October was a total wash out in gardening terms in Ireland , heavy rain and the ground at Old Spa Road is saturated , so wet that I won’t be able to get a final cut on the grass … not a major catastrophe but I do like to have the grass neater throughout the winter months .
And speaking about keeping things neat the leaf blower will be in full operation for the next three months … now a few copper beech leaves look very good in photos in nice autumn sunshine but our paths and driveway are covered to a depth of several inches with willow leaves , not a good look !
I wrote last month about my problem over the last few years with the Yugoslav quince known as Vranja and coincidentally Bunny Guinness in a UK Telegraph gardening article of September 23rd wrote about a similar issue
“I am removing four beautiful quince trees Vranja which I planted over 40 years ago … I had not realised 40 years ago that many varieties of quince get quince blight especially in wet summers … there is a variety called Serbian Gold also known as lescovac is blight resistant so I am now replanting with these ”.
Our blight problem does not extend to the Lower Field where our two replanted Vranja variety have been thriving and I will order two more specimens for planting this November .
It must be my Civil Service background but I nerdishly file everything and this week while filing the Bunny Guiness article on her quince tree problems I came across my original purchase label for our own quince tree from Clonmel Garden Centre on 8th February 2010 .
I am not one of those gardeners that have masses of perennials in bloom in October , I admire them in other people’s gardens but my late October is taken up with preparing the garden for winter , the ground is normally sodden and you can’t stroll around in the grass due to the wet .
Late October is a great time to plant anything , the ground is still warm and growth will get a good start on the cold weather to come and I planted up the new area in the back garden with spring flowering bulbs , a selection of miniature daffodils tete a tete variety , crocus and snow drops … all in clumps of uneven numbers with a minimum of seven bulbs in each planting hole .
I use the words “planted up” quite casually but far from causal the process was as the earth in that area was packed with underground roots of trees and ground cover ivy and I had to battle with a pick axe to even make an impression on the ground and it took a back breaking effort to dig holes deep enough … then I come in and watch Monty Don on Gardeners World and he casually sticks a spade in the ground and it goes down a foot of perfect humus and peat moss with minimum effort… of course his garden is an outdoor TV studio and he has minions to do the heavy lifting … we heard him describe that his entire box hedging has box blight and needs to be dug out over a large area and Snezana watched until the end of the programme to see how Monty dug out the hedging … not a hope as no way Monty was going to go at that with a shovel like us normal gardeners and I am sure as soon as filming stopped the BBC had the diggers in and followed by a few truck loads of perfect top soil !
In all a total of fourteen clumps with the smaller bulbs crocus and snow drops in the front and these will kick off in late January into early February when you really need a splash of colour … the snow drops when planted as bulbs are slow to get started and for a year or two will be just a wispy collection of leaves with few flowers but the crocus hit the ground running and will be a riot of colour in their first year .
Far better to plant snowdrops “ in the green ” which is when you divide existing clumps after flowering in Februaryand plant out and I do this each year from our existing colony but also I cannot resist buying snowdrop bulbs when they are on the shelves .
I was planting up this area from scratch as we had cleared it last May but nature will and has flooded it with weeds which I dug out and sprayed last month and I will add ground cover geraniums and some bergenia that I have grown on from slips taken earlier in an effort to keep future weeding to a minimum .
We were lucky enough to spend a few weeks in Croatia in October with glorious weather and normally we pick the olives at this time and have them crushed at the local Olive Mill in Podgora … sadly not this year as the olive crop failed throughout the Croatian / Dalmatian coast .
Increasingly these past few years due to climate change an olive crop is not guaranteed every year in Croatia and usually it is every second year you get a decent harvest from the olive trees . This year it was down to a torrential wet weather spell in early April that knocked most of the olive blossom to the ground so that there was no bee pollination which resulted in little or no olives on the trees , nothing worth picking and in fact the local olive mill didn’t open this year at all so disastrous is the local crop… one of the joys of olive growing that no one tells you about roll on next year for a better crop of olives unless the olive fly infestation gets them first … another thing nobody tells you about !
Snezana hates the aguaves I plant in Croatia purely because of their spike tips which admittedly are dangerous and you need to be careful when bending around them which is why I plant them well back from paths … but I absolutely love them , no finer architectural plant exists for me … so a compromise had to be reached where twice a year I regularly cut back the bigger leaves .
Not an easy job as the leaves are over a metre long and not only have spikey tips but have spikes running down the edges and while I hate cutting back big healthy aguave leaves they do need to be tidied up especially when the bottom leaves lie flat on the ground and smother their neighbours but they do fight back and I end up with scratches on arms and legs , no matter I wear gardening gloves and take extreme care .
