Once in a blue moon.

garden july flags

We have reached the end of July and it is time to sum up a beautiful but rainy month in our garden.

garden july flowers

We have put in shrubs, trees and perennials since we started the garden in February 2013, at the time we moved in. We made the decision early on to start with the planting of the garden first and do only necessary renovations to the cottage in these first couple of years. Once you plant something it has a chance to grow and every year the garden changes and evolves. We are amazed at the rate with which our plants have grown and the garden looks very pretty and is already a beautiful and productive space, less than three years in. When we started out it was a field overrun with creeping buttercups and surrounded by a huge leylandii  hedge.

garden july gazebo

This month has been great for the garden as it has rained almost every day and our newly planted roses and climbers have really taken off. All the other plants have benefited as well but a little more sun would have more things in flower by now. We have spent our coffee and tea breaks in the gazebo…

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garden july bridge

In the kitchen garden harvesting is in full swing with berries, onions, courgettes and peas for picking every day and our potato tower stacks growing very high. We were surprised when we first saw the beautiful potato blossoms, very different in the two varieties we are growing. We enjoyed a very tasty addition to our dinner yesterday when the Artichokes were ready for eating.



purple potato


Our circle looks lovely even though we have been busy the whole month with our renovations and extension. It has a lot of weeds growing amongst the flowers but we just pull them out as we pass by. Apart from that all we have managed to do is cut the grass a couple of times but as long as the structure is there in a garden a few weeds do not matter too much and they can be removed as and when the opportunity arrives. We are planning to tidy the whole garden up in autumn, when the grass and weeds slow down. You can see what happens to the circle throughout the months in the category ‘Elemental circle’. For now we are anticipating the fireworks soon to take place when the crocosmia, Lucifer open its buds. It is a red explosion, not easily forgotten.

july east


garden july south


garden july west


garden july north


By the little wildlife pond the Angels fishing rods are just starting to open along with the single hollyhock called halo. Pure magic. All over the garden our mallows are now flowering. This evening we had a late walk around the garden, feeling thankful to be in this beautiful part of the world and looked at the full moon rising over the tree tops. A perfectly beautiful evening, once in a blue moon.

garden july angel

garden july mallow

garden moon

Blooming marvelous herbs.

We have been waiting for about a week for the rain to let up so that we could harvest some of our lovely herbs, but today we decided to wait no longer. Most of them are at their peak now, lush and green and just starting to flower.

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We wanted to keep some of this for the whole year and capture the smell and taste of many of the different herbs we grow in our garden.  Vinegar is very useful for all those winter salads and capturing the herbs by making herb flavoured vinegar is something we have wanted to try for a few years, so we were happy to find some tips about doing this in Beryl Wood’s excellent book, Let’s preserve it.

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We started by harvesting some sage, lemon thyme, lemon balm, fennel, golden oregano and mint. We removed the tough stalks and used a rolling pin to crush them up, filling our jars half way up. We poured on our distilled vinegar, you could also use malt vinegar if you prefer or any other fancier variety. We bought some cheap vinegar as the herbs will give it a lovely flavour anyway and because we wanted to make a lot of it. We will shake the jars regularly over the next six weeks, at least once a week, and we will push the herbs down under the surface to preserve them properly. We are then planning to strain, bottle and enjoy them for the rest of the year.

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We also experimented with some mixed berry vinegar, hoping to end up with something resembling fancy raspberry vinegar. Time will tell.

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We wanted to try another thing we found in the UK Country Homes & Interiors magazine recently (August 2015). We try to use as little chemicals as possible in our home so the tips for making homemade citrus air-fresheners seemed very appealing. We started by cutting in half and juicing oranges, lemons and limes and removed all the white stuff, ending up with just the outer peels.

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We mixed some ordinary table salt with some lovely sea salt and some Himalayan pink salt and put it in two different bowls. To the one for oranges we added lavender flowers from the garden, ylang-ylang, lavender and mandarin essential oils and to the one for lemons and limes we added chopped rosemary and clove, peppermint and rosemary essential oils. You could also add other herbs and your favourite spices to the mix. We then stirred for a good while to mix the oils and herbs well with the salt and packed our peels full of the mixture. To finish off we added fabric circles and string to keep the air-fresheners all together. This was quite fiddly to do but putting an elastic band around the fabric as you tie the string on helps a lot. We now have a sweet-smelling house with every room scented for very little money.

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It is satisfying and comforting to think that we will be able to enjoy our herbs for a long time now, even after they have wilted and died back in the autumn.

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Slowly but surely.

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It is great fun working on our just under forty square meter floor mosaic but we are starting to think it would have been wise to have done this kind of work twenty year ago. It is very hard on the back and knees, crawling around for many hours every day, making sure all the tiny pieces are positioned correctly and level. We are also working on the walls and the connection walkway into the old cottage, so there is work enough to go round. And in the garden the weeds, grass and vegetables are all putting on tremendous growth, demanding our attention. We are proud to say that the teenagers in the family are chipping in, harvesting vegetables, painting, baking, cooking and washing up. Every night we are all very tired and collapse into the armchair and sofa, for a movie and a well earned rest. Our social life is nonexistent. But we still think it is worth it. There is a great sense of achievement, building and renovating your own home and creating a sustainable garden together. In the years to come, when we have most of the building work done we will have a lot more time to share our house and garden with friends and family.

