The Last Hurrah

Garnish Island is located in the sheltered harbour of Glengarriff in Bantry Bay, in Southwest Ireland. Garnish has amazing gardens which are laid out in beautiful walks and it has some stunning specimen plants which are rare in this climate.

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Leaving Glengarriff by ferry

This was a final trip our Tutor Michael had organised with the college. We have finished all the exams and it was great to be able to meet up together for one last time and enjoy this unique horticultural experience right on our doorstep.

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Michael asking for directions from one of the locals

There is never a “best” time to visit Garnish as there is always something to see. At this time of year their collection of Rhododendron and Azaleas are stunning.

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Originally there were plans to have a big country house on the Island but it appears they ran out of money. there is an Italian Tea House which is like a summer pavilion which divides the tennis court and formal pool.

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I have been to Garnish a few times to have a look round but it was a new experience touring the garden with my fellow students and Michael with his knowledge of plants and a trusty book.

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There are so many different rare and unusual plants and some were hard enough to identify.

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Any ideas what this is? I’m thinking CLIANTHUS puniceus

There are some great views from the Island here is one looking towards the Kerry mountains.

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There are plenty of paths and routes to explore and something different around every corner.

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A cruise liner full of French visitors

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Tree Ferns which have suffered a little with an unusually cold winter

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More treats inside the Walled Garden

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A chat with the Head Gardener. Everyone knows Michael! It has been a slow spring and growth is as much as 4 weeks behind. there was quite a lot of damage cause by Storm Ophelia and the Island lost some of its protection from the Easterly winds, this will be difficult to replace quickly and has a knock on effect to the garden.

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We were all very impressed with the motorised wheel barrow, on my Christmas list!

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So that pretty much brought to an end both our trip to Garnish Island and my Horticultural College experience. I am sad to see it pass as I have very much enjoyed both the learning and the social side of things but I am also pleased to have completed the course, a few of our group never made it this far.

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I am already applying so much of what I have learnt to both my own garden and to our Community Garden and the tunnels and I am hoping for a good summer being led down the garden path.

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A Glimpse of Glebe (A Prelude)

One of the many highlights of college is our field trips and when Michael first mentioned that he was planning to go to Glebe Gardens I was very pleased. I have been to Glebe many times when we have visitors as it is not too far from where I live and it is what I would call a “classic” garden. By that I mean it has colourful borders, both formal and informal planting, loads of colour and a great café. We have also had a couple of visits to the natural amphitheatre where we have been entertained by the likes of the Hothouse Flowers (very appropriate!) and the excellent singer songwriter Jimmy McCarthy.

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The garden itself is on 5 acres right beside a coastal inlet overlooking Church Strand just outside Baltimore and was created over the last 20 years by Jean and Peter Perry. We were shown around by Jean herself who as you would expect has a great depth of knowledge and an easy going manner.

First up we were shown around two of the polytunnels which was a “behind the scenes” experience for me and the first time I have had a chance to look at the beating heart of the garden. There was a great mix of cut flowers and vegetables as Glebe is both a popular wedding venue and café and recently they have a new restaurant project opening in Skibbereen.

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As a horticulturalist my attention is often drawn towards the small things and the first thing that caught my eye was the windows in the polytunnel. I am having a few problems with keeping the temperature down in my tunnels at the moment and we are only in April! I have all my doors open during the day and I can control the temperature in two of the tunnels but the third is on a different angle and the ventilation  is just not as good, so I am thinking of adding a couple of windows to try and improve the situation. Jean’s tunnels are wider than mine and have a good sized window.

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I also like the plant rack set up outside the tunnel entrance, I have a few boards I put plants on to harden off during the day but her rack looks like jus the business. I have a few hanging baskets in my tunnel that I am preparing for the village and another that I am growing strawberries in to keep away from the slugs. Jean pointed out a wooden tray full of broad beans that she had hooked up as she has had a few mice pinching her beans, I am lucky that I have had that problem in my tunnels but I have had quite a small bulbs disappear up at the house.

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Jean grows over 20 different types of tomatoes including a Russian one called Black Prince that she highly recommends it thrives where summers are too cool for some varieties which is probably why it does so well in our temperate climate. I plan to grow some in hanging baskets and will probably go for Tumbling Tom this year.

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The second tunnel we saw is mainly for vegetables for the café and restaurant and had an impressive crop of broad beans on the go, far more advanced that mine and there were a few pods ripening on the plants. Again it was the small things that grabbed my attention. There was a drip irrigation system that after enquiring is put on for 6hrs every couple of days and that is under a black Mypex weed control sheet. This is the first time they have used Mypex in the tunnel and this was due to the fact that last year a chef asked for chickweed and they agreed to grow it, unfortunately it got out of hand so the Mypex is helping control this annoying weed.

