Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Problems and Wheelie Big Problems


It is wonderful in the woods these mornings.
We go early, so the sun is still slanting sideways through the fresh new leaves.
The first bluebells are just starting to open. They are late this year, but magically beautiful, as always.

They aren't the only new things appearing in the woods. There are birds everywhere.
All the way up the road seagulls were mewling above us, high in the pale sky, and a pair of herons were lazily circling over the river when we arrived. They nest in the trees just by the water's edge so perhaps they were looking for an adequate breakfast for a growing family.
Further up the path SuperModel disturbed a pair of pheasant who flew out of the undergrowth, croaking in alarm. The male flew off (no comment), but the female stood her ground on the path, hesitant but defensive. I called SuperModel away - I expect the hen was worrying about chicks somewhere nearby.

I found myself worrying too as we stepped smartly along the well-worn track.
I still haven't got any wheels for Dublin. I've asked several motor companies, so I hope the latest one will come up trumps. At home, we only have the Silver Beast - that treacherous jade - and while she and I could happily set off for Dublin together (with who knows what little breakdowns tucked up her sleeve!), I can't leave the In-Charge stranded for a month with just a dodgy bicycle to get to Sligo on - it's 30 miles, and he has finals looming! I have the promise of a vehicle for a week, which is wonderful and generous, but I really need the whole month sorted before I set out at the start of May.

However, the best antidote for worry is a bigger worry. My personal wheels pale to insignificance compared with the problem of transporting the contents of the garden from Sligo to Dublin.
In one piece, so to speak.
The trees get bigger and bigger in my mind's eye.
The soft planting gets softer and more fragile.
It all gets heavier and heavier.
I don't think the bicycle is going to cut the mustard.

Well, I've been putting it out there - some serious haulage sponsorship is what's needed. Fingers, toes and eyes crossed something will come back to me soon!

On the way home, I took the dogs down to the little beach in the woods to have a splash and a drink, but as I approached the river I saw a mother duck lazily paddling through a pool of sunlight, a tight cluster of ducklings nestled around her.
I wanted to stop and look - enjoy the lovely morning of their lives, but I didn't dare.
SuperModel probably likes ducklings, and she doesn't have any at home. My hard-won victory over the hens ('Family, NOT food! Family NOT food!') would probably have disappeared like mist in the sun. Family is, after all, only found on one's own property!
I ran in the opposite direction, yelling 'Sweeties!' and waving dog treats in the air.
It never fails.

Some problems are easier to solve than others.
The ducklings are, I daresay, still sunbathing on the water.
Whereas my wheels - large and small - are sunbathing in some location as yet unknown to me.

The Kansan near my back door cheered me up a good bit, though.
It's also a bit late - but everything comes at the right time.
Hopefully even wheels.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

The Week


Where do the weeks go?

The hours have been turned into minutes, the days into blips.
My life has been hijacked by a ravenous time-eating Bloom-machine.
Somehow, it's almost Sunday again.
But, before I go into another tail-spin, I need to remind myself that I have achieved a good bit in this whirlwind week.

Last Sunday was Easter Day. I worked all day, paperwork - planting - paperwork - planting. At least the sun shone and it was balmy and spring-like, and we did stop in the evening. My friend DodoWoman had invited us for supper. It was delicious - and wonderful to switch off for a few hours.

Monday was,  of course, a bank holiday. Officially that is - there are no bank holidays in this house at the moment, nor will there be for the foreseeable future!
The sun shone as we piled the dogs into the car, hitched on the little trailer and headed out.
Not on a glorious picnic, but plant-hunting.

Eddie Walsh, the owner of Lissadell House, had kindly invited me to go and dig up some of the candelabra primulas that were bred there over a hundred years ago. I'd asked him if I could - they will be a perfect addition to my Yeats garden.
It couldn't have been a nicer day and the Model Dogs were thrilled to be going on an adventure.
(Rather meanly, we hadn't shown them the leads, forks or gardening gloves.) 

