This was the second thing on my 'Weekend to-do list'......a visit to the National Ecology Centre in Laytown Co Louth. I'll admit it I too had never heard of this place before I went either. The trip came about as a result of an invite from Peter Donegan of Donegal Landscapes ltd, Peter oganises non-gardener garden tours....and I was interested in this concept...plus I was told Trevor Sargeant would be the tour guide (I've been a fan of Trevors for years....ever since his days as 'Minister of Turnips' as the press dubbed him or Minister for Horticulture as he was correctly known....
Sonairtre is an unusual, interesting place. Kinda a cross between a technical college, a hippy commune, an organic farm and a museum. Their website www.sonairte.ie will tell you all you need to know about the place. In an overview - its an old historic farm complex restored and renovated to offer educational facilities along the lines of sustainability, they have a number of displays on sustainable energy, an extensive walled garden, an eco-shop, an organic cafe....they grow and sell fruit and veg and offer courses, classes and the likes on site...see the outdoor cooking dish, and the bikes which generate power when you peddle...
Trevor described the walled garden as a 'fruit garden with veg in it'...and this gives a true portray of the garden, there is fruit everywhere, and many of the apple trees are ancient fellows, indeed UCD have been down gathering cuttings from some of the older varieties which are not available today. The shapes and contortions on these older apples trees and spectacular, and the walls are lined with plum trees which are heavy in fruit....a far cry from mines in the back garden here. The non-gardener point of the tour is to dispel with all the latin names and to tell the story of the garden, indeed there was only a few in the group with were avid gardeners, some were photographers, families, farmers, and people who appreciate the outdoors...
The walled garden area itself is a smidge above 2acres in size, so far bigger than your typical gaden!!, but well worked. Trevor was saying their main business is selling fruits and veg in the local farmers markets and to facilitate this they have both outdoor and extensive polytunnel growing space. This pic shows 4 outdoor beds laid out as an example of good crop rotation. The strips of mypex between rows makes it cleaner for walking to pic, and for weed control on a bigger scale
The outdoor Rhubarb beds were particularly impressive, a staggering amount of plants, must be over 50 were in glorious growth, all fed with garden compost and organic fertiliser, trevor was saying its one of the best sellers in the farmers markets
The soft fruit was exceptional, loads of blackcurrents, red currents, whitecurrents, gooseberries and raspberries all in big quantities to meet the demands of quantitiy selling. The whole garden area is on a South facing slope so benefits from any available sunshine. As everything is done by Volunteers they pick and pack as much as possible on a Friday (volunteers are thin on the ground on a saturday we were told)
There is a number of polytunnels on site, offering year-round growing potential to any garden, the tunnels were being used to produce crops such as Basil, Tomatoes, Beans, Fennel, Salads with lots of companion planting (you can see the Nasturtiums in the pictures). The whole show is run by volunteers so any 'wrongs' can be easily excused.
Now after a tour of the 2acre plus walledgarden and the first few courtyards I was impessed....and then a gate opened and this view appeared. Right at the bottom of the garden there is a tidal salt marsh heaving with bird life and wild flowers, the guys have developed a wild trail, about a mile long taking in the bank and offering some great spots for bird watching....a family were in the bird hide doing a bit of buzzard spotting as we walked around...
The garden is a treasure trove of things....wee windows, doors, buildings....it gets your mind racing'what was this' 'what was that for'.......I love this kind of place....like a big jigsaw that the guys have been working on since 1988 when it opened..
and like everything....it all comes down to tae and buns....and the spread offered by the Sunflower Cafe was mighty....a chocolate bakewell tart with garden fruit and cream made for great fuel for a debate between educators, organic gardeners, conventional armers.....all set in the big courtyard outside the cafe (in the background there was a farmers market running on the sunday....so there were wee stalls everywhere selling cakes, fruit, hand cream, massages etc etc....
and thanks to Trevor for signing the copy of his book for me, Trevors Kitchen Garden. Its a good tale of him and his back garden in Balbriggan and his exploits over the years growing organic fruit and vegetables. It's handily broken down into month by month sections with a splattering of Irish thrown in...and some nifty wee hand-drawings..
was it worth the trip, for me yes. it was about 2.5 hours from Newtowncunningham (left at 8am got there at 10.30), if your passing defo call in (its all free to visit the site, you just make a donation if you can) (www.sonairtre.ie) . If you have an interest in organic fruit and vegetables then please try and visit John O'Reilllys farm 'Greenhill Farm' in Culdaff closer to home (you'll get them on Facebook)....and remember we have a City & Guilds Level 2 in Organic Gardening starting in September in North West Regional College Derry.
