Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sunflowers and Birdies

My sunflowers are probably 3-4 weeks out from blooming. I planted them in mid April as soon as I could. In a month an a half these things have grown huge. I have two varieties - the Mammoth, and the Goliath. In other words, the big varieties. I planted them along the "back" (northern) side of my longest Lasagna Garden Bed.

I wanted to see which variety would get the tallest for myself. So far, Goliath is in the lead. They both have big beautiful foliage that forms a nice canopy out from the stem. I love to water these plants. Sunflowers like this have thick stems and wide shallow root systems. Their leaf canopies direct the water right to the ends of the root systems. Nature is amazing to me. The picture below is the dividing line between the Goliath on the left and the Mammoth on the right. They were all planted on the same day an have received the same attention. The Goliath are about six feet tall and the mammoth range from 3-5 feet.

I have a pair of brown birds that have nested in my grape arbor. They came to visit me out here today. They've nested in a good spot to eat my grapes, but I am willing to share as long as I get enough for some more apple grape jelly this year. They are a little hard to see here, but I tried to get closer and they flew away. One is on the arbor, just above the seat and the other is to the right in the grass.

The peace I feel when I am out here is wonderful. It is my refuge from reality. I have neglected my garden now for two weeks, it shows, and there is a lot to do. But the it does not make me anxious like the stresses of indoor household work. I procrastinate because I don't enjoy it like I enjoy yard work. I do find myself skipping other things- housework, errands, other hobbies - to be out here among my plants. Letting my kids play in the sprinkler today counts as a bath for them right? ;)

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Buggies, tomatoes, weeds...

My garden is having very serious pest problems this year! Today I squished dozens of egg clusters from my zucchini. I think I may also have a cut worm in one of my zucchini plants. If one more leaf is dead tomorrow, I will dig out the whole plant and the surrounding dirt.

I have my very first tomatoes coming out on my more mature plants. I'm so excited I will have tomatoes to eat in a few weeks. I can almost taste the first tomato sandwich!

My beans are beginning to bloom. I harvested my first new potatoes. I have peas coming out of my ears! Everything is growing well including the weeds. Oh, and I have my first spot of poison ivy on my arm... That annual battle has definitely begun! I hope to get out tomorrow and pull some weeds and give my garden a really good soaking. It will be 92 and everything is going to roast. I may throw an umbrella over my lettuce!

Before Ireland, my garden was so small, now everything is huge!
Here is a before and after of my sunflowers.

So exciting!! Now if I can just keep the bugs and crab grass at bay I will be doing well!!

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Peat Moss and Bog Destruction

One of the benefits of being in the Connemara region of Ireland this week has been learning epoch amounts of information about bogs and bog land destruction. All over Ireland are small patches of bog, however, there used to be much more. Because of the lack of natural trees in the area, farmers have used bog sod for everything from building huts and out buildings to heating fuel. Every where you go you see the stuff laid out to dry or in piles for collection. They use spades and these long tools to cut out fairly uniform chunks of peaty sod. When this is done by individual farmers for individual needs this usually isn't a huge problem. But done in large enough numbers for so many years, it takes a toll on the natural environment. The amount of bogs in Ireland have decreased a great deal. And I am sure it is a similar situation anywhere peat moss is harvested for commercial use as well.

We visited Connemara National Park today. The visitor's center had a lot of great information about bogs and how they have changed due to human destruction. Especially look at the maps of Ireland and how the amount of blog land has dwindled. There are many species who thrive in these bog lands and it seems a shame to take away their habitat. Much of the land here is now used for sheep herds.

In the US we get much of our commercial Peat Moss from the bogs of Canada. It contains almost no nutrients, but is seen as a soil additive because it adds a bit of aeration. There is so much more we can use as our soil additives. There is no need to strip these dwindling ecosystems of their native lands for soil additives or heating fuel unless it is necessary for survival.

On a more positive note, the bog walk in the park was really nice, though, today has been a very wet and rainy day. We took a many kilometer hike up a mountain and back down. Again, my anti-nature, very sweet husband was indulging my need to explore the environment. He went the whole way with me and even pretended to enjoy himself. ;). We saw great landscapes again, along with more sheep and some of Connemara Stat Park's herd of Ponies.

Tomorrow we head home and while I have loved every minute in Ireland, I am ready to see my kids, my animals and my garden! It feels like forever since I've seen my kids and I miss them greatly.