While in Croatia we got to visit Sarajevo , my first time back in eighteen years since I left my role with EU CAFAO in late December 2005 .
A lot has changed since my first time driving into Sarajevo on March 6th 1996 , twenty seven years ago , where did the time go and my diary entry for that day reflects the condition of Sarajevo and it’s people after four years of being under siege from Serb forces and daily shelling .
We travelled with Ico and Julie Marinovic from Gornja Podgora and driving down the motorway into Sarajevo on what used to be known as Sniper’s Alley past the Holiday Inn where I stayed for my first two weeks that turned into a Balkan Odyssey of twelve years brought a lot of memories back .
I drove into Bosnia for the first time on March 5th 1996 from Belgrade just weeks after the war had ended , crossing the Drina river border between Serbia and Bosnia at Zvornik . The next fifty miles took me through the front lines with burnt out tanks and devastated villages and towns all along the road , it was seven o’clock on a winter’s night and there was no other traffic or people out , snow on the ground and a general feeling of complete desolation .
About a half hour out of Zvornik I saw a sign for Srebrenica six miles off to the left , it was barely seven months after the mass killings and even though the full extent was not known of what was later termed by the UN as genocide , enough had filtered through to us in Belgrade that the name added to the nervousness .
My instructions were to drive without stopping to Sarajevo about 70 miles and when I got to the outskirts where I should pick up and follow the tram lines into the centre and be aware that there was a total curfew on lights so no street lights or any lights in shops or houses to act as a guide … keep on the tram lines to the other side of Sarajevo until I saw a big yellow building , the Holiday Inn , on the right hand side … and don’t mind the sporadic mortar and sniper fire , the Bosnian Serbs still have three weeks to leave Sarajevo and they are still exchanging fire with the Bosnian Muslims … a colleague will be waiting for you at the Holiday Inn … no lights on at the hotel of course only candles but I found my colleague … welcome to Bosnia and Sarajevo !
Visiting Sarajevo as a tourist I much different than my experience of living there as I did for over three years and much more enjoyable as I now had the time to just wander and enjoy the people and the ambience of what is a great Balkan city .
Of course Sarajevo will always be associated with the assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie on 28th June 1914 , an event that led to the First World War and you can stand in the foot steps of Gavrillo Princips , a Bosnian Serb nationalist , on the spot on the pavement from where he fired the fatal shots from a revolver at close range into their stalled open backed ceremonial car .
Sarajevo today has moved on from the dark days of the Bosnian War 1992 to 1995 when the city was under siege and almost daily bombardment from the surrounding hills and the tourists have flocked back especially to the Old City known as Bacarsjja where Bosnian coffee ,cevapi and burek reign supreme !
We walked along the Mijacka river to the Goat Bridge on this trip to Sarajevo and it is as beautiful as ever .
This bridge is the last Ottoman bridge 4 km . after you leave Sarajevo on the old road to Visegrad and Istanbul , built in 1550 and was known as the Goat bridge as it was on a minor country track only intended for pedestrians and animals … dignitaries visiting Sarajevo would be escorted to this bridge when they were leaving medieval Sarajevo . It was a favourite walk of mine when I lived in Sarajevo for two years in 1997 and I took this photograph im May 2005.
I took this photograph in Sarajevo Old Town and for me as it shows the acceptance of the different religions which was always a feature of Sarajevo all the way back to the 1500’s and these are two teenagers , one in the traditional hijab and her friend in modern style .
Cevap1 are small sausage size pockets of minced lamb served with raw chopped onions in a flat bread called lepinje with ajvar on the side and like burek everyone admits the BEST cevapi are made in Sarajevo in one shop called Zjelo 1 . This dish is the chicken and chips of the Balkans and outside of Sarajevo cevapi are just a pale imitation so don’t go to Medugorje or Dubrovnik and order burek or cevapi and think it is the real thing !
Visit to Stolac and the Bogomil stone stecak monuements
I am to this day fascinated by the story of the Bogomils , a people who were peaceful and spread originally in the 10th century from the Byzantine area of modern day Turkey , did not believe in war and their stecak art is unique some of which resemble spacemen and again historians can shed no light on their origin or demise and most Bosnians be they Serb , Croat or Muslim seem to have no interest in highlighting a unique part of their heritage but I suppose one can excuse a people recently torn apart by religious extremism not being keen on highlighting another religious element .
Most Croat people either have never heard of the stecak or have little interest but this is probably down to Catholic church bias and teaching as the Bogomil (the word means beloved of God ) were considered heretical to church beliefs .
