Short Days Challenge

I start a new blog theme today. It is called the Short Days Challenge. The idea is to post one small thing as often as possible between November and February, focusing on the small things that brighten the short winter days.

Day 1: Today’s winter garden: as I briefly log winter here in Waterford, Ireland. This ornament was filled with flower colour earlier in the season. Now it stands waiting.

Zoom in to see three ivy cuttibgs

Would you like to join in? Simply use the hashtag #shortdayschallenge either on your blog, Facebook or Instagram to connect with many others noticing the little winter things that bring delight to these short days. Have you a favourite winter item in your garden, be it plant, structure or ornament?

This article was originally published by @petalsbyparaig on Instagram. Páraig (also known as Pat) is the author of Petals by Paraig. He loves ivy, winter and small things. He also likes Instagram and growing from cuttings, but cannot abide missing out on the smallest signs of winter life.

Tuesday’s Three Things

I took a short stroll around the dying garden yesterday before breakfast. This is something I like to do regularly and I bring a small notepad and camera with me. I have found great joy in doing this. There was a time that I would scan through my online Irish Times while waiting for my 11-minute boiled egg, but not any more. The breaking news stories and opinion pieces are not conducive to starting the day as I would like, but a few minutes in the garden gets me in a great frame of mind. It’s not that everything is always rosy, akin to the daily news, but I like to notice small things and I have other small things that need attending to thrust in my face. Here’s this week’s Three Things:

Three Things I Noticed: 

  1. The Christmas baubles on the acer and the apple tree since 2016 are to the fore once again. I put them there just before Christmas in 2016 (yes, that’s right!) and decided to leave them as permanent fixtures. In fact there are times when I forget they are there because they become almost invisible when the leaves appear.
    Slight discolouration after two years
  2. I planted Forget-Me-Not along the base of the rockery a few years ago. Perhaps it was 2016, once again. They flower in late spring and the profusion of light-blue is stunning. Furthermore, they self-seed freely, and they have appeared every year, mostly in the same area. At times some seed gets scattered to other nearby areas and I am surprised in late autumn to find a thriving new plant. This year, because my patio slabs have plenty cracks between, the Forget-Me-Not has found a new home. They look very shook at this time of the year, but I am determined to overlook that because the late-spring will bring such a lovely show of colour. The beauty of this plant really is the fact that nature does all the work and I get all the satisfaction. There are other benefits to leaving this plant where it seeded. It becomes a safe hiding place for insects, as falling leaves get trapped around the base, providing more shelter. It is always checked out by the birds for food. My wife scatters birdseed regularly and they gobble it up quickly. When is all seems gone, they start looking carefully for hidden leftovers in hidden places such as this.
    Myosotis (Forget-Me-Not) and house sparrow
  3. I planted Wallflower Winter Passion at the base of the same rockery in 2016. Generally, they come into flower in January, but this year they have started early.
    Wallflower Winter Passion

    Three Jobs To Be Done

  1.  I bought a water feature several years ago. It was definitely before 2016, but I have not yet connected the electrics. I like the sound of running water, particularly when it’s not raining! This task is now added to my to-do list.
  2. My to-do list generally  gets sorted. If there are essential jobs they get prioritised and sorted earlier. Well, one of the tasks added to my list this time last year (not 2016, you understand) was to replace a pane of broken glass in the glasshouse. It’s the place where broken glass usually breaks! It remains on my list to this day, so as I opened the glasshouse door and vent, I was reminded to undertake the task. Otherwise, there’s not much point in having a to-do list. I will prioritise this one, simply because the few small plants directly inside must be shivering in a severe draught.
    On my list since last year!
  3. There are two fuchsias on the other rockery, planted approximately two metres apart, but are quickly growing towards one another at an alarming rate. That will be ideal, but unfortunately, there are two very small shrubs in between. They are Nandina Heavenly Bamboo, currently at a height of approximately 30cm. Therefore, these will have to be moved, because they will not remain heavenly if they get smothered by the native fuchsias. They are really beautiful at this time of the year, and in fact, I highlighted this particular shrub recently.
    Heavenly Bamboo

Three Favourite Plants

Finally, as I wrap up my five-minute pre-breakfast ramble, it’s time for my current three favourite plants:

  1. Alchemilla Mollis (Lady’s Mantle)
  2. Skimmia Temptation, highlighted only last week
  3. Dahlia Cafe au Lait, which is still flowering 

Páraig (also known as Pat) is the author of Petals by Paraig. He loves breakfast, draught-free glasshouses and has very good memories of 2016. He also likes watching the birds and providing safe places for them, but he prefers not to read the morning newspapers before a short garden ramble.

