gardening

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

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

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

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

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

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It’s in an absolute heap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nature simply doesn’t give a shit about you

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

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

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

Enjoy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

In essence,  don’t be a dick.

Only plant what you want to grow

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

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

Mistakes are just mistakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which brings me nicely to..

Gardening teaches you to hope

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

Enough said.

Gardening teaches you to be patient

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

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

Being buried doesn’t mean you’re dead

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

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

Your life can be a grave or a garden.

It can bury you. Or it can plant you.

It’s up to you to decide.

Ophelia, we’re feelin’ ya

It’s been a horrible day here in Ireland.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fiona

The light at the end of the polytunnel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I need to garden for the peace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

None!

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

Only mental people walk around allotments in their bare feet.

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

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

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

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

Gardening makes you a mental person!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You will find yourself screaming at nettles.

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

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

*all outright lies

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

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

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

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

Nothing new there so.

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

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

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

Much love to you.

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

Pieta House: 1800 247 247

The Samaritans: 116 123

Aware: 1800 80 48 48

I dig therefore I am

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

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

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

Dream office alert!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think about it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

If all that fails, we simply try again.

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

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

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

Where:

A=hard work

B=desire for success

C=time spent in the garden

D=plant knowledge

Y=Tomatoes

Then:

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

Mind Blown.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

I’m only getting started.

Plants Bants, Valentine’s Day Edition: Borage

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

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

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

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

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

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Borage is my bae

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

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

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Planting Borage

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

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

The Science Bit

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

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

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

Beginning to understand why borage is my ideal boyfriend now?

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Swoon!

Using Borage as an Edible Flower

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

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

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

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

Borage for Courage

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

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

The flower will win every time.

Fiona luvs Borage 4EVA.

Mrs. Fiona Borage.

Grow Yourself Gorgeous

It’s a funny thing being a young(ish) woman with an allotment. On one hand, I love nice clothes, make up and am well known amongst friends for wearing sky-high stilettos; but on the other hand I love being dirty, don’t care about brand labels and have been known to go for days without even thinking about wearing make up.

However, it often feels like everywhere I look, people are writing/reading/blogging/talking about make up and fashion. The world is simply obsessed with being gorgeous. So, in an effort to keep up with the (seven hundred million) beauty bloggers out there, I thought I would join in and share some garden fashion and beauty tips with you so that you can be bang on trend this autumn/winter season in your garden.

 

Fiona’s Autumn/Winter Beauty Regime

Nails

The tell tale sign of a true gardener is not their muddy clothes, their wellies or their ability to speak Latin against their own will, but the state of their hands. To obtain a truly authentic garden manicure requires hard work and very little care for your physical appearance or pain threshold. Forget your acrylics, shellacs and french manicures, this season, it’s all about weathered skin, broken nails, split cuticles. This winter, get yourself an organic manicure, or as I have dubbed it, an Organicure.

To achieve this highly coveted look, book yourself an appointment at your nearest allotment. The key here is first to discard your gardening gloves and leave your hands exposed to the harsh, winter elements.

  • First off, you’ll need to grab a secateurs and prune your summer raspberry canes to the ground. The small thorns will embed themselves in your palms and fingers, creating lots of splinters and scratches, which you will pick at for days afterward creating many crevices and gouges in your skin.
  • Next, take your rake and begin to work your soil to a fine tilth, if you do this just right, you’ll develop a large blister in between your thumb and forefinger which you can then bandage up with some random tape you find in your shed. This blister should burst, causing searing pain and should last for weeks to add to the longevity of your organicure.

 

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  • Once you’ve done this, it’s time to weed your beds. Running your bare hands through the soil lodges mud under your fingernails for days and stains your nails a sludgy yellow colour. This process also completely dries out your skin for that coveted weather beaten look.

 

  • At this stage, you should have plenty of welts, splinters, scratches, blisters, torn cuticles and broken nails. This is when the most important step in the process comes in…
  • To finish your Organicure, locate a patch of nettles and run your hands over their leaves for a lovely tingly effect that will last for days. The nettles also create rashes of small blisters on the palms and back of your hands that can scar for years to come.
With all this done, you’re ready to pull on your fingerless gloves and rock this season’s top nail trend.


