Late September is for me a lovely time in the garden as there is none of the rushing around getting things done while weeding , pruning and grass cutting has all slowed down and the garden is resting getting ready for the gentle snooze over October before the winter sets in and I have time now to stop and smell the roses as the saying goes !
I always make a point of saying that I don’t select any trees or shrubs for their flowers only as this period only lasts a few weeks and then you are stuck with an ordinary looking thing with no beauty for the rest of the year . I prefer trees and shrubs that have good bark in winter and nice colour throughout the nine months in leaf but occaisonally I will break the rules and this fuschia never disappoints and is in flower from July to end of September .
It has been a great summer in Ireland but a terrible one for the garden as the drought conditions in July and August really damaged plants and trees and we are seeing the full effects of it now in September and while yes I appreciate the certainty that good weather brings , I really prefer our usual dampish weather and I am fed up watching the garden in distress and trying to keep water to the pots .
I am currently reading a just published biography of the late Beth Chatto , one of the best UK garden writers , where in her diary for 1974 she writes “ I’m glad I deal in plants .They have a value outside money, they can’t be cheapened and they have the gift of renewing my faith and hope ” .
Our cat , Tutti Frutti, named by Snezana in case you ask , generally ignores me in the house and regards herself as Snezana’s cat but for some reason TF has decided that I am her main person in the garden and she trots everywhere with me , hops up to sleep on my back if I am weeding on my knees or planting and no matter how long I am out for she stays with me and probably thinks I need protecting out in the wild … she , again TF not Snezana , has an alarming habit of climbing trees and waiting in ambush for me and then will jump down on my head when I pass underneath … I am used to it by now but frightened the bejaysus out of me when she first did it !
Every Autumn when the garden centres start to sell spring bulbs I say that this year I am not going to plant any more bulbs but then I also remember that in February each year I tell myself I didn’t plant enough and while not buying in the same quantities as previous years when we were building the garden this week I bought in some snow drops , miniature daffodils and about fifty alliums as you can never have enough snow drops or alliums .
I was in Croatia for a few weeks in September and in gardening terms the summer has been a disaster there also with over 90 continous days without rain and daily temperatures of over 35 degrees . All the plants have suffered even the sun loving types , lavender , santolina but the olives have been hit most of all and everyone is expecting a low yield from this year’s crop although the experts tell me that the oil itself will be good .
I love the olive trees for their look and while I also love the oil they produce , the crop for me is secondary to the overall effect of having olive trees in the garden at Gornja Podgora but for the practical local people ( and for Snezana ) this is heresy as the olive trees are there purely for economic reasons . I mention this as I know that to maximise the crop we need to cut back the trees hard and reduce the branches drastically which means that not only will there be hardly any fruit for two to three years but the olive trees will look like stick insects during that time … Snezana of course is itching to be let loose with a chain saw so a compromise is agreed where we will make a small cut back every year and even that hurts me and while discussing this with a local friend he said “What you need is a man with a cold heart ” !
Last year I wrote about our own small olive harvest where we pick 150 kilos of olives and that this produces 20 litres of oil of which we are very proud and truth be told it costs more to harvest the oil then if we went out and bought twenty litres ! But it is our olive oil where the trees and all the picking is treated with love so we consider it a bargain and I did touch on in that article but not fully explore the dark side of olive oil production even in our local village .
Olive oil is the second largest natural product in the world after honey that is faked with additives where cheap oil and even oil substitutes are added to bulk up the product and local people tell me that the faked /bad olive oil is sold on market stalls or beside the road for the tourists while they themselves will only use their own oil or olive oil that has been bought from a person they know does not mess with the process . Italian olive oil is notorious for fake oil that they import cheaply from the likes of Algeria , Tunisia and other low cost countries in the Mediterranean basin where standards are not so high and which they use to bulk up Italian branded olive oil … it is estimated that up to 70% of Italian olive oil being sold is fake .
Sad news I agree but big business and human greed has corrupted the most beautiful and healthy product you can eat which is why when I look at our little production I can say hand on heart that Eamonn & Snezana Extra Virgin Olive Oil is exactly what it says on the label !
I worked for two years from 1994 in Macedonia after the break up of the Former Yugoslavia and it has always remained my favourite country in the Balkans even after spending over twenty years living and working in Bosnia and Croatia which are also beautiful especially along the Adriatic coast . Almost everyone you speak to from the Yugoslav days has a soft spot for Macedonia which unlike most of the other five states never threatened or fought against anyone and it remained strictly neutral throughout the Yugoslav wars of 1991 to 1995 . What makes Macedonia such a lovely place is the people and the culture not to mention their avjar and red peppers and as for their mountains and lakes … well the Sharplanina and Ohrid lakes are breath taking ! I use to walk in the Sharplanina mountains most weekends with the Skopje Treking Club and was amazed at how well versed the local walkers were with every herb and wild flower we would come across on our walks to stay in the chain of mountain huts that run the length of the mountains from Skopje all the way down to Pelister Mountain outside Bitola … each of them would come back from the weekend with ruck sacks stuffed with herbs , wild garlic and onions , mushrooms … if it was edible or could be used in their home made rakia it was collected .
