That Polar Vortex

Thursday, January 31st:

More severe weather today. This Arctic air is fair cold. It is not nearly as cold as the Polar Vortex that has frozen most of the mid-western US, but at the same time, it stopped me from cycling. That’s pretty serious.
Here’s a selection of narcissi planted only last Autumn. I look forward to a bright show pretty soon, and I will move the pots to various locations, mixing them with the pansies and violas.
There’s a scam doing the rounds and folks need to get a bit more clued in. According to messages appearing everywhere, I am giving away 2 pots to everyone who voted for Brexit. Please do not be fooled by such scams. If you have already voted, please expect absolutely nothing in return. Clarity is important and certainty is important. These little scams are fake news, likely paid for by someone important who wants something in return. They are vile and repugnant to all pot-lovers. But human nature is such that the scam has gone seriously mad, yet this warning message will only be attended to by fourteen of my friends. One for every pot. 😜
Final note: Never believe everything you read. The picture is from yesterday. No snow today. Plenty of liquid snow instead.

Flurry of Snow

Hard frost. Light flurry of snow lodged overnight. Thawing rapidly at midday. The seeds inside are cozy.

This is my favourite from about twenty taken this morning. A light overnight fall of snow turned to ice before dawn. Here, a Skimmia leaf holds on to its icy load, but it is about to slip.
Last year, I lost a few plants during the snow of March. The Beast from the East dumped about a foot of snow and some plants died. Plants do not manage well when the weight of snow is too much. A bit like you or I trying to put up with cold weather while having a double-decker bus on our head.
I spent a short while this morning removing the compacted ice from the Skimmia. It’s also important to remove snow from the glasshouse roof. In my case, the smooth back of the rake is ideal for the job. Later the rising temperatures brought things back to normal.
Snow, sleet and a heavy frost is forecast again tonight, and some vigilance will be needed. I’m off inside now to light the stove and warm my tootsies.
What’s it like where you are?

Snow Showers

Tuesday, 29th January:

The sleet and snow is on the way at last. Several thousand flies, moths and other insects died in Abbeyside last night. They simply thought the mild weather would continue forever. If they had listened to the pretty Met Éireann female forecasters they might be alive today.
It was down to 3..3 Celsius in the glasshouse last night. That was the temperature under the fleece protector. It is likely that the tomato, aubretia and penstemon seedlings would be dead without it. They had been in the heated propagator at 20 degrees Celsius until last week so they are currently in shock. Likely, the fleece holds a little extra heat within, yet it’s important to roll it away each morning as soon as the temperature begins to rise. This will be a twice-daily chore over the coming days due to north-westerly Arctic air. Furthermore agus freisin, when there’s moisture in this Arctic air we shall have sleet or snow.
We faced such a situation in Cappoquin this morning on the bikes. A heavy flurry of sneachta brought all conversations to a halt, save for cursing which was allowed.
We are very fortunate here on the south-east coast of Ireland in that we escape the harshest of the weather. By the time we arrived in Ardmore the watery sun was shining once more, but when I arrived home there was a second severe snow shower. Time to wrap the fleece around the seedlings in the teach gloine once more.

Wife Knows Best

Monday, 28th January:

Another shot of one of my favourite January plants. It’s Helleborus, otherwise known as Christmas Rose or Lenten Rose. There are three plants and it’s interesting to note that each plant, although exactly the same when they were planted, has grown differently. The one on the left is much smaller while the largest, healthiest one is on the right. Also worth noting is that there are seedlings growing through the gravel. It is very likely that these are baby Helleborus plants, but I’m not certain.
Finally, a little story to show just how wrong I get things sometimes. Last July, my wife cut these back very hard. Right to the ground, in fact. I was a bit annoyed because I was sure it was the wrong thing to do. Now, I am so glad she completed the massacre. Plants benefit from hard pruning at the right time. Wife knows best.