This was the first two things on a very busy weekend for me....my yearly jaunt aroudn the gardens of Buncrana. The local Tidy Towns have been running a 'Best Garden' in Inishowens principal town for many years and I have had the honour of being the lead judge for the past 3 years. Last year i had so many gardens to judge that this year I drafted in help....in the shape of Horticultural Student Lee Canning from Ballymagroarty in Derry and also enlisted the help of a driver (finding all them houses is a nightmare!!) in the form of leader of Donegal County Council and avid gardener Rena Donaghy.....and off we went
this is the judging panel....with Patricia Gallagher from the Buncrana Tody Towns.....can I add this is post-visits when we're hard deliberating...and yes...a full irish is a must for judging...sure you see it all the time in the X-Factor...simon loves a big fry....(LtoR Rena Donaghy, Patricia Gallagher, Lee Canning and mesell)
I love going around peoples gardens, you get some great ideas, and we all love being a bit nosey....don't we?? or is this just me??.... When you visit all these fabulous gardens you see a real mix of gardening, from new gardens to mature from small to big from avid gardeners to good-weather gardeners..
theres no doubt this has been a tough year for gardeners, the weather has been pure kad for many weeks now....but gardeners are nothing but resourceful (take this home made greenhouse). Entries this year was down on last year but there was a number of new entries which help to make the judging proces interesting...
on the saturday the weather was doing that thing where it lashes with rain for 5 mins then the sun breaks the sky for 20 mins then lashing then sun....so some of the pics have water on them (thankfully I didn't get wet....the car doubled as a good shelter for these Buncrana showers)...
every garden is different, the sizes shapes etc but also the range of plants, the colours, the reasons for choosing the plants and thats what makes going around so many gardens great fun....in Buncrana we're visiting gardens that belong to terraced houses, bungalows, cottages, house on small sites, houses on massive plots....and its great to see such a varied mix of ideas and gardening skills....I never critise someones garden, thats not what I'm here to do, I'm here to assess each garden based on how it sits with the space available and how it works overall. plant choice, layout etc are all individual gardeners choices....I may not choose to do something exactly the same in my garden...but garden is an art not a science...so personal interpretation is the key. I love these sexy sweet williams....
Coming as a student Lee was commenting on a lot of the choice of planting, the range of plants, the style of planting and I think he was delighted he accepted my 8am pick-up and a chance to take a peek at the gardens of Buncrana....Gardens like this one with their island beds and focus on annual colour are an avid-gardeners dream
Inspiration for your own garden is everywehere in Buncrana, from plating mixes to ploants in pots to ponds and water features....never mind talking to the gardeners and hearing their stories 'I got this plant from an old aunt in mayo', 'I grow all the hanging baskets from seed', 'I grew all these plants from cuttings from my dads'....great stories....
and there is surely very few gardens you could get a full-size anchor in!!....now when I was visiting these gardens I sounded out many of the owners about opening their gardens to the public for charity....Say the last weekend in August they'd open up there gardens for a few hours for a donation to charity....what do you think?
so we saw a lot, spoke a lot, took a lot of pictures, were inspired, were confused, were made happy....were left frustrated we saw it all in Buncrana! But there is one thing for sure, the Buncrana of Buncrana are well worth a visit and if we can get a 'Garden Trail of Buncrana' off the ground we'll let you all know....
Oh yeah...the winners.....The winner of the best garden is Buncrana is..... (I'll leave this to the the Tidy Towns to announce lol)....
Planning ahead...sure we're all good at it...right??...Wrong, we all get carried away in the here and th e now and we always forget to plan ahead, well Sweet Williams don't come in the here and the now and you have to plan ahead for these bad boys. As old as the hills, most folks will mind they're mams or dads growing these, or even grandpa but they're magical and well worth a try...why? beacause they're wonderfully scented and provided great colour in the garden in early summer....but you'd wannae get the finger out....