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Early potatoes, pea tops for salad and spinach are all doing well and again a flower for cutting, this time sweet pea, is just coming into bloom. The tunnel is really maximised with the chard and lettuce grown alongside the broad beans and crops like chervil and American land cress have just about the right amount of space, the sign of an experienced gardener.

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Outside in the main garden have a sturdy hedge (griselinia) keeping the wind at bay and raised beds for the crops to move into. Jean runs a no dig system in her garden for many years based upon the system her friend Charles Dowding’s advocates. She is a great believer in the advantages and feels the soil has improved greatly over the years. Most of the beds were covered with a pond weed at this time of year which was taken out of the “canal” that runs through the garden. The canal is actually the old railway cutting that brought visitors to Baltimore up until 1961.

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I always find one of the most interesting sight to see at a garden is the compost heap which at most places is generally hidden away. You can tell a lot about a place from the compost heap and Jean has hers right beside the main veg production area. Jean has 6 bays that progress down the hill from right to left and uses grass clipping, seaweed, old turf, straw and copious amounts of vegetable matter from the kitchen, the third bin from the right has just one month’s worth of organic matter. Jean tells us that compost is a very important part of her garden.

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One of our fellow students Shawn is doing his work experience at Glebe Gardens and in the second hedged garden area he help replant one of the olive trees that make up the olive arch. The tree doesn’t actually produce edible olives as we just don’t get a long enough spell of sunshine to ripen the olives but they are beautiful trees and storm Ophelia did a major amount of damage in gardens all over West Cork.

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Jean is overseeing a lot of new work in this area of the garden re-establishing the herb garden and laying new gravel area and walkways to better accommodate their many visitors. I especially like their purple elder tree which produces pink elder flowers that they can produce pink elderberry champagne, I love our own elderberry flowers that are white but pink does sound lovely. For you plant people Jean told us that the main stays of her flower borders are Salvia horminum in pink, blue and white, cosmos in white and various pastel shades, cornflowers, Ammi majus and Orlaya grandiflora.

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Jean also explained that Tulips are the main stay of the garden at this time of year and they plant hundreds both in the garden and it pots especially for the weddings that take place this time of year. Unfortunately with the weather being so cold, wet and windy this year the display was not at its best, however she had to point that out to me as I thought the displays were absolutely stunning with such a range of colour on view.

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Michael our tutor took a particular shine to a small daffodil NarcissusSegovia,‘ I think we share a love of daffodils especially the small understated ones.

Well all good things come to an end and it was time to go. A very interesting afternoon with loads learnt and I will look forward to coming back in the summer with a new point of view on the garden and maybe enjoying a glass of Pink Elderberry Champagne.

In the Market for GIY

I had a fascinating day yesterday at the GIY HQ in Waterford.  It was a long drive and an early start but I was invited as we made an application for help to start a Cottage Market here in Goleen. We have already started a GIY (Grow It Yourself) Community Garden and the Market seems like a great idea to enhance our small community and provide a new outlet and a new opportunity for our community to get together.

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The HQ is a good looking building with a turf roof and you can see there has been a lot of clearing and preparation for growing. The food grown there supplies the Café and the food looks great. We had some lovely soup and a Waterford Blaa for lunch. A Blaa is a white bread roll and it is either called a Blaa because of the French word for white Blanc or the French word blé which is some kind of flour. Anyway it was brought to Waterford by the Huguenots, very tasty.

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The day was pretty full on and as I left here at just after 5am and didn’t get home till midnight, tiring. However it was filled with really useful information about organising and setting up small markets and there were a few representatives from other markets that had been set up last year. I enjoyed getting to meet people from all over the country and they were a pretty social bunch.

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The presentation co-ordinator was Karen O’Donoghue who set up her own Cottage Market a few years ago and is an enthusiastic advocate, with loads of energy and positive thinking. She is also co-presenter of a new RTE TV programme called Grow, Cook, Eat, I have managed to watch an episode which features a vegetable each week and takes it from seed to table with loads of interesting information along the way.

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Many of my concerns about running a market were addressed and I do feel more empowered to get on with setting up a market in our village alongside our community garden, which I think could enhance our “Growing the Community” project and become a real and much needed social focus for our community.

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With my interest in gardening and growing food getting to have a look round the place was great and the Head Gardener Richard Mee gave us a guided tour around the new fruit and veg garden and explained how they were trying to convert this 4 acre, urban site into a growing space.

