29 March 2014

Of lambs and lions

Oh, March! That old adage about lambs and lions springs to mind. March hasn't been able to decide between the two. We had days warm enough to make us set the table back up so we could sit and enjoy hot chocolate in the garden, turning our faces to the warm spring sunshine like some photosynthetic beings... Mornings where my entrance into the local park was through a pool of scent from the berberis hedge alongside the path... We had sun opening the blossoms on the street trees, and mist cloaking the park in mystery; heavy rain and winds breaking more branches off the trees, and then hail, and then frosts. Lambs and lions, mist and sunshine, rain and frost. March has been a month for thinking in pairs, in opposites.

Grey mist and bright blossom

March morning mist

Pencils and paper

I got very little drawing done this month. Life was busy with other things. I didn't get any entry done for my non-travelling Nature trails sketchbook, but I hope to make amends this coming month. I did have a go at re-doing my mossy old yew twig though - I've turned it around (I think, since I'm a citeog--that's a left-handed person for those of you who aren't Irish--I like things coming from right to left on the page) and will add a tiny graphite drawing of the mighty Crom yew to the page as well as some berries, for what would a yew drawing be without some berries? That's the plan anyway; we'll see what happens. I'm still working away with coloured pencils and to help myself along, I've bought a copy of Ann Swan's book which others have recommended it to me. Looking forward to learning from it!

Hmm, what else do I need for this drawing?
The turned twig

Woods and walks

We haven't been venturing out too much or too far, but local woods have provided lovely walks for us and excited runs for one small schnauzer. Spring is working its way into the woods, starting as always on the forest floor, where the wild garlic is cloaking the wood in pungent green, and showing up too in the busyness of squirrels and the industry of nest-building birds. Every morning walk I make during the week is through a wonderful raucous ruckus of wren and blackbird and mistle thrush and finch and robin ...

Safe from an excited schnauzer
Horse-chestnut buds are always the first to open

Sunshine and shadows in Knocksink wood

Spring stream in Massey wood

catchlight: Catching the sunlight on a wood anemone

In and out

Work has started in the garden! I've been cleaning the greenhouse - algae off the roof glass to let more of that precious spring sunshine in; and webs and general mess from the inside. Most, though not all, of my tiny collection of alpines have come back to life, and I'm now watching three different Drabas to see how and when the flowers will bloom (I can report that Draba 'John Saxton' is first out of the blocks and it's a tie at the moment between Draba longisiliqua and Draba 'Buttermilk' for second place). My Silene acaulis gave up the ghost completely, and an Androsace laevigata is touch and go. It's a tricky thing, this alpine growing and I'm still not sure if I'm up to it! The AGS Dublin local show was on in early March and was a chance to see how others do with growing alpines. As ever I came away with a mixed sense of inspiration and despair ("ooh I'd love to grow that/ooh I'll never be able to grow that").

Dionysia 'Monika'  - something to aspire to
Fritallaria aurea - loved this
In other parts of the garden I've been on a bit of a clearing out frenzy - and still amazed at how much waste material one very small garden can generate. In amongst that waste was a pile of Carex pendula that had outgrown its spot by the pool. A more 'refined' and much smaller sedge has gone into its place, rescued from a winter container display that now awaits re-doing into a late spring pot of some sort. In the front garden an Epimedium that has served its time (many years now) was taken out, split and shared with other gardeners, and a Daphne bholua 'Jacqueline Postil' has gone in its place. I was bowled over by the scent of this daphne on recent visits to the homes of two very experienced and skilful gardeners. I decided I had to give it a go, so it was spade and out and fingers crossed, though not at the same time.

Daphne bholua 'Jacqueline Postil', getting ready for the big move

Untouched: Trillium rivale in the front garden

Twenty one

The twenty-one project is still on the go. I thought since it's equinox this month that I'd remind myself how things looked at winter solstice. The plants haven't changed too much, but the light certainly has...

The field - Winter Solstice (top) and Spring Equinox

Entering the park - Winter Solstice (top) and Spring Equinox

Oak trees in the park - Winter Solstice (top) and Spring Equinox

Sycamores (and a schnauzer) in the park - Winter Solstice (top) and Spring Equinox

Coming home to the garden - Winter Solstice (top) and Spring Equinox

The pool - Winter Solstice (top) and Spring Equinox; note the disappearance of the unwieldy Carex pendula
Go well all. 