Mad Hatter And The Lunar Eclipse

It was a cold week but not as cold as was predicted. In the garden, I finally got around to putting a fleece layer in place, and I finished pruning the roses and fuchsias. The Blood Red Moon failed to work its magic but the geraniums rooted perfectly! Here’s what caught my eye last week…

Monday, 21st of January:

It’s Blue Monday and there’s a Blood Red Moon, otherwise known as a Wolf Moon. There’s a thing called Gardening by the Moon. According to this, certain plants do better when planted during the waxing moon, and others while the moon is waning. Apparently, also there is some scientific evidence to support this.
Whether or not there are benefits to gardening at lunar eclipse times is unclear. Early this morning there was a total lunar eclipse, and I rose from my bed to view it, but all I could see was cloud. I wanted to wait to see if the cloud would clear, and spent a while finding out about moon gardening. I did get a hazy glimpse of the eclipse as the moon came out of the earth’s shadow after 6am. The next total lunar eclipse will be 2029.
I know the Blood Red image is not mine. As far as I remember I screenshotted it from a live-stream online, but as far as I’m concerned it’s my moon. Credit for the image goes to an unknown source.

Tuesday, January 22nd:

The miniature daffodils are in full bloom, and they brighten up a cold January day. This variety is called narcissus topolino.

Fair daffodils, we weep to see
You haste away so soon;
As yet the early-rising sun
Has not attained his noon.
Stay, stay,
Until the hasting day
Has run
But to the evensong;
And, having prayed together, we
Will go with you along.
We have short time to stay as you,
We have as short a spring;
As quick a growth to meet decay,
As you or anything.
We die
As your hours do, and dry away
Like to the summer’s rain;
Or as the pearls of morning’s dew,
Ne’er to be found again.
~ Robert Herrick


Life is short, and death comes to all. Death came suddenly last Sunday night to a wonderful local man, Michael Wright. Known far and wide as the Mad Hatter, he was a wonderfully gifted entertainer. In recent times too, he had developed very thought-provoking insights into the people and community via his very humorous Facebook stories. He was always interested in people and he spoke only positively about everyone. I had a grand chat with him just before Christmas but little did I know it would be my last. As with many influencers, he taught me much.

Wednesday, 23rd January:

This is my latest addition to the array of bird-feeding bobs in the garden. It attaches to the window via suction but does not seem to be too secure. I imagine that it will withstand smaller birds but when the eagles and buzzards alight it will go tumbling down. Interestingly, I watched a recording of a good garden advice programme only last night, mentioning that it might be a better idea to grow more plants with berries that birds like. Less birdseed was being encouraged. With this in mind, I shall commence a Survey Monkey poll asking the little birdies which berries they’like best. I think it only fair to keep them well fed until the results are back. After all, it IS much colder this week.

Thursday, 24th January:

Once again I am outside the comfort zone of my suburban garden and viewing the bigger picture of West Waterford. The river is the Blackwater. The history of this river is very interesting. It is black for two reasons. Firstly, it flows through the peat bogs of Slieve Lougher, and secondly on account of the Duhallow coal district through which it flows. As Gaeilge, it was never called the Blackwater, rather An Abhainn Mór (bastardised to Avonmore) meaning the Great River. At one time it was known as Broadwater, which would seem to be a more acceptable translation from the Irish. I cycled in very mucky road conditions today and proceeded to take a selfie at a special viewing point of the Blackwater looking down on Villierstown. It looks down also on many of the English gentry estates still occupied to this day. Finally, the rainbow completes the picture. We found no gold but in fact, the real gold is in being able to see and appreciate these spectacular areas. Later, we had biscuits with our coffee in Ardmore. That counts for a lot!

Friday, 25th January:

There is very little by way of plant colour this month. It’s not that things are not happening. Things are indeed happening, and new life is on the way. The longer evenings and longer daylight hours are beginning to have an effect. The tipping point is approaching.
This week I am noticing things other than plants. Today, it’s a miniature ornamental thatched cottage that was given to me by my brother Ber. I nestled it among some plants and it looks as if it’s been there forever.

