Thursday 18 January 2018

Wake up to gardening

Radio presenter Aine Lawlor indulges her passion with a small suburban garden and an allotment

Dermot O'Neill

One of Ireland's best-known radio personalities, Aine Lawlor, is familiar to most of us for her pleasant voice on RTE Radio 1's 'Morning Ireland'.

But not everyone knows that she has a passion for gardening. This year, she acquired an allotment in Enniskerry, and at home, her gardening is concentrated in small front and back gardens, where she crams in as much as possible, growing things in the ground and pots.

"The very small front garden is south-facing and is a huge challenge to someone who is trying to cram in spring bulbs, poppies, roses, clematis and other climbers, fruit, grasses, dahlias, annuals and trees," explains Aine.

She believes in growing lots of plants in pots. She often finds herself digging up plants, dividing them, potting them and then passing them on to others. Sharing plants with others is one of the joys of gardening.

Aine tells me that she always tries to have something in flower throughout the year, starting off with snowdrops and early irises in January, all the way through to lilies flowering in November and even winter-flowering camellias.

Roses and clematis are among her favourites, though she says they can be "divas and some varieties need a lot of fussing. Although, whatever the plant, she finds that patience also pays.

"This year has been a great gardening year, especially with starting my own allotment. I have also been growing vegetables at home, including tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and even cucumbers. I used an old-fashioned technique which involves using bales of straw. This is right at the very front of the house. This old technique was very popular before people had greenhouses," she says.

As the straw decomposes, it heats up, generating warmth for plants that need it to get going. It worked fantastically well for Aine this year. When everything has been harvested in autumn, the leftover straw can be used to mulch the flower beds, and can work to protect some of the more tender plants from the cold of winter.

"I avoid spraying chemicals in the garden or allotment, and try where I can to garden organically, especially when growing crops that I plan to eat."

Even in her tiny space, she has two compost bins and a successful wormery to provide homemade compost for the plants she grows. She uses pelleted organic chicken manure and seaweed meal to nourish the soil.

Aine is a keen vegetable grower, raising the majority of her vegetable plants from seed at home in the garden and then bringing them up to the allotment in Enniskerry for planting out when they're ready. She is just getting in a harvest of spring-planted potatoes, peas, beans and greens, and is now bringing on Chinese greens, delicious kales and other winter vegetables for harvesting later this year.

Next year, Aine is already planning to add fruit to her allotment. "I'm ordering lots of Irish apples from the Irish Seed Savers Association and I plan on growing an espalier apple hedge around the allotment."

Though productivity is a very important part of Aine's garden, she also loves flowers. At the moment, her favourite climbing plant is Trachelospermum jasminoides -- a tidy, evergreen climbing plant with white scented flowers similar to those of jasmine.

"It's supposed to be tender, but both of mine survived last winter. I also have a purple acacia tree. It's a young tree and, again, supposed to be tender, but it's still alive despite the harsh conditions of last winter."

Aine has very little space, which means that her garden often appears messy -- she admits that it's far from manicured or designed. However, it still makes people stop in their tracks and look, and smile, when they're passing.

She explains, "My garden gives me pleasure and I love that even a little terraced street plot can make others happy too".

Aine also loves spending free time at her allotment, which is usually a radio-free zone, and she cherishes the silence and solitude as she works away with her veggies.

"I looked up the other day, the sun was on the Sugar Loaf, I could hear the horses two fields away, and I hadn't spoken to anyone in two hours; it was better than a trip to the spa," she says.


Irish Independent

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