That don’t impress me mulch: Fiona goes barking mad

I’d like to begin this post with two apologies to my readers. The first apology is to the thousands (perhaps millions) of readers who have tried to access my website over the past couple of weeks and were greeted with a blank page. I know it must have been truly shocking to find my website had disappeared. I did hear rumours of widespread panic and reactionary riots and looting but at the time of writing, those reports have been unsubstantiated. In truth, I simply had some server issues that took some time to resolve. So you can all calm the tits guys, Fiona Grows Food is going nowhere. Crisis averted.

The second apology is far more pressing. I would like to issue a heartfelt apology to you all for using such a horrendously bad pun in the title of this post, that will most likely result in you singing Shania Twain to yourself for the rest of the day. But you see, it had to be done. I had a list of other options for a blog post about mulch but none of the others seemed to do the job.

Other options included (but were not limited to): Mulch ado about nothing (it’s been done before sadly), Too mulch, too soon (the second highest contender), I hate you so mulch right now, and Too mulch to handle. 

However, none had quite the same sassy pizazz or gravitas as Shania, because lets face it, not mulch much does.

Actual footage of me stroking the fence posts on my plot.

Anyway. I have been incredibly busy on the plot in recent weeks. The last time I shared a blog post, it was a pretty emotional one about using gardening as a tool to help you get through the tough patches in life, and I felt it would be hypocritical not to put my own words into action. So, because I was having a bit of a tough patch myself, I decided to take a break from pretty much everything so I could focus on my garden. I mean, what use would I be as a garden blogger if I had no gardening to blog about?

So, I took a step back from everything else in my life, apart from work obviously, and you know, washing myself and stuff. I took a step back from social media because it was having a shite effect on me and I eased off on my mad party lifestyle (who even am I?) because I realised I kind of hated people and needed to not be around them for a while. So, I took some time to simply be on my own and dig. And plant. And weed. And water. And sit in the garden. And dig again. 

I tore the whole damn plot apart. Because if I didn’t do it now, I’d simply never do it, and I was tired of feeling like my garden was a mess. And I only had myself to blame for the mess and only I could fix it.

But despite ripping up the raised beds, the decking outside my polytunnel and establishing a whole new-look allotment, there was one thing that was really pissing me off and it had been for a long time. My paths.

Decent pathways are vital on an allotment, not only do you need to have proper paths to let you access every vegetable bed, but they need to be the right width for you to be able to fit a wheelbarrow and  – obviously – yourself. Now, you’d imagine that there would be little to no upkeep on a garden path but you’d be wrong. Very fucking wrong. You have a few options, you can pave them (which to me has always seemed too permanent and I have mild to crippling commitment issues), you can leave them as they are and they’ll be full of weeds and grass (nope), you can put down gravel (too, eh, crunchy) or you can put down some bark mulch.

When I first began tending my allotment, I never fully considered just how much work the paths would be. Because, well, I was more concerned thinking about things like: “how the fuck do I grow potatoes?”, “what the fuck is soil pH?” and “I wonder if anywhere sells stiletto heeled wellies?”.

But over the years, my paths have turned out to be just as much work, if not more, than my actual vegetable beds. Many, many moons ago, I decided to use bark mulch on my allotment pathways.

A) because it smells absolutely amazing B) because I liked the idea of a natural mulch over gravel or paving and C) Because the word ‘mulch’ is only gas.

The only problem is, bark mulch, much like most organic substances, rots down over time and needs to be replaced.

The plot when I began ripping it apart. Hack of the place.

Added to that, there’s also the little issue of mypex (weed suppressing fabric for all my non-gardening connoisseur pals), which generally needs to be put down on the paths before the mulch so weeds don’t take over and grow through your mulch.

So, what’s the problem then?

Well, pull up a stool there, pour yourself a drink and let me fucking tell you what the problem is. After years of the poxy Irish weather, the constant rain, the snow storms and well, more poxy rain; this winter, my paths had all turned into weed-riddled, mushy, waterlogged disasters. Every time I walked onto my plot, I was pretty much going flying on my snot on my paths and no matter how much work I did on the new beds etc, the place just looked like a warzone.

And that don’t impress me mulch.

Fucking yesssss, that punchline took a while didn’t it?

Seriously. The state of it.

And so, I realised that the job I’d been putting off for about a year finally had to be tackled. I had to completely redo my pathways. In my naive brain, I thought it might take a couple of days. How wrong I was. I quickly realised that in order to re-do all my paths, I first had to undo what was already there. So, I had to take up all the old bark, which at this stage, was just compacted mud. On top of that, there were mountains of weeds growing through the weed suppressant (because life is a cruel joke). So that all had to go too.

Imagine this, you decide to re-carpet your house and in order to do it, you have to pull up your carpet. Pretty straightforward right? Well, imagine that carpet was absolutely soaking wet and had the roots of a thousand dandelions embedded in it. Then to top it off, it was also covered in a thick layer of compacted mud which was teeming with insects and worms.

Well, first of all, you would probably move house or set it on fire for insurance purposes because it would be easier than dealing with the nightmare ahead of you, and secondly, you would have to seriously call into question how the hell you’ve been putting up with it for so long. Also, you would probably consider giving it an auld go-over with the hoover or something.

Sadly, none of these were options available to me in the garden so I had to just bloody do it all by hand. Cue Fiona spending days attempting to pull up huge swathes of heavy, wet, fabric covered in mud and worms and slug goo. I’m not going to lie, there were quite a few instances of Fiona falling on her arse, mud all over her face and arse, dignity long gone. And not only did I have to rip it all up, but then all the crap had to go somewhere, so I spent a whole day just carrying piles of literal mud around the allotments like a crazed lunatic trying to find a bin or skip for it. All I was short of doing was walking up to people and fucking flinging it at them in desperation and legging it in the other direction.

But I eventually got rid of every last bit of old bark and mypex. And just when I thought the hard work was behind me and all the crap was gone, the realisation hit me that I now faced the joyous prospect of somehow getting tonnes of fresh bark mulch back onto my plot.

And that was the moment I decided to give up gardening and go take up a nice, relaxing hobby like air traffic controlling or something.

Goodbye old decking, hello hard work

Nah, not really, but you have no idea how tempted I was to throw my hat at it, because the hard work was just beginning. What I was left with after the great mypex disaster of 2018, was a garden that had horrible muddy paths that within two days were already beginning to sprout weeds (how? why?).

So, I had to begin getting some bark mulch for my paths and was beginning to worry, because the stuff costs more than a fucking car to buy. But, that’s when something magic happened Truly magic. Like, I don’t believe in angels or karma or anything of the sort, but I went to the plot last week to discover that the lads who run the allotments had ordered in absolutely LOADS of bark mulch and that it was…wait for it…free. Piles and piles of the stuff.

Hallelujah.

Only problem was, it wasn’t exactly near my own plot, and so began the great wheelbarrow relay of the year (beginning to understand just how much hard work an allotment is?). So, I spent hours yesterday, wheeling a wheelbarrow approximately 9,000 miles to the pile of bark, filling it and wheeling it back 14,000 miles. The extra five thousand miles were created by the sheer bloody weight of the thing combined with my dwindling will to live. I bashed my legs to pieces with the barrow and had a very close call with a pothole, but me tell you guys, it was the best work out I’ve ever had. My arms are killing me, my back is killing me, my legs are killing me and my arse feels like I’ve done about 200 squats.

