Sunday, 17 February 2013

Back to the Holly Cottage Garden

The last two weeks have been busy, and in that time it seems that everything has changed. While I was busy driving around this small nation - from Dublin to Galway and down and up and across the fair Midlands - the birds, plants, flowers, trees, shrubs and even humans were subtly being transformed by the onset of spring. 

Defiant winter beauty

Let me fill you in. All of the snowdrops are up now - it started with one or two at the front of the house in early January, but now they are in great abundance and in rich clumps down through the length of fruit alley in the Holly Cottage garden. And then there are the other arrivals - irises and crocuses, some delicate, some beautifully strong and defiant (even when the scary neighbour dog comes in and kicks the crap out of them with his hind legs...grrrrr). The climbing roses are showing signs of new growth and blackcurrant and raspberry are showing those first yellow green leaves of 2013. Let me share with ye however the most significant and wonderful of all changes - the day is gloriously brighter and last week it truly, madly, deeply felt like spring. Happy days!!!! In fact, if the weather people are to be trusted (I know, it's ok to be guided by their past failures but let's be positive) it's not going to rain for at least five days!!! Bring on the sun screen!

It wasn't all quiet in the Holly Cottage garden this year and somehow we managed to get a few things done in between the showers. The whole garden was dug over, save for the broccoli and leek rows. The strawberry beds were gutted and old and new plants re-spaced. This was one of the great successes of 2012. From humble beginnings of 6 humble plants in 2011, we now have at least 160 ready for 2013, and if the bumper crop of 2012's 80 or so plants is anything to go by, we will be giving Wexford Strawberries a run for their money! We still have huge bags frozen from last year - great in smoothies. 

Following from the strawberry plants coup of the former herb, rhubarb and strawberry bed (they are certainly a dominating plant if you let the runners off - just cut them back if you  have enough plants), we had to extend again to find a new home home for the super rhubarb and the precious thyme, rosemary, lavender, oregano and mint members of the garden family. This time we passed on back breaking digging and used heavy duty fabric to cover a former grassy patch and just planted in the herbs at intervals. This will hopefully save on a bout of weeding in the height of the summer sun. Another small job back in December was planting the garlic - hopefully a better crop than last year's, and this time we got garlic bulbs for planting as opposed to garlic from who knows where that we sprouted from the shelves of the local supermarket. You live and learn, everyday. 

This weekend was for tidying up the last few standing after the winter - last of the parsnips are buried in a soup pot, straggly scallions that were a harbour for insatiable slugs are in the compost bin and the few tiny leeks that made it through are waiting patiently for tonight's risotto. There's still enough onions hanging in the shed to last until Easter and beyond and the spring broccoli will hopefully make up its mind soon to do it's thing...any second now.....

Last year was a tough year for gardeners and farmers, but we had a few highlights. The strawberries were amazing, some were the size of small lemons and they didn't suffer from lack of taste. The onions, carrots and parsnips faired well although there were mixed results from the beetroot. Those cucumbers were sensational and the tomatoes just OK, while we still have bright red chillies in the freezer to heart us from the inside on cold nights. These chillies and some mini, late scotch bonnets have become the base for some very tasty pepper sauce creations by the man of the house - bringing back memories of hot pepper sauce with everything in Barbados ;) The celery was a learning curve, don't think we'll go there again and the spuds were a disaster. Blight hit them early and there was no going back after that. This year we've order three blight resistant types - Orla (first earlies),  Sarpo mira and Sarpo axons. We'll see. Ordered from 

The future ;)
Now is the time for looking back and seeing what worked, and looking forward to see what we can handle in 2013. Everything though is reliant on the weather, and someday (when we grow up) we'll hopefully have a polytunnel to help extend our growing season and keep us out of the rain. We'll throw in a few new things here and there of course - always exciting to try a new crop. I'll keep ye posted. In the meantime, in my absence last week the other gardener was busy too and seed trays have been started with tomatoes, marjoram, basil, sweet peppers and some early rocket for the greenhouse. Other things started a while ago is a batch of lime pickle - takes about four weeks plus. This one was inspired by New Year's eve's trip to the local indian restaurant - again, I'll keep ye posted. 

In the meantime, there's some seeds to be planted today and hopefully some sun and cosmic rays to warm myself and Holly as we get finally, and thankfully get back out in action to the tiny wondrous world that is the Holly Cottage garden. 

Just one other thing - while walking out on a bog last week I was distracted by overwhelming grunting and well, sounds that would make you wonder! It was an orgy of frogs - amazing really. Tens of frogs all getting down together. Funny thing, it was Valentine's Day......what a sight  and sound spectacle ;)

There's a party going on just under that tree....

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