The Conservatory View

I have been working on another winter patio area of interest beneath the bare acer. It’s directly outside the conservatory door and looks good, I think. There’s a combination of pansy, viola, some variety of spiky grass and ivy. The home-made wooden planter is pretty bare but it comes in useful. I will mix in several pots of daffodil and narcissi as soon as they begin to shoot up, and I will do an update photo in Jan/Feb. Likely, I’ll give a fresh view of this by also moving pots around whenever I feel like a change of scenery.

View from the conservatory chair

On cold, wet, windy days I like nothing better than to spend some time sitting in the conservatory. It is south-facing and cozy. Last winter, I looked out to an almost empty patio, and I vowed to make things different this year. Last month I planted pansies, violas and cyclamen on the central area, and was very pleased with  the outcome. This week I completed a section under the bare acer, and I feel that it fits in very nicely.

I think this is carex, but not entirely sure. I must investigate

I had to dig up the spiky grass plant from the front garden because it had become very bedraggled. It should have been divided many years ago, so most of what was on view was old, dead, rotted material. When I managed to tidy it up, I ended up with 11 smaller plants and proceeded to replant three in the very spot I had dug from. The remaining eight were potted up and are now moved to the patio area.

This ivy has been used to grow 12 more

The ivy was purchased this week, and immediately I took twelve small cuttings from it. Hopefully, hey will survive infancy in the glasshouse, while the parent plant has been left sitting atop my home-made planter.

Pansies and violas

The little corner is now alive. The pansies and violas provide some colour, while the ornamental grasses and ivy give the area shape and form. Together they have added greatly to the patio area, and will provide me with interest through the winter. I will have to make certain that I find more time to sit admiring them, especially if the days turn wet, cold and windy.

Collage of all four photogaphs
Paraig is the author of Petals by Paraig. He loves winter colour, making timber garden troughs and sitting in the conservatory. He also loves moving plants around, but not on cold, wet, windy days.

Then There Were Twelve

Ivy propagation, round 2. Years ago I gave up on planting ivy on our garden boundary walls because it became unmanageable. But a few ivy plants are very good in pots on the patio. Today I bought one at my local garden centre. (Plant, not patio!) I knew when buying it that I’d easily make at least 12 plants from it. So, a few hours later everything is finito. Let the glasshouse work it’s magic, along with the rooting powder of course.

Small ivy becomes very big and unmanageable 

Páraig is the author of Petals by Paraig. He loves pottering in the potting shed, making baby plants and waiting for healthy offspring. He also loves portable power banks and nature’s magic but not cracked patio slabs.

Rooting for Ivy

Reading time: 1 minute. Request for your help: could take 1 minute, or longer if you choose.

I finally got time to take ivy cuttings. Perhaps it’s too late in the year. Anyways, 6 pots with 3 cuttings in each, using rooting powder to help them take root. That’s why it’s called rooting powder! Then, purely for my own information, I decided to keep 3 pots in the glasshouse and 3 in a sheltered corner outside. Has anyone experience of where is best?

One ivy will become 18, hopefully

Please leave a comment below if you can help. Even if you can’t, leave any comment related to above. Note, however, that rude comments will be composted as advised in a recent article.

Páraig is the author of Petals by Paraig. He loves propagating plants, increasing the odds of success and saving some money. He also loves ivy in pots,  very sparing use of chemicals, but does not like taking photographs from above.

Monday Mindful Meditation

#1 Monday Meditation. Reading time: 2-10 mins.

This is the first of an idea that fleetingly passed through my mind recently. I hope to revisit this Monday Meditation theme from time to time… on Monday’s of course!

Study the photograph closely. Take your time and begin to notice the details such as:

  • colours, light and shade
  • mist/rain. I wonder what time of day was the photograph taken?
  • clutter. Sometimes interesting, sometimes with negative vibes?
  • life and end of life. This small space is the entire universe for this plant.
  • immigrant strangers “invading”. There’s a rogue flower in top right corner
  • what lies beneath or within? Friend or foe? Home or hidden trap?
Nandina domestica Firepower (Heavenly Bamboo)

Now, return to the list above and select one item of your choice. Focus on this for as much as two or three minutes. What thoughts come to you? If you feel comfortable, share these thoughts in the comments for others. Are there other themes that came to mind? See can you come up with three. For example, on a very serious level (that’s what mindful meditation is about) describe the following moral dilemmas in relation to the photograph:

  • #metoo 
  • Bodily Brexit: a terminally sick person whats to leave
  • Discrimination based on skin colour

Pádraig is the author of Petals by Paraig. He loves clutter, rogue flowers and the macro-universe. He also likes occasional meditation and Mondays, but not earwigs hiding in the long grass.

