St. Brigid’s Day- The First of Spring.

Thank you for the enthusiastic comments on my post about the life-changing power of probiotics. I’m delighted that so many of you share my fascination with the microbiome. Prepare to hear MUCH more on this subject as I am obsessed and determined to learn everything I can. I hope that you might join me .

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. Today is my day for new beginnings.

The Spring equinox falls this year on March 20th, at 16.15 if you want to be precise, but in Sultanabunland, of which I am Queen, today is the first of Spring.

I grew up a stone’s throw from St. Brigid’s Well in Co. Kildare. Her feast day, February 1st, was not only a holy day of obligation, and a day off school, but also the accepted first day of Spring. I wrote a brief history of St. Brigid, along with a tutorial on making a St. Brigid’s cross in this post.

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The girls, I hope, will make a cross in school today. I, in the mean time, have unintentionally made an edible version. This, weirdly, made me smile inside.

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It smells of Spring today, even though it’s much colder than last week. There’s a sense of awakening. I’m convinced that if I put a stethoscope to the earth I might hear a surge of movement, a trembling, like an oncoming wave.

Judi Dench: My Passion For Trees. ‘Ah, it’s riveting.’There is a wonderful article here about Judi Dench and her love of trees. It’s well worth a read.

There can be no doubt about it, the garden, with or without permission from the astronomers, thinks it’s Spring.

 

We have the sweetest, rosiest buds on our young lime tree (Tillia cordata, not actually the trees that make limes at all). We planted this especially for our visiting bumblebees as it is said to be one of their favourites.IMG_1438

Our little Magnolia stellata is just getting her gladrags on. It’s as though she is wrapped in her fluffy dressing gown waiting for the moment when she will cast it aside to reveal the glamour beneath.IMG_1439 (2)

The Japanese quince (Chaenomeles) is producing the daintiest blossoms you ever saw. They almost look fake. IMG_1436

Pulmonaria is off the starting blocks. You’ll hear me squeal when the first bee turns up.IMG_1426

Oh, and I have, at last, what could almost be classed a crowd, a host of golden daffodils. While I watch them toss their heads in sprightly dance, I send my love and thanks again to my distant friend who once left a sack of bulbs on my porch. IMG_1431 (2)

Last but not least, a single Anenome coronaria, St. Brigid’s flower, who never fails to show up on the day. Ah yes, the greenfly are definitely awake. Do they ever sleep?IMG_1422

One last thing: I read and enjoyed an unusual book last year by first time author Rachel Hargreaves called Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves. Rachel got in touch to ask if I might re-post my review to coincide with the paperback release. It’s always a thrill for me to hear from authors whose books I have recommended so this is absolutely my pleasure. You may read my review here.

Lá fhéile Bride shona daoibh,

Lynda.

Three Books My Small Girl Loves.

My Small Girl is six years old. She loves reading, probably more now than she ever will again for the rest of her life. She still appreciates the newness of it. She takes great pride in reading a menu and delights in telling me I’m parked under a NO PARKING sign. I watched through glass yesterday as she got left behind at the shallow end of the swimming pool because she was engrossed in reading the safety notices.

It takes patience to read with her. She wants to read for herself and wants to know what every single word means.

It is also a huge joy.

And, my Small Girl has great taste.

I want to show you three gorgeous books we have adored.

Hortense and the Shadow by Natalia and Lauren O’Hara.

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I followed the creation of this beautiful book on Instagram (@oharasisters). For months I watched in awe as characters and detailed backgrounds emerged from simple sketches to exquisite illustrations.

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The writer and illustrator are sisters, living in London, of English and Polish heritage.

The book has quite a dark atmosphere and, to be honest, I feared Small Girl might not like it.

Hortense is a young girl who lives in a cold, snowy place with ‘dark and wolfish woods.’

Though she was kind and brave, she was sad as an owl because of one thing.

Hortense does not like her shadow. It bothers her, following her everywhere, until she finds a way to escape it.

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My Small Girl, at this point, was completely transfixed. There are tiny clues in the illustrations to what’s about to happen and I could almost hear the cogs of her brain whirring as she tried to figure it out.

This is a sophisticated story, I think, but one which younger children are more likely to appreciate than those who have reached the dreaded Age of Not Believing. My daughter happily accepted that a shadow might be chased away, and might return to save the day.

Overall, a quirky and quietly empowering read for little ones.

Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson.

Somehow, despite raising three other readers, the Moomintrolls had until now escaped our notice. Written in 1948, this one was re-released last year in this sweet collector’s edition with, presumably, enough fanfare to finally come to my, ahem, Santa’s attention.

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Quirky doesn’t go far enough to describe the Moomins. The menagerie of beings in this book is little short of absurd, but completely adorable. Moominmamma and Moominpappa, together with Moomintroll, the Hemulen, Snufkin, the Snork Maiden, Moomintroll and anyone else who wanders by, live in a little roundy house hidden in a Finnish forest.