As I photographed it from front, side, back and above, a poem I learned in school came to mind. It’s called “Ar Chúl an Tí” (Back of the House) by Sean Ó Riordán. It was voted among the top 100 Irish poems back in 1999. Here, I quote the first and last verses, and then the translation to English by Tony Dermody. Always a difficult task to translate poetry while keeping the form and beauty of language.
Tá Tír na nÓg ar chúl an tí,
Tír álainn trína chéile,
Lucht cheithre chos ag súil na slí,
Gan bróga orthu ná léine,
Gan Béarla acu ná Gaeilge.

Ba mhaith liom bheith ar chúl a’ tí
Sa doircheacht go déanach
Go bhfeicinn ann ar cuairt gealaí
An t-ollaimhín sin Aesop
Is é in phúca léannta.

At the back of the house is a land of youth,
A jumbled beautiful space among
The farmyard beasts unclothed, unshod,
Nor knowing the Irish or English tongue,
Walking the way.
Yet each one grows an ample cloak,
Where chaos is the heart of rule,
And in that land the language spoke
Was taught of old in Aesop’s school,
Long passed away.
Some hens are here, a chicken clutch,
A simple duck, though fixed of mind,
A big black dog with wicked looks
Barking loud like a good watch-hound,
A cat sun-baking;
There, a heap of bric-a-brac,
The cast-off treasure stuff of life,
A candlestick, buckles, an old straw hat,
A bugle quiet, and a kettle white
Like a goose waking.
Here the tinkers come uncouth,
Blessing generously all they see,
Feeling at home in the land of youth,
Seeking cast-off things for free,
All over Ireland.
I would go back in the dead of night,
The treasure gilded in the moonbeams’ reach,
Perhaps to see in the eerie light
The child-wise Aesop’s phantom teach
His ghostly learning.

Saturday, 26th January:

There’s beauty in the skeleton of last summer’s Agapanthus flower. The delicate blue flowers adorned the rockery and later they remained hidden under the spreading fuchsia bush. As the autumn moved along and most of the garden was manicured, I decided to leave the remains of these 20 (or thereabouts) flowers standing erect. The seeds are long gone, having been cast off in the hope of continuing this Agapanthus species. All that is left is the dead stalk and umbrella.
I pulled them easily and proceeded to put them into the refuse bin (as I do not have a compost bin/heap), but I saved this one at the very last moment. I then placed it in my winter area of interest just outside the patio doors.
Strong gale force north-western winds are forecast tonight, but I feel that this dead relic will survive any buffeting that comes its way.
Most Agapanthus plants are quite big, but this is a miniature variety. It reaches a height of just 30-40cm. I must try to find out the variety name. Otherwise, ’tis a bit like having a dog and just calling it dog.

Sunday, 27th January:

Plants are amazing! They reproduce in several different ways. One of these is by cuttings. Simply cut a piece of a plant, put it in soil, say the magic words and wait for a few weeks. That’s what happened with this geranium. I potted it back in the middle of November and now it’s ready for the big garden. It has a strong root system already, so I am putting it into a bigger pot. I will defer planting it outside for another while because any frost would undo all my efforts. These plants will stay in the glasshouse for another few months and I will keep a close eye on them to make sure they don’t get attacked.
Frighteningly, the day may be approaching when humans can be cloned. I wonder why it’s a good idea for plants and I am abhorred that it may happen for us humans? There are too many answers to that.
Anyone had success with these or other cuttings? Isn’t it a great way to clone the plants we like? “A small bird sat on an ivy bunch
And the song he sang was the jug of punch.” (Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem)

Páraig (also known as Pat) is the author of Petals by Paraig garden articles. He loves an occasional clear sky for lunar eclipses, the poetry of Sean O Riordán and special viewing points along the river Blackwater . He also likes the music of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, but not separately.

When Is a Weed Not A Weed?

