My Gardening Week 30th June 2020 … Freedom from Lock down !

After close to 12 weeks in lockdown since early March we can all begin to get back to normal life such as it can be before a vaccine is found for Covid and for us gardeners slowly but surely we can visit other gardens which we have all missed .

In early June a group of us , while observing social distancing , got together to pay a last visit to Fairy Hill garden just outside Clonmel , where Mary O’Donovan gardened for the past forty years until her sad passing almost a year ago . The house and garden have now been sold and Mary’s executors very kindly allowed us access just before the sale to commemorate our friendship with Mary and share our memories of  happy times with her and her beloved Fairy Hill .

Friend of the late Mary O’Donovan visit Fairy Hill Garden , June 1st 2020

Most of us with gardens open to the public think that there will be no organised group visits this year as people will be slow to travel on coaches except for essential travel and as most of the garden visitors in organised groups are usually of cocooning age I feel this is only sensible . I must say gardening without the usual timetables of visiting groups has been a lot more relaxed as we have not had to rush to get maintenance done to a schedule or timetable but still you would miss the interaction you get with a coach load of dedicated gardeners .

We used the Covid lockdown to tackle a part of the front garden I had neglected from almost the beginning in 2006 when we got the pond installed and the basic design laid out . I knew that the boundary ditch contained a dry stone wall but even then it was covered in ground ivy as was most of the ground and I also knew this was a massive job to clear and just ignored it as there was so much to do in the rest of the garden however in March this year Snezana decided this was work she could tackle and even though I advised against it ever being up to much , she got stuck in and removed over 200 barrow fulls of the ivy before I was shamed into helping … over all of April we tackled the dry stone wall and I removed another 100 barrows of ivy during which a lot of the fifty five metre long wall collapsed but eventually I retrieved the stones and reset the wall as my contribution to her project while she dug over the new planting beds … not great soil and very dry but still quite a nice area to design suitable planting which had to be low growing as having gone to such trouble to reveal the lovely stone wall it would be a pity to hide it with metre high shrubs or perennials while also selecting plants that do well in shade as the new area only gets sun in the afternoon .

The reclaimed area , Front Garden , 13th June 2020

We opted for a mixture of ferns , hostas , geraniums and some clump forming evergreen perennials together with a dwarf purple leafed japanese maple … all are doing well and like all newly established planting in summer months I have kept the area well watered during dry periods , the dryish soil may be a problem for the hostas to thrive but I am banking on the shaded position to get them through . The final touch was a pathway I laid down from large stone slabs collected by our neighbour , Sebastian Boisson , from his nearby fields .

Snezana clearing weeds , 13th June 2020

We are delighted with the result and it has brought an area neglected for so long back to the garden … thanks to Snezana’s initiative in the beginning in tackling the area as a project with which I very reluctantly became involved , a late convert one could say !   

The new reclaimed area , Front Garden , 13th June 2020

What can be said about June in gardening terms apart from the fact it is the very best month in the garden , everything fresh and vibrant , strong growth , reasonable weather and all is good however June is also the perfect time for pruning shrubs like viburnum and spirea to ensure a good crop of flowers next year and today it was the viburnum tinus in the front garden that was for the chop . Normally you prune for what are called in gardening circles the three D’s , dead /diseased / damaged but sometimes you prune to open up a view into another part of the garden which is what I am doing here and today’s pruning was partly for that reason as it allows the newly recovered /renovated area by the garden wall to be seen better with of course the added bonus of encouraging the shrub to flower on the new growth next year .

Wheeling the pruned viburnum tinus cuttings , 8th June 2020

A shrub I have great time for is the weeping purple willow , salix purpurea , it doesen’t flower but has a graceful weeping structure with olive green small leaves but perhaps not a tree for the small garden as it needs space to throw it’s branches around and as it is a grafted tree you can get them in several sizes to suit the space you have available , no pruning needed apart from cropping it back occasionally if it grows too exhuberantly for the space allotted . This was the first tree I put along the new path in the lower field , three in total and it has romped away and even in winter with no leaves it still looks good . One problem it has like all trees and shrubs grown on a grafted root stock , it suckers from the base and the new growth looks really great with shiny leaves on branches that grow straight up through the normal branches of the willow … as you can see in the photo below .

Salix purpurea before removing the suckering branches , June 9th 2020 , Lower Garden

If you are not aware of this tendency and usually the garden centres don’t really tell you about the suckering , within a year this alien growth will take over the entire tree and you will have just a common willow not the architectural version you bought … you need to ruthlessly cut out all the suckering branches as you see them and in fact some gardening experts recommend violently ripping them off at source to discourage any regrowth as a gentle pruning with a secateurs will normally encourage growth . However don’t let this put you off adding a salix purpurea to your garden , it is one of my favourite small trees just mind the suckering habit it has .

