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Create Your Family Garden

If I hear the word….

…in these recessionary times….

…one more effing time, I may just spontaneously combust. I’ve had it. I’ve had it the media, with RTE, RTE Prime Time, RTE Frontline, The Week in Politics, RTE news and you can throw your man Vincent Browne right in the middle as he joins the conga party bus just as sure as one more government gaff hits the headlines. This all before I don’t pick up a newspaper.

donegan landscapingI watched the youtube clip of Shane Hegarty on BBC news – yes folks, BBC news – as he spoke about the Great Things About Ireland campaign. He yapped about red lemonade and how a wake may turn into a party, our sports and our language…. I began to smile as my mind wondered, child like, as if I was in accounting class on a warm summers day, starring at a single cow in a field…..

I don’t watch the news. I don’t watch much television. I definitely don’t watch anything that may devalue my happy head. On the one hand I spend too much time outside. But I’m happy there. I love camping in the rain. I love climbing trees, still. I love good news. I admire people who smile. I call it the great outdoors for good reason and as I type this weeks piece I’m taking my caffeine in a mug that says Happy Christmas on it. That’s the kind of happy level I like to be and am at.

I’ve realised just how much time I spend outside though. A lot of that is in other peoples gardens I admit. Towards the point, I’ve got a baby girl now and she’s one and a little bit years young. When I was camping in Lough Ennell we sat on the grass together were I played the ukelele for her while Mom was off doing stuff us adults may consider important. I know I like to keep my mind occupied, which can sometimes lead to moments of ponder. The technical term is daydreaming I believe, but Ella held tight to the sleeve of my t-shirt and sang her own or at the very least the unreleased version of whatever choon I was diddling away with. And for a moment I paused…. I wondered why this didn’t or hadn’t happened at home more often, or at all. I’m hesitant to admit some of the other pre-mentioned options.

What the flip is the gardener talking about this week Mary….?

I’ve taken at a look at my great outdoors you see. I’ve been growing vegetables. I have my fruit trees. I have had pieces in my garden like my red satellite bird bath – a satellite, painted red and turned into a bird bath – but these were or are mine. Not hers or ours. And as I delve further into my thoughts, I realise I am  now potentially reticent of the old, to me, at the time, gardeners I knew back in the 1980’s. I need to change that, in a way.

I need to plant more pretty flowers. Make the garden a place of intrigue and mystery. With hidden places. Not the stereotypical ‘childrens’ garden ie. a slide in a specific space. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. There’s not. But I’d like to have that and so much more. And it’s so easy to do. To design, nee map out the garden in my head.

She will start to walk soon and ask questions and wonder why and explore and…..well that’s what the Haynes Manual on all things Children says and in my mind as I start to doodle I can see that I just need to be impractical. Forget about the manual. Pretend I’m four… easy before you giggle there.

I need to not say I can’t. I need wild flowers growing. Not out of a packet. Just wilderness growing, wild, so I can run through it, even though I might lose things in there. But then I may also find them, which will make me smile. I know she won’t always need to hold on to me to be able to stand you see and then I’ll need a little more than that patch of grass we sat on.

For me, as I see it, the en vogue gig for the general populas may well be growing your own vegetables and it really does have a great role to play in the lives and future of this nations nippers. Very happy I am to see it somewhat take the place of the microwave. But I remember the girls I knew growing up making perfume in a jam jar, with rose petals. I remember making daisy chains. Climbing trees, taking geranium cuttings, picking some flowers for a school teacher…. such simple things, all playing such a huge part in the ever increasing big picture of my time and life not indoors.

As I delve back into my adult head, my horticulturist hat back on I realise that last seasons snow meant that I couldn’t do certain things so that they might be in flower come this year. More than that it meant I lost a season. That means I must now wait until this coming October to plant my trees.  It also means the new hedge that doesn’t exist has a valid excuse. But more, even more than that, this time next year Ella will be two going three. A big difference. And if I don’t do the things I should to my garden now, this season…. well, as her Godfather explained to me, she’ll never be that age again.

I was chatting about this with a gardener friend of mine. I was explaining that my chicken coop is painted pink and white. I will of course openly admit I had a lot of that colour left over from a previous garden endeavour. I explained my thinking, my hands almost directing  traffic as they flapped about in the air etching the garden into nothing-ness. In jesting, we came to the conclusion that if I had had a baby boy I may simply have needed a set of goal posts.

But the horticultural minds considering poetry as versus trigonometry, both agreed that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the imagination is something that should be applauded and enccouraged, maybe even nurtured. We thought of the seasons, the seasons of nature one needs to pre-empt in order to be able to attract it to your garden so it is there when that time arrives.

Now that I have told myself my story and what I would like that road ahead to have in stock for me…. I think it’s about time I designed a garden for the future and for my family.

I remember some time ago being asked by a Client, who was also a Dad to visit his daughter. She had just bought her first home and had, as he described it an extreme case of the independance streak.

