Blossoming.

Let’s, President Bartlet style, walk and talk.

I began this blog around the same time I really got stuck in to the garden. Small Girl had finished breastfeeding and I suppose I was feeling at something of a loose end. You go from being a little human’s lifeline to, well, not a lifeline, and I found that hard.

Look at this. Aren’t forget-me-nots the most darling little flowers in the world. I pulled a handful from the edge of a footpath while walking the dog and stuck it in the garden. Lo and behold, to my absolute delight, it has not only grown but has self-seeded quite happily. I suspect that I weeded out lots before I realised what they were. I adore the simple five-petal shape, clustered into perfect bouquets and that oh-so-finely balanced delicate blue and yellow combination. IMG_5129

Anyway, I guess I was planting a random selection of ideas here on the blog in much the same way I scattered seeds around the garden. I didn’t know for certain which would germinate and which would  produce nothing more than food for slugs. I didn’t know which bits were pretty fillers and which would bring genuine satisfaction. It was all trial and much, much error.

This is a perennial wallflower, (Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’), incredibly good value, evergreen and long-flowering and the petals have a nice way of varying shades depending on how they catch the light. I have yellow and orange versions also which aren’t quite as pretty but earn their place with their sweet, warm scent.IMG_5126

So, the nice thing is, it’s all starting to come together. Blog and plot both are still a little rough around the edges. You can tell that it’s all a DIY effort; no professional landscapers or web designers have been employed. But I am stubbornly independent. I prefer having a slightly wonky home that I made myself than something pristine and perfect to someone else’s design.

Our front garden, which you rarely see, is planted with cherry blossoms, fruiting cherries and cherry plums. Some are little more than twigs but a couple have really matured into proper trees and they are enough to make my heart pound with joy and, I guess, pride. The big pink one is just beginning to unfurl. There is a promise there of something magnificent but also the threat, of course, that bad weather will spoil the show. I am on tenterhooks.IMG_5192

Our biggest cherry blossom has gone for glory this year. Beyond glorious! It makes me feel tiny, cowed. It’s like stars shining or small children singing. It’s bigger than me. This is me, looking up.IMG_5185

The crab apple. Bittersweet. The crab apple was planted, right outside the kitchen window, in memory of a lost baby and blooms every year just in time for her would-have-been birthday. Not just yet, but soon, which is the tough time. It feels good to have a something, though, to watch something grow and flower, rather than an empty space.IMG_5121

And just next to that, the pear is exploding skyward and about halfway to full snowy white blossoming. Look, look at this! Can you see the wing movement? I swear I squealed with glee when I saw this photo this morning.IMG_5138 (3)

Below the pear, I have a few cowslips, again foraged from a roadside somewhere. I fret occasionally about kidnapping these wild plants but I prefer to think of them as stray orphans in need of good home. They seem happy enough although I suppose they may just be putting on a brave front. I prefer wild flowers to all others and I suppose what I most want to capture in the garden is the joy of discovery that you experience when you clamber over a ditch or bend close to a hedgerow and find unexpected beauty. It would be easy enough to fill the garden with bedding plants but I like it most when the garden surprises me. I like it to have a life of its own.IMG_5117

What I didn’t really understand until recently was that writing, like gardening, seems also to have a life of its own. It’s a trickier business, letting loose the writing, not least because the risk of humiliation is greater. It’s easy enough to keep a close camera angle on the bees and deflect your attention from the rotting deckchairs and the ailing mulberry tree. The writing involves a good deal more exposure. Still, somehow, ideas are popping up and growing that I’m fairly certain I never deliberately planted. It’s taking shape and I am beside myself with excitement, fidgeting like a racehorse confined to the starting stalls and desperately, desperately trying to find the time I need to dig and hoe and tend and stake.

The new ribes (flowering currant) is a stunner already and I’m heartily wishing I had planted one (or three) of these sooner. I had read that the leaves smell of blackcurrant but it was still a shock to discover how much they do…much more than the fruiting blackcurrant leaves. I had a serious ‘duh!’ moment last week when, after 44¾ years, it dawned on me why Ribena is called Ribena. How Husband laughed. IMG_5164

We’ve had stunning weather for a few days but we’re back to the regular gloom today. Honest to God, we’re like Pavlov’s dogs in this country, only the stimulus is a ray of sunshine, or any break at all in the clouds. We have seen fine weather. We know it happens. And it will, surely, happen again. But, there are no guarantees so we gaze skyward in ever diminishing, but never quite extinguished hope.