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Kylemore Abbey

Well, I had a beautiful post written, with loads of text to go along with the pictures and BlogPress crashed... That will teach me... Save along the way. So, since I don't feel like writing an epoch again, I will just say a few things and then post a lot of pictures below. The grounds of Kylemore Abbey are breathtaking. The house is beautiful; the Neo-Gothic Church contains a ton of gardening elements carved in stone; the extended woodland walk is everything I'd hoped (and I am thankful to have an indulgent husband willing to walk it with me even though nature isn't his thing), and the gardens... Wow!!! The Fuchsia, which the nuns paint on pottery and grows in shrubs all around the property is much different than the fuchsia I have seen in pots in the states. But it is quite a delicate and understated looking flower until you get up close and see how pretty it is. Our camera battery began dying near the gardens so the pictures are darker than I would have liked. But you will get the idea of the grandeur of this garden. From the vegetables to the formal garden, it is all landscaped so precisely. So nice!

Crooked smiley face tree with ferns sticking out of his ears.

Gian tree! Makes me look skinnier!!

This last one is of the outer garden wall... The mountain in the background... Ah... This place is heaven. Is it too late for me to become an Irish Benedictine Nun?

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The Green of Ireland

My husband and I are on a trip to Ireland. We spent several days among the stone and mortar cathedrals and castles, and the beautiful immaculate suburban gardens of Dublin and the surrounding area (Clontarf to be exact). Dublin Castle and the Cathedrals are beautiful and I liked Dublin. The people there are great and it is really a cultured town.

But I really enjoyed Clontarf. We stayed in Clontarf Castle and explored quite a bit of the area (some of it by happy accident). There I saw some beautiful gardens that really brought me joy and gave me loads of ideas for my own front yard. I am not sure I can be as elaborate with the larger amount of space I have available and the amount of money I have to spend, but I plan on bumming day lilies, irises, and other perennials off of everyone I can this fall so I can get started. I found a tree that I love and I need to find out if it is available in the US. It reminds me a lot of a cross between a weeping cherry and a forsythia. Saint Patricks had a massive version of this tree. Though standing to the left of Saint Patrick's Cathedral, it looks a little wimpy! But to give a little scale, we were standing nearly a full city block away to get the whole cathedral in the picture and still didn't manage to get the clock tower in the picture!

I didn't take too many pictures of private gardens, mostly because people were not out in their yards for me to ask if it was okay if I did so. However, I saw a load of perennials that are used in US gardens: columbine, irises, lilies, allium, box shrubs, holly, periwinkle, etc. And as with anywhere in this region of the world, loads and loads of Ivy. It is everywhere. There is a cemetery behind Clontarf Castle Hotel that besides being beautiful, it also contains what remains of the church where Bram Stoker was baptized. The main tower happens to be covered in ivy.

I also came across the most beautiful little garden snails having a not so private, private moment just outside the cemetery. Not sure why four of them decided to congregate on top of this stump to make baby snails, but I guess it was as good a place as any.

The biggest thing I have noticed about Ireland is the lack of abundance of big box stores. I have seen a total of two. A big box home improvement store, and an IKEA. Even within Dublin, there was very little in the way of strip malls. I even saw a store called "Knobs and Knockers" that really sells only door knobs and door knockers. Though the name threw me into hysterical giggles.

The further west into the countryside you go, you see more sheep than people and the land turns from fairly flat to gently rolling hills and finally to these beautiful ancient mountains that signify how old and fertile this island is. The houses in this area remind me a little of West Virginia and Virginia. You can definitely tell that the families of that area of the United States immigrated and took that Scotch/Irish heritage and sense of style with them. The houses have rock walls around the front yards, they are set fairly close to the road, and even some of the architecture is similar. But while the Appalachian mountains are so beautiful for their grandeur, jagged cliffs and forests; the mountains of the Conemara region are beautiful for their antiquity, lakes, and green pastures. They are green in the most vivid sense. Saying they are green barely scratches the surface of how teeming with life these mountains are. Broken here and there on their peaks by patches of weather worn stone, and in their valleys crystal clear lakes, they evoke a sense of calm and tranquility. It is no wonder the people here seem to move at a much more relaxed pace. No one seems in a hurry to get to where they are going.

Even though the mountains, from a distance, appear to be mostly grass, there is a variety here that is surprising. Rhododendron are abundant, elderberry, raspberry, ferns, moss, trees, shrubs of all sorts dot the landscape. There are patches of forest all along the valleys as well as creeks and waterfalls.

Nestled among the amazing landscape are cottages, hotels, B&B's. We are staying in Kylemore House. A B&B located near Kylemore Abbey. What a great spot! We have a nice sized bathroom, a nice room, and the smells wafting up from the kitchen are amazing. This sweet lady downstairs is making a chicken stew.

Our first day in West Ireland ended in Letterfrack where we ate a wonderful dinner at The Bard's Den. Dinner was delicious and the service was great. It seemed to be a local hang out for a lot of the older youth and young adults, and the atmosphere is great. Oh, and we found out they have a public access wireless network! Score!

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