Friday, November 6, 2015

My Garden: 5th November 2015

I love gardening and writing about gardening this time of year. The jobs are bigger - digging and covering beds, clearing leaves, tidying away spent plants - and the dreams are bigger. It's a time for reading books and making plans for next year, thinking of your regrets and failures in the year gone by and about how to emulate your successes. I have lists written on scraps of paper all around the house and open books left on every seat. Plus the autumnal colours of my blog design become more relevant.

My most recent read was Alys Fowler's The Edible Garden which I picked up in Carrigaline library. I had taken my two year old out for an afternoon walk and when he unexpectedly fell asleep, I decided to park up in the library to relax and enjoy a read while he slept. I couldn't have chosen a more beautiful book for leafing through. Her garden is built on the premise of polyculture which is the mingling of plants for different purposes together, rather thank having, say, a vegetable plot and separate flower beds. It's something we hear of in companion planting tips - planting basil among the tomatoes to improve flavours, sweet peas with your brassicas to add nitrogen to the soil - but so far my efforts have manifested in tiny, awkwardly placed flowers at the edge of my vegetable beds. Looking at the photos in Alys's book, I realised that I have been doing it all wrong. Her sumptuous Birmingham garden is fabulously chaotic with fruit, flowers and vegetables of different colours, heights and textures intermingled with each other leaving virtually no uncovered ground.

So I've started trying to patch things together. I am slowly filling a patch of ground that was uncovered after we cleared a hugely overgrown bush and for the first time I am thinking about the overall aesthetic rather than the individual plant. In the background of the photo below you can see wallflowers on the left, Euyonomous in the middle and on the right what I think is Lonicera nitida or box honeysuckle. In the middle is purple sprouting broccoli and onions with pansies in the foreground. Hopefully when the plants fill out, and with more added, it will create a nice effect.

In other areas of the garden, I have dug a new bed by removing the top sod, digging the ground underneath and covering with the turned sod, so the grass side faces down. Over that I placed a layer of cardboard, which I have covered with loads of compost from the heap in the garden Finally, a layer of seaweed, which was washed up on a local beach after bad weather, has been spread over the top. Hopefully by the time the planting out season comes April/May, the bed will have good soil structure and be filled with nutrients. At the edge of the bed are Brussels sprouts, broccoli and broad beans:

This year I ordered my garlic from again, which I've found to be the best stockists for choice, quality and speed of delivery. I even got two extra heads of garlic in my order! I am trying Lautrec (hardneck variety), early Purple Wight and Iberian Wight I've planted my garlic in a raised bed but I've also put some in modules in a cold frame for planting out in the spring, as I've read that this can have good results. I'm hoping I've made a good choice as the hardneck and the early won't store too well. I plan on eating the early fresh so I can pick as needed, then using the hardneck and finally the Iberian, which I have planted more of as they will store well. The heads under cover have started to poke out:

In my front garden I am tidying up the old flowers. I've saved the seed from my Crocosmia Lucifer, for planting later:

My rose bush has flowered for the second time this year, the first time it has ever flowered twice, but with the Autumn winds, the flower fell apart quickly after blooming. Not to waste them, I gathered them up and placed in a jar of water. It looks very pretty on my kitchen window sill and smells gorgeous.

That's about the main news from my garden. My next big job is to attack an overgrown raised bed frame so I can move it out from the wall to the middle of the garden making it easier to maintain as I will be able to access all four sides and won't have to deal with thick coarse grass growing up between the fence and the wooden frame. It's a lovely big frame and I can't wait to put it to use.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Green Tomato Chutney

So 2015 was a dismal year for my tomatoes unless you like tiny green ones. However, after making the following recipe, I have discovered that I like tiny green tomatoes very much. I will no longer fear a crop that refuses to ripen now that I have found a way to use them. I got this recipe from one of my favourite cook books - Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Darina Allen. It tastes along the lines of a spiced apple chutney, and is quite Christmassy making it a perfect food gift. It is simple, once the tedious peeling and chopping is taken care of.


Makes around 1.4 litres

  • 1kg cooking apples, peeled and diced
  • 1kg green tomatoes, chopped (no need to peel)
  • 450g onions, peeling and diced
  • 450g sultanas
  • 350g white granulated sugar
  • 350g Demerara sugar
  • 2tsp ground ginger
  • 2tsp all spice
  • 2tsp cracked black pepper
  • 1 tbsp. salt
  • 2 cloves garlic crushed
  • 900ml white wine vinegar


Put everything in a large pot, leaving the vinegar until last to help dissolve the spices and sugar and mix well.

