My Gardening Month 31st October 2020 … The diggers are back in town !

Half way through October Ireland went into level 5  for a six week lockdown in a last ditch effort to short circuit the recent rise of Covid so that life can return to somewhat normality for us to be able to link up with family and friends again to enjoy Christmas . Most people have been scrupulous in following the social distancing rules , wearing face masks etc. but of course there have been the yahoos who insist they must drink in pubs in large numbers and celebrate wildly after football and hurling games , no need to mention who of course but the rest of us older people have to suffer for these idiots and of course the Government does not have the political back bone to tackle the problem and ban the sale of drink so we all have to suffer while a lot of small businesses are in financial trouble and may never reopen their doors  . Hopefully a vaccine is on the horizon some time soon .

The gardening world has been turned on it’s head by Covid , people can no longer visit gardens in large numbers , plant societies and clubs haven’t met since February , garden centres and the industry have had to stop go but there has been one bright side to Covid in that people have been turning to nature with a new interest and for those of us with gardens they have been a life saver during the various lock downs .

Front Garden , 27th July 2020

In this garden we rely mainly on trees and shrubs for colour and structure and do not have large herbaceous borders and in fact we don’t have much flowers in general as our style is for mixed borders where perennials are threaded through the planting but of course this means that in October we don’t have big displays of asters or chrisanthamums . While I am not a big fan of flowers I do like the late flowering daisies and always admire them in other gardens  but we don’t have the type of soil they like .

Autumn colour of Parrotia Tree , Front Garden 15th October 2020

To be honest I tend to find October’s weather here generally too wet and cold to be wafting around the garden admiring the flowers and October for me is the beginning of the clean up in preparation for winter and is spent getting the lawns cut and plants cut back before the first frosts of November . The major task in October is ordering in new spring  bulbs and getting them planted and last week I bought and planted over three hundred miniature daffodils in the new areas of the front garden we reclaimed last April .

New bulbs for planting , 13th October 2020

I always leave bulb planting until last in any new design as this ensures that the prime positions in any new planting goes to the ground cover , perennials and shrubs and the left over areas are then planted up . It also means that I can plant bulbs under newly planted deciduous trees and shrubs as the soil is still soft and they will be bare leaved when the bulbs are flowering and when they do come into flower in April their leafed up branches can conceal the dying clumps of bulb leaves which need to be left at least six weeks after flowering before cutting back . I plant mostly miniature daffs such as tete a tete and jet fire and rarely go for normal size daffs as they blow over too easily in wind or heavy rain and die back quite messily  and I only plant a small number of  dwarf tulips as our heavy soil doesen’t suit them and they are short lived in the ground here and die out after at best two seasons although there are a few clumps of tulips here that flower their socks off every year , bless em !

Front Garden now underplanted with spring bulbs, 31st October 2020

Like everyone I love snowdrops in early February as they are usually in flower first and give everyone a lift and each March I lift and divide up some established clumps as snowdrops transfer better in the green as it is called but I also add about fifty new bulbs each October which are a bit iffy in their first year of flowering but once established the snowdrop romps away and increase each year  .

When I lived abroad for over fifteen years , like every exile I missed home and the song that reminded me most of home was Slievnamon written by Charles Kickham in the mid 1800’s and it’s opening bars have been bawled out by every irish emigrant at one time or another in a hundred bars from New York to Beijing , Moscow , Berlin or Kabul … or in my case in the Balkans and the Seychelles !

“ Alone all alone on the wave washed shore , but my heart is not here at all , it lies far away by night and by day to the times and the joys that are gone , but I never will forget the sweet maiden I met in the valley near Slievenamon ” .

Just writing those words brings back some of my loneliest times and reminds me of my Mother who lived most of her life in the shadow of Slievenamon and if any of you who are not Irish want to listen to the song this is a version I like by Paddy Reilly .

Slievenamon , six miles from Clonmel , is Ireland’s most iconic mountain which I saw every day on my way to school in the 1950’s and 60’s and which we see now from the house and the garden . The word slievenamon means mountain of the women in gaelic , Sliabh na Mban , and legend has it that Ireland’s most famous mythical hero is buried under the large cairn of rocks on the summit which is a bronze age burial mound from 1500 BC .

I grew up in Clonmel and to someone from Co. Tipperary , Slievenamon is “our ” mountain and over the past twenty years as we drove to Kilkenny or Waterford I have been pointing it out to Snezana and telling her of the legend of Fionn  so this week I decided she should climb Slievnamon and see it up close and personal … but what I didn’t tell her was that it is one god awful unrelentless slog up and down !

Snezana on Slievnamon trek, 15th October 2020

Beautiful views across to the Comeraghs and along the valley between the Knockmealdown and the Galtee mountain ranges and of course the feeling of being in such a historical place with Neolithic tombs and standing stones dating back to 1500 BC showing that our ancestors venerated Slievenamon also .

