Killing Two Birds

As a bald man, I’ve skinned my head badly on a regular basis when entering the glasshouse. The sharp lintel is just a wee bit too low and there’s a very slight lip at ground level so I’ve had a tendency to look down to avoid tripping. I’ve cut my head so many times down through the blianta.

Furthermore, the overhead glass triangle broke a few years ago. I had patched it with hardboard but it became warped and weather-damaged. De facto, in reverse: weather-damaged and warped. Yesterday, I killed two birds with one drill.

Firstly, I replaced the hardboard. Easy peasy. Secondly, I drilled a few holes and inserted three drop down alarms using plastic string, and knotted them for effect. Environmentalists will cringe.

Problems solved. After breakfast, I’m off to the safe glasshouse zone to check on new seeds sown last weekend. I’ve got pot marigold, lettuce and Sweet Pea. Clearly, the tomatoes are unwilling to ripen and I may remove them. It’s really sad, but sin mar atá.

Pádraig,

8th September 2020

Seeds Overflowing

It’s a lovely spring day here in Abbeyside and temperatures are up a bit from last week. The glasshouse is filling up steadily. That’s nine trays germinated, with three more in the propagator. There are about twenty more packets to be sown so this shelf and others will be overflowing by mid-March. 

I’d better get cracking to make the cold frame. This is a sort of transition house before the little plants go outside in May.

Four Day Week

There are only four days this week. You may be shocked to read that in plain text. I have decided, to realign my blog with current international calendars. Thus, I am moving towards starting each week on Monday. Therefore, so and because…. this article is shorter, recalling only Thursday to Sunday.

Thursday, January 3rd:

My front garden is called by many names: the forgotten garden, the neglected, the shaded or the dull. I have a solid bias against it simply because I do not live there. Quite simply, it’s a place I pass by when coming and going. Today is the turn of the front garden to be in the limelight and the plant is Cortaderia, commonly known as Pampas Grass. I do not know the variety. I do know that it looks good in winter. The photo is not of the entire plant, merely the seed-heads. Each one is sturdy and can survive strong winds. Surely there must be thousands of seeds being readied for scattering. I have never seen even one seed produce a next-generation plant. Must investigate further. I am struck by the thought that plants produce enough seed to continue the species. If there’s not enough its goodbye plant. Equally, producing too much seed is very wasteful. Seeds compete for nutrients while attached to the parent, so a weakened quality is the result of oversupply. Weakened quality is a recipe for extinction. Also, if there’s an oversupply it is more likely that seeds will have to compete against one another where they germinate. This is what strengthens a species… the survival of the strongest. But in a situation where many seeds are strong and healthy, it does not make sense that they grow very closely together. I think the Cortaderia produces so many seeds simply because germination is not straightforward. Perhaps I’ve got it all wrong.
Continuing #shortdayschallenge as I log my winter garden here in Dungarvan, Ireland. Time to focus on the little things, such as thousands of tiny seeds on a very large plant.

Friday, January 4th:

I enjoyed looking back to something I wrote in February 2017. I am reminded that I am about six weeks ahead of schedule this year. The seed sowing will be started next week.
“The last time I turned on the old propagator was way back in nineteen ninety something. Donald J Trump, now the Oval Office occupant, was an important businessman. Now, as I return to a former active love of growing from seed, this madcap president is surrounded by staff looking to turn him off.
I’m under starter’s orders. The time for looking at the garden from within is over. Winter has been very kind to us here in Dungarvan. There have been only a few frost nights and rainfall has been well below average. I’ve spent many weeks flicking through catalogues and gardening in my head. And now is the time to get things moving again. I had cleaned my worn-out propagator in early January only to find that it’s not a propagator any longer as it refuses to heat up. Nothing for it but to bite the bullet and seek a replacement.
I put out the word and waited for some feedback. I had been googling, but everything I looked at seemed fantastic. The internet has a way of making everything look like the bees’ knees. Within a short while, thanks to David in Friendly Gardeners I followed up on a recommendation to purchase a Vitopod from Greenhouse Sensations. Incredibly, it was delivered to me within 36 hours, and assembled/installed immediately.
The seed packets are ready, all 57 of them. Yes, I’m aware I’ve got a small garden and I will not be able to plant most of what germinates. I will proceed undeterred, however. Likely I will just give any surplus plants to friends locally. Most of my seeds are annuals and vegetables.
Being a slightly organised person, (Ahem, note added January 2019 for Michele) I’ve figured out a planting order. I know I’m a few weeks behind schedule, and the new propagator will be loaded to the brim for the next six weeks.
I began with a real favourite, pompom dahlia. I had dozens of these many years ago and now it’s time to grow them again. I’ll be creating a small section for these lovely colourful plants along with several others that will flower in late summer until the first frost. So let the journey begin.”

