My Gardening Month May 2024 … Sunsets everywhere !

I am always amazed with the sheer lushness of Irish gardens in May and no place else in the world can beat us for that and yes there is a price to pay with some rain every day and I was particularly struck a few days ago walking into the garden here after a few weeks in Croatia with the stony terrain and heat there … the greenness jumped at me and we are lucky to have this climate … ask me though in January ?!

Front Garden , 12th May 2024

Wildness or I should say “ controlled wildness ” is our mantra in the garden here at Old Spa Road but it can be a delicate balance to maintain and as Dolly Parton famously said  “ to look this trashy takes a lot of work ” !

Sometimes self seeded plants can either enhance or can look like a demented jumble sale as this pot on the back patio shows where self seeded erigeron and the wild geranium Herb Robert , geranium robertianum , combine to almost blot out the box ball planted in the pot … this geranium is a prolific self seeder and is nowadays considered an invasive weed but it is hugely medicinal as it helps wounds to heal , is also good against insects if rubbed into the skin while the internet will tell you “Herb Robert boosts the immune system by making more oxygen available to the body. This also can help in cases of fatigue and chronic illness by boosting energy levels. It can be used externally as a poultice to staunch bleeding and aid the healing process ”.

Herb Robert and erigeron overwhelm a pot in the Back Garden , May 2024

I have mixed feelings about Herb Robert in the garden and while I love it when in flower with it’s beautiful delicate blue flowers I also tend to remove it generally as it does get a bit invasive  .

We spent some time gardening in Croatia in May after a six month absence and as you can imagine there was quite a bit of weeding and tidying up … not too bad as after six years I have got the planting areas pretty well cleaned of the deep rooted weeds .

Gardening in Croatia , Gornja Podgora , May 2024

I top up the gravel paths with beach pebbles and also top dress all the pots as this keeps in the moisture and gives the plants the conditions they like in the savage heat of July and August  .

Garden in Gornja Podgora , Croatia , 22nd May 2024

I mentioned about the heat and stoney terrain of Croatia but don’t get me wrong we also love living in Gonja Podgora , a tiny village on the slopes of the Biokovo Mountain range in Dalmatia looking down on the Adriatic Sea and it is beyond beautiful . We walk regularly with a local friend , Ico Marinovic , who points out how different the mountain slopes were sixty years ago before emigration took it’s young people , himself included  , away to Europe and beyond for work .

The slopes of the Biokovo Mountain range at Gornja Podgora , 22nd May 2024

The young people remaining in Croatia today have moved away from the land for a living and rely on tourism especially along the coast and apartments and houses with pools are more important than the cultivation of vines and olives were for Ico’s parent’s generation and during our walks together Ico points out abandoned water mills that dotted the slopes and fuelled the cultivation of vines and olive trees which was the back bone then of the local economy .

Like the Irish fifty years ago modern young Croats are emigrating in large numbers for work and again like the Irish diaspora can only enjoy their homeland on visits home . Croatia especially the Dalmatian coast is of course hugely popular with foreign tourists and rightly so and this week the UK Independent newspaper profiled the Makarska Riviera just a few kilometres from where we walk

“ Central Dalmatia’s coastline is packed with drama – and few places more so than along the Makarska Riviera. While pine-shaded beach resorts hug the coast, the magnificent mountains of the Biokovo Nature Park rise above the shore. The contrast is extraordinary: a barren limestone range hovering over the deep blues and greens of the Adriatic Sea”.

Where I delight in the May explosion of Spanish broom that has colonised the slopes of Biokovo Ico sees an invasive weed that has taken over the landscape from the vine and the olive .

Snezana and Ico with the spanish broom at Gornja Podgora , 25th May 2024

I see Ico’s point about how it used to be … now it is too late to save the almost vanished vines and most of the olive trees remaining would need a huge project to reclaim them with neither a work force or a new generation willing to devote the care and attention needed .

In over thirty years working and living in the Balkans I have seen only two or three live snakes but Croatia has snakes , all Balkan countries do , and quite a few seriously nasty ones not that the Tourist Board advertises this fact . They say that the thicker the snake the bigger the venom therefore the more dangerous but snakes here are not agressive and don’t want to see you either although in reality most of the snakes you will see are dead on the road  from traffic however most locals including Snezana will think twice about walking in long grass … I tend to forget this and work away happily in the garden in sandals and shorts without a care for our slithering friends … not anymore as this week I came across a long snake snoozing lazily on the path in the garden  and what worried me was how quick he melted away into the plants completely camouflaged and then of course the thought occurs how many of them are out there watching me as I garden ?!

Certainly the snakes in Croatia bear no relation to the one I encountered on our November 2022 trip to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam … I am not terrified of snakes but I am not fond of them either !

Close encounter with a python on the Mekong Delta , Vietnam , 12th November 2022

You really have to get used to Adriatic / Mediteranean gardening and how destructive the sun gets in the summer months and why you can’t grow hostas or any other shade and moisture loving plants but of course in compensation there  are a range of plants we can only dream about in Ireland such as yuccas , aguaves and the huge range of cacti that thrive in the hot sun .

Cactus cuttings , Gornja Podgora , Croatia , 30th May 2024

This particular cactus I usually grow in pots and it really likes desert conditions so I top each pot off with a thick layer of pebbles from the beach and when I prune it back like today I prepare slips in open ground and pop them in eight at a time and cover with a layer of compost and grit … the take up rate is about 80 % and this way I use them as ground cover in various parts of the garden .