Bronze age burial mound , summit of Slievenamon , 15th October 2020
3500 year old standing stone on summit of Slievenamon 15th October 2020

Years ago in 1974 when driving to Greece I stopped in Munich for petrol and the garage attendant seeing the irish registration plates said in perfect gaelic , Conas ta tu , and on seeing my gob smacked surprise went on to explain that he was a German student of Celtic mythology at Munich University – he then asked what part of Ireland was I from and on hearing Clonmel he almost reverently said Slievnamon … it is my dream to visit Slievenamon and climb to see Fionn’s tomb

Fionn’s burial mound , Slievenamon , 15th October 2020

I hadn’t wanted to give Snezana the idea that the climb to the summit was a slog and I may even have referred to it as a walk in the park … not that she fell for that line as I have form in underplaying climbs to mountain tops and she has never forgotten the ALMIGHTY climb to Mythikas the highest peak of Mount Olympus in Greece in September 1995 as the excerpt below from a piece I wrote about that climb in the EU mission magazine in Skopje .

Olympian heights, Spaghetti meat balls and all !

A party of intrepid MacSam members set out to climb Mt. Olympus last weekend, Nicole, Kathy, Sanna, Ken and myself,  did we make it —- read on !! Unfortunately due to a meeting with Macedonian Customs, which did not finish until noon, I had to delay our departure from the original planned starting time of 7 a.m. This was to have disastrous consequences later on, as it meant we had to climb to the Mountain Hut , Refuge A,   where we were staying the night, in total darkness.

We arrived at Proania, the start of the climb, as darkness fell. The woods and rocks, which seemed so pretty in their Autumn colours, as we drove up the 15 Km. from Lithorio, now in the darkness took on a different and more dangerous aspect, Kathy wanted to know if there were any animals about, “ only a few bears, snakes, wolves, wild boar ” ! The 3 hour trek was just awful, no other word for it, I tried to keep the spirits up by reminding everyone that there would be spaghetti, meatballs, Greek salad and jugs of wine waiting for us at the Refuge. Eventually, almost on our knees, we saw the light of the Refuge high above us, a little while later we were there and fell in the door!

Some ( no names mentioned !) wanted to sleep right there on the floor where they had fallen. But I said ” Remember  the spaghetti and meatballs  “ , at which point Christos, the owner of the Refuge, who was mightily pissed off at us for arriving so late, said  “ What spaghetti and meatballs ?  The kitchen is closed ”. After that announcement, when we had all stopped crying and Sanna’s sobbing had finally died away, I asked what was available to eat — “ Fanta , chocolate, and eat it quickly, everyone else is asleep ”  .

Saturday our brave party stumbled out in the early morning sunshine at 8a.m, looked around at the breath taking scenery and the majestic peaks of Olympus high above, spirits lifted and we all knew it was going to be worth the pain, just to say we made it.

Well, we all  did make it , in our own way to Scala– at 9,600ft. the second highest peak in the Olympus range of mountains. The scenery took the mind ( what was left of it ) off the effort and after three and a half hours , we stood on the summit . At Scala it was decision time, Mytikas the highest peak on Olympus, is only 150 ft. higher but stretches over a mile away, across a dangerous and difficult ridge, with two severe rock pinnacles to be climbed on the way. A good head for heights is called for here as the scrambling is over drops of up to 1000 ft. I used the word  “ scrambling ” — in the climbers jargon there is  “ climbing ” which means classic hand and toe grips on vertical  rock and  “ scrambling “ which refers to going up less vertical rock

This would be my third time to Mytikas, but I was worried about the groups safety and tried to keep us all together. This proved impossible, the wind was cold and numbing, and we soon split into two groups, Ken and Nicol out in front , Sanna and I moving more slowly behind. Sanna threw a fit half way across, insisting she was so cold that she had no feeling left in her hands and started back to Scala. After much persuasive / abusive charm from me ,  she got herself back on the climb, but by this time Ken and Nicol had made it on their own and stood on the highest peak of Olympus. A proud moment, which I recorded on video from the next ridge, a great sight to see them and shake hands as we passed them on our way to the top, as they were making their way back down. We also made it to the summit, stood beside the Greek flag and signed the visitors book, below Ken and Nicol’s signatures.

The journey down to the Refuge was done in high spirits, Nicol as usual out in front of us with the stamina of a mountain goat. We had lunch of , yes , spaghetti meat balls and Greek salad ! The trek back down to Pronania, was in total darkness, all three and a half hours of it, very dangerous with only one torch between the five of us. At one point there was almost a mutiny when fed up with my  “ Just another 20 minutes ”  or  “ Just around the next corner ”   I asked  Kathy  “ Would I lie to you ” and the entire group shouted   “ YES ”  !!!!