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It will take me a few days to process all the information gained, plenty of food for thought!

Easter at the Community Garden

We had our first public event at Community Garden over Easter and I have put together a little slide show to go along with the audio blog. This is my first attempt at one of these so I hope you like it. Please tell me what you think.

To go to the Youtube Channel just click HEREPOTMAN

Dubbin in Dublin

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I had a bit of a change of scene this weekend as we headed off to Dublin. My wife bought me tickets to see Lee Scratch Perry for my birthday, for those of you who don’t know who he is; he is an 82 year old Reggae Artist and ranked in the top 100 artists of all time by Rolling Stone. I have been a fan of reggae for many years and especially dub reggae of which he is possibly the greatest exponent. It was a great night and I was especially delighted to be able to see the gig with my son Jimini.

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I am not a great fan of cities in general but I like Dublin, it has a good atmosphere and I have had many very enjoyable experiences and I especially like the “dubs.” The accent, the humour and in general their friendly banter, I have rarely felt uncomfortable and I have made many friends over the years.

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We stayed in a hostel (Jacob’s) which is very near the bus station, right next door to the Garda station and a short walk into the city. With 6 of us it can be expensive staying overnight but we can take a whole dorm room at the hostel, basic and clean and a “free” breakfast and the coffee is not half bad either. Personally I like the atmosphere at hostels, I don’t like fuss and frills and being surrounded by foreign backpackers can be fun and I met a nice couple from Koln on their first Irish experience.

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I am an early riser and while the family slept I had a walk around the city as it woke from its slumber. The trams, trains, taxis, buses and general hubbub of a breaking dawn I find exciting, such a contrast to the slow easy slide into a day in West Cork. I did have a bit of a shock here the other morning when I found a few tourists from the other side of the mountain in the big field and had to gently herd them away from my flowerbeds.

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Headphones appear compulsory for the morning commute to work, florescent cyclists and bobble hatted heads dipped towards mobile phones, it is a very different scene is the dawn of Dublin. I made my way to the river as I could make out the glow of the sunrise, it is easy to forget that Dublin is a seaside town.

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The seagulls stray a long way from the sea these days and they were raiding the bins and soaring the skies over the Liffey, Dublin oldest thoroughfare. There is such a contrast on view between the old and the new, the silhouette of Samuel Beckett Bridge with its harp strings blended with the rigging of an old sailing ship and the sky cranes building the modern high rise offices in the once derelict docklands.

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The Famine statues near Custom House Quay are a grim reminder of Irish poverty, I wonder if the artist Rowan Gillespie knew that the looming edifice of the headquarter of Ulster Bank would be the back drop for these gaunt figures. I will be curious to see how the €75 million redevelopment of the old Central Bank headquarters further down towards Dame Street turns out, a drop in the ocean compared to the €46,700,000,000 current bank bailout but it is good to see it hasn’t caused them too much hardship.

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In Dublin’s fair city the birds watch the Liffey and the Luas trundles past. Luas is Irish for “speed,” and is the tram that now links both sides of the city north and south. There is a traditional divide between north and south all over Ireland and in Dublin that divide has been bridged by the Luas. It has taken four and a half years and cost €368million which seems like a lot but from an outsider’s point of view I think it looks great.

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It is having teething problems and there have been a number of issues, especially with the buses. It has proved very popular, in fact that might be its main difficulty as it gets very cramped during rush hour and they are planning on introducing longer trams. Dublin is changing and with changes come issues, the pedestrianisation of a larger part of central Dublin is upsetting a lot of people and the taxi drivers have been protesting. As a tourist, an environmentalist and a pedestrian I’d love it!

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So my trip to Dublin was really interesting and I would really recommend the place, so much history, places to see and things to do but I’m glad to be home and I for one am looking forward to working in my garden tomorrow with only the sounds of the birds and the sea, till next time….

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Embracing New Experiences

It has been a busy and diverse week leading up to the St. Patrick’s weekend. I took a couple of days off college to attend a development workshop held by Failte Ireland, who are basically the Irish Tourist board. Within my role as the secretary of the local Community Council over the years I have been involved in more than my fair share of tourist development initiatives and I was a little sceptical over going to yet another. As a remote community tourism is a crucial part of life on the Mizen as the industry provides much needed employment and most of my extended family are involved in one way or another providing services to our visitors and such is the way of life here most of us have to turn our hand to more than one job and I often act as a guide to visitors.

