Thursday, 14 May 2015

The Park is Blooming

Bloom 9

I know it seems ridiculous, but I haven't had time to think since I last wrote anything here.
The days have telescoped into one long Bloom-bound roller coaster.
It's exhausting - but fun.

I'm actually living up in Dublin now, in a B&B just outside the gates of Phoenix Park.
I may never go home again. I have fallen totally in love with the park
It is a pleasure, going to work - driving past the great green spaces, the deer, the dog walkers, the runners and cyclists, past the huge chestnut trees all laden with candles,
The chestnut trees at home are miniature by comparison, and rarely have the luxury of so many flowers. One side of the tree might have a sprinkling, but even then the wind will find a way to snake around and bludgeon them to death.

Wonderful Phoenix Park

It's hard to believe that we've already had well over a week of building time.
Where did it go?
Yet already it seems aeons ago that I sat and looked at a bare, waterlogged mess thinking: 'This is it. Oh ye gods and little fishes - what have I done?'

This is how it all begins. One site. Water free. Grass temporary. Mud permanent

9 days later, the whole place is transformed. It's still heaving with heavy machinery, more people come on site every day, deliveries arrive constantly, everyone is borrowing this digger, that tape, a bit of space for trees that have just arrived, a barrow-load of sand, a dozen blocks...
It is all chaotic, yet out of the mess and mud and mêlée, gardens are emerging. And despite the din of cement mixers and heavy engines, you can always hear laughter and birds singing.

If you've read any of my other posts about Bloom, you may remember that I was upside down trying to decide which contractor I should appoint. I went for Seamus in the end. Not an easy decision, but it felt right.
Well, it's good to trust your instincts. Seamus is fantastic.
He has that ability - rare enough, I find - to make you sigh with relief  and know that the grown-ups have arrived whenever he turns up. I say 'turns up', but in fact he's generally the first person on the site in the morning and quite often the last to leave. 
And he knows exactly what he's doing, although at one point, I did wonder. 
He levelled out the site, gave me a spray can and told me to mark out the garden. With Glenn's help, I laboriously measured out a grid, counted this way and that, consulted my plan, um-ed and ah-ed and finally committed my design to the ground. Seamus turned up, glanced around, climbed onto a digger and immediately ploughed it all up. 
'That was a useful hour we spent,' I said to Glenn. He laughed.
But, what-da-ya-know! When he'd finished digging, shaping and levelling, Seamus was only a few inches out in one place.
I don't know why I'm saying nice things about him - he laughs at me, teases me mercilessly and is still promising that we'll have a row before opening day.
But he's a gas and the first person I'd go if I wanted advice.

Seamus glanced at the site plan and immediately trashed it

All my plants are landing in from distant Sligo.
Friends have brought up van-loads, and Sligo Haulage kindly came to the rescue and brought all the trees for me. What stars people are! 
We wrapped the trees in cling film (well, pallet wrap) and packed them lying down into a 30 foot rigid. I didn't look too closely - I didn't dare. My heart might have fallen out of my mouth.
But they are all fine. Seamus tells me it's how they come in from Italy. (Of course, what he carefully didn't mention is that the ones coming in from Italy are in opulent, sun-nourished leaf, whereas my Sligo-raised trees are brow-beaten and redolent of a cold spring!)

Sligo Haulage brought the trees - wrapped in cling film

Sligo, as well as being distinctly un-sun-kissed, isn't as far as Italy, but it seems a long way off at the moment.
I went back at the weekend, after a hectic day of planting said trees.
'We'll get them in and send you home to your husband and your dogs,' Seamus said. He also said: 'We'll move them around until you're happy with how they look.'
We moved one awkward willow from location A to location B, after which he said, 'That's it! You've used your 'move a tree' card! Get on with it, woman!'
It was accompanied, as most things are, with an infectious laugh. 
I like people who laugh.

It seemed a long way home at the end of the day. 
Lucy's friend, Vincent has sweetly lent me a little runaround as no one was able to loan me a van for Bloom. He was very hesitant, and seemed to think I might not want it, but I'm thrilled to bits. Lucy has dubbed it my  'little sporty number'. It's surprisingly roomy, drives itself and knows the way back to Sligo.
It doesn't know it's way round Dublin though. We got lost, and neither of us knew which way to go. But we're safe in the Park. There are walls at the edges that hold us in. 
But finding the way home was easy. I fell into bed and slept like the proverbial baby, but there was plenty to fill my 36 hours there too - catching up with the artists whose pieces are part of the garden, with the never-ending barrage of emails, with the lists of lists of things I still haven't done, with transport to be sorted, plants to be cossetted, blankets to be sourced for packing a mural...
I ended up singing aloud in the car on the way back to Dublin to stop myself falling asleep. (It works!)

The sporty little number that Vincent has lent me. I love her.

So here we are at Day 9. Nearly Day 10.
Yeats' cabin has been built by the wonderful Niall Millar, his wife Brenda and their friend Joe McGowan. It looks just dinky and I'd really like to keep it as it is - simply 'wattled', but daubed it will be - lightly, in a home-made, inexpert, rough and ready sort of way. The way a young guy would do it if he'd never done it before and (let's be honest) if he'd got a bit fed up with daubing when he'd really rather be sitting by the lake writing poetry and enjoying the view.

Niall, Brenda and Joe building Yeats' cabin

Still lots to do.
Lots to plant. Stuff to somehow be got from Sligo. Stuff to somehow be got...
The Somme-like mud has dried up. Let's hope it doesn't return.
Thank goodness Saffy and Sarah are coming up on Friday to help me plant.
Otherwise I'd probably slip behind with the schedule. 
Heaven forbid. 
Seamus and I might fall out and have a row.

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?