23 February 2014

Tread softly

A wobbly jet stream meant that winter storms queued up in disorderly fashion and rushed across the Atlantic to roar across this country and our neighbours to the east ... tearing down trees, bringing down power lines, flooding many many homes and fields, and generally causing a lot of misery. Nestled in the 'burbs, on a slope at the edge of the Leinster granite, we got away very lightly: lots of water but no flooding, a couple of trees down in the local park, but no damage any nearer than that. We were very fortunate. Today the wind picked up again, but we *did* get some spring-like sunshine over the last week or so and never was it more welcome. 

In between the storms, the sun came out

With spring sunshine come the spring flowers. Squills in the local park, and irises and snowdrops at home - the ones in the pics are those that I planted last autumn, when I cleared a lot of ivy and geraniums from underneath the birches at the front of the house. 

Squills are coming up in the local park
Up close and personal with Scilla verna

Iris reticulata (and a snowdrop!), planted under the birches in the front garden last autumn

Iris reticulata, such intricacy!
Squills in the local park and irises in my own garden, along with the wrens, blackbirds and thrushes in fine voice in the mornings -- all are such welcome signs of spring! But we decided to go a little farther afield to see spring on a slightly larger scale - the aconites and snowdrops in Burtown House were looking lovely, bringing to mind Yeats' cloths of heaven,
"...Enwrought with golden and silver light..." 
and doing what these small spring flowers do so well: appearing delicate and fragile while actually being as tough as old boots. Winter storms? No problem. Driving rain and sleet? So what. They shake it all off and keep on keeping on. My kind of flowers.

Aconites and snowdrops under a yew tree in Burtown House
(I got some berries from this tree last year for my Alphabet Yew)

Aconites, insouciant in the wintry weather

Aconites looking well settled 

As well as spring flowers in woodlands, my thoughts at this time of the year turn to alpines. Nervous trips to the greenhouse were rewarded at last when at least one (and perhaps only one) of the Drabas came back to life. It is really astonishing - one day they're all grey and dead looking, the very next day, small glaucous green buds butt their heads out of the middle of some tiny rosettes. Phew. The AGS 'season' starts soon and there'll be all sorts of amazing plants to see; I only hope I'll have something to put up on a bench that will pass muster. 

Thoughts are turning to alpines and the like too, some Sempervivums I planted in an old pot last autumn


And so to the ongoing Twenty-one. On 21 February, B and I were in the hospital at the time I normally walk in the mornings, so these pics were taken later in the day. But they're all the better for it: at least there's some light there, even if not much else has changed since 21 January. Things move slowly in late winter, but March and April should ring the changes! 
Iz in the sunny field
Morning shadows in the park
You wouldn't think a storm had raged through here just over a week ago
Which path to take? 
Finally, some sunshine makes its way into the back garden

Not much to see here ... move along please
Things have been busy of late, so there hasn't been too much drawing or sketching going on. Just a rough and ready sketch of some Burtown snowdrops under a mossy beech tree and a rather pitiful sketch of a single snowdrop from my own garden, with a lovely line from another Paula Meehan poem:

"They are less a white than a bleaching out of green.
If you go down on your knees
and tilt their petals towards you
you'll look up under their petticoats
into a hoard of gold
like secret sunlight and their
three tiny striped green awnings that lend a
kind of frantic small-scale festive air."
from 'Snowdrops' by Paula Meehan

A rough, seasonal sketch 

a lone snowdrop
Tread softly.

23 January 2014

Always look

On a January Sunday, across the tiled rooftops of my neighbours' houses, the sky to the north is filled with bruised purple, dove grey, mushroom pale, latté creamy clouds. They crowd together, jostling and shouldering each other nonchalantly with hardly a breath of wind to liven them up. A wintry sun in the southern sky to the front of the house has just enough height to reach the end of the back garden, warming slightly the winter tangle of Clematis montana, brown and beige, that has wrestled its way into and through the ivy (mine) and Cotoneaster and Griselinia (my neighbour's) that form the back boundary of the garden. Every year I look at the boundary in winter and think I really ought to do something about it, but this year, once again, I reckon I won't. Anyway, once the Golden Hop gets going in May, I forget all about the winter boundary blues and enjoy the mad yellow-green brightness (and yes, even the clash and clang with the blooming C. montana!) of early summer. And a bit of tangle that includes some deep ivy, complete with berries, is good news for the wrens and other small birds.