Colour in the Garden June 2020

Front Garden , 20th June 2020
Back Garden , wild valarian and hosta Gold Standard , 20th June 2020
Front Garden , 13th June 2020

There are wow shrubs , showstopper stars of the garden but there are also some unsung heroes in garden plants that for some reason don’t get the attention they deserve and which are taken for granted in favour of the more show boaty types that feature on TV and in magazines and two examples are crocosmia and hypericum which I love and use extensively here .

Crocosima is a plant I would not be without , often called montebretia , originally from South Africa , it is planted as a bulb , has sword like green leaves and is a terrific architectural type plant for the front of border . It is a plant that is taken for granted unfortunately nowadays but it is easy to grow , propogates itself almost to invasive proportions and does equally well in shade but does not suit a wet site . Most people myself included rarely have to buy crocosmia as it is so easy to divide a clump and even the smallest pot of seven bulbs will spread itself to a metre wide in a few years and in some areas such as South West Ireland it is considered very invasive . Crocosima flowers in sprays mostly red and a good variety is George Davison along with Emily McKenzie but probably it’s most famous variety is Lucifer for its vivid red flowers but which I avoid as it grows to over a metre high and flops over in late summer unless staked but if you are prepared to spend a bit of time staking it then perhaps Lucifer is for you whereas I prefer the normal height crocosmia and give it lots of room and then you can just enjoy it with no further maintenance from March to November … one of my favourite plants .

Crocosima Emily McKenzie, Lower Wood , 13th June 2020

My second unsung hero of a plant is hypericum which is in full bloom now with yellow flowers and will bloom it’s ass off from June to October . Hypericum is happy in most locations , sun or shade , can be sheared to the ground each year or left to it’s own devices and the one I always pick is hypericum hidcote named for the famous Hidcote Manor garden in the Cotswold’s where it was bred . The Hidcote variety is supposed to be a smaller or dwarf version but if not pruned it will grow to over two metres . I mostly trim our hypericums back about eight inches every winter but you can hack it to the ground and it will bounce back , a terrific undemanding shrub that delivers a stunning show of yellow flowers throughout the summer followed by red , black or white berries in the autumn . Hypericum is a great back of border shrub and I wouldn’t be without it .

Hypricum , Lower Wood , 19th June 2020

Gardeners are always trying to prolong the flowering periods of plants especially perennials and one of the tricks has become known as the Chelsea crop because it is done when the famous Chelsea Flower Show is on in late May where after the first flowering of geraniums , lupins , you cut the plant to the ground and it will grow back quickly and flower again later in the summer . However it seems bees have been doing this for millenia as researchers from Zurich University have proved that the common bumble bee , bombus terrestris ( great name !) were making small pinprick holes or cutting small triangles out of leaves apparently for no reason as they were not eating the leaves … trials and experiments as reported recently in the journal Science revealed that plants damaged by the bees flowered earlier than the undamaged leaves … in some cases like tomato a whole month earlier and this allows the bees to collect more pollen as protein in the years when pollen is in short supply for the bees … when pollen is plentiful the bees don’t cut any holes in the plants … the researchers next tried to mimic the procedure by cutting holes in the plants used in the experiments but could not produce anything near what the bees were doing … we are learning all the time from nature and as the article concluded last week “ not only are the bees smarter than we realised , they seem to be smarter than us too ” .

Gunerra in the Lower Field , 13th June 2020
Gunerra in the Swamp area , 27th July 2019

Certainly not an unsung hero in our garden is the gunerra , one of my absolute favourite plants ,which comes into it’s own in June and the huge leaves of the established clumps we have here are always dramatic . As I have often written in previous pages , gunerra is not a plant to everyone’s taste or for the faint hearted as the sheer size of it puts people off and while most visitors to the garden are intrigued by the impact of the massive leaves I have seen others visibly recoil when they first come across the clumps of gunerra in the water areas however it does require space and will crowd out any plant or shrub within two metres of the base … embrace the gunerra is my message !

In Last month’s blog I mentioned the Holiday Inn , Sarajevo and the poor Chineese tourists who wandered into a war zone and a few readers asked for more Sarajevo stories and the following are about my own first experiences of Sarajevo . The Bosnian war had just come to an end but the various Serb and Muslim armies in the city were still fighting for swathes of control and exchanging sniper and shell fire when four of us , Palle from Denmark , Vaiko from Finland , Colin UK and myself arrived late at night on March 6th 1996 having driven 170 miles from Belgrade that morning  with two Nissan Patrols to start up a new mission in Bosnia . Both vehicles were packed full of computers , printers etc. all office equipment which would be necessary for the start up of the new EU organisation and as there was no functioning central authority operating in Bosnia we could not contact anyone officially for permission to enter the country so naturally it took hours to convince the Bosnian border guard and customs officers to allow us through without formality and it was pitch dark and snowing heavily by the time we finally crossed the Drina river into Bosnia . C

