A Monster Midsummer in Dublin and Lille…

Basil Gooseberries & Rhubarb
Basil Gooseberries & Rhubarb

Chelsea, Chatsworth and Malvern have come and gone, as has Bloom in the Park, and gone too are all those plans we had at the beginning of the month to make postings on all the aforementioned festivals and events. June arrived and on its tails came the air of summer with all its latent promise: warm bright days, summer festivals, ál fresco lunches in short-sleeves and daily blight warnings.
We’ve made busy on The Monster in the Corner, so much so we actually lost ourselves in the doing of things on the plot, and it is only now that we have all things bedded, supported, weeded and netted that we have the time to recap and sketch out the late summer and autumn plans and finally post them here.
All of the plot’s beds are flourishing: the gladiator parsnips are growing very well and now that we’re at mid-summers the Centurion and Stuttgarter onions are finally beginning to bulb but, as expected, about one in six has bolted. The Karmen reds, not surprisingly, are still lagging behind but all the summer bunching and salad onion are now ready for use. We’ve been pulling rhubarb stalks on each visit to the allotment and have jammed and jarred the first flush glut with some finely grated stem ginger. This store never lasts very long as it’s generally shared with extended family, friends and work colleagues, but the Victoria stools seem to be sprouting well enough yet and we should have ample for further desserts, crumbles and that second flush glut for more jam.
The shallot tips are beginning to colour down so these shall be rudely unearthed in the next fortnight or so. A great deal of effort the last 3 weeks has been spent battling the squirrels, blackbirds and magpies for ownership our rapidly ripening blackcurrants and gooseberries. We’ve always acknowledged foregoing nature’s share, but there’s only so much we’ll allow the wildlife to covet.
Having decided against a strawberry crop the last three summer seasons this year we planted up a small bed of 20 plants (a new variety called Malling Centenary) and we’ve had some of these. As with all first year crowns, the pickings were slim, but the berries themselves are of a very good size with that great taste of summer…
The early sown radishes, lettuces and rocket have gone over, so we’ve made more sowing for later in the summer, and the first beetroot sowing is just about ready for some baby-beet pickings. The Broad beans were well and truly walloped with black-fly, and on more than one occasion, this no doubt down to the warm and humid conditions which proliferates their spread, but that said we have fared better than the other plot holders across the walled garden whose potato crops have all been badly decimated with blight. The red Kale sown in May has now been planted into the open drills, as have the pumpkin and ornamental courgette plants, and as usual the herb and floral border which is one of the main focal points of the Monster in the Corner is once again in full bloom and generating the annual conversation piece with the passers-by.
We’ve decided to change the Monster’s ‘rude mechanical’ this year. Since first beginning work on the allotment our ‘play’ has been a large chestnut log with bug hotel and carved wooden plot number in situ. But given the effects of three wet and stormy winters it was looking a little forlorn. This year we’ve gone for a spilled-barrow effect; a living mechanical if you will, the Monster’s designation and number in living floral form. Originally conceived in red, white and bluegiving a nod to the EURO’s 2016 event in France- we’ve adapted a little at the last minute to facilitate incorporating another of the elements of the walled garden into the design, and with a little luck we should be putting the finishing touches to it over this coming weekend.

The Monster's Mechanical Spilled Barrow almost complete
The Monster’s Mechanical
Spilled Barrow almost complete
Almost Completed...
Almost Completed…

Madame dirtdigger is somewhat incapacitated at present, but there’s no slackening-off with this particular one armed weeder & feeder; still showing up for plot duty, still making the most of the weather, and reminding me that as of today the days are no longer stretching. Today, and for another day or so, the season’s daylight is fully taut. Midsummer’s mindfulness abounds, filled with birdsong dawns and those slow receding half-light dusks stretching almost to midnight; young starlings learning the principles of murmuration formation flying and beech nuts and hazel nuts now setting on the branches; cosmos, lilies and lupins beginning to open; sunflowers reaching into the broad light with basil and coriander pots scenting the plot and the outdoor courgettes showing signs of bloom…and to top it all off, great sporting nights like last night that will live long in the memory as the low lying fields of Athenry worm their way into the French psyche’s  association with the Green ArmyCOYBIG

The Green Army doing what they do best...
The Green Army doing what it does best…

 

Robbie's Italian Job
Robbie’s Italian Job
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Robbie Brady’s goal…
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The Monster’s Face on Greenfingers Day

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Bunching Onions and Lettuce Seeds sown today..
Sowing the lettuce in the last raised bed
Bed for lettuce and scallions…
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Shallots beginning to out-grow the cloches

And so we’ve reached the milestone of Green-fingers Day.

Today we sowed Roja de Niort onions, Deep Purple and Dutch Blood Reds and White Lisbon onions, and a lettuce leaf seed mix which we also sowed last year and proved itself very successful.  We also sowed coriander seed…it was a wet, cool, miserable April day, devoid of showers..When it rains incessantly there are no showers, but at least we’ve managed to get all the raised bedded areas sown on cue; alas, no available space for a late arriving Goldilocks…

Extremely early is late March!