I think. I’ve never actually done a squat in my life because I’m allergic to the gym.

But the result is that I now have the majority of the allotment redesigned, re-dug and have gorgeous new paths full of delicious bark mulch. No more slip sliding my way around the garden.

Plus I now have a tan that rivals the entire cast of Made in Chelsea and am probably more toned than all the cross-fit obsessed lads on Tinder combined.

Of course, I’ll have to redo all of this again in about two years but hopefully by then I’ll have won the lotto and can pay some handsome, topless lads to do it for me while their equally handsome mates hand-feed me grapes and fan me with palm leaves while I whip the workers with bamboo canes, laughing maniacally.

If not, I’ll just set the place on fire.

Oh and if you think that was all enough work for one week, I haven’t even bloody started on what I planted, but I’ll keep that one for another day because I have to go lather some lotion on my thighs.

Because they are bruised. From the wheelbarrow. Get your mind out of the gutter lads.

gardening

The important lessons that gardening has taught me about getting through life

Sometimes, life is just shit. There is no other way to say it. It’s just shit. And let’s face it, a lot of the time, life is shit because people are shit. We are. We are all at times, just shit. Shit to ourselves, shit to others, shit to the world around us. Shit.

*Warning,  in case you haven’t noticed already, this post contains swearing, vague philosophical ramblings, some pessimism and some questionable theories on the nature of humanity. Don’t worry though, I never do these things without good reason. Read on*

Something incredible happened to me today. Something that taught me about the nature of the world around me, the nature of plants and wildlife and the environment I live in. Something small, something huge, something that shifted my whole perspective on a difficult situation. A lesson in getting through the tough times.

Let me set the scene. Many of you know I had a bad year last year in many ways. Well, I say bad, it was in fact, a year littered with the most wonderful things that have ever happened to me. But in terms of my health, my garden and my heart for the garden, I had a very tough year. My plot bore the brunt of everything that happened in the rest of my life. I didn’t really bother much with it, not as much as I should have. I let it go to ruin.

gardening

It’s in an absolute heap

I made bad choices. I invested my energy in to the wrong things when I should have reserved it for my garden. It only served to hurt my garden and myself in the long run.

I’ve written at length about not knowing how to begin again. How to start over and why the hell I should bother. I’ve been looking around my plot with despair, and sadness and with a sort of veiled apathy. Why the fuck should I care about it anymore? Why don’t I just forget about it and move on?

But of course, because it is the blood in my veins, the air in my lungs and an intrinsic part of the very nature of who I am; I can not just give this up. It is part of my identity. It is the love of my life.

So, today I decided to give it another shot. To maybe just try one more time to get it back to its former glory. Or better still, to take all the lessons it had taught me, and use them to tear it all the fuck down and begin all over again.

So, I have begun again. I spent two hours just beginning to pick up the pieces. I’ve begun to throw away the dead plants, the old plants, the old bits of wood, the twigs, the crap. I’ve begun to clean up my act.

gardening

You’ve got to be willing to get seriously dirty if you want to clean up your act though

And when I stood in my garden today and looked around, among all the litter and chaos and destruction, I found something that made my heart skip a beat. I found a patch of crocuses that I planted three years ago that never grew before, and they were in full, glorious, delicate bloom.

Despite the snow storm, despite the neglect, despite the fact that I had never tended to them. Despite everything and against all the odds, there they were.  And I nearly fucking wept. Not just because I’m a sap with too many feelings, but because I realised once again, that the greatest lessons we can learn about ourselves, we learn from nature. That we too can weather the storms. Plants and wildlife and the natural world has more to teach us about ourselves than we will ever know.gardening

So, in an effort to quantify this somehow in a blog post –  I’m attempting to marry the huge wonders of nature with some small words on a screen – I’m going to try to explain a few life lessons that my garden has taught me. Maybe it will help you if you are, like me, going through a rough patch. I’ve been thinking about all the amazing things that plants can teach us about ourselves and how to take those lessons and turn them to gold. How to fucking bloom.

Nature simply doesn’t give a shit about you

Sounds pessimistic right? It’s not. This is one I’ve written about before and it never fails to cheer me up. Seriously, just think about it. Plants and wildlife are incredibly apathetic to anything else around them except their own survival. They don’t care about you, they don’t care if you’re fat, thin, an asshole, a saint, gorgeous, ugly, a fuck up, a success, they don’t care if you’re a shit person or a good one.

And this realisation can turn your understanding of yourself and your place in the world on its head entirely.

Think about it this way, you can literally be anything, or anybody or act any way, and you will still exist. When you are a gardener, or simply out there in nature, your personality, your mistakes, the things that you don’t like about yourself, the things you love about yourself, there is no place for them. None. You are simply part of something bigger than yourself. You can just be an organism, of little or no consequence. In a garden you are absolved of all your shit and (perhaps even better) everyone else’s too.

Enjoy!

You have a responsibility to the world around you and the world you build

All that being said, every thing you do impacts the world around you. Everything.

If you don’t look after your garden, it will not thrive. You can’t expect to put nothing in to something and then expect to get anything worthwhile out of it. Plants and nature will always be there, but if you are the one who planted the seed, you are the one who should tend to its needs.gardening

I’m sure you’ve planted something before and kind of forgotten to take care of it properly. You thought to yourself “ah sure look, it’ll be fine, it won’t be the end of the world if it dies”.

No, it won’t, but you kind of made its existence pointless now didn’t you?

Gardens are amazing spaces and we are their curators. We have a responsibility to the plants and the wildlife in them. We have a responsibility to how we treat everything and everyone in our lives too.

In essence,  don’t be a dick.

Only plant what you want to grow

Right, this is a pretty basic one. But, why bother planting peas if you don’t want peas? Why the hell would you put all that time and effort and love into something you have zero intention to actually use?

Think about that. Same goes for jobs, friendships, relationships, hobbies, your fucking dinner, the clothes you buy. Stop chasing things you don’t actually want.

Mistakes are just mistakes

How many times have I written that I do not believe that there are mistakes in a garden? Well, I lied. Of course there are. You will spend your life in a garden making mistakes. But here is the difference between how you may feel about those mistakes and how those mistakes actually impact or hurt your garden.

Much like in the rest of your life, you will beat yourself up for your mistakes in your garden, you will. You will beat yourself up for your mistakes in life. You’ll ruminate on them, be sad about them, blame yourself. But here is the wonderful thing gardens teach us about mistakes: they can’t be undone so make your peace with them and move the fuck on.  Self blame in a garden is pointless. You know why? Because it doesn’t change or fix anything. Accidentally kill a plant by not watering it? Well just learn from it and water the next one. Did your tomatoes die because you had them in the wrong environment? Well, they’re dead. End of. You won’t bring them back to life.

Yes, you fucked up. Yes, it sucked. But yes, you have a chance to make it better.

Don’t equate mistakes to failure. If you do that, you will lose hope and simply stop trying. In a garden and in life.