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So with all this in mind I travelled to Bantry for the workshop and immersed myself into the world of target marketing and tourist type identification. This was lead by Carole Favre who was described as an international tourism experience development expert, she appears to be just that and a passionate, energetic French lady who took us along the path towards creating a more dynamic tourist experience for our many visitors. I found the first day a little dry as I have heard so much about tourism trends and marketing strategies to write a book, a large book or maybe an animated power-point presentation, with glossy covers, snappy quotes and loads of mnemonics, flow and flip charts flapping and now we are being introduced to profile avatars for virtual tourists!

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However this was a workshop that brought together interested people from all 3 of the peninsulas and apart from what I would think of as the gimmicks which did provide a more interesting experience, the day was very enjoyable, well organised, very informative (for those who have not been to events of this nature) and a great opportunity to network with people living under similar circumstances further afield.

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On my way home from Bantry, Mizen on the left Sheep’s Head on the right, neighbours!

The second day was more practical based knowledge, once the theory was in place we could move on to applying it to our own needs. I could not help smile that some of the day was spent teaching the Irish to tell stories! I am a bit wary of “trends” as they often change and then you are lead into the world of following trends rather than following your tried, trusted and traditional methods and one of the charms of living where we do is that things do change but not so fast as to lose the character, soul and unique identity, change is eventually absorbed and given a distinctive West Cork twist. Many of those who come to West Cork discover our slow road leads to a greater appreciation of life and time can actually slow down without the need for all that busy time saving technology. I think trying to package our way of life is akin to herding eels.

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Somehow I had got the wrong memo as I had thought the workshop was going to be about developing local crafts and I had brought along some examples of my work. I did show Carole some samples just after lunch and she was surprised, as many are, that I am a stitcher and I think it would be fair to say she was bowled over by one of my pieces, my memory skirt. This is a dress that started out as a practice piece all those years ago when I first started learning to embroider from my mum and evolved over the years into a signature work. It illustrates many of the major events of my life including my first job, the birth of my children and many of the places I have visited on my life journey. It is hard to describe but Carole managed to slip into it, which is quite an achievement as it has a very narrow waist and wore it for the rest of the day.

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Consultant Carole Favre

If the two days were intended to inspire those who attended to develop new tourist experiences then for me it did exactly that and gave me the boost I needed to bring together many of the ideas I have been churning over into a practical strategy and I will look with interest at what this inspires in the others who attended.

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The next day I was back at college, it wasn’t a work day but an open day for the college and I had agreed to help my Tutor Michael introduce prospective students into the world of horticulture at the college. I was quite happy to do this as one I enjoy meeting people and two it is easy for me to be positive about my experience at the college and I would encourage anyone to follow their interest and learn more about their chosen subject. The horticulture course has taught me a lot not just about horticulture but about myself and thankfully most of what I have learned has empowered me.

In the world of weird coincidences that West Cork thrives on, I met Brendan who was looking into trying out horticulture and after we got talking I discovered that he was a member of the Durrus Men’s Shed, 4 of their members had been on the Tourist Workshop over the previous 2 days and he was here looking into doing horticulture as they were thinking of investing in a polytunnel so they could grow flowers for their Tidy Towns Group. Just as a reminder that’s what I am doing, using the community polytunnels to grow plants for our Tidy Towns Group, a small world!

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A Nectarine tree blossoming in the tunnel

I gave another presentation to a group of about a dozen Youth Reach students. To me Youth Reach is a service provided for those who don’t fit comfortably into the state education system, square pegs in round holes. As a bit of a square peg myself I was pleased to have the opportunity to try and encourage other square pegs to engage and maybe take on a new learning experience. I was delighted when after my 5 -10minute talk one of the teaches complimented me on my presentation and told me I had a natural vocation as a teacher and he couldn’t believe I was just a student. It is small compliments like that which gives me such a boost and maybe all those years of coaching table tennis have taught me more than how to hit a small plastic ball.

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With the college having an open day I took the chance to have a chat with some of the Art students and looked at their work. I always fancied going to Art College but life got in the way and as a youngster I think I was put off art by my teacher and I was more focused on making money and having a career. These days creativity is such an important part of my life and seeing all the different techniques you can learn has got me thinking, maybe after finishing horticulture I may go back to college to do art as well. I am really enjoying the learning experience and being surrounded by those who are open to learning new skills, maybe this old dog could even learn a few more new tricks.

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Keep it green and I hope you have happy St. Patrick’s Day, slán.

Taking The Road Home: Slán abhaile

The last couple of days the evening light has been lovely so on my way home I have stopped to take a couple of photos. I live in a very photogenic place. So if you are celebrating St. Patrick’s Day this weekend remember Ireland has a little bit more to offer than just green beer and red wigs.

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Slán abhaile