Christmas Rose

The Christmas Rose is blooming. It’s an exciting time of the year! Helleborus ‘Christmas Carol’ is a clump-forming, semi-evergreen perennial with leathery, deeply lobed, dark green leaves and, from winter to early spring, upright stems bearing outward-facing, sometimes green-flushed, white flowers with green eyes and prominent yellow stamens.
Helleborus Christmas Carol (click for details)
The other plant that is usually associated with Christmas in many households is the very tasty Brussels Sprout. Mine will be ready soon. As recommended, I removed the tops just last week in order to divert the little remaining energy of decreasing sunlight to the ripening harvest.
Brassica gemmifera Roodnerf
I grew 10 plants back in May and thinned them out to the strongest three. Later, during mid-summer, I noticed that they were being attacked at night by the critters. Rather than try to win a midnight war, I played smart, by giving one of the plants to them and protecting the other two. I’m happy to say that it worked. I’d call it a win-win situation.

Recently, I wrote about my replica online garden. Therefore, in keeping with my decision to make online notes rather than notes all over the shed, here’s the entry for Brassica gemmifera Roodnerf (aka Brussels Sprouts).
Chop off the heads for quicker ripening
Until next week, happy gardening!
Pádraig, 25th November 2016.

I Found What I Was Looking For

I still have a few notebooks hanging around. There’s one in the shed, one in the glasshouse and one beside the laptop. I also scribble on the back of seed packets, and even put a few post-it notes where I cannot fail to notice them.

When I was small, Shoot was a football magazine. Perhaps it still is, but I’m not!
Following a comment seen on a Garden Bloggers group, I investigated the online service SHOOT. Having registered for the free trial (a very tight 48-hour window) I discovered that it was something that would be very useful, and I paid the small subscription. Over the years, I’ve come across similar online sites, but none were what I wanted. I was very taken by this very professional service.

What is Shoot?

“Forget rummaging through different reference books and notepads, with a My Garden Notebook you can keep all your gardening information in a single place.”

Being an organised gardener (being an organised person) I created my garden, and over the course of a few weeks, I added most of my plants online. To say that it was time well spent is an understatement!
Why does it work for me?
  • It is my online garden journal
  • I can plan sections of the garden according to so many criteria
  • I have started my Plant Wish List, based on above
  • I keep track of everything (within reason)
  • I print off my plant list
  • I print off my monthly plant tasks that are automatically generated from my list
  • I get a Recommended Plant List based on my current list (great for companion planting)
  • I created an online autocad-like visual of my garden
Back garden

What will it not do?

Unfortunately, I still have to dig the vegetable patch in spring, together with all other tasks that involve actually going outside to the garden!

Of course, a service such as this will be a complete waste of (online) space if it does not serve a useful purpose, so do not be drawn in. It may not be for you. However, even if you do not subscribe to the garden journal service, the site is freely available as a search reference for over 22,000 plants. I think this section alone is on a par with the RHS website.
I still have a few notebooks hanging around. There’s one in the shed, one in the glasshouse and one beside the laptop. I also scribble on the back of seed packets, and even put a few post-it notes where I cannot fail to notice them. But, the long and short of it is that Shoot will increasingly become my online garden. As we say in Ireland, “Míle buíochas dhaoibh!” Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Helleborus niger “Christmas Rose”

My garden blog post would not be complete without a photo or two to reflect either what’s happening currently in the garden or even a throwback to the good summer. I have selected Helleborus niger “Christmas Carol”, as it is just now coming into bloom at a time when very little else is. I bought it only last month, and it’s a stunner! The entire helleborus family is known as “The Christmas Rose”.
Helleborus niger Christmas Carol
To finish, here is my task list for November, week 1:
Time for me to stop writing, and get busy!
Twitter and Instagram @growwriterepeat
Email: growwriterepeat (at) gmail dot com
Bike blog: Burkes Biking
Pádraig, 17th November 2016.

Hotel For Insects

Today, I completed a small construction project idea that I read about online. The idea was to make some cozy winter hibernation places in various corners for ground insects.

Having completed the rainwater butt last week, I used a leftover section of guttering downpipe and cut it into five sections, each approximately 30cm long.

Next, using saved prunings from the two fuchsia bushes, I stuffed each with small twigs. Finally, I placed each one in a sheltered corner and covered them with leaves and old pieces of timber. The timber will keep the leaves in place.

Fuchsia twigs (blurred for effect)

So, let the winter cold and frost arrive. I’m sure many of the beneficial ground insects will discover these hotels very quickly. These  are waterproof  and warm. Each one has a front and rear entrance, great for chasing games. What more could they want? I’ll be watching for comings and goings during the winter, and likely these garden creatures will be active much earlier next spring. There will also be lots of sex in these new modern accommodation blocks, and there will be a big increase in the population.