Bring to the boil and allow to simmer for 45mins - 1 hour uncovered, or until the mixture has thickened and reduced by half. Stir regularly throughout the cooking to prevent sticking, keeping a close eye on it towards the end of the cooking.

How it looked at the end of cooking:


Pour the hot mixture into hot sterilised jars and seal immediately to help the jars form a tight seal.

Use jars with non-reactive lids (plastic coating on the inside) so the metal won't react with the vinegar. If you are reusing jars, those from relishes, chutneys and pickles should be ideal.

Ideally leave to mature in the jar for at least two weeks but I recommend saving some of the hot fresh chutney for your dinner today. I had mine with a pork chop and mash - divine.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Promoting Local Organisations

I love browsing informative websites that are gardening and nature orientated, but find myself constantly drawn to British organisations. Their standard is not to be denied and the country has a long history of conservation and study but it suddenly occurred to me that it is ridiculous I am not automatically seeking out Irish resources that are dealing with my native environment. I became aware of it while I was browsing The [British] Wildlife Trusts website and I thought, maybe there is an Irish Wildlife Trust? And of course there is!

Similarly, I’ve always admired the community gardens springing up around the UK. We spent a weekend in Bristol a few years ago and were amazed walking through the public parks to see vegetables growing among the flowers. I since discovered the Incredible Edible Bristol movement through an excelled TED TALK by one of the founders Pam Warhurst. Then while out for a drink with a friend one night, she introduced me to a woman who was just about to embark on a community garden in Knocknaheeny/Hollyhill, Cork City, which is now going strong. It made me realise that this was happening in my own locality. This year I learned that a community garden had opened in Dunmanway, the town I attended secondary school in. A GIY group meets every month in Passage West holding practical demonstrations such as apple pressing and Indian cooking and visits to local polytunnels and gardens. Cork is full of interesting people doing fascinating things.

An enlightening little publication that has taken off this year is The West Fork, a supplement with The Southern Star newspaper that features profiles on Cork food producers, from those who harvest the raw materials to the people who create the finished product. The most recent edition introduced me to specialist businesses such as Roaring Water Sea Vegetables who farm seaweed and sell it as a dried product and Ruby Harte Floral Design in Drimoleague who can create an edible bouquet for you.

Buying all local produce is undeniably expensive but maybe do as I have and start replacing one big brand product with a local variety every week. So the next time I go to buy a supermarket own brand box of biscuits, I'll stretch the extra euro and choose a box of RĂ©gale Cookies Of Character that are handmade in West Cork using Clonakilty free range eggs and local unsalted butter among other local ingredients. Or I'll bring my salad to the next level by trying some Macroom Buffalo mozzarella, from the only milk producing buffalo herd in the country. Cork is vibrant and innovative and it is a joy to take an invested interest in promoting my local economy. 


Monday, October 5, 2015

Outdoor Activities for Toddlers in and around Carrigaline

Toddlerhood is a fabulous time for exploring the world with your child. They are so excited and enthusiastic about the smallest detail - a plane in the sky or water flowing from a pipe. It's also a challenging time to be outside of the house as it is so difficult to give them the freedom they desire while keeping them safe. Structured play centres including playgrounds and indoor fun houses, although ideal in theory, are sometimes not so suitable for the younger toddler. Or maybe just my toddler who is more interested in fire escapes, hydrants, opening doors and running for the hills than playing with swings and ball ponds. Here are some of the things we like to do in Carrigaline and the surrounding areas. All are free of charge and outdoor.

1. Fountainstown Beach at Low Tide

I usually park in the car park and walk to the furthest end of the beach by road with small man in the buggy. He's only just two years old so is still happy to be wheeled around, thankfully. The front strand is quite rocky so I find the far side of the beach to be much more child-friendly as there is a huge stretch of flat sand with shallow pools of water. Here they can have a really good run and splash around without going near the actual sea. Obviously fine weather is the optimum time for this but I am thinking about buying some neoprene waders so he can splash through water in all weather without a chance of getting soaked through.

