Archives for category: Garden Projects

The new porch is coming along nicely. I’m calling it a porch, but it’s probably not that fancy at all. It’s just a covered bit at the front of the house where the sun hits most of the day. The posts were put in on Friday. This is what it looked like:

Posts

It is now post time!

I was a little afraid when I came home from work and saw the posts sticking up out of the ground like big, scary, Easter Island statues. The posts are great. My very nice builder-in-law had to get them specially ordered because apparently it is quite difficult to walk into a place and pick up 5 or 6 6×6 posts that are 12 foot long. At first I thought maybe I had made a mistake agreeing to the bigger posts. But once the skeleton of the porch was put in place, all my fears were allayed.

porch bones up

Porch bones up

The options for how much I enclose it and how I enclose it are endless. I could put brick around the bottom or stone. I could put some kind of railing or trellis. The ends could be closed up, just leaving a half-door type thing. Then there is the idea of windbreak. My builder-in-law says they don’t have porch screening in this country. I suppose the wind would make shreds of it in no time. Some kind of way to roll up green windbreak might be an idea, or that plastic stuff that I have at the far end of my tunnel. The best part about it is that I have all the time in the world to decide what I want to do with it. If anyone has ideas (dad) or has built something like this I would be most interested to hear about it or even see a picture. I’m looking for more inspiration!

I’m slowly but surely emptying the tunnel of plants and hopefully red spider mite. I rescued my tarragon plant and stuck it outside so the cold weather could get to the red spiter mites sucking the life out of it and it looked better even after a couple of days. (I only hope the frost last night didn’t flatten it.) Yesterday, I opened up the tunnel to let the air move through it and I was greeted by this:

snapdragons

Snap!

Two years ago a good friend had given me some snapdragon plants that she didn’t need. I brought them home and bunged them into a little planter. The only thing I’ve done to them is cut them back after flowering and every now and then removed mouldy-looking foliage. They have been in the polytunnel the whole time and wholeheartedly refuse to die. I thought they were annuals, but they’ve basically become like little shrubs in that pot. Just look at them now, lovely little things. I also like plain old geraniums (Pelargonium to the initiated). I just cut mine back and stuck them in a shed that’s not completely dark. I have found that mine really don’t like being in the tunnel over winter; they just turn to mould. So I’m trying a new tactic this year. I HATE having to buy them, even though they are cheap. They are too easy to propagate and I would just feel like a gardening loser if I didn’t keep my own. I have a lovely dark maroon one that was given to me as a rooted cutting from the plant of a fellow gardener who had passed away (the very best way to remember someone). I think I’ve had it for 5 years on my kitchen windowsill, and I make babies from it every year. I’ll get a picture of it when it’s in flower next year and I’m always happy to share rooted cuttings. That’s what it’s all about.

It must be winter if I’m talking about house plants… (my least favourite subject, mainly because I have nowhere to put them!).

One last photo to highlight the very changeable weather we are having and the fact that I am an American living in Ireland and am still awed by the frequency and intensity of the rainbows here.

Pot of gold in the hay shed

Pot of gold in the hay shed

Next time… update on the porch.

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A couple of years ago I decided that it was time to start hacking away at the rough field just to the east of the house at the Little Garden.  The area was dug and I immediately started plonking plants in, mostly because I had nowhere else to plonk them.  Bad move.  It wasn’t long before the weeds took hold and started to swamp my plonked plants.

The new bed before filling

The new bed before filling

So I’ve had to rethink the area.  I’ve decided that since it is so close to the house, which also shelters it from the prevailing winds, it would be a good place for some veg and flowers.  I am loath to use the word ‘potager’ because it sends my pretentious asshole meter through the roof.  But that’s actually what it will be in a rough sort of way.  It would be lovely to have bricked paths and fancy, neat beds, but I’m going to have to go with stone-edged beds and re-used Mypex on the paths to begin with.  That’s what the budget calls for.

New Bed Filled with the Recipe

New Bed Filled with the Recipe

As you can see I’ve gone all permaculture.  First I made my circle with stones; there’s no shortage of them around the place.  Then I gathered a heap of cardboard boxes from local shops.  They were only too happy to get rid of the boxes.  I flattened the boxes and removed the plastic tape (this doesn’t disintegrate for about a billion Carbon years).  Then I put the boxes down, a couple of boxes in thickness so that there are about 4 layers of cardboard over the whole bed.  I have a good amount of scutch grass that would be only too happy to poke up through a thin layer of cardboard once it gets wet.

Primula

Primula

The next step was to fill up the bed with my secret recipe.  Well, it’s not really a secret and it’s not much of a recipe either (whenever I use the word ‘recipe’ I always think of the Baldwin sisters from The Waltons).  Recipe:  well-rotted manure (2 types – one with straw and one with sawdust, both horse manure), top soil, garden compost, and old potting compost – no measuring, just whatever I feel like at the time.  I don’t throw potting compost on the compost heap anymore because I found that it made for a dry kind of compost.  So I keep it separate and use it to lighten up the clay soil that I have.  In the case of this new bed, it’s a good, bulky material to help fill the area.

