Friday, March 27, 2015

Book: The Wildflowers of Ireland - A Field Guide by Zoë Devlin

 I don't think I have fully grasped the 'Selfie Stick' concept...

Until recently I used to claim that I was an avid “selfie” photo taker. Well before everyone was stretching their phones at arm’s length I was there in my garden taking images of myself pressed unnaturally close to whatever it was I was talking about.  I did used to get someone to take the picture for me but it was too much trouble and the moment was usually gone before the picture was taken.
I usually embellish my own images by including myself with a huge grin or a look of quizzical wonderment at what it was I was looking at. It’s a simple formula but seems to work for me and stops people being shocked when they see me in the street for the first time in a few years. 

Selfie Stick
My lad got a “selfie stick” this week and as soon as I saw it I knew this was the way to go for me. I can be far more animated with my weekly pictures now as it has a remote control.  I haven’t quite got the use of it yet as I think I’m supposed to keep the actual rod out of the picture. The idea of using the telescopic stick is made more enjoyable knowing that they are now becoming classed as antisocial, even some museums and other public places are banning them. That’s my kind of gadget. As long as no-one shoves one in my face.

The Wildflowers of Ireland
One person that takes her own images but manages to keep out of them is the wonderfully talented Zoë Devlin.  Zoë has taken hundreds of beautiful images of Irish wild flowers over the last 35 years and published a book called ‘The Wildflowers of Ireland - AField Guide’ along with a new website titled   

Zoë hopes to add a new dimension to a country walk by drawing our attention to the amazing but often overlooked beauty of what is growing along the way.

 “Even in the earliest parts of the year, there are wildflowers to be found, and when you get into the habit of looking at every hedgerow, wayside and ditch, you’ll be well rewarded.” Zoë is also including folklore with regard to many of these wildflowers and any other relevant herbal information, historical or literary allusions.

800 Irish Wildflowers
 Zoë tells us more about the wonders of wild flowers. “In Ireland, we have over 800 flowering plants. Our mild climate and varied soil types are the major influences on the range of plants growing here.  Our flora, though much shared with Great Britain, contains fifteen plants which are not found there and this group of plants is collectively known as the Lusitanian Flora. The members of this plant group would have relatives more usually found in the Mediterranean.
One of the most interesting areas for Irish and visiting botanists alike is Co Clare’s limestone pavement, The Burren and there are several of the Burren’s wildflowers listed on the website, including Mountain Avens, Hoary Rockrose, Lesser Butterfly Orchid, Shrubby Cinquefoil and Spring Gentian.  In our natural woodlands, plants such as Wood Sorrel and Enchanter’s Nightshade occur, and on our blanket and raised bogs one can find Bog Asphodel, Common Butterwort and Round-leaved Sundew.  

Many plant families are well represented in Ireland.  The Daisy Family – Asteracea – is widespread with varieties of Ragwort, Thistle, Knapweed and Hawkweed.  Also the Geranium Family – Geraniaceae – containing the wonderful Burren wildflower, Bloody Cranesbill, several other Cranesbills and the well-known Herb Robert."

“Conservation of our wildflowers is of the utmost importance as they are now facing threats on several different sides.  One is the changing uses of land for building purposes or different agricultural practices and there is the increase in invasive species, particularly aquatic plants, which crowd out our native species.  Also it is estimated that climate change will affect 15% of our Irish flora, the most vulnerable being alpine plants.  Estimates are that as many as 120 species are under threat in Ireland, six on the verge of extinction.  Through education and awareness of the diversity of our wildflowers, perhaps, just perhaps, the tide can be held back a little longer.”
Zoë does say that she has a scientific approach to the flowers to some extent, but she is in reality very much drawn to the wonderful, delicate, magic creation which is a flowering plant.  They are her passion and she closes by saying:
 “I hope that I can pass on some of that feeling for the beauty that is all around us if we just choose to find it.”  