The weather has turned a bit colder, yet not quite cold enough to hurt. I recorded no frost night this week, and the plants in the glasshouse are thriving. In total since September, there have been only three frost nights here in Abbeyside. However, the forecast for the week ahead looks wintery. I’ll be rooting out my thermals and garden gloves. However, before I look ahead, here are my thoughts on the week just finished. As always recently, it started with Monday.

Monday, 14th January:

An update on my recent purchase and planting of Acer japonica Red Flamingo. The leaves are gone but the bark becomes the interesting focus. It turns pink in winter, and the colder the weather the more pink it turns. As you know, it has been extremely mild here in Dungarvan. So mild, in fact, that we say it is wicked mild. It’s a Dungarvan phrase. Anyway, ar aon nós, the bark has turned pink and may yet deepen in colour as the remainder of winter weather continues. I noticed also that the plastic ties have become too tight and it is time to cut them loose. Then, in the interests of stability, I will re-tie the tree a bit looser. Akin to yesterday’s article, I’ll look for something other than plastic.

Tuesday, 15th January:

Today I am on the @waterfordgreenway once again. I am walking the section near Dungarvan. Actually, I’d be reprimanded for mentioning that, because it’s actually Abbeyside. Ar aon nós agus araile again, I need help identifying this plant. It is growing profusely on a steep bank and is now in full flower. I feel that it may be classified as a weed.
On the basis that it is a weed, I’m wondering why are some plants called weeds? I once came upon a definition that a weed is a plant in the wrong place. If this plant were in my suburban garden perhaps I’d not want it and therefore calling it a weed gives me permission to murder it. Simple really. On the other hand, when my mam visits my garden she usually has two questions: Is that new? And secondly, Is that a weed? (Seriously, can you actually imagine there being a weed in my garden?) My standard reply is: If you like it, it’s a flower and if you don’t like it, it’s a weed.
As a final thought, we might not appreciate the flowers as much if there were no weeds.
So, the questions remain: What’s it called and is it friend or foe?
Update: the Internet had spoken and clarified the conundrum. The plant is an invasive weed called Petasites fragrans otherwise known in Brexit English as Winter Butterbur. Apparently, it has a vanilla scent.

Wednesday, 16th January:

What could be more useful than a gardening book as a Christmas gift? I got not one, but two. They are entirely different too. The first is The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2019 by Lisa Leendertz. Intended as a “toolkit for connecting with the world around you”, it offers ways of appreciating the natural rhythms of the year. It is a book to be dipped into now and again. For example, the section relating to January includes details of the extra daylight from 1st to 31st, curious tales of Rastafarian celebration of Christmas on January 7th. Rastafarians believed Jesus was black and was born in Ethiopia. There is a beautiful section devoted to the mid-winter Snowdrop and songs relating to Burns Night, celebrated in Scotland on the 25th.
The second book is The Writer’s Garden: How gardens inspired our best-loved authors, by Jackie Bennett. It features 19 well-known authors and the influence that a specific garden had on their career. So, rather than start at the beginning, I started with a favourite author, Charles Dickens.
Receiving this book touched me because I have centred my writing around my small, humble garden. In many respects, I am my own much-loved author, as I find opportunities for gratitude in my garden and in my writing of it.

Thursday, 17th January:

Guess what’s for dessert this evening? This haul of fresh rhubarb is really a surprise at this time of the year. Regular readers will remember me moving Marion’s rhubarb to its new home on the raised bed. It was covered with a thick mulch of gladioli leaves and topped off with a horse numna. The weather has been so mild that the conditions for growth were obviously just right, and the growth was sufficient for a decent dessert for two this morning. No, we don’t have morning dessert. The growth was just right this morning, and there’s a theory going around somewhere that says fruit and vegetables should be harvested in the early morning. Out came the sharp knife, and off I went to the custard shop for yellow custard. What shall we have for dinner before it, I wonder?

