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.

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