Make up

It never hurts to wear a little make up should a handsome gardener turn up out of the blue to give your beds a good seeing to.

Contouring has become the holy grail of make up application in recent years, with women everywhere putting hours of effort into applying bizarre, dark brown streaks all over their face. To use a bit of a gardening pun, they layer on the makeup with a trowel.
In recent years, I’ve become an expert at contouring my face. With muck. Simply spend a few hours at the allotment and I guarantee you will end up with dark brown streaks of soil along your forehead, nose and cheeks. These darker shades really make your features pop when strolling home from the allotment and will buy you many an appreciative (bemused) glance from passers by.


Tanning

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Getting yourself a golden, healthy glow, is one of the many benefits to a garden beauty regime. No need to go and lather yourself in brown goop that smells like stale biscuits. To get that perfect glow, the trick is simply spend time outdoors. Who knew?! I spend most summer months explaining to people that “yes, my tan is natural”, “no I wasn’t away”, “yes I know it’s fabulous”, “yeah, it’s great not to smell like something that you want to dunk into your tea”. The only slight grievance is that you may end up with bizarre tan lines. Legs tanned from mid-thigh to mid-calf due to pairing your shorts with wellies. Arms and shoulders tanned and freckly but a torso whiter that a snowdrop. However, a farmers tan is far more attractive that a fake tan any day. Wear your tan lines with pride.

Hair

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My favourite garden hairstyle. Enough said.


Fiona’s Autumn/Winter Fashion Tips

Lingerie 

Thermal vests may not be the sexiest item of underwear in the market, I mean, you don’t see teenage boys hiding the thermal vest pages from clothing catalogues in their wardrobes. But, there’s nothing less sexy than pneumonia, trust me. Invest in a thermal vest to keep your torso toasty. Do wear nice knickers though, you never know when that handsome gardener might show up to plough your patch.

Footwear

As much as I love to wear stilettos, they are not very practical or comfortable in a garden. Wellies are the staple footwear item during these bleak months in the garden. Now, I have no time for your trendy, designer wellies (you know the ones I’m speaking about) they serve no purpose at an allotment. For some authentic garden footwear, pair your oldest, dirtiest wellies with a pair of knee-high woollen socks over your old jeans or leggings. If you don’t have old wellies, a trusty pair of work boots do wonders for lengthening your legs and free up those calves for digging.

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Outerwear

One thing every gardener needs is a pair of trusty old gardening jeans. The best way to buy a pair of decent gardening jeans is to buy yourself a pair of “good” jeans. You know, a pair that fits your bum like a glove (the holy grail for a skinny girl) and reaches past your ankles (also the holy grail for leggy, lanky types). Spend a decent amount of hard earned money on said jeans. Keep jeans for a special occasion and swear to self that “good” jeans will only be worn to pub with sparkly shoes. Accidentally pay a quick visit to the allotment while wearing the jeans. Just for a few minutes. No hard work. Because of jeans. Lose self in wonder of the garden. Sit on edge of raised bed, rip the arse pocket out of jeans on stray piece of wood. Wipe muddy hands all over thighs. Kneel down on wet ground to weed. Sigh and add “good” jeans to ever growing pile of allotment jeans and swear to try harder next time. Repeat ad infinitum.

Pro-tip! For an extra dash of allotment style, have yourself an incident with a watering can whereby you spill water all down your crotch. Spend a solid ten minutes trying to decide whether to brave the walk home to change or to deliberately pour more water all over jeans to even out the pee’d pants look. Decide on the second option and wonder why fellow plot holders are staring at you while you deliberately pour water all over your legs. Realise that this process is entirely ridiculous and walk home with bizarre looking jumper tied around front of waist to hide the wet patch.

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Obviously not a pair of “good” jeans.

Coats/Jackets

No winter garden outfit is complete without a long sleeved shirt, jumper, fleece and raincoat to cover up any semblance of a figure that you might have. Sure who needs curves anyway? Cover them up by wearing so many layers that your svelte silhouette resembles that of a teddy bear.