Garden sex-shop
Summary of what is needed:
  • Rainwater downpipe
  • Hacksaw
  • Twigs
  • Leaves
  • Old disused timbers
Time: approximately 15 minutes. The fuchsia cuttings had already been minced to size.
Well-hidden, yet both openings accessible
Some beneficial insects include (taken from Wikipedia):
  • Ground beetles
  • Lady beetles
  • Minute pirate bug
  • Earwig
  • Assassin bug
  • Damsel bug
  • Mealybug destroyer
  • Soldier beetle
  • Green lacewing
  • Syrphid fly
  • Tachinid fly
  • Ichneumon wasp
  • Trichogramma wasp
  • Spiders
Beneficial insects are so called because they usually eat the problematic ones. I do not know which of the above are in the garden, and which ones will take up lodging, but I’ll keep a close watch. I’m told that planting  angelica, marigolds, coreopsis, dill, fennel, and yarrow will attract more of them. That’s a follow-on project for next summer! The marigolds are there already.
Happy gardening,
Pádraig, 10th November, 2016.

Geranium: An Excellent Garden Plant

I have bought geraniums most years, for as long as I can remember because they are one of my favourite flowering plants. I tried growing them from seed a few years ago, but they worked out quite expensive as packets usually contain only a small number of seeds. Additionally, the seed is classed as not easy yo germinate.

This year I bought three potted Geraniums, and they have provided very good colour from early June until now. I have moved them from their new large stone pot into the glasshouse in order to prolong flowering, and to protect them from the cold winter. I will watch out for any lingering whitefly or mould, and quickly nip it in the bud.

They are easy to grow, and easy to care for. Additionally, they are easy to propagate from stem cuttings. I checked for plant information on the RHS website, which is my online reference of choice, and here’s what it has to say:

Family: GeraniaceaeGenus: Pelargonium can be perennials, sub-shrubs or shrubs, sometimes succulent and mostly evergreen, with palmately lobed or pinnately divided leaves and clusters of slightly irregular, 5-petalled flowers

How to grow:

Grow in fertile well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade. Remove spent flowers. To overwinter, grow small plants in late summer from cuttings or cut back old plants by one third and lift for storage in frost-free place to repot in spring when growth resumes

Propagation: Take softwood cuttings in summer and overwinter plants in frost free conditions or take softwoodcuttings in spring

How to care

Pruning: Deadhead regularly

Pests: Vine weevil, leafhoppers, caterpillars, thrips, fungus gnats and Aphids can be troublesome.Aphids are generally more problematic on over-wintered plants

Diseases: Foot and root rots can be a problem in wet soils. Grey moulds are often troublesome in wet conditions. A virus can often be a problem where cultivars are maintained by cuttings. Pelargonium rust can be damaging to zonal pelargoniums and associated hybrids.

Pádraig, 10th November, 2016.

The November Garden In Perspective: Crab Apple, Pinnochio and Dougal

My little garden with the large crab-apple tree becomes rather small when taken in context. Very small compared to, let’s say, Hyde Park, London; smaller still in relation to Central Park, New York, but insignificantly small when viewed alongside Mr Donald Trump’s enormous nose.

Occasionally, I rise during the night for a very relieving natural break. It is a universal truth that we mortals have to pee, and gardeners are not exempt, but isn’t it great that the body clock warns us (gardeners and non-gardeners alike) to wake in advance? Occasionally also, but not always to the point, we notice that the sky is completely clear, and the millions of stars are out to greet us on a true winter night that is crisp and cold.

In such circumstances a coffee is allowed. Alternatively, a cigarette may be one’s choice of fix, all the while taking in the presented scene. Take some time, short or long, to stand and stare. Best spot for this exercise might be outside back door, just far enough away from house lights. Best apparel might be dressing gown, slippers and hat. Said hat could be conveniently placed for such impromptu opportunities. On occasion, deep thoughts can present themselves. This is natural, and we should not struggle to dismiss them. Savour the coffee and the moment.

Unplanned Eureka Moment

Last night was one such night. At 1am, there was a clear sky, filled only with well-focused stars and dark spaces. As I looked down the garden and upwards, my eureka moment duly arrived. Immediately, I went in for more coffee (no point in going back to bed, because the moment needs writing!)

That’s a lot of writing just as an introduction to this evening’s gardening article. My preference is for a shorter post. I like my blog and others too, especially when the content is brief. Anything longer than a short story sees me skimming for the main points. It’s also a lot of writing without a picture to draw the eye, in a way that a thousand words never will, so here’s a night crab-apple shot in the moment. Tip #1 for November nights: when the phone is still upstairs by the bed, have the real camera handy for crab-apple shots.

Crab-apple tree
Crab-apple 1cm: also available on far-away gardens, methinks

The Father Ted Effect

My suburban garden comprises smaller plants, in the main. There are taller shrubs and two trees, together with larger structures to provide perspective.

