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Garden Advice – Gardening this February

cotoneaster tree

The weather may well feel mildly inclement as February begins but temperatures have, so far, been quite mild and that is causing some unusual reactions in to the macro and micro of the Irish landscape. Weather aside, there is much to be done and the plant world, with or without rainfall waits for no [wo]man.

Shrubs and Pruning

secateurs carpinus betula

I generally try to give my plants and trees some form of a hair cut at least once a year. Sometimes just to tidy them up, other times just to give them a good kick up the ar5e. But like [or not at all like] a Mom cutting a childs fringe for the first time, when pruning always remember:

  • select diseased or damaged wood to be removed first
  • once you cut, you can’t stick branches back on
  • garden books are not doctors, just guides. Use your eyes ~ there was a reason why I was always encouraged to talk to my plants individually as a nipper 😉
  • Always ensure your tools are razor sharp and clean

The science behind is quite smart in getting the plants hormones going. My advice – beware of just trimming to tidy. Although we may prefer it, for the plant it’s far better to cut it back.

Tree and Hedge Planting

If your hedge got whopped out of existence over the last two seasons – now is also tree and hedge planting season. Do not even dream of going at it when the weather gets good – horticulturally – that can’t and won’t happen ~ that is unless you have a larger bag of cash to spend. There is a window. Whilst it is open ~ use it and work with the seasons !

Again behind the plant science – the wooden plants are in their dormant state and generally will remain so long as temperatures remain below that 12 – 14 celsius range. Once they pop above that the clock is ticking and they should really have been replanted within that time frame.

Lawn Care

highbury lawns dublin

I threw in my image of Highbury stadium for the craic… Back to it! My lawn is over used and over run by human pedestrian traffic and hens and dogs…. It is however a family garden and is there to be used. In sports, a surface or pitch is generally spiked for aeration, filled with sand to improve drainage, over-seeded and fertilised.

I won’t be driving a tractor across mine but I will use a garden fork instead and do something extremely similar. And before you are offered a bag of 10-10-20 free gratis – modern technology applies and fertilisers have come a long way. Slow release fertilisers act when temperatures go above the 12-14 celsius range ie. when the [grass] plant is growing and aren’t leached through the soil when a hard rain falls. That aside, lawns have taken an absolute battering of the last few seasons and need deserve that little tlc.

Trees

winter buds lime tree corkscrew hazel winter

As you can see above [left] my Lime trees, Tilia cordata ‘Greenspire’ are well into bud burst and the new stunning red stem growth is a real fresh welcome to the garden. You can see where crown raising [removal of lower branches] took place last year and albeit in a more minor format is now required again. The rest of my trees [Sorbus, Betula jacqumontii, Caprinus betula to name a few] will however need a little of my lopping shears as versus the secateurs.

On the right is the silhouette of the Coryllus avellana ‘Contorta’, a real welcome addition to any garden. But whilst the growth should all be ‘contorted’ – if you look closely some stems are straight and upright and these, the plant attempts to revert back to its forefathers and become an ordinary hazel once again, should be removed and cut to the butt.

Colour For your Garden ?

laurus nobilis mahonia

Outside of the main tasks noted above, my daffodils are on the rise and I have even seen some in flower which is slightly unusual. My hyancinths, bar one [there’s always one! ], are doing as well outside as they are inside.

Bulbs aside, Mahonia in flower, Laurus nobilis hedge in fruit, polyanthus in flower and cotoneaster in fruit…. all in January. And these are just 4 very varying examples I passed in my garden. It might just make one think, why don’t I get some of that in mine. I guess I never understood that the garden looks so bare in winter cliché. I know I asked why a lot as a child, but as a horticulturist, in this case it’s more a case of Ich verstehe nicht. Colour, fruit, flower, birds…. it is phenomenal the return you get when you give a little. The answer plant some colour for the entire year round.

Food Stuff

rhubarb

The smart gardeners make it look so easy. There’s a reason for this. Planning and planning. Planning aside, my rhubarb [pictured above] has never been forced in its life. And never will ~ see picture above left. My wild garlic is simply brilliant but it can be so wild, so at your own peril [or not] if you choose to plant some. My fruit trees – are for now dormant so it’s a great time to prune, clip and train [see above]. My broad beans, onions and garlic planted last season have all my troughs full, so I’m a little stuck for space [surprised ? January! ] I did however find a space to sow some mammoth onions.

