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Your Garden Calender Starts Now

peter donegan landscapingNational Tree Week has just passed us by and there are approximate twenty native Irish trees for us to maybe have a go at planting.

Big Paddy Irish native trees aside, for the grow your own enthusiasts, as my cooking apples are holding onto the last of their fruits – if you would like some of that for this time next year – very shortly, is the time to get your tree in your ground.

Not, as some may have discovered by planting next summer and then expecting fruit to appear a few months later – that’d be like expecting Fernando Torres to score after ten one game.

Intelligent in respect of our photosynthetic brethren, more than that, I have seen the future and it is filled with flowering plants and green leaves that all start their life cycle shortly after the beginning of January.

For you see when one plants a plant that is in its over-wintering state, one should also appreciate that also in a position of dormancy are the weeds and everything else that will compete with the plant you actually want to grow.

As the days get shorter the loom of a forecasted snow and frost seems to have passed us by with temperatures well into their teens. One colleague of mine noted quite recently:

Where are the soothsayers in the media who promoted idea of a total freeze up in early October? Some say it’s damaged sale of plants !

And quite rightly so I might add. But leaving in every form weather predictions aside and what that actually did achieve – or at least that aside, the point I would make is, whether you like it or not, there is no better time to get the garden grooving again.

You are off your rocker Donegan Pants Gaping. It’s October. Halloween. The clocks are about to go back and it’s getting a little cold outside and there’s you preaching from the pulpit…..

Yeah ? Really ? And as I turn off the Vincent Browne-esque tele-visual programmes. I say

Go to your shed. Dig a great big hole and put the television in the bottom of it.

And continuing on……

In a very different way but a bit like the next door neighbour who borrowed your drill, you ladder and a loaf of bread seven years ago and never gave it back…. weeds are also plants. They just don’t know they we dislike them.

On a serious note, plants compete with each other and this not only includes food and nutrients from your composts and soils – but also the hydrogen dioxide that is one of the five factors required for the growth of any plant. In these coming months however – and maybe it will have a greater effect in the years to come when water metering is of a greater impact – but there is also lessening in transpiration and evaporation rates. Water usage by the plant that is.

Even if there may be water butts in place – it is still  a case of time [not so much the money I grant you] and although I love nothing more than spending even more time in my or your garden – it is time management and that that I could be concentrating elsewhere.

But the garden list of get it done now tasks is not just the trees. It is the herb garden. It is the pretty plants, the scented flowers, the climbers along your back wall. A sidetrack to garden maintenance ?

Hedge cutting. Weeding. Tree pruning. Crown raising. Mulching plants. Fertilising the lawns. Planting hyacinth bulbs or daffodils so that they can provide your kitchen table with pretty flowers for three weeks of February. The list is endless and it all starts now. That all of course before we realise that temperatures are still in their teens and the grass is still growing.

I have a few trees to move myself. I have a lot of trees to plant too. I’ve just planted some hyacinths and whilst my runner beans are still growing – my broad beans are battling the windy elements to make their way to putting food on my table. More than that you say….?

I still have the eating apples to pick [trees. plural] and I’ve just planted a second batch of onions and garlic. This of course before I get to the prettier things that will be coming to my garden shortly. I’ll get to that next week.

Contact Peter Donegan

The Real Green Irish Company, originally published in The Tribesman week Monday 11th October

Garden Advice

catterpillar cabbage (2)As I type this weeks article the door off my outside room is open and I am wondering on the one hand if and how the weather reports for the last five days have been so far off the radar. It was due to become Noahs ark type weather but somehow or other a few short down pours, a sort of weather Gods mini-tantrum if you may, came and very swiftly passed. The importance of this to me and any garden enthusiast is of serious importance.

Last week I had tonnes of soil to shift, by hand, well, with a bucket shovel. Of which my upper body carried. And when I say tonnes, I mean twelve of them. Suffice to say, my left arm is at present the size of a bullock.

I have been reading back over what I have written on my garden blog for the last few days and noted my reference yet again to attire for the great outdoors and yes I hear you holler back at me

There is no such thing as bad weather – just the wrong clothing

But if you have ever lifted a bag of saturated and wet bagged compost you’ll have a rough of idea of what a difference this could make to ones day….. alone from a just keeping the place clean and trying to sweep up mud, as versus dry clay or from a muscle development perspective – have you ever carried eleven litres of milk ? Then try carrying eleven litres of powder milk. A bit of a weight difference ?

