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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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My Garden Update

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It is raining outside, so I am taking to the computer to write my blog so at least I’ll feel a little bit productive. Thankfully the weather has been good for gardening so I haven’t felt like sitting indoors writing. I have been reading a few blogs from around the world and I think I have been very lucky as although it hasn’t been brilliant I have been able to get outside most days. The temperature has been cool so new growth has been slow but there has been enough sunshine for the established plants to bloom. My roses have been particularly good this year, this I have put down to the horticultural course I did last year, I have cared for them so much better, I felt more confident in my pruning and I certainly fed them better this year with the help of our Shetland pony Bracken.

It was a shame that we had a bad storm early in the year just as the fruit trees were showing some of the best blossom in years, that was destroyed in the cold wind and many of the trees had one brown side and one green side. Most of them have recovered well but I don’t think we will see much fruit this year. The wind is coming in from the North East today and the currants are taking a battering, they are very heavy with green berries at the moment and I was hoping for a bumper crop let’s hope they survive unscathed.

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Another result from the horticultural course was my attempt at training a quince, a medlar and an old established rose along the south side wall of the barn. I cleared a lot of briars and other weeds and set up three wires to train the trees. The storm that affected the other trees didn’t do much damage to these as the winds came in from the North and this southern aspect protected them. The medlar has really taken off and I am surprised by the amount of growth and the number of fruit. I haven’t had that much experience growing medlar and it looks like I will be researching some new recipes. If you have any ideas let me know.

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The quince we used to make quince vodka last year which proved popular at Christmas and I hope to make some quince jelly. We had a quince tree in our garden when I was a child and my Grandmother used to make quince jelly, you don’t see it that often these days but it provides me with many fond memories. I have added another quince to the training as my father-in-law gave me a couple of suckers from his Japanese quince that his mother gave him many years ago so it is a bit of a heritage plant and provides beautiful pink flowers as well as fruit in his garden, it will take a few years to establish and I hope it looks as good up against my wall as it does at his home down in the harbour.

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Staying with the successes I am really pleased with converting the area where I used to burn off garden debris into a flower bed. I think the ash pit has enhanced the soil and after a slow start last year it has really taken off. It wasn’t a planned planting it was more like whatever I had that didn’t fit elsewhere went in so it is a real mishmash of plants which by luck rather than judgement looks great.

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The ox eyed daisies have taken over a bit but I have been cutting them back and the size of their flowers is impressive. I have some verbascum that my brother-in-law gave me, dark purple aquilegia {columbine), a blue flowering hebe, a tall tree mallow in the centre and some echinops (globe thistle) that my nephew told me was one of his favourites. I also have a small dianthus, snapdragons, valerian, yellow and purple loosestrife, as I said it is a mishmash but I love it! I have been inspired to make a couple more smaller beds one dominated by oriental poppies and the other an experiment in combining herbs, veg and shrubs together.

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I do have a large and sprawling garden with many different “rooms” which isn’t easy to keep on top of, if I concentrate on one area for too long then another area can get out of hand so I try and rotate my various jobs. I have spent a few days working on the pond and the orchard. The pond area is looking better as I try and get it to blend in a bit, I like a natural look, even a bit overgrown and this will obviously take a bit of time.

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I planted some native iris (pseudacorus) which is known as yellow flag locally around the edge and a yellow water lily (Nuphar lutea) called brandy-bottle, it is only showing a couple of leaves but it is exciting waiting for the first bloom. I recently planted a water hawthorn (Aponogeton distachyos) which the pond snails seem to appreciate, so I don’t know whether it will survive. Pond gardening is completely new to me but it is fun to try and as it is right by the kitchen window it has provided an excellent view, we have even had a few visitors investigating it.

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I have also added some rock cages to the pond area, I came across a dividing wall when in Denmark using a wire frame filled with rocks and liked the idea. I had a few wire panels from the rabbit breeding cages that were stored in a shed and I have used them to create these rock shapes, they provide a bit of a wind break and I also like the look of them.

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So that is a bit of a round-up of some of the work going on in the garden and as soon as this wind and rain stops I’ll be back out there.

Schools Out

So much has happened since my last post. I can’t help admire those who are able to blog regularly but I just don’t get the urge that often and what with college work needing to be done, if I had the time to sit and work on my laptop it was used for catching up on various essays, reports and articles for one of our many assignments. However that has all but come to an end! I handed over my whole portfolio yesterday for final assessment. It was a mixture of relief and nervous anticipation as well as a sense of thankfully just getting over the finishing line.

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We have an exhibition of all our work next week and I am looking forward to seeing all that on display. I have been inspired, awed and a little jealous of some of the work my fellow students have created and I hope the show proves to be as interesting as I imagine.

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It will take some time to process the experience of the last 9 months and I feel a bit creatively exhausted. Some of the work was easy, in a sense that exploring the ideas and having a creative flow just came, but on the opposite side, sometimes it was just such a struggle trying to produce pieces in so many different mediums and techniques. The course was varied and that was a plus but there again having to work concurrently on sculpture, abstract painting, life drawing, weaving, photography and printing all at the same time was a bit of a head wreck.

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These last couple of months have been difficult, possibly due to the stress of college, partly due to the time of year and just because I get these periodic episodes, I have been trying to deal with my depression. I try to rationalise the reasons for it but there again it happens and I have to get on with it. It certainly doesn’t make life any easier and this year trying to remain “creative” and “productive” was very much a struggle. I thought about trying to write about it as a therapy but there again who wants to read about negativity, I certainly don’t.

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What I have noticed is that my garden is my best therapist. We have had some reasonable weather recently and I have been able to get out there more. At first it was just a bit of tidying up, nothing too major, but now I am in full swing and just can’t wait to get out amongst the plants and see the new growth and the fruits of last year’s efforts.

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This time last year I had just finished a year of Horticulture and now I have had a year of Art & Design, I am now facing into a year where I hope to combine these skills and that is both exciting and daunting. I think my canvass will be mainly my own garden as well as my inspiration for other work. I have a number of ideas for my embroideries and I will certainly pursue some printing projects but probably during the winter months.

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How the Art & Design will manifest itself in the garden I really don’t know at this stage I have a number of ideas that are bubbling away and there is potential to put these new creative techniques and methodology into practice, so who knows what is in store, hopefully a summer like last year, hours spent listening to the birds, spotting the butterflies and watching the plants do their magic.

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