Once more we’ve arrived on the summer equinox; midsummer’s day, the longest day of the year, and where on this day last year we were experiencing just the beginning of what would turn out to be one of the best summer seasons on record, this year’s late spring/early summer weather has been a considerable challenge for every gardener especially across these isles of Ireland and the UK.
It has been wet; very wet on occasion, and it has also been extremely dull, and with the low light level and constant rain we’ve had to make late sowings of many of the monster’s staples as the original sowings and plantings were either washed completely away or withered through chill and lack of full bright light, and even though today began with such promise with clear skies and sunshine from before 5.00am, it has since become cloudy and brooding with a mid-afternoon temperature of only 14 degrees Celsius, and a forecast for heavy thundery downpours.
But! It is what it is, and it most definitely is mid-summers in Ireland. We’ve not much to tell that would be any different from a retelling of earlier posts and the whys of why we’ve had to redo a lot of things we’ve had to redo on the plot, because, as just intimated it has been all weather related, and it has been little more than a copy and paste scenario with late April into early May, and now into early June…So, we’ll just update with a few images for now.
Nothing betrays the fickle, fleeting nature of cumulative days, weeks and months which constitute the year as clearly and evidently as the garden. 365 days, batched into weeks, bound into months and bundled into seasons with fleeting days and endless nights, one-day summers and eternal winters, constant wind and rainfall and occasionally those once in a lifetime hurricane, blizzard and heat-wave events the likes of which we’ve experienced these last 8 months, and we call it the year. Here at monsterinthecorner we contend that there is no beginning to, and neither is there an end to the gardening year. There are those who say that the gardening year begins on Brigid’s Day (February 1st) or St. Patrick’s Day (March 17th). There are those who contest that the gardening year only begins once the last frost is passed, and another train of thought has the gardening year only truly begin once the spring equinox arrives. But, as stated earlier, we here would say there is neither definitive beginning nor end to the gardening year, and if it be necessary to constrain gardening reality within manageable metric parameters then perhaps we could at least contend that the gardening year begins with first light on January 1st and ends with the onset of darkness on December 31st.
There is no surety in the garden, but that is not to say that there is no reasonable expectancy within the garden. Gardeners and allotmenteers fastidiously prepare their beds and borders, sowing and potting schedules can be adhered to meticulously, and husbandry practices can be accomplished and precise, but there is still no certainty with time and the gardener’s use of time in the garden. In the garden there will always be wet and miserable days to contend with, just as there will be days of bright pleasant sunshine. There will be days of drifted snow with soil frozen to a depth of inches, just as there will be days or even weeks on end of drought with clay baked to the consistency of concrete. There will be hail, rain, sleet and snow; there will be sunshine and showers in equal measure just as there can be gentle breezes and gale force winds and – as the monster’s previous experience has shown -all of this occasionally in one and the same day. We bundle days together; and days become weeks and months and morph into seasons, but the margins are always fluid. The year’s coldest days often fall beyond the start of spring (whenever that may be) just as the prolonged driest periods of any given year can occur during the darker days December and January, with the heaviest prolonged periods of rainfall sometimes occurring during the lazy, hazy, crazy days when unbroken sunshine is the expectation. There is no surety in the garden, but, there is potential, and this is what the gardener works with. Spring can be cool, cold even, with winter’s tale dragged all the way to late April. Summers can be interrupted with incessant springtime rains right through to autumnal Indian bonus days giving way to mild winters with first frost not arriving till early February, which in some circles as said earlier can be early spring. There is no surety in the garden and the garden needs no surety. Gardeners however are a different matter; they progress in hopeful certainty: the hope that spring will be kind and arrive on time; the hope that summer will be long and the autumn harvest plentiful and the hope that winter will be short-lived and not cause too much damaged to the naked bushes and bare beds. The gardening year progresses one day at a time: that is, twenty four hours a day at a rate of sixty minutes an hour. Gardeners always have a plan for the garden, whereas the garden (?), the garden just is. Where the gardener plans for tomorrow or next month or for the summer, the garden itself just is; the garden is always now. There is no yesterday or next week in the garden, and if truth be told there is no summer or winter either; there is always just now. There is constant growth just as there is constant decay. There is always life with death in the garden; there is as much death to be observed in a late spring garden as there is on a November allotment; for all of their timely narcissistic golden beauty every swath and clump of daffodils lays down and dies en masse in springtime, just as that from the vernal wasteland that is every winter’s perennial border green snouts push through the leaf-mould carpet unnoticed. In death each lifetime is expended, and no matter how long the bloom lasts or how brief the butterfly’s flight it all happens in a lifetime. Days pass, seasons are spent, years come and go. And the garden is.
