Last year it looked like this - this year there'll be more yellow!
It all comes together perfectly. The Snapper and I both have two days off work. The sun shines in a cloudless pale blue sky. The front gate is closed and we aren’t going anywhere. Nobody wants anything from us and we don’t want anything apart from this: working together and apart in the garden.
You can almost feel overwhelmed when you first look at your garden after Winter, but it’s a mistake to turn this work into a burden. There’s never any point worrying about what you haven’t done, nor how much there is to do. As long as you get on with what you can do, and on the way make it what you want to do, worry can take early retirement.
It’s a pleasure, a joyous pleasure to be out in the sunshine, fingers in the soil of this tiny corner of the world. Beautiful soil it is too, able to both crumble and clay into a ball. Loads of big fat happy worms are working their way through this flower bed, on a tiny ring of limestone a few hundred yards from Lough Corrib. A quarter of a mile up the lane you hit bogland, but here the ground is lush, almost alluvial.
While the Snapper walks Lady Dog I start on the weeding. These days it’s not enough to plan the tasks ahead, I also have to factor in what my ageing body might sustain. So instead of going hell bent for leather and weeding the whole bed in one go, I stop half way, standing to stretch and groan a little.
My God! This place is glorious on such a day. Staring at the fields beyond, my mind wanders to those Paddy’s Day crowds elsewhere; all those thousands thronging the streets of Galway, and the village up the road; all those pints, parades and people.
Here right now it is incredibly peaceful, save for the welcome return of a wide variety of birdsong and the occasional stamp of hoof from the old piebald.
My girls return from their walk, the Snapper telling stories of how Lady ate a dead duck and rolled in a pile of pooh. That’s about as good as it gets for a dog, so we put the long training leash on her and hook her up to the pole of the twirly laundry dryer.
Lady is a rescue dog with a predilection for chasing anything on four legs. Yet thankfully for once there are no other dogs around, nor any nearby livestock to tempt and distract her.
She lies on the lawn, delighted for the chance to be outside, while we execute our minor St. Patrick’s Day tradition: welcoming back the garden by sowing sweet pea seeds.
There are endless debates about whether you should sow them inside or out, in Autumn or in Spring, but I plant them into containers in situ on Ireland’s national day, confident they’ll completely cover the ugly heating oil tank by the end of July.
For this task we work as a team, herself washing the old containers as I fill the compost, add the slow release feed and then together, we sow the seeds. Once the job is done we go our separate ways.
She is the queen of the hedgerow, working with the native species wherever they appear. All along the old stone wall, she has liberated primroses, foxgloves, wood anemone, hawthorn and blackthorn, hazel, wild roses and Lords and Ladies. On the other side of the house we’ve planted willow whips to start a new hedge. One day it will break up the prevailing southwesterly which roars across this country.
Damn and blast: there’s nothing more disheartening to one weeding than the sound of a snap. Despite my best efforts at botanical archaeology, my deep scraping with the trowel has failed to reach the bottom of the dock. That snap means the tip of its tap root is still in the ground, mocking my efforts, certain to come back again.
I have to leave it there, otherwise this job will never be done. The bed must be cleared and raked, so that I can scatter the seeds I saved from last year: cornflower, Shirley poppy, Californian poppy, Love-in-the-Mist; Marigold and swathes of Larkspur for late season colour, front-fringed by alyssum and night-scented stock.
The longer we live here the more this garden returns our investment. Each year the lupins I grew from seed return to give us a splendid quite whacky show of colour and vibrancy; the bluebells and narcissus bulbs we planted reappear, spreading further along the bank each Spring.
Last year's lupins - whacky and wonderful!
With the bed cleared and seed sown, it’s time to unveil my compost. For roughly eight months each year I compost all our veg scraps, eggshells and some newspaper into the pile of grass cuttings and gardening waste. In October I mix it all up, cover it with two plastic sheets, secure it with stones and leave it to work nature’s magic.
With some trepidation and eager anticipation I peel back the sheets and Lo! Beautiful! It has turned into sweet-smelling fibrous compost, the best I’ve had so far. Now for the sweaty job of loading several wheelbarrows, spreading it around the shrubs, the soft fruit and apple saplings.
All that waste turned into plant feed. All that sunshine peeling the alabaster plaster of Winter off my face, replacing it with the rusty shade of a Summer to come.
Late in the second afternoon we run out of milk, so I open the gate. The two day sanctuary has been wonderful, yet now for the need of a good cup of tea, the spell is broken.