What is surprising is that the local Stolac Municipality do not make a big deal out of what is a UNESCO listed site and beyond putting up an ugly fence in the last four years and an ordinary looking nondescript flat roofed few rooms selling tickets have done little to enhance or show case an extraordinary outdoor museum .
The stones are not sarcophagus but are solid and may mark the burial place of Bogomil believers .
The stones are found all over Eastern and Southern Bosnia but the biggest surviving collection of these enigmatic carvings which were all done by pacifist artists around 1100 AD is in Stolac in Southern Bosnia which is ironic as Stolac in the last war of 1992 became a byword for religious hatred and persecution when the local Catholic Bosnian Croats burnt out and expelled the town’s Bosnian Muslim majority population .
I remember in 1999 being present in Stolac when NATO soldiers in tanks had to stay in the town for almost a year to protect Bosnian Muslims trying to return to their destroyed and looted houses and I remember also being ashamed of being a catholic in Stolac that day and it remains a town I am not comfortable in even today .
Books on the 1992 / 1995 war in Bosnia
There have been hundreds of books written about the Bosnian War with most published in the five to six years immediately after the war ended in 1995 but to be honest most of these are not worth reading now as they are very biased and do not take into account the build up of tension under Tito when WW 2 ended nor how the memory of the atrocities committed against the Serbs by Croats and Muslims in that war festered and finally burst into ferocity at the break up of the Former Yugoslavia under Milosevic in 1991 .
The following are still in print and available through Amazon and are books I would recommend .
Misha Glenny is always reliable and his book The Fall of Yugoslavia is essential reading as is Laura Silber & Allan Little’s the Death of Yugoslavia which gives a factual account without bias on events leading up to the war in Yugoslavia . Noel Malcolm’s a Short History of Bosnia is excellent for background but is so dull it makes watching paint dry seem exciting . Richard Holbrooke’s To End a War is a great read if only to see the cynicism of the US in not allowing a Muslim / Croat total victory in 1995 as it didn’t suit US Foreign Policy to create a united Bosnia without separate entities .
For sheer emotion plus great writing , Roger Cohen’s book Hearts grown Brutal , is a book I always enthuse about . If you want some specific overview I can recommend Tim Judah’s book the Serbs while Marcus Tanner’s book Croatia , a Nation forged in War is also good but Judah’s book is better and he has also written the classic book on Kosovo and the 1999 NATO campaign . Milos Stankovic’s book Trusted Mole is written from the perspective of a serving British army major whose father was a royalist Serb from Belgrade and is a great read .
An unusual book is by our own Irish iconic writer , Dervla Murphy, who cycled at 71 through the Balkans from Zagreb to Albania in 1999 and wrote Through the Embers of Chaos and for me she has captured without bias the essence of the Balkans . I enjoyed reading Fighting for Peace by General Sir Michael Rose when it first came out in 1998 if only for the sheer pomposity and brio of the British General and I remember asking our team’s interpreter in Bihac what Rose was like as she had worked with him in 1994 for the few hours he helicoptered in to the Bihac enclave in NW Bosnia during the Serb siege and her brief summing up was brutally succint ” Tall , extremely good looking and totally out of touch with reality ” … boom boom !!
One off autobiographical books about their time in Bosnia that I found interesting would be Balkan Odyssey by David Owens , Blood and vengeance by Chuck Sudetic , Peace Journey by Carl Bildt , Angela Clark wrote an interesting book about Orthodoxy called When Angels Fall and the really unusual almost surreal book by Anthony Loyd called My war is ended I miss it so and both these books are great reads. When I first arrived to work in the Former Yugoslavia in May 1994 the book everyone and particularly the US members of the Macedonian Mission raved about as the ideal background introduction was Balkan Ghosts by Robert Kaplan which is still very popular but I always found it useless .
Every essential reading list will include Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West , almost 1200 pages , written in the 1930’s , the book is worth picking up second hand and dipping in to now and again but it is the War & Peace of the Balkans for showing off on the book shelf or under your arm in the cafe … but never read !
Lastly I would mention a book published in 2014 to mark the 100 year anniversary of the start of World War 1 written by Tim Butcher called The Trigger in which he traces the story of Gavrillo Princip from a peasant background in Western Bosnia to that fateful day in Sarajevo on June 28th 1914 aged 19 when he pulled the trigger that changed the course of world history . The book is fascinating and reads like a novel and I would suggest you start with this book and if his travels on foot through Bosnia and Serbia hook you then take your pick from any of the other books I have listed .
Autumn colour in the Garden at Old Spa Road in October