The sea at Lissadell

King's Mountain behind the beach at Lissadell. SuperModel chasing the seagulls

The ModelDogs practising good behaviour

Happy Days!
It was heaven at Lissadell. The sun shone and the sea sparkled like molten silver through the bare trees.
The Models gambolled on the beach (you have to gambol in Spring) and lay in the sea, and grinned inanely, but all too soon they were on their leads being told to behave themselves as Eddie and Constance welcomed us, and took us to the primula-dotted woods. Thank heavens - moments later, a couple of deer went running through the trees and Model Dog nearly took my hand off at the wrist as she leapt to the chase - she is a deer-hound cross, after all. I just managed to hang on to her and (to their chagrin) they both stayed on leads while I dug.

We took lots of photos while we were at it. The In-Charge is going to draw the house, with iconic Benbulben to one side, to make a print for my Yeats garden. Yeats and Lissadell are a bit like strawberries and cream, they kind of go together.

Lissadell and Benbulben (and SuperModel, of course)

But we didn't linger very long - we had more calls to make, so we bundled the Models and my two buckets of primulas back into the car, and headed off to Brendan's garden.
What was left of Brendan's garden that is.
The dear man has dug most of it up for me, and plants in every container known to man (and several heretofore unknown) confronted me inside his gates. I knew at first glance that our small trailer wasn't going to cut the mustard with that lot, and in any case, Brendan wasn't there.

After watering a few things that weren't sure if they were enjoying the heatwave or not, we headed off to Nazareth House to fill the trailer with dead leaves.
They must have thought I was balmy when I asked if it was OK. I mean, who waltzes in and offers to sweep up your dead leaves and take them away?
We used our tarpaulin like a giant bag, filled the trailer and headed home.
By then, the Models had forgotten the beach at Lissadell and were less than impressed with their day out.

The silent road to Dublin

On Wednesday, we rose in the dark and headed out into a world devoid of sound and people.
It was cold in the blue of the morning. Fog drifted like milky smoke in the fields, turning dawn into a mystical sacrament, the sun a distant red god veiled in the sky, the bare trees spreading their arms in hushed worship.
We passed unseen through their morning ritual.

Three hours later, when we got to Dublin, it was just another busy day, our dawn flight faded with the mist.
I spent the day at Bord Bia, meeting other garden designers; the People who Make Bloom Happen; the Health and Safety officers; the PR team; the tea ladies...
It was a good day - tiring but very informative. They were all human, and nice, enthusiastic and helpful. It made my project seem - paradoxically - more manageable but also more terrifying. It was good to meet people for whom this is challenging but routine, but it also reinforced the ticking clock deadlines, the reality of having to translate my vision into a spectacle for many, many eyes.
We drove home watching the sun - back to a deep, fiery red ball - falling through a milky, misting sky. In the real, real world, nothing had changed. The day had just been handful of insubstantial hours.

Friday was the launch of the Yeats Day celebrations.
I was invited to go and mix with the great and the good, and afterwards I had lunch with Lucy.

Later we inspected my beech tree which had been delivered to her yard in our absence. We stood and looked at it in dismay. It was not what either of us was expecting, and it certainly was not going to fit the bill.
One of her chaps joined us, on his way home for the weekend. The two of them stood looking at it, comparing it with several beeches they had planted in the last while.
Minutes later I found myself being taken to look at some of those vastly superior specimens.
'Shall we?' said Lucy.
'We could,' he replied.
The two other lads, who'd just gone home were called back. The digger was dug out of the shed, the truck was brought to the site. Within what seemed like minutes a tree had been lifted from the ground, my poor, unsuitable and unloved specimen had been put into the hole (where it can quietly grow into itself) and the new tree was being loaded onto the truck.

Lucy and her team

And, bless them all, instead of going home, they then drove it, and the other few trees that had arrived that morning, out to Jack's and spent I don't know how long potting them up.
Some people are just totally wonderful.

Whiskey time again.
Wholly inadequate.

And today is Saturday. The week has turned full circle faster than light.
On Saturdays, lots of people chill out, watch sport, put their feet up.
That would be nice. Not the sport, but the feet up bit.
But Brendan's garden was calling and - yet again - Jack came up trumps.
With his trailer and Dutch trolleys, he drove me out to Calry where Brendan was waiting, bless him.
Sunshine, hail and a chilly breeze notwithstanding, we loaded - and loaded - and loaded.
Now Brendan's garden is in my yard, all six trolleys-full, not to mention bags, trays, tubs, fridge doors (he's an inventive chap, Brendan), buckets and basins.

