Hurricane Ophelia and it’s aftermath has dominated the Irish garden scene since we got smacked with it on October 16th when the eye of the storm came through the south and on up through the west over a period of twelve hours leaving a trail of destruction behind . I think the worst was waiting for the first hurricane ever to arrive in Ireland to actually hit land and there was an eerie calm before the storm and an unusual light for 24 hours before which I read afterwards was from a combination of smoke from the recent forest fires in Portugal mixed with sand from the Sahara whipped up by the outside swirls of Ophelia . It was Ireland’s first experience of an actual hurricane and we had no clue what would happen or how much destruction it would cause , we had all seen on TV the results of hurricanes that regularly hit the US and Carribean with wide swathes of roofless house and knocked over palm trees and wondered was that our fate also but we got off relatively lucky in the end thankfully and Ireland North and South came through battered and bruised but still standing .
Gardening friends in the Clonmel area lost huge trees but here in our garden we were lucky to get away with the loss of about five conifers and various branches off the eucalyptus , the pergolas of course were stripped of climbing roses but none were lost and it was an easy job to tie them back .
I lost this native oak which was a self seeded tree of ten years old and the force of the wind peeled it like a banana splitting the tree into three parts and of course the fact that it was in full heavy leaf helped the destruction … gone forever but one has to be philosophical as a gardener and the loss of a big tree like this creates an interesting vacuum in the surrounding area with far more light coming in and changing the ambience of the area and I am quite looking forward to seeing the new space as soon as we have cleaned it .
Eucalyptus has very brittle branches and despite my preaching often in this column that I prune all new specimens here to three metres maximum to promote the young juvenile leaf growth and to stop the tree from just sprouting into the sky , one or two got away on me and got too big to be cut back and one of these toppled over onto the path during Ophelia ‘s kiss and today I cut it hard back and stood it in it’s original position where it should pick up again and sprout in early Spring .
Luckily the garden came through the hurricane without significant damage and the following day I took these photos post Hurricane Ophelia .
And Snezana was out picking this season’s pears from the fruit area
Normally I wait until November to start cutting down the large clumps of gunnera but Ophelia had flattened them so I started this job about three weeks earlier than normal as they looked miserable and it helped to put some order back in the garden and even though as I said we were lucky here to escape the brunt of Ophelia it still took a wrecking ball across the various exposed areas .
Busy also from the middle of October beginning the pruning back of perennials and the cutting down of tall annuals and herbs such as fennel and mint as now their main flowering is over and time for them to hunker down and gather their strength to quietly get through the winter months until next March and April when off we go again . Some perennials I let die naturally such as the grasses like miscanthus which have a nice ghost like quality through November to after Christmas when they add some outline structure to the garden in winter and which I then cut down completely in February to allow the new growth to come through .
I enjoy cutting back throughout October November as it gives a good tidy up to the borders but also you feel you are making the garden winter ready and clearing the ground to allow access for spraying any weeds and like us all the garden needs a rest in the winter !
What did you do in the garden today Dad one of the four asked me by phone this evening in that bored tone those of you with adult children will recognise where they really don’t want an answer in what is the perfunctory phone call of the week to a Dad / Mam who has nothing to do and who cannot possibly understand how incredibly busy they themselves are … !!! Anyway it got me thinking what did I do and as usual I went into the garden with a specific task in mind , in this case do some spraying of a border that has the usual infestation at this time of year of couch grass and then use the leaf blower around the house and paths and then as usual when the weather is kind I got diverted to some jobs that needed to be done but haven’t had the motivation to do for the past week , I waded into a pond and pulled out some bull rushes and long grass and then cleaned up and cut back five clumps of gunnera … some days are pure enjoyment in the garden and today after a week of horrendous wind and rain was one of them !
Staying on the subject of young people none of mine are interested in gardening , never were , and in fact none of my gardening friends have kids that are interested and come to think of it I don’t know any young gardeners at all and without exception the gardening societies are full of middle aged to older people and all the visitors to the garden fall into that age bracket also so where are the gardeners of the future ? There are economic reasons of course as the majority of young people gravitate to the cities to work and either rent apartments or get a step on the property market where invariably there are little or no garden space available but that economic factor aside it is a fact that gardening is not a young persons game anymore and who will take over when the wheels fall of the zimmer frames of my generation ?!
This week after Hurricane Ophelia the talk among gardening friends is about which small trees to plant in place of gaps left after the wind took down specimens and I remember back in the 1970’s and 80’s when I was starting out as a serious gardener I loved to read various garden gurus selection of small trees to plant , some of which I realise now were hopelessly exotic for our climate in the UK and Ireland and in a lot of cases trees were chosen from a sense of elitism and showing off and the best selection I can recall was from a young Dan Pearson . Interestingly twenty years later in his latest book just published called Natural Selection Dan Pearson is building his own garden on a 20 acre hilly site in Somerset with different types of soil and with extreme wind exposure in various areas and he far more pragmatic in his choice of trees and shrubs and this highlights for me the problem with all these guru guides as they are all written for a perfect garden in a perfect site and it is only with local knowledge can you write such a guide for your own garden … my go to tree is the silver birch , nice shape and beautiful bark in all seasons and not too fussy with soil or wind and my top three medium size trees are silver birch , mountain ash variety “ lutescens , moonbeam ” and salix purpurea , a weeping blue branched willow … if you have a space caused by Ophelia you won’t go wrong with any of these trees .
One of my favourite plants in gunnera and I fell in love with this plant back in 1982 when I saw it in a friends garden in Rosslare Strand , he had just bought this old house which came with a lovely garden with a good sized garden pond around which a magnificent gunnera towered , he was no gardener himself but told me to help myself to a piece of the gunnera and that winter I cut a few chunks of it and those clumps grew huge leaves and to this day I love gunnera . As I have said earlier Ophelia knocked my gunnera leaves here all over the place with the result that I am cutting the clumps back earlier than I would normally do in late November and the only down side of gunnera is that it dies badly and looks very messy so I cut and fold the leaves back over the growing centre which tidies it up but also provides shelter against frost which in early February can burn the young emerging foliage .
The sight of young gunneral foliage peeping through it’s dead canopy of protective leaves lifts the heart , well this heart at least , in March when the new stalks push up through the old leaves with their bright young green growth .
A clump of gunnera in the Water Garden after Hurricane Ophelia
After the tidy up
And how the gunnera looked in it’s pomp in July 2017
With most of the leaves gone off the trees early this year I have filled up the bird seed mixes outside and we have the usual families of blue tits visiting and I must say I love watching these guys as they are so respectful of each other , every blue tit gets its chance to feed , they don’t mob the feeder like other species and a bigger bird will always wait until a smaller bird leaves and there is no bullying behaviour . no Donald Trump among the blue tit species !
And finally for the weekend that’s in it , a picture from the conifer wood …. HAPPY HALLOWEEN !
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