Friday, 18th January:

I am returning to the photograph of 6th January to add the following…
Heather’s many uses were sufficient to earn it a place in the Old Irish Brehon Laws on trees and shrubs. This meant that the unlawful clearing of a whole field of heather was subject to a fine of one “dairt”, or year-old heifer.
Heather was also linked by some medieval scholars with the ancient Irish Ogham alphabet. Each letter of the alphabet was named after a different native tree or shrub, and the letters Onn or O and Úr or U were said by some authorities to be named after Heather. (Irish Wild Plants: Myths, Legends & Folklore by N. Mac Coitir p. 144)

Saturday, 19th January:

Just leaving this here today. I’m off cycling my first 200k of the year so there really isn’t much time for gardening or photographs or writing. The collage is a combination of each season taken using my bitmoji You don’t know about bitmojis? Every keen gardener is encouraged to create one. In this case I opted to wear the same outfit throughout the four seasons. But a close look through the following screens shows that I am wearing heavier winter wear. Met Éireann mentions that Arctic air will bring sleet showers and some snow on high ground early next week. I’ll be back from my cycling trip before it arrives.

Sunday, 20th January:

Won’t be long now! Spring is on the way. I did have daffodils earlier (in fact, they were in bloom for Christmas day). They were bought for indoor windowsill and bloomed so much earlier. Now, as with daffodils that haste away so soon, they are finished flowering just as the outdoor ones are getting ready to show colour.

That’s it for this week. Hope you enjoyed the journey.

Appendix

My Saturday bike ride was a bit special, so I’m adding it here:

There’s another Dungarvan. It’s in Co. Kilkenny and about 90k from the real one. Today (Saturday), it was foggy in the other one. I can’t say about my Dungarvan because I left it in darkness at 7am and arrived back in darkness at 5.30. I know it’s possible that it be foggy and dark at the same time. Truth be told I really can’t say. On the weekend Dungarvan Cycling Club launched its next-generation summer gear, I ramped up my miles quite considerably. My friend Declan and I toured Waterford, Kilkenny and just a tiny corner of Tipperary on our first 200k of the year. Mild weather, calm winds, good burgers and steady pace.

I thought about taking it easy today (Sunday). In fact, I did take it easy but on the bike again. The famous group five paced me sensibly to Lismore for sausage rolls, and the lovely Group 4 got me home at a brisk pace. Altogether, a great weekend ar an rothar.

Strava details or RideWith GPS details

Please comment:

  • Do you just hate weeds?
  • Do you tolerate them?
  • Feel free to comment on any other aspect of this article also.
Pádraig (also known as Pat) is the author of GrowWriteRepeat garden articles. He loves winter rhubarb (same as last week), Irish myths & legends and emojis. He also likes early daffodils and Rastafarian history, but not weeds that are not flowers.

When is a Geranium not a Geranium?

The past week has been very mild, very calm and very dry. It was a great week for cycling and for enjoying the garden. Unfortunately, Crystal Palace were beaten by Watford and Brexit remains characteristically complicated. I wonder what will the week ahead bring? On the other hand, rather than look ahead, I pledge to look to the present, and it will bring memories and ideas to record. I have become very comfortable with a short daily note, and I plan to follow this formula. Here are my notes for last week:

Monday, January 7th:

The heated propagator gets turned on today and seed sowing will continue fast and furiously for the next 8-10 weeks. That’s a lot of seeds. The first two packets are sown in a warm 22 degrees Celsius, and I expect germination in about 7-10 days. From then on it will be a case of get them out and get the next set in.
That’s when the trouble starts. I will need lots of shelving in the glasshouse. At present, the entire right side is shelved and is filled to capacity with plants and dormant wintering tubers. The left side, seen above, shows lots of wasted space. The timber is ordered and arriving later today, so I’ll be a busy bunny tomorrow to get this space shelved. I’ll need to do it in such a way that the shelving can be removed in summer to allow the tomatoes to grow tall.