Sweet Williams make a great cut flower, and are great at attracting beneficial insects and polinators to the fruit and vegetable garden....Get a packet of seeds (in any gardend centre) and sow a coupel of seeds to a cell in a seed tray (we've some here sown 2 weeks ago by a city and guilds level 2 class), the reason we sow these fellows now is that in their first year they grow into wee bushy plants and then in their second year they flower on and on and on...
After 8 weeks you'll have plants which look like these (these have been potted into bigger cells and then bigger pots this week), these will be ready to plant out in a few weeks , they'll sit handy in the garden or in pots all winter and then flower next April-June in the garden, and if we cut the flowers regularly they shoudl flowers for 3-4 years before they become exhausted...so 70 plants for a £1.29 pack of seeds....happy days!!
a classical example of a good or beneficial bug is the humble ladybird....seen ehere amongst some lettuce...each ladybird equals 2000 less greenfly....so good bugs are great to have and save you a lot of hassle...so its well worth planting or sowing a few seeds for plants which will help bring these wee guys (or ladies) in the garden...enjoy!
The Queens Quay area of Derrys Riverfront has seen a great transformation over the past 12 months....with the help of some £400k its been transformed in to a fantastic area. And provided a wonderful setting for the Derry-Londonderry Clipper arrival. With the help of acclaimed photographer Marie Moore McGrellis here's a flavour of what the area lookslike...post Clipper.
The Riverfront has been paved superbly, the paving from Tobermore Concrete is superb, and the patterns bring a nice sweep to the riverfront, and it doesn't in no way look like a 'Concrete pavement'....the big planter boxes which are permanenet are big chunky and in scale with the size of the area, in the one pictured here there is some feature with the pyramid Boxwood with a mass underplanting of golden euonymus. There is a strong repetition of planting theme along the riverfront, with mass planting (makes for lower maintenance) being the order of the day
Here you can see the sweeping patterns made with the two-tone paving and the big chunky Bollards....both for decoration and for seating. Also there is a number of areas for parking bikes at...a novel idea...but will it encourage more cyclists?
and who'd forget about the Quayside Balls....I love these...i've always loved the smaller terrecotta pots you get for your garden....and I love these more! They're big, bright bold and great fun looking....Far better than some big concrete posts to prohibit parking! The repetition of planting bring the entire Quayside together and in these containers the golden evergreen has been replaced by Dianthus but the pyramid boxwood remains
For the clipper the riverfront was awash with colour, and I'd say that the Parks and Cemetery Department of Derry City Council will keep it looking great, last summer the area around the Peace Bridge was wonderfully planted with wall baskets everywhere and I'd say the entire Quayside will be kept heavily planted for years to come. The Council won a Gold Medal in Britain in Bloom last year for best small city and it was largely due to the work the council did on concrentrating colour along the main approach roads and high profile areas in the town.
The big wall baskets used are special self-watering containers, these have an in-built reservoir, this allows the Derry City Council staff to water them heavily, the reservoir then holds a back-up supply of water so as the compost dries out it sucks up the water, this lowers the maintenance cost and gives for better displays of flowers as the tubs never go dry....(well thats the plan!)
What do you think of all the flags?
and lets not forget whats coming up in 2013....
The story of this years garlic harvest starts here, the harvest of june 2011. Why? well this is when we started our to select the bigger of the cloves to replant. You see - the bigger the cloves you set the bigger the bulbs you harvest. So we dried the bulbs from 2011 and used away at them, picking out a selection of bigger cloves as we went along...
and by the 9th of january I had this, a lovely big box of big cloves for planting....( I was a bit late planting, ideally you want to plant before christmas but i was only pushing it by a week or two so I just ran with it) - you plant Garlic at this time of year as you need a prolonged period of frost to make the clove split to form a big bulb with cloves inside it...
So we planted our Garlic cloves into a 6x4 raised bed, prepped with a working of fish,blood and bone meal fertiliser and some chicken poop compost (composted hen poop from the hen house), we spaced them about 8" apart....you can see you plant the cloves quite shallow, only just covering the point of the clove...and we waited...
apart from the afore mentioned fish,blood and bone meal fertiliser the only other thing the garlic have got is monthly feeds of comfrey....smelly but mighty stuff.