Jack, the ModelDogs and Brendan's garden 

I call it 'my garden at Bloom'.
It isn't my garden at all.
It is a garden being created by a tireless, amazing, generous team of fabulous people.
(And two dogs.)


Sunday, 5 April 2015

The Morning After



It's amazing what a good night's sleep can do for you.
Sleep has been a bit here-and-there-ian, a fickle bedfellow recently.
While tiredness, inevitably, has been a Siamese twin.
Is it not ever thus?
However, this morning I feel as fresh as a daisy, as my mother used to say.

I suppose there is truth in the old adage. Not about daisies - but about the enemy you know being less fearful than the one you don't.
The trees for my Yeats garden at Bloom have certainly been a foe beyond the gates - but, in tree terms, this was the week that was. Bad enough for me, but I don't even want to think about how it's been for Jack.
Jack, as you may recall, has put his shoulder to the Bloom-wheel and now also goes under the alternative title of 'My Hero'.
He spent last week, in gales, rain, mizzle and more gales, gouging, slinging and lifting trees out of the ground, into pots, out of pots, to this location, to that location and generally getting soaked, re-soaked and beyond frazzled.
All - I am reliably informed - without losing it.
Some trick.

As you can probably tell, I wasn't there.
I wasn't idle last week - I'm feeling the need to justify myself here, I just put in my hours elsewhere. My only contribution to the Tree Operation was sleepless nights.
A futile offering indeed.
Yesterday, I drove down to Jack's armed with a bottle of good whiskey.
It seemed wholly, woefully inadequate.

The deep trenches gouged in the verge of his laneway told their own sorry tale of overburdened vehicles in-coming.
We reviewed the trees in minute detail. They are all on drips in his Intensive Care Ward, as he calls it, and no patient in any ward has either been better cared for or had a more probing doctor's round than ours.
They are all in one place, they are enormous and they look great - but, admittedly, it is a bit early to say. They might still suffer from fatal arrests and turn up their muddy toes. I hope not. I feel bad enough wrenching them from their cosy, unremarkable homes.
Or rather, having them wrenched.

I came home and spent the rest of the afternoon with a tape measure and a bag of flour in the orchard.

The In-Charge, at my request, had cordoned off a plot the size of the garden at Bloom. I need to get a feel for the reality of it, trees and all.
The hens thought it was a terrific new game, and followed on my heels like the birds in Hansel and Gretel, but eventually even they got bored with eating it - white, self-raising wouldn't be high on their list.
The trees are big, there's no doubt about it, but they need to be. They need to look mature, like they've always been there.
I still have flutters of unease. Suppose they are too big? Suppose they die? HOW am I to get them to Dublin in one piece - in leaf, by then? Suppose they don't come into leaf - dead trees don't come into leaf...  Suppose, suppose, suppose...
But at least I now have them - they are safe, in one place, in the ICU and for the moment at least, present, correct and ticked off.
At some level I suppose something has relaxed, because I slept like the proverbial baby.
Even though I wasn't the one drinking the whiskey.

And this morning, Easter Day, despite the battering, freezing, howling weather we have had this week, my garden is calm and still and full of timid flowers.
Perhaps I am calm and still and full of timid optimism.
For today anyway.

Friday, 27 March 2015

The Night Watch


It's 3.45am and I should be tucked up in my beddy-byes, but instead I've given up pretending that I'm going to go back to sleep anytime soon, I've thrown on my dressing gown and I'm sitting in the kitchen.
It's very warm in the kitchen, the fire is still glowing in the stove, but the Models, after an initially enthusiastic welcome have retired to their beds and SuperModel is groaning periodically - the canine equivalent of: 'Turn that light off! Some of us are trying to sleep here!'
Sleep? What is that?
A fable from some far-off land.
I'm having breakfast.

My poor, fevered brain keeps returning (unbidden, I might add) to the knotty problem of the mural.
There is a mural in my Bloom garden.
When I say it's causing me sleepless nights, I'm not exaggerating.
I'm not as concerned about the front of the mural as I am about the back, which must sound odd, I know.
The front of the mural is in Nik's tender hands, and as there are no better hands in which it could be, I have happily excised about 90% of anxiety on that score.
It's the fixing of the mural that is bugging me.

