Saturday, 29 August 2015

The Lake Isle of Innisfree Garden


The Yeats garden I designed for Bloom was based on his poem 'The Lake Isle of Innifree'.
It had to be. It is, possibly, WB's best known poem, but more importantly, it's the only one about a garden.

To be brutally honest, I don't think Yeats was much of a gardener.
Maybe I'm wrong, but he strikes me as being someone who thought great thoughts and spent a good bit of time shaping them into miraculous poetry, yet somehow I don't see him doing all of that with a hoe in one hand. I reckon that the pen was mightier than the trowel in his case.I see him as being a bit like Wordsworth, in love with the concept of nature, but not getting so close up and personal that he got stung by the nettles too often.

A hive for the honey bee. An original 1890s CDB's hive, lent for the garden

If I'm totally honest, The Lake Isle was never one of my favourite poems, (especially, at the risk of being sacrilegious, when read by the poet himself), but I have to say, that all changed. Working so intensively on the garden for months on end, I found the lines going through my head endlessly, the words repeating and repeating as I planned and dug and planted.
It drew me in, and as I slowly brought it to life, I found myself loving the poem more and more.

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

I loved too that this had never been a real garden, so I was free to peek inside the poet's head and create what I saw there - his imagined, secret hideaway on an island in Lough Gill. It made the whole process even more vital that Yeats had written the poem when he was 25 and neither rich nor famous, just a young man living in smoggy London, dreaming of Sligo, the place he called 'the land of heart's desire'. He wrote it the same year that he met and fell in love with Maud Gonne, a love that remained unrequited his whole life.

Nik's mural of Maud Gonne in Sligo. Pic: Internet (Maeve O'Beirne)

I suppose at some level I knew how Yeats felt, because I also lived in London when I was 25, and often dreamed of Ireland's wonderful west coast, the In-Charge's second home. In those days, we spent many holidays here with his parents, and even the dogs sulked when we got back to London, after days on endless beaches, or running free in wild, unspoilt countryside.

Back then, we used to pootle out to Innisfree in my father-in-law's little boat. We'd pack a picnic, the fishing rods and numerous dogs into the boat and head off for the day, stopping on the tiny island to stretch our legs and boil up the 'volcano' to make tea. It was - is - just a small hump in the lake, covered in stunted trees and undergrowth, with a tiny beach on one side, but with all the appeal that miniature things have. 

Pic: Internet  Kelly's Kettles

I designed the garden with the lake in the background, not the foreground. I wanted viewers to feel that they were there, in the garden on Innisfree with Yeats, so I commissioned Nik Purdy, that incredibly talented man, to paint a mural that would curve around the back corner of the garden, to create a view across the lake to Sligo's iconic Benbulben. To create a feeling of distance, remoteness, even a touch of infinity, I suppose.

I'd put a small stretch of water in front of the mural, and the two elements worked together really well, largely because Nik did such a great job, and partly because Famous Seamus's two lads also did a great job - they spent an endless afternoon sticking reeds into pots of cement to put into the lake. You can't have a lake in Sligo without reeds...

Nik with Sligo's iconic Benbulben

It was 60 feet long, the mural and was painted by hand on 15 8'x4' (2.44 x 1.22m) aluminium coated panels. He had, remarkably, painted it off-site - an unexpected complication that caused me (and possibly Nik) sleepless nights, wondering if the painting and 'the lake' itself would work together. But for various reasons (weather, paint toxicity and more), there was no choice.
 In fact he did such a great job that, just after it had been erected in the garden, two women walked by, and one said to the other: 'Goodness, did you see that painting?'
The other one replied: 'Don't be ridiculous, no one could have painted that!'
I suppose she thought it was a nattily reproduced photograph!

60 feet is a lot of mural

The day after we put the lake in, a duck came to visit, which was wonderful.
Seamus, aka The Bear, sent me a photo that he'd taken on his phone.
Even more, I loved the wren, the robin, the great tit and the blackbird who all moved into the garden as we were building. The wren would sit in the beech tree and sing very loudly every day, while the robin followed me round, waiting for the grubs and beetles that were turned over as I dug.