Saturday, January 5th: 

Molly on duty. Actually, despite having had breakfast, she searches for birdseed scattered earlier. Start the day slowly. Be like Molly.
Sunday, January 6th.

Today is Nollaig na mBan, otherwise known as Women’s’ Christmas. It is not connected in any way with the photos here. It’s easy to see that there is no connection. The stones removed from the back at Ballinclamper have been placed here and there on the gravel. They have been moved several times because in my view there’s nothing worse than the wrong stone in the wrong place. At the moment, I remain quite pleased with the one on the left. In some mysterious way, it may seem that the heather actually grew around it, except for the fact that readers know the stone is only a week old.
The photo top right excites me for a different reason. There are 10 circular holes in the lighter stone, likely homes to some sea creature families. Now that I realise that may have been the case, I figure I will half bury this stone in a shady spot. I will position it so that the holes will not flood with rainwater, and perhaps some garden insects will move in.
Finally, the photo on the bottom right is a stone version of a rag doll. It actually is. I’m sorry if you cannot see it.
So, to finish foff for this “week”…

  • Do you celebrate Nollaig na mBan, the traditional wonen’s Christmas?
  • Where you are, what is the first day of the week?
  • Finally, just connect in the comments section about anything that you like here.
Páraig (also known as Pat) is the author of Petals by Paraig garden articles. He admits to being slightly organised, yet it’s a severe waste if DNA because his usual habit is to walk into someone’s house with X things and walk out with X minus 1. There’s a link on his blog to a good article about personal forgetfulness, but naturally… Yeah, you guessed!

Winter Pansies And Dunking Chocolate

Reading time: 6-8 mins.
Winter officially starts tomorrow, November 1st. The clocks went back an hour last weekend, and daylight time in the garden is reduced. Yesterday, I made very good use of my time in the garden. Initially, I did not expect to be able to, because my morning was taken up with other stuff including the dreaded grocery shopping. My wife and I take it in turns every second week, but I found the silver lining! Laden with supplies of edibles, I drove past my local Country Life garden centre and did an immediate about-turn to have a browse. Afterwards, I was happy that I did, because I returned home with winter plants including pansies, violas and cyclamens packed side-by-side in the car with avocados, gluten-free bread and socks from Aldi.

Pansy White Blotch

In some instances, my plants might remain unplanted for up to a week, but the afternoon was mild and pleasant so I donned my old jogging shoes and my painting shirt to get stuck in. Two hours later I rested to review my efforts, and I enjoyed a cappuccino with a side order of just one square of 70% chocolate. In the same way that some dunk a biscuit into tea or coffee, I did just that with the chocolate.
On the previous Bank Holiday Monday, I had started taking my 42 Begonias indoors. In some cases, I merely moved the pots into the glasshouse. Others needed to be carefully removed from window boxes and home-made raised wooden troughs. All of them were dying rapidly, and some light frosts over the weekend hastened their demise. Begonias are tender tubers. This means that they will die fatally if left outdoors. Over the coming weeks I will repot these wonderful bundles of energy, and keep them safely in the glasshouse until late spring. The soil will be allowed to dry out almost completely, and in March I will make sure that they begin to sprout. Actually, it is not I that miraculously lures the tuber into re-birth. It’s in their DNA to do this. I am merely required to not go against nature and will provide the best conditions when I see the slightest new growth.
But I digress. All of this work to bring my precious begonias into hibernation came about because as I planted the 46 newly-acquired pansies, violas and cyclamens above, I discovered that I was short of potting compost. However, as I was in my painting shirt and had soil all over my clean hands, I did not much feel like returning to Country Life to replenish supplies. I was rescued (once more) by my wife Marion who agreed to go on my behalf, while I had another coffee, this time with no added chocolate. An hour later, I had recycled much of the depleted soil from the Begonia pots. I was amazed that the soil was so good, even though it had hosted plants since early May. I do remember doing a good job when planting, and the richness of the soil made for a great summer show, so I was very reluctant to not use it further. I did add some fresh compost with some sand/grit and fed the plants well when they were settled into their new winter home.

