Planuary

Happy New Year fellow growers!

I’ve been slightly off the blogging radar for the past few weeks, mostly due the a little event that takes place around the end of December every year. I have a busy retail management job so Christmas is pretty much a black hole for me in terms of social life, gardening, writing or any other extra curricular activities, but here I am (not so refreshed) and ready to face another gardening year head on.

January can often be a bleak month in the garden. There’s very little to harvest, nothing really to do in the way of planting and the ravages of winter really begin to show on the plot. Everything is dark, muddy, dirty, tainted and dying and a visit to the plot is like a visit to a little veggie graveyard, each empty bed, a seasonal sarcophagus.

January, however, is also a time for new beginnings, for plans. January is a blank canvas, ready to be painted with the colours of spring. January is list making, seed buying, journaling, vision boarding. January is acres of ideas. January is all my good intentions wrapped up in dull, dark days. With this in mind, I am now petitioning to have January renamed as “Planuary” – by “petitioning” I mean, mentioning it once on my blog so I can use it as a snappy blog post title and then possibly forget about it until next planuary rolls around and I can use it again.

I’ve begun 2017 in slight crisis mode, I woke up on New Year’s Day with another bad flu and this weekend, just as the sniffles dried up and the cough abated, I broke one of my teeth (cue much wailing, panicking, picturing myself as a gummy old lady and shaking my fist at the sky like a curmudgeon). Needless to say, I’m a little bit cranky. However, the garden has kept me from going insane these past few days.

You see, I happen to adore the garden in January. The garden in January is like an homage to the previous seasons hard work, there are remnants of my success littered everywhere. I don’t look upon the mess with despair, the mess is a testament to just how much happiness has gone before. The dying plants, the messy beds, the leftover weeds, the dirty shed, none of these would exist in January if not for the success of the previous year. And so, I look upon the spoil of winter with pride and with renewed hope for the year to come.

My plot on New Year’s Day. Full of hope.

It does help somewhat, that I’ve still been harvesting some of my winter crops. My brussel sprouts and kale have been a joy to pick and eat during these lean weeks and my herb garden continues to thrive, even in the cold, wet weather.

Winter Harvest

 

Despite the dark days and the inhospitable weather, I’ve been busy on the plot in the first days of 2017. In a job that I’ve been dreading since early November, my rhubarb was in dire need of splitting. Rhubarb is one of my most successful crops, with my stalks reaching chest height in summer. My rhubarb is a lovely variety called “Timperly Early” and begins to show new growth very early in the season, just as its name would suggest. Already, there is new growth unfurling from the soil like a promise.

Rhubarb is an excellent and reliable cropper but after a few years (three to five years on average), rhubarb crowns begin to grow far too large and the plant loses its vigour and doesn’t taste as nice. As such, every few years, it is vital to to split your rhubarb crowns.

Now, I’ve been having nightmares about this job, not because I’m afraid of a bit of hard work, but because splitting rhubarb is just as violent as it sounds. Essentially, you need to take a spade and drive it through the rhubarb crowns, dividing them into new plants. With my rhubarb being the pride and joy of my garden, I was filled with dread at the idea of chopping it in half! Thankfully, I managed to enlist some help and my Dad did the dirty deed for me, splitting my three unruly rhubarb crowns to half their size. In payment for his hard work, I gifted him with the divided crowns for his own allotment! This now means that my own rhubarb has been halved in size and there is no waste as the discarded crowns now have a lovely new home on my parents allotment! Nifty.

The aftermath: this is one of the split rhubarb crowns

Another one of the (seven million) jobs I have listed for January is to clean my polytunnel. Over time, polytunnel plastic gets very dirty from being exposed to temperature extremes and weather conditions. I hadn’t realised just how grubby my polytunnel had become over the past year until I cleared out all the plants and noticed a layer of green slime all down one side of the plastic. Delicious!

So, yesterday afternoon, I pulled everything out of the polytunnel, grabbed myself a bucket of soapy water, stuck on some music and spent an hour or two scrubbing all the grime from the plastic. This job was made infinitely more fun by imagining myself as one of those sexy bikini clad car-wash girls who deliberately rubs her soapy boobs all over the windshield (polytunnel) much to the entertainment of nearby onlookers. However, given that it was only 7 degrees outside and I’m currently carrying a significant amount of Christmas related chocolate weight around my middle section, I felt that this bikini situation was better left firmly in the depths of my imagination.