Since that time I haven’t seen many local people out foraging but in Bosnia of course this was because large tracts are still heavily mined ( an estimated 4.5 million mines still in the ground ) and the modern Croatians are just too cool to be seen foraging which is why I was surprised and delighted to see last week that one woman from our village in Gornja Podgora still continues the tradition . I met Lovrinka , who is 87 , coming back from a four Km.walk across the mountain behind her house at Sv. Rokko with two bulging sacks of herbs and wild flowers and she explained that she will harvest the flower seeds such as wild lavender , fennel and helichrysum for planting in her own garden and flavour home made rakia with the herbs … great to see the foraging tradition is alive and well still !
Of course to be correct I should use the name Northern Macedonia now as this was the price they had to pay politically, to change their name to “ Northern ” Macedonia that the paranoid Greeks insisted on to remove their block on EU accession for Macedonia . I have always loved Greece for it’s history and culture but they behaved disgracefully towards their neighbours in Skopje on this issue and for me Macedonia will always remain Macedonia none of your “Northern” for me as for nationalist Irish people it brings back memories of what the Brits imposed on us in 1921 by the partition of Ireland but hopefully the coming border poll will resolve this and Ireland will be one country again .
Rakia is home made brandy made from apples or pear throughout the Balkans and all the former Yugoslav states pride themselves that their’s is the best and even though not a drinker myself I would say that Macedonia makes the best rakia purely based on the fact that a sip of it doesen’t make me cough and splutter so much ! Rakia is the Balkan version of our Irish poitin which is distilled from potatoes and as a child there was always a small bottle in the house that Mam used to rub on our chests for colds .
After deciding in July to do something about the design of the Lower Field and having embraced the concept of wild gardening there by letting the meadow grass grow and just cut paths through it but looking at photos of it’s development in last month’s article I had the feeling I still hadn’t quite nailed it and I realised that the paths were too wide at four metres through the grass so this last week I narrowed the paths to just over a metre and this has made a huge difference to the lay out and concentrates the view better . For the moment the only planting I have added are six miscanthus grasses and some stipa giganthea and have ordered some trees from Lynda at the Clonmel Garden Centre to add over the winter .
Of course this area will never be a proper wild garden as the soil needed for wild flowers has to be dry / poorish and our patch is damp even in summer and the only wild plants that will flourish will be the likes of docks and thistles , a pity but you go with what you have and I am hoping that wild plants that like wet ground such as iris and astilbe will self seed … time will tell but the fact is that this area has never looked right from the beginning and at least we are not giving up hope and are trying another approach .
While in Croatia in September we visited the island of Hvar which has been a favourite of ours for over twenty five years and while there we always try to visit another small island St. Clement a few miles out in the bay from Hvar Town where the Menenghello family originally from Milan have since 1906 owned and developed a large 50 acre site of scrub land into a fabulous garden where they grow a range of exotic plants such as the Moroccan yucca together with local indigenous plants such as aguave and prickly pear cactus . The Menenghellos have always been a family of artists and over the years various family members have added unusual pieces of sculpture and iron works throughout the garden that greatly contribute to the feeling of eccentricity as you walk around and I find myself smiling every time I visit !
Menenghello art , always eccentric and for these past few years has gone towards their view of the ideal woman !
I was reading a piece I wrote back in June 2014
Recently I was in Croatia doing some work on a garden located on the Adriatic Coast which I designed and built ten years ago and I can tell you that there are some major differences between gardening in Ireland and on the Adriatic and the two main ones would be the heat in summer and ….. SNAKES !!
In snake countries you learn very quickly to avoid wearing shorts in the garden , to wear socks and not to pick up large stones too quickly …… and to make plenty of noise !
An article in this week’s Sunday Times of June 1st 2014 stated that there are an estimated 94,000 deaths world wide each year from snakebites , that over two million are bitten by venomous snakes each year and that three quarters of those who die are too far from a hospital to receive treatment .
Me I prefer to take precautions and rustle every bush and shrub I pass when in the garden so that Mr. Snake will not take a bite and so far I have not had an encounter of the up close and personal kind ….. I have seen plenty of snakes at a distance and once in the late evening stepped over what I thought was a long stick to suddenly see the stick wriggle away ….. could have been an Olympic contender for the high jump that night !!
The garden in September