I was not overly pleased with this arrangement
The leg of the P is too long

I needed steak and onions to follow all this washed-down coffee, and retired for the evening to the warmth of the stove with my footstool. I listened to some good music but the garden was still on my mind. Gardening does not stop when darkness falls. It is the time for online gardening, and this time of the year is perfect for two aspects among others:

Finally, an arrangement I like and can change next week

On this eve of winter, I chose to get cracking on the catalogues. In previous years I had requested catalogues from Thompson & Morgan and Unwins so these ones will automatically arrive in the post any day now. I broadened the list this year to include:

  1. Jersey Plants Direct
  2. Kings Seeds
  3. Marshalls Seeds (actually owned by T&M, I think)
  4. Farmer Gracy
An hour later, all the account creating was finished, all the boxes ticked (except for the boxes I chose not to tick!) and the catalogue processing is happening overnight. While waiting for the hard copies, I browsed further at 1 and 4, handed over my money in exchange for a few spring bulbs (including rare Elite Collection Alliums) and slept contentedly for an hour by the fire in advance sleeping contentedly in my own bed, satisfied that a good day was had.

The buying continues at Farmer Gracy

Interestingly, I’m on the lookout for online Irish seed/plant catalogues, but that’s a story for another day. I say this because, while UK and European companies can deliver seeds and bulbs to Ireland, they are unable to deliver plants. It had to do with Irish customs restrictions, perhaps because we want to keep riff-raff species out. Anyway, I thought I was being very smart last spring as I attempted to bypass Mr. Customs Inspector. I registered for an Address Pal account with An Post, the Irish postal system company. This service allowed me to have UK deliveries sent to a holding depot, to be forwarded to me by An Post. Full of excitement, I ordered plants from Unwins. The order was processed and delivered to a warehouse somewhere. Unfortunately, I forgot to note that An Post was also unable to deliver a parcel containing riff-raff plants to Ireland. Following several emails to and fro, the parcel was returned to Unwins five weeks later; the plants were very likely fatally dead, and I was unable to recover my €64. Unwins kept the money and the said dead plants. Dead money, you might say!
Last night I deliberately ordered spring/summer bulbs only, and I await unhindered speedy delivery. Watch this space, and in the meantime: enjoy your gardening, whether by day or by night.
Cyclamen are not always frost-hardy.
Queries to readers:
  1. Do you have a favourite online seeds/plants supplier?
  2. Describe your painting shirt in less than 20 words.
  3. Do you like avocados and/or Customs Officials?
Footnote: While I write this garden blog specifically for myself in order to remember everything that I’ll have forgotten when I forget it, I was delighted that last week’s article about my memories of mam’s garden got so much exposure. The feedback is lovely to have. As always, comments are optional and always will be. Páraig will never email you looking for feedback, but if you would like to comment, then please do. Remember, it is optional, but rude comments will be composted.

There’s that White Blotch Pansy again!
Páraig is the author of Petals by Paraig. He loves winter pansies, avocados and browsing hard-copy garden catalogues. He also loves Jersey Plants Direct and cappuccino, but not going to the garden centre in his painting shirt. He does love everyone (well, almost everyone) who chooses to follow him on Instagram or on his Facebook Page

Ready Steady Grow

The last time I turned on the old propagator was way back in nineteen ninety something. Donald J Trump, now the Oval Office occupant, was an important business man. Now, as I return to a former active love of growing from seed, this madcap president is surrounded by staff looking to turn him off.
I’m under starter’s orders. The time for looking at the garden from within is over. Winter has been very kind to us here in Dungarvan. There have been only a few frost nights and rainfall has been well below average.
I’ve spent many weeks flicking through catalogues and gardening in my head. And now is the time to get things moving again. I had cleaned my worn-out propagator in early January only to find that it’s not a propagator any longer as it refuses to heat up. Nothing for it but to bite the bullet and seek a replacement.

I put out the word and waited for some feedback. I had been googling, but everything I looked at seemed fantastic. The internet has a way of making everything look like the bees’ knees. Within a short while, thanks to David in Friendly Gardeners I followed up on a recommendation to purchase a Vitopod from Greenhouse Sensations. Incredibly, it was delivered to me within 36 hours, and assembled/installed immediately.
The seed packets are ready, all 57 of them. Yes, I’m aware I’ve got a small garden and I will not be able to plant most of what germinates. I will proceed undeterred, however. Likely I will just give any surplus plants to friends locally. Most of my seeds are annuals and vegetables.
Being a slightly organised person, I’ve figured out a planting order. I know I’m a few weeks behind schedule, and the new propagator will be loaded to the brim for the next six weeks.
I began with a real favourite, pompom dahlia. I had dozens of these many years ago and now it’s time to grow them again. I’ll be creating a small section for these lovely colourful plants along with several others that will flower in late summer until the first frost. So let the journey begin.
Most packets that require bottom heat for seed germination indicate the recommended best temperature. Most will germinate at about 15 celsius, whereas some will need up to 20 or more. The Vitopod is a variable control unit that is adjustable in one degree intervals. Below, I set the temperature to 25, and it’s currently at 19.9 sitting on the kitchen table. However, to complicate matters the maximum increase is 12 degrees, so when I place the unit in the garden shed, which is quite cold at this time of year, the maximum the pod will reach will be the temperature of the shed plus 12. This will be sufficient to kick-start spring, even when outside temperatures do not allow for growth for quite a while yet.
Happy gardening,
Pádraig, 15th February 2017.
About the author: Páraig is the author of Petals by Paraig. He has a previous history of seed-growing back in the last century, and now thanks to the internet-of-things he is back in the propagating shed once again. Páraig is not a fan of the Duck.

