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.


O is for Onopordum, origanum and osmunda regalis

All is not yet lost: it either blooms twice a year or once every two years, according to Wikipedia, so I'll look for signs later today and again next year, just in case.

All is not yet lost: it either blooms twice a year or once every two years, according to Wikipedia, so I’ll look for signs later today and again next year, just in case.

The first time I paid a gardener to transform the back yard, she did a marvelous job. The bamboo, camellia, dwarf acer, heather, hydrandrea x 2 (both white-flowering, one a normal squat bushy one and the other a standard that’s remained a standard hydrangea instead of turning into an echo of the variegated topiary ball grafted onto a willow root that is now compost story, see here). She also gave me an ornamental thistle, onopordum acanthus, and the picture shown here is from Wikipedia. It was ornamental: Statuesque, imposing, with a purple flower, and a scary silhouette (think Lisa Simpson’s hair, jagged and fab, you just have to look twice when it’s swaying those spikes about in the garden at night). Sadly, the ornamental thistle went the way of the variegated topiary ball and is no more. I would have had to dig out the laurels, fuchsia, mock orange (philadelphus), and elderberry tree for the ornamental thistle to flourish where she put it. Of course, 10 years later, as a gardener in my own right, I realize I could have saved it by prioritizing it over the eejitry of the ill-conceived semi-circular beds radiating out of the table platform in the front garden, but I’m resolutely staying out of that particular valley of tears.

Origanum, is a version of oregano and marjoram, both of which feature in year-round cookery here, and in summer get bought as potted herbs in the grocery store rather than a nursery. And Osmunda regalis, was another of that wonder girl’s introduction to Gortroe, Co Dublin. It’s a fern. A deciduous fern. It must be just about to pop up again. I love magic. 🙂 I haven’t killed it. Yay! It just sleeps for the winter like every sensible organism.

I’ll have to tell you some day about the stories Daddy told us: the one about how farmers just sleep all winter long was something. It made me think you can work for three seasons and do the tra-la-la stuff for the other one.

N is for nasturtium, nepeta and never again :-)

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 08.30.52The trouble is, I only half-listen. Partly because I’m actually half-deaf. Partly because I’m half-gobdaw. For the uninitiated, a gobdaw is a polite term of reference to a gobshite, which in turn is a reference to a gob (mouth) caic (shite). Sorry folks, but sometimes crude and guttural cuts to the chase. So as someone who has only half an ear out for false talk and plausible white noise, this thread of gardening posts has its inbuilt fault lines. My all-time favorite Denis Leary vehicle is Rescue Me and given how cool he is, there’s a wide choice of top D. Leary esq moments that are memorable. But I digress from my point: Bodhair Uí Laoghaire, Leary’s Deafness, is gaelic shorthand for hearing what you want to hear. Then there’s the english meaning of leery: loud cackling of disbelief accompanied by a skeptical shaking of the head. (Okay, okay, Google’s definition is ‘cautious’ or ‘wary’ and I’ve somehow turned it into the Haka.) So, because I’m a glass half-full kind of person, both versions of the gallic or gaelic, amount to a better understanding of the origins of the word than one side alone.

And so to N for nasturtium, nepeta and nicotine. I’m not quite yet at the ‘never again’ stage of nicotine use (I think the Mars landing is closer), but I am on the 5:2 diet and aiming to replace chewing it more often than smoking it and as a confirmed flake am now moving swiftly along to the joys of nasturtium and nepeta. Nasturtium grows very fast. That’s that done.

Nepeta is catmint, and is thriving in the front bed nearest the house. Ours is the one with mauve flowers, and according to digherbs.com, we’re very lucky that our stray cat Noodles is so odd, he’s not fallen for it and seems to be keeping all the other neighborhood cats in line, (cos they haven’t either). The link to digherbs.com (above) gives you its properties and uses. Of course, the other possibility is that it isn’t nepeta at all, but sage.

The picture today is a screenshot from the Irish Examiner, about Padraig Harrington’s win. It was my touchstone yesterday when I went for a job interview. His win after a seven-year drought steadied my anxieties and gave me courage. It worked. Thank you Mr Harrington. 🙂

Okay, some more on the stamina stuff. N is for noxious, nasty, NO GOOD for your heart, gums, bones, teeth, not to mention your lungs.


M is for magnificent and mystery

Yes, it’s something of a cop out to use Magnificent as a heading under ‘M’ but the cherry blossom will be in bloom soon and is simply that: magnificent. The little grape hyacinths (muscari) are sweet, swaying gently in spring breezes, but don’t present the same kind of splendor.

Two poppies caught my eye as they represent the colors of fingal (the county I live in), though strictly speaking, the second one here is red not orange: mecanopsis baileyi and cambrica francis perry. Thanks to a vivid imagination and digital color rendering it’s orange to me. 🙂


mecanopsis baileyi

mecanopsis baileyi

cambrica francis perry (the red welsh poppy)

cambrica francis perry (the red welsh poppy)












I’ve no idea what the pink and yellow-flowered bush is, so if anyone knows it’ll save me a trip to the nursery or local garden centre with a slip of it and a set of questions for the gardeners there.

Companion for the Kerria pompoms, does anyone know what it is? I'd be grateful for a comment if you do, thanks :-)

Companion for the Kerria pompoms, does anyone know what it is? I’d be grateful for a comment if you do, thanks 🙂

K is for Kerria and Kniphofia

Kerria's pompoms

Kerria’s pompoms

The simpler, 5-petalled Kerria.

The simpler, 5-petalled Kerria.

The Kerria japonica, named after William Kerr, is also known as the Japanese rose. Ours is the ‘pleniflora’, (far left) with a pompom blossom, rather than its simpler sister that just has five petals. For more extreme climates, it can tolerate winter temperatures to minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit, and is hardy in USDA plant hardiness zones 4b to 9b. It grows in long stems from the base of the plant, up to six feet wide and eight feet tall. Though it is usually planted in full or partial shade under trees or in a woodland setting, ours is in full sun and is very cheerful and eye-catching in spring, giving masses of yellow flowers for weeks. It spreads by suckers and needs pruning when the flowers have died back. Cut back the twiggy branches after it has finished blooming – next year’s flowers are produced on the summer’s new growth.


Dwarf red hot pokers

Dwarf red hot pokers


A lovely American gardening site called flowers by the sea (fbts.com) extols the virtues of pairing these fiery ‘popsicle’ dwarf versions of the red hot poker with salvias. Which sounds like a fab combination that I may very well have to try this year. Never having ventured into red hot poker land, the idea of mixing them with salvia adenophora, in honor of the wonderful holiday I had in Oaxaca, Mexico in 2008, sounds like it should light up the front bed like a firecracker.