Helleborus

Helleborus

And that’s it.  I could go ahead and plant today if it wasn’t blowing a gale outside (again).  At least it has warmed up a bit, but every time I go outside it immediately starts to rain.  So I’ve been sowing seeds this morning:  another batch of lettuce, loads of different kinds of peas, and a second sowing of leeks (if you don’t sow leeks here by April you don’t get very big leeks).  I think I’ll probably sow some flower seeds now… for my new pah-tah-zhay…

Shoots of Paeonia 'Buckeye Beauty'. Watch this space!

Shoots of Paeonia ‘Buckeye Beauty’. Watch this space!

I’ve taken a few more photos of things now in flower at the Little Garden (here for your viewing pleasure), including shoots from my favourite plant at the little garden, Paeonia ‘Buckeye Beauty’.  Wait till you see her in flower.

 

Flower buds of Willow 'Mountain Mist'

Flower buds of Willow ‘Mountain Mist’

Happy sowing!

Seems like everywhere I look these days I read something about living willow structures.  Over the past couple of years I’ve made a few of these structures for myself: a fedge (a living fence), archways and a dome.  Before I actually started making these features I did research on the internet on how to do it.  But then I started getting information overload so I just went out, cut the willow and started pushing pieces into the ground.

The fedge at the little garden when it was newly created

The fedge at the little garden when it was newly created

To be completely honest, my garden club friends helped me to create the first structure, which was the fedge.  It was the project at one of our winter meetings.  But after we got the fence up I took it all down the next day because I wasn’t happy with the angle at which we had stuck in some of the willow.  Also, I didn’t feel like the willow had been put in deep enough so I got a kind of augur (it’s actually the axle off some old, abandoned piece of farm equipment, but it’s great for making holes) and made all of the holes deeper.  This seemed to work better than just pushing the willow into the ground.  By using an augur you can also determine if there is a big stone in the way before planting — always something to consider when dealing with the soil around here.

The dome when created

The dome when created

So here’s the thing with willow.  In Ireland it is virtually impossible to kill it.  If you leave a piece of it lying around it will probably root on the spot.  It will root in a bucket of water.  It even roots when put in upside down.  I really like the plant, but you do need to take a bit of care with where you place it.  Don’t put it too close to any septic systems.  The roots seek wet places and can bung up drainage in a septic field.  Also, don’t plant too close to beds which you need to dig often.  The roots of the willow will go everywhere and they are a bit annoying when you are trying to fork over a nice fluffy raised bed that has been invaded.

Same fedge to be pruned with added arch

Same fedge to be pruned with added arch

One last thing, don’t let the willow get too big for its britches.  Keep the plant(s) down to size.  Willow grown as a stock plant (meaning one from which you which to continually harvest smallish shoots) should be cut back every year unless you need larger growth for some reason.  After three years it starts to reach tree form and becomes a little more difficult to prune because you will need to saw rather than lop.  Living structures should be pruned every year.  I learned this the hard way after letting my fence go a year without cutting it back.  Because of my laziness I wasn’t able to bend some of the shoots very well because they had got too big.

Close-up of the willow dome

Close-up of the willow dome

When you first create a structure, you do as much weaving as you can.  But you will probably need to do more the following couple of years with new shoots so that you can fill in gaps or go higher up on a dome.  The original lengths of the willow will not be long enough to weave all the way up tall structures (you can see this in the photo of the willow dome above).   That’s why it is important to get the shoots into place before they pass the bendy stage — once they become fairly woody they will not bend.  First year growth usually stays fairly bendy but starts to go woodier as the first birthday of the shoot approaches.  So get the new shoots into place as quick as you can.  As for the dome, I have taken shoots growing on the original structure and woven them up higher.

I won’t go into too much detail because you can find patterns for fedges, domes, teepees, or arches on willow websites.  I’ll just say that I bought some good stock of various willows from a supplier — they came in pieces about 8in long with each piece being about 1/2in in diameter.  I pushed the pieces far into the ground with one bud above the ground.  I let these plants grow as stock for 3 years and then I started harvesting the willow and using it for projects.  It grows fast and well in Ireland.  Don’t fuss too much about making mistakes.  You’ll just be wasting time like I did at first.  If you don’t like the look of the structure after completing it, you can just pull it out and start again.  One other tip is don’t be afraid to use twine to tie shoots into place if they are not being cooperative.

Detail of top of dome

Detail of top of dome

Use your imagination a bit and you can create just about anything:  chairs, benches, playhouses and all of the things I’ve mentioned above.  Just remember, your creation will need an annual haircut when dormant as well as some further weaving as growth happens.  I promise to post some photos of the structures in full growth once that happens again.  What a great art form; it’s alive and constantly changing!  Happy sculpting and weaving.