Outside of that… January has been a busy bee month and February is really on course to be pretty much more of the same. Part of the reason may be down to two Mount Everest type winters or maybe just the mild temperatures we’re having now.  Either or I do know, so long as nature is around, there is beauty literally everywhere.

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buttercup

The Cheaters Guide To Growing Your own

It is a question that comes up a lot…. Mainly from people who have a job, 42 kids, a life, a dog and a door bell. A lot of which will fit into the category of

I’ve got maybe 10 minutes in the evening. It’s not enough time! what can I do to grow my bits, something, anything, in the garden… ?

I’m not going to write some big bible crapola on what you can do. This post is put simply what I am doing. What I planted last year and what takes little or no effort.

I’m going to split this post into four parts. Tall, medium and small – plant them and walk away and the bit you could potentially call farming.

The first is what for me was and is an investestment, of sorts.

It’s the fruit trees and the like. They are planted once. Paid for once and require very little attention thereafter. You see the fruit. You pick the fruit. You eat the fruit.

I have written many times on trees in this blog. The how to plant will never change. It’s what you plant that’s important. The key is to chose the tree to fit the space from an eventual size, growth per annum and type of fruit you want.

I personally have 10 eating apples, 5 cooking apple, 5 pear and 5 edible cherry trees. But don’t let that impress you. I have experimented with some fig, apricot and olive trees but really, you should just choose what you like in the amount that will suit you and the type. There’s some maintenance in everything [even tarmacadam], but it’s minimal if you do your homework. Here’s five you can try that will give you a return pretty soon. In your case – just remember there’s usually a reason why a tree will be cheaper. Buy once. And buy very well.

In this category

  • apple trees
  • pear trees
  • plums
  • apricot
  • cherries

The second group don’t grow as tall and are really great in small spaces, balconies and apartments and as with the trees, can all be planted in pots, if you wish.

Once again the same rules apply. You plant the fruit, pick it – when it appears and then eat it. Some say the rhubarb needs the stools split, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to. Similarly the bushes will need some select pruning the same as the taller trees… but not much. The correct purchase should mean a handful of clippings as versus a trailer load. Once again. Buyer be [very a]ware.  But once and buy well. It will pay you back.

  • blackberries
  • rhubarb
  • gooseberries
  • bay laurel
  • red currants

The third lot are the lower growers and in fairness if you have a set of pots and pans your regular picking will be all the pruning it needs.

This plethora, for me include

Not much to it after that… and not much more to say being quite fair.

The last lot is something I don’t really want to list and require a little or a lot more attention.

But if you have any amount of category 1 and/ or 2/3 in your space you already look green. So now you can choose less of these babies depending on the time limit you have. If you’ve been following Philips 3 square metre farm patch on the podcast – you’ll have a better idea of where I’m going with this. Moreseo, you’ll better appreciate why I agree that 3 square metres is more than enough to keep your home filled with produce.

Last year I grew the following – and more – but I won’t bore you with the gory details and will tell you the ones I found the easiest. I grew all of these in old pots, pint glasses, window boxes or whatever could contain some amount of soil as a by the way.

The reason these are in a group all of their own is because unlike the other groups… with this final batch – once you crop it or it comes to the end of the season you must start all over again the following year and grow them again – where the others generally speaking – just keep on giving.

What about that for a relationship. I ignore you for an entire year. And then you arrive at my home and say

….here ye go buddy, have a big box of juicy apples

Ah sometimes I’m just so ruddy hilarious I crack myself up 😆

So I could have put the image of the seedlings at the top and told you of my years of studying horticulture – but being really honest this post is about encouraging those who aren’t so green who’d love a dabble and would maybe like to look a bit greener. In that same breath it’s not rocket science. And anyone who tries to tell you different is full of it.

You don’t need an allotment, an acre or a garden [Great for you if you do]. You need a window ledge, or a balcony or a small patio – maybe it’s some jam jars or 2 hanging baskets – and you also need an ability to smile, because sometimes a plant simply decides it doesn’t feel like growing where you want it grow. The it’s not you it’s me scenario. But ultimately, one should remember any plants sole purpose on this planet is to reproduce and as long as you understand that – it will do what it’s supposed to do.

For this gardener, I’ve never bought super dooper compost, a propagator kit or miraculous growing fertilisers. Ever. Not for food crops.  In fact I’ve never even bought a soil testing kit. I give all of my plants no special treatment.

