Moving Home

Gardening is a wonderful, fulfilling and rewarding hobby and like most things, the more you put in, the more you get out of it. Having an allotment is a full time hobby and unfortunately when, like me, you work a busy full-time job far away from your plot, it’s difficult to always get time to visit the garden. There have been times when I haven’t visited the plot for weeks on end. Obviously, this hasn’t been ideal. My plot has suffered, particularly the polytunnel.

Two years ago, I lived a relatively happy life. I had a fantastic job, I lived in a lovely apartment near enough to my allotment (a bus journey away) and I had a long term boyfriend who, at the time, I was very much wrapped up in. I was visiting the allotment twice a week and was content with that. At the time, I was just beginning to garden, I was still taking baby steps and wasn’t  taken over by the draw of the garden yet. I wasn’t yet obsessed by it, addicted to it yet. It hadn’t saved my life yet.

You see, two years ago, I had all of those things, until one day, I didn’t. I suffered a major trauma that summer. My life fell spectacularly to pieces when, following an assault that landed me in hospital, I decided to leave my then partner and had to move back to the safety of my family home. How lucky I was to have that wonderful safety net to retreat to, how lucky I was and am to have what so many people do not. So I will not go into detail about my mood at the time or the huge consequences that event had on my life; and I am not telling you this in order to garner sympathy but simply to tell you a small part of my story that led me to where I am now.

During that time, I only visited the allotment periodically, having being convinced by my Mam to keep it up. The garden began to become my haven, my escape from the reality of my life, it began to lift me up again. Then sadly, three months later, just as I was beginning to recover, my favourite person in the world, my Nana, passed away after a battle with lung cancer. I was completely and utterly devastated. I was bereft. The gone-ness of her nearly killed me. The complete and utter gone-ness of my life as I had known it left me in a state of bewilderment. It was October, the garden was barren, my life seemed barren and all my plans had gone to seed so to speak.

I would visit the plot during the winter months, sit there for hours and just cry and smoke cigarettes (I took up smoking again after my Nana died, the irony would not be lost on her, though she is probably haunting me for it). No digging, no weeding, no toiling, just crying and smoking, and then I’d go home. You see, loss like that can ruin you. Loss like that can’t be measured or articulated. It just is, and in the midst of it, that loss is all there is.

The weeks and months went on. I was living far away from my allotment, it was a two bus journey to get there. For a year, I made the effort every couple of weeks to get out, but my job was busy (I still have the fantastic job by the way, it helped keep me going) and I was busy learning how to live an entirely new life. Learning to navigate the world as a different woman. My garden however, had become more than a hobby, it had become my safe place, my best friend. It was the allotment that heard my cries, cushioned my fall. It was the soil that I dug all my frustration in to. It was the garden that began to give me hope. There’s something about planting a seed that is very much rooted in the idea that you are planting a future and that – if nothing else – there will be that produce to look forward to in the coming months.

At the beginning of this year, I made a resolution to make more time for my garden and I faced that resolution head on and have achieved what I have set out to do. I have been making the long journey out to the plot as often as possible but have still been very limited due to where I was living. It was taking me over an hour on public transport to get to the garden, sometimes up to two hours, I’d have to drag home all the heavy produce home on the bus and it was becoming an unending chore. And while I have improved the garden immeasurably this year it just wasn’t enough. I had no spare time to write about it. I had no time to do the extra little things I wanted to do. I needed to be there everyday if possible. I wanted to be there every day.

Imagine the progress I could make if I was there every day. If you click on the first picture below, you can scroll through a few pictures all taken from one spot in the garden over the past three years. The last two photos are from this year, look at the difference that spending a bit more time on the plot can make! Imagine what I could do.

And so, after two years of long commutes to the plot. Two years of living in the home I grew up in. Two years healing and learning and letting my garden save me, I decided it was time to move on; and move, I have. I found a lovely house share in the fabulous area of Malahide in Dublin and two weeks ago, I moved in to my new house. Malahide is a really lovely, popular village with picturesque views over a marina. There’s a beautiful estuary with a hundred swans, there are about twenty pubs (heaven), restaurants, a tennis club, a cricket club, a church, a hotel, boutique shops and a gorgeous castle and park (yes, I am living in a super posh area now). The biggest draw for me however, is this: my house is approximately 400 metres from my allotment as the crow flies, i.e. a one minute walk from my front door.

I can go to my allotment every single day.

I have come full circle. I have fought very hard to be here. I haven’t done it alone. I have the best friends in the world and two parents who are unendingly kind and supportive. Their green fingers have tended to me well.

For just a glimpse of what I can do now, I dropped by the plot after work last night, watered the polytunnel, picked loads of fresh vegetables, brought them home and cooked myself dinner with them. Tonight I swung by after work, watered the tomatoes and munched on a few and still had time to come home and write this. Thanks for sticking with it, I know it’s a bit heavier than my usual tone but that shall resume tomorrow, I promise!

I am very happy.

I mean, why wouldn't I be happy, I get to see these every day now

I mean, why wouldn’t I be happy, I get to see these every day now

Fiona Grows Food on The Sod Show

This week was another exciting one here at Fiona Grows Food. On Friday, I was featured on a radio show, Ireland’s only gardening podcast to be exact, which airs on Dublin City Fm every Friday afternoon.