They pack up picnics and go on adventures in much the same way as The Famous Five but with far less predictable results. In this story they discover a hobgoblin’s hat with magical powers which, despite their best efforts to put the hat out of action, leads to all manner of bother and, ultimately, a dramatic happy ending.

The best laughs, and there were many, came from the mixed-up words of Thingumy and Bob, or Bingumy and Thob as we re-named them.

I found the old-fashioned language a bit of a strain for reading aloud but happily the Small Girl took over for every third page or so.

I bookmarked one paragraph which struck me as something remarkable. The Moomins are gathered and taking turns to make one wish each, for anything at all. Moominmamma wishes to remove Moomintroll’s sadness. Sniff wishes for a boat of his own… it goes on quite a bit…

Then the Snork makes his wish:

“A machine for finding things out,” said the Snork, “a machine that tells you whether things are right or wrong, good or bad.”
“That’s too difficult,” said the Hobgoblin, shaking his head. “I can’t manage that.”

In 1948, a smartphone, you see, was beyond even Tove Jansson’s imagination.

Naturama by Michael Fewer with Melissa Doran.

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This large format, hardback book is a real treasure. There was always an hour in the school week that was called simply Nature, or Nature Studies when they started to get fancy about it. We made rubbings of tree barks and stuck leaves into our Nature copy and sprouted cress seeds and all that sort of thing. Naturama is a celebration of plants and wildlife indigenous to Ireland. It’s organised seasonally and covers everything from which tree is used to make hurleys (Ash) to what year grey squirrels arrived in Ireland (1911).

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We have only read the pages relevant to Winter so far but I’m looking forward to turning back to the start of the book and beginning again with Spring.

If you live in Ireland, this is a beautiful and informative reference book to keep on a coffee table. It will draw your attention to, and put a name on, all the little wonders you pass by everyday. I love it.

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That’s pretty close to the view from my window at this very moment.

I’m up the walls at the moment, plotting and planning a big project. All will be revealed. Unless it all goes horribly wrong in which case you will all have to deal with my mental breakdown. Please bear with me if I’m slow replying to comments. Trust me, I LOVE reading them.

But now in September the garden has cooled…

But now in September the garden has cooled, and with it my possessiveness. The sun warms my back instead of beating on my head … The harvest has dwindled, and I have grown apart from the intense midsummer relationship that brought it on.   Robert Finch.

To be honest with you, the garden has broken loose of my feeble attempts to keep it under control. Our Irish summer lived up to its damp reputation and my mind has been occupied with indoor projects (the room!). I can never manage to keep both inside and outside of the house the way I’d like to. They seem to require two different, mutually exclusive, states of mind. Or, maybe I’m just lazy.

Small Girl’s outdoor café has been invaded by nasturtiums. I’ve suggested she call on The Doctor for a solution but she has, rather inventively I thought, taken to selling nasturtium sushi rolls. The kick you get from eating nasturtium seeds is very similar to wasabi; she could be on to something.IMG_9078 (2)

Despite the weather, we’ve had huge satisfaction from the edible end of our garden. Husband’s elephant garlic, aside from giving me a near-concussion, has provided endless amusement. Incredibly, the advice for using this is to add exactly the same number of cloves as you would of regular garlic. The flavour is sweeter and less pungent and the garlic breath, we think, less noxious. It’s hard to tell , since we are all eating it. At the other end, unfortunately, there seems to be a payback in pungent gaseous emissions. IMG_8816 (2)

The fruit trees are coming on. We had four dozen, or so, delicious apples. There were, I swear, seven perfect cherries but the birds picked us clean. Gah.

Our pear tree has us flummoxed. It’s growing at a great rate and rapidly approaching some overhead lines that we, stupidly, failed to notice when we planted it. However, it produced only a handful of pears, half of which were blown off in a storm.

This was the only one to reach the kitchen, hard as a bullet and free from juice. I don’t mind, I don’t really like pears anyway.

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Figs. I thought I didn’t like figs. That’s clearly because I’d never had a fresh fig, straight from the tree. I was flabbergasted. There must be some fragile flavour components that deteriorate quite quickly in figs because these, honestly, were fragrant and delicious. We had about thirty from our five-year-old tree. It’s a Brown Turkey. We followed advice to plant it in a big pot with a hole made in the bottom and sunk into the ground because figs like their roots to be restrained. IMG_8702

AND, we have olives, can you believe it? IMG_9108

There are still a few crops to harvest. The girls forage for raspberries, blackberries and fairy strawberries when they come in from school. We’ve planted some winter salad and beetroot. I’m sharing the kale with the butterflies. What harm?IMG_9155