2. Monkstown Wall and Playground

Another buggy walk, Monkstown Wall provides plenty to see from marine birds, wind turbines, speed boats, anglers, dog walkers, and my son is particularly fond of a pipe on the opposite side of the road that gushes out water coming from a stream. If you bring some food, there are plenty benches with a scenic view for some al fresco dining. For a run-around, there is a small playground opposite The Monkstown Inn on Glen Road. Although in excellent condition, it is not a great playground for very young children - there is no baby swing which is surprising - but it is well enclosed and there is a stream running alongside it (at the other side of the railings) which should interest a toddler.

3. Near the Ferry Terminal at Ringaskiddy

A popular loop walk starts from a small public car park by the ferry terminal entrance. It is not really suitable for a buggy as the path gets quite narrow and stony in places but is ideal for a sling or a toddler you can trust to walk safely alongside you. There are meandering paths through brambles with some open spaces but some of the path runs right next to the water. The view of Cork Harbour is spectacular. It is an unbelievable place for spotting rabbits - they are everywhere but watch out for the holes in the ground as some of them are quite large. A toddler running around excitedly could easily let their foot slip through. They wouldn't fall in or anything but I'd be worried about breaking or spraining an ankle. It is also a wonderful place for blackberry picking and if you are carrying your toddler on your back, you can do the picking and hand them berries over your shoulder while you walk around. Pure bliss.

There is a playground in Ringaskiddy village.

4. Camden, Crosshaven

The area around the fort is a lovely area for a walk, blackberry picking and watching huge cruise liners coming into Cobh. The views are unbelievable. I'm not a swimmer but gazing at the sea on a calm day makes me dream of leaping from a diving board in the sky and plunging into the shimmering, cool aquamarine expanse. It's lovely to see random people gather just to enjoy the scene in front of them. If you walk up beyond the car park, there is a football pitch that, if empty, is a great place to let your little one have a run around. There are great views from here also. And of course you can visit the fort but it currently only opens during the summer weekends.

There is a great playground in Crosshaven village.

5. Weaver's Point, Crosshaven

When you approach the roundabout in Crosshaven, coming from Carrigaline, take the third exit which leads you up past the graveyard. This road will take you to Weaver's Point, a road of amazing houses with extraordinary views. There is a viewing point where you can park and from here there are a few little paths that will take you down to a walk that runs along the side of a grassy cliff (I use the term "cliff" loosely - although it is steep in a few places). This is a perfect walk for sling wearers. The views make you feel like you are holidaying on an exotic island (I suppose Ireland is an exotic island for a lot of people) and you can eventually descend onto a little beach. At places the path opens out into big grassy flats that allow you to really immerse yourself in your surroundings and give older, responsible children a place to run around.

6. Carrigaline-Crosshaven Railway Walk

This is a mostly off-road linear walk and cycle path that runs along the water. It's 5km in length and is an extremely easy and pleasant walk. The car park nearest to Carrigaline town is often serviced by Lulus, a bright pink van serving drinks and treats with plenty seating. The coffee is amazing and the cake slices are moist and generous. Along the walk, at this time of year, you'll find blackberries, sloes, elderberries and hawthorn berries. The walk is dotted with benches for you to sit back and enjoy your surroundings. If you have a bicycle with a child carrier, this is a great safe cycle for you. At the end of the walk, on the Crosshaven side, is Hasset's restaurant which serves great food in a beautiful building.

7. Carrigaline Library Not outdoors I know, but I had to mention it.

The library is located near Dunnes Stores and is a wonderful relaxed place to spend an hour. They have a nicely sized children's section with plenty of seating and a great selection of books. It may stir a bit of nostalgia in you when you see old favourites such as Stone Soup and The Goose Girl. They do story time on a Friday at 3pm and a children's book club on the first Wednesday of every month at 3.30pm. From there you can take a walk up to...

8. Carrigaline Park and Playground

The large duck pond is a banker when it comes to amusing toddlers. Nothing funnier than being circled by a volery of ducks, seagulls and crows as you share a snack on the bench. If you're into rat spotting, which always excites me, the banks of the pond are a good place to see some rodents scurrying around. Beyond the ducks and rats, you can walk along the Owenabue river, preferably not at low tide so you're not "looking at shit" as my other half would say. Down here you can pick blackberries at this time of year and walk back on the other side of the pond. The park is dotted with public gym equipment for adults and has a large playground divided in to two - for older and younger children. Of course my escapee gives about five minutes exploring the play things until he makes a run for the exit but in general it's a pretty good playground.

