Farm Ireland

Saturday 22 October 2016

If only this blooming weather would pick up

Ann Fitzgerald

Published 10/06/2015 | 02:30

Stephanie Stanley from Bandon pictured with her overall champion Belgian Blue
Stephanie Stanley from Bandon pictured with her overall champion Belgian Blue "Brown View Holly" at last weekend's Clonakilty Show. Photo: Denis Boyle

A wet and windy May fills the barns with corn and hay. So goes the old Irish adage.

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Well, the month just gone was certainly windy and wet (the wettest in over 120 years at Malin Head) but what the adage doesn't tell us is what happens when it is also cold and dull.

Everything is running a couple of weeks late and this is ground that can't really be made up. The winter crops in particular are crying out from some sunshine as, day by day, their potential is decreasing. As for making silage, moisture is the enemy at every stage in the process.

Spirits are subdued.

However, while our cultivated crops may be suffering, it seems to be a different story for the wild plants. They, too, are late to flower but their displays look particularly bountiful.

A seasonal change which doesn't attract as much attention as the changing vegetation colour is the transition in the predominant wildflower colour.

These changes are usually linked to the insects that are pollinating the flowers concerned, as insects are attracted to certain colours.

First up were the whites like the naturalised snowdrops and the blackthorn; then the yellows like the dandelions, buttercups, and furze, then some blues including bluebells. Now it is the turn of the creams, including the whitethorn, cow parsley and elder, the last named of which is just starting to flower in these parts.

The hawthorn or whitethorn is our most common native field boundary plant and its pliable branches are so laden with dainty little flowers this year that they look like grapes on a vine.

Another very common plant is cow parsley, whose hollow stems were once widely used by kids as pea-shooters. They currently line country roads like guards of honour, bowing their heads in mock respect at every passing vehicle.

A measure of the widely divergent views on this plant can be gauged from some of its other names, the less than appealing 'keck' to the elegant 'Queen Anne's Lace', the last of which is a relatively recently moniker. In the 1600s, England's Queen Anne used to like to travel the countryside at this time of year and it was said that the plant flowered just for her.

The whitethorn and cow parsley often appear in close proximity and they can almost look continuous.

Visiting Bord Bia's Bloom on the June Bank Holiday Monday, I noticed that Queen Anne's Lace even made an appearance on one of the show gardens, Yeats' Secret Garden in Sligo.

Enchanting in a rather freeform, overgrown, way, it was inspired by the Yeats' poem, The Lake Isle of Innisfree.

This garden was one of the initiatives of Yeats2015, the year-long celebration of the 150th anniversary of the poet's birth.

I went on the Monday because our seven-year-old Ruth was already going there, on her own business, and I thought it made sense for me to go the same day.

Her classmate Harry had won a competition to design a bookmark for Freddy Buttons - a new series of books by Fiona Dillon about wholesome stuff like keeping chickens, cooking and eating lovely home-grown foods - and the prize was a classroom trip to Bloom, sponsored by Glenisk.

The leaflet on the Yeats garden explains how he "loves nature more than gardening". This I can identify with. I could perhaps be called a terrible gardener in the sense that I do awful things to plants (prune too much or too little and at the wrong time, likewise with watering and fertilising) that would horrify purists.


But I do enjoy beautiful things and among the other gardens I liked was GOAL's. Bursting with colour and energy, this demonstrated some of the ways the charity is working to improve the living conditions of some of the world's urban poor, including a wall of 'greens'.

I was glad to see lots of food plants being used throughout and was interested to see Fiann Ó Nualláin's Beauty-Full garden, packed with plants that can be used in natural beauty treatments. Functional as well as pretty, now that's my kind of garden.

Very powerful, in a subtle way, was the Pieta House Darkness into Light garden. It symbolised a journey from a dark walled space to an open peaceful one with lots of soft wispy vegetation and a large water body, capturing the essence of the charity's work in trying to prevent suicide and self-harm.

As we walked by The Moment is Yours garden, a suited young lady handing out information booklets asked, "Do you know our Santa Rita?"

A tall grey-haired glamorous American woman who was passing by at the same time overheard the question on the Chilean wine and, without breaking stride, laughed out a one-word response, "Intimately!"

The forecast heavy rains and strong winds certainly impacted on the crowd. Selfishly, there was an upside for us in that we breezed around.

We got a great view of everything and even got invited to walk through some of the gardens, including both of Karen M Butler's lovely offerings.

I bumped into Aidan Cotter, head of Bord Bia, who said that, despite the weather, the attendance by Sunday evening had already matched last year's total.

He had spent much of the morning working on a weather contingency plan, the implementation of which was thankfully largely avoided. Though I couldn't help feeling sorry for some small marquee owners that had to, on health and safety grounds, pack up several hours early.

When the weather turned out not to be as bad as had been feared, it had a curious effect on the crowd.

It was as if every one of us was some sort of brave soldier who had been sent into battle only to find that the enemy was actually a giant cuddly bear who just wanted to have some fun. People were jolly and chatty, making for a great sense of camaraderie.

It was a most enjoyable day out.

Now, if only this blooming weather would pick up!


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