We were sitting in Elsie Power’s Bar at the bottom of The Fair Lane in Dungarvan, my father and I, when he took a notebook from the inside pocket of his sports jacket. After retirement he had been asked by a few families who had known him for many years to do some light gardening – cutting grass and hedges and a bit of general tidying up. When he had come to town originally he had worked for Lynchs, the fruit merchants, delivering to shops around the town and he was now back with them working in their gardens. Mrs. Lynch always had a soft spot for me, I think, and she regularly brought me off with her children for days out to the local strands, Clonea and Ardmore. That kindness continued in my father’s new position as part-time gardener for, as he told me, he was never allowed leave David and Hilary’s house without being brought in for his lunch. I’m sure they realised that a retired man, a widower, might not be the best at home cooking. This background will throw light on the notebook for it was his record of hours worked in the various gardens. The arrangement was that he would be paid at the end of the month, or whenever he asked, and as he showed me his tots, a tidy sum, he looked at me with a beaming face and a look almost of disbelief and said, “and that’s just for tipping around!” What he was doing hardly counted as work to him; it was more a pleasant way of passing the time, of getting him out of the house, of meeting people, of being active and engaged and, of course, it did fund the fuelling of the deepest conversations at The Enterprise Bar on The Square where the local parliament of experts met and solved the problems of the world over a few pints and a few drops.
What brought all that to mind was that the thought came to me that all we were doing in the garden this week was tipping around. I suppose “pottering about” is how it might be described elsewhere. It is far from saying that nothing was done in the garden this week but that it was one of many smaller jobs rather than any one big undertaking. Google Maps sends me a report each month on my travels during the previous period and my total journeys away from home in this morning’s report tells me that I travelled 65Km in the past month and this was made up of one visit to my G.P. and two hospital appointments. It’s no wonder we can go months without needing petrol in the car! It also shows that we have spent almost every day at home and, weather permitting, that would mean we have spent almost every day in the garden. As a result, we are, as the Head Gardener puts it, “on top of our jobs.” Our gardening is up to date, everything is on track and, other than receiving instructions from the Head Gardener, I can on occasions find myself wandering around looking for something to do. I always carry my camera with me when wandering around as it gives the impression that I am occupied – a habit the caretaker in a school where I once worked explained to me for he would never cross the schoolyard without a hammer, or saw, ladder or piece of timber in his hand to give the impression he was engaged in some pressing work and so could fob off unwelcome requests to do this or that. Yes, we have just being tipping around but we did manage to get a few things done.
The start of the week was bitterly cold and frosts have continued at night all week. I tidied up two beds at the start of the week – a tip here and a tip there. I moved some primulas, garden seedlings, to a better position where they would enjoy more moisture and shade. We can be cursed with blight here, a damp spot near the river with morning fogs and regular mist, so I began the routine spraying of the box plants around the garden with Buxus, a foliar feed and protection from fungal attacks. It has helped over previous years. The front garden has two small lawns which I attempt to keep as lawns while in all other areas of the garden we simply have “grass” where a sprinkle of daisies, buttercups, clover and the likes is perfectly acceptable. The lawns were treated with a spreading of Miracle-Gro Evergreen Complete 4 in 1 which promises to treat moss, kill weeds and feed the grass – that’s three of the four and I don’t know what the missing number four is. A treatment early each year does help. And, then we painted the timbers of the raised beds in the vegetable patch – Fencelife Tudor Black Oak. It makes the vegetable garden look neat and tidy when freshly done and is worth the effort. Speaking of the vegetable patch, we have had several servings from the rhubarb – a few from the beautiful pink sticks from forced crowns – and we have also started cutting the asparagus, the most welcome and prized of our vegetables each year.
So, let’s have a look a round the garden and see what was doing well or looking well in this past week. I’ll begin with a pictorial tour of the garden. I walked across our road last Monday to see if I could find and photograph any wildflowers and when I came back to the garden I thought, as happens to us every now and again, that it looked well so I walked around and took a set of shots. By the way, regarding the wildflowers, I found my first orchid of the year in flower during the week, an Early Purple Orchid.
The magnolias continue to be if excellent condition in the garden which is a great relief as frost generally damages the blossoms. Fortunately, only one of the magnolias showed any sign of damage in the last week – Magnolia stellata ‘Centennial’ but it was only slight damage and was hardly noticeable until you looked closely.
Stachyurus praecox gives a beautiful display in spring with it dangling flower racemes. We have a cultivar called ‘Issai’ which has especially good flowers though I think it is a little fast growing so that it is a very lanky and open shrub. I’d prefer it a little more compact.
Bergenias are most appreciated for their foliage – regularly called “Elephant’s Ears”. Bergenias ciliata has especially attractive foliage but it is not very hardy and the leaves blacked and wither with the arrival of the first heavy frosts at the start of each winter. In the last fortnight the new flowers have appeared, ahead of the new foliage, and have looked very attractive – in complete contrast to this winter photograph of the frozen leaves.
Wood anemones are native plants in Ireland and are usually found to the edges of woodland where there is more light than in the darker areas. Variations occur naturally in the wild – and I have even had a light blue variant appear in the garden here from some native wood anemones. There are also many other variations which occurred in garden and they all make attractive plants for this time of the year.
Trilliums are without doubt the highlight plants of the garden at the moment. I have three species which have done especially well in the garden – Trillium chloropetalum, Trillium albidum and Trillium kuyabayashi – and it is interesting that these all came to me as gifts from friends’ gardens. In contrast, plants purchased around the same time have done little more than manage to exist over the years, hardly increasing at all in that time while the these others have romped along, increasing and being divided and even self-seeding generously around the garden.
There is to be a relaxation in this coming week to the restrictions which have been imposed because of the Covid pandemic and we will be able to travel a little more freely and, hopefully, get out and about a bit more. I look forward to the opportunity for more walks, outings to photograph wildflowers and in time to outings further afield.