July was for us a total contrast in weather as Ireland was a wash out with rain for the entire month whereas Croatia was a furnace with an average of 38 deg. searing heat on a daily basis … however gardening work has to go on whatever the weather !
Gardening by it’s very nature and purpose is interventional and artificial as we are shaping nature to what we perceive is beautiful and practical . In Old Spa Road we took a naturally wet land , a bog really or what local people referred to as “ the swamp ” and repurposed it as an informal garden .
We drained the really wet areas or bridged them with walk ways and over the years due to the varying nature of the eight acres a series of rooms outside developed … but we are not under any illusions that this is permanent because left untended for a year our garden will rapidly be taken back by nature … sometimes I feel we resemble hamsters on a threadmill in our almost daily garden maintenance !
Digging out the stream in October 2008
The stream as it looks today fifteen years later July 2023
Speaking of intervention I introduced several plants to the water areas ten years ago such as wild rushes and parrot feather which was a huge mistake as these proved highly invasive and threaten to take over entire wet areas and worse they need a constant war of attrition on our part to contain their growth .
We spent a week in early July pulling out rushes and raking off the parrot feather … a horrible job and one that needs to be repeated every few months as these species reproduce from just a single piece of root .
The garden at Old Spa road is on eight acres that because of the wetness was never built on and was always a wilderness that was known locally as “ the Swamp ” , of course it didn’t say that on the estate agent’s brochure when we bought it but anyone could see there was nothing much could be done with it and over the centuries it had become an area accessible only to whatever wild life was around .
In 1985 Caoilte , the Irish forestry service , planted a forest of sitka spruce in the lower field on a long narrow section which was the only half decent dry land available and fifteen years later in 2001 we inherited the remnants of these trees that the deer hadn’t done for … these industrial planted forests are created for commercial reasons and the trees are spaced regimentally close together unlike in nature usually with a single variety of conifer and no mixture of shrubs or other plant diversity so consequently are pretty sterile to look at and crucially don’t attract wild life .
We have thinned this forest out over the past twenty years and introduced paths , walk ways and as much diverse planting as the leeched out soil from the conifers will allow but it is still not a natural or enticing habitat for wild life and we don’t see a huge amount of wild life in this area apart from the almost resident deer population but in the other areas of the garden there are herons , sparrow hawks , water hens , wild ducks that we see on a daily basis along with the usual smaller birds like thrush , black birds and robins but it is not bursting at the seams … and I have often wondered about this … not anymore as a study at the Institute of Copenhagen last month was startling
” On an early autumn morning, a group of researchers from the Globe Institute at the University of Copenhagen embarked on an intriguing expedition into a Danish forest. Armed with plastic boxes, these scientists sought to “vacuum” animal DNA from the air.
The boxes, rigged with DNA air samplers, were strapped onto tree trunks, air filters attached, and then powered on. As the boxes powered up, a faint hum indicated that they were collecting airborne particles.
Over the next three days, the researchers returned to the forest on numerous occasions to replace the air filters, each time marking a step further into their investigation.
“We saw relatively few animals in the short time we spent in the forest when we changed the air filters. A squirrel, the sound of a woodpecker, a pheasant squawking, and a white-tailed eagle flying above us one day,” said Christina Lynggaard. However, the richness of the biodiversity they discovered in the air starkly contrasted the lack of visible activity.
By sequencing the airborne DNA particles collected on the filters, the team discovered a surprising number of forest inhabitants. The “vacuuming” process, executed over three days in an area of the forest roughly equivalent to a football field, unveiled DNA traces from 64 animal species.
They detected the DNA of animals including domestic species like cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, and dogs, and even exotic pets like parakeets and peacocks. Yet, the real surprise was the detection of roughly 50 terrestrial wild animals.
The DNA revealed the presence of small to large wild animals with varied lifestyles – red deer, roe deer, Eurasian badger, white-tailed eagle, red fox, different vole species, robin, Eurasian red squirrel, common toad, smooth newt, great crested newt, crane, great spotted woodpecker, nuthatch, grey heron, marsh tit, woodcock, and several more.
In a stunningly short time, the researchers uncovered nearly a quarter of the land-living animals previously recorded in and around the area ” .
Basically it means that in such a small area the size of a football pitch a huge population of wild life moves through and you never see them … scary thought to think that while you are strolling the garden THEY are watching you !
In the Croatian garden in the middle of the really awful July heat wave spell known as Cerberus I have come to the conclusion of not interfering with large scale watering and apart from a few pots I have left the garden to get through the hot spell on it’s own , the plants just hunker down and go into survival mode … hard to stand by but it needs to be done .
With one exception I leave all the pots unwatered and as these plants have been chosen to be drought resistant they survive … the one exception has been a large pot planted with my absolute favourite of the Adriatic , tradescantia pallida variety purple heart , which I have in shade on a balcony to come through the winter and which I water and feed on a daily basis throughout April to October when there .
This pot has responded to the care lavished on it but it has outgrown it’s position and is blocking access to a door while losing some stems each time the door is opened or closed plus the regular water is disfiguring the floor tiles … reluctantly I have come to the conclusion that either the position of the pot has to change or a new planting scheme is required … as you can imagine with my favourite plant I didn’t come to this conclusion unaided as Snezana has been giving out about both the water seepage and the messy door opening for quite a while but even I had to admit drastic decisions had to be taken … so Snezana is leaving tomorrow … !!
Watch this space as I am going to take out all the tradescantia in October and replant throughout the garden and replace with a minimal look of aloe vera with a single mother in law’s tongue also known as the snake plant , dracaena trifasciata , which comes from West Africa and is a totally trouble free and drought resistant .