Nothing says garden chic like a durable gillet. These stylish vests act like a coat but leave your shoulders and arms free for working the plot. They work very well over sleeves and leave room for you to exfoliate your arms on rogue edges of bamboo, nettles, insect bites, bee stings and scratches from rogue twigs.

In terms of accessories, the world is your oyster in a garden. Oversized sunglasses, fingerless gloves, hats, bandanas, ear muffs, adorn yourself, but please, for the love of god, leave the scarves at home. Scarves in a garden are dangerous items, prone to trailing, getting caught in things and causing minor to severe injuries. Do not risk death in order to look fabulous.

As much as I jest here, there truly is a point to this post.

Gardens don’t give a damn what you look like. Plants couldn’t care less if you have this season’s handbag. Wildlife doesn’t judge you by the make up you’re wearing. Kale doesn’t covet your clothes. Forget the pressures of keeping up with the whoevers. Go out in to a garden, wear a smile, get mucky, get messy, get silly. Grow some food. Grow yourself happy. Grow yourself gorgeous.

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This season’s absolute must have garden fashion item, is definitely my new favourite t-shirt! I now own two gardening t-shirts which I guard WITH MY LIFE (One is my GIY t-shirt and the other is my Sodshow t-shirt). If anything happens to either one, I shall be mostly spending my time wailing and cursing the universe.
If you haven’t had the pleasure to listen to the Sodshow, the lovely Peter Donegan has dubbed me a “fashionista” so this little blog post was inspired by the man behind my favourite podcast. If you want to buy one of the super cool t-shirts, visit the sodshow website here (this isn’t a sponsored post by the way, I just think the sodshow is deadly). 

 

Fiona Goes Wild: Marcel the Field Mouse

I’ve had a very busy few days at the allotment the past week and I have plenty to write about over the next few days, however, I just wanted to share a bit of drama I had on the plot today. I recently wrote about the wildlife I have encountered in the garden and wanted to write a series of posts about wildlife, well, what better way to start than by writing about the adorable field mouse I found today.

I had just finished up at the allotment on another humid day in Dublin. Tumultuous ashen clouds were rolling over site which saw a mass exodus of gardeners running for home before the heavens opened. Dressed in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, I decided it was probably in my best interests to wash my hands, get changed and go home for a well earned glass of wine. I was making my way over to the tap to grab some water, when I almost stood on a tiny field mouse, sitting in the middle of the path. The poor little chap was looking very ill, swaying side to side and trembling. I had spotted it two days ago while tidying up my shed and I’m pretty sure I disturbed it in the process.

Field mice are cute little rodents with long legs and a long tail. They’re very active little mice and like many rodents are usually nocturnal. It was strange to see one so listless, it didn’t even budge when I approached it so I knew something was wrong straight away.

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I was alone, on site with an injured animal and had no idea what to do. After a cry for help on Instagram, my parents suggested I put the mouse somewhere sheltered away from the sun and rain and possibly provide it with some food. I picked up the mouse (wearing little gloves) and wrapped it in a comfy old t-shirt I had in my shed. The poor creature squeaked as I picked it up but seemed to snuggle right in to the makeshift bed right away. I placed him in a cosy spot under my shed with a little tray of water and some raspberries and I found a few woodlice I put in there too so it could eat something. I had a little cry. I’m a sap.

I’m hoping little Marcel (name suggestion courtesy of my best friend Holly) makes a quick recovery, I’ll keep you updated.IMG_2574-1

Take A Walk On The Wild Side

(A bedroom in Dublin. Monday. 5.30am. A rooster crows in the mid-summer rain. A young woman hauls herself out of bed. She throws open a window into the morning. A grey tit hops along the wooden fence below. The distinctive call of a pheasant. The trill of a tit. The thrill of the wild.)

This is how my days begin now. I wake to a symphony of birdsong. I wake to a wild life.