The reality was actually in stark contrast: myself and my mother in our wellies and muddy jeans, dancing around the polytunnel to Wham! while scrubbing green gunk from the plastic singing “Soap me up, before you grow, grow…..”

It’s amazing the difference it makes to the polytunnel! I didn’t realise it was a such a grubby mess before, and now I have the cleanest polytunnel in Malahide. A fact of which I am very proud considering the absolute state the rest of my plot is in!

I can see clearly now, the sludge has gone

 

While I was at it, I also decided to scrub all the pots and seed trays that had been lying in the polytunnel and shed gathering dust. This is actually an essential job early in the year as it’s a bad idea to grow seeds in dirty pots as there could be any amount of old pests or diseases lying idle in the old soil. I intend to start sowing some seeds next weekend so having the polytunnel and my pots clean will pay off when I begin to plant this early in the season.

January is also the perfect month to get your proverbial sh*t together for the year ahead. Order your seeds, draw up your plans, buy your propogators and new tools, clean up your beds and sheds, throw out the old crap you don’t need anymore, fix whatever needs to be fixed before you begin your planting.

I have some plans for new structural elements in the garden and I’ve been making list upon list of crops I intend to grow. This year, I’ve decided to shuck off  the normal crops like onions and potatoes and grow more adventurous and ornamental veggies like sweetcorn and borlotti beans (apologies for the corny joke). I’ve also bought some heirloom tomato seeds and some very exciting varieties of salads and brassicas so I’m hoping to have a bit of fun with my plants this year.

Went a little overboard when ordering some seeds…

The next big job this weekend however, will not be fun. It will not be fun at all. I need to dig up my unruly raspberries as they are fast becoming the bane of my life.

Send help.

And hugs.

And maybe some beer.

I’m under a promise to share some tips on growing parsnips for next years Christmas dinner so watch out for that in the coming days and until then, keep the chin up. January may be cold and bleak, it may be difficult to get up off the couch and garden but remember this: in January, the whole year stretches ahead of you like an unrealised dream and that – so far – 2017 is empty of failure and full of potential.

Now For Something Completely Different: GROW HQ

The morning light winks over the lid of Grow HQ, letting me in on the little secret that I’m about to enter the best new cafè in Ireland. Now, before you accuse me of being biased, I am! But my pals at GIY didn’t even know I was going to visit, nothing like a surprise attack from Fiona the Dublin Food Growing Ninja (that’s now my official title) to go with your breakfast coffee.

I’m not one for writing reviews here so this is something different from my usual posts but as most of you know, I’m a pretty huge fan of GIY. When I first got my allotment, I joined a local GIY group, we would meet in a local library once a month to talk food growing/composting/seed swapping. It gave me a lot of confidence as a new grower and I learned a huge amount of the plant knowledge I now possess from their website and other resources.

In September, GIY opened their doors to the world with their new food education centre, GROW HQ in Waterford. Situated just outside the city, right across the road from the hospital, GROW HQ is a pretty unique space. It boasts a café, food gardens and a retail area where you can buy tools, books and seeds to help you get growing. The gardens are extensive, with training gardens, an orchard, fruit garden and an edible boundary. 

The building itself is really cool with a slanted grass roof, the run off water from which will be collected to water the plants in the garden. Nifty! It also boasts a kitchen garden where the veggies for the café are grown. As such, GROW HQ offers purely seasonal food with the menu changing each week to champion a particular vegetable in season. As an advocate for seasonal eating, this the first place I’ve seen in Ireland doing this and it’s a testament to how GIY are positively educating people about where their food comes from. 

GROW HQ is the antithesis to all the pretentious coffee shops that have popped up the past few years. Walking in the door, you feel at ease, this is in no small part thanks to the warm staff and the beautiful setting; from the floor-to-ceiling windows, the colourful chairs and even the adorable tables, it’s a happy place, free from snobbery or pretension but serving seriously good food.


