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The Tribesman – Our Great Outdoors

peter donegan landscaping

This week, nee the last twenty four months, have been a mass roller coaster of highs and some lows for me in every possible sense of being a horticulturist. I am fully aware it has been like that for a lot of businesses, but I can really only and honestly refer to myself and my experiences.

Back to it, in my mind and in my humour I like to say that that depends on how you look at it. In reality, I think I knew what I was getting into as regards the landscaping industry when I started growing plants under my bed as a nipper, when I went to college to study horticulture and further when I started my own gardening business almost eleven years ago – in Ireland.

The reason the last twenty four months have been particularly tough is more reasoned by the weather than anything else in my opinion and the snow last year did more than beat the stuffing out of plants. It really did take a lot from people like myself who are reliant upon the great outdoors for a living and as a way of life.

In terms of how tough it was…. well, you can quote me on this

I’d rather be held down by four hundred Oprah Winfrey fanatics and made watch the double season finalé episode of Desperate Housewives than go through it again.

But whilst hindsight is a great thing, I realise and know that the weather in this little island has always been contrary. What it has equally made me realise is what a great country we do live in and how more than ever when times become a little rocky do we depend on those we know best.

More than that, I think I began to realise that as a gardener based in Ireland – sub category – Dublin – sub category – North County, Fingal – that the guy who manufactures, invents, makes and creates, employs, sells and services in a sub category most closest to my home was the business I really should be going to. In short, shopping local. Or, as local as is possible.

In the grander scheme of thinking, the weekend past has seen Irelands largest gardening event, Bloom In The Park, just pass us by. It is phenomenal to think that just five years ago there was no garden show for Ireland.

To put in context what it has achieved, last year almost sixty thousand people crossed the ticket barriers of the largest annual gardening event in the country. That, one should bear in mind in just five years in operation. Contrasted with The Chelsea flower show, on the go since year dot and it attracts around one hundred and fifty thousand guests per annum.

But Irish garden shows don’t simply stop at the gates of The Phoenix Park – there are many,  many more around the country and in saying that I realise quite quickly that there are a lot more great people in this delightful little place I like to call home.

I’ve always had a theory in my head that to get a staunch non gardener, outside – into the great outdoors is a logic first stepping stone. Be that as discussed in last weeks article, via my non gardeners group or, as I found myself doing in the depths of autumn some years ago, down at the Irish Conker Championships in Freshford in Co. Kilkenny – and the more I think about it the more I see that all over Ireland there are so many unsung heroes in so many villages striving to make a something a little brighter and very much for the better.

In my own little village, a population I believe that at the last census had no greater than six hundred people and within, there sits a pitch and putt club. Two of the volunteers, a husband and wife team, aren’t even from the locality. That, makes me smile.

Vince, the husband, was seventy years young just two weeks ago.

I know that there are Tidy Towns committees, horticultural societies, village fairs and fetes, to name but a few examples, being organised all over the country, literally as I type. I also know that somewhere in between my front gardens and the end of the road I may have only enough time to say thank you, to applaud or even just to admire the work others have done. More than that I know that this business, in whatever format, that I like to call the great outdoors isn’t that bad after all.

Maybe, I just need to be a little more like Vince.

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A non-Garden-er Group ?

It is Sunday May 29th as I’m typing this weeks piece and I’ve just returned from doing  the fifth outing for the garden group that I started last year.

What goes through my brain and why I decide to start these things I’ll never know. I know I get asked if I make money out my green adventure[s], but the answer to all variations in question is a very swift no. No I don’t make money from writing a garden blog. Nor from presenting the garden radio show, the SodShow. Not even from running a garden group.

So why the flipper do you do these things Peter….?

The last time I was asked that question…. it was a woman, nee, a Mother with a child; swinging out of her like a rotary washing line, pre-filled with a barrel of cola and caster sugar relishing in the energy derived from the gale force winds it had just decided to take full advantage of.

I looked at her and her son, he dressed in full Gaelic hurling Wexford attire. I know it was hurling as a by the way because the spritely seven year old was still wearing the helmet. And as he bounced his head off every Easter egg of every shelf in the supermarket, I asked Mom was he getting his game. Her mind cocooned in a sort of time warp, immune to the protected cranium around her now acting as a sort of battering ram, brought to this earth to destroy anything in its path made of food stuffs, she softly answered…

No Peter, they put him on for the last few minutes if they are losing badly, but that’s only because we have the mini bus and drive the team everywhere….. I reckon they just feel sorry him. To be honest, he s***e , I know he’s mine and all but…. fair play to them….

