Diarmuid Gavin: Escape to the outdoors
Nurture some inner peace this year with the most mindful pursuit of them all - gardening!
My worst gardening habit is procrastination, putting off until tomorrow what I should be doing outside today. So, this year, as soon as Auld Lang Syne had been sung among a group of fellow gardeners in the wilds of Ballinskelligs in Kerry, I begun to plan my gardening year. A time of renewal, an excuse and a reason to start over.
We live in uncertain times, so I appreciate more than ever living on our little island. When things get too much, get 'earthed', and do some some digging. Retreating to the garden amidst our temperature climate, sowing and planting, feeling the soil in your hands, has a wonderful therapeutic effect.
During this mid-winter break I've been gazing out the window at my own plot. I've made resolutions, set targets, and begun to think how I'd achieve my aims and goals. I've looked back at old images and realised that 2016 was a formative year: my structural planting came into its own; paths were laid and terraces expanded; and I was even brave enough to show Helen
Dillon around! Seeing your plot through someone else's eyes is invaluable. I realised how I should value the hardiness of the site, despite being set in a trough at the base of a hill where fog and frost appear to roll down and settle, I can grow so much.
So setting out projects, having stuff to achieve and results to aim for is central to life in the garden and, at this time, one of the first weekends of a new and optimistic year, it's time to get going.
My resolutions involve planting more trees, cladding my balcony with more climbers, growing a grape vine, bringing in many tonnes of new fertile topsoil, and finishing the ponds. They are all projects - our gardens tend to evolve on a project-by-project basis. So how about I suggest some new resolutions for you and your garden? Let's just label them as 'things to think about in the garden', little suggestions of improvements that may be made which by this weekend next year will be maturing nicely. And remember, that if the News at One is too much to take, if Joe or Marian reflect our tales of woe, turn off the radio, and turn to the garden.
Berries are super fruits, little bundles of stored sunshine in vitamin C. Since the Great British Bake Off, they have never been more desired, however they can be expensive to buy. Find a sunny spot in the garden and grow a selection of your own. Make sure your soil is well-manured, learn a little bit about annual pruning, and then plant raspberry canes, gooseberries, blackberries and a bed of strawberries. This isn't a big commitment gardening, but it will keep you in the raw materials for jams, tarts and cakes all year round.
This time last year one householder made a new year's resolution to cut down his waste disposal bills. No more bags out for the dustbin men every week. Eventually last week he put the rubbish out - one bag for a whole year. Now maybe that's taking it to extremes, but much of the organic matter that you produce as household waste could be composted. We are talking paper, cardboard, veg peelings, even hair clippings, egg shells and tea bags - all will rot down in a controlled environment to produce rich humus material for your soil.
Creating a destination
Every garden needs a place to go. It needs a destination. You could call it a pavilion, a summer house, or if you are really swanky, maybe a delightful orangery. But think of that place as an escape, a place in the garden where you can sit and view what you have created. Even by converting a simple 6x4 shed into a destination allows you to escape the elements while sitting surrounded by lush greenery and fragrant flowers.
A place to relax
Remember gardening isn't all about work. It's about sitting down and enjoying the fruits of your labour, so consider some seating areas and maybe make a bench from a couple of railway sleepers. If your garden is formal, purchase a nice stately Lutyens bench, or commission something that's individual to your place. Visit a scrap yard - is there something there that you could renovate? Outside cushions are a trendy, colourful seating option that might suit your situation best.
Screening offending walls with planting
When we are in the garden we really want to escape contemporary life. We want to get away from the architecture of the garden. So how about using one of these climbers to crawl up concrete walls or battered fences, allowing you to fully surround yourself in garden glory? My top choices would be Solanum crispum 'Glasnevin' for its bunches of purples flowers, and definitely a climbing rose such as Rosa 'Shropshire Lass' with its deliciously fragrant pink roses. Clematis armandii is a good evergreen option as are any of the ivies. Hedera 'Buttercup' is a favourite variety of mine with its bright yellow leaves.
Finally, grow something from seed
This is how I got started in gardening, trying to achieve a badge from the cub scouts. If you've only ever bought plants, go back to basics and enjoy some of the real satisfaction that gardening can provide. Next month I will be showing you how to start off seeds indoors and later in the year the soil will begin to warm up and they can be planted outdoors. Whether it's bedding plants, annuals or vegetables, there's a world of seeds out there waiting to delight.