Plants don’t waste their time on shit that doesn’t make them better

Plants and wildlife spend their lifetimes searching for things that make them a success. Things that make them thrive. Plants don’t waste time on things that they don’t need. Plants only have use for things that sustain them. Water, and nutrients and light and pollinators. Things that make them live and grow.

gardening

You don’t see these guys sitting around feeling sorry for themselves

People tend to do the opposite. We stew in guilt and resentment and sorrow. We let shame and regret eat us alive. We waste our time on things that don’t sustain us. We hurt ourselves in the long run. If you spend your life on things that do not sustain you, you will literally die.

Bleak? Nope, that right there is the opposite of bleak folks that right there opens up space for hope.

Which brings me nicely to..

Gardening teaches you to hope

Have you ever sown a seed and not wanted it to grow?

Enough said.

Gardening teaches you to be patient

Gardening teaches you to breathe. To take a step back. Because no matter how much work you do, everything takes time to come to fruition. You’re not just going to plant a seed and poof, two seconds later have an apple.

Sometimes, you just have to wait and trust that the world has you right where you need to be.

Being buried doesn’t mean you’re dead

And maybe the most important lesson of all, gardening has taught me that you can quite literally be up to your neck in dirt and turn it all around. You can be so deep under all the crap and mud that life slings at you that it seems like there’s no fucking way out.

But what happens when you let in the things that will help you grow out of it? What happens when you just let in water? Or warmth? Or hope, or love, or forgiveness or trust or patience or self belief?

Your life can be a grave or a garden.

It can bury you. Or it can plant you.

It’s up to you to decide.

The Beast from the East

The Beast from the East: Storming back to life

Hello my lovelies!

It has been quite a while since I wrote a post here, I’ve been incredibly busy and in demand, it’s not easy being me.

In fact, last time I wrote a blog post was during Hurricane Ophelia in October and I’ve been struggling to know how to begin again. Winter was tough this year, I barely visited the plot and as always, I lost the desire to dig while the world was dark and cold. it happens every damn year, yet every damn year, I begin to think I should just give it all up and stop this wild gardening ride I’m on.

But don’t panic, that’ll never happen.

I’ve been racking my brains trying to figure out how to make a comeback, because, lets face it, you all miss me. I know you’ve been lost without me.

My gardening bollock naked advice, my endless photos of my welly-shod legs in ever more compromising positions in the garden, my plots to help you all use your exes corpses as compost. I’d be taking away something truly beautiful from the world.

In fact, I even considered giving up the blog entirely until I realised I am  pretty much the Slim Shady of Irish horticulture and I had an obligation to you all to struggle on, because it would feel so empty without me.

So, this week, I’ve realised there has been a perfect storm of events to bring me back to blogging life.

The so-called Beast from the East (or Storm Emma) has landed in Ireland. Here in Dublin, things have been particularly bad. It’s absolutely pelting snow outside and the wind is picking up pace. It is set to be the most severe snow event in Ireland in my lifetime.

There are red weather warnings in place and we’ve been told to stay indoors from 4pm today until 3pm tomorrow.  There is zero public transport and I’ll be working from home.

Myself and my colleagues at Buzz.ie and the Irish Daily Star are working away all day to bring you whatever updates you need so make sure to follow us for all your snow related news needs.

The nation is also currently gripped in a catastrophic bread crisis, with sliced pans becoming the country’s most valuable commodity.

Side note: I just checked the #breadmageddon hashtag on Twitter and one of my tweets was in the top featured and I feel MAD important and famous now lads:

And so, I am on my sofa, trapped by the weather yet again, and this is the perfect way to get back to blogging.

My winter gap, bookended by two storms.

I finally got back to my garden last week after my winter of discontent. The weather was absolutely glorious, I was in a t-shirt, digging, weeding, planting. That was exactly seven days ago.

Now, it’s -5 degrees outside, the snow is at least 30 cm deep in my garden and I’m wearing 700 layers. The Beast from the Esst

Actually, one benefit of being a gardener in weather like this is the endless supply of sexy fleeces, wooly socks, hats, thermal vests, gloves and wellies you have at your disposal.

Another red weather warning is just about to take effect as Storm Emma finally moves across the country and meets the polar air that has been bringing the snowfall.

Much like a great love story, two imperfect bodies will crash together and fuckin’ ruin everything in their path.

I know many of you are probably worried about your seedlings right now, I know you are. Thankfully I’m a procrastinator and haven’t actually planted any yet so for once, my laziness is actually paying off.

The allotments are closed for the rest of this week due to the weather warnings so even if I did have seedlings in the polytunnel, I wouldn’t be able to bring them inside. However, if you do have seedlings outside, sorry lads, they are – for want of a better word – fucked.

However, all is not lost. Today is the first day of March. It is still the very, very beginning of gardening season here in Ireland. You still have plenty of time to get growing so, instead of worrying about your plants (we all do it, it’s ok, nobody else actually understands, but it’s perfectly normal), just do one thing.

Please, please, please, take one slice of precious bread if you have any and leave it outside for the birds with a bowl of hot water. Our birds need help, they’re bleedin’ freezing. I have a robin in my garden today and I’ve been feeding him bread (don’t shoot me,  I know we’re having an end of the world bread event right now). The Beast from the East

If it helps, you can sing that feed the birds song from Mary Poppins while you’re doing it and feel like a fuckin’ saint.

Otherwise, it’s looking like this weather is only set to get worse, it won’t begin to thaw out until at least Sunday and the likelihood is, as gardeners, we’ll still be dealing with the effects of this for a couple of weeks. The ground will be too frozen to dig and too cold to plant in for quite some time now.

So, if you, like me, were worried that you are behind, Storm Emma is a great big reset button.

The snow is covering all your sins. It is a great white blanket of reflection. So, stay safe, stay warm and stay indoors and before you know it, it will be May and I’ll be looking for a new excuse for my plot procrastination.

Ophelia, we’re feelin’ ya

It’s been a horrible day here in Ireland.

Since 8am, the country has been hammered by ex-hurricane Ophelia.

Ophelia is the strongest hurricane to ever be found this east in the Atlantic and the strongest to hit Ireland in fifty years.

The storm has been tracking North all day, battering Cork and Waterford this morning and beginning to hammer Dublin and Galway right now.

I was sent home from work at 11 am and I’ve been holed up in my house the past few hours and believed the worst was over but it is set to peak in Dublin over the next two hours.

So far, there have been three fatalities, thousands of trees down and over 360,000 homes without power.

I had spent the morning concerned about my polytunnel and shed but now I am more concerned about my friends and family.

Gardens will grow again, lives will not. Do not go out to your garden, do not take risks. This is too serious.

This is just a quick post to let you know I hope you are all safe and indoors.

I am sure I will have a lot to write about in the coming days as the clean up begins. I do not have high hopes for my garden right now.

If any of my readers are stuck in Malahide/Swords/Dublin airport area, please mail me and you can come to my home for the evening.

Stay safe, stay home and much love to you all.

Fiona

The top random number of somethings to something in the garden at sometime

So, I’ve noticed a little trend among garden blogs, in garden magazines and publications and I’m sure it’s very helpful and informative:

The list.

You know the list.

