Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Dining on Dianthus

Around five o'clock yesterday while planting in my raised bed I spotted a flying creature that I was sure I'd never noticed before. It was feeding from a patch of sweet william (dianthus) at the end of the bed. I stopped to watch it. Its wings were a blur, tinged with orange and constantly in motion as it moved from flower to flower. Its backside was bulky, dark blotches on a pale background and the proboscis was long and black. I called Bert over to see it and he was quick to identify it as some sort of hawk moth. After about five minutes I thought I'd fetch my camera from the house and the hawkmoth was still there when  I got back. But I was still too late for it had finished with the flowers and flew off before I'd even removed my lens cap.

Later on that evening we researched the butterfly sites and identified it as a hummingbird hawk moth. or macroglossum stellatarum. One interesting observation was the moth often returns to the same feeding site at the same time every day.

So today, hopeful, moth and camera ready I headed for the polytunnel to await my visitor. Perhaps it wasn't warm enough, and maybe too windy, for it didn't show and I had to make do with this Red Admiral which also seemed to be enjoying the dianthus patch.

One thing's for sure, and Zoe agrees - we are definitely going to continue growing flowers alongside the vegetables in the tunnel for not only are they gorgeous, we are also getting a greater variety of insects visiting us. Good pollinating insects. And often we don't have to sow these flowers for they just turn up.

At the present time there are several varieties of red poppies growing beside the veg and another, Zoe's bread seed poppies are just about to bloom. We also have foxgloves, nasturtiums and marigolds growing freely. All are self-seeded.

If all goes well there should be a decent crop of peaches this year. This tree is supposed to be espaliered but Someone must have forgotten to prune a branch.

So I'll be on the lookout again for the hummingbird hawkmoth but, even if I do get a picture it won't be as good as this one.

Photo courtesy of Jindrich Shejbal via Flickr.

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Young Gardener

We were visited this afternoon by two community gardeners and Miss Martha excelled herself in making them feel welcome. She herself has been a keen gardener and a habituĆ© of the polytunnel from a very early age. 

It started with strawberries. Once Martha realised that strawberries could be grown she never looked back.

It was no time until she was looking after her own plants.

Here she is wheeling bedding plants to her own little plot.

With a little bit of guidance from Bert she was soon on her way to becoming a horticulturist.

She has always been very conscientious about watering.

And digging. She likes to dig.

Here she is watering her beloved strawberries.

She soon outgrew the miniature pink rake although I still use it to level my raised beds.

Our young gardener has recently become very interested in trees. Here she is watering an oak tree that we inherited from Martha's great-grandmother Martha. It has since been planted in our wood. Martha has her eye on the hundreds of beech seedlings that have sprung up under our trees and wants to plant her own wood.

Inspecting the plants for pests.

A day off gardening. Martha checking out the Spring bedding in the Palm House in Belfast.

Planting perennials while little sister looks on and learns.

So, it was very little wonder that Martha enjoyed talking to the community gardeners this afternoon. She took one of them to see her pond and showed him her most recent addition to the garden and when he asked her what it was she answered "Lithodora 'Heavenly Blue'." I believe he was impressed. She then presented him with one of her beech trees which he graciously accepted. No matter that he too was surrounded by beeches, sure one more would do no harm.

Her next project? A fairy house. We'll keep you all posted.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Hard Times

My Uncle Vincent's funeral in Rasharkin was held on the same day as the interments of Princess Diana and Mother Teresa. I have to say that the old nun's death passed me by what with everything else that was going on at that time. But I'm rarely in that churchyard and when I visited it last week on the eve of Aunt Marian's funeral I was surprised to recognise so many names of people who are buried there. One of the most startling was the grave of the three Quinn brothers from Ballymoney who died in a sectarian arson attack on their home on the 12th of July, 1998.

Marian had lived to 83 years of age and she had lived well. The priest who conducted her Requiem Mass made much of her sense of adventure, her love of travel and her strong attachment to family. It was probably one of the most inspiring eulogies I've ever heard and, I can assure you, I am very hard to please when it comes to preachers. One thing I noticed in the chapel was the presence of three young brothers, great-nephews of Marian's I suppose, who were around the sort of ages as those other three brothers lying in the churchyard. The Quinns would be grown men now, probably with families of their own but they never made it to adulthood just like so many of the youngsters murdered in Manchester the other night.

It is hard not to feel a terrible sadness right now for it happens that tonight is the 43rd anniversary of the deaths of our father's two brothers, my uncles Shaun and Brendan. Sometimes I forget it is their anniversary. But not this year.

