The Garden Is 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.

Putting on a sunny face
Putting on a sunny face

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.

A Monster Collage...
A Monster Collage…

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.

Moneymaker Tomatoes
Just some of the wonderful Moneymakers we’ve had this year…50lbs so far.

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…!

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A Little Summer Latitude…

 

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Mrs. Dirtdigger midst the early sunflowers…

House windows and doors have been flung open for weeks on end. Long hot evenings parade the Gran via Clontarf and Calle Portmarnock in flip flops and shorts, faded and frayed, scant enough to be eye-catching, skimpy enough to barely cover deeply tanned social sensibilities. Char-grilled meats and fish waft on dense humid air and easy evening salads with vermouth cocktails are de force. The beach-fronts are thronged during daylight hours, and new generations are being acquainted with the 99 and the Bucket & Spade. With night-time temperatures well into the high teens late al fresco parlays are par for the course, and soaked sheets and pillowcases an every morning reality. Every brow is glistening and beaded, necks are damp, chins are dripping, and every shirt (even a plain white t) betrays its proximity to hyperactive axillary pits.
After a four decades hiatus summer finally arrived in Ireland. Grasslands are parched and livestock is struggling; secondary roads are literally melting away, and now, the wettest country in Europe, having experienced a dry four week period the first time in 42 years (4 weeks!) has introduced water usage restrictions and a national domestic hosepipe ban. It had rained incessantly for months; it had rained incessantly for decades; it has rained persistently for hundreds of years on our little island, and due to a complete lack of planning and foresight by our public representatives for years on end, it seems one of the wettest countries in the northern hemisphere has found –that after only four weeks of good, summer sunshine– it has a water shortage problem.
Yes, summer has arrived; and where just a few short weeks ago we had firmly believed our little country inadvertently skewed 150 degrees eastwards in mid March, we must now be forgiven for thinking the same little country has slipped 30 degrees southward since mid May, and all ellipsoidal and rectifying calculations aside, it would be nice if it could hang-out at this latitude for just a few short weeks longer: just a little longer.
The monster is also enjoying its once in a lifetime summer experience. We’ve had courgettes and cucumbers in the month of June for the first time, ever. We’ve had strawberries, and beetroot, and lettuces and radishes aplenty. An abundance of basil and garlic has us making pesto, and the onions and shallots which fell foul of the appalling winter and late spring weather have more than made up ground and are bulbing up nicely at last. We’ve begun to harvest the broadbeans and have been eating the Kale Negro for weeks now. The run of very good weather has opened all flowers and this year we have a wonderful show of roses, zinnias and marigolds; and for the first time we can recall the sunflowers had opened and showed face by mid summers day, a good 3 -4 weeks earlier than usual. We have an abundance of tomato trusses, still ripening, and we have Californian Wonder and Cayenne peppers and Rosa Bianca aubergines also ripening nicely. Of course, the prolonged spell of good weather has had its draw backs too, especially as we are restricted with water usage, and even those well prepared plot-holders who resourcefully harvest rain water from sheds and tunnels have found their barrels and butts run completely dry. Potato drills are in needs of a drink and rhubarb stools are drastically wilted.
Summer has arrived, and our lush green isle is turned gold: the hay is in and the shorn meadows resemble a scene more evocative perhaps of the Andalucían plains. Summer arrived and India came to play international cricket in Malahide, and the World Cup has come ‘round again with Brazil, and Argentina and Uruguay, and evenings resound to childrens play till dark; summer arrived, and we are treated to a feast of red faces crimson thighs and peeling shoulders, and long days turning a blind eye to the short nights as they meld and morph into one super sunny circumferential experience that will last long in the memory, and we call it summer.

Summer has arrived and the Wild Atlantic Way is tamed awhile, and we’ll remember this summer in Dublin, the summer of 2018.

This Year’s Next Year’s What It says On The Tin!

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Beets & Beans & Tomatoes & Cucumbers & Pumpkins all in a days work…@JanPaulKelly

September is a most conspicuous month, parading nature’s catwalk in ostentatious seasonal apparel, flaunting its gold and vermillion treasures. In the September garden nothing is concealed and every detail of the allotment plot is revealed as once again we are invited to the annual show of pomp and pageantry wherein the garden displays its spring and summer efforts in autumn’s showcase collection: large blousy dahlia blooms together with bright white cosmos and smouldering tithonias; sedums, rudbeckias, anemones and echinaceas; late autumn sunflowers with second flush roses; boughs laden with ripening full blushed apples and pears, and all embellished with the first touches of gold and yellows now clearly discernible in the leaves of the horse chestnut trees and the berries of the rowans.

