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Image above of my Chilli seedlings growing on my kitchen window ledge taken yesterday. At present I turn them full circle square every 24 hours. To the science bit…

Phototropism is most simply defined as:

the growth of plants towards a source of light

source Collins English Dictionary 2009

In more detail it is defined as:

The growth or movement of a fixed organism toward or away from light. In plants, phototropism is a response to blue wavelengths of light and is caused by a redistribution of auxin from the illuminated side to the darker side of the shoot, resulting in quicker growth on the darker side and bending of the shoot toward the source of light. Certain sessile invertebrates also exhibit phototropism.source: The American

HeritageĀ® Science Dictionary 2002

Wikepedia explains it further, but unless you’re a total plant geek like me, you might not wish to read another not Peter definition. Moving swiftly onwards…

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Plant Division: Hellebores

hellebore propagation (1)

There are about 20 species in this genus of herbaceous or evergreen perennial flowering plants that come from the Ranunculaceae family. Fancy Dan long words and technical horticulture aside, if you ask one of them reads like a star sign garden advice columns for a flowering winter plant, Hellebores will no doubt always feature.

That said, for the old school gardeners out there, not having a Hellebore in your collection is a bit like not having Creedance Clearwater Revival on vinyl. And I and you both know, there is something seriously wrong if that is the case and for damn good reason. The reason I love them, is that they are best propagated, multiplied if you will, by division. A less technical term to use here might be splitting.

The Monty Don type gardening programmes of this world will recommend you put two garden forks back to back, bending the handles in opposite directions and tease them apart. Personally, though they are the best man for the job, I hate them short-handled ‘gardening forks’. And unless you are a Leprechaun, you will find they are just too small and require a fellow of my height is bent over at all times during their usage and that, unless you like moaning about your aches for eons is a pointless exercise.

Some may say I’m wrong to advise different to what for decades has always been the advice. But for me, in gardening one needs to be a little bit cocky. Cocky in a good way, if you get me. Like that dosser mate of yours who was always just too good at Mathematics whilst you struggling the whole time through and never understood why he never had to work at it; in reality and behind the scenes he very simply got and understood the equation. Yup, there’s a bit of that here for me.

The key here is knowing how far down to ram the spade in to insert your spade head, tiddling either through the newer growth as you go. To better get a grasp on it, when I was 12 or so I used to use my Dads hand saw for cutting steel; to better get a sense of how to instinctively just know. Funnily enough, when I got to college I was handed the exact same tool to propagate mint. And if you look at the image above, you’ll see the plant has a root system which has always reminded me of a sort of spliced cross section of a chocolate biscuit cake; so it kind of makes sense, if you get me.

Division done. Pot them up. Replant one or two bits for yourself and let the whole process start all over again. As for the rest of the plants, you can give them out as pressies. I know both Grandmam’s will be getting one from Ella once the pots root systems fill out. And isn’t that just the loveliest case of home grown is always better than shop bought šŸ˜‰

hellebore flower


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Sowing the Right Seeds

peter donegan

I went out looking for seeds this week, primarily as I had built some raised beds for a client and being that my qualifications are horticultural….. I told Mary [not her real name]

Sure Mary, of course there’s loads of stuff you can grow at this time of year….

Except when I visited my first port of call, the seed racks had been removed. I asked Jim the salesman [not his real name] what had happened…

Ah Peter…. nah we get the rep to remove the whole lot once the kids go back to school….

In conversation with another garden related business owner it seems this was the done thing.

I didn’t think people would be interested Pete….. at this time of year and all

In between all of this another client called and explained to me that she had bought seeds in a garden centre. I dropped by for a cuppa and we had a chat. The seed packets were shown to me and all appeared well until I realised one of the purchases were in fact Pumpkins. I read aloud….

Sow March, April….

Here’s the bit where I’m slightly confused.

And as I wondered the seed selling stores for myself in search of some inspiration, I saw this was not just a one off. I get the point where a sale is a sale, but why would I buy seeds, that are not sale price reduced, just in case you might ask, that I can do nothing with for six months. Pointless. But still this lady, Mary, had just spent over twenty euro on seeds.

Side-tracking ever so slightly, last year when the weather was oh so bad, I will admit that I grew Beetroot [variety boltardy] seeds on my kitchen window ledge – but that was just an experiment, albeit a messy one from an indoors perspective – to prove the back of the packet theorists entirely incorrect. The sowing time recommended as a by the way should be March to July. Whereas I sowed them in December with outside temperatures of minus eighteen celsius.