Yvonne and Anne
write far more eloquently on this than I can. There is a lot of reading here but it is very worth it.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Martha's Duck Pond

Martha, Evie and I went to the charity shop in Wakehurst Road to see if we could find anything to beautify their garden. I explained that whatever we bought if we bought anything, it would have to be lovely and it would have to be tasteful and that was why I refused to buy the purple unicorn with the tatty acrylic mane.

It's not tasteful Martha.
But Granny! I'm not going to taste it!

We ended up buying some polished stones for twenty pence and when we got home we made a pond. Bert dug a hole and I found a clear plastic box and Martha edged it with old Bann bricks. She insisted we put stones in the pond so that whatever chose to live in it could easily find its way out. When we'd filled it with water she ran upstairs to the bathroom and collected all the rubber ducks because,

Evie and I are big girls now. We don't need rubber ducks in the bath anymore.

I'm not so sure about that.

But I think the rubber ducks are very tasteful indeed.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Six Months Later

Six months ago I visited one of my aunts, one who lives a mere ten miles away from me. It was a lovely visit, long overdue and on the drive home I promised myself, just as I'd promised her on her doorstep, that I'd come back soon, that I'd not leave it so long again. Yesterday I kept that promise, exactly six months since I'd seen her last. The pity of it, it was too late for Marian was dead. Today I go to her funeral.

There's a lesson there, don't you think?

Centaurea or Bachelor's Buttons always blooming in Aunt Marian's garden in May.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Garden Pests

Northern Ireland is currently experiencing Summer Time and I have been making hay while the sun shines, or sort of... I have been weeding, sowing and planting and Nelly's Garden is actually looking OK. If it wasn't for all the interruptions life would be great.

First of all, I took Saturday evening and most of Sunday as a vacation from what the Americans call yard work. We went out for dinner with the Banjos and slept over. Then on Sunday, we all went to Garden Show Ireland. It was Marty and Jazzer's first visit (even though they live in Antrim) and I think they enjoyed it. I bought my usual geranium and wanted to buy some white papaver Orientale but missed out on pot plants so bought root cuttings from a beautiful Dutchwoman. Two white, two salmon pink and two red. Hope they grow! Going around the exhibits I realised that my bay tree is probably worth £120 and that the three trees I'm nabbing from Bert would cost me nearly 500 if I was buying them from a garden centre. And - the half dozen lupins I'd planted the day before and that were grown from a teeny little seed were worth nearly fifty quid at Garden Show prices. I actually felt quite rich.

Monday was family gardening day and it started off well when the black and white cow had a healthy bull calf standing by her side first thing in the morning. Then there was great excitement when Evil Edna started to show signs of imminent calving. Unusually, for Edna, she was considerate enough to hold off on the big reveal until the girls' homework was done, then had the calf birthed just as supper was being put on the table.

Yesterday Hannah and I went shopping in Antrim. I bought a hand weeding tool and Hannah bought socks. Bored with the shops we went to the Castle Grounds to walk. The council workers were still clearing up after Garden Show Ireland and I found a lithodora 'Heavenly Blue' in a bin and nicked rescued it. Another £7 saved.

Today, nothing much to do so worked in the garden. Planted geraniums, crocosmia 'Lucifer', cosmos, potentilla' and used my new weeding tool which is very useful for grubbing up dandelions and creeping buttercup. It was a very enjoyable day except for the invaders. First, there was the chicken escapees, three of the young hens that have no trouble flying over the fence. They spent the day in the flowerbeds gathering up grubs and insects.

Then I was wandering around taking pictures of this and that and heard this crashing noise and there was...

...Lily, who had to be quickly headed off before she started trampling on my freshly planted flower beds.

The next invader was driving a shiny red car that whizzed into the yard with one door hanging open and that turned out to be a mother and child delivering leaflets for a church lecture. I'd already noticed posters for this event in the village and was astonished that such people still walk among us. I told the woman that I was a firm believer in evolution and she looked at me very askance. She suggested I should come and add to the debate. I said I probably wouldn't.

Click to enlarge and get a better look at Evie's plastic dinosaur and the potentilla and geranium that flank it. The invite from the crazy people is propped against the alpine strawberry.  

Thursday, May 04, 2017

The Truth About Nelly's Garden

Everyone should know that Nelly is an enthusiastic gardener and a knowledgeable plantswoman - or is she? You might have seen the photographs that seem to prove it - on the blog, on Flickr, on Facebook and Instagram. It's time the truth was told.

I am an enthusiastic gardener on fine days. Late autumn, winter, and early spring are far too cold and dank for anything other than minimal effort. And yet, a proper enthusiast would be out all year round except maybe for December and January.

The photographs? That's down and judicious cropping with the very occasional use of photo-editing. That is rare though for I'm not much good at Photoshop either especially as I actually use GIMP. I might remove a blemish from a petal or get rid of an unnoticed piece of debris.