  • The top five jobs for the garden in July.
  • The top 9 herbs to grow on your windowsill
  • The top seven things to plant in February

Etc:

Anyway, as you all know, I like to buck the trend slightly and always swore blind I wouldn’t be one of those bloggers who relied on lists for clicks; but I’ve realised it’s been ages since I shared a how to or a plants bants post and I feel I’ve let you all down.

How are you even coping without my tips for parsnip growing in the nude or planting garlic to stave off vampires??

I’ve let you all down, so in an effort to apologise and make it up to you, I’ve decided to do what I always swore I wouldn’t and give you a “top random number of somethings to something in the garden sometime” post.

And in even better news, you’ll be getting one of these a month from here on in.

Boom.

You’re welcome.

I’m warning you the December one may well be a video special called “The twelve days of Christmas songs to sing in the garden this December.”

So, to get us started…

 

The top, eh, 10 let’s go with 10, things NOT to do in the allotment in October.

1. Do not think that now summer is over you get to go into hibernation and do nothing in the garden for winter. This is the busiest time of year for veggie growers. There’s serious cleaning up to do. If you take a break all winter because it’s cold or wet, good luck ever clawing back any semblance of structure in your garden next year.

7. Do not leave all your used up summer plants in their beds over winter, no matter how tempting. It’s so easy to want to leave them in the ground because it’s cold and miserable and you’d rather be at home. It’s easy to think sure the soil won’t be used over winter so what harm can it do leaving the plants there? WRONG. They’re fucking dead lads, get rid of them. I mean, have you ever left a cabbage or lettuce in the ground for months and then tried to pull it out? That shit is dangerous, you’re liable to either tear a muscle from trying to pull the root out of the soil or worse, pull too hard and go flying backwards, awkwardly grasping a cabbage mid air, wondering how this is even your life.

4. Do not leave the weeds because you think they’ll stop growing over winter. Weeds will grow anytime, anywhere. And yes the growth slows in winter but if you don’t dig them up, the roots will just get bigger and good bloody luck to you next year. Trust me, I’m paying for that little gem (boom) this autumn.

2. Do not leave your garden without planting over winter. There are tons of plants you can grow this time of year. If you don’t plant some winter food, you are wasting valuable space and time when you could be being productive! Chard, Kale, Broad Beans, Garlic, Onions and Oriental Greens are all excellent winter growers and require little or no care.

9. Do not leave your digging until spring. I don’t care what everyone says, turn your soil over NOW! You don’t need it to be perfect tilth, you don’t need to remove every little stone or bit of debris, but please, for the love of god, at least dig a little bit.

5. On that note, do NOT let your soil go hungry in October! Now is the time to feed it. Get yourself some well rotted manure. I cant stress well rotted enough here guys and add it to your soil where you intend to grow nutrient heavy crops like brassicas next year. It’s also a good time to get some compost into your beds.

8. Do NOT lose heart because your plot looks like shit. It’s October, it always happens. There’s one week every year when everything just gives up the ghost and dies. That’s normal but overwhelming. Simply accept the fact that nature is sometimes a hard mistress, accept and lament the loss of your crops then get busy tidying up.

2. Do NOT leave all those fallen leaves around the place on the ground. Those babies are gold, and I don’t just mean the colour. Dying leaves are packed full of nitrogen and make an amazing addition to your compost heap. Or you could go one better and make a leaf mold cage. Do not kick through the leaves no matter how tempting, collect them, use them.

3. Do NOT do what I’ve done and decide to redesign your whole garden in October. Don’t do it, it’ll break your heart. But do throw out old wood, rusted crap and general worn out pots etc, they’re just litter, you’ll thank yourself in spring.

10. And last, do NOT get disheartened by the darkening days and lengthening nights. Use this time to take stock of your mistakes and successes and begin the plan for next year because before you know it, I’ll be writing a “Top 13 spring beds to spring up in spring” or something equally ridiculous.

The light at the end of the polytunnel

Every year in a garden is different, just like every day in a garden is different.

Some years, you have wild successes, beautiful crops, perfect weather and no weeds.

Then there are years like this one. When your world kind of falls to pieces and your garden along with it.

There are years like this one, when your harvests are few and far between and your plot is in a constant state of dissaray.

When every time you step foot into your garden, your heart sinks where it used to sing.

It has not been my most productive gardening year and as much as I loathe to admit it, I have on more than one occasion considered giving it all up.

Don’t panic! I have no intentions to quit. I just can’t, you see, my garden still makes me inexorably happy, even when it’s gone to shit, and mine has, essentially, gone to shit.

My raised beds are broken, there are weeds everywhere, bits of debris everywhere, my crops have all but failed with the exception of my sweetcorn.

There are countless reasons for this bad year, including ill health, stress and a lack of motivation, and I want to talk about that. That lack of motivation, because that is the gardener’s biggest enemy.

I want to make you all squirm a bit here. I usually keep this blog light hearted and fun, but there are realities that we all have to face.

Harsh realities about ourselves and the nature of why we do the things we do. I’ve had to face many of them this year.

I am not a great gardener. I am not an expert. The majority of the time, my plot is a disorganised mess, much like my scatterbrain. I fail in the garden every single week. Seriously. Every week.

All that being said, gardening is still that extra beat in my heart, the extra air in my lungs.

Gardening is literally, my be all, and end all, and this year, I lost sight of that. I lost sight of why I garden. I became obsessed with wanting a perfect plot, perfect crops and the whole endeavour failed miserably.

I have learned that I need to go back to my roots.

I need to garden for the fun of it, I need to garden for the joy.

I need to garden for the peace.

With that in mind, I want to write a little about something I’ve wanted to address for a long time but have never had the temerity or strength.

I’d like to write a little about the mental health benefits of gardening, but I don’t just want to load you with facts you can find anywhere.

I don’t just want to spout the same old numbers and statistics and surveys. I want to tell you MY story.

I have an incredible life, truly incredible. I love my life. I have two parents who love me dearly, countless friends who make me happy, a career, my health, food in my stomach, a roof over my head. I have a garden. I write. I have clothes and shoes. I love a few drinks. I love sci-fi and video games and dancing. I love my bloody amazing life.

I have a wonderful life but sometimes I can’t see it through the fog. Sometimes, the fog is all that there is.

Now, before you think I’ve gone all maudlin on you, trust me, this post is another howler, I swear.

The fog is not just my depressive episodes or low moods. The fog is what happens when I lose sight of why I do what I do.

I had a thought today and I can’t stop thinking it.

How many gardening websites, magazines, TV show, publications write about the mental health benefits of gardening?

All of them, and rightly so. It has long been established that gardening is good for mental health and a form of therapy for a wide range of disorders.

Now, take all of those articles, shows, interviews you’ve read, watched and heard about the mental health effects of gardening and ask yourself this:

How many of them have told you that gardening actually makes you mental?

None!

So, I’m here to rectify the situation and tell you the dirty side of growing nobody tells you about. Gardening turns you into a bona fide nut job.

Only mental people walk around allotments in their bare feet.

Only mental people choose to spend freezing winter mornings in a garden, pouring their warm breath into the cold world.

Only mental people spend weeks germinating 19 different varieties of tomatoes because they’re slightly different colours.