the weather this year hasn't been asw good as last and the garlic foliage didn't start tu turn yellow until mid july, once more than half the foliage has turned yellow thats your signal to lift, leave it too long and it detracts from the flavour...so myself and connie set to work lifting all the bulbs. When your harvestign yours don't just pull at the stalks as this will rip (you need the stalk attached to the bulbs to dry them properly)
after leaving them on a table for a couple of days the stalks have all softened, here I've bent them over the back of the chairs to dry in the sun (yes its currently sunny in Donegal!). The process of drying the garlci is vital if, liek me, you grow a lot of them and want to keep them for a long period. After drying for 2 weeks in the sun (greenhouse bench is ideal) the stalks will go all brown like shoelaces, as they do this all the goodness runs back into the bulb and closes a trap-door on the top of the bulbs locking in the flavour and goodness - meaning the keep for about 10 months in a cool dark location. I keep mines in a make-shift hammock in the shed. We harvest about 85 from the bed and a half we planted. Cost of the bulbs £5 from Altnagelvin Garden Centre in 2011, cost of fertiliser about £2.....2 years and counting worth of garlic for £7.....where else would you get it???
We've just started this week our new City & Guilds Level 2 Gardening Certificate, this is an intense course, running over 9 weeks in the summer. Participants ahve a lot of work to do and a lot to over in only a short period of time, but participants have taken to it with gusto, a level 2 is a series step-up from a level 1, with a lot more theory and science to cover, but still with a practical focus.
After only 3 days everyones folders is starting to fill up with handouts and course info....lots of night time reading for everyone lol
A cookery mecca showcasing all thats good about seafood from the North West....Flavours of the Foyle sounded right up my street. So I wrangled mesell an invite...what a great way to mix with chefs get an idea on how they're using seasonal produce and perhaps spread a bit of the GIY and Gardening vibe....well that was the plans anyways.
mrs...now thay was the plans...thanks to the organisers I found myself with a table in the main hall, a speaking time-slot in the demo tent and access to some of the best chefs in the town....so I took an early morning trip around the Foyle CommunityGardens and gathered up a selection of seasonal produce (not too much mind), had some cracking Kohl Rabi (we'll cover that in a minute), great mix of herbs, spring greens, onions, salads and fruits..Broadcaster Mark Patterson & Chef Brian McDermott loved the selection of stuff ...
Now when you have a table full of community produce, it draws foks in...both to ask questions about the produce but also with a genuine interest in the projects that are on the go in the town. Here new mayor of Derry Kevin Campbell getting ambushed for an interview with the community garden produce table in the background. Kevin is a keen grower himself, growing in his back garden with the family, and involved from the start with the CommunityGarden project in Creggan.
One of my main focus of being there was to see what the chefs were at and to encourage them to use seasonal produce, thus giving the GIY'ers out some inspiration for what to do with their produce and to highlight to the chefs that this is whats in season now in the gardens and fields around the town.
one of the more unusual things i had was Kohl Rabi, this is a turnip type vegetable, easily grown in the back garden. It combined the flavours of tunip and cauliflowers. The chefs went mad for it! Ian Orr (recent winner of Ulsters best Chef) used it all!...he used with with blackpudding and scallops...and by jeez it tasted mighty!
The selection of produce was available for all the chefs to use all day, in their continual cooking displays but also int he demo tent...and by 5pm this was the sight....not a leave left...the chefs all loved the freshness of it and the fact it had been produced on their doorsteps.
A busy past fortnight with the clippers being in town, lots happening, lots going on and lost to be proud about. A project which I was involved with were these planter boxes which decorated along the Quayside for the Clippers. There were 12 in total, each planted up by a different school in the town. This one was planted by the kids in Foyleview School, and schools such as Fountain PS, Oakgrove, Gael Scoill Eadain Mhior, St Patricks etc all planted one each. The planters were delivered to the school about a month ago and a class from each planted up the boxes. The plants chosen were a special Biodiversity mix, rather than just doing bedding plants we wanted them to last for a few years and provide some benefit to the insect population of the area. The plantes were all grown locally in New Horizons , the kids had a great time caring for them for the last 2 weeks of school term and then the council collected the planters, and the kids all got to come down for a photo-shoot when the planters were set up. This small project is part of the Derry City Council Pride in our Place programme, this has also seen the Community Gardens in The Fountain and Leafair Park nominated ias best community gardens in Ireland. Next time your walking along the fabulous new Quay...keep an eye out for these planters and see how a simple project can involve well over 200 kids from every corner of the town.
Gardening on Radio Foyle
A summary of each weeks gardening on Mark Patterson Show and beyond