But best of all was the great tit.
My favourite place in the garden was the tiny path that wound down to the lake shore. There were willows planted on either side, that formed a kind of archway over the path, and the birds would sit in the willows close to the water.
One day, when I was standing in the garden with Gary, one of Bloom's official photographers, the tit appeared on his usual branch. A moment later, he ducked down into the shallow water at the edge of the path and had a thorough bath. It was wonderful to watch.
A sort of seal of approval I suppose.

Gary O'Neill's photograph
 Gary O'Neill, photographer

My favourite part of the garden. Photo: Doris Rabe

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Pudding Row Posies

It's Wednesday today. My elder brother's birthday, as it happens, but closer to home, it is Flower Day.
A lovely girl - a contemporary of my two sons - has returned to the area and opened a café in the village. It is delightfully called Pudding Row and, although I have not yet sampled any puddings, her bread and jam - both homemade - are dangerously good. We dropped in late one afternoon and she had sold out of cake (and pudding), but offered us some toast instead.

She contacted me several months ago, to ask if I would supply her with little table posies from the garden.
She got, poor girl, short shrift at the time.
'Yes,' I said vaguely. 'No problem', and promptly forgot about it. I was in Dublin, building the show garden for Bloom.

However, when I finally got back home, I did get my act together, and on Wednesday mornings I take little jugs of flowers to adorn her tables.

Because they need to last until Sunday evening, when she closes for two (much needed) days off, I don't pick them them night before.
But most Wednesdays this summer, I have been out picking in the rain, so this morning's sunshine made a welcome change, although I still needed wellies as everything is permanently soaked.

The rain has played wily beguiled with my garden this year. And in my absence, my garden has played puck with me. It is a sorry mess. The weeds are running riot, none of the early perennials have been cut back, and all the worst imaginable seed heads are wafting where they will.
The endless rain means I can rarely get out to call it to order.
The only - small - consolation is that, because it's such a cold, wet summer, lots of plants are still blooming that would generally be over and done with by now, so I haven't missed out as I might have done.

This Year's Weed is the minor rose bay willow herb. Minor is probably not its official title, but I've had enough official titles to last me a good while this year. You have to submit a complete plant list to the judges at Bloom, and, not having given the judging end of Bloom a thought, I planted quite wantonly, so mine ran to six pages. In Latin.
And inevitably, the final list was compiled at midnight the night before submission.
So I'm quite happy to go with any old handle at the moment, and 'minor' will do just fine.

Whatever it calls itself, it is everywhere.

When I was a child, I thought to myself: 'One day I shall have four children, and I will call them Rose, Bay, Willow and Herb.'
Yes, well...
It looks like that has come back to bite me on the bum.
Still, it could be worse. At least they pull out easily. If the sun only shone a bit more often, I might have a chance to get out there to pull them! 

The bees are not happy. Our bee man told me they are starving to death in all this rain, and has had to feed them emergency supplies to keep them going. But happily, my soaking garden is full of birds and frogs. Wherever you move, something leaps.
They are totally invisible in the dense jungle that has taken over, but I hope they are eating morning, noon and night. A rainy summer is a slug's idea of paradise, but a surfeit of slugs is probably an endless cream tea for a frog or a bird.
Yum yum. Pudding Row all round!

Bine's wonderful photo of a frog wallowing in our pond

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Swanning Off to Meet Princes

It's August. It's pouring with rain and I'm not doing the things I should be doing.
Instead I've logged onto my blog, although I almost can't remember how...
I haven't been here since May. Time closed in on me back then, and swallowed me up.
I'm still trying to burrow out.

But it's been an exciting few months, and I'd like to try and catch up, if I can.
Never go back, they say.
There may be something in that.