Lavender growing in Ireland and the UK gardens is a very genteel affair when conditions are right with great plumes of blue spires and nice soft downey leaves over perfect domes of foliage but the downside is that the plants are short lived , four or five years at best before the wet rain we have gets them and they pop their clogs .
Lavender in the Mediterranean / Adriatic is a very different affair as basically the plants struggle for life from day one in the brutal heat of the summer months but they do last almost forever and even young plants develop a gnarled woody ancient mariner look which always remind me of japanese bonsai trees where the trunks have great character… neat and pretty they aren’t when out of flower and you have to treat them mean by hacking them back after flowering and I find even old wood will grow leaves again .
The best variety for Mediterranean conditions and the one most used is English lavender , variety augustofolio , which is one tough cookie . In Ireland and the UK French lavender , variety stoichas , is also popular as the flower spikes are thick but the plant itself is not long lasting and and here also augustofolio is the most popular .
I visited a lavender farm in Croatia in July on the slopes of Biokovo Mountain overlooking the islands of Brac and Hvar , an idyllic sloping location with perfect growing conditions . It is a young plantation , five or six years old but already the lavender bushes look ancient and had been planted in long rows for easy harvesting and as they had been just machine pruned commercially , not a pretty sight as the bushes looked hacked … by September when they have recovered and put on some top growth the bushes will look better .
Commercial growing of anything is a business and the aesthetics take second place to a crop … lavender farms are no different and there definitely is no room for pampering like we would do in our private gardens . These lavender bushs were tough and rough looking , exposed as they are on a hillside to merciless sun all day and harsh winds in the Winter months then whacked with a cropping machine in July , almost scalped but will come back in full growth in a month or two .
Compared to their Mediterranean cousins the Irish and UK lavender are primped and pampered like top models and are just as tempremental !
Right plant , right place and this definitely applies to lavender as the Irish climate is not a natural fit and the last thing it wants is wet feet and if you must grow it I always suggest growing it in massed planting in single beds with good drainage , adding a lot of gravel to the planting mix and mulch over the entire planting area in gravel .
Right plant right place does not include aquaves in Snezana’ estimation , in fact she hates me growing them in Croatia wheras for me there is nothing more exotic than an aguave which is why I was surprised that Snezana didn’t immediately shout NEVER when a friend asked me last week in Gornja Podgora “ would you have room for a small aguave in a pot ” !
Of course the friend offering the potted aguave was Mate Srzic from Makarska , Snezana’s favourite go to plantsman for advice on all things olives so the aguave was accepted … Mate had grown it from seed and it was a rare specimen of the aguave family which Mate says will have a compact size although with the familiar spike tips … I planted it in full sun and back filled the planting hole with a full bucket of grit and if it does well it will be a great addition to the edge of the seating patio .
Olives are the number one tree I associate Croatia with and beautiful it is too , the quintessential Mediterranean / Adriatic iconic tree and my favourite but a tree that runs it a close second is the fig both for it’s beautiful leaf and of course it’s fruit .
Like the olive we can grow the fig in Ireland but it rarely if ever produces fruit … when I was growing up my experience of figs was confined to the famous Jacob’s Fig Roll biscuits and I remember carrying packets of them in my luggage to Bosnia and the Seychelles when I worked there and I treated myself to two fig rolls every morning for my morning coffee in the office … it was a link with home but also absolutely delicious !
But the fig in fig rolls is nothing like the taste of a fresh fig picked directly from the tree , delicious plump and fleshy and ready for picking in the last week in July .
Unlike the olive tree which requires quite a bit of attention with specialised pruning and feeding the fig tree or smokva along the Dalmatian coast of Croatia almost thrives on neglect and are quite feral , self seeding along the road and are almost treated like a weed whereas in Ireland we cosset any fig tree such as Brown Turkey variety that will survive in the open ground .
However like olives the fig needs lots of sunlight and heat to thrive and like lavender what we grow in our climate is only a pale imitation of how they look in their natural habitat .
Pots bring colour to the Adriatic Garden
Sinead O’Connor passed away last week .
The voice of an angel if she could only have stuck to singing but more often than not we got the angry flaky Sinead who changed religions on such a regular basis that I often felt she fell in love with the exotic outfits rather than the religion itself .
The Irish fell under a spell with Sinead after her first appearance as a twenty one year old in 1988 on Irish TV although we were all a bit perplexed at the contrast between the shy girl as she chatted with Gay Byrne and the shouty aggressive person she became when she sang but two years later came her sublime Nothing compares 2 U and we relaxed knowing she really was that shy person at heart .
The internet has been full since the news of her death by the usual list of celebrities all recalling their “ friendships ” , most of course were self hyping climbing on the band wagon stuff but the creepiest has to be Bob Geldorf who stated on Sky News that his action on tearing up a photo of John Travolta on Top of the Pops inspired Sinead to tear up a photo of the Pope on American TV in 1992 … John Travolta , really Bob !
The ripping up of the photo of the Pope rebounded immediately against Sinead and ever afterwards she was associated with that monuementally stupid act . John Paul 11 was the most loved of modern Popes and was a saintly man but public opinion and the media is fickle and what no doubt seemed a good PR protest at the time to boost Sinead’s street cred made her a pariah in the eyes of a lot of people .
Her public life for the past twenty years had too much information out there and was an obvious cry for help with her demons but which too often came across as attention seeking .
But Sinead could sing and more importantly could interpret a song like no one else be it our own Raglan Road sung a cappella or her heart break original slow phrasing of the opening words of Nothing compares 2 U … it’s been… seven hours and fifteen days… since you took your love away … yes Prince wrote it but Sinead nailed it and made it her own .
RIP Sinead .