Tuesday 8th January:

The season started yesterday with two packets of geranium. The 10 seeds of one and the 16 seeds of the other are sown and incubating at 23 Celsius. I was reminded this morning that they are not geraniums at all, but pelargoniums. These two separate species are very distinct, yet the names seem to be used interchangeably. I decided to get more information by asking Alexa the gardener. I finally settled on this short paragraph from Allwoods Nursery in Sussex: The first recorded species of Pelargonium to be cultivated was P.Triste which is native to South Africa. It was bought over by ship to Leiden Botanical Gardens before 1600 and made its way to the UK in 1631 when an English gardener bought some seeds in Paris and introduced it to England. However, the species was not recognized as any different from a Geranium and this is where the confusion was created. It was only much later in the 1700s that the two were officially classed as individuals. Continuing #shortdayschallenge as I briefly log winter here in Waterford, Ireland. Time to focus on the little things.

Wednesday, 9th January:

I’ll tell ya one thing… Them shelves will be Carlsberg shelves when they’re done! The measuring and cutting are complete. Some of the lower shelving is complete and it’s so sturdy I could lie across it. I tried to construct these in such a way that it will be possible to lift sections away as necessary and to move the entire structure outdoors next summer. I will then be able to use them separately or combined to add height to all the begonias. In the meantime, I’ll complete the job tomorrow so that everything is ready for the steady stream of germinated seeds arriving in about two weeks.

Thursday 10th January:

Work has come to a standstill because I am allergic to tree sap. Even a small amount of cutting and contact with this timber has flared up my sensitive skin allergy. I’m on double dose antihistamine, hoping to relieve a flare-up. Rounds 2 and 3 will recommence when it’s safe. In the meantime, despite some discomfort, satisfaction levels are high.

Friday 11th January:

Rhubarb munchissima. This early shoot is proving to be a nutritious mid-winter dessert for some garden creatures. As yet, I have been unable to identify the well-fed recipients as they seem to be camera shy. Likely some nocturnal slug or caterpillar type. Winter has been so mild that many are still alive, so mild that the rhubarb has shot up early.
I had planted it last August and covered it with several layers of mulch and a horse numna. The plant has thrown out delicate shoots along the edge. I think I will leave it as is and allow some post-Christmas munching. Later, in order to keep the slugs away, I will crush eggshells around the base. I generally eat an egg every day and keep the washed shell. At present, I’m up to 38 so there should be enough to form an impenetrable barrier.

Saturday 12th January:

Built as the sister castle to Ardfinnan Castle in 1185 by Prince John to guard the river crossing, the castle site was originally occupied by Lismore Abbey, an important monastery and seat of learning established in the early 7th century. Currently owned by the Cavendish family. All information from the Wiki People.
On a slightly smaller scale, the glasshouse shelving has been completed to the second storey. I may add a third if necessary. I noticed that the tomato seedlings on the ground were receiving much less light than before, so I potted up six to grow on for planting in March or April. Incidentally, they will be planted back where they came from as soon as the shelving is removed. Finally, looking for bits and pieces after a small construction project is a project in itself. I was missing the drill chuck. It had mysteriously moved into the centre of a heather plant.

Sunday, 13th January:

Out and about in Abbeyside. These insect boxes have been placed on the trees beside the Greenway. Well done to whoever got this going. In other news, the oceans and roadway ditches are riddled with discarded plastic. Let’s be serious about getting priorities right. Yes, I know it’s not an either/or situation. Every attempt to live and let live is important. I’m wondering are there people who are stupid enough to see the beauty and worthiness of the picture, yet throwing away items that will not biodegrade? Is there even a small possibility that some insects within have been harmed by minuscule pieces of plastic?

Have you any pet hates when it comes to gardening?
Have you anything special planned for 2019?

Páraig (also known as Pat) is the author of Petals by Paraig garden articles. He loves growing from seed, measuring twice before cutting once and he really really loves Lismore. Additionally and also, he likes rhubarb and Geraniums but not with custard.