pretty sparse on the grass front because I was working where the large trampoline was originally, and that cut off most of the light for the grass to grow. The two factors of sparseness and walking has allowed the alga to take hold at a startling rate. There doesn’t seem to be an area free of it for 5 square metres. I tentatively scraped some of the gunge off to see what was underneath and even though we have had a lot of rain the ground was dry. It reminds me of the flat green mat that used to form on my plant pots when I watered them with tap water. This means the alga is absorbing the water and draining off what it doesn’t need so the grass won’t compete with it. It’s all very clever.  

I do have a plan though. I have scraped the area to allow water to get in and then I have aerated the ground with a garden fork, this should at least allow the ground to both get wet and drain more freely which will be a start to eradicate the problem and promoting grass growth. As usual I don’t want to use chemicals as this doesn’t really sort out the underlying issues, they would just be a quick temporary fix. 

We’ll see if it works. 

One more reason for the algae spread is the fact that my cabin guttering downpipes are running straight onto the grass. I have a plan to rectify this too. I am thinking about modifying the flow direction extending the pipes so it runs 5 yards into the rear door of the polytunnel. This’ll give me a chance to fill up big water barrels and the excess can water the plants instead of lawn algae. I can alter the flow depending on conditions as I wouldn’t want things too wet in the winter. It might be a good idea for me to get a proper water storage system with a filter so we can channel it into the house. It’s amazing just how much water we can collect even with just a light shower.

Saving Seeds
I’ve been looking at what vegetable seeds I can save this year. I let a couple of beetroot go to seed at the start of the seasonand they are so slow at maturing I don’t know if it’s worth all of the room they are taking up. The broad beans on the other hand have produced an amazing crop of dark brown pods full of dried bean in next to no time. I thought I had only left a few pods on the plants but pulling them up this week revealed about 50 pods, with more than enough beans to get a good crop next year. They are one of the earliest crops to go in and can be started in October for an early show.

The coriander plants will self seed quickly and I predict will be a bit of a weed in the tunnel next year like the tomatoes were this. I am letting some spinach go to seed too. I thought I would leave one courgette to go to seed as well and I am allowing it to grow to its full potential. It’s getting massive, pity I didn’t enter it in the ‘Biggest Marrow’ competition (should there be one) as it looks like a small Zeppelin airship. I’ve never really gone for the largest vegetable prizes; I leave that for the people who plant carrots down drainpipes to get 8 foot roots. This marrow has given me a taste for biggering though and I am even pumping it full of fertilizer to get it as big as I can before the end of the season. 
We won’t be eating it as it’s the one I am saving for the seeds. It’s the most fun I’ve had this month, sad but true.
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