When I last posted - on 14 May - I was working long, long days with Seamus (aka The Bear) and his team on the garden at Bloom, and living in a manky B&B in Dublin. Days and dates had ceased to have any meaning, as we were simply on a countdown and worked 24/7, on-site in a hole, off-site on a computer/phone.
Except on 19th.
On 19th May I climbed into my dinky little red Micra and tootled off to Galway to present a rose to Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall.

The WB Yeats rose. Alas, it's not photogenic. It's not bright scarlet - it's a darker, velvety red.

Somehow, I haven't mentioned the rose, but it's been the other Major Event in my life this year.
It's a brand new, very gorgeous, rich red, velvety rose that is being named WB Yeats as part of Yeats2015.
A very exciting project, but for my sins, I am the person responsible for trying to make it happen.
That would be fine if it was just a straightforward launch,but this rose is being funded by donation, so that means you, me, the guy who fixes the roof and the woman who hands over your latte every morning.
Or at least, that's the idea, but it seems to be down to me to ask them all to contribute.
To be honest, either Bloom or the Rose would have been enough for one year!

Still not being photogenic. Still not revealing its true colours. The deep red and the gold stamens are actually stunning.

Senator Susan O'Keeffe (the genius behind Yeats2015 and all that goes with it, including the WB Yeats rose) was waiting for me at Galway University, the starting point for HRH's Irish visit.
I drove up to the main gate, to the horror of the phalanx of Gardai whose job it was to keep people out, but they were very helpful once they realised that no one - not even they - could have carried two large rose shrubs from the appointed cathedral car park.

Susan and I then had to convince the woman in charge of the event that the roses were expected, had been cleared - indeed, had been facilitated at the highest level by the British Ambassador; that they had passed through her own security system and that despite her personal reservations, we did intend to present them to the Prince.
She wasn't happy.
But you can't please everyone.

The royal couple arrived in a heavy shower of hail - not the warmest of Irish welcomes, but what can you do? The people were thrilled to see them.
They made their way slowly through the quad, meeting and greeting.
When it was my turn, Prince Charles shook my hand and enquired politely if I was also with the college, but, not being much good at formal handshakes, I grabbed him by both elbows, beamed and replied, 'No! I'm here to give you a rose!'
He gave a great laugh. 'Things are looking up!' he said.

I met him again when we'd all moved inside. He was very interested to hear about the new WB Yeats rose.
He also commented on the jacket I was wearing - a most unexpected compliment from someone whose sartorial elegance is renowned, especially as I have no pretensions in that direction whatsoever.
When we finally went up to make our presentations (Susan gave them a beautiful, hand-printed book of Yeats poems), they were both warm, chatty and quite delightful. The rose was a gift for their brand new grandchild, Princess Charlotte, but I told the Duchess that I'd given their security team a second rose to take home to Highgrove, and she seemed genuinely touched. We talked about Prince Charles' love of plants, and she said she was sorry they wouldn't be in Ireland for Bloom, as she would have liked to see my Yeats show garden.

When I got back to Dublin, Seamus roundly told me off for being away - the build-schedule didn't allow for swanning off to meet Princes was, as I recall, the burden of his reproof.
I grinned. 'Yes, Bear,' I replied in suitably chastened tones. 'No Bear. Three bags full, Bear.'
His lips twitched. 'But a day and a half!' he said.
'Well, I had to go to the hairdresser - if you'd seen the bathroom at my B&B you'd understand, and it was 10 hours driving, what with the Micra, and having to go via Sligo to collect the roses, and there was a lot of hanging around...And anyway, it was the very first WB Yeats rose ever - being presented to the Prince of Wales!'
'You and your bloody rose,' he said. He pulled €50 out of his pocket. 'Here, that's from me and the lads.'
Bless him, what a lamb. I mean, a bear. A lamb-bear. A bear-lamb.
Well, bless him anyway.
'Now, get on with your garden, woman!' he said.
Yes, Bear. (But I wouldn't have missed meeting them for anything.)