This, to me, is the cutest thing in the garden at the moment. It’s an alpine strawberry in the making, planted next to Small Girl’s fairy garden because these are fairy strawberries, no bigger than your thumbnail but exquisitely sweet. IMG_5132

Potential. That’s what the garden and the blog share and what they are all about. It hardly seems to matter what the endpoint is. Just feeling alive and connected to potential.

The Small Girl sat in bed this week and, for the first time, read her own bedtime story, aloud and to herself. She still needs help with what she likes to call ‘tricky words’ but still, we have truly crossed a line. I am no longer her lifeline, neither for food nor stories. What remains are morning cuddles, and plaiting her hair, buttoning her shirt and reminding her what number comes after 12.

She brought me tulips for Mother’s Day. I can’t seem to grow them. The slugs eat them or the wind strips them so I rely on the kindness of those who know me best to buy them for me.IMG_5148

What I am bursting to tell you is that I interviewed Darina Allen yesterday! Can you believe it? How often does anybody get to meet, let alone have a proper conversation with, their heroes? She is brilliant, honestly. Sparkling with intelligence and genuinely inspirational.

Give me a day or two and I’ll let you know all about it. For now, I have peas to plant.

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Bee Friendly: Let’s Save Our Bees!

It’s snowing! The kids are ecstatic, the dog is in shock and I can’t help feeling just a little thrill of excitement myself. Sound is muffled today and light is subdued. It feels as though we are wrapped in a huge, thick duvet that’s spilling feathers.

Last week, I was outside in balmy sunshine taking photos of bumblebees. I can’t help but wonder where the poor bees are hiding out this morning.

I’ve been working on an article about bees for Bookwitty.com. We are all aware of the worrying fall in bee populations worldwide but many people don’t seem to realise how critical it is to arrest the decline NOW and how vital a contribution we can all make to saving some bees. We don’t need to volunteer time or donate money; we just need to make a few changes in the way we think about weeds and wildflowers and gardening in general.

I did a lot of research for this article and put a lot of time into it because I really, REALLY would like to do my bit. Please, do read this and please, please, spread the message. Read the full article here.

Green Shoots.

Nigella seed head. Irish garden.

This was the best my garden had to offer: a Nigella seed head, love in a mist turned dried up rattle bag. I had to admire her resilience and take comfort in her aged elegance.

Nigella seed head. Irish garden.

Ah, but that was last week when the days were still so grey and gloomy and it seemed difficult to believe the winter might be almost over.

Blueberry shoots.

The plants have better faith than I. They must have been poised on their marks, primed to lurch forward at the first blast of sunshine.

apple tree shoots

Ready, set and they’re off. Everything racing skyward.

blackcurrant shoots

There is undeniable beauty in youth and incomparable pleasure in watching small things grow.

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And even those of us who have been around a while get a new lease on life.

perennial wallflowers in febuary, cork, Ireland

I’ve been out in the garden, weeding, pruning, transplanting stray seedlings of Aquilegia and robbing my own rhubarb.There was a smell of green in the air and the sounds of life, worms, bugs, slugs moving, minuscule insects flitting and a massive bee floundering, half asleep, around the artichoke. It was the greatest balm imaginable to feel the sun on my face.

Anenome coronaria.

I came indoors with rosy cheeks, achy upper thighs (by which I really mean arse), enough rhubarb to make Nigella’s rhubarb cornmeal cake (from Domestic Goddess), enough flowers to fill two small jugs and enough joy in my heart to get me through the forecast week of rain coming this way.

spring bouquet from an Irish garden

The most certain thing you can say about Spring in Ireland is that it is predictably unpredictable.

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Off My Trolley.

Hands up, who remembers The Looting of Doon? Well, that little tea trolley that I got for a fiver at the convent auction has turned out to be a stellar investment. I wheel it around to whichever window is getting the best light, take my snaps and trundle it back again to home position. Usually, it lives here, against the kitchen window which has turned out to be the busiest part of the whole house.

