Flowers in June.

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We have come to the end of June and it is time to sum up this glorious month in a few words and pictures. The nice warm weather has brought out some lovely shades of pink, blue, red, purple and yellow all over the garden. Not forgetting to mention green. Growth has been strong in the raised borders around our circle.

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East

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South

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West

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North

The sweet Williams we sowed last year have overwintered and really show their colours this month. We particularly like this variegated one where the flowers start off pink and fade to white.

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Another favourite in shade and sun are the beautiful hardy Geraniums we put in last year. If we have to pick a favourite it will have to be splish-splash that looks like it has been splashed by blue paint!

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If you take the path down to our pond you are likely to see a few frogs on the way, most of them very, very small. At the pond a whole lot of foxgloves have taken hold, right next to our little fairy house. If you look in the water you can see a lot of dragonfly nymphs as well as many big beetles swimming up to the surface for air. A few newts are also about and a lot of whirly-gig beetles and pond skaters.

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As we have planted out all the vegetable seedlings we kept safe in our gazebo now, we have reclaimed this space as a lovely place to sit down with a cuppa or dinner. It is so peaceful sitting in there, listening to the little waterfall in our stream and smell the sweet Williams and roses. Two years ago we planted a 40 cm cutting from Future forests in Cork, a rosa multiflora  and now it is a billowing mass of fragrant flowers. This is a rose native to Asia and it has a status as an invasive species in some parts of the USA and Canada. It is very prolific so you might want to think twice before introducing it to a small garden. We like it because it has lovely leaves, flowers and hips for salads and teas. We also grow it in a restricted space where we prevent it from tip layering. We have not found any information to suggest it is invasive in Ireland.

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There is a lovely anticipation in the garden this time of year. So many different flowers are still to open their buds, like these hollyhocks, growing close to our smaller pond. We look forward to sharing them next month.

circle june hollyhock

Bottling it all up.

bottle-wall decorative bowls

We have come to the stage of our build when it is time to connect the extension to the house. We will knock a hole in the back wall of the cottage but first we are building the walls on the little connection part. We wanted the space to be as light as possible so decided to put in another bottle wall. Two days were spent recently cleaning; fitting and taping our glass bottle and jar bricks. It takes a lot of glass bricks to build a wall so if you are planning a build like this, start collecting jars and bottles at once. Duct tape is best we find, but in a pinch brown parcel tape will do. We have been collecting a lot of decorative small glass bowls on our charity shop rambles, and they are a nice addition to the walls. To make bricks out of them we use big soft drink PET- bottles. This wall will not get a lot of direct sunlight so the bottles should be strong enough. It is only the very thick bottom part that is exposed to the elements anyway.

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bottle-wall bricks

Yesterday we built the frames for the walls. A friend gave us some lovely hawthorn trees and we decided to incorporate them in one of the walls. The bottom bit will accommodate a radiator and the top section will be built out of glass bricks. The other wall will be built entirely out of bottle sections.

bottle-wall frame

It is important to add lots of nails for the mortar to grip onto. We try to aim for a rather stiff mortar mix, a bit like mashed potatoes. You can experiment a bit with this. If the mix is too stiff it is difficult to make it reach all the crevices in between the bottles but if it is too loose it will not hold the bricks securely in place and bulge out between them.

bottle-wall hammer

It is advisable to make a lot of small sections out of wood as this makes for a stable and sturdy wall. We put nine sections in this wall and at the top middle section we will add a nice big bowl with a sunburst design.

bottle-wall sunburst

We managed to fill about half the wall with glass bricks today and are planning to do the rest tomorrow. It is a quick building technique once you get used to it. We always put the mortar at each end of the bricks and add insulation to the middle,  this also cuts down on the amount of cement used.

bottle-wall first layer

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 It is rewarding to see the wall go up, knowing that you are building mainly with materials that are free and readily available. We are planning to use a bit of grout later on the inside of the wall for a smooth finish.

bottle-wall light

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bottle-wall outside

June in the kitchen garden.

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It is the lightest time of year and things are moving on fast in the vegetable and fruit garden. We use a system with no-dig, raised beds for growing annual vegetables and our beds are now in their third year. We add mulch to them several times a year, and top them up with well rotted cow manure once a year. The earth worms then do the work for us and mix the newly added materials into the beds. We have made them 120 cm wide as it is possible to weed and harvest at that width without stepping onto the soil and compacting it. Our paths are about 30 cm wide but we would make them a bit wider if we did the beds over again as they get quite overgrown with floppy green vegetable leaves. Everything grows very well in our beds including weeds but we try to stay on top of them. Mulching helps a lot and we grow all our little plants in pots until they are big enough to out compete the weeds and stand a chance against the slugs. Onion sets are one of the few things we put straight into the beds.