I had myself a really nice breakfast, organic poached egg, bacon, spinach and cottage cheese on a blaa. Yep, you read that correctly, a blaa. I had no idea what it was either. So I did a bit of digging and I was told that the blaa is a Waterford staple, a lovely floury white bap that is unique to the area. The method of making the blaa is a highly guarded secret, or so my sources tell me. When I read up on it, I found out that the The European Commission awarded the Waterford Blaa with a Protected Designation of Origin. Notions! It was pretty yummy though. The egg was divine, the bacon was quite frankly the nicest bacon I’ve had (and I am a big fan of bacon, it is the sole reason I’m not a vegetarian) and the spinach was really rich, fresh and full of flavour. It really was one of the best breakfasts I’ve had, the food was all homemade, locally sourced and organic and you can tell. You can keep your jumbo breakfast rolls lads, this is the food we should be writing songs about! 


Grow HQ is a project four years in the making, the brain child of GIY founder Michael Kelly, it’s a welcome addiction to the Irish food scene and the first project of its kind in the country. In addition to the café and gardens, GROW HQ also boasts a great line up of growing and cooking courses. 

If you’re looking for something fun to do, you can check out the upcoming courses here. I think I may need the cooking courses, particularly the blaa making course. I must know how to make them and I must know now! I promise I won’t share the secrets with the rest of Dublin. I’ll call mine a bleh or something. 

If you’re in Waterford, I’d highly recommend a visit, in fact, even if you’re not, take a little day trip, you won’t regret it. Next on my agenda is to visit again to try the lunch! Yum. 


P.S. The coffee was out of this world too. Seriously, I was flying for hours. There were stars. 

Seasonal Container Growing with GIY at Bloom Festival

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Hello All!

As most of you know (mostly because I’ve hardly shut up about it since), back in June, I had the good fortune to spend a few days with GIY at their Food Matters tent at Bloom festival. Well, the lovely GIY gang have a soundcloud page on which they have recordings of all their talks over the weekend (including the one with yours truly from Monday which I’ve included at the top of this post).

There were some amazing talks over the weekend, I’d highly recommend you check out their page and listen to them.  I loved the talks on Growing Communities through Food and Food Waste. I personally learned so much from these talks and felt really inspired by the knowledge and passion of the panelists.

I met with Lyda Borgsteijn from theprimalrabbit.com last week and she’s super sound so I have to give her a mention. Lyda is really inspiring and knowledgable (not to mention LOVELY) and featured on two of the panels over the weekend too so give them a listen. The talk about bread and gluten intolerance is really excellent.

Anyway, if you are listening to my chat with the gorgeous, funny, red-lippie queen Karen, and wondering what the hell we’re talking about when we mention the planters, I thought I’d pop in a few photos for reference so you have a visual aid when we’re like “Oh, isn’t this gorgeous, look how easy this is to make” and you’re feeling a bit lost.

Let me know what you reckon and if you’ve any questions at all, get in touch.

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Why Food Mattered with GIY at Bloom

There’s something strange afoot in Ireland the past week. The temperature’s soarin’, the sun’s a blarin’, the skin’s a burnin’, the shorts are shortenin’, the freckles are spreadin’, the barbecues burnin’, the beer gardens hoppin’ and the thunder’s a clappin’; somewhere there’s probably maids a milkin’, pipers pipin’ and lords a leapin’ and there were definitely plenty of bloomers a Bloomin’ in the Phoenix Park.

(Not even mildly apologetic for a nod to Christmas in June)

The June bank holiday weekend is one of the highlights of my year as Bloom In The Park takes place in the Phoenix Park in Dublin. Bloom is a festival run by Bord Bia, celebrating horticulture, gardening and food, and is in my humble opinion, the best festival this island has to offer. Celebrating it’s tenth birthday, this year saw the highest amount of visitors to Bloom to date with 115,000 people enjoying the festival over the five days. The past few years, Bloom visitors have been gifted with weather of cold, wet nonsense and brrrrrrrr, but this year mother nature decided to bestow this years festival goers with the gift of golden sunshine. I’m not quite sure just how many not-so-wise-men I witnessed with sunburned necks over the weekend but I’m going to hazard a guess at about two hundred.

The biggest draw at Bloom every year is usually the show gardens, which once again, rendered me into a state of awe and wonder. The craft village made my attempts at knitting, drawing and sewing look like that of a club fisted buffoon and the food was so good I’m terrified to wear my skinny jeans for at least a month. There’s so much I could write about here and I do intend to do a post about my favourite show gardens, but for now I’d like to take the opportunity to share my best thing about Bloom 2016.