I’ve always loved animals and nature. As a child, there was nothing I loved more than being outdoors. I, myself, was a little bit wild. I was always climbing, running, exploring. I was less of a barbies and dolls girl and more of a climbing walls girl. I had far more interest in catching bees and butterflies than sitting at home playing dress up. I was a scuff-kneed, rock collecting, river wading, bird chasing, tree hugging wild child.


Growing up in a city suburb never really held me back from loving my natural environment. There was quite a lot of green space where I lived, there were local hay fields, farms and parks. I spent a lot of time in the wild Irish countryside. My parents brought me on holidays all around Ireland and I’ve had the privilege to see and explore so many of our wonderful landscapes. I’ve spent entire summers in the midlands, playing on farms and bogs. I’ve travelled along the whole west coast; the rugged Burren, wild Connemara, the lakes of Killarney, the beaches of Achill. I’ve visited forests, cliffs and caves. Climbed mountains and fished in rivers. I’ve collected turf, shorn sheep and plucked pheasants. I have been in love with this lush island my entire life.

However, living in Dublin, I haven’t always been as in touch with the natural world as I would love to be. The rapid development of large housing estates in North County Dublin during the boom years, rendered many of my childhood exploration haunts into haunted ghost estates. There are acres of unfinished houses, scaffold cities, empty developments and abandoned building sites. Where I once spent my summers picking wildflowers and hunting for frogs, there are now apartment blocks, parking lots, train stations, space-wasting NAMA-NAMA-NAMA-NAMA-CRAPLANDS!

Now don’t get me wrong, I adore Dublin. I think it’s a great city. I love the culture, the food, the nights out, the festivals, the history, the hustle and bustle, the atmosphere; but sometimes I look at some of the suburban areas and despair. When we were so busy building and planning and expanding, where did all the wildlife go?

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Living in a city, it is easy to forget that it is populated by more than just people, more than shops and offices and pubs. It is populated by more than human beings. It is so easy to forget that there are entire populations of wildlife living in Dublin too. More animals than humans, more insects than animals.

This is one of the many reasons that gardening has become so vital for me. The garden is not just a place in which to grow food and flowers, it is a place of sanctuary for me and for many others. It is trembling with life. My garden has reconnected me with wildlife in this great urban sprawl. Four years ago, I’d have been hard pressed to identify a breed of bird. I’d have had no idea that it was a pheasant call I was hearing every day. I’d have been unable to tell you the birds living in my neighbours garden were in fact grey tits. I’d have probably been quite annoyed at the rooster waking me every morning.

I’d have never developed an obsession with bees, collected worms, discovered that ladybirds are ruthless killers, gone on regular slug patrols or learned what an ichneumon wasp is.

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Aphids Beware!

 

 

I’d never have developed a tenuous relationship with a hare. When I visit the plot in the early mornings, when there’s not another soul around, I often stumble on a slumbering hare in my rhubarb patch. We’re developing a bit of an understanding, she sleeps on my plot and leaves when I arrive. She often stares at me for a moment or two before bolting. I’ve yet to take a photo of her as I don’t want to spook her for the garden is her haven too.

I’d have never met Joseph Gordon Levitt. No, not the actor, the robin who visits my plot (if you get the reference, a virtual high five to you).

I’d have never learned that wasps build their nest from their own homemade scraps of paper and spit. I’d have never seen a fox chasing a hare while I was picking beetroot for dinner.

I have seen buzzards circling my plot, hunting for prey. I’ve seen sparrow hawks, thrushes, finches, blackbirds, chaffinches, pigeons, crows, the list is endless. I’ve even found a family of ducks, waddling past the plot. I’ve discovered xenomorphic looking chrysalises in nooks and crannies all over the garden. I have a shed full of giant spiders. Last week I found a song thrush egg lying on a rhubarb leaf.

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My garden is not just mine, for a garden does not belong to the gardener. A garden belongs to everyone and everything in it. Gardening taught me to be excited by insects and birds and animals again, to scuff my knees and climb and explore and to still freak the hell out when I accidentally touch a slug.

Gardening allows me to be a wild child again.

Sometimes that rooster really does annoy me though.