She inherits it off her Mother. Who inherited it from hers…..

He told me.

After a consultation with her and partner a list was drawn up. A wish list, that would make a garden. On the other page, a great big garden doodle. With numbers, arrows and outlines. But, after each item on the list was the ingredients to make that particular piece or space.

The benches, for example, were new railway sleepers, six inch nails, paint and some cement. The planting was seperated into trees, bulbs and then the lower growing plants, bed by bed. The sketch and the itinary were given to the Father. He then framed it and paid me for my time. It was her house warming present and it was hung in the kitchen, by the patio doors.

For each birthday, anniversary or celebration some items, ingredients or were it maybe got a little technical, my time was purchased by the various relations.

Better than the salt and pepper shaker she always wanted. Anyways the garden will be a nice home for that swing I’m gonna make her….

For the weekend that has just passed, Happy Fathers day. And before anyone asks why I didn’t mention Dads day last week….? I of course had to be reminded 🙂 There are reassons why I never buy myself socks.

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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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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.

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Your Great Outdoors

My week in the garden this week has been one of absolute smiles. The rain poured and the sun shined on me and my mind wondered when would the man, or woman, with the remote control make up their minds on which setting they wanted the weather to remain.

But all of this is good and to use the title of last weeks article, there is a balancing act in there somewhere. It maybe one were one gets slightly sun burnt and equally saturated potentially the very next day, but it does balance itself out. Last years extremes of course putting all of my just typed theories to absolute shame.

But within the space of just seven days my apple trees have all burst into flower. Also in there it seems one can include my cherry trees and my peach trees. The place is literally blossoming and blooming. All though there is no great skill to scattering some seeds on top of a window box filled with compost, you can also throw in there the fact that my lettuce seeds have just germinated. And the roller coaster doesn’t stop there as my strawberries are producing their fresh foliage, my onions and garlic sets are flying it. This just to name but a few…

From an ornamentals perspective my Crataegus or Hawthorn have also burst into leaf and with that bringing birds chirping some sweet soul music. It is quite simply so pretty and amazing.

I know some, as I have said so many times, over the course of the last years have followed the trends of the cobble, to decking and now to the growing your own. Within that genre, as most landscape gardeners will tell you came a double underlined requirement for low and zero maintenance gardens. Something that baffles me now mildly, especially when you realise some of those gardens have quite recently become host to a variance of intensively farmed allotments and raised beds.

Yesterday I picked some tulips  from my front garden and popped them very simply in an old glass to brighten up the kitchen. I realised that no matter what season, even though parts my garden may look at worst slightly shambolic, to my eyes anyway, I have got some form of flower or foliage to adorn the house and brighten my and the families day – or at the very least just my own. Equally, I also will always have some form of fruit, vegetables and herbs on the go, but from a pretty looking something point of view, there is always something, somewhere to grab a bunch of to scent and admire indoors. There comes with that a sense of achievement when someone calls around and to borrow the cliché, stops to smell the roses. That because I have grown them myself.

In here the point I make is that if you are about to get the garden made over, be it in phases or stages to suit financially or for family reasons, do take in and include the bigger picture. Sure there is the checklist of sheds, washing lines and so on that must and will be considered, but there is something about a house that feels like a home. This at least in my opinion comes from the individual, collective or singular. For me there is nothing more warming than being invited into a family home where the fridge hosts a myriad of children’s drawings and postcards, homework and painting, knitting or whatever sits half done on the kitchen table. On the walls may well hang some nice pieces of art and next to it a photograph collection that in monetary terms is worthless, yet it means so much to those who see them every day. It is what makes us different. It is what makes another’s home intriguing. I like intrigue and personally whilst I’d love to live in a show house, I’m also honest and logic enough with myself to realise it wouldn’t stay like that for very long.

Equally I’m also aware that my garden plays host to two dogs that will not walk the line I wish them to and this before I get to the humans who insist that the rotary washing line must go here. Instead I realise I must embrace the eclectic mix of wants and needs from the garden. And between my green waste heap and the pile of logs that is so great from a biodiversity perspective I’m now of the belief that unless I install a great big ark, one with two of each animal on it of course I have included just about everything I can think of.

Last week, two halves of a morris minor left my home. These the former remnants of an old show garden. The engine-less car of course replaced a dead tree which I had painted red. I simply loved its silhouette. The red dead tree as a by the way was requested by a client and happily given away. That of course was previously a space reserved for a satellite that I had turned into a bird bath.

These garden features as you can gather are all things that any or all of us can quite easily lay our hands on and adapt to suit, but yet they are not the usual.

Personally, I’m looking forward to a time when, maybe just maybe, all of our gardens maybe become reflections of the people we are and real extensions of our homes.  I think that would nice. I know it would make me smile. It is in short quite simply amazing how simply one can make their great outdoors greater.