Peaceful Gardens – ‘Weed em and Reap’
I spent most of my early childhood in the late 50’s in Greystones, County Wicklow on an imaginary horse riding the range in search of Indian trails across Greystones Golf Club and the environs around Hillside Road. It was an era when children had the freedom to roam and the natural world flourished all around us.
Smell can be such a subjective experience but for me the nutty coconut aroma of yellow furze, the seemingly omnipresent perfume of privet along with hay harvest, farmyard manure and elderflower bring back well-embedded memories.
Memories of my mother trekking us across the golf links to pick crab apples with us all given a job to prepare the resultant clove-scented crab apple jelly – the storing of jam jars, the purchase of jam jar covers (hard to find today), the sterilising, cooking, cooling, name tagging and storage. The recycling of lemonade bottles, the knife-sharpening van, milk delivered by horse-drawn cart, travellers calling to fix pots & pans. It was basic environmentalism out of sheer neccessity.
That I now tend an organic cottage garden at my home in Killester is no accident nor is it based on some eco-fiendish plot to convert you – for me it’s always been that way – planting, harvesting, composting and recycling back into the ground – a natural common- sense cycle of life.
Wildlife cover - Steve Rawson's Cottage Garden - Killester, Dublin
I’m also a foodie so my perquisite for any garden starts outside the kitchen door with a Belfast sink and a half barrel wooden tub containing parsley, thyme, sage, bay leaf, fennel and wild garlic. A sunny spot outside the front door is a perfect growing environment for our prolific rosemary bush. There’s no excuse for not being able to grow these herbs in pots on a small apartment terrace and the ease with which you can grab a few herbs to finish off a hearty beef bourgignone, a summer salad or a wild garlic risotto all adds to the pleasure of fresh food and is bound to impress your guests.
When it comes to plants I like to go for scent and I’ve strategically placed jasmine, honeysuckle (woodbine) outside the backdoor. These two plants are easy to grow and they give off a pungently heady scent making summer evenings a real treat with the backdoor and bedroom/bathroom windows open.
Wildlife will always be attracted to cover so I have planted privet and fuchsia for hedging and fern and mombretia for top of bed cover while lavender borders give off a much needed therapeutic scent. Again, lavender and gravel is a perfect remedy for the low maintenance gardener while fuchsia and fern can all be grown in pots for apartment terraces.
The above mentioned are the basics before I head to the garden centre for trays of annuals –, alyssum, stock, petunia (get the scented trailing variety usually available from late May/early June)) nicotiana, while aubretia and trailing lobelia (red for effect if you can find it) are not scented but provide wonderful colour. The one plant I always grow from seed in pots is night-scented stock for summer evening scent.
Of course, the far side of the scent spectrum is the pungent aroma of compost breaking down rotting veg, grass and tree clippings as the worms eat their way through the compressed but warm rotting vegetation. All green waste is recycled cutting down on waste charges.
I built a small pond approximately 6 ft in length by 4 ft with a shelved depth to 3 feet bordered with liscannor paving with a water fountain. You’ll hardly have your back turned from filling it with water (from the water butt attached to the outside downpipe) before the frogs arrive and take up residence.
The Frog Pond
For birdlife, apart from the aforementioned cover, I have put up a birdtable and feeders for wildbird seed, peanuts, fatballs and sliced apple. Again, feeders can be easily placed on apartment terraces. Apart from your common or gardener visitor I have goldcrests, green finches, long-tailed tits and black caps.
Of course, it’s not all sweetness and light here as I’ve also had visits from predators – herons who like a nice feed on fish and frogspawn while a hovering sparrowhawk has also spied the rich pickings on offer.
All of the above plants mentioned attract butterflies and bees but you just can’t beat the hum and sight of a bumble-bee’s arse hanging out of a foxglove or antirrhinum flower in mid-summer with a background of birdsong and trickling waterfall as you sip your glass of cool sauvignon waiting for the bar-b-cue coals to heat up.
If life deals you lemons, make lemonade. If it deals you tomatoes, make Bloody Marys.