Hopefully I've given you a few places to explore. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Hydrangeas As Cut Flowers

I am only beginning to take an active interest in flowers and have started slowly adding plants to my garden. The choice in my local garden centre is over-whelming, and can be expensive, so I am taking my time to build up my collection, thinking about plants for specific purposes.

One desire of mine is to grow flowers for cutting. Having received a beautiful Hydrangea macrophylla Soft Pink Salsa for my birthday, I started experimenting with cutting the tumbling blooms for my pretty beer glass-turned vase (pictured above).

A quick search online brought me to an excellent site on all things hydrangea where I read about the hot water method of prolonging the life of the cut flowers. It works incredibly well and I've gotten almost a week out of some blossoms. Here's what I do:

1. Fill your vase with water.

2. Make yourself a cup of tea and save a cup of boiling water. Leave both in the kitchen.

3. Bring a scissors and a jar of cold water to the garden.

4. Pick a good looking bloom and cut at an angle, leaving enough stem to suit your vase.

5. Put the bloom straight into the cup of cold water and return to the kitchen.

6. Pick any leaves off and sit the bloom into the cup of just boiled water for 30 seconds. The stem will turn brown and this is good. I have found that if I don't leave the bloom in the hot water long enough, the stem won't turn brown and the flower will be wilted the next day. The reason for the hot water is that is removes the thick sap from the stem that prevents the bloom from taking up water. It's a plant that likes a lot of water and the clue is in the name - hydra.

7. Remove from the hot water, pop into your vase and position for all to see.

8. Enjoy your cup of tea while looking at your flower arrangement. I've added a few stalks of lavender to mine.

Monday, September 14, 2015

There's No Such Thing As Bad Weather..

...only bad clothing. This is one of my favourite sayings because being realistic about the climate that you live in is a big step towards a more enjoyable life. Apart from extreme conditions, which thankfully are not a major worry in Ireland, getting out and about should not be hindered by the weather. 

I am very passionate about rain gear. Every one of us, adults and children, should own a proper rain suit and wellingtons. In fact we should all own two sets of each so that one can be kept at a second location (vehicle/work/school). We live in a damp climate - accept it, prepare for it and enjoy it. Keep a bag in the car with a mix of clothes for everyone - warm jacket, rain gear, hats and sun cream! September is exactly the kind of month where you can get any type of weather. We headed to Fota early one morning last week and I couldn't believe how cold it was. Thankfully there were a few jumpers in the car since last winter (never empty the car of clothes no matter now messy it gets!!!) so we were able to wrap up and walk on.

Always by the back door:

Biking in the rain:

Fishing in the rain (that's a painted ray of the beach in Borth, Wales - he went back alive):

Walking in the rain (as you can see I never leave home without my trusty yellow (orange?) rain coat):

Playground in the rain:

Gardening in the rain:

So suit up, boot up and get out!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Growing Broccoli as a Perennial Vegetable

This is purple sprouting broccoli (PSB), planted April last year, which finished in March of this year. I left it in the ground in the hope of saving my seed but when I noticed green growth re-appearing, I decided to try to get a second year's crop from the plant. I didn't give the broccoli any protection over winter, it being a hardy plant, so there really was no work involved in prolonging its life. Aphids are a possible problem, and some of my other brassicas fell victim to them, but this plant escaped which is why it is looking so healthy. At the moment, I am being vigilant about checking for eggs lain by the cabbage white butterfly, which will hatch into hungry caterpillars. These bright yellow eggs are easily spotted on the underside of the leaves, and easily squished! I have an in-depth post about identifying and preventing caterpillar attacks here.

After reading that brassicas are notorious for cross pollinating, and having had brussels sprouts and cauliflowers in the same area, I decided not to save the seed but feel even more excited about the prospect of getting more broccoli. If you have been following my posts, you'll have noticed that PSB was the highlight of my last veg crop and we were eating it for the first few months of the year. Each plant will give you three cuts and it is excellent for freezing. 

I have four new plants that I sowed in April of this year, and if they are all successful, I will have a nice bounty of broccoli again early next year.

Similarly, one of my last year's brussels sprouts plant has healthy re-growth so I am leaving that in the ground also in the hope of winning the double.

I'll update this post in a few months with some new photographs. Hopefully this is the first step in establishing some perennial vegetables in my garden.