We’ve been busy; busy as the early spring bee, busy as the nest building starlings and mating hares and busy as a vixen in and out of her earth trying to meet the appetite of her growing pups. Last week saw us pass the 100th day mark on our new plot, and though the weather has been challenging to say the least, we are finally settled into our new location. We’ve managed to get some onion and shallot sets into the ground, and we’ve also planted out the Bedfordshire Champions and Ailsa Craig seedlings we had sown in trays in mid February. We sowed some ‘Jumbo’ peas and ‘Sutton’ dwarf broad beans together with some Bunyards Exhibitors we had started off in modules. The gooseberry and blackcurrant bushes we moved during late winter have leafed-up again and the bees (thankfully) have been visiting blooms on both, so, fingers crossed for a berry crop later on, however small. This week we set two ridges of strawberry plants, one of Elsanta and the other a variety called Symphony, and we also planted some Choco-late mint and some Country Cream oregano. The Tayberries are flowering reasonably well and the two dwarf apple trees we had to bring with us have also leafed and set bloom; not much bloom mind you but it’s a start and an indicator that they’ve taken well despite the move and relocation. Our rose bushes are putting out this year’s shoots and some of the thyme and rosemary that have struggled with both the move and poor weather are showing signs of clean green at last. Our new potting shed arrived, and the table top is currently jam-packed with cosmos and sunflower seedlings awaiting a milder spell for transplantation. Our 3 raised beds are constructed and we shall fill them with soil and compost over the next two weekends. We have chard and beetroot, courgette and red kale seed to sow this weekend and we will have to re-do our basil, the first sowing having failed miserably, no doubt due to the prolonged cool dull conditions. All in all we are quite happy with the first100 days on our new location; we’re putting our own unique stamp on the monster’s new plot, and our new plotted neighbours are beginning to discern some semblance of our working schema. Yes we’ve been busy, busy as the many weathers of March and the blossoms of April, and no doubt we’ll continue to be busy, Chomh gnótach le luidín an phíobaire (as busy as a piper’s little finger)?: no, Ní mheasaim é.
A full seven weeks behind schedule, and perhaps having grown tired of maintaining an icy grip on central Europe since Christmas, or perhaps settling to spread its brilliant white duvet a little further west, winter’s procession eventually arrived on our shores in late January. To date we’d experienced one of the mildest and driest early winter periods on record, with daily temperatures 1.5 degrees above Long Term Average and cumulative rainfall a whopping 75-80% down on Long Term Average for the time of year. Noteworthy also is that there was a full seven week hiatus between Conor’s Christmas Eve snarl and the Doris’ arrival last Saturday.
And such is winter in Ireland where we are well acquainted with such seasonal vagaries. It is not by chance that the ancient roman designation for this tiny little island tethering on Europe’s north-western edge was Hibernia, Place of winter.
In Ireland we do winter relatively well: we’ve learned to make the most of a season which starts at Samhain (Halloween), sometimes does not end till May, and at times will backslide just as we get set for the June summer bank holiday.
In Ireland winter is not so much a season as it is a state of mind, and as Hibernians perhaps we were preconditioned in our ancient conception: prenatally prepared to persist and persevere with those prolonged periods of darkness and dampness we experience annually. And as is the case with all indigenously constrained people we are genetically hardwired with the full knowledge of our ancient state even though an appreciation and understanding of that self same state is often sadly lacking. We’ve learned to celebrate the darkness and the dampness. We’ve learned to do those interminable wet winter nights and the relentless Atlantic storm fronts; we’ve learned to do the endless days of dark slate greys and naked branches for months on end. We’ve learned the hunger and starvation of history, just as we learned the insatiable thirst for freedom and self determination.
We celebrate the dead, and we’ve learned to consider one good sunburning day in July a reasonable summer.
We do Christmas to. We do it better than most and, if truth be told, we do it longer than anyone else. This may be out of our centuries long adherence to religious rite whence we are willing to journey with startled shepherds one night only to gladly follow in the footsteps of seers and magi 12 nights later; or it may be as a result of our national addiction to the twentieth century’s developing an annual tinsel dressed splurge with all the accompanying jingly and tingly bright-lighted feel-good Ho! Ho! ho’s!; or perhaps it has more to do with our negating the cyclic oppressive and depressive darkness of winter by deciding to celebrate if for no other reason than the celebration itself; or maybe it is a national brew of all of these things.
Yes, in Ireland we know how to do winter. It’s in our genes. We are a chronic race; occasionally oppressive, periodically disordered, cytized, fibrized, haemized and chromazed and always bloody colourful. We are ancient Hibernians, and many a modern nation wouldst stake a claim to our heritage and bloodline, but it’s just not in their genes. Winter arrived late this year. The unseasonably early grass growth is halted in its tracks. The burgeoning daffodils are slowed, and the remaining remnants of last autumn’s leaf litter is well and truly scattered at last. Temperatures are back to and below normal, whilst rainfall levels are back to and above normal. Yesterday was our final visit to our old plot, and in winter we learn to plot. We’ve taken everything we needed and intended to take from it during the last 6 weeks and relocated it to our new plot. Our old allotment plot is finally laid bare just as we discover that our new plot is susceptible to water-logging, and we’ve come to realize that winter would be a dreary existence were it not for warm summer memories.