I love to sow seeds and take cuttings and make beautiful plants that I can plant in my garden in spring. Then I either forget where they are or even what they are and by the time I get back to them they are no longer healthy or beautiful. Example - I sowed a lot of wallflowers last May and potted them on and then, instead of planting them out in the autumn I left them standing by the polytunnel all winter. By the time I got to them, something had beaten me to it, the wind, the cold, vine weevil, maybe all three and less than ten percent were salvageable.

This is what I imagined...

Botanic Gardens, Belfast

...and this is what I got.

Nelly's Garden

Ah well. Better luck next year.

Meanwhile, I'm really looking forward to the iris blooms, the geraniums, the lupins, the aquilegia and all the other early summer flowers. I'll be taking lots of photographs and making sure that weeds and scruffy things don't feature. They'll be there - just not in the pictures.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

The Best Day Of My Life

Today was family gardening day and it was Martha and Evie's Dad's turn to choose the dinner menu.

Pulled pork, sourdough loaf, and lemon meringue pie.

It was a very slow and easy process.

Saturday afternoon - shop for ingredients.
Saturday night - assemble sourdough starter.
Sunday afternoon - I was going to bake blind the pastry case for the lemon meringue pie but gardened instead.
Sunday evening - mixed sourdough, kneaded (using the dough hook on Kenwood) and left to rise.
Monday morning - assembled ingredients for pulled pork and put it all in the slow cooker. This was going to cook all day. Make and bake the pastry case. Leave to cool. Turn oven up and bake the sourdough loaf for 30 minutes. Make lemon meringue filling, cool, turn oven to low, make meringue topping and bake. All done except salad.

Monday afternoon - family arrives.

The girls and I went shopping for last minute milk, butter, cream and ice lollies. It was a very pleasant day and Martha suggests a walk so we strolled round to take a close look at the strange wooden sculpture that has appeared on the river bank.

Martha wants that we continue our walk on the river path as we have their dog with us and "Gracie would really love a walk because there's no point her hanging around the kitchen with you Granny because all the cooking is done and she won't be getting any titbits."

I agreed that this would be an excellent idea. The river path was crowded with people and dogs. And why wouldn't it be on such a beautiful May Day holiday? We climbed up the steep bank beside the path and followed another little pathway that wended its way through a sea of bluebells, wood anemones and the beginnings of wild garlic. It was like another world. A fairyland. An adventure. The girls loved it and so did I. Here and there trees had fallen over the little path and while the girls clambered over these obstacles with ease, they presented a bit of a challenge for me. Oh, to be young and limber again.

We rejoined the main path and went off to see the horses and donkey. Martha asked me if I was having a good time and I answered her that I was having the best day of my life. I think that was a very honest answer. But it was time to head for home. There was a salad to prepare and dairy products sitting in a very warm van. I reached into my pocket for my key and it wasn't there. Panic! Had I left it in the van? Of course I hadn't. The van was tightly locked and my key was nowhere to be seen and I didn't feel up to retracing our footsteps with the girls in tow. Evie was already starting to tire. No phone, no money, no vehicle. We went to the garage and borrowed their phone. No one at home! All out in the garden making potato rigs, strawberry beds and so on. Victor sorted the girls out with some much-needed water and we set off walking home. Normally a twenty-minute walk it was going to take twice that with Evie unable to walk that fast. We were halfway up the road when our rescuer appeared. The girl's dad off on an errand to pick Hannah up. We told him what had happened, gathered Hannah up and then at everyone's insistence stopped by the river path to go key hunting. I checked the local shop to see if anyone had handed the keys in but no luck so I hurried off to catch up with the search party. They were (I could hear the girls chattering) up on the high path and as I went towards them I heard excited whoops and looking up, saw them all trooping back towards the car park.  I knew then that their mission had been successful. It was a lovely moment in which we all played a part.

Dave who was calm, sensible and practical.
Martha and Evie who remembered exactly where I had walked and what I had done.
Hannah who was enthusiastic and said, "I'm very good at finding things" and who found the keys lying hidden in a patch of wild garlic at the very spot where I had clambered awkwardly over a fallen tree.
And myself, the very reason why we were all so bloody happy. For I was the silly sausage who had lost the keys in the first place.

So there you go -  the best day of my life was still the best day of my life even though there was a big problem right slap-bang in the middle of it.

Other good things that happened (1) dinner turned out well and (2) I had my first ride on the quad while we were looking for a lost pig. It was scary and fun and we found the pig.

I didn't bring a camera but there were bluebells and there was Gracie so here is one Zoe took earlier.

Gracie, the bouncing bluebell girl. Photograph by Zoe Bowyer