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Just take this picture. You can see my sweet geranium cuttings which have taken beautifully over the winter.They must be the easiest cuttings in the world to take which is a good thing as the recent frost wiped out the few I abandoned outside. There are three in that tomato tin so I probably need to pot them on soon but I’m running short of windowsills.

Next up are some of my chitting first early seed potatoes. I think I need to plant those soon. Beyond the potatoes you can make out the Verbena and fennel seed heads which successfully lured goldfinches all winter. They’ve been stripped bare now and need tidying up. Jeanie Mac, this post is starting to make me all too aware of how much work I have to do.

Moving our gaze swiftly past the extremely dusty vase, you see the massive bunch of daffs Husband brought home on Valentine’s Day. He knows what I like. They were all closed on Tuesday too, which is the way I love to get them, and I have been taking great pleasure in watching them open into a blaze of yellow glory. They smell warm and sweet and garden-y. That urge to get out in the garden is rising.

The little jam jar holds a ‘science experiment’ that Small Girl and I are monitoring together. We filled the jar with toilet paper, dampened it, and ‘planted’ two broad beans. One is planted the right way up and the other is upside down.

broad bean geotropism experiment. science for kids.

The one that’s planted the right way up does exactly what you imagine…the root emerges and grows downwards.

broad bean geotropism, science for kidsbroad bean, geotropism, science for kids,

The upside-down root pops out its little head and then turns around and heads down. Geotropism in action, my friends. I know you know all this but it really is fun to watch!

broad bean, geotropism, science for kids.

My brain has been very busy lately and I felt the symptoms of a crash creeping upon me. There is nothing at all wrong, just too many projects on the go and a nasty virus trying its best to floor me. When I saw this tiny embroidery project on the front of a magazine I knew it was exactly the therapy I needed.

Mollie Makes embroidery hoop

I’m actually quite proud of myself for having spotted the signs rather than folding under the wave as occasionally happens. That, I think, counts as progress. Sometimes I just need a tiny boost to keep my head above water.

Mollie Makes embroidery hoop

Small Girl sat beside me with her pencils and colouring book while I did ‘colouring in with thread’ as she called it. Bliss.

Mollie Makes, #molliemakers, embroidery hoop

People always tell you to look at the big picture. I find the whole big picture overwhelming. Making plans for the future, trying to raise decent people, letting them loose, surviving school exams, Trump, Brexit, our faltering government…it’s too much. I do better when I focus in on the best bits, the small things that give me a momentary spark of joy. If I continue to train my eye on one small spark after another…before I know it, there will be a blaze. That’s the plan.img_4203-2

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What a difference 2125 days make…

I’m having a moment of pure delight and self-satisfaction here.

Husband unearthed a photograph taken almost exactly five years ago. This photo shows what our garden looked like AFTER we (by ‘we’ I mean Husband) removed 30 colossal Leylandii trees and their associated thorny undergrowth, not to mention two skip loads of rubbish which had been dumped over that low wall. There was a day when I pulled out the arm of an old jumper but couldn’t pull the body of it from the compacted crap on top of it. I remember going cold all over and becoming convinced that I had actually discovered a body. Ughhh! I still shiver at the thought of it.

We couldn’t have taken a proper BEFORE photo because no-one could have reached the spot I stood on to take this photo. Actually, there was a block wall running from here to the corner of the house which Teenage Son delighted in demolishing. He was only twelve and dead chuffed to be trusted with a sledgehammer.

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The poor box plant has recovered nicely, believe it or not! The Bay Tree you see there was moved to block the view of the clothes line. It’s much bigger now. Let me show you:

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We were on beans-and-toast rations for months after we moved in as the colossal Leylandii’s were mere twigs compared to the size of our outstanding account at the Builder’s Providers. We gave each other trees as birthday, anniversary and Christmas presents. I sneaked perennials into the grocery trolley whenever they were on offer at Lidl. One clever, clever friend gave us sacks and sacks of daffodils bulbs. I foraged Buddleia cuttings, wild garlic and Crocosmia bulbs from the ditches. I stole a poppy seed head from the Ballymaloe Cookery School gardens (listen, I figure I’ve paid that back with all the plugs I’ve given them!). The Verbena bonariensis, the Japanese anenomes, the artichoke and the nasturtiums were all kindly donated by fellow gardeners. Teenage Daughter came home from a walk one day with a baby calendula plant that she scraped out of a crack in the footpath (I’ve trained her well!). It has since self-seeded and become a mainstay of the garden. Truly, this garden was made on a shoe-string budget…

I went outside and stood in the same spot, more or less, and took this photo:img_2508

Happy, happy, happy!img_2514

As Hannibal Smith used to say, I love it when a plan comes together.

