Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Autumn Flowers and Climbing Ladders

Errigal?,no thanks... 
I’ve been cleaning the guttering this week. Well, more accurately I’ve been watching a very agile, capable young lad go up a ladder and clear them out on my behalf.  I’m not very good with ladders, it’s OK getting up them but it’s coming down I have bother with. It all started when I was a young lad (cue a flashback wave) my mother took me to a large lighthouse for a pleasurable day uot. I got half way up the sweeping spiral staircase and then just froze. The rest of the group went ahead to see the joys of huge pieces of cut glass dissipating the light over the sea whilst I huddled in a ball on the 200th stone step waiting for some company. (Cue another wavy flashback)

My other memorable time going up heights was the time I worked in a sand quarry. I thought to get over being scared of heights I would climb the vertical ladder up to the top of a 100 foot silo. “That’ll sort me out” I thought.

 It was a cold clear morning when I set foot on the cold steel and eventually made my way to the top. It took a while with lots of stops but I got there and climbed on the flat roof. As I mentioned earlier, it’s getting back on the ladder that’s the problem, I just couldn’t do it. Three hours I sat up on the top of that silo. It seemed like three weeks.

Eventually because of the cold, I plucked up the courage to dangle my legs over and slowly made my way down to the ground, one slow rung of the ladder at a time. I was under the impressing that facing your fears was a good thing, but as it turns out, not always. 

My latest wobble on a high place was climbing Errigal. I managed to get to the first peak but couldn’t for the life of me step on the narrow path to get to the second one. try as I might all I could see was the lake below and nothing to stop me falling into it. I wasn’t really a good role model for the children (who managed to take no notice of me and get to the other side) at least I can teach them not to be scared of spiders.

Anyway, that’s why I am not cleaning the leaves out of the guttering. It’s far too jarring on my nerves. 

It’s pretty early do be doing this type of job as there aren’t many leaves falling just yet but the lad was also fixing and replacing a few  tiles on the roof that had either broken or dropped off this year so anytime is a good time just to check.

Growing for Showing
This is the time of year that keen vegetable and flower growers make their way to the summer shows in the hope of winning a rosette or cup for “Best in Show” I had my moment of glory earlier in the spring when I won the “Best Air plant Display” in our local show (the only entrant if you recall) but at this time of year it’s huge carrots, onions and leeks, perfectly formed courgettes and longest beans. Vases are full of gladioli, dahlias, antirrhinums, sweet peas and asters and the judges take their role very seriously to keep up the high standards. I don’t have anything of show quality in my own garden. I was reading an article recently saying the broad beans have finished which made me realise I haven’t even harvested mine yet as they are hiding behind the runner beans.  They will probably be very tough and certainly not good enough to show, so I’ll just give them a good boiling.

Autumn Flowers
It’s not all about growing for showing, we can enjoy many beautiful swathes of colour in the garden for the next couple of months. Here
Asters and Michaelmas Daisies
Ice Plant (Sedum spectabile and other varieties)
  • Alstroemeria
  • Bergamot Japanese Anemones
  • Carex
  • Cranesbill (Hardy Geranium)
  • Dahlias
  • Echinacea
  • Eupatorium maculatum ‘Atropurpureum’
  • Ornamental Grasses
  • Monk’s hood (Aconitum carmichaelii)
  • Pennisetum varieties
  • Prairie Daisy
  • Verbena

Planning and Planting Tips
When planning your borders, choose a selection of plants that flower at different times through the year so there’s always something colourful to enjoy.
Plant taller growing autumn flowering varieties behind low growing summer ones so they’ll grow up above them once summer displays fade away.
A small group of, say, three plants of one variety often looks more impressive than choosing three different things.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Front Garden Ideas

Most people living around me have small front gardens. For this reason it’s always a pleasure walking to the local shops or to nearby friends and relations.  I’d say most of the gardens are no more than 25-50 square metres a piece but it’s amazing just how much variation there is in each garden. I’m always hanging my nose over fences to have a look at the attention to detail, so much so that progress can be very slow getting anywhere. If you think about it, front gardens are the only gardens you go into when the weather is bad and differ greatly from the rear gardens which are made for (in the most part) rest and relaxation. When we head out to the car or go out of the house it’s usually the front garden we move though. For this reason it’s a good idea to pay a bit of attention to the finer details.

Five Suggestions

I’ve thought of five suggestions to get the most out of the front gardens. 

Complement the street scene. Most roads have a look and if you work with the surroundings this can give the garden a feeling of greater space. Low key and formal would work well for easy care.

Symmetry and Structure. Well defined flower beds, straight lines and solid planting could work and would be easier on the eye than attempting a wildflower meadow.

Structure. Keep well defined paths and edges and when the winter comes these could be the main feature, or the ‘bones ‘of the area. You wouldn’t want dead soggy plants on the pathways. Work with the house planting low shrubs under the windows and taller ones next to the wall areas. Work with the flow of the house not against it.