I have learned more about our wildlife in the past four years of gardening than in the previous twenty-eh-something. With this in mind, I’m going to write a series of posts on encouraging wildlife into your garden. If you are one of those people who is terrified of creepy crawlies, I’m going to tell you why you shouldn’t be (except maybe earwigs, nobody likes earwigs). If you find yourself running away from bees, I’m going to tell you why you should be chasing them in to your garden. If you’re afraid of butterflies, I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do for you, you’re a lost cause.

I’m popping some useful links below if you want to learn a bit about Irish Wildlife, these sites are brilliant resources for amateurs like myself who want to know a bit more about our indigenous species.

Irish Wildlife Trust 

Bird Watch Ireland

Biodiversity Ireland

 

 

Garden Time

May hovers over the city on wings of promise; that the summer sun will awaken the garden and warm rain showers will wash away the long cold drought of the past month. It seems that in a matter of days, Dublin has been painted with the colours of late spring. While last week, I was braced against driving sleet and howling winds and lamenting the loss of everything I’d planted; the past few days, the temperature is steadily rising and looks set to reach the high teens this weekend. My plot is swiftly coming to life. In every bed and every empty space, young plants push themselves above the surface of the soil and everywhere I look is littered with new life.

French Beans “Purple Tepee”

The natural world around me is teaching me a valuable lesson in patience. I’ve spent the past month eager to sow seeds that would never have germinated and the act of planting outdoors would have been a wasted effort; ergo, I have simply waited.

I am a person who finds it hard to wait for anything. I am impatient by nature and never fully content with my current progress, be it in the garden or in life. My mind is always ten steps ahead of my body, I am forever looking to the future, to the next hour, the next day, the next week, eager and anxious to know what lies ahead. I spend most nights playing out the possibilities of the future in my mind: Will I succeed? Will I be happy? Will I live a good enough life? Forever hungry for achievement, I am not content until I feel I have succeeded, until I have progressed. It’s a stressful and exhausting way to live and I find myself in an almost infinite state of mental fatigue.

The pursuit of gardening has become the antithesis to my overactive mind. Nature is teaching me to slow down, to live in the moment, to ground myself. This wonderful planet we live on moves ever forward through time in cycles outside of our control and I am learning to move with it instead of racing against it. Learning to wait is one of the greater lessons that gardening has taught me. Yearning to succeed in the garden every year, I’ve had a tendency to rush in too early in the season and find myself frustrated in June and July when nothing has grown as expected. Each harvest season, I stand on the plot and wonder why all the labour I’ve put in during the early Spring has failed to come to fruition, why after a year of steady gardening, I have very small yields of crops. I’ve come to realise that while my eagerness to have a productive plot is a positive pursuit, I need to spend more time waiting. I’m learning that waiting for the right time isn’t a waste of time.

It is now May and I have waited. The world spins on and is the greatest clock at my disposal. The temperatures have risen, the sun is shining and the earth is telling me it’s time to grow.

Tomato “Moneymaker”

I’ve been visiting the plot each evening this week to plant some crops and water the garden. When just last week, my raised beds were all but empty, I now have beetroot, peas, french beans, mangetout beans, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, basil, khol rabi, aubergines and strawberries bursting to life. My tulips are growing, my gladioli are spiking into the air, my artichokes and asparagus are returning and the whole plot is waking up from its annual slumber.

The cycle of the seasons moves ever forward and I’m learning to trust the movement of time, I’m learning how to navigate this life with patience. I am growing in tandem with my garden.

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The Sting Operation

Welcome to the revitalised FionaGrowsFood. It’s been a crazy, hectic, heady few months here in the garden and I’ve been holding off on writing about it until I got everything in the garden organised and the site up to date. So, here we are.

2015 has been a spectacular year in the garden, despite the god-awful weather. This year, the plot is flourishing more than any previous year and I’m up to my eyeballs in produce. I’ve so much to catch you all up on over the next few days/weeks so apologies in advance for the upcoming blog post overload.

