The year of 2019 has come to an end on the land and we wish to summarise it like we usually do, with a photo from each month. It is a huge privilege to live in close proximity with the natural word and we would like to celebrate that here with a photographic journey through the year from the small patch of earth that we are guardians of.
Firstly we must ask our regular readers to forgive us for only writing one post so far in August. Our family is going through big changes with two of our daughters spreading their wings and starting College in September. It has been a month of waiting for exam results, waiting for offers from the Colleges, happiness when both girls got into the courses that they wanted and time spent organizing their accommodation. Our other daughter is starting her Adult Services and she is looking forward to devoting more time to her interest in photography. We are glad to be getting stuck back into the garden work now after a couple of weeks organizing for the future.
This morning we woke up to a world transformed. All night the flakes had been falling slowly and settled on every surface, transforming our land into a picture perfect space, full of natural beauty. It is by far the most snow we have had since moving into our place nearly five years ago and we went out early to capture the magic on camera.
April is really the month that transforms the land here in the West of Ireland, probably more than any other month of the year. It usually starts of quite cold and barren but by the end of the month everything has exploded into a crescendo of colour and form.
We have written about willow before. It is truly an incredible inhabitant of the land. We have friends with a river on their land and they have a lot of willow planted along the river banks. They were kind enough to let us coppice some of it for our new willow fence and plant supports. We also coppiced our dogwoods growing close to our cottage and ended up with a selection of beautiful young stems for weaving.
Willow is perfectly suited to our wet climate here in the West of Ireland. We are growing many different varieties ready to coppice for basket making, living fences and plant supports. You can read about all our projects in the willow category.
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!
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.
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.
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.
It is that time of year again when a lot of Willows and Dogwoods need pruning. As we like to use as many natural and local materials as possible, we decided to use the prunings to make plant-supports. Our Artichokes and Cardoons grew very big last year and some of them blew over on a windy day. So a low, strong fence to go around the bed was on our wish list. As we wanted it to last for more than one year, we used Bamboo canes as the uprights. Last year we made a few supports and used willow for the uprights, but even turned upside down, they rooted and had to be moved in the autumn. We put the uprights in quite close, about 20 centimeters apart. You need an uneven number of uprights. We then wove long straight Willow rods round and round for about 8 centimeters, left a space and wove another section higher up.
To finish off the top and make it extra strong, we used a slightly different technique, using two rods at a time and twisting them together as many times as possible between each upright. The Dogwood has very pretty colours so we used them as both a decorative and practical edge.
For our perennial flower borders we decided to use some bushier prunings of Dogwood as natural plant-supports. If they root, we will end up with a lot of new plants in the autumn, ready to give away to friends or plant elsewhere in the garden. If they don’t root they will still have served us well as supports and can go on the compost heap at the end of the season.
We also planted some evergreen spring flowering Clematis recently, that we picked up in a sale. As clematis love sun but like to have their roots in shade we made a small basket like willow structure to go around the base of each one.
One of our cats was adamant to be included in today’s photographs so here goes…
Willow is a wonderful plant if you have a slightly damp or wet place to plant it. There are many interesting varieties for basketry, coppicing for firewood, or training into garden fences, domes and structures.