 

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This year, I was invited by the lovely people of GIY to speak at their cool as a cucumber Food Matters tent about seasonal container growing (whoever thought to offer me a microphone and free reign to talk about growing food was a very brave individual). GIY are a non-profit social enterprise based in Waterford that educate and support people to grow healthy, organic food.  I’ve long been a huge fan of GIY and I very recently became a contributor to their fab quarterly GROW magazine.

GIY have some brilliant campaigns aimed at encouraging and educating people to grow in schools and workplaces. The awesome Cully & Sully’s Give Peas a Chance stand was the epitome of my dream office space and it was really heartening to see so many young growers over at the Sow & Grow  area.

This year at their new Food Matters tent, there were some amazing talks and discussions about food and growing; there were discussions on everything from the effects of hospital food on patients to advice on setting up a school garden. I was a particular fan of a brilliant talk on growing communities through food, which I found to be really inspiring.

My own little Food Matters workshops were very much focused on growing food in small spaces as limited space is one of the main factors holding people back from trying their hands at growing. I’ve long been one of those annoying people who tries to get everybody to follow suit and take up the same hobby as myself, I’m pretty sure my friends are sick of hearing about all my babies (plants) at home (the allotment); but I genuinely believe that gardening is a universally enjoyable and rewarding thing to do. You don’t need a huge garden or allotment to do this, you’d be amazed what food you can grow in containers.

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You really don’t need a huge amount of space to grow a herb garden

 

What amazed me when speaking to people over the weekend was their sheer willingness to learn. It seems that everyone wants to grow food but not everybody knows how to start. Whether they lack time, space or resources, the desire is there to grow. I personally believe that this is built into us as natural foragers and hunter gatherers, it is in our nature to want to provide ourselves with sustenance.What struck me most, however, was the amount of people who said they lacked the confidence to grow their own food. Here’s a little secret: growing food doesn’t have to be difficult, you don’t need to be an expert, and it requires very little scientific knowledge. All it requires is a small amount of enthusiasm, some soil, seeds and water. Don’t worry about pests until you have to, don’t worry about diseases until you have to, don’t worry about spacing and weeding and thinning out until you have to, because I guarantee you, when your first crop begins to grow, these tasks won’t seem like a chore. You’ll be so chuffed with yourself at growing something that you’ll enjoy tending to it.

To everyone who lacks the confidence to grow your own food, this is my message to you: a few years ago, I barely even ate vegetables, never mind knew how to grow them, and if I can go from turning my nose up at asparagus to growing a hugely successful crop of same, then you can too.  In fact, my own gardening and food growing experiences have given me more confidence and have opened up whole new paths to me that I never knew I wanted to walk down in the first place. I have found it the single most empowering thing I have done and tell people time and time again, that the first packet of seeds I ever bought is the most important thing I ever bought.

That is why I jumped at the chance to be involved with GIY at Bloom. They are really giving people the skills, education and confidence to grow food themselves. If I can pass on the small bit of knowledge I have gained over the past few years to others who wish to get growing, I feel that I am giving someone the best gift, one that they will keep on enjoying for years.

I am going to be writing over the coming days about some of the things myself and the lovely  Karen from GIY spoke about, mostly how to grow food in tins, buckets and wooden boxes, drilling holes in stuff (because who doesn’t love drilling holes in stuff?), why strawberries are like something straight out of a sic-fi movie, a super tongue twister that’ll have you growing lettuce like a pro and the absolute goldmine of organic fertiliser that sits in your bin.

 

To everyone who came along, thank you so much and for putting me on the spot with some brilliant questions, now stop reading this and go out and plant some seeds.

Sincere thanks to the amazing people of GIY for all their kind hospitality, support and belly-laughs throughout the weekend, I had a ball. In particular to Michael, Karen, Shona, Lucy, Claire, Eimear & Jim and a special shout out to chief volunteer Amanda who blew me away with her positive attitude!

And serious thanks to Bord Bia for the tickets so I could finally visit Bloom as a spectator and spend a whole day simply enjoying the festival with a crépe in one hand and a beer in the other. 

International Greenfingers Day

Gardeners are wonderful. They are resourceful, creative, generous and hard working. Gardeners are from all walks of life, all ages and all races and I for one believe that gardeners are some of the best people I’ve had the good grace to encounter in my lifetime. The two greatest gardeners however, that I’ve had the privilege to know have been my parents. Both hard working, inspiring and perpetually generous and who gifted me with – amongst countless other things – my love for nature, for animals, for flowers and for growing food; my Mam and Dad have gardened for as long as I can remember.