We’ve had a good year on our allotment, a year like no other to date, but good for all that. We’ve jarred our jams and made our chutneys, and Mrs Dirtdigger has made some wonderful sauces and relishes from the glut of tomatoes we’ve had so far this year. We had six months of winter followed by 3 weeks of spring, then the longest driest sunniest summer in over seventy years which ended quite suddenly and unexpectedly with the instant transition to autumn in one twenty four hour period 10 days ago. The courgettes are finished early and we’ve had to take the pumpkins in as the vines were spent. The parsnips have recovered somewhat following a Webworm infestation and the winter turnips are beginning to bulge at last. The Florence fennel sown during early July has bulbed-up nicely and at the moment the king of greens on the plot is the moss curled parsley. Summer concludes with a faultless flawless flow into autumn and winter approaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour.
The garden always betrays how it deals with things and when time is up, well then, time is up. It takes a lifetime to live and thus die, and it is only in the dying that the extent of any lifetime can be truly measured; and as a garden never really dies the gardener never gets the true measure of it. It takes a lifetime to die, but it can happen in an instant. The garden lives and dies at the same time and it does this at a rate of sixty minutes an hour, day in, day out, month after month, every season of the year, and even the most accomplished gardeners forget this from time to time. So although there will always be a gardening to-do-list for any given week of the year, and though there will always be some sowing and pruning and spraying and watering to do, perhaps the most pressing task for the gardener at any given time of the gardening year is to learn to garden at the garden’s pace…!
It began earlier than usual and set-in sooner than expected. And as though to mirror its incongruous beginnings winter 2017-18 now seems set to linger longer than any other winter in living memory, obstinately determined in maintaining its mortiferous grip on everything and in so doing completely obliterate the early spring of 2018. It has been a long and dreary six month winter, and though today we have bright sunshine for the first time in weeks, grass temperatures at dawn this morning were still as low as minus 6 Celsius. Everything is saturated, sodden, barren and frozen; and once again the farming community on this cold, damp outpost on Europe’s western fringe has had to ask neighbouring countries for large supplies of animal fodder, as our own national pastures remain bare and untrafficable to all livestock. It is generally accepted across continental Europe that we here in Ireland have some of the best grazing pastures in the northern hemisphere. This is literally the foundation to one of our biggest national industries, our agri-food sector. There is nothing, and we mean nothing remotely comparable to a fine spring or summer’s day stroll through any area of the Golden Vale, or a walk through the lush green summer swathes the whole length of the river Shannon’s wide banks. There is nothing anywhere in the world to compare with the heady, hazy and intoxicatingly long lazy summers days spent in the Irish countryside. But, when Mother Nature rebels everybody knows about it; and this winter she has certainly rebelled. Winter had set in by mid November. Then with a cooler than average December quickly followed by a colder and duller than average January, and the envoi of a very cold February we had hoped that March would at last herald the long winter’s end. We were wrong. March turned out to be the coldest March on record, with record snowfalls, and ice days recorded for the first time in the month of March since records began. We’ve had national warnings and weather advisories and red and orange and yellow flags and enforced stay at home days and Facebook fun and frenzy and Brennan’s Bread and snowmen on St Patrick’s Day and enough memories from this one single month to provide material for a whole series of Reeling in the Years. 