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Getting a feel for things…

Once again Easter is come upon us. St. Bridget, St. David and St. Patrick have been observed; the daffodils that brightened the early  grey February and March days are just about hanging onto bloom; the newborn lambs are acclimatising to life on open pastures, the equinox has come and gone, this coming weekend will see the end of winter light saving with the clocks springing forward by an hour, and though still a long way off as yet British Summer Time (and thus by dint of proximity and associate extension Irish Summer Time) officially begins!
With March’s arrival came a much needed respite from what is officially the wettest winter on record, and although the days have been cooler than average for the time of year, at least that slow moving blocking anticyclone situated over the North Sea for the last 2 weeks has allowed the saturated ground to dry out a good deal. The lower than average temperatures will have slowed if not completely stopped all the early growth, but, with a forecasted return to Atlantic weather patterns from mid-week, there should be a pick up by this weekend and early days of next week.
Of course, the Easter holiday period also heralds the 1st big bonanza of the year for the gardening fraternity with all the major DIY stores and garden centres making their first big push for your attention and potential future custom throughout the coming year. Everything from wheelbarrows to hand trowels and dibbers, Patio tables to BBQ’s, decking, lighting, sheds and paving will be on offer; whole sections with the latest range of gardening power tools to help you to mow and to strim, to rotovate and propagate and power-wash every square inch of your garden, no matter what its size. There will also be a dazzling array of seed packets to peruse and confuse and even still (at this late stage) some summer flowering bulbs which failed to shift over the late winter and will now be cast as the loss leaders, and may only prove worthy of the outlay so long as you get them in the ground before the weekend is out. There will be pots and trays and labels and waterproof pens; kneeling pads and micro-mesh, compost bins and water butts; pond kits, tap kits, hose kits, polytunnel kits, everything to help tie in your roses, tie up your peas and tidy up your act as a gardener.
This Easter weekend will also see the year’s first big displays of potted bedding plants. Of course, with Easter this year being celebrated extremely early in late March (from a gardening perspective that is) a lot of greenstock is already on display and a cursory glance should alert you that a lot of what will be on offer will not have been adequately hardened off.
Worth remembering is, that these big retailers are solely interested in the depth of your pocket and their ability to have you constantly dip into it at their bequest. From the gardener’s viewpoint you must not forget that if you buy early, plant later…at least a week or two later
Chase the bargain by all means; but, if you rush directly from the checkout to the chilly March soil, you will simply be sowing your good money to go bad…
Buy a bargain, sow on time and cultivate it well and bully to the gardener;
buy a bargain, then have to buy the same next month, and the month after that…and …bully to the big boys…
Extremely early is late March! Be thankful and Joyous for what Easter brings. Eat plenty of chocolate if you wish… but, easy as you go when in late March soil you sow!

Wednesday 23rd March is International Meteorological Day, and not forgetting that

Saturday 2nd April is International Greenfingers Day,

https://monsterinthecorner.com/2016/03/16/international-greenfingers-day/

International Greenfingers Day!

By mid March spring pins its promise to the post. Winter may have been the wettest and wildest on record and February may have shorn each new-born’s fleece immediately upon arrival, but by mid March there should be at least one stand-out day whence spring’s true intent is proclaimed.
Through living room windows the sun may shine warm, yet a dash into a shaded back garden to save the washing from a sudden downpour and your fingers let you know that there is a still a lingering sting of winter about.
But it is March nonetheless, and the gardening year finally kicks off in earnest. The interior sills of the house which helped support the early tomato and aubergine seedlings suddenly prove wholly inadequate for the volume of trays and pots now to be sown, so everything is gingerly moved to the polytunnel for hardening off and every wind protected south facing sun trap around the allotment and garden is quickly filled with pots of potential summer promise.
The seed catalogues have been scoured and the year’s stock ordered. The latest gardening and weather Apps have been downloaded and installed; blog sites have been trawled for nuggets of wisdom, and after the long winter hibernation you’ve once again struck up the annual rapport and reacquainted yourself with the personnel of the local gardening centre. The pots and trays are clean and ready to go, the bags of compost have been moved into a sunny patch to warm them, and where in January and February many an idle hour was spent planning How to work your allotment from the comfort of your armchair, now that March is arrived you’ve simply got to get out and actually work in the allotment and garden.

Gardening activities aside, March is still one of the busiest months of the year. It always has been. In ancient Rome this month marked the beginning of the New Year; the previous period of over 90 day remaining unnamed as it was winter; and ancient Rome simply didn’t do winter. With the improvement in weather conditions March heralded the beginning of the Roman agricultural growing season, the bettering weather also improved the travel and access routes to other places and as such March also marked the beginning of the War season. It was filled politics, Caesars and brutes, with soothsayers and backstabbers; a brute force of backstabbers.