My folks have an allotment too, in fact, they had an allotment long before I did. Six years ago, they leased a small plot in St. Anne’s Walled Garden in Raheny. Plot 77 swiftly became my favourite place to go. It was a small plot, filled with rubble and manhole covers (yes, really) and choked by bindweed; in fact, the rumour goes that each of the plots in the garden in St. Anne’s park all had at least one piece of Nelson’s Column buried somewhere in its midst. It didn’t take long for Johnny and Janette to turn the small wasteland into a beautiful plot and it didn’t take long for me to become green eyed with envy. After a few years tending to plot 77, they had the opportunity to take over a much larger plot, which they have transformed into the most beautiful and productive plot I’ve ever encountered (I know I’m biased but I’m not the only person to have that opinion). Affectionately named “The Monster in the Corner”, plot 49 is a haven, a heaven and the ultimate product of love and hard work from the two most dedicated gardeners I know.

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Just look at it!!!

In recent weeks, both my folks have begun to blog and share Instagram posts from their plot. My Mam is a dab hand with a camera and her Instagram is well worth a follow for great photos of the garden (witty captions and quotes often included).

My Dad has also begun a lovely blog over at MonsterInTheCorner that I’d highly recommend to all my fellow garden bloggers. Which brings me to the real point of this post, my Dad has had this stellar idea, to dedicate one day, every year to gardeners around the world. He suggests that on the first Saturday of April every year, we should celebrate gardeners in all their glory. We as gardeners should sow or plant something, buy someone some seeds, plant someone a flower, get someone gardening! He articulates this idea far better than I can so check it out here!

So, this Saturday, 2nd of April, celebrate yourself, celebrate your fellow gardeners and celebrate International Greenfingers Day.

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Fiona Cooks Food: Kale and Apple Soup

Hi All. Since moving house a couple of months ago, I haven’t been blogging at all. New routine, new challenges, new life. I’ve also had to learn how to cook. The horror. Considering that up until now, my idea of cooking consisted of sticking a pizza in the oven (and most likely burning it) this is a huge deal! It’s not that I hate cooking, I just hate stirring and tend to avoid it at all costs. This is a pretty disgraceful with me being a gardener with a huge amount of fresh ingredients to hand and so I have decided to begin cooking the food from my plot and writing about it. Warning, this may lead to a plethora of posts about charred veggies and my kitchen on fire. Watch this space.

Right now, the plot is in off season. The weather is bad, winter is ravaging my crops and a bad storm this week all but decimated what was left of my vegetables. I do, however, have a lot of Kale. Kale is one of my favourite vegetables so I’ve decided to try out a few new recipes as it’s in season, healthy, tasty and easy to cook.

Nothing says winter food like soup, and I currently have enough onions to feed an entire soup kitchen, so today I made a very simple and tasty kale and apple soup with walnuts.

I used two different varieties of Kale, both grown on my plot. I didn’t burn down the kitchen, though I did slightly over-toast my walnuts and there are bits of kale everywhere, but it turned out to be delicious and very filling.

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Ingredients:

175g Kale (duh)                                           450ml of Vegetable Stock

2 Apples (I used red apples)                   2 tbsp of cider vinegar

1 large red onion                                        Chopped walnuts

2 Carrots                                                       Créme Fraiche

 

Method:

Stab wildly at onion with carving knife while bawling your eyes out (pro tip: this is a very good time to have a cry about your ex, your bank balance or your dead dog as nobody will be any the wiser and will blame onion).

Peel carrots and roughly grate. This will be your gym time for the week. Ensure you do not grate finger.

Core apples and chop. Maybe use a third apple for inevitable casual munching.

Throw onions, apples and carrot into a large pot that seems large but when you’re adding the kale later, will seem like the smallest pot in the western world.

Add 450ml of veggie stock and 2 tablespoons of cider vinegar. Warning: do NOT take a casual swig of cider vinegar to “see what it’s like”.

Bring to the boil while undertaking the most tedious task of all time, stirring. (anybody who’d like to buy me a robostir for Christmas, I would very much appreciate it). Once boiled, lower heat – do not accidentally turn off heat on your impossible to work gas cooker – and simmer for 10-15 minutes.