2018, The year of big white Emma on Patrick’s Day will live long in the national psyche, and in years to come many’s a pint will be stood and shared over cool, cool reminiscences: the year we had to trudge through 6 feet of snow (acceptable exaggerations allowed) to get home from work; the year we climbed over the frozen gates to feed the starving ducks and swans; the year the floods were so bad that the ducks actually began wading in the ponds on our allotment; the year the shops ran out of bread; the year the grass didn’t grow till at least???? And here we are, still awaiting reasonable prospect of some early spring-like weather this 5th day of April. We may, as some say, garden in hope, but most gardeners also garden in faith, their faith being in the fact that if they persevere they will eventually reap some sort of reward for their effort. National media outlets may be reporting the unfolding catastrophe now facing our farmers and food growers as a result of the extended bad weather, but, we here on monsterinthecorner have no need as yet to paint the adverse winter weather whammy in the dire and calamitous terms suddenly being ascribed to the situation. April, in our experience, always comes up trumps; sometimes it snows, sometimes it shines; and though it can be said that winter can often drag its heels all the way to and through many weathered March, the most that must reasonably be said of a cool April is that we’re having a cool spring. The winter was long, and cold, and wet, and that was then and this, being April, is spring! The temperatures will normalize; and the watery chaos will abate. We’ve kept look out for an ark, and a raven, or a dove but these must have settled elsewhere. The waters above will separate and dry up and we’ll not have so much water below. Dry land will show itself once more; and every gardener, plantsman/woman shall renew their personal covenant with their garden and the earth therein. And we’ll plough our furrows and dig our drills; and we’ll sow our seeds once again, and to ensure success we’ll actually then water them in. It’s all about perspective, and with the advent of one single warm day, we’ll cast off the weight of winter memory. The monster’s measure is saturated and has been totally flooded for weeks on end. The clay is heavier than Uranium, and though the beds’ boards are sodden through and through they have not, as yet, begun to shrink: No dead Albatrosses with the monster.
With the exception of the garlic (in situ since last Halloween), and the onion sets we grounded during a brief respite in early March, the monster’s visage looks bare and forlorn, the only saving grace being that the Dutch Masters are beaming bright yellow. We’ve put nothing else to ground as yet, and even the tomato, pepper, zinnia and marigold seeds sown and subsequently potted-on now run the risk of stilting and becoming leggy due to the persistent low light levels. But what plans we have, and because we’ve had little else to do we’ve been planning. Recycling, and planning, and oh! What plans we have…
January 2017 saw monsterinthecorner begin the arduous task of relocating all stock and holding to a new allotment plot some five miles away from its established site. We speculated then what the coming year would bring, and whether we would be capable of rising to the challenges of starting again from scratch on a new plot, in the depths of winter. We postulated then that the monster would be completely transformed by the same time next year, and that we would relish the transformative process and our part in it. Yet little did we realize just how much we could, and eventually would, achieve.
One of the very early postings from our new stomping ground last January was titled By This Time Next Year … So, by way of follow-up the best we can say is that That Time is now… We could have –indeed should have– posted many more updates during last year, but as you’ll appreciate we got busy doing as we had quite a lot to do, and it was no mean task to cultivate a totally neglected and overgrown large allotment into a prize winning kitchen garden plot, and to do so in the space of 25-30 weeks. We had many hours of wonderful fun; we’ve made some wonderful new friends and acquaintances, and mostly we learned to relearn all we formerly thought we knew about allotmenteering.
Of course, as the overall prize winning allotment last year monsterinthecorner has, (as many of our new neighbours are constantly and good-humouredly reminding us) set the standard not only for others, but also for ourselves in the seasons and years ahead. And who knows? with our template now well and truly settled after a frenetic first year, perhaps ( just perhaps) we’ll have a little more time to cultivate here as well.