Spring is definitely in the air as I write , our first snow drops have arrived and looking at these gorgeous little flowers I have the same thought every year that I MUST plant more snow drops next September !
A walk around the garden each morning shows more and more happening with daffodils popping up everywhere and today, a year after the new Water Garden was started, the final accolade that it had fitted in came when Snezana spotted the first frog spawn and I immediately went down to take a photo . Frogs just don’t lay their eggs in any old place as for example in all the water areas we have here we only get frog spawn in one area until now , the front pond , so it is a great feeling when you see that frogs have decided this new area is perfect for them to start laying their eggs and from now on every year frogs will come back to this spot to breed and it gives us a kind of pat on the back that what we have created is somehow getting nature’s seal of approval .
The front pond and now our new location in the Wood Water Garden area will soon be buzzing with the annual get together of the frogs but at least we won’t hear them at night unlike the front garden pond where the annual croaking and humping would keep you awake at night … more in admiration than sleeplessness !
I am often reminded talking to people that gardening is a chore to be endured for some and by the same token I am asked how do you keep the enthusiasm going for garden maintenance and if I am honest there are days when I just don’t feel like venturing out of the house especially into howling gale force weather that we have been hit by in February with Storm Eunice closely followed by Storm Franklin . My way of dealing with those less than appealing days in the garden is to say f..k it and snuggle deeper under the duvet with the electric blanket on … no guilt and as Scarlett O’Hara says at the end of Gone with the End “ tomorrow is another day ” !!
A friend called to the garden while we were away last week and took the time to walk around on her own and rang me later when we were back to say how much the Lower Water area design and planting had come on in the past year … compliments are always welcome of course but then came the dreaded BUT … don’t you hate it when the word BUT is used after a compliment ?! Mildred felt that the multi stemmed silver birch in the front garden had too many small branches that took away from the overall look of what is a glorious tree .
Actually I am always pleased with any kind of critique especially when it comes to the garden and any design can be tweaked and improved and I saw immediately that these small branches should be cut off .
The multi stemmed birch often occurs naturally with the tree but more usually in the wild native silver birch and if space is a problem the multi stemmed although expensive is worth it as there can be up to five thick branches from the ground up and in the winter you have more white bark visible which is the main appeal of silver birch. Multi stemmed versions are expensive as they are not a graft and the breeding nursery takes an eight or nine year old jacquemontii , cuts it to six inches of the ground and then encourages four or five main shoots to regrow which will then take another five years to reach a height that they can be sold , so a long process and this costs money up to five times the price of a normal single stemmed silver birch … every garden no matter how small should have one at least … worth saving the pennies for in my book !
Due to the popularity of multi stemmed silver birch some nurseries are now grouping four or five whips , metre high silver birch saplings , in a pot and growing them on for two years and selling them as multi stemmed but these are never as good as the traditionally grown and it is always best to visit a specialist grower and select your own tree in person as even though they will all be the same price at the height you select there can be a big difference in specimens , some more bulky and branched than others which is why mine here can have up to eight strong trunks .
I still think that a group of three silver birch is the perfect group but if space is a problem then go for a multi stemmed version on it’s own and you will have a tree that gets better every year .
Blink and you miss the annual snow drops in the garden and sure enough most of ours came and went last week while we were away and now all we are left with are the green clumps until next year … still wouldn’t be without them and snow drop fever is as strong as ever in the gardening world and last week a collector paid 1850 pounds for one single bulb .
If you have a nice sized clump now is the best way to propagate snowdrops , dig up the entire clump and divide by pulling apart by hand and replant . This propagation process is called “ in the green ” and all the divisions will thrive .
Irish people for the past fifty years have had a special relationship with the Canary Islands for a spot of winter sun however it is a relationship that I have managed to avoid as sitting around a pool is not my thing but earlier this month we both decided that a week in t shirts and shorts sounded good and headed off to Tenerife .
Tenerife delivers 25 deg of heat in February which is the main reason for visiting as basically there are no famous historical sights or towns and the names of Playa de las Americanas and Los Christianos tell you all you need to know i.e. manufacured tourist traps with imported sand and a mile long strip named “ The Golden Mile ” which has all the discrete charms of Trump Towers .
That said after the initial shock of Porto de la Cruz where we were staying , all lava rock , black and gloomy with wind prone dangerous rock strewn beaches , we enjoyed ourselves and would go back again . We went without any expectations but we enjoyed it , the people were really nice , food was great and the balmy 24 deg. In early February will be the reason we will go back .
The Canary Islands were conquered and taken over by the Spanish in the 1480’s as a staging post for their ships to the Americas and they slaughtered the local population , the Quanche , as they did in Peru with the Incas and in Mexico with the Aztecs . It was genocide actually to the degree that there is no trace of the Quanche people today with not even the minutest DNA surviving in the present day population of the Canary Islands . The Quanche people were aboriginal and primitive without a written language whose origins were back in 6000 BC and who it is thought originally came over from Africa , modern day Morocco being only sixty miles away and they had similarities to the nomadic Berbers of today . I get the feeling that the present day population of Tenerife are awkward about the “ disappearance ” of the Quanche people and would like to make amends and the impressive statues you see in Candalaria are a gesture towards the clearances perpetrated 600 years ago on the original people of Tenerife .
Tenerife is just off the coast of West Africa and gets a lot of sand blown over from the Sahara and of course the island is one series of ancient extinct volcanoes , nothing and I mean nothing grows on the south side facing Africa where it is all black lava . The north side gets some moisture from the Trade Winds but again there are no native plants growing there and everything you see has been brought in by Spain from it’s former colonies in South America . Very fertile soil on the north side of Mount Taide allows huge agriculture especially potatoes and plantains which look like bananas but which are used mainly in cooking . The common tree is a species called Canary pine and they grow the imported Monterey pine alongside it .
We spent a morning in the Botanical Gardens of Port de la Cruz which are magnificently tropical but again none of the plants , fabulous as they are and magical as the garden is , are native to the islands .
No disrespect to the creators of the various botanical gardens I have visited all over Europe but I find them artificial and a little contrived as in a Greatest Hits CD with all the world’s best shrubs and trees assembled together and there is no soul .
One thing we know about in Ireland are potatoes but the Canary Island potato has 58 varieties and is the Rolls Royce of potatoe and while it looks shrivelled up and miserable they cook them in sea water , serve them without butter just dipped in either of two minty but not fiery sauces and they are delicious unlike any potato I have ever tasted , really delicious and one you would never make into chips !
Tenerife above all has Mount Taide , the highest mountain in Spain and when it last erupted in 1909 the lava flow obliterated the entire town of Garachico … magnificent scenery in the Mount Taide National Park and the only place on the entire island that felt real to me and not Las Vegas’s honky tonk cousin .
The most famous tree or shrub on the island is the Dragon Tree , Dracaena , which is the symbol of Tenerife and this one is about 1000 years old …it resembles the cordyline or New Zealand palm that we can grow here but what is special for me is the smooth polished trunk which is really beautiful .
Colour in the Garden in February 2022
War in Ukraine
Snezana spent four years in Kiev with the EU and and another four years in Eastern Ukraine with OSCE on the front line in Kherson and Mariupol so knows Ukraine and it’s people well and it is unbelievable that Putin has displaced a million people as refugees and has the remaining women and children cowering in bomb shelters in this day and age . It is hard to imagine what rationale Putin is operating under that he can convince himself and the Russian people that any of this is justified .