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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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After the snow has gone, March 18th

Jo Perry

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Spring suffered a major setback due to the recent snowstorm commonly known as ‘the beast from the east’. Here on the coast in West Cork I think we came off very lightly. Nevertheless, we had more snow than I have ever seen since I moved here in 1989. Our grandchildren, who live in the village, were delighted, never having seen real snow before. But I was really pleased that it only lasted three or four days.

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Coming so late in the winter we were lucky that we haven’t had too much damage. Crocosmia, or Montbretia as it is known here, was badly knocked back as was the Calla lily, just coming into flower against the wall along our drive. We have a lovely double flowered nasturtium ‘Hermine Grashoff’ which I thought was safe in the tunnel. It had come through the winter without a hitch but it won’t recover from this. Luckily I had taken a good few cuttings in the autumn which were also in the tunnel but safe on a heated pad under a cloche. The ground though, is still sodden from the wet winter and then the deep snow.

Just as the snow started to melt and there seemed to be a prospect of gardening again, my 90 year old mum had an accident and has been really poorly since. My sister and I are caring for her and thankfully have full support from the Community Nurses and Home Helps. But at the moment she cannot be left on her own. So, as it was my stint on Saturday I found myself desperate to find something useful to do indoors. I found a box of used plant labels, a brillo pad, and a bowl of hot water and proceeded to clean off over 600 labels ready for reuse in the coming weeks.

Yes, I did feel very virtuous but also nostalgic. I was reminded of many plants I no longer grow or have lost in the garden. How could I have forgotten the lovely little wild Californian poppy, Eschscholzia caespitose Sundew. I grew it year after year and it worked particularly well in pots directly after the tulips. Then there were tomatoes that I used to grow but have discarded in the pursuit of even more unusual varieties. Rose de Berne and St Pierre, two of the first heritage varieties that I grew and they are actually still very worthy of a place in the tunnel. And so much more. I can feel yet another seed order forming in my head.

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