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Slow Start and the NooCity Growbed

The winter can be quite harsh on plants and their containers. This isn’t a new revelation I have had by any means; it’s just a thought after looking at some photos of a canvas bag I planted up with annuals last year. The aforementioned bag is sitting in the old pea bed looking very sorry for itself. The handle frayed and everything else went mouldy as the geraniums rotted.  I’ve grown to love this distressed look though because if I didn’t I would be driven mad trying to maintain everything to its original state. My wicker wall baskets are dropping to bits and the metal containers are all rusting. But you know what? I’m just going to plant them up again this year and I’ll bet they will look great (well, to me anyway).  I sort of feel that anyone can buy new looking garden containers but to have something that has been aged and matured in the Irish winter has a special charm and is full of character. You just can’t buy that (well you could if you wanted to buy my rotting canvas bag)

I caused a bit of a furore on my facebook page the other day when I posted a picture of some succulents growing in books. Holes had been cut into the covers and pages removed to form a circle large enough for some soil and a plant or two. The covers were painted with wood glue and were very decorative and worthy of being put on the dining room table as a centrepiece. Others disagreed and thought the idea of using books and not having them on shelves so you could read them was a disgrace. It’s divided the gardening community.

More Ideas
I think you could put a plant almost anywhere. I particularly like the idea of putting flowering specimens in old paint cans that have dripping paint going down the sides. The flowers could be chosen to match or compliment the colour of the tin. How about old chandeliers, used and broken kitchen sieves, speakers, old ties, trousers fastened at the legs, empty chocolate boxes, empty snail shells…. I could go on as the list is endless. All I know is that come the growing season all of those unruly looking containers will be a fabulous addition to the garden.

Slow Start
I still haven’t ordered any seeds from Klaus this year. I haven’t even thought what I am going to be growing. It’s not apathy or neglect; I’m trying to be patient. Over the years I have watched my seedlings and found that the ones I plant later in the season seem to do better and have less pest and disease. I’m pleased I am not in the position of growing for the public and having to grow things in heated propagators, it’s very time consuming. My main priority is to get the beds ready for when things have warmed up enough for me to plant directly outside. This year I am taking the very “Lazy Gardening” approach and looking forward to just sitting and relaxing. I have yet to sit for more than 2 minutes in the garden before I find jobs to do, but this year I am going to stretch that out by at least another 8 minutes so that I can have 10 minutes of relaxation. Oh the pleasure.

There is a new product coming onto the market this year. It’s got  going by means of Indiegogo, which is the same as a Kickstarter project. It’s a small raised bed made from canvas with a solid plastic frame. The raised bed, called NooCity Growbed has a drainage area at the bottom and their unique selling point is that it has a worm bin in the middle of the bed. The kitchen compost is put into this and watered. The worms digest  the food and the resulting liquid feed is taken up by the plant roots. So far they have raised €40,000 so manufacturing will begin shortly. The 125cm beds will retail at around €130. The makers say that the beds are ideal for the urban landscape as they can be put up on balconies and rooftops.  I might invest in one for the craic and see if it works.  . It all sounds great and I am sure they will be using canvas much more suited to the job than my rotting bag in the pea bed

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Tree of Hope and National Tree Week

17000 trees are being given away. Yes, It's National Tree Week and if this weekends closing date is too soon for you to get one, we can at least be aware of the ones in our gardens and see they are doing OK by checking cables and stakes are not too tights and there are no broken branches hanging. The actual Tree Week started on the first of this month by the tree council of Ireland and they go one step further caring for trees on a national level.

What is the Tree Council?
The Tree Council is an umbrella body for organisations involved in tree planting, management and conservation. The main role of the Tree Council is to promote the planting, care and enjoyment of trees. It does this through networking with its members and friends, the organisation of events and tree related activities, the publication of literature, and the management of national tree records and through the provision of an information service to the public.
The heritage trees register is an important resource that the Tree Council is involved in creating and maintaining. The heritage and ancient trees to survive as long as possible and the Tree Council help protect them. They find the trees, map them, photograph and record them.

More than just trees planting
As well as tree planting ceremonies, the range of events this year will include: forest and woodland walks, nature trails, tree climbing, poetry readings, exhibitions competitions, tree plantations (where communities are challenged to plant a target number of trees on a designated local site over a fixed time period) and of course the week wouldn’t be complete without a tree hugging session.

 What can we do to celebrate Tree Week?
As I mentioned, we have until this coming Sunday to take part in something. So if there isn’t time for this year then maybe think longer term and organise something for next year.
A few suggestions would be for schools to have planting days, do an environmental play with the children, get Tidy Towns groups involved in cleaning up wooded areas and planting. Then there’s always organising walking days with a tree expert.

For more information on what’s available and what you can do in the future check out the Tree Councils website.