An Emotional Week.

cockapoo, hit by a car,

It has been one of those weeks. Which weeks?

The week when you suddenly realise that the summer is rolling downhill away from you and you bust a gut to catch up and get all those jobs done that you said you would ‘do over the holidays.’ The week you you dig a new flowerbed beside the front gate and lean on your spade with satisfaction and then look up to see your dog on the opposite side of the road and you make eye contact with him and you see him thinking, ‘ah shucks, I’ve been caught breaking the rules again, I better go home and make puppy dog eyes,’ and you see a car coming but he doesn’t see it because a neighbour has stopped to greet him and he backs away from the neighbour on to the road and under the car.

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Oh, he set up such a wailing howl I thought my heart would crack but at the same time I was thinking, ‘he’s alive.’

Husband, oh Dear God thank you for having Husband home when this happened, managed to ascertain that Charlie could, reluctantly, hold up his own weight and had, beyond obvious bruising, only a few small open wounds and I managed to breathe again. He was completely helpless that night, not able to even jump into his basket. Husband had to carry him outside to do his business and then carry him upstairs where he slept (against the rules) at the side of my bed.

Poor fella has clearly been very sore but he has since been spoiled and molly-coddled  far beyond what is good for him!

The shock of it really took it out of me. It’s too hard, this dog-loving thing. Nobody warned me there was this much emotional vulnerability involved.

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The garden has been a balm. We’ve had a burst of sunshine that has set the place ablaze.

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We made a deliberate effort to plant bee-friendly shrubs and perennials and it has been a hugely rewarding success. The hum of bees is almost enough to drown  out the middle distance buzz of traffic from the main Cork to Kerry road. I have a dream of owning a hive but that is some ways down the road yet.

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Fennel grew like a weed in my old house but has refused to thrive here. I planted at least a dozen baby fennel but only two have survived the onslaught of slugs, snails, gales and hailstorms. I adore fragrance and the frothiness of them and the heads that look like a fireworks display.

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Everything feels as though it’s surging towards the finish line. Blackberries are ripening from scarlet to black overnight. It’s hard to beat warm blackberries mashed up with sugar and anointed with poured cream.

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The crab apples are looking like fairy fruit and just beginning to tinge with pink. This is my favourite tree. It is always in bloom for the girls’ birthday parties in April and holds its fruit until Christmas. Everyone should have one.

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Love-in-a-mist. There is something magical about it, as if it reaches inside my soul and twists.

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Two years ago, on one of my very first walks with little puppy Charlie, I pulled a buddleia seedling from the ditch. It was about six inches tall and pretty floppy by the time I got it home. I stuck it in the ground and forgot about it. Last year, it reappeared in Spring and stretched to about three feet tall and even bore a half dozen or so blooms which I thought was great work from a free plant.

This year, it is over my head (way over) and awash with foot-long blossoms. I do know that buddleia can be a thug but we have space enough for this one and it is making me happy. This is where I sit most days to read and listen to the hum of tiny wings and absorb the scent of high summer. This is where I feel contained and safe and purposeful and able. This, now, is the rock I cling to.

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Yes. It has been one of those weeks.IMG_1208

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The Currant Issue.

whitecurrants

 

Image result for we're going to need a bigger boat‘We’re gonna need a bigger bowl.’whitecurrants

Bowl? Yes, bowl. I pottered out to the fruit bushes, barefoot as usual, thinking there might be a few currants to forage…whitecurrants

…instead I discovered a monster crop and a fat blackbird helping himself to the buffet. Reinforcements were drafted in  taking the form of Small Girl and the biggest bowl she could carry. Thankfully, Small Girl enjoys this work as her tiny fingers are particularly well suited to the task. A pleasant morning of picking, bubbling up and licking spoons ensued.

whitecurrants

Pick. Bubble. Lick. Label.