It is said March ‘comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb‘; it begins with a leek and ends with the clan; it seems every other day is a daffodil day and then there’s Mothers’ Day, a Children’s Day, a Women’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, the National holiday, an equinox, a guaranteed 21 days of lent, at least 10 days of Seachtain na Gaeilge, 4 days of Cheltenham, a National plant a tree day, an occasional Good Friday and Easter Sunday (and of late a Dyngus Monday) International ear-muff day, Intergalactic close encounters day, Transgender Awareness raising day and International Social Worker Appreciation day…Phew! There is also the last day of meteorological winter and the 1st days of astronomical summer to contend with; and, if you happen to be Irish, there’s the have-to-get-your-1st-early-spuds-sown-by day. Yes, there’s a lot to fit into the 34 days of March, and though the ghosts of Romulus and Remus are oft chilled by the airs of the span named in honour of their progenitor, there are days in March when, like yesterday, there is just a hint of spring in the air, 12 degrees centigrade and no night frosts forecast for the next couple of nights; and from a gardening perspective this is about as good as it gets for early spring, so it’s time to get grubby.

A little known fact is that Saint Fiacre, a 7th century hermit originally from just down the road in County Kilkenny is the patron saint of all gardeners and vegetable growers. A lesser known fact would be that he is also the patron saint of all those suffering from venereal diseases, and that his feast day is celebrated on 1st September. This is just one of the many harvest festivals associated with the bounty of the seasons, the soil, and the earth. And there are many traditional harvest day celebrations right across the globe from the Chinese Rice Moon festival on to Lohri and Holi in the far east; to Lammas and Horkey closer to home, including St Fiacre’s day and through to our own Samhain while not forgetting Thanksgiving in USA.
And yet for all the days through the year set aside to celebrate and appreciate just about every human activity, achievement and organisation, you may not be aware that there is no one day through the calendar year dedicated to celebrating those who work in or on the garden; no dedicated gardeners or gardening day. No; not one single day set aside on the calendar to acknowledge the effort of all those seed sowing and green-fingered individuals who set out each spring to make our summers wonderful and to make every harvest possible.
There are many days throughout each year set aside for the great flower shows and gardening festivals, like Chelsea, Chatsworth, Malvern, Tangshan and even our own Bloom, and these in essence, where they are not business driven extravaganzas are celebrations of the flora world itself. But there is no one day singularly devoted to recognizing, celebrating and endorsing all those amateur botanists and urban farmers, all those groundsmen, greenskeepers and landscapers, the nurserymen, seedswomen, professional horticulturalists and suburban gardeners, all the rooftop and balcony constrained potterer-abouters, the window-sill cultivators, and all the community gardeners, con-acre smallholders and lifelong allotmenteers who work tirelessly at greening our world.

And so I now propose that what we need to do is set aside one day in the year to celebrate the effort of all those who garden! To celebrate the gardeners in their gardens, whatever form their gardens may take. And I propose that we should acknowledge this effort right here at the start of things, at the beginning of the gardening year (OK, so I know I’m scripting from a northern hemisphere perspective but we’ll have to start somewhere). And I can think of no better time to have such a celebration than right here in the midst of all that March mayhem whilst every gardener is busy getting his and her hands soiled and abstractedly lost in the actual dirty business of gardening.
It shall be designated International Greenfingers Day by way of acknowledging all those fantastic and differing classifications of sowers and growers outlined above. And once this seed is sown careful nurturing should bring it to fruition. It will take many years, but as gardeners we are familiar with the waiting process.
Looking to March’s packed agenda, and with consideration given to all things meteorological and astronomical including a nod to the hurdles and the wearing of the green and conscious to leave a little wriggle room for the Twins to settle their score with the Ram, I propose that International Greenfingers Day be celebrated on the 33rd day of March, aka 2nd April.

International Greenfingers Day
International Greenfingers Day

And so it should be, a new day of Celebration is dawned; International Greenfingers Day will be celebrated for the very first time on Saturday 2nd April 2016: and I propose it be celebrated on the 1st Saturday of April each year thence, save whence that day falls on the the Fool’s errand 1st April, when it should then be celebrated on the second Saturday of April:  nothing like a moveable feast to work up an appetite.

And how as gardeners should we celebrate?
Sow up a pot, plant something in your garden or plot, and do it on this day. Mark the occasion…keep a record, take a selfie of the sowing ceremony if you must; buy someone a very small pack of seed and have them sow it on this day; help to get someone else to sow and grow their own, or for the gardener in your life buy them some small pack of seed and ask for a share of the bounty, be it a poesy of bloom or some stock for the pot once it comes to fruition in the summer or autumn…nothing extravagant; remember
Gardeners tend the toil, nature makes the show…

“From the smallest seed the mightiest tree doth grow.” This here is a seed…

let us all cultivate it.