Only mental people prefer getting a gift of cow shite than jewellery.

Only mental people choose to be surrounded by slugs, centipedes and spiders.

Gardening makes you a mental person!

I’m telling you, if you get a garden, you won’t recognise yourself within a year. Not because you are a walking orb of hippie zen like you envisioned, but because your life is now RUINED.

Your hands will be banjaxed and your clothes will all be ripped. What used to be your shoe rack now will just house plant pots and seeds.

You’ll be covered in scars from bites and stings.

You’ll talk to plants. Seriously. You will.

You think you won’t do it but you absolutely will. It’ll creep up on you.

You’ll just casually find yourself in your polytunnel one day, reworking all the lyrics to Macklemore’s thrift shop so it has garden lyrics and you’ll stop and wonder who you even are anymore.

You’ll cancel nights out so you can water your polytunnel. You’ll spend a stupid amount of money on crap. Literally. You will literally exchange hard earned money to obtain the excrement from another animal.

You will actually cry when crops fails. You will cry actual tears.

You will find yourself screaming at nettles.

You will turn into a mental person and you will never be happier.

That’s what has happened to me really. I used to be very morose and quiet*, I used to be a normal human being with normal hobbies*, I used to be clean*.

*all outright lies

This year, being away from my garden a lot, I’ve become less mental and that’s what’s wrong with me. I’m telling you I do things like watch TV, drink tea, clean my house. CLEAN MY HOUSE!

I hate it. And so, I shall endeavour to garden more during the coming weeks so I return to my glorious mental self.

Next weekend, I’m heading to Waterford to the amazing Food Matters Festival in Grow HQ where I’ll be giving a walking tour and speaking about allotment growing and I’ll be chatting all about allotment growing and the benefits of gardening for your mental health.

Also, the folks at GIY have some amazing people coming along, including Alys Fowler who I may freak out and embarrass myself when I meet!

Nothing new there so.

It’s going to be an amazing weekend so please pop along. I promise I’ll wear more than just my GIY knickers.

If anyone takes issue with my tongue in cheek tone here, I myself have mad problems with anxiety and depression so please do not think I am being disparaging.

I want you to know that there is hope, there are lights at the end of the polytunnel, there is love in the fresh, garden air and there are places in which you can dig all your shit and literally come out smelling of roses.

Much love to you.

If you need to chat to someone about depression or anxiety, you can contact the wonderful people at one of these numbers:

Pieta House: 1800 247 247

The Samaritans: 116 123

Aware: 1800 80 48 48

I dig therefore I am

There’s a fresher air in Dublin this week as late summer breezes by and autumn blows in. My summer of discontent has been and gone and much like the changing of the seasons, my life has shifted in to a brand new phase.

It’s been an arduous summer here at Fiona Grows Food, plagued with health issues and some upheavals in my personal life, my garden has taken a back seat to the pursuit of health and happiness.

At times, the garden hasn’t been quite as productive as I’d have liked and I’ve spent a significant amount of time lately attempting to juggle the real world with my dream world. The dream world in this case being the ability to garden and write for a living.

Dream office alert!

Now that autumn is upon us, I am in the heart of harvest season and I’m left to take stock of the summer that has passed and think about what has and hasn’t worked for me in the garden.

The past few days I’ve been thinking about the nature of the changing seasons and the cycles of our lives. Thinking of how our gardens can reflect everything else in our world and how that reflection can guide us to where we are meant to be.

Now, before you wonder what the hell has happened to mad, hilarious Fiona and begin to panic at the thought that I might have become a bit of a poetic, philosophical bore, bare with me. This is an absolute cracker of a realisation I have to share with you! Then I promise I’ll get back to my usual slapstick gardening humour.

I do still have my funny moments to be fair…caught someone in a quite compromising parsnip position the other day…

Over the past few years, I’ve been juggling some hefty commitments, including a 50 hour a week thankless job, a blog, freelance writing commitments, food growing workshops and of course, a pretty large veggie garden.

Of all these things, the one that has taken up the majority of my time has been my job. Not that I’m looking a gift horse in the mouth, I have enjoyed my work the past few years and am grateful for the amazing opportunities that it has afforded me. However, it just wasn’t right for me anymore.

I no longer had time to write or to dig, I had no space to blossom.

Plants and people are not so different really and this is the overarching point of my preposterous poetic preamble; if we treat ourselves and our lives the way we treat our plants, we’ll be all the better for it.

Think about it.

If you are a gardener yourself, you’ll know that when a plant is wilting, diseased or dying, it’s not the plant that is at fault, the problem is the environment.

This is why we grow some plants in polytunnels instead of outside

If a plant is parched, we water it, if it’s starved, we give it light, if it’s struggling we support it.

Put simply: if your plants are not thriving, you change their environment.

When a plant doesn’t perform well, we don’t scream at it, admonish it or bully it into submission (except for weeds, I’ve been know to scream at weeds on occasion). We take note of what has caused the problem and take steps to avoid the issue in future.

We repot it. Change the way we water it. Bring it in indoors. Give it less sun or more. We plant it in a different environment, we adjust our care in line with its needs, we try something new in the (sometimes vain) hope that next time, the plant will thrive.

If all that fails, we simply try again.

As gardeners, we are care givers, we are bound to the many lives we have become responsible for. We are held to account by our plants, and rewarded by our dedication and diligence.

We measure our successes in harvests and seeds, the more we put in, the more we are rewarded and we are guided by a tangible desire to do what is best, not only for our plants but for ourselves too.

In fact, based on these findings, I think it’s time for another one of my Fiona Grows Food Mathematical Discoveries of the Century.

Where:

A=hard work

B=desire for success

C=time spent in the garden

D=plant knowledge

Y=Tomatoes

Then:

I haven’t used any square roots here as the roots I work with are far too organic in structure for me to quantify in a single equation.

Mind Blown.

*patiently awaits phone call from Nobel prize committee* (there’s a Nobel prize for best off the cuff blog thesis right? Right?)

Now that we’ve had a small scientific segue, back to my original point.

In essence, plants that are stressed need a change of environment and in that regard, the same can be said for people.

If a person is wilting, hungry for more, struggling to grow or needs more space for their roots to spread, the fault is not with that person, but with their environment.

That is exactly what has happened to me this year. The garden has suffered and the blog has suffered. My days were spent in a toxic environment and no matter what I did, I was wilting.

So I’ve taken a leaf (trolololol) out of my book of gardening experience and I’ve decided to change my environment. In a decision that took forever to make and yet only took seconds to finally come to, I’ve left behind my old job and found something far more suited to me.

There’s a very well known saying about money and I’m sure you know exactly which one I mean. The only thing is, most of us get it horribly wrong.

The old adage doesn’t go “money is the root of all evil”. Well it does, but everyone leaves out the most important part, the beginning.

It’s from the bible. The correct quote is in fact “The love of money is the root of all evil”. 1 Timothy 6:10

It’s getting biblical up in here lads (and yes I have in fact read the bible but that’s a topic for another day).

If we break this quote down in its purest grammatical terms (nerd alert) it’s not the noun that is creating the negative outcome, but the verb. It’s the doing. Actions are always undertaken with some level of intent (and yes I believe that love is an action and not just a feeling), and to all intents and purposes, having money doesn’t cause evil, the relentless pursuit of having nothing but money does.