The girls made pretty labels for me. We hope that these will save husband from spreading jam on his ham sandwich (he did, yes, and didn’t even notice). I am in love with the Small Girl’s descriptive labelling style. How will I ever wash off such loveliness?

whitecurrant jelly, redcurrant jelly, gooseberry jam, Darina Allen, Forgotten skills

The whitecurrant jelly borrows exactly the redcurrant jelly recipe from Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills that I used a couple of weeks ago. I love it because there are no hard sums at all required. Simply add an equal weight of sugar to your currants in a stainless steel pan, stir over a low heat to dissolve the sugar and then boil for eight minutes. That’s it. Darina Allen warns not to squeeze the pulp as you strain the juice through a sieve into jars but I couldn’t resist pressing out every last drop. And that is why my jelly is cloudy and would be spurned by discerning jelly experts. Not to worry; the savages around here couldn’t care less and this stuff tastes like old-fashioned apple drops so I’ve had no complaints. It’s tastebud-tinglingly good with a homemade pork sausage.

Teenage Daughter has been employed making meringues for me so that we could stash several Frozen Blackcurrant Meringue Cakes in the freezer. Do you remember this from last year? Without a shadow of a doubt, this is my best ever invention, my crowning glory, my piece de resistance. I implore you, hijack some blackcurrants and try this out!

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While you’re waiting for the ice-cream cake to freeze you could indulge in some blackcurrant curd. Isn’t that soooo pretty?

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If you’re planning a seduction, my free blackcurrant love potion recipe comes with a money back guarantee. I’m reasonably convinced that you could substitute ribena for the real McCoy in the blackcurrant sorbet. Smile brightly and assure your quarry, in dulcet tones, that you pressed the juice with your own fair hands.

Love Potion

Cheers! Have a great weekend.

‘Soft day, thank God.’

Fuschia

“Two bubbles found they had rainbows on their curves.
They flickered out saying:
“It was worth being a bubble, just to have held that rainbow thirty seconds.”

There I stood, mindlessly dead-heading sodden yellow roses, when I saw rainbow spread across my hand. rainbow, Irish garden, vegetable garden, kitchen garden,

The rewards of gardening aren’t always what you are expecting or working towards. Other times they are exactly what you are hoping for and that too is pretty wonderful.

Irish new potatoes

It’s hard to beat a plate of tiny new potatoes and broad beans with lashings of butter, a sprinkle of salt flakes and the extra seasoning of the sweat of your own brow.Broad beans, freshly picked.

The blackcurrants are ripe for the picking. They smell better than anything else in the garden; they smell…purple. The fragrance transports me to childhood holidays in Wexford. If you were going to grow just one food I would say to you, let it be blackcurrants.

Irish Blackcurrants

I made blackcurrant leaf cordial which made the whole house smell divine. I think this beats elderflower cordial hands down. The recipe is another gem from Darina Allen’s Forgotten Foods (my current bible). Basically, it’s young blackcurrant leaves (two handfuls), zest of a lemon (my addition), 225g sugar and one pint of water brought to the boil and allowed to cool. The juice of three lemons can be squeezed in when it’s cool. Dilute with still or fizzy water.

Blackcurrant leaf cordial

I think these garlic scapes are up next for harvesting. Aren’t they pretty? I almost can’t bear to pull them. I’ve put my hand down to feel one (like a plant obstetrician) and found a smallish head of garlic so I might give them another week.

Garlic scapes

This scruffy juniper tree-let was languishing on the orphan plant table at the garden centre and cost just 3 euros. I’m very excited at the idea of having my own juniper berries for Husband’s annual birthday treat of venison stew. He has made me very happy even if he is teensy (the tree, not Husband, although he of course has made me very happy too but he is not teensy. Just to clarify.).

Juniper tree.

You know I like to zoom in on the pretty details but, for once, I will give you a panorama of the garden.Bear in mind, it’s raining. Of course it’s raining. What would you expect in July, in Ireland? The back door faces North and we walk out to this view:

Irish Kitchen Garden July

Swing left a bit and you can see behind the treehouse to the berry bushes and the rhubarb.