In what has probably been my greatest buzz (sigh) this year, I had an infestation of wasps a few weeks ago. Now, me, being me, I didn’t even notice the monstrous nest inside my birdhouse, until it began to spill outside the box and there were hundreds of angry wasps crawling on everything; including my arms and legs. By the time I realised I had a serious problem, it was too late to just smoke them out. The wasps had taken over and I was run off my allotment in an embarrassing incident involving much squealing, yelping and maniacal flapping of my arms.

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The scene of the crime (no photos of actual wasps because I was too afraid to get close)

Over the following weeks, I exhausted many options attempting to get rid of the nest. Despite the fact that wasps are the only insect to really terrify me and turn me into a total wuss, they are also quite beneficial in the garden and I really didn’t want to kill them off. In the interest of being an environmentalist and a bit of a wildlife fanatic, I made a few attempts to remove the hive without killing the wasps but to no avail. I attempted to remove the birdhouse myself, which was an absolute disaster. I tried to block up the entrances to the hive, which was an even bigger disaster. Imagine hundreds of wasps dive-bombing my person with reckless abandon and you get the picture.

And so it came to pass, after three weeks of avoiding my allotment like an accidental right swipe on tinder, I had to take the bull by the horns (the wasp by the wings even) and reluctantly kill them. I bunkered down in my war room (shed) to come up with a strategy for the elimination of the enemy. A plan was drawn up, codename: Buzzkill, a covert guerrilla warfare operation to be carried out against the nest at 0900 hours on a rainy Saturday in July.

Let me set the scene:  A young soldier inches her way towards a wasp nest with a giant plastic bag in hands. She’s doing a bit of a backwards-Michael-Jackson-in-Smooth-Criminal-stance (you know the one) and attempting to throw the bag over the birdhouse. All the while, she’s gathered quite the audience of bemused fellow allotment holders – who have since dubbed her “waspy” – who not so much egg her on, as laugh at her while she jumps and twitches around the plot. After much hesitation and twenty minutes of backing away at the last moment, she throws the black sack over the nest to rapturous applause and some pats on the back. Her work, however, has just begun. 

Now, my reasons for putting the bag over the nest were twofold; not only did I assume it would keep the dying wasps from escaping the nest and stinging me to within an inch of my life, but I also had to use a poison to kill them and those of you who read my blog know how I feel about chemicals and pesticides. Sadly, after three years of never using any chemicals on my plot, I had no choice but to use a pesticide to kill the nest. The plastic bag was an attempt to keep the poison localised to one place and away from my precious veggies. Once I had the bag in place, I emptied a full bottle of wasp poison into the nest and ran like hell yelling “you may take my birdhouse, but you may never take, my freedom”. Then, I was arrested, hung drawn and quartered, and my remains scattered around the four corners of the plot (I’d like to point out that sometimes I get myself confused with Mel Gibson characters, it’s an ongoing problem, I’m seeking the appropriate help).

The wasps all died within the hour, the queen and her subjects annihilated and I was safe to garden again. Nothing like a bit of casual regicide on a Saturday afternoon.

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The birdhouse, with bag still in situ

I’ve kept the birdhouse, sans wasps, on my shed for the past two weeks as a trophy. The black plastic blowing in the wind as a warning to all other wasps to stay away. Well, either that or I’m a little bit afraid there may still be a renegade wasp in there waiting to attack me. You decide.

The only real positive outcome from all this excitement, is that I was unable to stray near one side of my plot for a while so I had time to tidy up the bad corner of the garden. The corner I’ve never done anything with and had allowed to become an overgrown, weed-choked wasteland, is finally weed free. I’ve even planted a flower bed along the border and installed a raised bed which I intend to use as a hot bed. As such, the great wasp invasion of summer 2015 resulted in the reclamation of unused land and finally, the knowledge that there is now, no unused space on the plot. Success.

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The badlands in January

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Hell of a difference in July!

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As for the wasps, I have minimal guilt. The real sting in the tale is this: I spent four weeks doing battle with wasps and I didn’t get one sting. Five minutes after I killed them, I was assaulted by a five foot tall rogue nettle and ended up with nettle stings all over my face, neck and arms.

The perils of gardening…