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

A Super Natural Halloween

Halloween is a scary time of year. Everywhere you look there are horror movies, monsters, ghosts, vampires and zombies. But perhaps the scariest thing about Halloween is that nobody really seems to know what it’s about anymore.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I adore Halloween, it’s one of my favourite times of the year. The golds and reds, the snap of bonfires and fizzle of fireworks, the smell of winter in the air that carries tremendous nostalgia and happy childhood memories. As I’ve gotten older, though it has lost it’s charm.  Grown adults dressed like slutty bathtubs. Kids wearing costumes that cost a weeks wages and complaining when you give them an apple with their sweets. Gone are the days of wearing a black bag or a sheet with holes poked in them and standing by the bonfire eating monkey nuts and toffee apples. Now, it’s a greedy, vainglorious free-for-all that is a stark reminder of just how far we have come from our cultural connections to our food. So, what I’ve decided to do this year, is to have a more traditional Halloween, to bake and cook lots of Halloween food and to harvest all my crops that need to be stored. You can keep your ghouls and give me gourds, for the best thing about this time of year is undoubtedly the food.

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OH MY GOURD!

Halloween is a Celtic pagan festival, celebrating fire and food and the end of the growing year. All Hallows Eve itself was also believed to be the night when the spirits of the dead return home, and I like to think this is actually less spooky and more of a chance to remember the souls of loved ones lost and move into a new year with our demons laid to rest.

In Ireland, Samhain (which means summers end), was the time of year when crops were harvested and gathered for storage through winter, as such, Halloween is essentially, the most widespread harvest festival in the world.

The best food from the garden is in season at this time of year, kale, potatoes, parsnips, carrots, turnips, celery, swedes, pumpkins, squashes. This is all the hearty food, the larder food that will keep you warm in the lean winter months, no wonder our ancestors made such a big deal of it!

Apples are my favourite thing about Halloween. Because they are in season, it’s easier to source locally grown, Irish varieties of apples. They don’t have waxy skin, they’re not too hard, bitter or bland. They haven’t been flown thousands of miles wrapped in plastic and covered in preservatives. Irish apples in October are sweet but tart, a little soft and a little crunchy, with the most beautiful flavour that to me is the epitome of halloween. I always loved finding apples in my swag bag on Halloween, they were nicer then the sweets, the crisps or monkey nuts, apples were my favourite halloween treat and still are.

I happen to be lucky enough to have parents who grow apples. They have two apple trees in their back garden. One grows in an area they’ve dubbed the “Apple Yard”, a square yard bed with a heritage Irish apple tree and loads of lovely herbs growing around it’s base.

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The Apples from the Apple Yard in all their Autumn glory

They also established the Apple Bay in the walled garden where they have their allotment. A beautiful orchard where they have a wide variety of different heritage Irish apple trees growing.

I have a bit of a halloween ghost story for you. The Apple Bay has a poltergeist. Seriously. In recent months, my folks have visited on many occasions, only to find disturbances in the orchard. Four trees have been recklessly cut down. A rose bush has been damaged beyond repair. Spring bulbs have been uprooted. The pathways have been blocked by mountains of muck. I’ve decided that since no real gardener would engage in behaviour that damages a lovely little orchard; I’ve come to the conclusion that while the Apple Bay is most certainly beautiful, it is also most definitely haunted. Spooky. However, despite the ghost, the apple bay remains a beautiful addition to their walled garden and I’m very excited to taste some of the supernatural apples from it this year.

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The haunted orchard

November is the perfect time to plant apple trees and I have a new project for the plot in mind so I’ll keep you all updated on my apple planting adventures next month.

Bobbing for apples is a Halloween tradition that we always played in my house growing up.  Traditionally, the first person to succeed in bobbling for an apple would be the first to be married and if the apple was placed under your pillow, you would dream of your future lover. This is a very promising prospect for me, so this Halloween I fully intend to fill my bathtub with as many (local) apples as humanly possible in order to increase my romantic chances.

In fact, come to think of it, much of the traditional Irish Halloween fare contains elements of romance or good luck so I propose we begin to view Halloween as less scary and more lovely.

Colcannon is something I’ve mentioned on the blog before. Mashed potatoes, onions and curly kale, this dish for me is the epitome of Halloween food. My mam made it every single year on halloween and to this day, it’s one of my favourite things in the world to eat. With potatoes and kale very much in season and a kitchen full of dried onions from the garden, it’s the perfect celebratory harvest dish. Colcannon also contains a super special ingredient that makes it second to none: money. Yum. My kale season is in full swing at the moment, with three varieties and fifteen plants, I’m sure I’ll have enough kale to feed a small army this Halloween.

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A bouquet of kale. (A bou-kale)

Barmbrack also contains gold in the form of a ring. This fruit cake has a gold band baked into it and whoever gets the ring will find their true love in the upcoming year. I’m seeing a trend here lads.

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My teeny-tiny pumpkin patch

Pumpkins are of course, the ultimate Halloween food, with carved pumpkins being the  main halloween decoration in most homes. Pumpkin carving has its origins in Ireland too, except instead of carving pumpkins, our ancestors used turnips, which is truly terrifying.

 Plus, turnips don’t really make a good pie, though fresh milan purple top turnips from the garden are absolutely delicious! I’m going to pop up a post tomorrow about how to grow pumpkins for next halloween so keep an eye out. Though perhaps I may not be the best person for that job. This is my first year growing pumpkins in the garden. I only grew one plant though and while it was meant to be a giant variety of pumpkin, my little pumpkins are very small. Football sized at best.

 

Halloween is the perfect time of year to begin to store your veggies through the winter season. I recently wrote an article in the autumn edition of GIY’s Grow magazine on how to store your veggies for winter so get your hands on a copy if you want some tips on different ways to manage your harvests.

In an effort to really celebrate Halloween food this this year, I propose this: take a step back from the commercial side of the holiday, eat really good food, celebrate your harvest. Take a moment to remember that growing food and harvesting it is a huge part of our cultural heritage and we should celebrate in style. Forget the sweets, crisps, jellies and candy. Eat apples. Eat Kale. Eat pumpkins. Have yourself a super natural Halloween.

I for one, am going to eat lots of barmbrack, colcannon and bob for apples in an effort to increase my chances of marriage and if I still haven’t met my filthy partner in crime by next year, that’ll be the true horror story.

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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!