04 June 2014

Late Date

Can't help it, I'm in love with May. It's June as I write this--I'm late with this blog--but I'll write not about June, but about wonderful, fresh, scented, rich, green May. May is what I dream about the rest of the year. May is when all gardeners congratulate themselves on their amazing gardens, but it's the time of the year when, really, we can take little credit for the beauty in those gardens, because May does all the work for us. And this year seemed better than ever: it has been so lush, with such flowers! And the smell of May in the early morning is almost untenable - it's new and fresh and burgeoning and green and ... who knows what else, all carried on the dewy scent of a May morning. The woods are a most earthly green; the whitethorn froths over a granite wall in the 'burbs, carrying memories of fields and hedgerows, home to carolling blackbirds and thrushes and wrens and robins; in the park the sycamores and horse chestnuts are proudly displaying their new foliage and buttercups bring another bit of the wild into a quiet corner that the council can't reach to raze short. 

May green

A vain search for squirrels under the horse chestnuts

My favourite sycamore in the early morning

In the garden, Da's Welsh poppies punctuate the new green growth with serendipitous dots of yellow; and close to the purple orbs of Allium, day lilies from Glenarm Castle make their own tiny galaxy of yellow stars. This year, the Echiums are blooming: two buzzing babel towers of violet blue, visited by all the garden bees.  

Hemerocallis (Day lilies) and Alliums

Echiums delight the bees

At the end of May the irises started to bloom
May this year was a happy time for other reasons too - a son delighted his mammy by coming home from Canada for a short spell (so good to see you CM) and my yew tree drawing was on display (with many other wonderful paintings) in the Botanic Gardens! Yes, the AibĂ­tir exhibition ran in the Bots for most of May. Three Irish alphabets, some amazing paintings, and an opening by the doyenne of Botanical Art collection, Dr Shirley Sherwood ... altogether a great inaugural event for the newly formed ISBA.  I was over the moon that at least three prints of my Yew sold during the exhibition (and I only knew one of the buyers, thanks DW!).

My Yew tree made it... I was more than a bit excited
Another first was the postcard garden made by the Alpine Garden Society here in Dublin for Bloom 2014. I did a stint on the stand with another AGS member on the Friday of Bloom, and what a lovely afternoon it was. A steady stream of visitors came with almost equal measures of delight and amazement and questions. We wanted to show people how much you can do with even a tiny space (the postcard gardens are only 2x3 metres) and to get them thinking about alpine plants in a different way. I think we accomplished that, thanks to the expertise of those who designed and built the garden and grew the plants for it. It was all the more challenging as we weren't allowed dig into the ground so the whole garden had to be assembled on the surface but look as though it belonged there... 

AGS garden for Bloom 2014 (thanks to Bernard van Giessen for the photo)

Twenty One

The twenty-one photos were a pleasure in May: an early sunny morning, the kind I can't imagine when the planet is tilted the other way mid-winter... I'll be coming back to these photos time and again.

The field trees are fully green now

Heading into the park is a pleasure

The Scots Pine shadows point to the newly green oaks

Such bright sunshine slanting in

Coming home from the walk to my own bit of May
A bit too green, that pool ... but the plants are doing fine
Go well all.

23 April 2014

Happy Donegal

Six or so on a quiet morning in Donegal, the sun rising, a happy schnauzer and I are about to head up the hill behind the house onto the heath, and I stop for a moment just to listen to birdsong in the surrounding hedgerows. Here's one minute's worth. You'll hear a pheasant and a nearby cock crowing too.

Here's what the morning looked like:

The sun rises in Donegal
So Yes! we went to Donegal, far from hospitals and work and the city. We basked in warm sunshine (and being Spring, there wasn't a midge to be seen, or felt), walked the beaches, drank white wine and played scrabble outside in that amazing sunshine, ate well, visited the neighbours, and all in all, had a restorative and happy time of it. Many many thanks to our hosts who spoiled us so nicely.

Every morning, Iz and I walked up onto the heath behind the house, to tramp through the heather, and watch the sun rise from the sitting stone up on the hill (me) and investigate all that the heath had to offer (Iz), including rather of lot of this:

Donegal granite, sheep poo and a lucky grass seedling with its own stash of manure...
what caught my eye was the contrast in textures and the flash of green
Up there on the hill, the distant roar of the waves on Dooey strand forms the backdrop to an otherwise quiet morning, a constant that's replaced as we walk towards the lake by the gentle whomp whomp of the nearby windmills. On the first morning though, it was so still as the sun rose that the windmills weren't moving at all - a rare occurrence on the Atlantic coastline! After only a few minutes, first one and then another started to turn slowly slowly...