There will be turnips.IMG_9207

Also, there will be oca, and plenty of it. I think it will be ready to eat around November and my fingers are crossed that we will like it because it is a pretty plant and spectacularly easy to grow. I’ve heard it described as something that looks like a potato and tastes like a lemon. Regardless, the combination of oca and rampant nasturtiums is making a neglected corner look rather lush.IMG_9211

I’m not brilliant at getting plant combinations right. I think it takes tremendous knowledge, forethought and skill to put the right plants together and keep beds looking good through the seasons. Nevertheless, I’ve had some happy accidents that, truly, make my heart skip a beat. It is these gifts of loveliness that make you believe in an all-knowing Mother Nature. The Verbena bonariensis seems to look good wherever it grows but particularly vibrant against the weeping cotoneaster.IMG_9203

When we had narry a plant, a friend gave me a plastic bag filled with Japanese anenome seedlings which she had weeded out of her own garden and promised would soon fill up mine. I have to admit that I don’t really like the plant part, the leaves are too grey and thuggish. Every year since, I have decided to dig them out and then, when the flowers have finally come, changed my mind. I think they look especially lovely coming through this crab apple tree.IMG_9170

If I could only have one tree, it would be a crab apple tree.

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I went out early this morning, to gather photos and my thoughts. I have made an effort not to look at the garden as another list of jobs to be done. It will never be perfect. It will never be finished.

It is simply the space outside my back door where I go to breathe deeply, to look for small wonders, to indulge my inner farmer,IMG_9157

to see beauty in the everyday, every day.IMG_9160

Dew-drops…IMG_9171

Pollen…IMG_9191

Sweet-peas, still…IMG_9100

Giant, ugly, brutish, prickly teasels, back-lit by the sun’s rays reflecting off apples…IMG_9179

Fallen petals caught by rhubarb leaves…IMG_8620

Tired, ragged butterfly taking one more leap onwards…IMG_8624

Wishing you a lovely weekend.
Lynda.

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Truth is Beauty.

A few weeks ago, my attention was drawn (thanks, Sam) to this post on the really lovely Countryside Tales blog. It’s a very practical post, with reams of useful information for those who would like to share their garden with bees and butterflies.

However, it was these lines that lodged in my head:

‘A lot of attention has rightly been given in recent years to encouraging people to provide nectar sources in their gardens but we also need to provide food plants and to be prepared for these food plants to be eaten and to look nibbled. This may go against the grain for many gardeners, but if we want to support the continued survival of our wildlife (and through them our own), we need to look after them properly and shift our aesthetics a little bit as a result.’ (CT from Countryside Tales)

My mother and grandmother, both wonderful gardeners, set great store by traditional and natural methods BUT they also resorted to the failsafe of chemical pesticides and herbicides when necessary because their ultimate goal was a good display of perfect flowers. That’s the mindset I began with but recently it has shifted.

My Anenome coronaria had massive chunks taken from the petals this year. It was as if someone had taken a scissors and trimmed the petals right off. Touring the garden with me, my Mum (box, closed) suggested a garlic spray. That seemed like a good plan but then, I had to wonder why. Hardly anyone sees the garden but me and I get as much pleasure from the bugs as I do from the flowers so, even from a purely selfish standpoint, it wasn’t worth the effort of mashing garlic (the bugs in my garden benefit greatly from my sheer laziness).

Strangely, that was something of a turning point. CT’s post came soon after and somehow validated my new viewpoint. This might not sound like a big thing and I’m not managing to express it very well. Wiser women than me have written about why gardening is good for body and soul but one reason is surely that it brings us in touch with nature and another is that it envelopes us in beauty.

The thing is, what exactly does beautiful mean? In lots of ways, it means something different to me now than when I was younger. All sorts of imperfections, freckles, laughter lines, scars, scuffed floors and ear-marked pages, move me to that indrawn breath that spells beauty.

My constant is this; let it be real. That line from Keats was one of the few lines of school poetry I took to heart:

 ‘”Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’

 

Are the perfectly circular holes in my rose petals beautiful?IMG_6617

I think they are. Letting go of perfection, or taking a different view of perfection, has come as a huge relief.

Whatever bug felt the desire to dine on roses, or maybe line their bed with fragrant pink petals (lucky bug), they have moved on. This week’s challenge is simply rain.

I’ve whined long and hard about rain in these pages but, not today. I’ve found breathtaking beauty in raindrops.

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You will still, however, find me guilty of killing slugs. Anyone yet discover the beauty in slugs?

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Earth Day Challenge.

The WordPress Earth Day photo challenge asks that I choose one photo, just one, that means ‘earth’ to me.

The one that immediately materialized in my mind’s eye was Mike Collins’ mind-blowing photograph. It’s here. Who could beat that? It makes my head spin with wonder.

This is mine:

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Just hanging on and sucking up the good stuff.

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