Rhubarb And Trexit

Reading time 5-7 minutes. Video: 20 seconds.

Part One

My wife, Marion, grows rhubarb. For the past number of years she has had a good harvest from one plant in a very large terracotta pot. The pot is approximately 24 inches in diameter, and the rhubarb, although very tasty, is a bit lost in it. Last year, I entered into negotiations to secure exclusive use of the pot. There was a bit of horse-trading. That’s my term for having to do a few more house chores in addition to hoovering and taking off my muddy boots. Contracts were exchanged verbally, and my plans were put in progress. But, like planning permission that can lapse, Marion held on to the pot because I did nothing about it.
This week I did! Monday morning was very very wet, and I visited Country Life again. This time, I did not know what to buy, so I spoke for 20 minutes with Malachy. I explained I wanted something to add interest for the winter and I described the pot with hand gestures. “It’s about this big, and this wide”, said I. There were so many suggestions thrown at me, but I was decisive lest I lose the pot permanently.
I agreed to purchase three plants:

    All three plants were mature and expensive. I mean really expensive, so I put on my thinking cap and within twenty minutes my plants were in the very large basket and loaded into my very small car boot. The acer tickled my ear as I itched home excitedly. Normally, I am reluctant to buy very mature plants but my daughter said she’d buy the tree as my Christmas present, and Marion would buy the two shrubs. Finally, the days of Marion’s rhubarb pot were over, and the task of getting presents too!

    Step 1: remove the offending rhubarb. Tuesday morning was equally wet and miserable, but the afternoon was bright and sunny with only an occasional shower. It took me a while to dislodge the rhubarb, divide it into four plants and find a new home of Marion’s choosing on one of the vegetable beds. I thought it wise to hold off on mentioning that rhubarb is not generally regarded as a vegetable. (As t turns out, I was wrong, so best left unsaid!)

    Step 2: plant the shrubs and tree carefully using a mix of good compost and some soil robbed from the fertile vegetable bed. No evidence supplied, but I did break a sweat.
    Step 3: move the pot with its new plants to somewhere else.

    Step 4: admire from several angles, with coffee.
    Facing North
    View from the glasshouse
    Skimmia japonica Temptation

    One hour later my long-awaited project was complete and all that will need doing is to wrap it during Christmas week!

    Part 2:

    I rarely watch television. There are a few exceptions, such as whenever Crystal Palace win a match, or a good historical film. I also do like overnight election counts, so I watched CNN coverage of the US mid-term elections very early this morning. Over a cup of coffee before dawn, I once again checked my Christmas presents. Anti-the-Trump vote was coming in strong.
    As I continued to watch CNN, my mind harped back to my work the previous day. The conservative wing of the USA remained emboldened and loyal to the-Trump, but there were less of them. Women got revenge for two years of misogynism from the-Trump’s keyboard. At one point he declared the result “a tremendous success”. My garden project is an example of a tremendous success. My work, my decisiveness and my collaboration with the owner of the pot is a tremendous success. The-Trump would do well to visit my garden. He will see that I cannot hide my tremendous success behind falsehoods. It stands there for even him to see.

    I see, said the blind man. Shut up, said the dumb man; you can’t see at all.

    As dawn broke, I returned to the TV screen while reading the New York Times and the Guardian. Every now and then, I broke into laughter, particularly when a Guardian (UK) summary pointed out:

    If that qualifies as a victory, then England can celebrate several World Cup wins since 1966.

    Later when I remembered my beautiful Acer, the bark of which turns to a strong stripey pink in very cold weather, I googled for a quote about snake bark, and Friedrich Nietzsche jumped to the top of my screen:

    The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die.

    Malachy assured me that my terracotta plants will live happily together for at least 15 years before I’ll need to consider a bigger pot. The trick will be to buy the pot for Marion one or two years ahead of time! The-Trump barely has two years left, and perhaps less. His American garden is divided and plants will not work well together. The ying and yang is missing some yang. Trexit may happen.

    Balance and beauty

    Please Leave A Comment

    Tell me your “the-Trump” thoughts. I’ll not declare it fake news if I don’t like it. Have you a garden project that you are particularly proud of? Have you a garden blog you feel is worth sharing? Give me the link! I love reading garden blogs, and I quietly take some of the good ideas to mine. It’s not robbing, it’s admiration.

    Pádraig is the author of GrowWriteRepeat. He loves Marion’s pots, Malachy’s advice and makes very sure not to mix up the two. He also loves snake-bark and overnight election coverage, but he can see the wood from the trees.