What I will say is I maybe have a better understanding of plants and a happy confidence in the fact that it will grow. But…. any gardener that says they know it all and has never got it wrong is most likely in a straight jacket. That said, I still talk to all of my plants. I play the vinyl player when I am gardening in my spare time and most important of all I enjoy it.

Back to it, last week I planted onions and garlic. More importantly, as I said in the post the growing season [for 2011] has officially started

The problems that usually arise, garden wise, are best described with hindsight being that of 50:50 vision, in the context that once one sees the plant in its fullest glory one may wish they had planted some of this or that, that could only be there if planted some months previous.

For now, it is February. For your garden, patch or space – Go forth – give it a lash. Let me know how you get on. If you do have any problems…. I’m here for you when and if you need me. Don’t forget to smile. 🙂

The Sodcast Guests – Jane Powers

sodshow, garden podcast

The Sodshow Garden Podcast – every Friday – in iTunes, www.sodshow.com all good podcast stores.

Listen to this Sodcast episode in MP3 – or – you can subscribe or/ and listen to the podcast via iTunes. Alternatively you can subscribe to the blog and listen to them right here. Missed Episode 9 of the garden podcast ?

Introducing Jane Powers

I met with Jane today, Tuesday 5th October in her back garden in Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin.

...

Over a mug of coffee we had a sort of chat between two gardeners kind of a conversation about how, why and just where it all began.

Jane is a garden writer and photographer living in Ireland and writes the weekly gardening column in The Irish Times Magazine also contributing to various other publications in Ireland and the UK. At present she is working on two gardening books. The first, The Living Garden: a place that works with nature, will be published next spring by Frances Lincoln.

Jane is the second guest for the sodcast, the garden podcast.

I find personally, that to get an insight into the behind the scenes of a person, speaker, writer and in this case the fellow garden lover that is Jane makes such a huge difference to…. even just reading Saturdays article over again.

Jane will be a regular contributor on the Podcast and you can tune in this Thursday to hear my first conversation with her. Details of how to are at the top of this weblog post. You can also visit the sodcast – podcast page on iTunes

My Links for Jane:

You can of course contact me on:

If you listened to the Audio, you’ll really enjoy this…. It made me smile 😉

J. F. Powers Winner of the 1963 FICTION AWARD for MORTE D’URBAN

National Book Awards Acceptance Speeches:

Among my several children there is a little girl, Jane, age four. The other day she came to me with a piece of paper, a manuscript, her own, and I pretended to see words and sentences in her mock handwriting — with which she takes great pains. “Once upon a time,” I began. “Long, long ago.” After that, there was a moment when I didn’t know where I was, but I was relaxed about it, and soon I was reading along, going on about a bear and a dragon who had got into a hell of an argument over which one should be the one to step aside and let the other pass. Jane was absolutely hooked. And why not? A good, strong story line, dialogue, description, and characterization — all excellent. But I was beginning to wonder, as the story got better and better, how it would all end. To wonder, yes, and to worry. “And the bear opened his big red mouth,” I read, “and the dragon opened his big red mouth” — and right there I came to the bottom of the page, I looked to see if the story was continued on the other side, but it wasn’t. Silently I returned the manuscript to the author. She had a stunned look. “Wait,” she said, and pulling herself together, rushed off to write some more.

There, in that little scene, I can see the power and the glory of the storyteller — and the responsibility evaded. “The man of letters,” Allen Tate has said, “must recreate for his age the image of man, and he must propagate standards by which other men may test that image, and distinguish the false from the true.” This, of course, is easier said than done, but this should be the writer’s work, always the end in view. Even the ignorant man, if he is an artist, can reach beyond himself. He has the power, in Henry James’ words, “to guess the unseen from the seen, to trace the implications of things, to judge the whole piece by the pattern, the condition of feeling life in general so completely that you are well on your way to knowing any particular corner of it.” This is the writer’s power and glory. But not without responsibility, and this, for the writer, as writer, artist, means responsibility to his craft and therefore to his readers.

When Jane returned with her manuscript, I said, “Oh, yes. Well, the bear opened his big red mouth, yes, again, and the dragon opened his big read mouth, again, and — and they ate each other up!”

Jane, I could see, didn’t care for this at all, and didn’t properly understand it. “That was a dumb story,” she said, but not so much to me as to herself. She was blaming herself.

“No, Jane. That was a very good story,” I said, and that, in fact, was how I felt about the story.

And that is how I feel about my novel Morte D’Urban, too, but I want to thank the judges, Elizabeth Hardwick, Harry Levin, and Gore Vidal for honoring the book and me as they have.