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While this is simmering, gently toast some chopped walnuts on a pan. Gently. Black walnuts are not great. I tried. Not great at all. Remove from heat (this part is pretty essential).

Chop Kale. And by chop I mean rip apart with bare hands into small bunches and squeeze into the deceptively small pot. Do this a small piece of kale at a time, do not throw a load in and wildly have to stab down into soup with a wooden spoon. Allow this to cook for a further 3-5 minutes.

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Remove from heat without burning your new tea towel on the open flame of gas cooker and pour into a blender. Ensure the lid is on tight, kale is very difficult to remove from a ceiling. Blend soup and pour into bowl.

Add a dollop of créme fraiche and your toasted walnuts and serve. To yourself, because you’re all alone. Sob.

I had some toasted ciabatta with goats cheese with my soup. It was very tasty and wasn’t at all ruined by my tears.

Sit back, be amazed at your kitchen prowess and enjoy this very tasty and filling soup.

 

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Irish Water Charges: How To Conserve Water For Your Garden

The word on everyone’s lips in Ireland this week is water. Last Wednesday, after months of bemoaning, dread and consternation, Irish citizens began being charged for their domestic water usage. With water meters being installed country wide, there is currently a capped charge for the first nine months, afterward each household will be charged on water usage, with special compensations for children per household, oh and of course, some reduced rates for our dear politicians who have a second house. Poor things, I suppose they will feel the pinch when washing their Rolls-Royces, so it’s only fair.

There has been a huge backlash from the Irish people in recent weeks, with many people engaging in protests outside their homes during the installation of meters and a number of people refusing to send their details to the Irish Water Company.

Many people are angry to be charged for what is considered a basic human right. While I do think the charge is just another in a long list of austerity measures forced upon us in recent years, I am tempted, every day, to point out that we are consuming treated water from state funded water sanitation sites but that doesn’t seem to be a very popular stance. That’s not to say I necessarily agree with the water charges or the manner in which they have been introduced, but I do think to claim our basic human rights are being breached is an almighty stretch of the imagination at best. Human beings were more than capable of finding water to survive long before modern plumbing was invented. There are a huge amount of ways to conserve water in the home and garden and I’m hoping that the one positive to these new charges it that it will make people more aware of their water usage.

Now, water is probably the most important resource to any gardener and with the new domestic water charges being introduced, I felt it might be of some help to share what I do know and what I have learned about water conservation in the past two years. I’m no expert but I have become hyper aware of environmental issues since I began to garden and I’ve picked up a few tips. If you are a gardener who wants some tips on how to prevent the water charges from having a disastrous effect on your garden, there are a number of ways to save water with very little effort and great reward.

Water Butts:

Water butts are perhaps the most common way to collect water in your garden. A water butt is a large container or barrel for collection rainwater, often connected to a run off pipe or guttering from your roof or shed.  If you have a water butt collecting water from your roof, you can collect up to 24,000 litres a year, don’t forget, we live in a very wet, rainy country, we’d be mad to waste all the valuable rainwater.  Water butts can be homemade if you have the resources, a large plastic barrel or tank will suffice and some piping to collect run off rain. Water butt kits can be bought in most garden centres or hardware shops and usually cost between €50 and €100 depending on the size. You can also get water butts from many local city and county councils for cheaper than in store so contact your local council to see what is available to you.

Grey Water:

Many gardeners and householders save what is know as grey water. This is the water left over from household cleaning such as dish-washing and washing machines, hand basins, baths and showers. You can do this by collecting the water with a bucket or you can install specific outlet pipes for your grey water to redirect it for use in your garden. Keep in mind, if you do plan to use grey water in your garden, make sure to use biodegradable soaps and detergents. I did a bit of research on this and when water meters were introduced in the UK, residents collecting and recycling their grey water cut their water bills by 5%.

Mulching:

The great thing about mulch is it keeps your soil from drying out and therefore, you will need less water. Make sure to use mulches in your garden, it helps to prevent water evaporating from your soil. Another trick is to use plastic sheeting on your soil and simply plant your plants in incisions in the plastic, this also prevents water evaporation.