Plants Are Parents Too

Last week I cut back the Alyssum and saved enough seed to grow an army of them for next year. Today, as I wandered about, I was stunned to see the plant flowering again! The plant does not seem to understand that it’s the first day of October.

Alyssum Golden Ball

Here’s how it works. When seed begins to ripen on a plant (any plant) the energy is channeled to ensuring that the seed ripens in the best possible way. Thee plant refuses to grow more flowers, as that would divert valuable energy away from “the next generation”. Bit like humans, really. Parents do as much for their children as they possibly can, often sacrificing things they would like for themselves.

The opposite happens as soon as the seed is shed. The plant returns to flowering, in order to produce even more seeds, and the cycle continues until such time as the weather changes alarmingly. When  nature cannot provide enough energy (sunlight & warmth) to ensure viable reproduction, the plant produces neither flower or seed. Bit like menopause, perhaps.

Here’s a reminder of what it looked like only last week:

Therefore, anything that we can do to help the process on the way will result in more flowers for longer. Some gardeners will go to extreme lengths to provide ideal conditions for growth. Some delicate plants will be taken to the glasshouse. Other plants, just like humans, are hardy and can withstand cold and even frost.

Here’s what happened only very recently: Easy Seed Saving

Pádraig, 1st October 2016.

Alyssum: Easy Seed Saving

I love growing from seed. So do many people. Browsing the garden centre, supermarket or catalogues for brightly-coloured seed packets is good fun, and even greater fun when the seeds actually germinate and grow fully.
This week, following some good advice on Garden Tags (my mobile app for updating my garden and sharing stories with other keen growers), I started the process of saving seeds from plants already in place. I started with Alyssum “Golden Ball” and it was thrilling. I had noticed that the seedheads were just ready. Flowering had finished about three weeks ago, and the beautiful brown seeds would surely scatter in the wind within a short while. They looked very much like linseed that I put on my Flahavan’s porridge for breakfast.
What you need:
  • large container
  • scissors
  • small container or envelope
These seeds are so easy to save. I cut large clumps from the plant, and in the process gave it a good “haircut”. This in  itself is necessary to prepare the plant for winter and better flowering next year. I held the clumps upside-down over a plastic bucket, and shook them vigorously. Lo and begold, the seeds fell and with them only a little chaff. Alternatively, it works well if you put them into a lettuce leaf “dryer”, and twist for 30 seconds. The seeds will fall through the grill, but the rest will not. After about ten minutes sifting out, I was left with only good ripe seed. I did need to remove some seeds that were not fully ripe, but the task was easy as most were just right. I have stored them in a small sealed plastic container, and will be planting them after Christmas in the propagator.
This was used for screws & nails; now it’s for seeds
By my reckoning I’ve got about 200 seeds from one plant. I’ll likely grow them on and will only be able to keep five or ten in my small garden. What will I do with the rest? I’m a member of a seed-swap group, so I’ll be on the look out for members who have seeds that I’d like to get. It’s a win-win situation.
I’d be happy to share these seeds in return for a chicken or even a few heads of broccoli. Better still, I’d opt for a nice plant (seeds or cuttings) from someone’s garden Or, I’d be happy to grow a dozen for someone who would appreciate them. Cost will be just what it costs me for a bit of compost and pots, labels & tlc. No online ordering system in place, coz the banks would pluck most of the profits, so anyone who wants these plants, just get in touch. For me the fun is in the challenge of growing seeds. I’m not looking to be rich in the process. Not rich in money, but definitely rich in therapeutic satisfaction.

What else can be saved from seed now? Lots of plants really. I’m trying wallflower, aubretia, marigold and sweet pea. Happy seed-saving if you decide to try. And if you’re an ultra-keen gardener do take a look at the Garden Tags app.

Pádraig, 28th September 2016.