Irish Garden In July

Facing west you see the newly dug flowerbeds. I’ve been putting the tremndous strength of my Teenage Son to good use. Much like gardening, this business of raising children has unexpected benefits.

Irish garden in July.

You can see that we live at the very edge of the city. Behind me is Suburbia but in front there are patchwork swathes of green fields. Husband and I would prefer to live in the countryside but this is a decent compromise. I drive up that hill every morning to bring my younger children to a small(ish) country school.

Irish Garden In July.

If I brave the rain to venture closer to the flowers…

David Austin rose. Graham Thomas.St. Bridget's anenome.Fuschia

…you can see that the bees are still busy. I could watch them all day.

Bee on NepetaBee on Borage.bee on Nepeta.

In Ireland, on a day like this, we jokingly greet each other with the phrase, ‘soft day, thank God’. It’s a phrase that acknowledges the dampness and appreciates the ease of it. A soft day has the hard edges knocked off it. A soft day is quiet and gentle and calming.

With any luck the day will brighten towards evening and the sunset will be warm and golden. Sunny, with a chance of rainbows.

Bloomsday.

Bloomsday, James Joyce, Ulysses,

Today is Bloomsday, the day we Irish don a straw boater hat, pretend to have read Ulysses and raise a glass to James Joyce.

bloomsday

I tried, and failed, to read Joyce in my teens.

Bloomsday

I must try again.

Bloomsday

Someday.

Bloomsday

Not today.

Bloomsday

Have some flowers instead.

Bloomsday

Cheers, James!

Bloomsday, James Joyce, Ulysses,

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Ballymaloe House and Gardens.

Peregrine peach. Walled garden. Ballymaloe House.

Ballymaloe House

The farmyard at Ballymaloe was a hive of activity during Litfest 2016, thronged with celebrity participants and eager foodies. Pork crackled on spits and craft cider was swilled with an air of orgiastic revelry.

Just a stone’s throw away, the gardens remained an oasis of serenity and order.

Wild garlic. Ballymaloe House.

The walled kitchen garden was a particular delight.

Walled Garden. Ballymaloe House.Sea Kale. Walled garden. Ballymaloe House.Beans. Walled garden. Ballymaloe House.orchard. walled garden. Ballymaloe House.Cherry cherokee. walled garden. Ballymaloe House.

I was wildly impressed to see these cherries ripening against a wall. My mind is spinning with possibilities…if I only had a wall!

But then, these beauties took my breath away. I couldn’t resist rubbing my thumb against the, well, peachy skin. Wonderful.

Peregrine peach. Walled garden. Ballymaloe House.

 

A few links I liked:

I bought some seeds from Brown Envelope Seeds. http://www.brownenvelopeseeds.com/

They have a huge selection, beautifully packaged and their brown paper catalogue is a thing of beauty in itself. Their blog is fascinating.

Brown envelope seeds.

They have some cute gift box ideas. I thought the idea of giving new parents the seeds to grow their baby’s first dinner was a sweet one. Wouldn’t this be a fantastic baby shower gift?

Brown envelope seeds

Impressed as I am by Teenage Son’s talent as a whittler (read here), I have been drooling over Hewn.ie. Eamonn has the embryo of a very well written blog and it’s just impossible not to like him. It’s quite shocking to the system when you come across a talented craftsman and your first thought is, ‘his mother must be very proud’.

hewn.ie. Eamonn O'Sullivan. Handmade spoons. Litfest.ie

Middle Girl went on a school tour yesterday to The West Cork Secret (http://www.westcorksecret.ie/) and had the time of her life. If you are looking for somewhere you can bring your kids to, literally, roll around in the mud, this is your spot.

Keeping it Local, I bought chocolate and cocoa husk tea from Clonakilty Chocolate . The chocolate is amazing. It’s not cheap but they deliver free in Ireland. The jury is split on the tea. I like it and have discovered that I can make the tea and then use the tea to top up an espresso, making a chocolate-hinted Americano. Now that is stupendous. I could start a new trend.

That’s my lot.

Enjoy your weekend,

Lynda.