Monday, 30 July 2012

Secret Gardens

Early in 2010, some friends approached me with an idea they had hatched.
'We are going to open our gardens to the public,' they said. 'To raise money for charity. Will you join us?'
I was a bit wary, to be honest. We do have a nice garden, but it isn't exactly Powerscourt, or Mount Stewart, or Kew.
There are a lot of weeds, and chaos, and things shouting 'I need to be done FIRST!'
'The thing is,' my friends said, 'it doesn't need to be perfect. Think how nice it is to look round someone else's garden.You don't notice all the things that need doing, you just enjoy the garden for what it is.'
How very true. 

So, after discussing it with the In-Charge, we decided to go ahead, and another friend, DodoWoman (whose garden was also to be part of the scheme) and I put together leaflets and posters and other publicity material.
I suggested the name 'Secret Gardens of Sligo' and thus a new Irish Garden Trail was born.

It has been hugely successful and although not all the original gardens are still 'in', every year a few new ones join and the visitor numbers increase.
There is no entrance fee, but people are asked to make a donation instead, and all the money given is passed on to charity. Last year over €4000 was raised - a considerable sum from 11 private gardens.
The nicest thing of all, I think, is that each garden owner chooses the charity closest to their hearts, and all they money they raise goes directly to that organisation. Last year, these ranged from the local Hospice to St Vincent de Paul, and RNLI to Rape Crisis, and from Motorneurone Disease to Animal Rescue Centres locally and in Co Mayo.

As well as doing the publicity for the Gardens, I am PRO for Beltra Country Market and late last summer, while chatting to someone I know at RTE, trying to persuade them that Nationwide would LOVE to visit Beltra, the Secret Gardens crept into the conversation. I thought no more about it until the phone rang a few months ago and I was told that actually, what Nationwide would like to do was visit a few of the gardens!

They came, they filmed, they edited and on Wednesday 1st August, the programme will be broadcast on RTE at 7pm.

So if you like gardens, don't forget to turn the telly on! 
Maybe you'll feel inspired to visit the gardens on your own local trail, or possibly even join it!
And if you haven't got a garden trail - well, why not start one? 

Should you wish to do so, you can follow Secret Gardens of Sligo on Facebook by clicking here!

Sunday, 22 July 2012


Knocknarea in a silver sea

I was thinking about variety today. How rich and diverse everything is. So many different plants, and landscapes - personalities - friends.
It was the friends that started the thought process.
Each friendship is a microcosm - a spectrum - all of its own, containing the same essential elements as others perhaps, but different dynamics, different points of contact, different anchorings.
And each is indispensable to the nurturing of our wellbeing, the feeding of our souls.
And through some indefinable, blind instinct, we turn to the friend who can give us what we need precisely when we need it.

Rosa Crazy For You

I poured out my heart to someone this morning - someone who becomes increasingly dear the more I get to know her. It was a moment of spontaneity - an unexpected outburst that tapped into a slowly, oh-so-slowly healing well of distress that lies very shallowly buried beneath my surface.

I felt afterwards that I had burdened her with something that burdens me, and apologised.
She smiled and shook her head. 'Don't! You haven't!' she said.
She hugged me tightly, and I know she meant it.
She wasn't burdened, but I have felt lighter all day for the loss of it, for the release.
How grateful I am.
And blessed.
Little by little, the healing steals in like winter sunlight - barely discernible, but effective, and, ultimately, self-perpetuating. 


And this afternoon another friend's words came to mind.
While I was out replenishing the sadly depleted garden tool department - there is only so much you can achieve with a one-pronged fork and holey gloves - I inevitably got waylaid by the glorious plants on offer.
I have always found that the plant-buying triangle loops nose-to-tail as surely as night follows day.
First there is the delight at discovery, then there is the glorious vision of the plant embellishing your very own garden, and later there is invariably the pang of guilt when you remember those imminent household bills whose budget you have just wantonly slashed.
I confided this to my friend a year or two ago.
'Don't,' she said. 'Your garden is your art. You have to let it out.'
And she was right.
I'm not the quickest, but there is one thing I have learned, which is that we stopper our creativity at our peril.
I believe it's the cause of half the frustration and unhappiness in the world.