EU CAFAO Four go Forth from Belgrade , Palle , myself , Vaiko , Colin Murray who was seeing us off and Colin Kitchen , 6th March 1996

We were naturally nervous not knowing what was ahead of us but crossing the border zone was like a post apocalyptic nightmare , burnt out houses and tanks lined the road for the first twenty miles , no house lights and the country side totally deserted and eerie looking .  Our instructions were to drive to Sarajevo and stop just outside the city and change the Belgrade registration plates for Bosnian ones as we were likely to be attacked by Muslim youths from the first overhead bridge otherwise , then the advice was to follow the road into the city until we arrived at the tram lines and follow these through the centre of Sarajevo until we would arrive at the Holiday Inn on our right hand side , no one at Belgrade HQ mentioned there would be a curfew and martial law in operation and that there would be total darkness and they also forgot to mention that there would be regular sniper and mortar fire as we drove into the city … they wouldn’t  be shooting directly at us so that’s OK … obviously HQ hadn’t heard of collateral damage so it was head down in the Nissan Patrol , softly praying etc. !!

The usual welcome to foreigners in Serb areas in Bosnia , Trebinje , May 2005

The Holiday Inn where we stayed for two weeks had no windows , just plastic sheeting , no electricity either that night and I was given a candle at Reception and walked up to my room on the eight floor , I mentioned no glass in the windows but what really concentrated the mind was that there were no rooms at intervals along the corridor , just total empty spaces open to the elements where an artillery round had demolished a room … but the Holiday Inn  had hot water !

A week later I am driving on my own from the hotel into the city when traffic was stopped by a police team and as I was first in the queue I had a front seat of whatever action , identity checks or otherwise that the police were going to do when suddenly a few houses to my right there was a tremendous explosion and smoke started to billow out from windows and doors but the next thing about ten soldiers armed with rifles ran out of the burning buildings crouching down and ran right in front of my car … my first thought was that the war had started again … no my first thought actually was get out of the door and  jump under the Nissan Patrol … suddenly a whistle blew and a voice over a loudspeaker shouted “ cut ”  … it was Michael Winterbottom , the English film director and he was shooting a scene from his next film “ Welcome to Sarajevo ” which I was later to see at the first Sarajevo Film Festival in September 1996 … funny now but at the time it frightened the bejaysus out of me !

Original Cinema Quad Poster – Movie Film Posters

Fast forward eighteen months to September 1997 when U2 performed in  Sarajevo . Even though there was only one performance in Bosnia U2 brought 57 trucks of sound and stage equipment with them and in my role with the EU CAFAO Mission in Sarajevo I had arranged that their customs transit from Croatia into Bosnia would be hassle free through Orasje border crossing point in Northern Bosnia . Hassle free was not a word one would normally associate with Orasje Customs Station back in 1997 as it was very Croat , very corrupt and very very anti Muslim and although I was to go on to work closely with Orasje Customs for the next ten years it was a place I never warmed to . In those days just two years after the Bosnian war Orasje’s bridge over the Sava river had not been rebuilt since being blown up at the start of the war and all traffic was brought across on a ferry where one was shaken down for bribes on a regular basis by both police and customs especially if you were Muslim and if you were Serb well you would not cross at Orasje but by and large if you were international you were not touched or shaken down … still I took no chances and was present when the U2 convoy rolled up .

I have a framed poster in the house from the famous U2 concert in Sarajevo on 23rd of September 1997 and 23 years later it still brings me back to that magical night in Sarajevo’s Kosevo Stadium where Snezana and I saw U2 live and here is a review I wrote for a local publication the following day .

Review U 2 Concert  —  Sarajevo 23/09/1997

I am not a big fan of U 2 apart from their Joshua Tree album but last night in Sarajevo being Irish was special and to-day in the office the group’s name was on everyone’s lips . I am by nature fairly cynical of the posturing of pop groups but the effect of the U 2 visit to Bosnia was phenomenal . SFOR had organised bus loads of fans from Rep. Srpska and Croatia —  all ethnic persuasions were welcome last night and it sent a valuable message of hope from the young people of Bosnia to their political leaders. 

Sarajevo has always had a special affection for U2 and has never forgotten the supportive message sent by the group during the dark days of war and of course U2 have written and recorded a song about the City  “ Miss Sarajevo “ . All the songs were in English naturally but every use of the word Sarajevo by Bono prompted huge applause !