The photos and video will not tell the full story. We will forget the pain and the never- ending treks in the darkness. But we will never forget the day we stood together on the summit of Olympus.

Snezana & I , on Mytikas , highest peak of Olympus , September 1995

And so it was last week as we stood on the summit of Slievenamon , Snezana and I , no meat balls this time but the same sense of achievement .

The diggers are back in town October 26th 2020

Machinery ready to go , 26th October 2020

The crowded lane outside the house tells a story in mid October , another project was underway as Peter Cullen arrived with a digger , tractor and trailer to complete the island rock installation planned since I cut out the tear drop shaped design  in the grass at the Lower Field back in late August.

Cutting out the design in Lower Field , 30th August 2020

I always felt this space  lacked something and after a visit to a friends garden in July I was really impressed with her separate perennial bed and decided this was what I would build however another gardening friend pointed out that while a perennial bed is lovely , it only flowers for two months and as this was to be both an island bed and a feature you would be looking at a collection of sticks for ten months of the year so it was back to the drawing board to come up with something that would give all year round enjoyment and so the idea of an island rock installation was born .

Although the space available for the proposed rock installation was quite large I didn’t want to over crowd it with rocks , five large pieces was my estimation of what it would take and I determined from the beginning that it would be just stark rock and gravel Japanese style , no plants . A neighbour of mine on the mountain , Pat , had a huge collection of rocks that he had unearthed while clearing the site for his house a few years ago and had generously offered me my choice to collect and take away .

Peter and I selected five beautiful large flattish rocks , all of the same granite and we had already picked out the places on each stone in the new design .

Carrying one of the rocks , October 26th 2020

I had cut out the design and sprayed off the grass in late August and the next step was to cover the bare earth with rolls of mypex which will suppress any new growth through the  gravel finish  and then carry each rock from the mountain in the digger and line them up to make the final positioning … each rock had to be assessed and as the installation is in the middle of two paths the best “face ” had to be selected … this was the hardest part of the project and each rock was individually assessed and positioned and then walked around and positioned again until each rock clicked both in it’s relation to the overall shape of the design but also in relation to it’s four other companions … fussy to the point of nerdiness I know !

Positioning the rocks , 26th October 2020

Getting the position of the rocks was tweaked several times and the last stage was layering with gravel to a depth of six inches , the gravel anchored the rocks and provided the perfect contrast for the island bed . I had thought originally that I would add perhaps two miniature Japanese weeping maples to the finished design and while that would work in some cases , here I am satisfied that it doesen’t need it and might even take away from the effect .

Spreading gravel over the mypex, 26th October 2020

Delighted with the final design of the new rock installation , Lower Field

The new rock installation in the Lower Field , 27th October 2020

While Peter was in the garden with the digger I also got him to scoop out our natural pond which is fed from an underground spring and which years ago was a well for local people to draw water from and I am sure in those days it was sparkling clear – not the case for the past few years as forgetting that you can’t improve on nature I f..ked it up to put it bluntly by adding plantings of parrots feather , an aquatic plant ,  around the waterside margins … it looked lovely , olive green leaves and fluffy when I saw it in the garden centre and probably fine in a liner filled man made pool but put myriophyllum aquatic , parrot’s feather , in a natural pond and it becomes hugely invasive quickly swarming across the entire surface and is a real thug – I planted it about ten years ago and have been battling it ever since . Normally I control it by ripping wheel barrows of it out with a long rake several times a year but this pond is too big to get it all out and is too deep to wade into it , over two metres deep in the centre on uneven ground so the digger took huge scoops of the parrot feather out and hopefully by spraying the bejasus out of it I will be able to get the pond back – some years ago I managed after four years of spraying to eliminate parrot’s feather from the swamp garden water areas and now can keep it in check by raking it out at intervals but once you have the thug in a water area it never goes away and you need constant vigilance .

Removing the invasive parrot feather from the natural pond, October 27th 2020

All gardening is artificial in a sense as you are trying to force nature to your bidding in a small area and gardeners are constantly introducing or trying out new plants from other parts of the world and mostly once a new plant has adapted to the new climate it works and depending on hardiness you either leave them in the ground throughout the year or bring them in for the winter as in the case of dahlias and cannas which are not hardy … but sometimes unwittingly a plant takes to the new climate and conditions with abandon and what you thought was a pretty little things turns out to be a right thug and there is a line between doing well and becoming an invasive nuisance and that is the case with parrot feather and Japanese knotweed , beautiful plants when behaved in their original habitats but gangsters here !

Finally the October colour is wonderful in our garden and here are a few examples from Petrovska garden .

Lower Field , 17th October 2020
Front Garden , 30th October 2020
Back Garden , 30th October 2020

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