A still morning at the lake

Slowly the windmills start to turn (can you spot the moon and a passing seagull?)
The heath looks bare in this photo, and it is, although full of hidden treasures in the shape of mosses (Sphagnum mostly) and some tough little shrubs and perennials. The sheltered hill on the way up though is covered in hazel scrub, with birches and hawthorns making a stand (literally) here and there. At this time of year, the roots of trees are brightened with primroses and violets, standing out against the faded ochres and golds of last year's bracken. While the blackthorns are festooned with white blossom now, on bare dark traceries of branch, the hawthorn (or whitethorn) comes into leaf first, saving its blossom for May. Can't wait!

Spring and schnauzer (in Wicklow, not Donegal)

But the heath and granite and other rocks aren't the only offering from Donegal, the Atlantic shoreline is its secret weapon, the pull of its tide pulling at our memory and always bringing us back.

Bringing us back this year to changed shorelines: after the ferocious storms of January and February scoured the beaches and ravaged the dunes, the beaches are pristine when you look in one direction:

Dooey, scoured clean
and, so sadly, anything but when you look in the other; here are the two most 'picturesque' bits of debris, but there was an awful lot more of less-than-beautiful plastic and other rubbish at the base of the newly scoured dunes, left there by tides and waves that must have been higher and stronger than any that Dooey has seen for some time.
An old lobster pot dragged up onto the beach by winter storms; 

and some coax. cable, just what every beach needs ...

But with the blue skies, who could stay glum for long, and light like that has to caught by catchlight himself:

One man and his dog (and his Hasselblad), on the pier at Portnoo

The countryside on the way to and from Donegal was looking beautiful in the spring sunshine, and the blackthorns are frothier and whiter and more blossomy than I've ever seen them. They missed out last year as the really good blossoming happened a bit later (the hawthorn and elders), but they've more than made up for it this year. If the season continues well, there'll be a lot of sloe gin on the go this winter.

At home, the days have been filled with quiet pursuits. In the quest to learn something about coloured pencils, I've bought a copy of Ann Swan's book, and tried one of the demonstrations/exercises in it. Here's an iris of hers, re-drawn by me, step by step as she recommends. Layering is the thing with coloured pencils, and you generally start with the darker areas and work up to the light... (forgive the dodgy phone pics here):

Trying to build up an iris, starting with the darker areas ...

gradually layering up the colours

to produce the final flower
It was a great exercise and taught me a lot, including how much I have to learn about colour... very interesting!

As well as trying to draw flowers, a friend's significant birthday gave me the chance to create lovely combinations of colour and shape for her wonderful party:

Jugs of flowers ready to add to the party. Happy Birthday again lb! 
And it's that time of the year, so the gardener in me is thinking alpine thoughts:

Draba  'Buttermilk', flowering too early for the upcoming Alpine show, but I've enjoyed it in the greenhouse
Other gardeny work has included first attempts at sowing alpine seeds and some other bits and bobs:
Bulblets of lilies, some small plants for the sale at the alpine show, and some seeds sown a couple of weeks ago

A pleasing combination in the garden, wallflowers from a very generous alpine gardener, some Ophiopogon, and Molinia caerula
And in a garden on an altogether different scale, Farmleigh, we celebrated Japanese culture and enjoyed the spring flowers in abundance:
Anemones and friends at Farmleigh

Hanami and haiku under Prunus 'Mt Fuji'

Twenty one

Twenty-four hours later than usual and in a bit of rush, I took the twenty-one pics early on a misty, grey Tuesday morning:

At last , the trees at the edge of the field are greening up nicely

into the park...

The oak trees are coming into leaf

The horse chestnut has been first out of the blocks as always, but the sycamores are catching up
 (though the dead one on the left will stay bare)

At home in the garden, things are on the move too (compare this to last month's pic!)

You can just see the False Spikenard to the left - beautiful scent from this soon
And to end, let's go back to Happy Donegal... much more happiness than rhythm in this, but it's great fun:

Go well all.

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.