But within this there is a point where the methodology of the construction of the raised vegetable beds in which the soil was filled, has to be of extreme behind the scenes intelligence to be able to support the weight from inside forcing against the timber. And this is the point where all of the you get what you pay for type cliché’s come to mind, my favourite of which is

cheaper can often be more tearful than cheerful

Whilst I did touch on it in last weeks article I have yet to rummage through the seed catalogues and chose the crops I want to grow here for the seasons of lower temperature that are en route. I was stalled in this department because my hens, now touching three years old are slowly progressing to pet only status. Personally, I simply couldn’t shorten their tenure, if you understand me, but the eggs resulting from their stay here are lessening. In conversation with my good friend Paddy we found a solution.

Paddy has what I can only describe as a bird sanctuary. He also has twelve chicks and a Mom that need to be re-homed. It will be a straight swap. But once again, I am back to the point where construction of the area in which the hens will be housed will make life very easy for me. To side track mildly, I don’t, personally, understand the wee triangle type all-in-one hen-house set ups. They may suit fine the domestic, with three garden walls scenario, but when like me you live in an Emmerdale farm type affair – where the dogs keep the cats away and the cats keep the….

All Gods Creatures gotta place in the choir some sing low and some….

Again, it is horses for courses and one suit does not fit all. Funnily enough, outside of my own garden and fowl, I have two one-off hen areas to build within the next month, something that in my eleven years in the landscaping business, has never happened at all.

To the photosynthetic side of my garden, my garlic has developed some rust on the almost crozier like stems and are just about to burst into flower. I can’t wait for that one, but as soon as they pass I’m hoping to plant an autumn/ winter crop.

My apple trees were weighted to the point of leaning over almost at a forty five degree angle and the pear trees I can happily boast are quite simply in abundance.

Outside of that there’s not much else really to brag about. August running into September is a bit of a no mans lands type month for me and it is here I refer to gardeners hindsight in that forward planning is everything. Anything I have growing at the moment was planted months ago and I’m literally just waiting for the lettuce to bolt and the onion stems to die back so that I can plant something else in their place.

If you do want your greens on your table come Christmas, now is the time to act. In the meantime I’m going to go one step ahead and get myself ready for moving some of my trees. Digging holes and moving soil…. again.

Contact Peter Donegan

The Gardener, originally published in The Tribesman week Monday 29th August

Diverse Gardening

peter donegan

Outside of the window from where I type now there sits a compost heap. I don’t know whether I should call it that as I have never actually taken compost from it. It does its thing, bothers no one and just as it’s getting ready and maybe believes that I might put the wellies on and jump inside, reality kicks in.

I may never actually use my compost heap….

I need to be honest about these things. I know people who like to jump in and turn the decaying material over. If you enjoy that sort of thing, brilliant. But, personally, it’s just not for me. Are either of us wrong ? no. The reality is quite simple, my boundary hedges alone will keep that area of my garden full for the rest of it’s life.

What are my options ?

One could suggest that I get rid of the hedgerow and build a wall or even a fence. And before I even go near that as a topic, the hedgerow looks as [or more] unkempt as the green waste heap.

But In my mind life works really well with a symbiotic sort of relationship. I don’t tidy up the hedge, thus the brambles get to grow as they should and in return I get fruit. Free fruit.

Then again, I’m in competition with the birds for that. But then again I’ve spent ages trying to encourage birds into the surrounding greenery and now they are here…. I guess it’s fair to say we have an understanding in that I and they take as they wish and can. I must admit I really like their singing. It makes me smile. So far so good.

Somewhere along the road someone decided to put a name to this getting on with each other business and [in short] called it biodiversity. For a while I thought someone had set up a new band or dance group, but it turns out they were talking about the birds and the bees. I guess I just didn’t realise I had been doing it for so long.

A pile of logs chucked in the corner…. check.

Bird box…e..s….. yes. check….

I was beginning to wonder if I was at some sort of gardeners pub quiz. It was so easy and much easier than being a grow your own fanatic. No offence an’ all.

From a previous blog post I’d written, the check list suggests you plant a native, in your/ my case Irish, tree. I like to go a stage further with that one and try to plant a native Irish tree every year. If I haven’t got a spot in my garden or simply can’t find one this season, I give one away as a gift, planting included. No excuses – and pretty cost effective I should add. Also the bird boxes are in there which can be easily made at home and painted, another great gift.

Next up, is rain water harvesting. We have been here before. Although recently at a friends house he had very simply made his own from a length of guttering and an old plastic barrel. Miserable so an so I thought for a second. You might say smarter, something I admitted to after, but I bought mine with my bin tags and claimed it back off my year end tax. Either or it’s the thought that counts and great minds think alike.

It’s not until one speaks to someone like young film maker Eoin Delaney [Directing Media] that you realise just what is happening our surroundings. Two days waiting to see if he can capture a fox, on film that is. No sighting. Hares yes. Fox no.

Jane Powers some weeks ago on the SodShow told a similar story with regard to the bees. Bees that are needed for us to have, at the very minimum fruit and vegetables.