But it is to this point that I refer to the factors required for the growth of any plant.Put simply they are light, air, a suitable temperature, a suitable growing medium and water.

Knowing these is hugely significant as the elimination of any one of them will also cause the demise of any plant. In short if you prevent light getting to a plant – it will kill it. Hence and now you know why bark mulch may only somewhat prevents weeds from growing.

Back to the beets, what I had done was given the seed a suitable temperature [inside], sown the seed in compost, watered it and there was enough light in the room for it to be able to photosynthesise. I was also able to breath inside, so the air part was I assumed [correctly by the way] also take care of.

But it leads me to the point that with seeds and the packets in which they come in, it is very much the case that you can grow anything you want, at any time you wish – so long as you give the plant what it needs to grow.

To that and to an extreme hypothetical example – at the very least from an Irish perspective – should it be eighteen celsius in December I could grow Beetroots very easily. Again I refer to the back of the packet and Mary’s dilemma of having nothing to sow after all of her purchases.

The reality is I never paid attention to the back of any packet. Never. At present I have runner beans growing and for the purposes of this article I am not even going to check the recommendations as I already know I [apparently] shouldn’t have sown them about ten days ago. But if I get two pods – I’ll be a happy camper. Anything more than that and you are invited to my home for pea soup with extra added peas.

I am however smart enough to realise that there is a point where I shouldn’t push the boat too much against the tide and I know the annual getting into troubleĀ  routine for storing seeds in the kitchen freezer is quite shortly on the horizon.

My excuse for freezing the seeds is vernalisation. A word that is more synonymous with bulbs.

Vernalisation is the acquisition of the competence to flower in the spring by exposure to the prolonged cold of winter.

Like I said it’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. On that note bulb planting season has arrived. If you fancy doing so there are six that I recommended on The Sodshow, the garden radio show and podcast that I present.

Tulips, Daffodils, Iris, Crocus, Allium and of course the first bulb I ever purchased and grew at just seven years of age the Hyacinth.

Contact Peter Donegan

Sowing the Right Seeds, originally published in The Tribesman week Monday 5th September
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The Gardener


I’ve had an odd week of sorts [last week] in the garden. Well, it’s a little of the usual or, more of the same but it’s been an odd series of tasks that have taken place I suppose.

The weed pulling enthusiasts versus your and my chemical romance aside, it was a case of trying to dodge the showers, in part to kill of some weeds that were growing in lawns. Sticking with that for the moment, this is a very simple theory as to how that all works. There are two shapes the leaf of any plant can have. Narrow, like a grass leaf – or of a more rounded shape, in short. The molecular make up of the chemicals that kill only that of a more rounded leaf in lawns [ie daisy, buttercup etc.] is that it cannot attach itself to the narrow leaf of the grass plant and therefore only takes effect on the weeds ie. the plants we don’t want in our lawns. Problem solved.

If you are intending on doing a little of that be sure to use a hood for your napsack or calibrated sprayer. Better know as a cowel, it prevents wind drift and droplets of the semi selective [translocated herbicide – one has to be very specific] weed killer from hitting other plants and killing them off. Like hens, chemicals aren’t very fussy about what green leaves they have a go at.

The chemical brothers aside [wondering if I can sneak one more band in before the end of this piece….], hedges were cut. A little reticent of nineteen eighties Ireland to an extent, in my opinion, the symetrical boundary plantations did go out of fashion for a while but, it is nice to see them coming somewhat back into fashion. In part, I always had a little of a soft spot for en mass Grisilinia and the like. There was and is something about them that is just that little friendlier than the timber fence or the coldness of a grey and internally angular brick wall.

That aside I know a lot of the hedging in Ireland took a serious beating these winters just past, so now really is the time to start ‘ripping’ them out and getting the soil ready for some new ones to take place. If you are unsure of what type of hedge plant to use – I highly recommend a walk locally with a camera in hand and as you pass the neighbouring hedge and plant types that take your fancy simply snap away. Do remember that this is the year two thousand and eleven and one can buy plants at any height and size that you pretty much wish to, something that was almost unheard of over thirty years ago.

Looking for something a little fancier and a change from the usual that may potentially be considered garden chores. Then how about making something for yourself with your own hands ? Over on The SodShow, Dublin’s only garden radio show as a by the way [and also available in Galway – you can listen online], is starting a new feature running every Friday for the next ten weeks. There I will chat with resident civil engineer John Farrell about everything that is hard landscaping.