Garden Watering Techniques:

Water is the giver of life in the garden, without it, out plants would not grow, however, a lot of us are very guilty of over watering our plants, not only is this a waste of water but it drowns the roots, inhibiting proper growth. When you do water your garden, do it early in the morning or in the evening, when the heat from the sun won’t dry out and evaporate your soil.  Oh and please stop using sprinklers. Please. They’re just not necessary in Ireland. Other simple tricks like placing your potted plants in a bowl or saucer to catch the run off water can save a lot of water. You can also take a plastic bottle, cut off the end and place it in your pots, when you fill it with water, it will slowly drain into the pot at the roots, just where the plant needs it.

 

If any of my readers have some other water saving tips, please feel free to share them with me. And don’t panic fellow Irish citizens, if all else fails, you could simply leave your wellies outside, they’ll definitely fill up, it’s happened to me very time I’ve left them outside my shed. Every single time.

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Post Bloom Blues? Here’s some upcoming events to keep them at bay.

Bloom festival has been and gone, the gardens dismantled, the stalls removed, the park cleaned up and the buzz dying down. We’ll just have to wait until next year for it’s return. For those of us who are feeling a bit deflated, sad, show-garden deprived, here are a few upcoming Irish Garden events in June and July to keep us going.

The Dublin Garden Festival

13-15 June 2014, Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin

This June, Christchurch Cathedral will be bringing the outside inside for it’s first Garden Festival. The cathedral will be transformed into a floral arcadia with displays by some of irelands most talented florists. There will also be horticultural displays, urban gardens, a petting zoo, crafts, live entertainment and plenty of food. There will also be a number of featured talks by renowned gardeners and horticulturalists. Tickets are €12.

WAFA World Flower Show 2014

18-22 June 2014, RDS, Dublin

This year, the world flower show will be held in the RDS in Dublin. Thousands are expected to visit this event which is pretty much regarded as the olympics of flower arranging. The World flower Show is held every three years in different countries  and this is the first year the event will be held in Ireland. Exibits will include floral demonstrations, craft and trade stands.

Blarney in Bloom

Saturday 12th July, Blarney Castle

Held in County Cork, the Blarney in bloom festival is a one day gardening event in aid of the Irish guide Dogs. Attractions include plant nurseries, crafts, farmers market, seed savers association, bee keeping and plenty of live entertainment.

Galway Garden Festival

5-6 July, Claregalway Castle

The Galway Garden festival is a celebration of gardens and has won many plaudits since 2010. There is plenty of entertainment on offer from live music to medieval jousting. There are many garden suppliers and experts on hand and an international panel of speakers.

Conifer Walk and Talk

Sunday 22nd June, 2.30pm National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin

This walk and talk will be a guided tour of the extensive collection of evergreens in the Botanic Gardens. Learn the basics of conifer identification and learn some fascinating facts about why they are so special.

Learn About Meadows

Saturdays in June & July, 3pm, National Botanic Gardens, Kilmacurragh 

Each Saturday in June and July, The botanic gardens in Kilmacurragh are hosting guided walks through the meadows where you can see the wide variety of plant species living in the meadow at Kilmacurragh. Admission Free.

I’m hoping to go to a couple of these, particularly the Dublin Garden Festival, it looks great. Hope to see some of you there!

A Blooming Great Day in the Park

This week, I’m taking a bit of a change of tack from my usual How To Tuesdays to tell you about my amazing weekend at Bloom. I’ve been on  little bit of a blogging hiatus the past week due to a redesign of the blog itself and of course, a busy weekend, volunteering at Irelands best summer festival. It was a glorious bank holiday weekend here in Dublin, The sun was blaring (mostly), the mood was high, families lined north wall to see the tall ships, thousands of women ran the mini marathon and the wonderful Bloom festival took place in the Phoenix Park. Back in March, when I put my name down to volunteer at Bloom, I was eager to experience Ireland’s annual gardening festival, having never been before. I was eager to meet new people, enjoy talking to like minded people and perhaps feel a part of this wonderful event. Thankfully, my experiences far exceeded my expectations.

On Sunday morning, I arrived in the park at 8am, sun blaring, the park buzzing with excitement at the day ahead. The truly wonderful thing about arriving at Bloom before the gates opened was this, I got to see the show gardens before the crowds arrived, a rare opportunity. I was just blown away, never before had I seen such a diverse collection of gardens, plants, designs in one place. Making my way over to the fab food village, I grabbed a coffee and enjoyed my surroundings before the madness kicked off. I collected my Bloom Ambassador T-shirt, cap and name badge before we were shown around the site and assigned jobs for the day.  That’s when the madness started, people poured in the gates in a steady stream from 9am until 4pm. By one o’clock, the place was very busy. The food village was full of people, sitting out in the sun, enjoying the festival atmosphere.