Officially changing my name to Fiona Descartes Kelly. Has a nice ring to it.

Money definitely cant buy happiness, but in a garden you can grow it.

As such, I’ve decided my health and the pursuit of my own happiness and well being is far more important than the pursuit of money, so I’ve struck out and decided to try something new in the hopes that I will have more time to write, more time to garden and to tend to my needs and the needs of my plants.

I have landed myself an amazing freelance content writing role with the super sound team at buzz.ie and I have some very exciting plans for Fiona Grows Food and of course for my garden.

I am in a far healthier environment for my needs now.

All that being said, my allotment has been thriving this year despite the diminished time I’ve spent there the past few weeks.

It helps that the plot is well established now and no matter what, I always have my perennials to enjoy. I did put a lot of work in earlier in the year and it really shows when late summer and early autumn arrive.

I’ve been harvesting mountains of tomatoes, courgettes, raspberries, beetroot and cucumbers and I’m just about to head around to the garden to finally pick some sweetcorn.

I’m excited about the future, I’m excited to grow and I’m excited to spend more time getting down and dirty in my favourite place in the world.

I am warning you though, you’ll be subjected to a lot more of my insane takes on gardening now that I have more time to write about it.

 

You think you’ve seen it all….bikinis in the polytunnel, bare arsed gardening, falling into ponds…but you ain’t seen nothing yet.

 

I’m only getting started.

Citizen Kale

Ahem. Testing. Testing. *taps microphone*….if there is anybody out there, Fiona is back. Repeat, Fiona is back. Return of the craic.

I know my lovely readers will have been wailing, keening, sweating and puking with severe Fiona withdrawal symptoms of late. I know you have all been sitting at home, wondering where I’ve been; spending your long, empty days and sleepless nights, bereft of my gardening wisdom and wit. I know it has been a long time since I last made you laugh, cry, cringe, roll your eyes, or regale you with tales of my underwear, and for all of those things I am truly sorry. It is the ultimate cruelty to suck you in and then leave you hanging, waiting for just a little hit. I am the world’s top garden blog dealer, El Crapo strikes again.

You see, I am now very famous and important, and as such, I have been too busy being famous and important to spend my time writing for plebs on the internet (this fame is going to my head slightly I think, I still love you all). It hasn’t been easy. I’ve had the traumatic experience of being dragged kicking and screaming to a number of fabulous gardening, food and music festivals in order to talk about food growing and party the night away in forests. It’s been a real struggle as you can imagine.

I’ve given myself repetitive strain injury in my right hand from signing millions of autographs after being featured in an ad campaign for Electric Ireland. My face is sore from smiling for thousands of photographs and my feet are in pain from the horror of dancing the night away in my polka dot wellies at a music festival.

In addition to these very difficult changes in my life, I’ve also been ardently busy on the plot. Take today for example, I had to trek the whole two minutes to get to my allotment, make a latté with the community room’s coffee machine, eat a handful of fresh raspberries, put on my shorts, play some pink floyd, whip out my laptop and sit in the sunshine beside my horrible wildflower patch while I wrote a blog post. I mean, I’m not even sure how I manage to pull myself out of bed in the mornings anymore.

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My disgusting wildflower patch

I’ve even become quite accustomed to having my very own make-up artist, director and crew of photographers and cameramen at the allotment. Well, it happened once. But that was enough to turn me into Dublin’s Digging Diva, I’m all but short of demanding handsome men fan me with palm leaves while I tend to my garden and half expect adoring fans to throw rose petals at me when I walk down the street.

It was a pretty amazing – if not unnerving – experience to have 21 people crammed onto my allotment while I stood in my polytunnel talking about planting spuds. The day of the recording was way back in February, in the depths of the worst spring I’ve ever experienced in my garden and the allotment was an absolute state! Cue much embarrassment on my part, and attempting to explain that gardens in winter are the least glamorous places on the planet.

I mean, I know I am a fan of looking gorgeous in the garden but never before have I worn that much lipstick outdoors. Or indoors for that matter. There was a photoshoot which involved two hours of stroking my rhubarb and looking lovingly at my kale while staring off “into the distance”. The “distance” in question was actually a poor photographer’s face. Picture this: me, bent over my kale, seductively running my fingers through kale leaves, eerie smile plastered on my face while being told to stare into the eyes of a complete stranger. “Look into his eyes Fiona, get your hands in deeper”.

Awkward.

There were hours spent in an attempt to look good while gardening; trowel twerking, hip-wiggle digging, whimsical wheelbarrowing, fastidious fake scrolling on my laptop. I put my hat on. I took it off. I put my hat back on again. I changed my wellies. I changed my coat. I took my hat off again. The film crew descended on my house for an hour where I recorded a series of voiceovers which I absolutely nailed. I was proud as punch of this fact until I realised I was chuffed with myself for simply managing to read things from a page out loud into a microphone. I stabbed myself twice in the eye with the spoon in my cup of tea. More scrolling. Rocked back around to the allotment for lunch, where the lovely crew had gotten in a caterer and we stuffed our faces full of fancy sandwiches, soup and cakes. It really is so challenging being a celebrity. Back to the plot for more filming. Roped my fellow allotment pal, Domo to be on camera with me, we had a twenty minute long fake conversation about fake potatoes. I put my hat back on. I tried not to flash everyone while changing outfits in my shed; the ultimate celebrity gardener green room. All in all, the day was long, exhausting, adventurous and awkward and I loved every second of it. I am now awaiting a phone call from the academy about my well deserved oscar nomination.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EBPR760-1Yo&w=560&h=315]

In fact, I’m considering crowdfunding a new movie venture. Fiona Kelly stars in Citizen Kale. The greatest movie ever made. About Kale. Oscar is in the bag!

I have also spent quite a lot of time on stage of late. I was kindly invited back to the GIY Food Matters tent at Bloom in the Park this year where the brave gang at GIY let me loose with a microphone on some poor, unsuspecting festival goers for five days straight. It was one of the best weeks of my life. Mostly, it entailed me brandishing a microphone like a weapon of mass destruction, making terrible gardening jokes and talking filth, being attacked by a wasp in front of an audience and attempting to stay calm, being asked an incredibly challenging question by my Mam in front of an audience and having to admit she knows more than I do and meeting some incredible people and learning more about food growing than I have in five years. There was also a Thursday afternoon thunderstorm during which we all played air guitar on stage to AC/DC. Life goals now complete. Over the five days, I  got to tour the show gardens, make new friends, eat incredible food and soak up the sunshine. It’s hard being me.

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I also had the amazing opportunity to be a part of the wonderful Bloom Fringe Festival but I have a separate blog post coming up about that, and last weekend, I spent a life changing few days at Body & Soul Festival with GIY which I also have a lot to write about so watch out for those over the next few days.

I will say this though, there was a kale ice pop. It was disgusting.

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Sorry Kale, I want a divorce

In the garden itself, it has been a rollercoster in recent weeks. Everything is growing really well for the most part, especially the weeds! I’ve spent three days this week simply pulling up weeds.