Tree of Hope
One date for the diary in Donegal this weekend is a tree planting day organised by the Tree of Hope. The Tree of Hope is a voluntary group set up recently by Noeleen Fulham who wanted to provide a place of comfort where survivors can memorialise their loved ones lost to suicide or living with depression by planting a tree in their memory.

I asked Noeleen how the idea came about.  “I had sadly lost loved ones to suicide and found myself in a dark place; I just couldn’t get my head around the Whys? The What if? The loss? And the anger. I wasn’t in a space to go into a help centre or call a help line so I walked and I would walk for miles just trying to clear my head.  Then last March 2014 I saw an advert from the National Tree Council Of Ireland asking people to plant a Tree for Tree Week.”

Noeleen continues “Then the idea came to get a tree and call the tree the “Tree of Hope” The tree will be a focal point in the community as a symbol to all affected by a suicide or living with mental health issues to show our Support. 

The Tree Plantings are really taking off and my dream is for everyone nationwide/worldwide to plant a Tree of Hope in their own Community.

The Trees are always being visited by people and young children leave items under the Tree's for their Mam or Dad who may have sadly gone too soon. It's great healing for the children too. ...I wish there was a Tree Of Hope near me when I was walking along feeling so low. I know I would have stopped, took time out there and knew someone cared.”

Noeleen has set up a Facebook page until their website is up and running. The page gives details about where the tree are being planted and how to set up and plant a tree in your own community.
This week’s event on Sunday, 8th March starts at 12 noon on the Gwedore Road, Letterkenny. For more details visit Noeleen Fulham on 0863672209 email her at or go into the Facebook page

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Collecting Junk and Saved by the Dog....

I’ve been adding to my “Items of Interest” in the garden this week. Some might call it a collection of old rubbish, but not me. 

It all started a couple of years ago when I impulsively bought some old Irish galvanized red fire buckets at auction and it’s carried on from there. I now have old stoneware jugs, rusty metal containers, brass buckets, aluminium fixings and pipes, metal fan blades, old pressure gauges (brass and rust), canvas bags, glass bottles with taps and more.

All of these delights are sitting around happily with the terracotta pots and hypertufa containers I made last year. Although you might think (and many do) that I have just given you the stock list of an old scrapyard, they all have a purpose. Firstly they mostly have the ability to hold plants in them although I do have to watch the drainage in some of them as they fill up with water, secondly I think most of them stand up on their own as works of art that. To me embellish the look and interest of the garden as much as plants, trees and shrubs. They also require less maintenance and as I am presently laid up with a sore back, that’s a good thing.

Now to my latest acquisition. I came across four beautiful Victorian cast iron window frames complete with most of the glass. Some of it coloured along the edges.  They reflect the light beautifully and to me they were a “Must Have” as soon I saw them. They needed to be collected immediately so I managed to get them all into the car in one go and soon got them home and into place in the garden. The problem was that they weigh in at well over 50kg each and because I am not the best delegator or person that asks for help very often I decided to do everything myself. All seemed well until the following day when I was doing my usual routine of picking up the dog poo from the garden. I went over on my hands and knees as my back gave way and was stuck there unable to move.

Lassie Come Home
After a couple of minutes Bo, my faithful dog came up to me and slowly slid underneath my arched body. He licked my face and for a moment I got the feeling I was taking part in a Lassie film. “Good dog” I said. “Now go and tell momma that Timmy has fallen down the well”
My impression was short lived as I released pretty soon that his actions we not to save me but to get an old tennis ball that my arched body was covering.  He grabbed it in his mouth and enthusiastically put it down in front of me again and again on the floor for a good half an hour before Julie came home and spotted me “Just contemplating the day” laying on the path.

If anyone asks how I did my back say that Lassie and I were wrestling a bear in the woods. It sounds better than picking up dog poo in the garden.

Although I was stuck in one place for a while, I was thankfully facing the beautiful stained glass windows and in between the dogs slobbery ball being put in my way the time did give me some great ideas on what to do with them.

Two of the frames are arched and gothic looking which makes me think they could all have come either from a church or church hall. These would look lovely back in place in a building but they could also have the glass removed and turned into a mirror. This type of window would really be a great focal point for a smaller garden as the reflection would draw the eyes away from the boundary. They would look just as good inside the house too with the mirror and could be used as a piece of functional art. The rectangular windows are just as impressive but for now I think they can just be lovely features near the garage and wheelie bins. If I do nothing with them apart from appreciate their beauty for the next ten years then they will have served a great purpose.
Just as long as I don’t have to move them for a while.

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