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A rose by any other name.

We believe William Shakespeare’s Juliet when she proclaims; ‘That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.’ Roses are among the most romantic, fragrant and beautiful flowers to be grown in a garden. To most people the smell of roses evoke memories of bygone days, perhaps spent in their grandparents garden.

New dawn

But we are not very fond of modern roses. For some reason they seem a bit out of place in our wildlife friendly, slightly overgrown garden. We do not have the time for careful pruning, feeding, watering and dealing with diseases they seem prone to. But who can imagine a garden without roses? There are endless culinary and medicinal uses for them, along with their beauty and the benefits to wildlife. So in the early spring of 2013, a couple of months after moving in, we ordered a lot of bare-root wild roses from Future forests in Cork. The beautiful field rose, Rosa Arvensis is now slowly covering the road bridge across the stream and a stunning pink Rosa Rubrifolia Glauca is slowly increasing in size on the bank of said stream.  Rosa Rubriginosa, the sweet briar is a lovely shade of light pink, and has a slight and delicate scent. Last month we enjoyed the beautiful bloom of the Burnet rose, Rosa pimpernelifolia. We found all these varieties suited our garden perfectly, and being single flowered, very useful for bees and other insects.

field rose

rose by stream

rose pink

sweet briar

Last spring we thought it would be great for us and all the pollinators we wish to attract to the garden if we planted some ramblers and scramblers to grow up our trees and across the stream so we bought a “New Dawn” to arch across the stream in the two ash trees we have bent down and connected. In another big ash we planted the beautiful, yellow ”Wedding Day” that slowly fades to white as the flowers age. To grow up the larch we choose “Paul’s Himalayan Musk”, a small flowering cluster rose with a fresh, beautiful scent.

rose new dawn

Wedding day

rose wedding day

roses himalayan's musk

rose and larch

We also found an old groundcover rose at a local nursery, with a scent like old-fashioned cold cream and a useful spreading habit, along with a pink, strong old-fashioned climber that we do not know the name of, but which are often found covering old Irish cottages, even long after their inhabitants are gone. It is now growing in a few locations around our garden, but it is not yet in flower this year. But if you look closely you will find that even the buds of roses can be worth resting your eyes on.

rose ground cover

rose buds

roses pink buds

This year we had to cut down some old spruce that were becoming unstable in our woodland and that left us with a lot of space to fill with deciduous trees and climbers. We recently got a rambling rector and a sweet smelling beauty by the name of Madame Alfred Carriere, a rose with big cream colured roses tinged with pink. These are both reliable strong climbers that we hope will bring years of pleasure to us, and any visitors to our garden, humans and wildlife alike.So as you can see we are slowly moving from the wild and untamed towards more cultivated forms of roses. We belive this is as far as we will go. But who can know for sure? We might fall for some old moss rose like the beautiful old pink moss from the 1700-hundreds or the Apothecary’s Rose, Rosa gallica officianalis from the 1600-hundreds. And really, what harm could it be? Surely we have room for them all?

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A pattern emerges.

mosaic star floor

We are very excited to finally start our big floor mosaic. As you can see we are staying quite close to our original plan but as always when you work on a project like this, ideas for changes come as you are working. We decided to give the points of the second star different colours to strengthen the connection with the elements, yellow for east and air, red for south and fire, blue for west and water and green for north and earth. We added all our tree roots and made the tiles go slightly onto the trunk in layers to really incorporate the tree into the floor. No one will walk right next to the tree so it is alright to have the floor slightly uneven and built up for a few centimetres around the trunk. This is the most exciting mosaic project we have done so far and now, three days in, we just want to go on working to see how it will all turn out.

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Fun with rhubarb and willow.

rhubarb casts

In the last week we have been hard at work on our extension but we have managed to fit in a couple of gardening projects as well.

Our  living willow fence by the pond is just over a year old now and had grown a lot of strong upright shoots that needed weaving in. It only took one of us about an hour to do this and we are very happy with the result. Every year it will grow thicker and stronger but it is already strong enough for the cat to walk along!

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fence and cat

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fence with cat

We saw some rhubarb leaf casts at a friend’s place in Sweden recently and wanted to try making our own and use them as bird baths. We used eco-cement, water and sand for our mix and added a little water-proofer to make water tight birdbaths.

rhubarb casts

We placed the leaves top side down on our sand pile and built up the sand underneath to get a good rounded shape. We put the mortar on about 4 cm thick all across the leaf and added a little more on the biggest leaf veins to make them stronger. You might want to add some chicken wire as reinforcement but we did not have any handy and it worked out very well anyway.

rhubarb casts leaves

rhubarb casts

rhubarb casts

We watered them every day for three days and kept them under a plastic sheet to prevent them drying out too quickly and tonight it was finally time to turn them over and pull the leaves off. Some of the veins stuck a bit as the mortar has set around them but in a few days they will rot away and reveal the whole beautiful veined cast. Cement is not a very eco-friendly material but if you consider the small amount needed for this project and the beautiful and practical results it is not too bad. We made three casts that we will place in different parts of the garden for the birds and insects to enjoy.

rhubarb casts

rhubarb casts