Peruvian lily

Years ago, a third friend said something to me that I have consciously tried to take to heart ever since.
I haven't always been successful, but there's no doubt in my mind that she went right to the crux of it.
'Don't worry about anything as trivial as money,' she said.
Neither of us had any money at the time, and still don't. Like most people in Ireland, I'm constantly going through my coat pockets in the hope of finding a fiver and always grateful beyond words for any windfall that keeps me afloat, but that's missing the point of what she meant.

It took me awhile to 'retrain' myself  - I remember well the nights I used to spend lying awake grinding my teeth over finances. I still worry about all kinds of other rubbish, but I've just about got there on the money bit.
Somehow the electricity bill will get paid. Maybe we'll have to live on beans on toast for awhile - again. (It's known as a Gourmet Treat in our house.) Maybe we'll end up selling all our worldly goods at a carboot sale, but ultimately, which is more important? Something that makes your heart sing, or all the bills paid?

Life is short, and as far as I can make out, richness isn't about money, it's about the simple, beautiful, ordinary things and people that surround us. It's about walking round my garden with my first cup of tea and enjoying every new flower. Perhaps that all sounds a bit naive or twee, but I think the key to being happy and fulfilled has little to do with hard currency, it's about doing the thing I was born to do. I am a writer and I love gardens. Those two things are what give me equilibrium, and it doesn't matter if I have spent the electricity money on a new rose or a purple passion flower. Just as it doesn't matter that I have written this post instead of clearing up the kitchen and getting supper ready. Getting in a tizz about the ups and downs of everyday life is so easy, but it's the surest way I know of neutering the creative spirit - the individual, intrinsic, elusive essence that waits in each of us to be discovered and used.

So, dear friends, how glad I am to have you.
I think it must be because of you that when I can't sleep in the wee small hours, I don't lie in bed wrestling the black dog that walks the night, I get up and join my own, real, sleeping hounds in the kitchen, put the kettle on and write, or immerse myself in a book of other people's inspirational gardens - sometimes for hours on end. I often feel quite tired the next day, but not fraught, or hunted, or guilty! And little by little, the hurts we all carry can be healed, and nothing is wasted, nothing is lost. Every part of our life has a bearing on what we produce.

Don't is generally considered a negative command, but sometimes it takes a friend to turn it into a life-line of positivity.
Thank you, dear friends.

Purple Passion Flower

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Midsummer Madness

I don't know quite where the days have gone.
Just odd moments linger.
There are memories or rain and, happily, quite a few of sunshine.
I picked a hat full of flowers to press for the children's workshop at the market.
They are currently residing in a phone book under a handy 56lb weight that was sitting around.

And I picked raspberries.
Model Dog likes raspberries. She is very good at picking but not so good at sharing. She assures me that she always means to, but then swallows by accident.
Now that the strawberry patch has yielded up the last of its joys, she is delighted to have discovered a new source of delight.
She is not, however, impressed by blackcurrants.

(By the way, that's Frank, Wilbur, Hal, Stan and Alf sitting next to the the raspberries. They have names, the peas in our garden - there are so few of them. Stan was particularly delicious but Alf was a bit past it I thought.)

We had a marvellous pottery workshop at the Market which was great fun. I even made a little bowl.
And we also had a barbecue to celebrate the market's second birthday.
The sun shone, the ribs, bangers and burgers were scrumptious and the birthday cake has taken up permanent residence around my person.

Some friends came for the weekend.
It was lovely to see them - we hadn't seen them for years and years and I'd never even met Kitty, the youngest of the family, but I'm very glad I have now.

Mrs Smith laid a perfect little egg for her breakfast and then we all went for a lovely walk on our favourite beach.

Moreover, Hollywood has come to town. John McDonagh's new film is to be shot in and around the village, and the In-Charge has taken his locations manager hither, thither and yon, looking at possible sites. Even the man himself and his Producer dropped by one morning and cast a beady eye over the house and garden, had a coffee and then beetled off to do important things elsewhere.

And in betwixt and between, we have done a bit of tidying up and passed a few boxes of books and clutter on to the animal charity shop. A few friends came for supper and our new wwoofers have arrived - a lovely couple from Northern California, who have pitched into my current project in the garden with such verve and willingness that I am starting to think of them as the Cavalry - thundering over the horizon just when you need them most.