The Sod Show is a great little podcast which is well worth tuning into every week.

I recorded the interview last year, when I had just gotten my polytunnel and when I was still in my twenties, sob!

We mostly chatted about the allotment, manicures, muck and what it’s like to be a young(ish) allotment holder in Ireland. You can listen to it on the website here or on iTunes or Stitcher.

Between my newspaper feature and now the radio waves, the small screen is the next obvious step. Currently accepting all offers for television appearances, fees relatively reasonable, world domination imminent.

There’s been huge progress on the plot in the past few weeks, many, many blog posts incoming about same so keep an eye out. Until then, happy digging.

50 Shades of Clay

Have you ever had a weekend, so exhilarating, so exciting, so very, very dirty that you wake up on Monday with a smile on your face, your back muscles aching and a deep burn in your thighs? Well I have just had that weekend. Now, before you think I’ve gone all raunchy on you, I am of course talking about my weekend in the garden. Although, maybe I’m on to something, there’s a definite gap in the market for erotic gardening novels. I’ll call mine 50 Shades of Clay. I’m going to make millions guys!

…Her tight denim shorts strained against her rump as she bent over the bed. Her hands slick with dew, the back of her neck glistening with sweat. She wiped her muddied hand on her sunburned leg, and as he watched her run the streak of soil from her trembling thigh down to the rim of her wellies, he held his large tool in his hand and fantasised about spending long clammy afternoons in her polytunnel…

Yes, my friends, I had a very dirty weekend.

It was a cold but dry weekend in Dublin and it was definitely the first sign of spring. My plot is beginning to come back to life, there are a few crocuses and daffodils opening and the desolation of winter is beginning to disappear.

I had a serious stroke of luck this weekend. I hauled myself out to the plot early on Saturday morning intending to spend an hour or so just pulling up some weeds and tidying up. Little did I know I’d spend the day up to my eyeballs in compost.

There I was, surveying my plot, trying to figure out where the hell to start when one of my neighbours came over for a chat. Turns out, he had ordered 15 tonnes of compost and had to get it all moved that day. Now, this stuff was gorgeous. Yes I just referred to muck as gorgeous, but in all seriousness, it was the most attractive thing I’ve seen in weeks. He very kindly offered me some and so I spent the day carting wheelbarrows full of muck back and forth to my plot. I filled my large raised beds with about two tonnes of it and I’m amazed at the difference it has made to the plot already. It’s a far cry from the greyish looking muck that was in there before, now my soil is rich and fertile.

 

My soil looking replenished

My soil looking replenished

 

….it had been a number of years since her patch had a good ploughing….

Now, soil may seem like very boring thing to all my non gardening friends but it is the single most important thing in a garden. Think about it, with no soil, nothing would grow, there would be nothing to plant your seeds in, nothing to sustain your plants. Soil, you see, is not just a load of dirty brown stuff. It is the giver of life. It is packed full of important nutrients for plants and bad soil = bad plants. As such, most gardeners, will spend more time on muck in Spring than on anything else and this is the time of year to get your soil ready for planting. Be it digging, composting or raking, preparing your soil is not only prudent, it is an essential task in any garden.

……His biceps swelled as he lifted the wheelbarrow, mud streaked across his brow, his torn t-shirt revealing the lean yet mountainous landscape underneath….

Last year, I didn’t really do much with my soil and it really began to show in mid summer. I hadn’t composted or manured any of my raised beds and consequently, my plants suffered. Plants take vital nutrients from the soil and it is essential to put that goodness back into the soil for each growing season. Compost is possibly the best way to do this, it needs to be well rotted and packed full of nutrients. This year, I had intended to buy a mountain of compost to breathe some goodness back into my earth. Thankfully, I no longer have to do that due to the generosity of a fellow gardener.  What is it Mr Tennessee Williams said about the kindness of strangers?

…and as she handled the rough foliage, she knew that what her bed was missing right now was a good forking….

I also spent quite a few hours weeding on Saturday, it’s amazing how nothing will really grow in winter, oh wait no, it will, the weeds will grow. They will grow year round apparently and despite the cold and the lack of light and the driving wind and the rain and the frost and the snow and the hail. They will always grow.

….she spent her days in the lonely greenhouse, praying he would appear and help to fertilise her seeds….

I hightailed it home at about five o’clock, freezing cold, covered in muck and exhausted, so naturally, I decided to go out for more punishment on Sunday. It’s still far too early to plant much outside but I did plant some garlic, a mild, soft neck, French variety called Germidour (can be bought in Mr Middleton’s for my Dublin based readers), most garlic should be planted in late autumn but this variety can be planted right up until February if you have the right conditions. I haven’t grown garlic successfully before so I have high hopes for a good crop this year. I also potted up some strawberry plants (I have a whole other blog post coming about that little adventure).

SAMSUNG

Garlic ready for planting

 

I finally put up my birdhouse, which I painted about a year ago and then completely forgot about, tidied my shed (long overdue) and had about 106 cups of tea. All in all a very productive weekend.

SAMSUNG

My adorable birdhouse

 

…..she swooned as he plunged his spade deep into her trench over and over….

Work on 50 Shades of Clay has begun, expect to find it in all good bookshops in the near future. Seeking gorgeous gardener to play the male protagonist in the movie version. I will of course, play the female lead.