Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Thursday 14 December 2017

I have tried, but I just can’t grow my grá for gardening

vegetable basket close up
vegetable basket close up
Jim O'Brien

Jim O'Brien

I am not a gardener. I’d love to be one but I’m afraid it’s a skill that has either passed me by or never encountered me.

I envy those with a gift for tilling, tending and growing, but my notions of joining the ranks of the green-fingered are just that — notions.

Telling my weeds from my wisterias is beyond me. I remember once buying a plant for my mother on her birthday. It was a lovely thing with a most colourful flower and nice, sturdy green leaves. She was delighted with it and asked me what it was. With all the authority I could muster I declared it to be a ‘bagnolia’. My mother, who certainly knows her weeds from her wisterias, raised one eyebrow and suggested I might just have discovered a whole new species of plant.

Knowledge and skill aside, there is something in us that longs for the garden, a longing that is deep in the human psyche and seeks the peace and tranquillity that comes from pottering among leaf, root and soil.

It isn’t today or yesterday that this love of the garden became a feature of human reality. The Romans and the Greeks loved their gardens. The writer of the Book of Genesis, writing in Babylon 2,600 years ago and grappling with the mysteries of life, chose a garden as the location for where it all started.

I recall listening to the radio when former Fianna Fáil minister and MEP Gerry Collins conceded defeat in the European Elections of 2009. He lowered the curtain on a long political career with the words: “Like Cicero, I will go to my garden.”

It evoked a lovely image of pleasant days spent among the plum trees and strawberry trestles. Indeed, I thought of the scene from the Book of Genesis where Adam in his fig leaf walked with God in the garden in the cool of the evening. I’ve no doubt Gerry would be sporting more than a fig leaf in his garden in Abbeyfeale; the weather in West Limerick would encourage even the hardiest of souls to wear something more substantial.

I have tried my hand at turning the sod and tending to my garden. When I lived in Laois I made a gallant attempt at growing the staple vegetables of spuds, carrots and cabbage. A neighbour helped me to get started and ploughed part of the lawn for me. I then hired a rotavator, a powerful Italian job that took to its task like a Ferrari eating its way through the Apennine hills. It was difficult to control its appetite for soil and at times I feared we would disappear into the bowels of the earth and reappear somewhere in the Antipodes.

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I was a bone-shaken wreck by the time I returned the Italian earth-eater; and was glad to part company with the unruly machine. Far from calming my spirits and giving rest to my weary soul, this gardening lark was fraying my nerves.

I decided that the remaining tasks would be undertaken using traditional manual labour. I opened the drills with a shovel as I had seen my grandfather do. Having planted my spuds and closed the drills I was quite proud of my achievement. Along with the spuds I also planted two drills of cabbage and planted carrots in used car tyres that I filled with a mixture of soil and sand.

Our house was on a sharp bend on a road leading to the Slieve Bloom Mountains in Rosenallis and the boreen beside the garden led to land granted to local farmers by the Land Commission. The neighbours passing the road or travelling the boreen were able to monitor the progress of my endeavours and many offered some tips and advice.

The potato plants began to push their leaves through the drills and when they all appeared in a profusion of lush greenery, the garden made a very pleasant sight from the road. But appearances can deceive. I forgot to mention that when the Italian stallion was grinding the soil to dust, I had spread farmyard manure in its path. The manure must have contained the seed of every weed known to mankind and they came up in a profusion that equalled the leaves of the spuds. Every moment I could spare was spent keeping the terrors at bay. My back was broken from hoeing and pulling.

Then the slugs attacked the cabbage. The amount of money I wasted on conventional sprays and ‘organic’ cures would have kept the parish of Rosenallis in ‘shop’ cabbage for an eternity. When I thought I had beaten the slugs, a fifth column in the shape of a wire worm attacked the root of the plants, an absence of lime in the soil would lead to an absence of cabbage on my table. As for the carrots, they obviously objected to their confinement in the tyres and, after an initial growth spurt, committed communal hara-kiri.

At least the spuds gave cause for contentment and hope, and they appeared to be thriving. But contentment quickly gave way to neurosis as my life was taken over by a fear of the blight. Heavy weather and mist became my sworn enemies.

From six o’clock in the morning I’d be glued to the radio waiting for blight warnings. The spray-can was ever-full and ready for action. But invariably the day of a blight warning would find me in Dublin for a meeting or in Roscommon to walk a farm, anywhere but near home and near my trusty spray can and my poor vulnerable drills of spuds.

Ochón was followed by ochón and ochón go deo. While I beat the blight, another fifth column in the shape of worms, did an insider job on my spuds. When it came time to dig them, every second one was holed through by these miniature serpents that took the last hope of Eden out of my gardening.

And so, I now go to my garden, not to bend the back or turn the sod. I sit under the shade of a broad parasol and admire the sward of green grass under my lounger, while I soothe my soul among the pages of a good book. I’ll leave the gardening to Cicero and Gerry Collins.

