December in the garden is generally a write off due to the holidays and the weather but then Storm Barra hit Ireland in early December and we lost two trees including a large fifteen year old eucalyptus tree and while getting it chopped up we used the opportunity to cut out nine conifers that had died over the summer and all this kept us busy right up to Christmas .
These tree losses are what gardeners live with throughout the life of a garden , nothing is guaranteed to last forever . The eucalyptus I had planted in wettish ground fifteen years ago and while their roots love damp ground it also means that the anchoring system the roots provide sometimes isen’t strong enough to support the adult tree and we have lost several over the past few years .
The conifers were part of a wood planted forty years ago by the previous owner of the land and are nearing the end of their natural life but unfortunately three of them were part of the design I used last January for the new water area and I had built a path specifically around them as a feature … still I knew they were not great looking trees so there is now an opportunity to plant alternatives and I found a new silver birch , new to me that is , a Himalayan birch called Doorenbos , which is smaller than the normal jacquemontii birch but with even whiter bark … silver birch would have been my first choice anyway for the area but I had left the conifers standing as they were still alive but their forced removal is no loss and has opened up more light while the silver birch will bring an airiness to the entire patch … the conifers are now chopped and stored in the wood shed and next winter will fuel the stove and their ash after burning used as fertiliser in the flower garden .
Gardens evolve all the time and should but I hadn’t expected that there would be a major change so early in the new water area after only nine months but the removal of those four large trees needed an urgent reset and apart from planting some extra silver birch I also ended up moving two large pots into the new area for a bit of extra impact as I felt the planting in their old positions had thickened out and their presence there was no longer necessary . They do add that extra oomph in their new location and now I see that a Japanese stone lantern could be the next addition to the area beside the water , watch this space !
One of my sons sent me details last week of a phone app for identifying plants and said it would be perfect for me . I had tried one a few years ago , it was hit and miss but there is no doubt if the designers can improve the accuracy it would be a great tool . Of course those of us who have gone to the trouble of learning the latin names of plants might be a bit miffed but personally I am all for innovations that make things easier and open up gardening for everyone who has ever been intimidated by not knowing the names of plants .
Certainly I would use such an app especially abroad where I would not be as familiar with plants as I am here and the UK but of course there will be those who refuse to embrace new technology and I remember about ten years ago trying to introduce the local gardening society committee to the advantages of having events up on social media … shock horror … and as for publishing a blog for local garden events well that was beyond the pale totally as their privacy would be gone or so they imagined .
I am a photography enthusiast and have been since 1974 when I got my first SLR camera , a Pentax , but switched within two years to the Nikon system ( in the photographic world you are either a Nikon or Canon person ) and the greatest revolution in photography after digital has been the camera phone especially the I Phone camera .
I am a great believer in anything that opens up the subject and the latest I Phone cameras deliver unbelievable pictures with just one click , no fumbling about with different apertures or speeds . I have just upgraded my Nikon SLR camera , the instruction book is 369 pages and the electronics and shooting options are mind boggling but if you are used to viewing your photos on a phone then the I Phone will deliver pics every bit as good if not better if you only want to view the photos on the phone … but you will see a huge difference is if you want to blow up a photo to even say 10×8 or crop part of the photo and that is where the Nikon comes into it’s own .
For myself as a camera buff it is not just the click of a button and I enjoy the setting up of a photo , changing the apertures and speed manually for every situation , using different size lens’s , wide angle or telephoto , editing the photo later , cropping , reframing etc. and this justifies the choice over an I Phone for me . My son , Diarm , who is very technically minded hasen’t gone down the serious enthusiast camera route and prefers the simplicity of just clicking but he is good on composing a picture and took this photo in Egypt last year on an I Phone and I know that to achieve the same result on my Nikon would have involved huge permutations with complicated lighting options to light the two men in the foreground and still keep the sun in the top of the obelisk but one click and the I Phone shot the scene perfectly because in difficult lighting situations i.e. where the sun is strong onto the scene and there are extreme areas of shadow and light the latest I Phone has a feature called HDR which kicks in automatically to give you a perfectly exposed photo as is the case with Diarms here .
For those of you who are not bored enough already by all this camera talk you can google HDR and it will tell you “ HDR stands for “high dynamic range. For those who aren’t so acquainted with this high-tech shutterbug lingo, dynamic range is basically just the difference between the lightest light and darkest dark you can capture in a photo. Once your subject exceeds the camera’s dynamic range, the highlights tend to wash out to white, or the darks simply become big black blobs. It’s notoriously difficult to snap a photo that captures both ends of this spectrum, but with modern shooting techniques and advanced post-processing software, photographers have devised ways to make it happen. This is basically what HDR is , a specific style of photo with an unusually high dynamic range that couldn’t otherwise be achieved in a single photograph.”
People often ask enthusiasts like myself are you not annoyed that after all the years you spent learning about light metering on cameras or the latin names of plants do you not resent apps or I Phones that do it all for you and the answer is NO as anything that makes gardening or photography easy and fool proof and open to as many people as possible is great for both hobbies and for the industry in general … now roll on robots that will obey without question and maintain the garden at the touch of a button !!
After all this praising of the quality of the I Phone camera naturally you assume I have one myself ? No , I prefer to spend the money on a top class Nikon SLR plus a couple of lenses and carry them around on my shoulder rather than a phone that fits into a pocket , my own phone well it is a cheap 100 euro Samsung which I use for the old fashioned thing of making and taking telephone calls and as for any photos I might take with it in an emergency … well they come out like I took them with the bottom of a milk jar as a lens !
Last month I wrote about my daughter’s new book on perfume , The Attar Guide , and people have asked me where did she get her interest in scent from and was it a by product of my own gardening interest … not a bit of it , Claire , just grew her interest in perfume slowly over the years and none of us in the family knew how serious an interest it was and now she is a real authority on the subject but I do like to think that I first saw the signs twenty seven years ago in London !