Three entire days.

There are still lots of weeds.

As many of you know, a few weeks ago, I experienced something I’ve always dreaded. My allotment was vandalised. I arrived at the plot to find major damage to my shed, polytunnel and raised beds. Most of the plants I had spent all springtime establishing were killed and I lost pretty much everything in the polytunnel. It was disheartening to say the least. It set me back quite a few weeks, but, in an amazing turn of events, my fellow plot holders all banded together, replaced the plastic on my tunnel and gifted me with dozens of plants including tomatoes, courgettes, funkiness (that was supposed to be pumpkins but it’s such a good typo I have to leave it as is) and even some cape gooseberries. Today, my poytunnel is looking better than it has ever looked before. The kindness and generosity of gardeners, has once again, humbled me to my core.

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Step in to my office

My Dad has been an absolute lifesaver throughout the past few weeks, planting, watering and caring for the polytunnel while I had a little meltdown. So, to Daddy Grows Food, the Monster in the Corner himself, I love you and thank you for always having my back.

My raised beds are now full of sweetcorn, peas, beans, kale, cabbages, leeks, pumpkins, spinach, chard, salads and one lone carrot. Yes, my carrots failed miserably and now I have one carrot that I am treating like royalty. I sing to it, talk to it, water it, coax it to grow. I don’t stroke it though, I learned a valuable lesson from the great kale fondling of 2017.

My garden is thriving like never before and it continues to amaze me every single day.

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Except for the weeds. They can f*ck right off.

You can check out recordings of the panel discussions on the GIY soundcloud page, including this recording of a panel discussion I participated in with some amazing people about the healing garden. Mostly I made terrible jokes about beetroot because that is just what I do.

 

Currently accepting applications for the role of Fiona’s allotment make-up artist. I can only pay you a salary of cabbages but you’ll get to touch my lips a lot so you’ll be the real winner. 

Face Planting

Right, I know it’s been quite a while since I last wrote a blog post, I would apologise but to be honest, I’ve actually been busy becoming a superstar so it was a worthwhile sacrifice. Lifestyles of the rich and famous yo (I’ve also seemingly been initiated into a low-level street gang yo).

I’ve had a crazy few weeks. In fact, I even had a full scale film crew at the allotment at one stage but I’ll fill you in a bit more on that once it goes live. Let’s just say I spent a number of hours looking lovingly at bunches of kale. Pretty sure I’m now married to my kale to be honest, I’ve never know anyone or anything so intimately. It’s a bit of a thorny issue now as I think my rhubarb got a bit jealous (that only got a mild stroking and a cheeky wink), especially as I had a make up artist on set/plot with me and I looked absolutely GORGEOUS!

In addition to my oscar worthy performance, I’ve also had a few deadlines, food growing workshops, interviews and to be completely honest, quite a few pressing social commitments to attend. It’s difficult to garden when you’re busy dancing in six-inch stilettos every Friday night and even more difficult when you’re absolutely dying of a hangover the following morning. It’s near impossible to string a few words together, never mind write anything beyond texts to your mates along the lines of “call the mother-bleeping reaper guys, I am feeling grim”.

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The hangover sanctuary

The allotment does provide some modicum of sanctuary from the real world when you have a cracking headache and you keep getting those aftertaste waves of last night’s tequila but I tend to spend those hungover days sitting in my pink chair, drinking coffee and regretting my life choices and get very little in the way of actual gardening or writing completed. Some advocate for healthy living I am! As such, it’s been quite a few weeks since my last blog post but here I am, back with a bang. Literally, this post is all about banging (get your mind out of the gutter, I’m a different kind of purveyor of filth….), I mean the bangs, bumps, burns and bashes that often take place in a garden.

There’s a scene in Jaws where Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider and Robert Shaw are sitting around in a boat after another testing day of throwing barrels at a shark. They’re having a few drinks and comparing war wounds, each trying to out-man each other with their scars. It’s one of my all time favourite movie scenes, possibly because my Mam used to sing the song they sing to me as a lullaby when I was younger. Yep, my mother sang me a sea shanty about getting drunk to put me to sleep, absolute legend that she is. Probably explains quite a lot about the adult I turned into to be honest…

Now, if you’re wondering why the hell I’m writing about Jaws, picture this: that scene is akin to our allotment community room at times, except we have tea instead of booze and slugs instead of sharks. An average chat with my gardening pals can often go as follows:

“I got stung by a bee the other day, look at the bloody lump on my leg”
“You think that’s bad? I stood on my rake and it hit me in the face”
“Sure I pruned off my own finger with my secateurs”
“Pfffft, that’s nothing lads, I impaled my foot with a garden fork and now have selective        stigmata”.
“Show me the way to home! I’m tired and I wanna go to (raised) bed(s)……”

Gardens have a reputation for being very zen places to spend an afternoon, and yes, they can be…..when you’re not the bloody gardener. Cue the Kenny Loggins guys, the garden path can often be a highway to the danger zone.

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Don’t let it fool you, this is the entrance to hell

Being an allotment holder is not about prancing around in pretty dresses and sandals, with daisy chain braided hair, listening to the birdsong while you thread your fingers through long grass, eating fresh strawberries and sipping elderflower cordial. It’s more ripped jeans, twig tangled hair, sweating up a storm while dragging your hands through the goddamn mud, shovelling raw peas into your gob and taking a swig of beer. There’s no picking flowers while listening to Mozart in my garden, in my garden, I get out in the rain and dig along to Deftones.

Allotment gardeners are absolute hard asses. We toil and lug and lift and dig. I’m constantly covered in scars, bruises, cuts and stings, I have calloused hands and a killer tan and some serious biceps from all the digging.

Having spent the past two weekends working hard at the plot, my body now resembles a map of mishaps. I have a rather large cut on my wrist, two deep scratches on my forearm, a rash on my chest from a rogue nettle, seven bruises on my shins. Yes, I counted, there are seven. I broke five fingernails and somehow a toenail and have a large splinter in the tip of my thumb which I have decided to leave in a sick and twisted experiment to see how long it takes to work its own way out. Rakes to the face, shovels to the foot, bamboo stabbings, wasp stings, slipping in the mud and face planting into your potato patch, this is the stuff that makes you hard as nails.

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Fiona Gores Fools

Now, not only is the allotment a dangerous place for the gardener, but the allotment gardener can turn into quite the dangerous individual. Or at least I can. Last week, I tweeted that the only reason that I have an allotment is to bury the bodies of all the men who have messed me around in it. I was joking of course (cough), but it got me to thinking, I could legitimately dispose of a man’s person’s body in my garden…plus bullsh*t does make excellent fertiliser.

Now, I’m not advocating murder of course – I can’t even bring myself to kill a slug – and I’m pretty skeptical about the effect necrotic human flesh would have on my organic veggies (probably still not as detrimental as weedkiller to be fair), but an allotment would be the ideal place in which to commit the perfect crime.

I don’t want to get a reputation as a hoe or anything but for all you know, there could be a man in every one of my beds. The Litchfield Correctional Facility vegetable garden ain’t got nothing on mine.

