Handstands in heaven

Today is the 20th anniversary of my mother’s death. To mark the occasion, we had a little party at the house where she spent most of her adult life. It went well (no knock-down drag-out rows, no court cases) and this morning there’ll be a Mass at St Columcille’s church in thanksgiving.

There’s a tinderbox of reasons why it took so long to get over her loss to our family, but thanksgiving will be given this morning for the fact that at long last we have. Most everyone believes their mother was the bestest in the whole world and when she died at 56 years of age, it was a catastrophe. For me, because she was an oak tree to my scutch grass, for her wider family and friends because she was so young, so vibrant, so lovely.

In preparing for the get together, I went through some old photographs that narrated her life in this house, the rented house she and my dad lived in before this was built, and found to my surprise a potted history of her favourite plants and successes.

There are few photos of the rented house in North Street they lived in till 1966, but two from 61 and 62 made me smile. The first depicted a small garden that was treated as a yard, with a shed, some building debris and very little lawn as a backdrop to my dad posing with a fine-looking greyhound. A year later the second picture shows the garden with grass, no rubble, a neat shed and a toddler. The greyhound mustn’t have delivered on the early promise. (Neither did the toddler mind you, but hey! 🙂 )

Back to the garden here and a lot of her planting has survived. The Boston Ivy along the north wall was what she settled on after a series of experiments with clematis. The laburnum she planted to echo the one in her own mother’s house got taken out when the gate got widened, so I’ve to find a spot for a new one. The climbing roses she planted beside the dining room window got taken out when the renovations were done in 2005, but were replaced with two new ones.

Her pride and joy, the Philadelphus or mock orange is thriving and still producing delicate fragrance every May. Her hydrangeas are my pride and joy and still provide the first blast of colour you see upon entering the garden, and muted colour in the dried blooms that keep the summer flag flying indoors throughout the winter.

Her aubretia pops up somewhere every summer, as does a small deep purple flower with almost black leaves, it returns with such vigour it’s almost ground cover for any spot that’s left alone for five minutes.

Indoors, I don’t have any of her spider plants or busy lizzies, but I’ve kept an asparagus fern on the go that’s moved with me wherever I went (and replaced liked Trigger’s sweeping brush, with tuftier, younger versions whenever the strings got too long, wan and matted).

I’m a whizz with parsley – yes, that’s the stuff that could probably grow on Mars with no help from a gardener – and have a regular selection of mints, coriander, thyme and rosemary that, like hers, gets used in the kitchen.

There’s a kerria now in the spot she used for sunbathing, and its burst of yellow pom-poms are just about to happen this year.

The guests at her party seemed pleased with the garden’s most recent incarnation (I’d to keep them out of the front garden, which is an unmitigated pig’s ear) and we had a happy afternoon reminiscing about her.

Years ago when she was fed up coaxing me to do something or other she wryly mentioned that she’d go out and do a handstand with joy when it got done. At one point during the party of her family and friends, I got a picture in my mind of her doing cartwheels and handstands in heaven.

Dibbling In Your Garden

Town & Country Gardening

dibble board 4-hole-dibbleboard Build A Dibble Board
If your one of those that want and insist that every plant be perfectly spaced, ‘yea’ I’m talking mostly to all the square foot garden fanatics. Nothing against square foot gardens or even those that believe you ‘must’ have raised beds to grow a few vegetables. This little gadget may be just what you have been looking for.

Build A Dibble Board Check out ‘gardeninggrrl’ blog for a lot of pictures and building instructions.

Keep in mind you may need two or even three of every dibble board. Most garden seeds need to be planted 1/4 inch, 1/2 inch or 1 inch deep. Seed planted 1 inch deep that ‘should have been planted 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep may never break through the soil to see the light of day. In this event you have wasted your time, water and seed.

Grinning, My dibble board…

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X is for Xeronema

Xeronema callistemon, originated in the Poor Knights Islands near New Zealand.

Xeronema callistemon, originated in the Poor Knights Islands near New Zealand.

Xeronema callestemon is an exotic specimen that would be a spectacular addition to any gardener’s collection. Both the wonderful photograph and a brief history of this plant can be seen here, which is the contact point for a specialist in botanical photography, based in the UK: horticulturist Ian Watt.

V is for verbascum, verbena and violas

Violas and verbena have been tried here. Verbena’s like a tall, gnarly-stemed, lemon-scented herb with underwhelming purple flowers, and pansies are violas by another name. Get snippy you pedants while my eyes are on the prize of X, Y and Z and I will shout very loudly for five whole months. Actually, I have another sin, on top of impatience, to confess. This one didn’t actually get carried out, but the intention was there.