I must say, it was one of the better experiences I’ve had in a long time, I met a lot of wonderful new people and it was great to feel part of the team that makes Bloom one of the best festivals I have ever been to.

The big attraction at Bloom of course is the show gardens, there were thirty show gardens in total, ranging from larger gardens to the small postcard gardens. Now, I had never been to a show garden event so I was completely mesmerised by what was on offer. Each garden was obviously designed with such passion and hard work it blew me away.

"The First Place" designed by

“The First Place” designed by Fiann O’Nulláin

One thing that really struck me about the show gardens was that nearly every one featured lupins, these herbaceous perennial’s are some of my favourite flowers, their vivid coloured flower spikes provided the show gardens at bloom with a serious display of colour. I also noticed a trend of edible and medicinal gardens, one of the Gardens, “This First Place”, deigned by Fiann O Nualláin was a garden designed for growing medicine, and I took a real fancy to  Wayne O’ Neil’s “An Edible Woodland Garden”.

Lupins were definitely the star of the show

Lupins were definitely the star of the show

To be honest I can’t even begin to try explain each show garden or pick a favourite as they were so varied, but I will say this, there was not one design I wasn’t seriously impressed with. Beside the show gardens was a large walled vegetable garden, this was, without a doubt, the highlight for me (of course it was). It was a spectacularly maintained, productive large vegetable garden that I’m told is actually always in the park and can be visited. I have literally never seen so much borage in my life, it was a borage batallion, a starflower regiment.

The borage battalion

The borage battalion

It felt good to get involved, it felt good to volunteer my time to be part of something so enjoyable for so many people.

There was so much to experience at Bloom, from the Nurseries to a Botanical Art exhibition, to cooking demonstrations and live music. I must say though, I think my favourite part was the volunteer work itself. I was working with a lovely bunch of people at one of the entrances, greeting the visitors and helping people with directions and information about the festival. I really enjoyed working with those people, some of us were gardeners, some not, some were horticulturalists, some just liked to volunteer at events and every single one of those people taught me something I never knew before. And I guess this brings me back to my love of community and my theory that it is the one of the most important developmental tools we have as human beings. It felt good to get involved, it felt good to volunteer my time to be part of something so enjoyable for so many people.

I took far too many photos to share them all here so I’ve popped a little selection gallery into this post for you to have a gander.

Being a Bloom Ambassador is definitely one of the major highlights of 2014. I even got myself a few fab ideas for my own garden, oh, and of course, a fancy cap. Who doesn’t love a fancy cap?

 

 

 

 

How To Grow Lavender

IMG_2493

Botanical name: Lavandula 
Flowering time: Summer
Height & spread: 30cm-1m height, 30cm-1.5m spread

Lavender is probably my favourite plant in my garden. It’s beautiful, easy to grow and smells amazing.

Lavender is best when planted late spring/early summer, ideally in May. Like many other herbs, it does well in most soils once it gets full sun and moderately good drainage.  If you have heavier clay soil, lavender can become woody and the plant may not live as long. Now, I have very heavy clay soil so I often add gravel to the base of my plant for drainage. Lavender grows well in pots also and makes a lovely addition to a balcony or driveway if you are growing in an urban environment.  Just ensure you add some gravel to the end of your pot for drainage.

Lavender does not need to be watered too often, and in fact over watering lavender is more likely to kill it than anything else.

Lavender should be pruned every year to keep the plant compact. Some people prune after it flowers in late summer and others in early spring. I pruned mine in early spring this year. Use a secateurs to remove the flower stalks and and inch of the years growth.

To propogate lavender you can take semi ripe cuttings from young plants in early summer. You can also collect seed from dried flower heads and plant the following year.

Lavender is an aromatic herb, famed for its calming qualities. It is   often used to treat insomnia, nervous stomach, and anxiety. it can also be used as an analgesic and an antiseptic.  It is also beneficial to the respiratory system, in particular in the treatment of colds and flu. Lavender is one of the most popular ingredients in aromatherapy used to treat insomnia and headaches.

Lavender is also widely used in the culinary world, often used in condiments and dressings. Its flowers yield a lot of nectar and as so is popular with bees make high quality honey  from the lavender nectar.