First a confession before I embark on my incisive review which will have Paul McGuinness nervously reaching for his copy of  “Slobodna Bosna “ this morning THIS WAS MY FIRST POP CONCERT  unless you can count  Gina , Dale Haze and the Champions at Dromkeen circa 1972 !!  Marvellous occasion it was too ( Sarajevo not Dromkeen ) with a build up which started in July , posters splashed all over Sarajevo , tickets on sale at stalls throughout the city , CD’s of the group, Joshua Tree, Rattle and Hum, Pop etc. . on sale in the market and CD shops .

I was delayed getting to the Kossevo stadium by the huge crowds heading up from Marshall Tito Boulevard , eventually getting  in at 9 PM and immediately was  ushered  up to the front of the stage by stating loudly as Gaeilge to the security guards that I was Irish , that was the magic word last night ! No sooner was I settled in position , Irish scarf around the neck, protected from the September cold by the old Aran gansy when the lights went out and the lasers and music started up to announce the arrival of the group to a deafening roar from the crowd of  DOBRO DOSLI  U 2 !!!

Bono, in a hooded boxer’s dressing gown, crouching and jabbing  as if limbering up for a prize fight, Edge ( what a pseudish name ) all in white complete with cowboy hat , Adam Clayton , so anonymous on stage that what he wore barely registered   (but then if you have been giving Naomi Cambell a good seeing to on a regular basis who cares about being anonymous !) . Larry Mullen , the drummer bringing up the rear , who and no pun intended , if you are to believe the Tabloids is an Icon for the Gay community — I remember Boy George once writing that if Bono still hadn’t found what he was looking for then he should just look behind him !

The stage set ,the sound and light show was out of this world , so impressive ,totally different from Dromkeen and everything worked on cue, the large screen carrying various images and close ups of the band which dominated and dwarfed the actual matchstick figures up on the stage. I was surprised at how low key Bono was , I have actively disliked the man while loving the Joshua Tree album for ten years, always believing him to be a pretentious little prick , forever pontificating on World affairs as if he was a top political analyst instead of a hyped up pop star HOWEVER I was pleasantly surprised to see that the cocky swagger and walk are all part of the act, designed to play a role for the audience , to entertain in other words and not just for the sake of LOOK AT ME I’M A STAR . 

And entertain the man did , Bono dominated the entire show , not out of pretension but genuine talent as an entertainer .

Larry Mullen and Adam Clayton were anonymous on stage no charisma or personality at all and could have been anyone, the show is carried by Bono who desperately tries to involve the Edge all the time as if to build him up  but his one solo song “ Sunday Bloody Sunday “ was a disaster , he didn’t carry the audience at all , his guitar playing is so special though , like an axe but the pelvic thrusts and poses that accompany it are learned straight out of the I ‘M A ROCK STAR , ME school book . Bono is the STAR, no question , he carries it off , dominates the stage and manages the difficult task of mouthing pious and twee statements such as SARAJEVO I LOVE YOU and YOU CARRIED US DURING THE WAR , sounding and looking sincere at the same time — difficult task , try it sometime , I have been practising in front of the mirror and couldn’t keep a straight face  after   —   Sarajevo I  —— !! Actually I thought Bono would come out with something like FUCK ALL SERBS THEY ARE A NATION OF WANKERS but I suppose as the concert had been built up into a symbol of peace ( that’s MIR to you plebs in local Serbo – Croat ) and as SFOR has been bussing in Serbs from all over Bosnia for the concert it would have rather spoiled the evening’s ambience !

The laser show was fantastic and drove the crowd wild , the highlight for me was the combining of the Albert Speer inspired Nuremburg rally search lights pointing upwards into the night sky with the Roy Lichenstein animated pop posters of  fighter planes playing on the giant screen . There , that’s me being ever so learned , twee — did someone call someone pretentious ?!!

The music ? For me at any rate it showed that the group has never matched the brilliance of the Joshua Tree album of 1987 , apart from one or two from their later albums such as the Fly and “ She moves in mysterious ways “ the rest was just loud crap — not that you’d know it in Kossevo stadium last night  — the young audience loved it so maybe I am just too old and out of step and not strong enough anymore to be yelling RIGHT ON while balancing a young wan on my shoulders ! The anthemic , I like that word and have always wanted to use it ( ! ) “ Where the streets have no name “ and “ I still haven’t found what I’m looking for “ were just FAB U LOUS and got everyone on their feet ,singing the words ( very difficult if you haven’t a word of English normally ) and magically the stadium was full of hand held lights ,  genuinely very moving  and  brought a lump to the throat .

Another highlight for me was the singing by Bono , with a simple guitar   backing , of the old Sam Cooke standard  “ Stand by me “ it sounds corny but he conveyed genuine feeling for Bosnia and Sarajevo in particular here and I heard afterwards that many in the stadium were in tears, I can believe it.

Well done Bono and U 2 you made this Irishman proud to be Irish last night in the foreign fields of Bosnia .

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