Layout. Show the way to your front door. A clean path up to some large planters besides the door would be good. You’ll find a wavy indirect path will only cause people (including yourself) to take a short cut.

Kerb Appeal. This is only an issue if you are thinking of selling the house, or using a room as an Airbnb. 

Plants to Add
Steady, practical and low maintenance is the order of the day when it comes to plants for the front garden.

Evergreens. Shrubs which stay green and have a good bulk all year round - are key to front gardens.

Climbers. Say no to ivy and climbing hydrangeas which have suckers and will find their way into the guttering, the mortar and, eventually, the windows. The climbers that are less likely to damage your house are ones which need support to grow up, so wisteria, clematis and roses would suit. A good tip is to grow them up sturdy trellis which is just hooked on to the wall. The trellis (and the climber with it) can be removed for cleaning or painting the walls. 

Trees. Remember they grow big! I always shiver when I see a monkey puzzle tree planted six feet from the front door. They grow over 100 feet eventually. Other trees can undermine the house foundations too.

Seasonal Changes
As you see the garden everyday planning the seasons will be fun.
Front gardens are perfect for pots. Some of my neighbours especially like putting out ornaments .

Keeping it low maintenance
I chose chamomile for my front garden this year as cutting the grass was a bit of an inconvenience. Maintaining the chamomile takes longer to do but it’s generally just hand weeding. You could try gravel or paving for an even lower maintenance option, generally the more hard landscaping you have the lower the maintenance will be. The easiest solution to look after is paving - bricks, slabs, driveway pavers - but it can prove to be expensive to put these over the whole of the front, even if your garden is small. So gravel is a decent halfway house.

A Few No-No’s
The place for expressing yourself in your garden is in the back garden. Keep the front garden simple. Don't make life more difficult that it needs be. If you need access to your windows make sure there's a path there and the plants aren't too big. Remember the straight paths too. Path materials and walls are pretty safe but maybe choose lower cost pots, plants and containers just in case they decide to go walkies.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Sonairte and Pesky Flies- Where Have They Gone?

Do you fancy visiting the Sonairte Ecology Centre in Laytown , County Meath in the near future. Well you can’t. 

The centre, which was established in 1986 by members of the local community and concerned environmentalists to promote environmental awareness and education promotes ecological awareness and sustainable living  posted this message on Facebook:
“For the avoidance of any doubt, Sonairte "in its entirety" will be closed to the Public from 5pm this Friday 25th August. This includes all Tenants, which includes The Sunflower Cafe, who after 5pm on Friday will no longer have access to the Centre. After this point, the Centre will be solely "Private Property" and trespassers will be prosecuted. We appreciate the public’s support at this difficult time. Thank you Sonairte”
Short and to the point, the centre didn’t go into any more details about the sudden closure. It is speculated that spiralling insurance costs have something to do with the decision to close, rising from under €10,000 to over €30,000 in the space of a year. 

The ecology centre was a busy place with training courses, school visits, monthly craft markets selling produce from their 10 acre gardens, nature trail and river walks along with a craft shop were just some of their biggest attraction. The centre will still sell it’s produce but you’ll need to go to the local shops for it as the gates are staying firmly shut for the time being until the matter has been resolved.

As I am in the mood for a bit of news, have you heard about the “Windscreen Phenomenon? It’s been reported that there are far fewer squashed insects on your car windscreens a compared to life in the 1970’s. Flies, gnats, hoverflies, beetles and wasps all seem to be in fewer numbers. Even driving at night people have commented they see far fewer moths diving into the headlight beams.
Some people are blaming the reduction in insects on insecticide use with intensive farming. Since 2006, beekeepers have lost about a third of their managed bee colonies each year largely due to the loss of flower-rich grassland which has declined by 97 per cent from the 1930’s.
Rothamsted Research has also monitored insect populations using traps for more than 50 years. Chris Shortall, an entomologist from Rothamsted said they had found evidence that the number of flying insects is falling, but said ‘the windscreen phenomenon’ was difficult to prove.

“The loss of insects from our windscreens is a well-noted anecdote, however actually demonstrating it is very tricky, if not impossible”

In 2004 the RSPB asked motorists to attach a ‘splatometer’ to the front of their cars - a piece of PVC film to collect insects, to see if they were declining. They recorded 324,814 ‘splats’, an average of only one squashed insect every five miles.