September, if we’re lucky, is not only summer’s parting gesture it is also the garden’s glorious swansong; an envoi to the gardener’s due diligence throughout the growing year.
And there is no hiding place in the September garden. Midst the mellowing magnificence there is often a murky mess and beneath the splendour there can be spoiling, for at the heart of the every garden’s golden grandeur there is -de rigueur- decay, and underlying September’s radiance there is often a raggedness not immediately obvious to the untrained eye.
The pea and bean crops have finished, and unpicked pods mildew and blacken on unkempt poles and frames; the summer cabbages left in bed at this late stage begin to look forlorn, and any remaining lettuces and wild rocket bolt; early chards, spinach and beetroot go over in the blink of an eye, and even late planted onions begin to break their own necks and lay themselves down. Pumpkins may be ripening fast, but, as with the courgettes the vines are brittle, grey and spent, while the outdoor tomatoes and cucumbers noticeably slow in ripening and betray the inability to cope with the overnight light loss and fluctuating temperatures by splitting spontaneously. The annual herbs such as coriander and dill have set seed as has the fennel, while the flowering thyme(s) and sage(s) bloom is withering fast. The rhubarb stools are done for the year and for the first time since April their crowns are visible, now sitting proud in their own patch, hemmed by a sprawling carpet of dying yellow leaves.
The September garden is one of the gardening calendars great celebrations with its glitzy, showy, razzle-dazzle richness with all accompanying tinted tones, and when taken together with the burgeoning harvest from the vegetable and kitchen garden it is little wonder that September is perhaps the gardeners’ favourite month of the year.
Although with over 3 months still remaining to year’s end, here at monsterinthecorner we can say –and with some quiet confidence-, that 2017 has been one of the best years ever on our allotment. Having completely shaken the dust of our previous allotment from our feet we relocated monsterinthecorner to our new plot at the beginning of January. We spent weeks and months earlier this year clearing and cultivating our newly acquired overgrown eyesore; we raised our beds and set our drills; we composted our leaves and mulched our runs, we laid out pathways and built and stained our shed, and we sowed our seed and we watered and weeded; then we weeded and watered, and watered, and weeded. We’ve had success with practically everything we sowed, and we’ve been enjoying the home-grown fruits of our labours since late April. We made our jams and chutneys; we shared our successes and we’ve jarred the excesses.
The monster’s beds are emptying rapidly, so we’ve collapsed the bean poles and pea frames and stacked and stored them away till next year. There is a creeping bareness about the monster at present, but we’ll be top dressing the bared patches with compost over the coming weeks, and after that we’ll cover-up to protect against the wetter excesses of winter.

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The Jack O’Lantern Pumpkins starting to turn

We still have dwarf curled Kale and a later sowing of Tuscan Kale Negro on the go. We have the Tweed Swedes and some leeks coming along still, not forgetting the parsnips for later in the season. Our onions are cured and strung, and in the last week we’ve actually set some erysimum cuttings in pots, and sown some lupin and echinacea seeds for next spring. And there, right there is the constancy of the garden and allotment plot.
We faced a serious challenge at the end of last year, but having risen to the task, the dirt-digging Mrs and I have enjoyed ourselves no-end with our new venture. We’ve met some wonderful new acquaintances and have been recipients of many gifted seeds and seedlings throughout the spring and summer form new allotment neighbours. During our allotment site’s annual harvest festival at the end of August our immediate plot neighbours Daniel and Beata were deservedly awarded best large plot. Another neighbouring plot holder Pat won largest beetroot in the largest root competition for her 5lb 2oz specimen, Helen won tallest sunflower (after a good natured stewards enquiry) and Joe the Gardiner Street gardener won longest carrot and having accepted the judge’s decision in the sunflower category (i.e. that a sunflower has to have a full and open bloom to be suitable for inclusion in the category) acknowledged that he had, in fact, a 16 foot 2 inch bloomless green stalk. It was little comfort for Joe that his fabulous specimen actually showed its face 4 days later, and he can take some pride in knowing that he grew the tallest sunflower of the year, just not the tallest flower for the competition. That’s the thing with the garden and gardening; things happen in their own time, and if there was a packet or tin into which all our garden plans could be poured, we’d have to be very careful indeed regarding the packet blurb, for experience has shown that mother nature does not necessarily have to do exactly what we think it should say on the tin. Best small plot category was awarded to George, who keeps a very good allotment on the far side of the allotment site, and unbelievably the best overall plot award 2017 was awarded to the monsterinthecorner, and genuinely there was no one more surprised than Mrs Dirt Digger and myself.