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We planted our potatoes on Saint Patrick’s Day in the middle of March and they have now been earthed up five times and we are up to our forth layer of tyres. They are growing strongly and we can’t wait to dismantle the stacks to see how many potatoes we can find.

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For growing peas and sunflowers we use some cut off big plastic bottles to protect the newly planted seedlings and it is working very well. There is less slug damage than other years and the bottles also protected them from the worst of the weather when they are small. We are planning to just leave them there and it also makes watering easy as you can just pour some water into each one.

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Our berry bushes have now been in the ground about two years and we have an amazing amount of berries this year. We have blueberries, raspberries, gooseberries and currants, as well as a lot of hybrids like jostaberries and tayberries.

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Along our drive a long row of Laylandii cypress was planted that blocked out all the light from the south and made it impossible to drive a car down it. We removed them and kept every fourth trunk in place and stretched wires in between them. We now have seven different varieties of apples planted there. We put in small trees and bent all the branches out to the sides to create espaliers and now, after only two years they are really filling in and starting to fruit. They look lovely but are also less prone to disease and take up a lot less space than it they were planted straight in the garden.

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We are harvesting and using our herbs everyday for food and teas. It is a pleasure to spend time in the herb garden listening to the bees buzzing away and looking at the butterflies.

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We also grow perennial vegetables and are particularly happy with the sea kale that is flowering at the moment and has a great honey scent. The good king Henry is very tasty and the yellow flowers from the Turkish rockets are going into salads along with purple chive flowers. Our perennial Swedish ‘leeks’ are doing really well and we have harvested a lot of them in spring when the annual onions weren’t ready. They are just about to flower now and later the newly formed bulbils will be heavy enough to make the stems lean over and re root. Our cardoons and artichokes are making good use of the willow fence we built in winter.

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All in all it is a beautiful and bountiful time in our kitchen garden.

Small wonders.

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Sometimes it is difficult to live in a house at the same time as you are renovating it. There is a lot of building dust, tins of paint, tools, rubble, building materials and nails and screws in the wrong place.  We are two adults and four teenagers sharing a tiny house and when you add all of the above to the mix as well as getting on with everyday things like cooking, homework, cleaning and washing it can get pretty hectic. It is also easy to look at all the mess and all the different areas that need to be finished up and start to despair and wonder when and if it is ever going to get finished. Building an extension and renovating every single room in a house is a big job at any time but when you have six people living in it at the same time it can feel unbearable at times.

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That is why it is so important to step into the garden and just look around. There is of course an immense amount of tasks to be done in the garden as well, as we are in the process of turning it into a self sustainable, wildlife friendly, beautiful and productive haven. But nature has a way of calming the troubled and stressed mind. After a while of flower gazing, pond watching and birdsong it is easier to remember what really matters. To live in the here and now.  Not think too much about what it will be like when we have a room big enough to fit a table where we can all sit down to dinner together, or a space and the time to make some art or a nice big room in which to play some music with friends. Those are all things that we hope will become reality some day, but for now there are so many things to be grateful for. We are all together, happy and healthy. We have friendly neighbours, lovely friends and enough food to eat.

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flowers

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Walking slowly through the garden and taking in all of its beauty really slows the mind down and the worries and anxious thoughts melt away. What really matters becomes clear. And the closer you look the more wonderful it becomes. We hope you can get a little bit of the same feeling from looking at the pictures. There is a lot of stress in many peoples life today. So many screens to look at and pay attention to.  So many have to do and should be doing things…

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But in nature we can all find the antidote. Even if you don’t have your own garden there are always places you can go to still your mind and look for the small, small wonders of life.

PRICK!

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I, the main writer of this blog have recently spent ten days in Sweden, helping my mother prepare the old family home for sale. Now I’m back in Ireland armed with some lovely items from my childhood. The one that proved most appreciated by the rest of the family here in Ireland is the slightly offending sounding game of PRICK. In Swedish prick means dot or spot.  It is a very old mechanical pinball machine and we are now having Prick tournaments several times a day. The record stands at 41 200, after Alex got a double, double score and now the rest of us are living in slight despair as we are not sure if we can ever beat that.

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One thing is for sure, PRICK beats modern screen games any day of the week!

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While I was away the rest of the family has got on with so many things, and I was very proud and delighted on my return. Walls have been knocked down and rebuilt, tables and sofas constructed and all the plants kept alive. The garden has exploded into a wild, beautiful, colourful place.  We are all happy to be back together, and will continue to share our endeavours with you here.

A tale of tiles.

floor mosaic stacks

After renovating the bathroom and sorting out our woodland, we are now directing our energies back to building the extension on our little cottage. We have put down the foundation and built the roof and walls so it is not too long now before we can start work on tiling the floor. We wanted to be able to use a lot of found and gifted tiles and as they come in many different colours and finishes we needed to come up with a clever design to incorporate them all.

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