However the survey was only carried out once so it was impossible to see whether bug numbers had fallen over time. It will become more apparent in the near future if we see the decline in animals that depend on these insects for nutrition in the food chain. It’s estimated we have only identified about one quarter of the insect species on the planet

I doubt it as I think fewer insects hit the windscreens now than in the past.  Cars have changed shape over time, and are now far more aerodynamic with steeper angled glass, meaning fewer insects are hit. They just get caught in the updraft and fly over the top of the roof.  
Just to add, I think I have done my fair share of ‘bug cleaning’ from the car windscreen. As the summer draws to a close and the sleepy, drunk wasps come out to pester us I’m sure a few people will still think there are just a few to many insects around still to annoy us.

Ident Groups
There are a couple of insect identification groups in Ireland. The National Biodiversity Data Centre currently runs two insect monitoring schemes: the Irish Butterfly Monitoring Scheme, established in 2007 and the all-Ireland Bumblebee Monitoring Scheme, established in 2011. 

The Irish Butterfly ‘Red List’ found that, of the 35 resident and regular migrant species of Irish butterfly, one species is now extinct, six species are threatened with extinction and five species are of ‘Near Threatened’ status. Therefore, 18% of our butterfly species are now under threat, with another 15% heading in the same direction.

The Centre provides support and training for anyone wishing to begin to identifying and monitoring these wonderful insects. They will be expanding the monitoring schemes to cover more insect groups in the near future as they see the importance of monitoring this vital part of the food chain in a diverse world.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Hardy Annuals

I’m in Culdaff today. It’s the closest place to my home where I actually feel as though I am on holiday. Mcgrorys have offers on a double room for 49 euro a night which was too tempting to ignore. It's more of a ‘staycation’ than a holiday but relaxing never the less.

Technology is helping me write this week’s article as I am using the phone to type on Google docs. I could get used to this as it frees me up to work anywhere, even on the beach. Tonight though I'm writing/typing sat in McGrory’s cosy bar. The place is softly lit by a large number of soft Edison bulbs highlighting the many framed signed pictures of bands and musicians who have played here over the years. No live music tonight, but the familiar tones of Christy Moore ‘live at the point’ is playing on the sound system. It’s just the place to ponder how things are progressing in the garden.
Annuals in containers have done really well this year, so much so you can’t even see the pots.  Usually I place the young plants in rich potting soil and then just let them get in with it throughout the growing season with maybe just a splash of nettle/comfrey juice once in a while. It's the first time I've actually fed the containers on a regular basis with a liquid plant food and the results have been very favourable. Very little yellowing of the leaves, maybe just a few old leaves that need nipping off but very little else. Pansies, nicotinas, petunais, marigolds, begonias and fuchsias are all doing really well and pulling off the faded flowers before they start producing seeds also helps to lengthen the growing season. By this time of the year most of my containers are looking very sorry for themselves but with the addition of plant feed will probably go on until the first frosts.

I spent my daylight hours on the beaches around Culdaff and was amazed at the diversity of plants just on the coastline. These plants that grow in the wild, constantly being battered by the north winds are looking amazing at this time of year.  Sand loving succulents, rare orchids, tall water reeds and wild carrots are all looking glorious. 
 ally don't mind frost and the chilly winter winds and rain and these go under the heading of “Hardy An

Some of these plants are hardy annuals and only have a short period of time to grow, flower and set seed for next year. 

Hardy Annuals
There are a lot of annual plants we can grow in our own  garden that actu
nuals” We can start annual vegetable s off early, such as broad beans - but this week it’s the flowers I am looking at.
The hardy annual plants differ from the annuals I have in the garden such as petunias which will all be killed off with the cold.
Planting in autumn.
Autumn sowing is suitable for hardy annuals. Some of these annuals can be sown directly in the ground, and will withstand most frosts. Others are not quite so robust – they can be direct sown, but covered with cloches or horticultural fleece when frost is forecast. Alternatively, they can be sown in pots and kept frost-free over winter.
Direct Sowing
The benefit of sowing in autumn, and not spring, is that you'll have a much earlier flowering display. There are three main methods of direct sowing into the soil depending on the seeds and location.
Broadcast- scatter the seeds all over the ground and let nature do the work
Drills – Plant in straight lines in grooves in the soil and lightly cover.
Protected sowing – Planting in the ground and then covering with a cloche or some other transparent protection. Alternatively sow in pots and leave in an unheated greenhouse.
The benefit of sowing in autumn, and not spring, is that you'll have a much earlier flowering display.
This technique is not suitable for half-hardy and tender annuals. Unless you have access to a heated greenhouse, these are best sown in spring.
Types of Hardy Annuals
Hardy annuals requiring no protection
Pot marigold, cornflower, flax, love-in-a-mist, honesty and opium/Shirley poppies are all really hardy and will need no protection from the frosts.
Hardy annuals needing some protection
Californian poppy, baby blue eyes, sweet peas and toadflax all do well but will need a bit of protection in really cold snaps.
There’s no reason for why we can’t extend our growing season and I see no reason why I shouldn’t just relax and extend my stay  at McGrorys….”Excuse me, Barkeeper.”

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