Sweet Pea 5cm: reproducing prior to death

In the larger scheme of things, I am somewhat bigger than most of my plants, yet much smaller than the columnar beech. I am, however, older and wiser. Yet, as I gaze upwards, with my coffee and cigarette in hand, coffee right, cigarette left, (but that’s not important now), Mister Eureka makes me think of far-away gardens on planets circling far-away stars, and in the interest of balance, a particular scene from the TV series Father Ted brought me frantically back to earth. Ted is demonstrating some plastic toy cows to Dougal.

OK, one last time. These are small…. but the ones out there are far away. Small… far away.

There you have it! My little garden with the large crab-apple tree becomes rather small when taken in context. Very small compared to, let’s say, Hyde Park, London; smaller still in relation to Central Park, New York, but insignificantly small when viewed alongside Mr Donald Trump’s enormous nose. It’s the Pinocchio effect, for the upcoming US presidential election.

20cm Alyssum Golden Ball Our little earth is merely a small ball

The Universe

It is further significantly smaller when looking to the night sky. Here’s a little clip to summarise the place of my garden (sometimes lovingly referred to my be as my universe):

Futurism: Scale of the Universe Please be patient, as it can take up to 15 seconds to load the universe on PC. Run the flash animation, but not sure if these will work on phones? Phones are just too small to run something this big, perhaps. Feedback very welcome, especially if it DOES, in fact, run on your phone.

Here’s a second one, equally enormous. Scale of the Universe #2

12 minor thoughts along the way:

  • If I were a plant, this clear sky would be an all-night affair
  • The Raffesia flower is the largest on earth, blooming to a diameter of approx. 1 metre (3 feet). It features in the first animation above, but not in Ireland
  • The following are in my garden, in diminishing size order: earthworms, ants, clay particles, hydrogen atoms (lots of these present), chlorine nuclei and high energy neutrinos. The latter is probably unproven, yet I’m going with it. These may even combine to form other interesting stuff.
30cm Calendula, commonly known as Pot Marigold.
  • I’m certain there’s a garden like mine far far away out there
  • I’m wondering are there garden bloggers out there, sharing eureka thoughts on some universal social media? I’d love to make the connection, to share my crab-apple!
  • Garden plants and star names are normally in latin, and some share a common name eg Venus, cosmos, aquilegia (Lady’s Finger)
  • By now, a second coffee might go down well
About my size: Acer palmatum
  • Father Ted is an Irish TV sitcom, produced by British independent production company Hat Trick Productions. The Irish do comedy, but it takes the renowned British to produce it!
  • November 2nd is known as all Souls’ Day, but I’m not religious.
  • My brother, Gary, is somewhere out there, and also very close to my earth garden
  • Is there an after-life for plants? Of course there is, in an altered state.  My deceased dahlia from 2012 is now changed to living soil
  • Burning the midnight oil, stargazing and blogging is best when retired and not concerned with the world of early morning work
Larger than me: Callicarpa bodineiri “Beauty Berry”
I really should have known that a post along these lines was on the horizon. I had been night cycling with friends, and we were all in agreement that:

  • it was a cold clear cloudless night
  • there were lots of very well-focused stars and things even at 8pm
  • night cycling is a terrific buzz, but that’s not important now
I have included a satellite observation report of the route on my cycling blog. Interested gardeners who cycle will notice that it is very dark. The voice recorder data on the black box is turned off for privacy reasons. Also turned off is the weather data, so you’ll have to take my word for it that it was indeed quite cold.


  1. As an experiment in perspective, the six plants photographed are in increasing size order.
  2. Raffesia website. This will blow your mind. Considered one of the rarest in the world not only for its gigantic petals but also for the putrid smell it emits to attract pollinators and prey, the genus rafflesia is endemic in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines.
  3. Hyde Park covers 142 hectares (350 acres) and Kensington Gardens covers 111 hectares (275 acres), giving a total area of 253 hectares (625 acres), making their combined area larger than the Principality of Monaco (196 hectares or 480 acres), though smaller than the Bois de Boulogne in Paris (845 hectares, or 2090 acres).
  4. Central Park is an urban park in middle-upper Manhattan, within New York City. Central Park is the most visited urban park in the United States, with 40 million visitors in 2013. It is also one of the most filmed locations in the world. The Park was established in 1857 on 778 acres (315 ha) of city-owned land
  5. In Lutheran Europe, the practice of “souling” is interesting. Bread cakes are baked for children who walk from door to door begging for alms or “soul-cakes”. For consumerist Europe, substitute sweets, and disregard the connection to honouring the dead.
  6. It was probably inspiration from the more “folksy” traditions among the Irish and Scottish immigrants to the USA, which generated the commercial Halloween which has been taken up so enthusiastically only recently by Europeans.
copyright Terry Gilliam
President of something bigger than himself? The universe should be worried.

Happy November gardening, wherever you are, no matter how large or small your universe,

“I am intrigued by writers who garden and gardeners who write. The pen and the trowel are not interchangeable, but seem often linked.” ― Marta McDowell (and adopted for Petals by Paraig).

Pádraig, 2nd november 2016.