When the verbena here failed (got gobbled up by the box hedge bushes, red robin bushes, the cherry blossom, wisteria, jasmine, Oh! and the Boston Ivy and the Glasnevin Climbing Potato Plant that was bought in Limerick – can’t quite think of its name now, it was developed in Dublin’s Botanic Gardens so it’s called Glasnevin? – but, yes, we’re still saying the verbena failed not me). Anyway, I happened to notice that the county council had planted swathes of it in flowerbeds just outside the town, probably as part of the Tidy Towns effort. Knowing I could no more grow it from seed than I could have from my own plant, I planned a midnight heist, where I don balaclavas and dark clothing and with a dirty old shovel ‘acquire’ a few replacements. I’ve shelved those plans for now.

Another of the plants tried in that flower bed was Hollyhock. I’d forgotten that till I read the Fred Whitsey piece in the British Daily Telegraph about verbascum. Both he and one of his muses Vita Sackville West found these tall spires of color charming enough to promote their use outside of cottage gardens. It’s been a very long time now (at least five years) since I had to dig out the Hollyhock, so maybe it’s time to consider a verbascum instead.

Has anyone else noticed that I’m still using terminology that suggests I’m going to have time to be gardening at all during this summer?  I’m now committed to studying in Dublin Business School and doing Jobbridge exercises till September at least – so where the time to sort out the garden is going to materialize from God only knows….

U is for Urospermum

This plant is unmentionable. Its petals are said to look like Lion’s Teeth – dents de lion – but the sunny petals aren’t the problem. The tap roots are the bit that drive me crazy, they’re incredibly tenacious.  Oh! And I’m not too happy about those flying seeds either. Yes. My other name is killjoy.

However, you may like to pop over to horticulture guru’s Sheryl Normandeau’s blog for her take on the ubiquitous urospermum.


T is for Telekia speciosa, tilth and tulips

What class of a cabbage is a telekia speciosa?

Etes-vous Belge de Bruxelles? Or perhaps a burgher from Bruges? If, like me, you tend to wonder what class of a cabbage is that mon chou, this Belgian botanical website will make you smile. It shows the prettiness of telekia speciosa – a spiky flower you could consider instead of a sunflower or cactus dahlia – and where it’s been sprouting lately.

Tilth is a darlin’ word that you’ll rarely get to use. When you’ve dug over your soil about three times, removed the bigger stones, the old unwanted roots, forked through some fertilizer, and battered the clay clumps into a friable tilth by also possibly adding some sand, your new bed is ready for planting. Himself, being a smart mouth, would suggest doing all this digging in winter when the frost will break up the clay clumps for you and maybe kill the newly overturned unwanted tap roots and dormant seeds too. The friable tilth is the crumbly texture of soil and sand that’s aerated and moist.

There’s an earlier post on the tulips we have from double earlies to parrot (frilly) versions here.

Tulip: double earlies

Tulip: double earlies


Tulips: about a foot tall, that are next to the fritillaries

Tulips: about a foot tall, that are next to the fritillaries


S is for salvia and sedum

The sage flowers aren’t cut, I never think to put them in posies to give as gifts, so perhaps that’s why it has flourished to the size of a small shrub (not quite the size of the lavender hedge) but about two feet high and wide. Obviously, its leaves are cut roughly about once a week as they’re used in the kitchen.

Sedum is the succulent-leaved plant that most people recommend to cover flat rooves for a ‘living’ roof. Although there’s someone on the road from Donabate village to the strand that has grass growing on theirs (if you time your visit carefully you could see someone up there with a rotary blade lawnmower). Yes. I have a very idiosyncratic idea of the seven wonders of the world. 🙂

R is for rubus

Rubus is the latin name of the two brambles here: Rubus fruticocis is the blackberry bramble; and we’ve a raspberry. The blackberry wasn’t planted by anyone I know but its annual growth has to be considered every time I want to cut back the climbing roses.

The raspberry was technically planted in a sensible place (on the sunny wall) but again because it’s sharing root space and sunlight with older planting (in this case, trees), we won’t be launching into the breakfast foods/jam market anytime soon.



Q is for quick fixes

Quick fixes for the domestic gardener relate to salvaging something from your labour. You’re not growing specifically for money, (in fact, as a consumer, you’re on the other side of that coin), so you’re finding uses and spaces for fruit and vegetables and something similar for your flowers and off-cuts. Gardening is a ‘lifelong learning’ topic, so here’s one of the quick fixes for problems I’ve found:

Rhubarb stems are the only edible part of the plant (some sixth sense perhaps in Himself and his bestie Daragh made them push the lovely green salad around the plate and then hand it back to me when I offered rhubarb leaves to them to eat?). Rhubarb leaves are INEDIBLE if you like living in the here and now. Daffodil bulbs are also inadvisable, which was capricious of God, given that onions, carrots, potatoes and even those plain ugly rocks we’ve learned to call turnips are delicious.