This Friday starts with concrete, the basics and how to mix it. Simple for some, complex for others, the idea is to start at the bottom and work our way through anything that concrete could meet in your garden. From putting in a washing line, building a barbeque all the way to garden walls and beyond. Every Friday live at three pm we will guide you through all of the things you maybe thought of building but never did. Of course you can catch the podcast version of The SodShow in iTunes and/ or live on my garden blog.

With a softer version of hard landscaping in mind, this week saw me build some quite large, robust and yet pleasing to the eye raised planters for growing some of your own vegetables, herbs and soft fruits. With the structures built and rubber lining stitched in place, the next phase is to fill them with soil and then it will be a case of choosing the crops and produce to grow for the coming months.

Some seem to have a notion that the clock stops for this gardener come the return of the nippers going back to school. Not on your Nelly Furtado [that’s three bands – although I couldn’t tell you one or any of her/ his songs of the top of my head].

I like the allium family [onions, leeks, chives and the like] but, I’ll browse the seed catalogues in the coming days and see what takes my fancy. Before I do that, I’m going to build a bench into the new part to this garden. This is a place as versus being thought of as labour intensive,Ā I would like to be renowned and considered for being one of retreat, relaxation and escapism. How many can say that about their garden ?

Plant choices of the more outdoor type aside, it is quite funny when you think that just up the road from me pumpkins, grapes, tomatoes and aubergines are growing quite happily in abundance under glass….. maybe, just maybe I need to add a new structure to my garden.

Contact Peter Donegan

The Gardener, originally published in The Tribesman week Monday 22nd August

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Gardening Time

Ireland has been on an absolute brilliant streak of beautiful weather over the two consecutive bank holiday weekends. The sun has been blasting from the skies like the greatest ever bill board for all things green and outdoors and of course not only does that make my life a bit more hectic but it also brings that rush to the local gardening and do it yourself supermarkets.

This weekend had me speaking gardens at the Oldbridge country Fair in Drogheda alongside a list of great great outdoor enthusiasts covering topics like bee keeping, community gardening [Dee Seewell], gardening on a window ledge [Tricia Sheehy Skeffington], elder flower champagne making to name but a few, to the very simplistic view of gardening just three metres squared, even though the gentleman in question Philip Murtagh owns a one acre garden. Philip had of course read, as have you my article called the cheaters guide to growing your own.

What I realised quite quickly was that whilst the interest in such a wide variety of topics from the visiting public was brilliant, those attending were not actually working in their own gardens, allotments or whatever spaces they had available. Myself included. In my own garden there are many things that I have done over the last fourteen days, but I still and it seems will always have a long running list of what I do not want to label chores.

My patio furniture needs some repair or replacing entirely. I’m hesitant to choose the latter, instead I think replacing the damaged wood will be the easier choice followed by a repaint. In the colour department the usual choice seems to be to go for the brown, black or green fencing advert type paints. But I think I’ll go for a big bright canary coloured yellow. This will do two things. First, the big obvious smile from guests who will pass it by and also unknowns to most it will take their eye away from the fact that there are two different woods now supporting their bones as they sit. The furniture, if I might call it that is about five years old at least you see.

I have already invested in a mulching lawn mower. The greatest time saving contraption I have ever purchased. No grass collecting. Less fuel is used as one doesn’t need to stop and restart every time the box fills with clippings. There is no waste heap with a pile of rotting green either and for those who have a pile of grass down the back of their garden will tell you, grass doesn’t really rot so well. Instead it turns into a sloppy clumpy mess. More than that, you pull the chord and push the mower until you have walked the area of your lawn and then you walk straight to the shed. All done I would suggest it has cut the time it normally took for me to cut my lawn by about 65%.

Tie this in with the previously mentioned cheaters guide to growing to growing your own and you might just be getting a gist of what and how I garden for myself. My point is not to be lazy or haphazzard about what I do. More it is to be savvy with the time that I have to spare in my great outdoors, understanding that I have a family, baby, three hens and two dogs…. you get were I’m coming from here. On Friday when I returned from work I did intend to water my plants. All of them and by watering can, from my butts. But I didn’t. I was passed a wee human that stands about twenty inches tall. Answers on a postcard to that one, but sometimes plants simply cannot come first.

Today as I write this piece sitting outside on brightly coloured red bench in my shorts, I know I’m going to the park with two ladies. I will buy the yellow paint and might get a first coat on it by this evening. I know it will have to ready for next weekend. The lawn unfortunately might just have to wait…. Til next weekend. Whatever and however you spend your time in your great outdoors, enjoy.