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Armed and dangerous

I mean, think about it, I have a shed full of potentially deadly weapons and 100 square metres of muck in which to bury the evidence. I have pick axes, shears, secateurs, knives and saws. I’m a dab hand at digging and I reckon I could have a shallow grave ready to fill in approximately twenty minutes. Not that I’ve tried it of course.

I also have a garden full of poisonous plants that could make me a potential dark horse of organic food growing.

Azaleas for the assholes. Digitalis for the d*ckheads. Rhododendrons for the rogues. Mistletoe for the misogynists. Hydrangeas for the husbands. Seriously. Hydrangeas contain levels of…wait for it….cyanide. I’m a little concerned that they happen to be one of my favourite plants and the connotations that may have for my reputation after writing this. In fairness, you would need a hell of a lot of them to kill a man human, but still.

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Gorgeous but deadly. Hydrangea are my spirit flowers.

However, if you’re looking for a more considered and subtle approach, rhubarb leaves are the perfect choice for all the non-commitals, you won’t kill them but you’ll leave them with quite an epic tummy ache. So a fair warning to all my exes, future exes, critics, naysayers, enemies and in particular to my arch nemesis (you know who you are), I might be an environmental hippy type who grows her own food, but I also “accidentally” grow quite a few toxins.

In fact, I’m thinking of a complete rebrand of my blog:

Copy of Copy of Plan-Cary

What do you reckon?

Pretty sure I’ll be writing my next blog post from prison guys. Don’t worry, I’ll start a food garden there too….Green is the New Black after all.

This blog post may or may not be inspired by a moment of panic in the garden last week when I was pulling up old foxgloves sans gloves and then casually ate a jam donut straight away. Cue immediate melodramatic visions of myself dying a horrible and painful death. Death by digitalis.

Here lies Fiona Kelly: donut devotee, foxglove fanatic, alliteration addict.

Plants Bants, Valentine’s Day Edition: Borage

Valentine’s day is unavoidable. It really is. It’s everywhere. Cards. Chocolates. Cuddly Toys. Sexy undies. Sexy undies everywhere. Flowers. So many bunches of flowers. So many roses. So many sad, supermarket carnations.

I have a bit of a pathetic secret, I’ve never been bought flowers by a man. Never. Not once. Which is a hell of an achievement really given the fact that I’m not only a gardener but I’m also absolutely gorgeous. Modest too. The mind boggles. Now, before you think I’m looking for sympathy (or flowers), stop everything! I am not. In fact, I quite enjoy lamenting about it at length to my friends, while on the inside I’m happy about the fact that somebody hasn’t hacked a poor plant to bits in order to get the ride; because let’s be honest, that’s the whole bloomin’ idea behind it and anyone who says otherwise is just plain lying.

So, in an effort to encourage you all to stop spending outrageous amounts of money on flowers that will be wilted within a day, I propose this (nice bit of matrimony humour there); for Valentine’s day this year, why don’t you get yourself or your other half some seeds and plant some edible flowers in your garden.

One of my favourite things about my allotment is the flowers I have growing. I don’t just grow fruit and veggies but also grow a wide array of flowers, the majority of which I grow because they are edible, good for pollinators or both.

I have a deep seeded love affair with blue flowers. There is something wildly romantic about them, I can’t quite place it but blue flowers stir something in my soul. You’ll definitely think I’m insane if you’re not one of my fellow flower-fanatic friends, but there’s just something intrinsically… sensual about blue flowers. Forget drowning in the pools of someone’s blue eyes (except mine of course, worthy applicants can apply via twitter), and instead do some gazing in to some blue blooms and grow yourself some borage. Borage (Borago officinalis) is my absolute favourite flower, so for the romantic day that’s in it, I’d like to write a little ode to this great love of my life.

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Borage is my bae

Borage, with its intensely blue, star shaped flowers is one of the best plants you can grow in your veggie patch. Not only do bees love it, but borage is edible and has beneficial medicinal properties. Borage is essentially a miracle plant and absolutely gorgeous too.

Borage is a nectar rich flower which will self seed all over your garden. In fact, I planted borage once four years ago and now it pops up all over my garden every year, it is the Valentine’s gift that’ll keep on giving.  Borage is one of the most bee friendly plants you can have in your garden. Bees adore borage, particularly honey bees – which as we all know need all the the help they can get – and honey made from borage flowers is known to be sweeter and more flavoursome than other honeys. My borage plants are laden with bees right throughout the growing season, which can stretch from March right up until October if the weather is good.

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Planting Borage

Borage is very easy to grow, simply sow in a well drained bed after the last frost has passed and the ground has heated up. Borage has a taproot so it prefers to be direct sown where it is to grow as opposed to being transplanted as this causes root disturbance. Water your borage well until it has established. Borage needs very little in the way of care throughout the season and it can grow quite tall in sunny positions.

You can collect the seeds and replant the following year or you can simply wait for it to self seed, because trust me, it will. In fact, you will probably never get rid of it unless you either bomb your garden or simply move. Very far away. We’re talking miles.

The Science Bit

Borage is one of those lovely “companion” plants in the vegetable garden. In essence, it is a very good friend to many of the plants you grow in your veggie patch like tomatoes, strawberries, cabbages and squashes. Because borage attracts bees and wasps, it therefore repels other pests that bother tomatoes and cabbages which wasps are known to prey on.

Borage is also known to actively improve the flavour of strawberries, possibly due to the effects it has on the soil. Borage leaves contain vitamin C, potassium and calcium so it adds trace minerals to your soil and it is also a brilliant plant to add to your compost heap.

Borage is the highest known plant source of an Omega 6 fatty acid called GLA (gamma linolenic acid) which is good for excema, arthritis and diabetes and is also a source of fibre and B vitamins.

Beginning to understand why borage is my ideal boyfriend now?

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Swoon!

Using Borage as an Edible Flower

Now for the fun part! Borage is of course, an edible flower. It has long been used in salads and drinks as a garnish.

Borage has a mild cucumber flavour. For my gin loving friends, I urge you to try it with some Hendricks, though I do not like to encourage gin drinking because gin is the devil and that’s all I have to say about that.

Freeze borage flowers in an ice cube to add to drinks to really impress your guests.Unless you’re like me and you never actually ever have any guests. Forever alone. Sob.

I’ll just sit here for Valentine’s Day and munch on whole borage flowers while watching soppy romantic comedies, don’t mind me.

Borage for Courage

Borage is literally good for the heart, which makes it the ultimate Valentine’s Day flower. It stimulates your adrenal gland, encouraging the production of adrenaline, raising your mood and is beneficial for your kidneys and digestive system too. Borage has been used to treat depression and states of melancholy and has long been believed to bring comfort and to give you courage. Historically, borage flowers were often embroidered onto knight’s battle garments and was said to be eaten by roman soldiers before going to war. Badass borage! In fact, there is even an old wive’s tale that states if you slip some borage into your lover’s drink it would give them the courage to propose. Not creepy or desperate in the slightest.

Sure, why do you think I have so much of it in my garden? If you see me today, slipping some blue flowers into some poor, unsuspecting sods drink, save him before he shackles himself to me in holy matrimony and has to spend eternity competing for my affections with a flower.

The flower will win every time.

Fiona luvs Borage 4EVA.

Mrs. Fiona Borage.