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Some of Elaine and Bob’s good stuff

The monster is cropping out, and activity all across the larger allotment site is slowing down. We’ve picked blackberries from the sprawling brambles which fence the allotment site from adjacent fields, and the growing starling numbers are beginning to gorge themselves on the now ripened rowan berries. Autumn is well and truly arrived and the monster has come through its transition in right royal style, we’ve been amply rewarded in every way for our efforts, and are puffed & chuffed that one of the plaudits (we’ve been reliably informed) is that the monster is now considered one of the “must have a look at” plots on site: No bad for 8 months, not too bad at all. However, there is an unfortunate after-effect with our small success in that we’ve now set the standard for ourselves. But, we’ll just enjoy this year’s monster success for what it is, and we’ll leave next year to this year’s winter plan.

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Putting on a happy face!!!

Tah Dah!!!! This Year’s Sowing Diary

Although the Monster has its own sowing diary page accessible through page link up above, now that we’ve completed most (if not all) of this year’s plan we thought we’d copy and paste and place  a copy of this year’s diary as a posting in its own right,

We literally began from scratch at our new plot in January, and since then we’ve been doing this

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Basil; this year’s basil filled Barrow Bug

February 1st 2017     Bedfordshire Champion onion seed

March 1st 2017   Bunyard’s Exhibition broad Beans

March 5th 2017  sowed Cosmos ‘Cosmonaut’

March 5th planted 4 of Lidl’s best bare root Redcurrant 

March 4th 2017 Planted Plum tree ‘Opal’, and Peach tree ‘Red Haven’ both from Lidl

March 10th 2017 Ailsa Craig onion seed

March 12th planted replacement rose bush: David Austin Rose, Young Lycidas

March 18th 2017 sowed Basil, Misto Mix and Classic Italian

March 19th 2017 broadcast green-manure mix; phacelia, red clover,

March 28th 2017 sowed dwarf sunflowers ‘Topoline’

April 8th broadcast poppy seeds and cornflower seeds  Greenfingers Day

April 21st 2017 sowed Giant Yellow sunflower seeds

April 22nd sowed Moss Curled parsley, and dill seed

April 23rd sowed Bright lights Chard, Fire-bird Spinach, Tuscan black Kale, Italian Giant leaf parsley and Tom Thumb mix nasturtiums

April 26th sowed Wild Rocket seed

April 29th sowed Celeriac ‘Monarch’ and ‘Akito’ ridge cucumbers. Mrs dirt-Digger planted out all of the cosmos, dwarf sunflowers and autumn beauties, plus some marigolds gifted from one of our new allotment neighbours…

April 30th sowed Parsnips ‘Tender and True’, Radish ‘mixed jewels’, Italian giant-leaf basil and mixed lettuce varieties. Also planted up and potted on some fennel seedlings and pepper seedlings gifted from an allotment neighbour.

May 1st sowed Pumpkins ‘Big Max’ & ‘Jack o’Lanterns’ purchased in Toronto in August last year; Beetroot ‘Solo’; planted up Shirley & Moneymaker tomato plants, pepper seedlings and sowed ‘Gold Rush’ courgettes. 

May 2nd sowed Grandpa Otts (ipomea; morning glories)

May 13th sowed Northern Blood Reds and White Lisbon spring onions (scallions)

June 1st  Longhorn Wax dwarf french beans plus successional sowings of lettuces and radishes

June 3rd Kale, Scotch Green dwarf

July 2nd Spring Cabbage, Durham early

July 5th  Swede,Tweed

et voilá.   All sowings for this year complete