The aguaves thrive here and soak up all that the sun can throw at them and of course as they are happy they reproduce off shoots from each maturing plant and these I also dig up and plant elsewhere in the garden … the variegated aguaves such as the ones I was planting up in May are a little less prolific so I start the new ones off in pots and plant them out in the garden after a year or two in pots … Snezana hates them all , variegated or otherwise because of the sharp spiky tops that can snag you but for me they are the quintessential mediterranean plant but you do have to be careful around them especially weeding near them and you need to protect your eyes especially .

Aguave cuttings , Gornja Podgora , 28th May 2024

Tourists in Greece are usually there for one thing , the beaches , and if you follow social media it seems thy are also there for sunsets … if you believe Instagram then Oia on Santorini is THE favourite place to watch sunsets and while it is always nice to see the sun set into the sea but the down side on Santorini is that about eight thousand other people will be standing shoulder to  shoulder with you in  Oia all trying to get the perfect photo !

We also saw memorable sunsets on Mykonos but my personal favourite was on the island of Naxos where we saw the sun set into the sea  behind the 6th Century BC Temple of Apollo .

Naxos , Temple of Apollo , April 12th 2024

Sunsets anywhere are lovely but there is something different and special about the sun sinking into the sea and here I have to declare a personal favourite of the sun setting into the Adriatic sea between the islands of Brac and Hvar as seen from Gornja Podgora in Croatia !

Sunset from Gornja Podgora , Croatia , 26th May 2024

The Daily Telegraph devoted a recent gardening page to How to look after the trees in your Garden and made the interesting point “ people are afraid of trees , will it damage my property , will it fall on me , all those leaves and they encourage birds that mess up my car ” but after that tongue in cheek but true statement it went on to make some interesting points such as that trees such as oak trees “ call ” birds by emitting an odour when attacked by an invasion of caterpillars “so that the birds come and devour them ”.

The article by Bunny Guiness also states that topping an established tree will result in greater growth lower down which in turn will cause rot and eventually can kill the tree and apparently that while mulching a tree with light wood chippings can be beneficial but that using commercial fertilisers is a waste of time … if using wood chippings then willow chippings are best as this mulch produces salicylic acid a type of aspirin “which is helpful for trees under disease stress ” .

I saw recently an advertisement for the sale of berginias which said that the popular perrenial could be an alternative to hostas , in effect the new hostas and while my initial rection was no , never  and then I began to think about all the effort that goes into hostas , the battle with snails and slugs and in our case here with deer eating hostas like caviar … could there be something in this ?

Hostas and Bergenia in the Front Garden , 12th May 2024

I love hostas and they are my absolute favourite perennial in the garden , real show stoppers when in their best conditions which is fairly moist soil and partial shade . You grow hostas for their leaf , the flowers are nothing special and they will display from April to October … but there is one huge drawback to growing hostas … SNAILS AND SLUGS … you can put down all sorts of preventive measures from garlic , broken glass , pebbles to dancing naked in the moonlight … or go full nuclear and use slug tox which kills them dead … but the slugs will always manage to get through and hostas are like caviar to the buggers .

I don’t grow hostas in the open ground anymore due to the deer that are regular visitors to the take away they regard our garden as and you do have to ask yourself are hostas worth the effort .

Deer almost at the back door , 30th May 2024

Bergenias are trouble free , tough as old boots and tolerating all soil conditions . nothing eats them and they retain their leaves all year round , easy to propagate ( just snap off and pot up a leaf with a bit of root between November to May ) and they look good … not as good as hostas admittedly but I rate bergenias as one of the planting go to’s in the garden .

Hostas versus Bergenias … I wouldn’t choose even though I now limit hostas to pots and I wouldn’t be without either in the garden … but if you force me I will say that for sheer presence over twelve months then it has to be the bergenia .

Hosta Gold Standard , Front Garden , 12th May 2024

We have water hens in the water areas throughout the garden where they have loads of water ways and lots of cover on the banks to hide as they are a shy little bird that stays away from people unlike the winter ducks here that strut their stuff like models … we hear the water hen rather than see them as they cluck cluck loudly when you are approaching and then glide away silently .

Snezana was cleaning out some heavy cress and valerian from the island area this week and heard a water hen giving out like mad and luckily she just stopped short of taking out a nest in the middle of the water neatly woven into the tall cress … we will enjoy watching that water hen parading her chicks in a few weeks !

Water Hen’s nest in the Water Garden , May 2024

As I get older I constantly ask myself where does time go and when I was younger , ten , twenty years took an age and seemed so long but now the years fly and I was reminded of this earlier in the month when youngest son , Diarm ,  ( young … he is now forty one ! ) captained a plane flying from Senegal to Medina with Muslim pilgrims on the Hadj and took a photo passing over the pyramids in Egypt … great photo but it reminded me when I took him to the pyramids in 2000 when he was seventeen … where indeed does the time go !

The Pyramids at Giza, 6th June 2024 photographed by Diarm

Pyramids at Giza February 2000

Diarm and I at the Pyramids , Feb. 2000

The Garden at Old Spa Road in May

The Back Garden , 12th May 2024
The Back Garden , May 2024

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