It was my contractor who first flagged it up. We spent a long time talking about the where's and whyfor's a couple of weeks ago and I thought we had - basically - sorted it.
Then I discussed it with Nik (who is inconsiderate enough to be wintering in France, enjoying himself) and he seemed happy enough with the overall plan. He pointed me in the direction of an engineer he knows.
So yesterday - no, the day before - I spent a profitable hour or so discussing it with this enterprising individual. When I asked whether he'd consider Sponsoring the required edifice, he looked at me speculatively and said it wasn't up to him, but he'd enquire.
I came home and triumphantly announced to the In-Charge that the mural was - at least in theory - sorted.

However, today - yesterday, I mean - I went to see the other engineer I've had in my sights.
He was fairly short and sharp and immediately pointed out several flaws in my newly hatched Grand Plan.
He also whacked a pretty hefty price tag on the whole operation, and when I asked if he'd Sponsor it for the greater good of the world and mankind - Yeats and Sligo in particular - he gave me a somewhat old fashioned look and said No. He then re-considered and said he'd throw in the cost of the labour.
It was a morsel, for which I was suitably grateful.

I'm not quite so grateful to find myself - at some ungodly hour of the morning - back at the design drawing board, having not passed GO and definitely not having collected 200.
The whole mural clock has, it seems, been turned back a month, with more questions now than I had at the outset.

I don't like lying in bed listening to the high-pitched squeal of my brain in overdrive.
It is not a restful way to pass the night watch, nor has it even provided any engineering solutions.
But at least I did pause to notice how beautiful my daffodils are while the kettle boiled. I picked them without even looking yesterday.
So the night is not entirely wasted.
And thank goodness the poor Models have managed to snatch a bit of kip, despite all.
That's something to be grateful for.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

To Tree Or Not To Tree

NOT what I need for the Bloom garden, but Lucy and I quite fancied these as patio umbrellas


I spent a good bit of last week looking at trees.
In fact, I find myself looking at trees all the time. In hedgerows as I'm driving, in other peoples' gardens, in the woods with the dogs. And they are no sooner seen than categorised.
Too big - too small - good shape - not enough branches.
Birch - willow - hazel - alder. Sycamore even. Beech - if only.
And then there's the ash.
There are a lot of ash. They are beautiful trees.
I often find that the perfect specimen I've just eyed-up is an ash.
I was offered three perfect young ash trees, well - in fact a horse tried to eat them some years ago, but, having recovered, the resultant shapes were perfect - but it ain't gonna happen.
It is illegal to even lift an ash from the ground at the moment, let alone transport it to Dublin.

On Saturday, Jack took me to see some apple trees.
I have been on the hunt for a likely apple tree since January.
We walked around an old orchard just a couple of villages away.
The owner has kindly said I can borrow one. And a couple of cherries too - if I bring them back, and help Jack set the orchard to rights, which is fair enough. Jack is kindly going back to lift them on Thursday, which knots my stomach uncomfortably. I hate the thought of lifting these trees. Suppose they don't like it? Suppose they curl up their little torn roots and die? They are a bit neglected, and a bit overshadowed by a row of massive sycamores, but they aren't dead. Yet.

But if the garden at Bloom is to be made, trees we must have, and a) I haven't got the budget to buy them, and b) I can't find the right ones to buy anyway.
It's all very difficult.
I wish I'd known this was 'Go-go-go!' last autumn. At least then we could have trenched around these trees, let them make some little rootlets, steadied themselves against the shock.
But you know what they say - if wishes were horses...(they'd eat all the ash trees).

Anyway, there's no rest for the wicked.
On Sunday we loaded the Models into the car and headed off to Leitrim, to see a man about a cabin.
It's a bit of a puzzle, Leitrim. In my head it's sort of northeast of here, but to get there we drove an hour and a half down the road to Dublin.
Hmm. But it was a good day and the sun shone.