Is it all that bad. Is it really, enough for me to give a sh….

No maybe not. At the the very least not in the very rural surrounds where I live. That said in my own garden it took three years for me to find birds nesting. Three years after first planting approximately one hundred and twenty trees. The big flip side is that it’s your garden and not mine and I guess all I can do is say how it works for me and hope you may like a little of what you hear.

Gardening Doesn’t Have To Be Hard Landscaping

It was very recently when building a patio for a client that I realised my garden blog may just have proved of some worth to another. I’ll get to the patio in a little, but to begin with my usual sidetrack, I don’t particularly know why I started to write a gardening weblog being quite honest. I think it was more just a way to put my extra curricular thoughts, albeit still gardening, somewhere.

I see things in newspapers you see, I read them and I wonder what planet has this person come from ?

you see the hens will eat the weeds in between my plants and….

And I wonder have the author and the said omnivorous creature ever lived together. I’m almost tempted to ask their opinion on which come first. And before anyone queries the meat eating bit, I have allowed edible mollusc’s to be entered into the newly elected category named fodder.

There are a few things in my garden that I know are sacred. They are surprisingly, maybe, the things that require very little attention. The smart moves. The pat yourself on the back at some stage in the future moments when you realise, you just saved yourself a lot of hassle.

Being honest, anyone who believes that there is a maintenance free solution to the great outdoors has most likely lost the plot [see what I did there… ]. One may believe that tarmacadam or even concrete is a viable solution to the prevention of photosynthetic life in their great outdoors, but the opposing  argument nee conclusion is that so long as it is possible – and it is – for any plant to find a means of setting up its home in the chimney stack of a house that is taller than me and you, then plant life will find a way of defeating man made. Quod Erat Demonstrandum.

The alternate as I noted in my article on camping last week is not to try to beat the elements. The reality is man will never win.

…one develops a feeling, almost an understanding, not of how all the elements work, more how to work in tandem with them.

Instead, I found it better from a very early age in gardening to admit that weeds will always grow, that the plant we love best will always have an aggressor, a potential successor and also that understanding their life cycle is so much better that trying to change it.

When for the aforementioned client I laid the last area of paving, this being the something that was read on my gardening blog, the request was to leave gaps in between the patio slabs.

But the options when laying paving are very limited. On the one hand one covers a surface area with a solid surface that will, whether intentionally or not, attempt to keep water from penetrating that particular space. This may appear to have zero holding over a client who owns a garden the size of a small farm, but in a new garden, where space is limited, the drainage is poor and the soil not so great, one is quite simply pushing the water onto the part of the garden that is already finding it difficult to cope with draining that amount of water away. The other option, I shall come to shortly.

En mass, hard landscaping [?] is having major repercussions to the point that, as reported by The BBC, the London Assembly environment committee is asking for legislation to be introduced to limit the number of gardens that can be turned into paved areas. That bad, you might ask ? Worse. In January The Guardian reported London is losing 7410 acres per annum as a result of driveways being concreted in.

In Ireland some may believe that we don’t have issues of the Hydrogen Dioxide type. We may not, so long as the tap continues dripping and nobody complains. But as individuals when water metering does become statute, I see many Dads in sandals with socks, buying much aqua saving clap trap. And just as Johnny Cash kicks off on the wireless, the paraphernalia will be loaded onto the bandwagons and it is coming down the track. I have seen the future and that it the way it shall be.

So what the fork has this got to do with gardening….?

If you have been following my Tribesman articles you’d be aware I did a list for those that may wish to make changes to their gardens some weeks ago. A make a start sort of a wish list. But wishes aside we are at the cross roads were I may need to consider re-watching that Michael J Fox film from 1985.

I have planted trees to deal with the excess of weather stress testing to provide shade, to ease dehydration but also in places where the soil would water log. They are my gardens AirTex t-shirt, that splash of water on my face, my wind break and the thirstiest friend on a wet day. My grass is allowed to grow long in sections to attract wild flowers and my planting is loosely chosen but somehow includes flowering for almost every month of the year. My water butts mean my garden is disconnected from the mains and the fact that I use the word biodiversity as it suits me, at will and as an excuse for the non croquet parts means I don’t need to sprinkle my lawn.

Don’t get me wrong I made a built in barbecue. In my defence it was from recycled cobbles and although it used cement, it only used recycled rain water. As versus the 1880 invention by Thomas Campbell.

I may well just be the greenest man on earth as far as Galway is concerned but my garden is just that. The quest is to first strike a balance. And from there, together we shall proceed. This really does deserve a four page piece but alas I’m all out of words and I’ll hit more detail on this next week.

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.

Contact Peter Donegan: