Opening the Garden

Here goes another blog. In the last week I have had a couple of people actually message me and ask me when I am I going to write another blog! That has never happened before and it is a bit of a shock! I never imagine anyone actually reading them. So I’m going I’ll give it a lash.


One of the many reasons I struggle to complete anything is the fact we are in midsummer and there is just so much going on. My garden is full on at the moment and I spend every moment I can, sometimes in the wind and rain doing the jobs I want to get on with. It is not a chore or anything, it is what I want to do, I have all these ideas during the winter and then we have this growing period and I am aware that time is limited. I have a big garden as it covers around 5 acres, I don’t grow on every part of it but I still manage the land. Jobs like drainage, hedge building, fencing, as well as the planting and growing side of things all takes time let alone any of the odd art and design projects I dream up. I am generally up with the sun and have to be called into diner in the evening and I go from one job to another, more of a series of pottering s than a rush about. I am not manic about it there is plenty of sitting down and staring at the view goes into my day.


I do also have to fit work into my schedule; I have a few clients whose gardens I tend. I enjoy the break and the challenge and I get a great sense of satisfaction seeing their gardens once a week slowly transform and there is something special about other people’s gardens. Most of my clients are not really “gardeners,” but people who want a garden and just need a helping hand, I find some of my work is about empowerment. I think of the garden as the most important room in the house, it is the space where we connect with nature, our natural environment. The house is where we go to sleep and cook and keep dry but the garden is where we can really live. I know that is not the same for everyone, if we were all the same life would be very dull but for me helping someone create a space where they can be surrounded by life, plants growing, birds singing and bees buzzing that is a real pleasure and when you see someone start to really connect with that aspect of their lives it is like a light being switched on, an awakening of something primal it can really affect people’s lives in a such a positive way.


So my garden is my personal space created and nurtured rather than imposed upon the land. If I did nothing to it nature would get on happily without me but when we work together I get the chance to connect with something so powerful it feels like a real privilege. That brings me to my latest project and to tell the truth I don’t think I thought it through thoroughly. It was more of an instinctive idea, it seemed right but I must admit I am a bit unsure how I really feel about it.


A pocket of potatoes: Salad Blue, Mayan Rose & Lady Chrystl

During this period of “lockdown,” the kids’ education went on line, Kate continued her yoga on line and I became aware of the wonders of Zoom. We do live in a very remote location and I try to keep involved in the “real” world but driving an hour or so to attend meetings is a bit of a crap shoot, some I come away with thinking that was great but too many times I have come away thinking that was a waste of time. However I do like Zoom webinars and there have been such a variety of things to get involved with. Obviously with my interest in gardening and nature I had a look at a number of webinars on ecology, biodiversity and the environment and took part in discussions about rewilding and organic growing techniques. Simply mind blowing that I could “chat” with horticulturalists and ecologists from all over the world from the comfort of my own home, sometimes just lying in bed propped up with a cushion with a cup of coffee or a gin and elderflower fizz.


We watched the Irish Student Awards on line as my eldest daughter Mair was nominated for Student Activist of the Year. She was Chair of the UCC Fáilte Society last year which is a society dedicated to supporting the rights of Asylum Seekers among other things. I am extremely proud of her achievements. she has been so active in so many areas since a young age with a strong sense of justice and equality. We often have heated debates; I think she would hate me saying that we are very similar as she is fiercely proud of her own independence. Anyway she sent me a link for a series of webinars in regards to racism in Ireland and the Covid 19 Crisis. Not your average evening’s entertainment but I thought I would have a look, I can’t say it was easy to listen to the different experiences of those taking part. It was to say the least thought provoking. I make no bones about the fact I have gone to great lengths to live an alternative lifestyle. I don’t generally like the way the world is, I have made some effort to change it but the tide of capitalism, commercialisation and quite simply the first nose to the trough attitude that surrounds me is just too big and systemic for me to deal with. I have resorted to trying to create my own microcosm and just live in my own small way in this quiet corner of the world. The enormity of the struggle that some of these people have faced is simply overwhelming. So I wondered if there was anything I could actually do to participate in a positive way.


Working away in my garden I was running some of what I had heard over in my mind and I came up with an idea to try and raise money for a local organisation dedicated to helping in this area. When Mair was doing her transition year at Secondary School she asked if she could help with a local Asylum Seekers’ centre and I managed to contact the Clonakilty Friends of Asylum Seekers. I had visited their Community Garden while I was looking into setting one up in my local village. So I contacted them with an idea about auctioning off some tickets for a tour of my garden and they were happy for me to do so as with the Covid 19 restrictions they were unable to run their usual fundraising.


In essence my idea was pretty simple, to advertise 10 tickets with 4 people per ticket and an on line secret auction based through an event on my Facebook Page where people could message me with a bid for a ticket and the Top 10 bids would get one. These tickets could be used anytime in the future. At the time we had travel restrictions so the idea was they could be used after the restrictions were lifted. As there would only be a maximum of 4 per ticket and myself that also came under the restriction of only a maximum of 6 people getting together in groups.


I set up an event page and asked all my friends and family to share it to try and promote the event. A couple of years ago a friend suggested I open my garden to the public by joining the West Cork Garden Trail. I thought about it but decided not to, mainly because I was very unsure about having people enter my “sanctuary.” To some that might sound a little daft but my garden is a part of me and that probably sounds even more daft! Exposing myself to public scrutiny is not what my garden is about. I experiment a lot, I make loads of mistakes and I don’t think my garden is a “show” garden in anyway. Friends who have had a look round all say it is great but it is more of an adventure than a viewing gallery. It is a great place to play hide and seek or to sit and gaze at the view from the meadow but I have no idea what “strangers” who have paid to come and have a look will make of it. But it is too late now to get cold feet the final bids have to be in by tomorrow (July 1st) and I am committed, I just hope those who come to see it feel it is worth the entrance fee. I know The Clonakilty Friends of Asylum Seekers will be delighted with the funds and I hope it will bring some joy to those who have been stuck in limbo for so long.


I recently won a prize in a national competition called The Big Grow Show run by Grow It Yourself Ireland (GIY) and sponsored by Innocent Drinks and Karen O’Donoghue one of the presenters of Grow Cook Eat gave my “Walk & Talk” a shout out on social media and through that I have received a few more bids. Innocent Ireland offered to provide some drinks for the event but I asked them if they would send them to the Asylum Seekers instead and they kindly agreed. There are over 40 kids living at the Direct Provision Centre I do hope that it brings them a little joy.


As for me, it has given me some motivation to try and clear up some of those awkward corners, jobs on the long finger so to speak and I do look forward to showing some people around, they’ll probably think I am a bit mad with all my stories of plants and stuff but in for a penny in for a pound.

That just about wraps up this blog, the day has started and it is only slightly drizzling and like a fool I left the onions out to dry yesterday so they will need to be brought in and laid out to dry off. And I better get on. If you are one of the people who are successful in your bid I hope you enjoy your visit and please tread softly on my dreams.

The Garden of Eden

You guessed it, there’s rain outside so it is time for another blog! The garden is in full swing at the moment and the rain is a good thing as the ground is very dry. Not unfortunately from glorious sunshine but from drying winds coming in from the east. I have lost a couple of tall oriental poppies and a few snap dragons literally snapped but we are well used to the winds around here so most things that can be strapped down are tied as best I can.

I have extended my potato growing area this year and I have 5 different varieties. Orla, Lady Christyl, Salad Blue and Mayan Rose. Orla are my favourite early potato and I have been growing them for years. Salad Blue are a Scottish heritage variety that are blue all the way through, Mayan Rose are a red potato with yellow patches and Lady Christyl are another Scottish variety that are meant to be very early that I have not tried before.


Salad Blue has these beautiful flowers

I have been selling some of my potatoes and salad as with the extra space I have quite a considerable crop on the go and I have had quite a few requests from friends looking for that early potato fix.


My strawberry bed has also expanded quite considerably since I moved it from the main vegetable garden. I have been building up my stock of plants and I moved them into what was the potato bed from last year. I have always wanted to have a large crop of strawberries, I even imagined selling them down on the beach, I don’t think I will be doing that this year but we should have enough for a few jars of yummy strawberry jam.


Dowding’s Cider from Somerset, the perfect accompaniment to my new potatoes

One of the positive consequences of the lockdown appears to be a greater interest in growing your own veg and there are a few new Facebook pages dedicated to new growers. I have been contributing to an Irish based one called Grow It Yourself or GIY. I got involved in this organisation a couple of years ago when I started the Goleen Community Garden and they gave us tremendous support. If you have been following my blog you might remember when we had the TV Crew from a programme called Grow Cook Eat come and film us, well this is the same organisation that was involved with that and the Cottage Market I set up. It is fun to be able to help people out with some basic tips, I wish someone had done that with me when I started 30 years ago. It was all hit and miss in those days but it is useful to document how I do things now even if it is just to re-examine my own practices and methods.


A magnificent Hawthorn in one of my client’s garden

I am back with my own gardening business for around 3 to 4 weeks now, since they lifted restrictions on gardening and things are pretty busy. I do enjoy working in different places as it gives me a new perspective on my own place as well as an income. I have also been helping out my father in law with his garden. With everything being closed there hasn’t been much news for the local newsletter so I have been writing articles for them and I have published a couple here on my blog. I have so much news to write about here my mind is jumping all over the place. But for now I will leave you with my latest article on apple trees and I will be posting again very soon as I will be opening my garden to raise money for an organisation we are involved in that provides help and support to some Asylum Seekers here in Ireland.


My home grown salad

In the Garden of Eden

As a gardener I get to see some fabulous gardens around the area. I recently started restoring an old established garden near Goleen and came upon the largest apple tree I have ever seen. The owner Chris Jepson didn’t plant the tree himself, it was on the land he bought back in the 1970’s and tells me it produced some fine apples back then and 50 years later it is still producing fruit. Chris tells me it acts almost like a biannual, producing a large amount of fruit every second year, this is not uncommon in old trees that produce large amounts of fruit as they use a lot of energy to produce and if they are not thinned it can “exhaust” a plant and like all of us it needs time to recover.


The variety is a Beauty of Hampshire which is descended from the very popular Orange Pippin, the other half of its heritage is not known but it is thought it might be Blenheim Orange and first produced in 1850. It is a fine dessert apple and Chris says it makes excellent apple juice. They are noted as a large tree but this one is without doubt the largest I have ever seen and Chris wonders if it is the biggest apple tree in Ireland.  Apple trees have a special status for many horticulturalists’ as they have been “created” by specialists over hundreds of years.

It was thought for many years that apple trees were descended from the crab apple (Malus sylvestris) however in 2010 the apple genome sequence was mapped and it was discovered that the apple we all know (Malus domestica) originated in the Tian Shen mountains, on the borders of China and Kazakhstan from a variety Malus sieversii.


Another treasure in this garden a rambling rose called “Seagull”

This was a major breakthrough for the world’s pomologists, for that is what an apple specialist is known as. It is thought that this variety of apple was cultivated by both the Greeks and Romans and found its way to Ireland via Britain and the Romans.

Ireland has a long history of apple growing and crab apple pips from an archaeological excavation in Co. Meath were carbon dated to over 5000 years ago. Apples have appeared in many Irish myths and legends and in the land of Tír Na nÓg everyone lived on apples. The god of the sea, Mannanán Mac Lír was said to appear as a fool performing feats of magic and playing music on his harp, the only food he would accept were a drink of sour milk and a bowl of crab apples.

In Brehon Law the apple is one of the sacred trees known as the  Nobles of the Wood or airig fedo and damaging or killing an apple tree was severely punished, the fine for cutting down one of these trees was 5 milk cows which is a massive price in those days.


At the dawn of a new day

We often associate the apple from the Garden of Eden but there is nowhere in the Bible that the apple is specifically mentioned and many think that the forbidden fruit was actually a pomegranate. On the roof of the Sistine Chapel Michelangelo’s fresco, the tree bears figs and certainly Adam and Eve were often depicted wearing fig leaves. Whatever forbidden fruit was available in the Garden of Eden the apple will always be synonymous with temptation.

Apple trees and their varieties have fascinated gardeners for generations and by the second half of the nineteenth century it is believed that there were up to 20,000 apple varieties worldwide.


James tries getting to grips with the apple tree

Apples are usually considered small trees on average reaching 10ft and occasionally 20ft, the largest apple tree we have found on record in Ireland was from Coollusty in Athleague Roscommon estimated at 42ft and with a girth of 11ft. We have yet to measure Chris’s tree, we are guessing it is over 30ft but not as much as 40ft and my son James tried putting his arms around and his span would be just over 5 and half feet and he was just about half way. We will attempt to measure it this week using rods and trigonometry and I will let Ellie from the newsletter know just whether we have found the tallest apple tree in Ireland.


I put in a big long explaination on my last post so I don’t think I need to repreat it again.There is quite a bit of confurzion surrounding these plants. Cytisus (Broom) is a sub gendre of Genisteae and often called Genista as well. I added some random photos I took over the last few days


I am  teased about my use of Latin names for plants the unfamiliar and complicated sound of a foreign language once so commonly used in church and still found in many European languages. I am old enough to have studied Latin at school and as kids we all thought it was a totally dead language. Within the world of plants it is the universal language. I love the wonderfully descriptive common names of plants from all over the world but there is no continuity and even can vary in areas of the same country. As in our last article the Hawthorn, Whitethorn. Quickthorn, Thornapple, or a May Tree will be different in another country but Crataegus is used worldwide and with 100+ named varieties and again as many hybrids it all would get very confusing.


I am often asked about Gorse, Furze, Whin, Burr, Broom, Thornbush and that prickly yellow thing and generally speaking I guess most are referring to Ulex europaeus. I have read that gorse is not originally native but if it is not it goes back a very long way and is referred to in Celtic pre-Christian Brehon Law as one of the Losa Fedo (Bushes of the Woods). Brehon Law was pretty big on plants that were useful as they were an important economic resource. Gorse (U.europaeus) was just such a plant. Aiteann in Irishwhich, according to an ancient manuscript known as Cormac’s Glossary, comes from aith meaning ‘sharp’, and tenn, meaning ‘lacerating” was used around farmsteads both to keep the animals in and ne’er-do-wells out. The flowers are edible and can be used in many ways including dying wool, making wine and colouring whisky.


In Ireland we also find smaller gorse, Ulex gallii, lower growing amongst the heather high on mountains, creating a stunning carpet from June to September combining with our distinctive Irish heathers (Erica & Calluna). U. gallii doesn’t provide the sweet coconut scent of the more upright gorse probably due to this windswept habitat.

You can hear the term broom used for gorse but in fact the native Broom we have in Ireland is Cytisus scoparius and its parts have toxins that can be used in medicine but not recommended for general consumption. It differs from gorse as it has no spines. A side fact, originally named Planta genista. It was adopted by Geoffrey d’Anjou on his voyage to the Holy Land in recompense for killing his brother and the plant denoted his humility. He reportedly flagellated himself with broom; Geoffrey was the father of King Henry II of England the first of the “Plantagenets.”


An common distinction between Gorse and Broom are the thorns, however another type of Broom known as either Genista spinosa (Spiny) or Genista germanica (from Germany) does have thorns also the scent from Broom (Genista) has a  honey like aroma while (Ulex) smells more of coconut.  Its neat growing habit has made it a popular garden plant and its ability to cast a lot of seed has seen it appearing in uncultivated parts of Ireland helped by the fact it is also a “fire-reflex” plant that benefits greatly from the regular burning of native gorse.


So this humble native gorse was highly prized by our ancestors, the wood has a high oil content, which means it burns at a similar temperature to charcoal and its ashes could be used as an alkaline fertiliser.


Traditionally around May the gorse would be set alight in the hope of flushing out any witches hiding there. My favourite saying associated with this vibrant beauty is “When gorse is out of blossom, kissing’s out of fashion.”


The May Tree

I was at a meeting the other night; I have been a community councillor for my local Goleen area down here in the South West corner of Ireland for many years. I’m quite proud of the fact I was one of the members of the steering committee (we do love committees around here!) and the first GDCC PRO. I had been writing and publishing an independent newsletter for a couple of years before the GDCC came along and it seemed obvious to just incorporate my “Goleen Grapevine” into the GDCC Newsletter and the website also became the official GDCC website. The newsletter all had to be photocopied then and only a very few used emails. Oh how things have changed. The newsletter is still going and is a great way to get news across but it has been passed to a number of excellent editors who have continue to publish. I still manage the website; it’s now and I also run the Goleen Village Facebook Page.


The hawthorn standing proud above my blackthorn hedge in the evening sun

With the lockdown in place there hasn’t been a lot of news and at that meeting, I was going to tell you about, it was mentioned that they were short of news and struggling to keep going. I think at a time like this the newsletter is even more important and so I wracked my addled brain and came up with a couple of articles about nature that could be used as “fillers” in case there was no news. Ellie who runs the show now, published one last week and I have sent her a few more just as back-up in case nothing current comes along. I was delighted that a couple of people got in contact with me about my first one and said they really enjoyed it and would I do more. I had of course already done so but still it was really nice to be asked.


We have planted Hawthorn along 2 sides to protect our small community garden

This first one is about the Hawthorn, one of my favourite trees as it is beautiful to look at and is so common here in Ireland. I also went for it as I am fascinated by the folklore attached to plants and the hawthorn is such one of those. It has a mysterious and slightly spooky story and that is just how I like it!

I really enjoyed researching it and pulling together some of the tales I had heard tell. I tried to confirm some and learnt a few more facts and the finished article I have put below. I will post a few more over the next few weeks while I am enjoying the process and also send them into the newsletter, I might as well stop two gaps with one bush.


I also want to add that I have started posting a couple of videos to my YouTube Channel also called Sod It. Still early days but I am enjoying having the time to put these short little glimpses of my garden and a little bit further afield. I would love it if you would subscribe (I have 4 so far!) as it makes me feel as though someone is actually going to watch them and even though they are short it takes time and effort! I have no idea how these YouTubers managed to post up so much stuff so regularly, I just can’t find the time but maybe it’s because I am spending that time in my garden instead 🙂


The Whitethorn (Irish: Sceach gheal & Latin: Crataegus monogyna) is recognised by many as the faery tree. It has many names around the country and is known to some as the gentle bush, the lone bush or just the thorn. Another of its common names is the May Tree as it comes into bloom after the leaves have unfurled, the opposite of the earlier Blackthorn.


Often unnoticed in the hedgerow this sturdy and resilient tree provides an important service keeping its nesting birds safe within its thorns and at the end of the year it provides food with its red haw berries hence another of its names the Hawthorn, over 150 species of insects are also found in, around or on the tree with a number of species specific to it.


For those who have visited our local Goleen Community Garden you may well have seen our sign, a silhouette of this tree on the fence behind the raised beds, standing steadfast against all the elements a symbol of the resolve reflected in the people of the Mizen. This wind-swept tree can be seen on the left hand side of the road after you turn the steep bend at Easter Cottage coming in to the village.

‘Freckled nest-eggs thou shalt see
Hatching in the hawthorn-tree,
When the hen-bird’s wing doth rest
Quiet on her mossy nest;’

Extract from Fancy  by  John Keats (1795-1821)

Whitethorns are embedded deeply in our traditional history and some will know of them as rag trees found at Holy wells often adorned with offerings. These trees offer hope that as the tied offering disintegrates, so too will the ailment or worry that it represents.


The white haw blossom starting to emerge amongst the hedging. It is a rainy day today but this is the view from my window as I write this

May trees are also well known by herbalists who regard both haws and berries as having valuable cardiac, diuretic and astringent properties. Infusions of the dried fruit are said to have a beneficial effect on the heart when taken regularly over long periods. The large stones were also roasted, ground and used as a coffee substitute and as a kid and even now I love hawberry jam on my bread for tea.

Be kind to our tree as there is an old belief that any damage done to a faery trysting tree will bring misfortune to the doer and it is not uncommon to still find a lone “bright bush” unfelled in the middle of a field.


Lucky for Some

This lockdown business gets you thinking. I know it is not just me because so many people have been talking to me and my normally quiet life has had my phone buzzing as I have been getting many more responses to my social media than usual. I am a regular social media person, I have an Instagram account (@soditblog), I have a Facebook Page and I even do a very occasional blog. I have resisted blogging for awhile now as I do have a tendency to speak my mind and it usually gets me in to trouble of some sort. I have thought of various rants during the last couple of months and I’ve managed to resist the urge. The consequence to that is my family have had the full brunt of my various radical opinions and on the most part have managed to handle it fairly well, even though they don’t get much of a choice, they are locked up and have nowhere to run away to.


Combined with a lot more time on my hands and the coming of spring, quite simply the most exciting time of year, you can keep Christmas and New Year I find them very depressing that flood of commercialism, capitalism, materialism, fakery and hypocrisy. Sounds like a law firm. I do like mince pies and time with the family. But as usual I digress.


So the phone has been buzzing in response to some of the pictures I post of my garden. With a little bit more time on my hands I have decided to try my hand at making short compilations. I love video editing and animation and this seems to be an obvious way of exploring that interest. I have even tried a couple of Facebook Live broadcasts of the sunset and I did a very long one, showing people around the garden, it was meant to be just a quick tour and as usual it ended up being way too long, I just got carried away, my garden does that to me. As with everything I have had to work out certain problems, the noise of wind, camera shake, sound levels etc and hopefully each one has got a little bit better.

I am not short of inspiration or subject matter, we are surrounded by nature and I don’t have to go very far, it is plainly right on my doorstep.


I am delighted with the positive reaction I have had, I suppose it is unlikely that someone would go to the bother of telling me it was shit, it is much easier to click like and be supportive of a friend! So I decided to post some to other group sites interested in nature and once again I am very pleased I got positive feedback and that motivates me to carry on.


A regular comment I get is that I live in paradise and aren’t I lucky, well yes that’s obvious, or is it? Anyone who knows me, knows I think way too hard about language and once I get something stuck in my craw I over analyse and guess what, yup, that was an obvious one, this regular sentiment has wormed its way into my head. I absolutely know that no one has said this as anything other than, “Oh wow! That’s nice,” but this is my blog and I can be as pedantic as I like. So here goes.


Firstly “luck,” I looked this up just in case:  Success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions.

Well there’s the problem. I didn’t happen here by chance. I lived in the UK 30 years ago. If you were there then you probably know this was the beginning of the “dark ages.” Margret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Yuppies (2 p’s in Yuppie, why doesn’t that surprise me!), Free Market Economics which for me was almost every bit as hard going as the great storm and what a surprise, there was a massive stock market crash and house prices collapse in around October of that year. I had already sold my house, now that would have been lucky if I hadn’t said on January 5th 1987, “I’m going to sell my place while there is this ridiculous unsustainable housing boom and get out of this country before the shit hits the fan.” That is a direct quote from an entry in my diary on that day.


Nyah. So on Friday the 13th of November (that was lucky!) an enormous container lorry rolled into my local village with all my worldly possessions tucked into a very tiny corner of this intercontinental behemoth that a friend of mine managed to sort out for next to nothing.

The lorry could only get within a mile or so of my place as it was so big, it couldn’t make the turning from what we call the main road up to the road that eventually our drive (in Ireland a boreen) leads off from. So we had to make a couple of trips in my small van ferrying my stuff to the house. It didn’t rain, that was lucky.

That was the beginning of a very different chapter in my life. The vast majority of people I knew at that time thought I was crazy. I had a business, I had a nice house, I had what some would refer to as prospects, I even had a filofax. So I had to be crazy to move so far away to a life with no electricity, no transport and no future. It wasn’t an easy choice, I had some very good friends I was leaving behind as well as my family but you only get one life and I didn’t see a place for me in the future that so many were rushing towards, I needed to get off that rollercoaster even if it meant giving up so much. I must add that not all my friends thought I was mad, well maybe they did but they were nice enough not to say it. I didn’t come here alone, a couple of friends also wanted a new life and they joined me along with my girlfriend and the four of us started off on a new path. Over 30 years later my friends now live in the village, the life we had then didn’t suit my girlfriend and she left and made her life back in the UK.


Life wasn’t easy, it was physically and mentally tough adjusting to manual labour, living on a very tight budget and walking the 12 mile round trip to the village with a rucksack to do the shopping. Before I lived 5 minutes from a high street and popped in to the supermarket to buy stuff for lunch and could choose from a selection of takeaways for diner. I remember missing eating Chinese food mostly along with prawn cocktail crisps, pork pies, pickled onions and decent coffee, Ireland has change quite a bit since then and now we can even get Cadbury’s Cream Eggs!

It is easy to look back both with the rosy tinted glasses of nostalgia or in black and white with all the problems I faced. Trying to turn a couch grass infested, windswept patch of stony ground into a productive smallholding growing what was needed and learning about animal husbandry. That was a steep learning curve for a soft handed urbanite such as I was. I have never got fully to grips with fencing and as for being a practical DIY man! Well suffice it to say my failing attempts at fixing stuff, building things and even mixing concrete are the substance of many comic anecdotes and even a couple of poems.


However I was able to grow, both on a metaphysical as well as a horticultural level. My mum taught me well and those hours I spent as a youngster learning from her stood me in good stead. I look back at the progression now and I can’t quite believe what I attempted. I did get a small motorbike so I could make deliveries and I even used to take salad bags down to the local hotel and tried selling to tourist parked at Barleycove Beach. I got an organic license, certainly one of the first in this area but no one seemed to care about organic food at that time and certainly none of the restaurants ever tried promoting the veg they bought from me as such.

I got into crazy stuff like collecting silage plastic and PET bottles for recycling. I had to collect a certain tonnage in order to take it up to a warehouse in Cork where it was recycled into plastic wood. I still have a few fence posts we used for electric fencing made from that plastic around the garden. My barn was full from top to bottom with plastic and many of the locals openly laughed at me when I knocked on doors asking whether they had any plastic they wanted to get rid of, it wasn’t a money making enterprise as we made no money but there was no recycling at that time and I wanted to do our bit. I can laugh as well now but at the time it didn’t seem so funny. I was trying to live self sufficiently; my bible was John Seymour’s book on the subject and it’s well worn pages I still use to this day.

I got to meet him on a visit to Wales. I just turned up unannounced to his farm and told him how much he had influenced my life and I got to talk to him not just about self sufficiency but about his experiences and politics. For me a truly great man, I heard he moved to Ireland in the late 90’s and died back in Wales in 2004.

I had to pause there for a moment to collect myself as I realise just how big a moment that was for me and let a wave of sadness just pass on through.


Mair nominated for Irish Student Activist of The Year 2020. Photo by Lizzie Scanlon

Anyway what was I talking about? Ah yes luck. I am a very lucky man. Luck to me is when you make a really poor decision or mistake of judgement and either you manage to get away with it or it turns out to be a good decision as the consequences are in your favour, a roll of the dice or a turn of a card. But how much luck is involved when you make a decision based on logical principles, you look analytically at something, consider the consequences as fully as you can summoning all your perspicacity to gain as much insight as you can and then make a life changing resolution. Is that luck?

I think it is important to take ownership of all your mistakes, as a coach I often tell my students “you always learn more from your mistakes than your victories.” I also go on to say “if you learn more from failure than success I must be a bloody genius by now!” But it is just as important to take ownership of your success, your good and bad choices are the foundations of experience and that is how we learn.

To just accept that I am lucky to live here is denying that for me and my life, I made a truly excellent choice and that should give me confidence to believe in myself and my capacity to make more good choices. More importantly as a parent I want my children to know that the responsibility for their future lies with them and whatever they choose, whatever path they decide to take is not random, not out of their control, we are not dandelions, achene attached to pappi dispersed by the wind. They are privileged not entitled to be able to make their own choices and with that comes responsibility and ownership, which for me is freedom of action.


As a note I have moved away from self-sufficiency, that ideal still lurks in the shadows of my conscious but I have moved more toward sustainability as a guiding principle and a responsibility I hope they will share.


It appears to be an even more uncertain world out there these days and I have no idea what lies ahead for any of our children, so I say, however mad or crazy some may consider you to be, take control, be brave, have the courage of your convictions since life is what you make it and only you can live it, so make sure you are equipped to do so.


My Sod It YouTube Channel

My Instgram Page


To Bee or not to Bee

I have wanted to learn bee keeping for a long time, many years ago we attempted self sufficiency and being able to produce honey seemed like a great idea. I don’t know why I didn’t just jump in then, we had a variety of livestock including goats, sheep and different poultry but I never got around to bees.


Now we just have a pony, dogs and various pets and I am still procrastinating over bees. I have a few friends who keep bees and they have all said I should just give it a go if I want to but for some reason I am still hesitant. I have accumulated quite a few books on the art of bee keeping, it certainly doesn’t look easy, there are so many new terms it is almost like a foreign language and it appears that if you ask a bee keeper a question there is not one definitive answer.


I think what I need is a mentor and I think I have finally found one. My friend and neighbour Mairead is a professional beekeeper, she has been building her own veg garden and I have been giving her some advice and now she is helping set me up with bee keeping. Mairead and her husband Mike are setting up a local area beekeeping group and I am helping out with her website and social media and I made up a simple logo for them to get started.


Yesterday she gave me a “bee box” which I have to clean up and paint with masonry paint. I have a bottom board, two supers, one with frames and a Queen excluder and a top for the box. The box itself is made out of polystyrene and is very light.  A super which is short for superstructure is a box where the frames are put and the frames which have the beginnings of a comb structure made of beeswax is what the bees use to build their combs. The queen excluder is a sheet with holes in that prevents the queen from moving into an area of the hive.


I am going to have to buy some other equipment including some more frames and I will also have to get a few other bits and pieces including a bee suit. I don’t imagine I will actually be able to set the hive up for awhile but I do feel as though I might actually be on the right path to having my own beehive.

I intend to record my beekeeping experience here on my blog as I find out more and I hope you will find it interesting. It is very tempting to use a lot of puns but I’ll try and resist!

If you have any tips or experience let me know but please don’t try putting me off just yet.

A Drop in the Ocean


I sometimes think that all the time I spend in the garden is an indulgence, a selfish act and I think that mostly comes from how much I enjoy it. My family are at most times supportive but don’t have the same attachment, they have all been brought up surrounded by this incredibly beautiful landscape down in West Cork and it is familiar to them and their home. It is my home as well of course but I haven’t always had this kind of space, living in towns and cities, the countryside, this wilderness, even after 30 years still fills me with wonder and my garden is my connection, my celebration of that fact.


Putting food on the table is a glorious return for some of that time spent working away listening to the birds singing and the ever present sounds of the sea. I get a great sense of wellbeing when we can sit down to a plate filled with the freshest produce, knowing the care and attention that went into it. I love growing peas, hunting out the plump pods and popping them, sliding my finger down the seam and letting them fall into the bowl. It is sublimely simple and that is all part of the joy. Over the last few years I have also become interested in the ornamentals.


Generally being a practical and pragmatic person flowers lacked purpose, they were frivolous and not really worth the time. Gradually I have been seduced, firstly I grew them as a source of dye plants and then I became interested in their medical properties and more recently as a source of food to increase and support bio-diversity and now there are few plants that don’t grab my interest.


I definitely haven’t mastered colour co-ordination in the garden, I had hoped that the art and design course would give me some insight and help in this area but I am finding it hard to implement. I don’t like spending money and buying new plants, well actually I would like spending money on new plants if I had any money to spend! So I spend a lot of time propagating from existing plants, collecting seed and swapping plants with friends, I am not good at waiting to find the right plant for the right space so whatever I have goes there and that is not the best way to be designing with any colour scheme in mind. I am happy with the green but the rest is usually down to luck not judgement.


One thing that is really encouraging is the amount of wildlife in the garden. I generally like to plant mostly natives but some plants like buddleia bring in the butterflies like no other, this year it has been particularly good for them, Red Admirals, Small Tortoiseshell and Peacocks in abundance and even Painted Ladies which we don’t see as much.


The Speckled Woods are everywhere and there have been so many caterpillars of all shapes and sizes. I saw a Humming Bird Moth the other day, flew straight at me, I didn’t manage to take a photo but what an amazing creature.


I joined an entomology group and have been learning to identify a huge range of various bugs and the like. I especially like the Green Shield Bugs, we have a number of different varieties here.

It’s not only invertebrates I come across in the garden I happened upon what I thought was an unusual lizard only to discover it was actually a rare smooth newt and while clearing out the stream in anticipation of more rain I disturbed a very large frog.

With all the talk of Climate Change going around on Social Media and what appears to be an increasing interest in things like rewilding and planting wildflower meadows I am delighted to see many more people taking an interest in and looking to conserve our bio diversity.


So maybe all the time I am spending in the garden is not just selfish idling maybe I am doing something important by looking after my little patch of this planet as best I can, there again I’m only a drop in the Ocean and I don’t have enough wood for an ark.

Taking A Shot

I went to Rosslare yesterday, it is a port on the far south east of the country and as I live in the far south west it was a 10 hour round trip a 600km journey. I went to pick up my wife Kate and her friend Beaky who took part in the Paris –Brest – Paris (PBP) Audax Cycling event, one of the oldest official cycling events in the world run once every 4 years. It was an easy enough journey for me, I got up at 4am left by 5am and arrived at the harbour at just after 10am, sunshine all the way and most of the traffic seemed to be heading in the opposite direction. 300km was just around a quarter of the journey that Kate, Beaky and 6000 other cyclists attempted. They had 1200km to complete in 90hrs, who is first or last over the line is really unimportant, it is about completing in the allotted time, an endurance cycling race against time not against each other.


Kate loves her cycling in the same way I love my garden, it is a world of her own creation, a world she chose, her personal arena of the mind. Kate hasn’t always been a cyclist, after the kids were born, Kate was looking for a way to get back into shape, she soon discovered that it was not just good for the body but it was good for her state of mind. Cycling was a mental release from the responsibility of parenthood and the tediousness that it can bring having to chase after 4 young children. She could set off on her bike and return refreshed, ready to face all that life threw at her.


Hanging in the kitchen along with photos of the kids is a photo I took at the first event that Kate entered, the Fastnet Triathon, she entered as part of a relay team to do the cycling, a 20km ride. It is almost comical that she is on a sit up and beg bike in her shorts. I do remember that day very clearly, there were loads of lycra clad warriors on their carbon fibre speed machines and then there was Kate. I was so proud of her and we waited in Toormore at the halfway point to cheer her as she reached the halfway mark. She was not really sure she would be able to make the 20km but that was the point and by the end of the race she knew she could. She had faced her challenge and reached it, what a great feeling that is, the taking part, the testing of one’s limits and the achievement of one’s goals. She was hooked!


I have to admit we did struggle for a period after that, I think she became a bit obsessed, I do understand why, but I think the adjustment to Kate’s passion for cycling caused some problems but from my perspective we have readjusted and there have been unforeseen benefits. I think Kate is a great role model for our own kids, her passion, dedication and interest in her hobby is a great example to them and her keen interest in fitness has helped all of them. Even the importance of a healthy diet affects all our lives.


Kate went on to complete a couple of Malin to Mizen Challenges and last year Kate completed the Mile Failte 1200km event, she was very tight to the maximum time but she managed to beat the clock, Physically I was concerned as she had pushed herself to the limit and it took her a long time to recover but we were so proud of her, she had trained so hard and risen to the challenge a great example of putting your mind to something and achieving it, the sky’s the limit! Buoyed by the success she took the next step and started preparing for the Paris – Brest – Paris another 1200km event. She dedicated herself to entering all the qualifying events around the country, researching every aspect of the event, travel, accommodation, equipment all the logistics, which were extensive. This was a really big step and very a long way from her first Schull Triathlon.


While Kate had taken part in the Mile Failte I had written a report on my blog and put a few posts up on social media on our local Goleen Village FB Page, there had been quite a lot of interest, many people knew that Kate cycled, she if often spotted cycling on the roads around West Cork but not so many people knew of the extent of the Mile Failte Challenge or that Kate was taking part. However there was even more interest in the P-B-P and Kate asked me to post updates as she really didn’t think she would have the time to make any updates herself. She would text me when she could and send a couple of photos and I would post them for her, which I was very happy to do.


It would be easy for me to now go into all the detail of the event, average speed, lack of sleep, trying to follow the tracker, snatched conversations about all the myriad of aspects that the event itself threw up but that’s not really the purpose of this blog, I’ll leave for others to write about. What I really wanted to say was she didn’t complete the 1200km in 90hrs, at the 1000km stage she decided to stop. She didn’t achieve her goal, the event she had worked for a year towards ended without the glorious acclaim, the satisfaction of completion. This is not how the fairytale ends this is when the lessons get taught and the opportunity for significant progress is offered.


As a performance coach I know the mental fitness aspects of any sport is the real difference between success and failure, one of my favourite and possibly one of the most well know quotes on the key to success is that of Michael Jordan one of the most successful sportsmen of the modern era “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life.” Another of his quotes is that “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

I don’t know where the story will go from here but I do know the journey didn’t stop 200km from Paris, in fact I’d say this particular chapter has only just begun and Kate will certainly be taking more shots and that is something I can only admire.



Time for …….

The tell tale drip as the rain dances on the tin roof of the shed outside my window is my dawn chorus this morning. I am relieved I spent the day clearing the ditches along the side of my drive yesterday.


It is the August Bank Holiday this weekend, the busiest few days of the year, all the kids are booked solid with work over the next few days, takeaways, the café and babysitting all providing summer jobs for my four off spring. On a sunny day the beaches would be packed and there are loads of visitors about, I try not to venture out too much as the traffic gets a little manic, not so much the amount of cars but the roads of West Cork are narrow and the hedgerows are full of wild flowers sprinkle urban drivers in shiny new four wheel drive vehicles trying to avoid scratching their paintwork, a dash of foreign drivers in hire cars not sure which side of the road they should be on, tractors, cyclists, dog walkers and campervans and you can see the possibilities for chaos.


This summer has been just about perfect for me, I have been spending as much time as possible in my sanctuary, surrounded by nature, watching the trees and grass grow and the weather has been really good. We haven’t experienced the extremes of weather that I keep seeing on my social media, spring sprung and except for an early wind that did do a certain amount of damage I have had enough good weather, rain when the garden needed it and warm dry days to just potter. I’ve tackled a lot of jobs that have needed doing, there are always more tasks than time but I can see significant progress.


The veg garden was a little late in getting going but is now producing well and I have loads of new flower beds and the majority of plants have been thriving. I have been using my Instagram to keep a record of the garden (@soditblog) and I love looking back at the photos, a reminder of all that has bloomed.

I have tried a few new things this summer, I have done a lot of “slugging,” every evening I go out with my head torch and bucket collecting slugs and disposing of them with some hot water from the kettle. We have had so many and the snails have been overwhelming. After some research I discovered that the common garden snail is edible after a little preparation. So I set up a little snail farm, clearing them out and feeding them carrot. They were easy enough to prepare and I got a Gordon Ramsey recipe off Youtube. I can’t say they were delicious, but there was definitely a sense of satisfaction having them for diner. I would probably just stick to garlic butter next time.

I tried making sorbet and yoghurt ice cream with the large crop of blackcurrants this year which was slow going; however the girls spotted a virtually new ice cream maker in the charity shop where they volunteer and so we have been experimenting. I can highly recommend meadowsweet ice cream and my recent rum, raisin and cranberry went in a flash. There is still some lavender in the freezer, I think I might have used a bit too much lavender as it is so strong! I have a load of suggestions from the kids over our next flavour and I’m looking forward to both blueberry yoghurt and we have a couple of Crunchie bars to add to a honey flavour. Jasmine also found a waffle maker my cholesterol level must be through the roof and I am promising myself the diet will start soon.

DSC_9956 (2)

James my son invited some of his friends over for a music party in the garden and we had a stage set up, a large camp fire and a few tents, it was like a mini festival and it felt like one of those occasions that you look back on as what the summer holidays were all about. His friends are a great bunch and there was a lot of musical talent about, I’m hoping they will organise another one before the end of the summer.

Photo by Mair

I know I spend a lot of time planting, weeding and maintaining the garden and I love spending time on my own, listening to the radio, music or just the bird song but I also love those occasions when others can come and I share my space.

Photo by Mair

The world outside seems like a crazy place at the moment, changes coming thick and fast, all those innovations over time saving don’t seem to be providing people with more time, I’m not sure I really want to go any faster, in fact I’m trying really hard to go a bit slower. I do want more time, time to smell the flowers, I go out each evening just to take a whiff of the large patch of night scented stock I planted this year, time to watch my new friend the thrush winkle lunch out of its shell and time to watch the sun slip down beneath the horizon. This summer I have had that time and Oh! How glorious it has been.


Time for Summer

It is time for another blog, I know it must be raining! I’m pretty happy about it the ground is so dry at the moment the weather has been fabulous for the last few weeks. Not as hot in Ireland as last year, which is a bit of a relief, even so there are times I have had to take to the hammock in the orchard as the heat has sapped my energy, the gentle swinging in the breeze, the rustling of the leaves and the sounds of Wimbledon on my radio has been a siren’s call that I have succumbed all to easily to.


The orchard is around the back of the house, it used to have quite a few apple trees but over the years I have lost most of them to storms and the like and it is the elms that now dominate and produce a canopy that provides the dappled shade. I am delighted that we have a little sanctuary for these trees as they are a rare enough site these days. They produce loads of suckers and have spread throughout this part of the garden. I have let the grass grow longer here and from my vantage point I am surrounded by buttercups, daisies, dandelion heads and so many different types of grasses some with light feathery heads and others providing a lush green carpet.


I have a bed with Brooklime with its tiny blue forget-me-not flowers and some brash yellow, orange and red Nasturtiums winding their way upwards through a Fuscia backdrop. There is also some Monkshood gradually establishing itself even though it would probably prefer some more sunshine. With the birds singing and the hoverflies just darting out of reach this place has a tranquillity that for me is equally hypnotic and nostalgic.


I’m not really a bird watcher but more of an observer as they along with the butterflies and bees are my main company in the garden. This year I have been joined by a thrush, I think it is the same one as usually I either see just a flurry as it flies off when walking around the garden or occasionally I can see it making a meal of a snail on a flat rock from my bedroom window.


This individual however, if it is the same one, has been much bolder this year and joins me while I am weeding, taking advantage of my disturbance of the soil much like the Robins do. It has come so close if I was quick enough or had the inclination I could reach out and grab it. The detail of its speckled feathers is beautiful and the other day it treated me to a glorious song as it stood atop a fence post. I had a wren land on my knee while I was taking a break, I think he was as surprised as I was, took a quick look about and decided he had better things to do! I have a particular fondness for the swallows, we have a few regular visitors who nest in some of the old building around the property.


This year one lot decided to nest in the old rabbitry, when the fledglings were making their first attempts at flying a couple got confused by the windows and I gave them a hand as I was afraid that they would fly into the glass and hurt themselves. Having one of these delicate birds happily perched on my hand gave me a thrill to see them up so close. They zoom through the garden like little jet fighters and I love watching their acrobatic skills. They occasionally have a run in with the family of choughs who like to gather on the roof of the old house in the evening, I don’t know if the swallows think they are crows and consequently a threat but it is a spectacular site seeing the way they all twist and bank in their contrasting styles.


We have a mob of starlings who fly in on occasion, the phormium in the main garden has a couple of tall flower spikes this year and they seem to love something about them, I presume they are eating the seed, the plant produces this orange dust, that I think is pollen and after feeding the starlings have bright yellow faces. When I first saw one I thought it was some kind of exotic bird I had not seen before. Thankfully I haven’t heard the cackle of a magpie for awhile, when they come around the garden goes very quiet as the smaller birds keep well out the way, the goldfinches, blue tits and warblers have good sense to hide from this invader. So that’s a rundown of my aviary without borders and now the rain has stopped it is time I join them. Would you believe it just as I wrote that a wren landed on the window sill beside me, took a quick look as if to say where are you? And flew back into the garden, I think I’ll join her. Till next time.