We ended up in the middle of a forest, talking to two lovely people while I secretly admired the way they live in such close connection with the land. Their garden was a delight - and the antithesis of mine. It has grown, bit by bit, into spaces that were once woodland, and most things that want to grow are allowed to grow. (Which doesn't happen in gardens that belong to control-freaks.) Their old cottage, in the middle of the clearing, has had a bit added on here and there, and is hunkered down seamlessly into its environment.
Outside the door - every door - flowers spilled out of old clay pipes and scillas spread across the ground like pale, early bluebells, while the dogs - ours and theirs - ran around like kids at a party.
It was a place of ease in the best sense, a place of welcome, and letting-live.

Niall weaves hazel and willow and makes all kinds of things from wood, including yurts frames - his own is pictured here, waiting for its sedum roof this spring - as well as chairs with character and traditional hay rakes and all kinds of other things.

He is going to build Yeats's cabin for me (the bit of it we need), from 'clay and wattles'.
I'm delighted.
If he weaves the magic of his homeplace into it, it will bring all the zen I could wish for into my little garden at Bloom. 

Saturday, 21 March 2015

A Yeatsian Twist


I'm probably the only person around who hasn't got a picture of the eclipse.
I was in the woods with the Models at the time. It was mizzling and then it went dark - ish.
The dark didn't last as long as the mizzle actually.
Squinting up at the sky, I managed to blind myself with a fingernail, a crescent moon of white-hot sunlight.

Not that it shows in this photo.

Last time there was an eclipse, we were in the south of France and it was all much more dramatic.
The sky really did darken, birds rose screeching from the trees and the world seemed to go out of sync for several minutes, an untimely wind whipping out of nowhere to whirl briefly around the market square and cathedral tower in the town where we were shopping.

Today's event wasn't quite so cinematic, although the official pictures from elsewhere are rather amazing.
Watching them, a snatch of Yeats twisted in my head, describing the photos perfectly:
'The golden aura of the moon, the silver crescent of the sun...'

I daresay Yeats is groaning in his grave, but there you go.
As it happens, my son has the original, correct version of those lovely lines tattooed on his body.
I wonder if that would make yer one groan even more loudly, or would he be quite pleased?

Thursday, 19 March 2015



It's been another beautiful day. Not a pet day like yesterday, but still lovely.
I actually left my desk and went into the garden to pot up a few weeds - as you do.
I shall need them for Bloom.
I don't think the weeds could believe their luck. When I grabbed them by the neck and yanked, they hunkered down as usual, digging their root-nails in for dear life. But today, instead of hurling them into the waste bin, I nestled them instead into trays of compost and soil and watered them in.
I expect they are beaming out there under the stars.

During this operation, the Models lay on the grass, blissfully soaking up the rays. I paused in my potting to admire my hellebores, and to notice the violets tucked in along the cobbled path. My favourite little scillas are poking out on the bank and everywhere the softer blue anemone blandas are suddenly opening. The camellias are even more beautiful than I remember.

Beautiful hellebores

It was good to see them all, but I didn't linger very long.
There were calls to make and work to do on the computer.
Two fliers to put together, and somewhere I have to find an apple tree...
And a beech...

My new friend Lucy took me to a fabulous nursery yesterday. We drove half-way across the country to one of her suppliers and spent hours walking round the horticultural equivalent of a top-notch thoroughbred stud farm - everything immaculate, manicured and beautifully clean. It was wonderful.
I even found the perfect beech tree.
Until we discovered that it was a copper, not a green one, that is.
Back to the drawing board.

This morning, back at my computer, I talked to Jack on the phone about the ban on moving ash, about transport vehicles and how best to protect plants for long journeys. He's done it hundreds of times before, and was generous with advice and offers of help.
As we chatted, I watched the rooks in the drive. They are busy nest-building, and - as always - it's a noisy, lengthy business that involves a lot of argy-bargy, not to mention full-scale attacks on all the shrubs in the vicinity.

After breakfast, I'd given Hobbes and the Models a good brushing, separated the resultant wad of soft fur into little bite-sized puffs of thistledown and left them lying all over the gravel. As Jack and I verbally fleece-wrapped trays of plants, I watched a rook hopping madly hither and thither, trying to gather up as many of the little puff-balls as she could manage in one mouthful. Her mate was busy showing off his latest courtship dance moves, but she only had eyes for the fleecy nest lining she'd just discovered.
I pictured her later on, needle-felting it into position with her great back beak, high above me in the ash tree.
And speaking of trees - I'm still looking for a beech.

Hobbes loooves being brushed