 

I am not a gardener. I’d love to be one but I’m afraid it’s a skill that has either passed me by or never encountered me.

I envy those with a gift for tilling, tending and growing, but my notions of joining the ranks of the green-fingered are just that — notions.

Telling my weeds from my wisterias is beyond me. I remember once buying a plant for my mother on her birthday. It was a lovely thing with a most colourful flower and nice, sturdy green leaves. She was delighted with it and asked me what it was. With all the authority I could muster I declared it to be a ‘bagnolia’. My mother, who certainly knows her weeds from her wisterias, raised one eyebrow and suggested I might just have discovered a whole new species of plant.

Knowledge and skill aside, there is something in us that longs for the garden, a longing that is deep in the human psyche and seeks the peace and tranquillity that comes from pottering among leaf, root and soil.

It isn’t today or yesterday that this love of the garden became a feature of human reality. The Romans and the Greeks loved their gardens. The writer of the Book of Genesis, writing in Babylon 2,600 years ago and grappling with the mysteries of life, chose a garden as the location for where it all started.

I recall listening to the radio when former Fianna Fáil minister and MEP Gerry Collins conceded defeat in the European Elections of 2009. He lowered the curtain on a long political career with the words: “Like Cicero, I will go to my garden.”

It evoked a lovely image of pleasant days spent among the plum trees and strawberry trestles. Indeed, I thought of the scene from the Book of Genesis where Adam in his fig leaf walked with God in the garden in the cool of the evening. I’ve no doubt Gerry would be sporting more than a fig leaf in his garden in Abbeyfeale; the weather in West Limerick would encourage even the hardiest of souls to wear something more substantial.

I have tried my hand at turning the sod and tending to my garden. When I lived in Laois I made a gallant attempt at growing the staple vegetables of spuds, carrots and cabbage. A neighbour helped me to get started and ploughed part of the lawn for me. I then hired a rotavator, a powerful Italian job that took to its task like a Ferrari eating its way through the Apennine hills. It was difficult to control its appetite for soil and at times I feared we would disappear into the bowels of the earth and reappear somewhere in the Antipodes.

I was a bone-shaken wreck by the time I returned the Italian earth-eater; and was glad to part company with the unruly machine. Far from calming my spirits and giving rest to my weary soul, this gardening lark was fraying my nerves.

I decided that the remaining tasks would be undertaken using traditional manual labour. I opened the drills with a shovel as I had seen my grandfather do. Having planted my spuds and closed the drills I was quite proud of my achievement. Along with the spuds I also planted two drills of cabbage and planted carrots in used car tyres that I filled with a mixture of soil and sand.

Our house was on a sharp bend on a road leading to the Slieve Bloom Mountains in Rosenallis and the boreen beside the garden led to land granted to local farmers by the Land Commission. The neighbours passing the road or travelling the boreen were able to monitor the progress of my endeavours and many offered some tips and advice.

The potato plants began to push their leaves through the drills and when they all appeared in a profusion of lush greenery, the garden made a very pleasant sight from the road. But appearances can deceive. I forgot to mention that when the Italian stallion was grinding the soil to dust, I had spread farmyard manure in its path. The manure must have contained the seed of every weed known to mankind and they came up in a profusion that equalled the leaves of the spuds. Every moment I could spare was spent keeping the terrors at bay. My back was broken from hoeing and pulling.

Then the slugs attacked the cabbage. The amount of money I wasted on conventional sprays and ‘organic’ cures would have kept the parish of Rosenallis in ‘shop’ cabbage for an eternity. When I thought I had beaten the slugs, a fifth column in the shape of a wire worm attacked the root of the plants, an absence of lime in the soil would lead to an absence of cabbage on my table. As for the carrots, they obviously objected to their confinement in the tyres and, after an initial growth spurt, committed communal hara-kiri.

At least the spuds gave cause for contentment and hope, and they appeared to be thriving. But contentment quickly gave way to neurosis as my life was taken over by a fear of the blight. Heavy weather and mist became my sworn enemies.

From six o’clock in the morning I’d be glued to the radio waiting for blight warnings. The spray-can was ever-full and ready for action. But invariably the day of a blight warning would find me in Dublin for a meeting or in Roscommon to walk a farm, anywhere but near home and near my trusty spray can and my poor vulnerable drills of spuds.

Ochón was followed by ochón and ochón go deo. While I beat the blight, another fifth column in the shape of worms, did an insider job on my spuds. When it came time to dig them, every second one was holed through by these miniature serpents that took the last hope of Eden out of my gardening.

And so, I now go to my garden, not to bend the back or turn the sod. I sit under the shade of a broad parasol and admire the sward of green grass under my lounger, while I soothe my soul among the pages of a good book. I’ll leave the gardening to Cicero and Gerry Collins.


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