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.

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.

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. 

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?