They are just in time.
It is midsummer madness in the garden and everything is growing like Topsy.
Except my vegetables.
We won't discuss my vegetables.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

The Glorious Bug Hunt

What a great morning!

We all went on a bug hunt.
Although, being scrupulously honest, I didn't hunt at all, but the kids did, with Will, our secret sleuth in the field, and what a cornucopia it produced.

We run events most Saturday mornings at Beltra Country Market. For the kids of course.
(Ho ho!
You should have seen the adults glitzing up the flags they'd made on Bunting Marathon day, or gleefully icing cakes at Christmas; having their faces painted; enthusiastically making little dishes at the Pottery workshop... But I won't go on, in case I embarrass anyone. Myself in particular.)

Today was the Bug Hunting, led by Good Will - one of our Market regulars who also happens to be an ecologist. He volunteered his expertise as soon as he saw me and Nome coming, before we'd even had time to wind his arm round the back of his throat.
I had pictured him leading a happy band of youngsters around the woods and fields surrounding Beltra Hall, turning over stones, poking eager fingers into the rich, black earth and pulling hapless small creatures out of holes and rotten logs - by their legs, their wings, anything they could grab hold of (the kids, not Will, of course).

But it all started very calmly, with the younger members of the band colouring in pictures of butterflies, ladybirds, grasshoppers and other creepy crawlies, so I carried on with all the things I normally do at the Market. Today it was planning another event we are holding in a month or so and agreeing the final preparations for next week's Second Birthday Party. Hard to believe that it's two years - in some ways it seems as if the Market has always been a part of the local establishment, a sort of Fixture (and very fitting).

By the time I caught up with the Bug Hunt, everyone was gathered outside, peering into a container full of old egg boxes. I was slightly surprised, but then egg boxes are very useful and versatile objects. Not only do they hold eggs, they make handy plugs for seed growing and I once decorated a bathroom using an egg box in one hand and a handful of straw in the other - as stamps. Unlikely I know, but it looked great.

Anyway, I digress.

I soon found out what all the oohs and aahs over the container were about.

Festooned all over the egg boxes were moths. Moths I had never seen before: big moths and little moths, moths with open wings, moths with wings folded like butterflies, moths as beautiful as butterflies. It was amazing, and I got so engrossed, I forgot to take any more photos.
'Goodness,' I said to Will. 'Where do you get them from? I didn't realise you had such a collection.'

I hadn't thought about it before, but looking at the array of gorgeous creatures in the container, I realised that ecologists are probably keen Lepidopterists. Why wouldn't they be? Will's hobby is obviously studying moths from all kinds of exotic locations. I instantly pictured him at home, in a large greenhouse full of strange and wondrous plant specimens on which his pets feed, or lay their eggs, or both. Only last night I was watching some chap waxing lyrical with Rachel de Thame at the Hampton Court Flower Show. While discussing how to get more butterflies into the garden, they were simultaneously releasing gorgeous specimens to go forth and multiply. So, looking at Will's collection, I had quite a graphic image in my head, and being of a fanciful disposition, its origins weren't limited to Henry VIII's palace gardens either - these delicate, beautiful creatures conjured tropical rain forests, African nights, the silk empires of the East...

Will dispelled my continent-encompassing imaginings at a stroke.
'Where did I get them?' he repeated, slightly non-plussed. 'I came down here at 10 o'clock last night and set my moth traps.'
For once in my life I was speechless.
How little I know about my own environment.

It was an eye-opening morning, even if the eyes were working at the cost of the brain.
At my request Will gave me a beautiful aquamarine moth to bring home. It has probably flown off to investigate its new habitat now, but I released it into a vigorous clematis plant, which, Will assured me, is what this Tigger Likes Best.
Now all I have to do is try and remember what it's called.
Was it a Large Emerald?
Or a Light Emerald?
A Showy Emerald even?
Don't think it's a Southern Emerald, or an Essex Emerald.
Perhaps it's just a Small Emerald.

I'll have to ask Will next time I see him.
He's coming to set a moth trap in my garden.
I can't wait.
All those exotic, winged beauties, those elusive, magical creatures worthy of far-flung places but which live, instead, in my small patch - they will all be revealed.
Briefly, of course. Then they will disappear back into the hidden folds of the night.
But I will have seen them.
When I lie awake at 3 o'clock in the morning, I will be able to imagine them, flitting through the starlit garden.