After about three seasons you understand the concept of ‘quantities’ and how much to grow.

Alcohol, freezing and sugar: three is the magic number in preservatives

Alcohol, freezing and sugar: three is the magic number in preservatives?

One rhubarb plant is enough to feed us, scour saucepans, and provide ample cooling shade for the bugs and worms who can dive under the soil for both days of the year it gets summery here in Ireland. From that one plant (I’ve a wan doppelganger in a pot on the back patio in case the healthy one becomes a non-cropper some winter) we got last year’s full supply of rhubarb. Mostly it got stewed and I froze a drawer’s worth of it in the freezer. It got made into one batch of rhubarb and ginger jam, but that was by default.

I’m very sorry Mr and Mrs Crabbie but your ginger wine is gick. Maybe it’s supposed to be. Guinness is also gick. (Sharp intake of breath! This woman’s a heretic! A heretical hypocrite!*) Yes, it touches on blasphemy when an Irishwoman says that porter or stout is an acquired taste for most people, as is all alcohol, so Crabbie’s Ginger Wine may have started life as a preservative for ginger, or a ginger-flavoured preservative for everything that tastes wonderful with ginger, like rhubarb, or spongecake or biscuit mix.

We tried mixing the ginger wine with whiskey, we tried it with grapefruit juice, we tried it with port. There’s only so much scientific interest to be mustered when you want to get bladdered. So, as it was Himself’s turn to have a tipple after a hard day’s physical labour, I quickly disposed of it by whacking it into the rhubarb stew and disguising the tart stems with a dollop of granulated sugar and more raw ginger. No. I can’t patent it and tell you it’s wonderful. The amount of sugar I dolloped in to disguise the ‘wine’ took the distinctive flavor from the rhubarb. The granulated sugar got doubled by the pink jelly setting powder I sprinkled through it to make the stewed fruit set. So now I’ve enough stewed, fortified, jellied rhubarb to last a month of adding it to porridge for breakfast or custard for dessert.

The ‘Quick Fix’ here is firstly, finding a good use for the Ginger Wine. That has been deemed, finally, Quite Good. Then, I needed a quick fix for the mushiness of the jam. So, I added some properly cooked (it still had bite in it) rhubarb to the overly mushy batch, and it improved the texture, taste (diluted the sugar content), and gave me twice as much Good jam (next step up from Quite Good), to be frozen in smaller quantities.



*I acquired a voluminous taste for it. If I knew then…what I know now….sigh.


P is for Paeonia, Philadelphus and Pyrus Calleryana

We've been a bit mean to this Pyrus Calleryana. Up till last year it produced the tiny pear fruit that it's programmed to do. We were so dazzled by its silvery, velvet leaves and pretty white flowers, that we forgot it has to fruit too. Oy vey, this gardening lark is complicated.

We’ve been a bit mean to this Pyrus Calleryana. Up till last year it produced the tiny pear fruit that it’s programmed to do. We were so dazzled by its silvery, velvet leaves and pretty white flowers, that we forgot it has to fruit too. Oy vey, this gardening lark is complicated.

We’ve two peonies, both misplaced. One is in the ground beside the archway and isn’t getting enough food, light and space. The other is in a pot and is so miffed about it, it’s automatically pushing up foliage every year, but has given up on flowering. It hasn’t flowered once since it got here.

I first noticed them flourish in Outlands in a relative’s garden, then spotted them in a couple of neighbors’ gardens, and then noticed that ours were consistently under-performing. The overall plants weren’t reaching hip height, there was no abundance of gloriously feminine, lush blooms. The plants are sulking but, God love them, getting on with it. There’s something I can do about both. The one in the pot can get put into a permanent home to see if it’ll flower this year or next in a place that gives it a sporting chance. And the other will have to wait to be rehoused next year. Otherwise the surgery (disentangling its roots from those of the jasmine and wisteria in the arch, and the box hedge and phormium on its other side) could kill it. Argh. Moa moida awaits me.

The philadelphus is unadulterated joy. Its common name is Mock Orange. It’s a peach of a plant that is easily pruned (no thorns) and it produces masses of sweet-smelling white flowers (the perfume is fresh, light and vaguely citrussy, not heady like lavender) early summer. Hence it gets cut back (read: savaged) in July.

And the Pyrus Calleryana is the ornamental pear tree. It could grow to about 18 feet high and proportionally wide in its root spread if we didn’t chop it back every year. It’s back to pruning school for me now till I get its phases right.