Winter arrived late this year and we’ve no time to hibernate. We learn. We move on.
On this day 6 years ago, Mrs Dirt-digger was one of the first plot holders to turn a sod in the then newly opened walled garden allotments in St Anne’s Park in Dublin. We took possession of our keys on 3rd July that year, and sooner than attempt a verbose essay on our experiences during that six year period, we’ve decided to post a little photo journey of our challenges and achievements to date, and over the coming days we’ll update the scrapbook with more images…
Yesterday evening, we here on Monster In The Corner hosted the first of this year’s open events. Each year we endeavour to facilitate local gardening associations and interest groups wishing to have a look around the walled garden. Over the years we’ve accommodated local schools and Girl Guide troops, scouting and Sunday school groups and the local herbalist society. Each year we also receive requests from local associations and branches of the GIY (Grow It Yourself) organisation.
GIY began life as a network of gardening and allotment enthusiasts dedicated to growing their own food. It quickly became a national network and recently has reached out to become an international organisation. It is a not-for-profit network with over 50,000 people currently involved in 800+ community food growing project groups that in recent years has gone from strength to strength.
Last year we received a request from the Raheny GIY group to allow it peruse the walled garden, and yester-evening we were happy to host the Clontarf branch GIYers.
For many of that group it was their first visit to an allotment garden, and I think it is fair to say that by the end of the 90 minute tour some of the questioning curiosity and keen anticipation was more realistically grounded than it had been when they first entered the garden. Although gardeners themselves, the GIY group’s misconceived vision of allotment life was certainly jolted, but that is not to say they were not impressed with the allotment garden as a whole. I think the biggest surprise to the group was the amount of un-worked and/or abandoned plots around the garden. We pointed out that we have just had the longest winter followed by a delayed spring. We also drew attention to the fact that Life sometimes gets in the way of peoples’ desire to garden, and accounting for the fact that a lot of people take on an allotment without any idea at all regarding the level of commitment needed to maintain it, we told them that it is never surprising our allotment garden has an annual abandonment rate (like many other allotment gardens) of about 15%.
Overall the group enjoyed the experience and were fascinated by the vastly differing approaches used by the collective plot holders in working their respective plots. It was quickly determined that there are as many ways to garden as there are gardeners to garden, and never more so than in an allotment garden; raised beds, lazy beds, turned ditches, square foot planning and no-clear-spot-planting; buckets, barrels, barrows, baskets and boxes; recycled tubs and misplaced piping. Small plots, fallow plots, overgrown plots, recently sown drills, and not forgetting the Monster in the Corner, which we like to consider (with bias of course!) as one of the exemplars.
We were asked about growing mediums, and crop rotations; organic seeds and heirloom varieties; compost, leaf-mould, perennials and annuals; polytunnels and cloches, with pictures taken of anything and everything which caught the eye or was deemed click-worthy.
The group spent some time examining the Monster’s measure itself and all that is currently sown and in-situ on our own plot.
We were asked about our favourite crops, our most challenging crops, our most dependable crops and our greatest failures.
Enquiry was made into the most exotic thing we’ve ever attempted to grow, and we reminded the group that exotic fruit and vegetables invariably need exotic climes in which to flourish, but that with the aid of a polytunnel you could, if you wished, attempt a venture with more exotic varieties, whereas to our mind a polytunnel is best served in simply helping to extend the growing season. We did say we had attempted Romanesco with some minor success, and Radicchio, again with minor success, Oca, Sunchokes and Samphire, but that we do like Celeriac, and not so much that it’s an exotic vegetable, it’s more that many gardeners don’t actually grow this fabulous gnarled root.
We then drew the group’s attention to the garden’s most exotic produce: the Dimpled Globulus Golfus.
The Dimpled Globe is a random free forming crop that suddenly appears on certain plots, and all the more so with any slight improvement in the weather. It truly is an exotic crop. The fruit appear as if by magic. No seed is ever sown, and neither leaf growth nor root growth ever observed. No drills need be prepared and no weeding ever needs to be carried out. Curiously, no watering is ever needed to sustain the crop; in fact is has been noted that where all other crops thrive after a downpour of early spring rain, this particular crop disappears until the weather improves. It is as if the whole staggering 800 million year evolutionary development history of the flora world is instantly perfected in the blink of an eye, and these dimpled fruit-lets appear without any effort at all. Tah Dah!
They are sun-proofed and water resistant and hard as the hammers of hell and wholly inedible. The cultivar is predominantly white, but mutations and variants luminously coloured yellow and green and orange have also been seen. This predominantly summer occurring crop is a constant source of fascination to everyone.
No-one ever sows them, and yet there is this steady and constant seasonal supply.
No-one knows for sure where these strange Globes originate but legend says that these come from beyond the walled garden’s walls, where another and altogether stranger world exists. There are some here who claim to have heard strange incantations from this other world just before the appearance of the Globulus Dimplex, and on certain still and quiet days feint echoes of this distant invocation will be caught drifting on a summer breeze: Fore! Fore! Fore!…
Last year the plot holders managed to harvest over 460 of these during the summer season, and we then sell them back to the local Pitch-and-Putt clubhouse: a bag of ten fruits for Eur2.00…no best before date, no sell by date, and no refrigeration needed. What a bargain eh!
And Oh! how our visiting groups love to take home some of this strange, strange fruit.