But at least, at last, I have taken on the right-hand wall, shamed into it by a collapsing rotting trellis, weighed down by inherited honeysuckle that never really bloomed. So on a cold dry January day--a respite between winter storms--out I went and wielded a secateurs and a lovely Japanese saw to cut back a fairly hopeless mess of Cotoneaster horizontalis and honeysuckle. An intricate passion flower used to run through it but one of our bad winters recently put paid to it. There's also a jumble of Japanese Quince, which I may (no, will) trim back, but it'll remain where it is: it was the first gift for my garden when I moved into it almost twenty years ago, a present from my father; very precious. Also uncovered in the cull were self-seeded trees of holly (male) and I think ash? I've cut them back a good deal, but the rest will have to go too and so I think a fork, a spade, a crowbar and some hard graft may feature in my son's future...

After all that's done, I'll face the dilemma of what to put on that wall (all suggestions gratefully received). I'd love to grow some espaliered apples or pears but don't know if I'd have the skill or the patience. But I love fruit in the garden and find it much more appealing to grow than vegetables, especially when I'm stuck for both time and space... How lucky then that some good friends gave me a fruit-growing book for Christmas (thanks CE!). Watch this space.

It hasn't all been destruction in the garden though (and I always feel bad when I pull out something like that tangle, which is so hospitable for the small beasts I share the garden with...). In the front garden the area I cleared under the birch trees is now showing lots of green spears of snowdrops, irises and daffodils. Can't wait! I uncovered some pots down behind the greenhouse that I planted up with bulbs a couple of seasons ago and they're still bravely putting forth shoots so I've moved them out into the winter sunshine near the bench and have my fingers crossed.

The year really feels like it's on the turn now. Finally on the 13th of January, we moved into the significant eight hours between sunrise and sunset , phew! (Interestingly, if we were still using the Julian calendar, the 13/14th would actually be the start of the new year). In the mornings, there have been thrushes singing high in the trees in the park, and wrens and robins giving it their all. There's light in the sky in the evenings at five pm. Everything's moving in the right direction. Gardeners get impatient at this time of the year and already some are planting seeds indoors and/or in propagators... I'm not that organised, but this year I hope to flex some of the gardening muscle by helping out with an AGS project to create a postcard garden for Bloom in June. I'm a bit excited ...

Down it came - clearing part of the side wall of the back garden

Spring's on the way
Much of the last month has been spent indoors, but Izzy and I did get out for the daily walks ... And as B recovered he joined in, much to the delight of all of us. Woodland, park and shoreline were delightful in the winter sunshine - a tonic to help with healing. Here's B's take on one of his own walks locally. The same trees show up from a different angle and in a very different dull morning light in the 21 January bit below.

B took this photo in our local park ... great to have a real photographer in the house
Winter sky and branches in the same park at midday ...

... and in the early morning ...
... the park's grey squirrels have been busy stripping the cones of their seeds ...
... and in some places, the winter storms have left damage in their wake

Bray Head in wintry sunshine
Time indoors allowed for a little messing about with pencils. I'd been invited to take part in a travelling sketchbook project - a lovely idea where a set number of people all buy the same sketchbook, each person does one double-page sketch each month and then passes on that month's book to the next person on the list. At the end of the project, you get your own sketchbook back, filled with the work of different artists. Having bought the sketchbook, I decided--regretfully--to pull out as I'm not certain how well I'd be able to concentrate on the work over the next few months. But I'll try to keep to the discipline of doing at least one piece in my own book per month, and the artists (they're a lovely bunch) have been very kind about the whole thing... You can read about their progress here. Some of the artists have chosen themes for their sketchbooks, others are happy with whatever turns up. I thought I'd like to combine words and drawings in mine and so January is based on a quote from a favourite poet, Paula Meehan. The line is "Her song is the wind in the branches" and here's the sketch--based on winter branches in my local park--that I popped into my book:

Her song is the wind in the branches a sketch based on a line from  'Her Void: A Cemetery Poem' by the wonderful poet Paula Meehan

21 January

Okay, so I can't forget the Twenty-one project. This month they're not great photos: a dull and breezy morning combined with a bit of a rush on the walk ... There's not much change from last month, of course, just the addition of the witch hazel blossoms in the back garden, as well as a kayak that came down off the back wall in one of the winter storms.

And to end this month's post, a reminder to myself and you dear readers, to always look ... even when we can't get out and about too much, there's beauty to be found in the glow of witch hazel in the back garden, in the grace of ferns whether ourdoors or in.

Witch hazel ('Pallida') in our garden, photo by B
Ferns outdoors grace a winter woodland

Shadows cast by low winter sunshine multiply one of my indoor ferns

And speaking of always look...

Go well all.