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'The Beautiful and the Bountiful'

Jo Perry

Tuesday, May 1st

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At this time of year I find it almost impossible to prioritise my priorities. I am talking particularly about the propagating tunnel. I am so easily distracted. This morning I started by pricking out salad leaves, Mizuna, mustards and Persian cress. Then, as I was moving trays around to make space, I tripped over a module tray of flat leaved parsley. So I potted up a few, and while trying to find a home for them, a lovely Pelargonium Sanguineum caught my eye. This tender plant had been overwintering in the tunnel and really needed repotting into a terracotta pot for the summer. And so it goes on.

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I am constantly torn between the need to grow plants for the vegetable garden and wanting to grow flowers and ornamentals for the rest of garden. The ongoing routine of sowing and pricking out salad leaves to make sure there is a seamless supply for the restaurant is sometimes very tedious when more exciting seedlings of flowers are waiting for attention. Nevertheless I try to keep a balance and think of the garden as a whole entity. We have always attempted to mix the beautiful with the bountiful to create a sustainable micro environment. It isn’t easy on a semi commercial scale but when it does work it is very rewarding. At the moment the tomato plants must be a priority as well as the continued sowing of salads.

But this week the tulips are at their glorious best, and what would attract all the pollinating insects if not for the succession of cottage garden flowers that will take us through the summer? A little bit of perspective is what’s needed but I really do need to start planting those tomato plants.

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Photos by Sarah Twomey ©

Bloomin' Tulips, April 13th

Jo Perry

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Weeks ago the first of the specie tulips popped their pretty heads through the soil and I thought spring was here. Tulipa Sylvestris has such a lovely golden flower, with elegant arching stems. It naturalises well in the garden. Tulipa humilis ’Violacea Black Base’ violet pink and ‘Little Beauty’, violet with a blue base edged with white, all so beautiful; and then it snowed. Any vestige of spring well and truly quashed. It is a bit warmer and even a bit drier, but the late spring is taking its toll. Cattle can’t be put out to grass, leaving farmers desperate for fodder, the ground is so wet that crops can’t be set and lawns are left unmown. However, the tulips in pots have started to flower.

Candy Prince was the first. It looks so delicate with its faded mauve petals looking every bit like Shot Silk. Then Vendee Globe. Why it’s called Globe is a mystery to me, as it is what is known as a Lily flowered variety, with elongated golden pointed petals, flamed with red. Mount Tacoma is a double flowered tulip, white like a peony, exquisite. I won’t go on, lists are boring and I don’t want to diminish the sheer beauty of tulips by just reeling off their names, but even in this disappointing spring, the extraordinary depth and variety of colour really brightens the day and the heart.

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The renovation of the Herb Garden is well on its way, the structural work is done, and we have replanted the majority of the herbs. The rest of the garden will be planted up as and when the plants become available. Already it looks so much better. I am happy to say that the Olive Tree blown down during Storm Ophelia, appears to have recovered. Tad, Rachel and Sean manhandled it into an upright position and put a wooden framework around to hold it in place. The little bit of root still secured in the soil seems to be providing enough nourishment to keep it alive, so I will watch it carefully through the summer. It may need watering if we have any prolonged dry spells. We can live in hope.

Tunnel Vision, March 28th

Jo Perry

March 28th

I had an early morning wander through my tunnels today. I always go straight to the propagator and seed trays. After a lifetime of growing I am still always delighted to see new seedlings pushing through the compost. This morning annual flowers are showing through; Salvia horminum in pink, blue and white, cosmos in white and various pastel shades, cornflowers, Ammi majus and Orlaya grandiflora, these are all mainstays of our flowers borders
and summer bouquets. Many people feel that annuals are just too muchtrouble but they are so versatile and most are no more trouble than vegetable seeds. They are also inexpensive, for the price of one or two perennials you can grow literally hundreds of annuals from seed.

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The bigger of the two tunnels by the house is crammed full of vegetables and sweet peas. The overwhelming scent of the broad bean flowers is delicious. The plants are about 200cm tall and well covered with flowers. I haven’t actually seen any insects in the tunnel yet, but there are small pods forming, so obviously we have been visited by pollinating insects. This year we have tried a new system and planted a double row of broad beans down the centre of a bed. In the past we have planted them in blocks, but despite supporting the outside rows they still inevitably collapse over the paths, and many of the inside beans don’t get harvested properly. With the new system, we have worked hard to keep them supported and then either side we have a row of lettuce. It seems to be working well so far and the lettuce have been harvested since January. We take outside leaves rather than cut whole heads. There is lots of lettuce still to come.

Other crops in the tunnel at the moment include a similar row of sweet peas with chard either side, one whole bed of early potatoes and the other row is home to spinach, bulb fennel (sown late winter and nearly ready to use), red frilly mustard, corn salad, chervil, a green mustard and more lettuce. The black grape at the bottom has been pruned into shape and without leaves throws no shade yet. Plastic tunnels are not the most aesthetically pleasing structures but it is
possible to grow an awful lot more, especially throughout the winter. Our tunnels happen to be on a north facing slop, hardly the most promising situation, but it was the only space available. Even so, they are really productive. I did have a bit of a fright with the frosts last week, but luckily I had covered tiny tomato plants and other tender things with a double layer of fleece.    I think everything survived but frosts are very rare here on the coast of West Cork, especially this late in the spring. The weather continues to keep us guessing.

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