Explosion! Like a whirl wind passing off at the speed of light, someone clicked the imaginary magic switch and even though it was for just a moment, this soft calm spoken almost frail in her speak woman had by some unidentified odd form of metamorphosis had turned into Missus Terminator…..

Great to see you again……

I think she was trying to end the sentence with my name, but as she ended this unusual holler, my name turned into something different as she began running faster and faster away from me, her head like an owls revolving a full 180 degrees in the direction she was travelling….


As I took the corner I could see Johnny had just bounced off the mayonnaise display. Aisle 7 was on the verge of turning into the OK Coral and Mom had the only gun! Poor Johnny I thought as I quickly took the corner.

Back to gardens and my relevance. One can’t measure nor monetise a level of enjoyment. At least I can’t. Not when it comes to gardens. To be quite honest I always thought garden groups as a really boring place to be where levels of hierarchy maybe had a chance to shine through a means of speaking botanical latin, which is absolutely grand. And whilst I am well versed in that tongue, what I realised was that unless one had the language, knew the lingo and how to speak it, one could be very quickly alienated to the peripherals of [the horticultural] society.

If one wishes to think of it very simply and in a different light, let me pose this question. If one lives in an apartment, in Dublin City centre, works in the computer industry and has one house plant which some how manages to look green only because it is plastic…. how do I manage to get that person to take an interest in anything horticultural related, never mind a garden group outing.

What if that person described above did and then maybe started to write about this place and the outing on their weblog. What if they maybe then started to ask the odd garden question and got a taste of just how amazing the great outdoors actually is.

Let me give you some amazing statistics on the garden group attendees

  • 90% of all those who have come on the garden group outings I have organised live in apartments.
  • 90% of those don’t have gardens.
  • 95% of those have never gardened before.
  • 100% have never been a member of a garden group
  • 98% have never bought a garden magazine before.
  • 95% have never bought a plant before

But yet I can somehow or other get this demograph to come to Ballyboughal, middle of nowhere North county Dublin to walk the Slí na Sceacha, The Hedgerow Walk. Without wishing to sound selfish, but what do I get out of it ? On one hand not a lot. On the other I’m thinking and the aforementioned Mom and I most probably have a lot in common.

I don’t have a child of that age [yet] but the elation a parent must feel when your little runs out on the pitch or whatever it may be and does well, or not, must be immense.

Not to blow my own trumpet, but I’m just wondering if it is that easy for me to get a garden group together, then why aren’t there more non-garden-er groups like mine [?] I don’t have an answer to that, but I am of the thinking That The Tribesman isn’t such a bad place to start.

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I have never forced rhubarb in my life. In that same breath I like this post on The Cheaters Guide To Growing Your Own.

How do I grow my rhubarb….? Very simply. In fact if this post was a book titled an easy guide to rhubarb , it would say simply say…

plant it in the ground and you’ll be grand

….. the end 😉

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Onion – Planting Season Has Just Begun

On Sunday I arrived back to find a little parcel of onion sets – and some garlic sets – both of the same family [allium] anyway, had been dropped at my door.

I’ve spoke here about onions and garlic before, but for me its massively important as it marks the start of the growing and planting season. Some say that

…it must be too cold to be doing anything in the garden

I say take this advice at your very own peril. If, you wish to have some produce within the next couple of weeks then now – as versus in hindsight is the time to start spending 20 minutes or so in the great outdoors.

And you really can’t get anything simpler to start with. I’ve planted mine in large window boxes and tubs and dropped them at the back door of my house.

How Do You Do It…?

  • Last week [as the podcast would have told you… 😉 ] I cleaned out my planters.
  • I replaced just the top 6 inches of compost and added in some new stuff
  • Give the soil a light firm down and even it out
  • [image 1 above left] Place out your sets just so you can see them laid out…
  • Happy ?
  • make a hole to the left of it with your finger tip
  • Then tip each your onion set in so its just below surface level
  • And brush some soil over to cover them in
  • I didnt water the soil – but if you must, do so before you pop your sets in
  • easy peezy chalky cheezy
  • any hassles just leave a comment
  • About 6 inches apart for both garlic and onions

And now all you have to do is wait….

Why did I plant mine in pots ? Honestly, most people I know do it this way because they haven’t and aren’t going to turn their entire gardens to allotments and become farmers. If you only want to spend 20 minutes in the garden then this should be right up your street.

Remember about 10 should be enough for a large window box.

Like I said above, the same rules apply for garlic. And they are, in very simple terms, just sisters from the same family.

In a couple of weeks you should be doing a bit of this… 😀