It was 1994 , Claire was mad keen on art and her Leaving Certifiate exams were in June and London was hosting three separate major art exhibitions on Picasso , Dali and Modigliani … too good an opportunity to miss so the two of us set off in April 1994 by coach to London on the overnight ferry from Rosslare for a two day trot around the three shows .
The schedule to take in all three exhibitions across London was tight and I had every hour catered for with meal breaks and bus and tube all planned and first morning at 8 am we are on a bus heading down Oxford Street on the way to the Picasso exhibition at the National Gallery when passing Selfridges Claire saw a huge poster advertising Calvin Klein’s appearance that very day at a signing promotion for Eternity perfume … all thoughts of Picasso suddenly took a back seat and all she could think of was CALVIN KLEIN !
Naturally I brushed it off and said we weren’t here for Calvin bloody Klein so concentrate … didn’t let it go though and could we PLEASE flash by on our exit from the National Gallery and just get a peek at CK .
Naturally there was a huge queue snaking half way down Oxford Street when we arrived at Selfridges just after leaving the Picasso exhibition having compromised on no lunch break but there was no way I could afford to spend the afternoon inching our way through the CK queue so I marched Claire up to the front and called over an assistant , a nice lady with a clipboard , to explain we were in a fierce hurry between art exhibitions and were heading back to the Picasso exhibition but my daughter was refusing to go any further and mad keen just to catch a glimpse of the man himself … suddenly a voice came through the curtain “ did someone mention Picasso ” … yes me I shouted back but we are in a huge hurry to get back and the man himself appeared and said listen I would love to hear about the exhibition and I am just going to take a break do you fancy a coffee … no thanks Mr. Klein I am in a huge hurry but thank you very much and can Claire just say hello … of course but come on have a coffee I would love to hear about the Picasso … but you are Calvin Klein surely you can spare an hour or so … would love to but we are in Rome tomorrow on our Eternity tour , Frankfurt the day after … come on have a coffee … OK but five minutes mind we need to keep moving … Claire looking daggers at me of course !
To cut a long story short we went backstage for a coffee with CK , just the three of us that went on for 30 minutes until I stood up and said Calvin , we were on first name terms at this stage , Calvin we really have to go but look take my copy of the Picasso exhibition catalogue … Calvin was delighted with the gift and says we need to give you a sample of our new perfume and then waved away an assistant who came over with a small sample and said get them a big bottle each and hang on … bring me a poster … which he signed to Claire with love Calvin and then got out a second poster that he signed to Eamonn with love Calvin !!
Actually meeting Calvin Klein was a great experience , one of the highlights of our trip , a nice man who generously gave time to what he could see was a harassed Dad trying to timetable a teenage daughter ! The exhibitions were memorable and a real eye opener was the Modigliani show whom neither of us knew much about at the time … Claire went on to get a first class honours degree in Art four years later and as a souvenir of our visit drew this pen and ink sketch of a Modigliani favourite for me when we returned from London which I had framed and it accompanied me wherever I lived throughout my fifteen years working career abroad and finally back here to Clonmel … now she says she wants it back in my will !
Looking out on the birds while we were busy stuffing ourselves over Christmas I bought a third feeder for them and this has brought extra families of blue tits and finches and extra joy to us looking out at them .
We had our downstairs windows removed last week as they were 25 years old and replaced with a more modern design which opened up the rooms more to the garden outside and I was remined of a gardening friend who designed his entire house on feng shui principles . Feng shui literally means wind and water , the philosophy is 3000 years old from China and is the art of arranging buildings , furniture , space and your life to achieve harmony and balance and most of it is very much common sense for me as it sets out rules on colour , separating work and rest places in the house , keeping the house tidy … but it is at the next stage I get a bit wary of feng shui as it goes on to preach that the world is driven by unseen often negative forces and I back away from any further adherence to feng shui rules as I gather that real devotees let feng shui rule their every waking moment .
But I still find a lot to admire in feng shui and when walking around the friend’s house I loved some of the touches especially where windows had been placed for no other reason than to frame a particularly nice view of their garden .
Our house here like most houses was built on an undeveloped site with traditional windows in all the usual places and when we bought it back in 2000 I designed the garden around it with favourite trees , did I mention silver birch before (!) to be seen from within the house and without knowing it created feng shui in reverse , the garden as a room outside !
Our old windows had faux Georgian bars inserted within the double glazing and apart from now being wildly old fashioned these did block out a certain amount of light and definitely blocked out a clear view of the “ room outside ” … just how much I didn’t realise until they were replaced last week and now the white of the silver birch stand out really well and my gaelic version of feng o’shui is great !
Pistacio trees on the Turkish / Syrian Border May 2012
Kosovo and Ancient Roman girls
It was February 2011 I was having a coffee in Kosovo in a Pecs café when this little Roma girl passed holding her hand out looking for money and even though Kosovo was and is a male dominated society , here she was on her own begging for money and I was struck by the air of independence and confidence she had .
I keep this photo on my computer home page and often look at it and wonder what became of her , I hope she has a good life .
In May 2012 we visited a Roman archaeological site called Zeugma on the Euphrates river close to the Turkish border with Syria where we walked through fields of pistachio trees which I had never seen before and then on to Gaziantep museum on the Turkish / Syrian border where the finds from Zeugma are housed .
The most famous mosaic from Zeugma dates from 100 AD and is of a young girl who has become known as the Turkish Mona Lisa and world famous as the Gaziantep Gypsy girl and looking at it now and while 2000 years separate them I am struck by the resemblance .
I wish her and all of you a very Happy New Year and Sretna Nova Godina for all my Balkan friends in 2022 .