Nature extends its hand to us in our time of need

There is a sense of disorder in the world right now, normal life for us is on pause for the past year, but not so for the natural world; birds, mammals and plant life continue like clockwork to follow the seasons. So now Spring is here, never before have we welcomed with so much joy, lyrical birdsong, emerging bulbs, delicate blossoms, radiant colour, longer days and the anticipation of sowing and planting for the months ahead.  Our gardens have become our sanctuary, our place of refuge and calm. We feel safe when we are in that space, be it a small or large garden, a park or a forest or by visiting open gardens.  Nature extends its hand to us in our time of need, we should not forget Her in times ahead.

In the Ballymaloe Cookery School gardens, bunches of snowdrops, daffodils, hellebores, primroses, spring snowflake (Leucojum vernum) and crocuses are in bloom beneath the bare canopy of trees, each heralding the onset of Spring; ‘Hope springs eternal’.  The glasshouse bays are beginning to fill up having been planted with, new potatoes, beetroot, peas, broad beans, strawberry plants, lettuces, salad greens and many herbs.

The Cookery School is busy in a new way since March of last year, online cookery classes cater for all those aspiring chefs amongst us, good food has become the main focus of our daily lives, most of us are at home more than ever before, our children and students now spending more time with family, we are constantly looking for new ideas, new recipes and we are now more aware than ever that the secret to good nutritious food is using the best fresh ingredients you can source whether it be from your own garden, (we all have more time on our hands now so no excuses) or as local as is possible.

The Farm Shop is busy selling amongst other fresh products, lots of organic vegetables which includes, leeks, kale, potatoes, lettuce, bags of salad greens, Jerusalem artichokes, wild garlic and whatever other delicious produce from the glasshouses and gardens has been harvested on the day. We also have little pots of herbs for sale, such as, thyme, coriander, parsley, wild garlic, rosemary and chives. A weekly supply of fresh organic vegetables and nutritious homemade products and treats from the school are for sale in the farm shop, they can also be purchased through Neighbour food and the Midleton Farmers market on Saturdays.  

Leeks and winter greens are still being harvested in the Kitchen Garden, most of the beds are still covered over until the soil is warm enough for planting outside. The beds will receive a generous mulch of our own nutritious compost before being planted up.

The peach trees on the wall of the cookery school are covered by protective heavy plastic frames in the Ornamental Fruit Garden. The frames will not be removed until the threat of frost has passed. Bunches of brightly coloured daffodils, including the miniature ‘Tête à Tête’, adorn the beds beneath the overhanging trained heritage apple trees. The ever-reliable mixture of Hellebores and Primroses, white and yellow offer additional colour.

Lydia’s Garden is undergoing some reconstruction, the herbaceous beds are getting a new lease of life, it will be so exciting to see the final design in early summer.  Evergreen Hellebores (Helleborus argutifolius) are in bloom and are providing food for the honey bees; this plant is a great source of nectar for a myriad of insects. An attractive tree / shrub for winter here is, Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ which produces pretty, delicate scented blossoms on bare wood. The little pond here provides water for the many birds in these gardens whose birdsong is so delightful especially at this time of year.

The Herb Garden has received a serious cutting back but the emergence of new growth is already visible, mint varieties, fennel, sweet cicely, chives, globe artichokes, and garlic chives to name a few.

It’s wonderful to see the swollen buds on the magnolias in the Pleasure Garden, the Witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis) has been a beacon of light for the past few months with its spidery yellow/ orange flowers. It provides winter interest with its vibrant colour and scent at an otherwise bleak time in the garden. The bark of the Paperbark maple tree (Acer griseum) offers texture. Trees in this garden have been underplanted with purple primroses, bunches of Leucojum vernum (spring snowflake) and daffodils. Beyond in Wilson’s wood, the wild garlic (Allium ursinum) is in abundance, with its wide flat leaves being produced first, followed by a pretty white flower. Wild garlic pesto is now on sale at the farm shop, as too are potted plants of wild garlic, a worthwhile addition to your garden, however, take care where you plant it as it can take over. In flower now also is Berberis darwinii, lighting up the entrance to the wood. The pond continues to be home for the resident ducks and a habitat and source of water for the garden wildlife.

In place of the original herbaceous borders, we now have two formal borders with a variety of trees which pride themselves on shape and structure, Yew, Portuguese laurel, Beech, Bay, variegated Holly, to name a few. Symmetry is the theme here, as the borders are a mirror image of each other, it will be interesting to watch this new Formal Garden develop. The formality of the planting compliments the Shell house structure and interiors at the top of this garden to which your eye is drawn to. Of course, the Maze close by is another example where symmetry in its design has been utilised.

In the outdoor Vegetable Area, the seakale has been covered with upturned black bins to block out the light and to enable this delicate crop to produce tender blanched stalks in a couple of weeks. The first rhubarb stalks are ready to be harvested having received a generous mulch of our own compost.  Jerusalem artichokes and leeks too are in abundance.  The larger vegetable beds have been rotavated, it has been a cold wet spring everywhere, so it’s a welcoming sight to see the ground overturned and being prepared for planting in another few weeks.

In the Glasshouses, the washing down and repairing of any broken panes of glass after the winter storms is in progress. Winter crops, Kale, both Curly and Nero are still in plentiful supply. The soil in the bays has been rotavated and has received a generous amount of our own rich compost.  Individual bays are filled with Potatoes (planted in January) the shoots have begun to appear above the drills. Beetroot plugs fill one bay, peas sown directly fill another and this week, peas are being sown into trays, the plugs will be planted in a couple of weeks.  Other bays contain successive sowing of Rocket, Coriander, Dill, Chervil and cut ‘n come again oriental salad leaves, e.g., Mibuna, Pak Choi, Turnip Tops, Red Mustard, Tatsoi, Mizuna, and Green Mustard.  In the growing area, module trays of spring onions, basil, parsley, chervil, mixed salads; lollo rossa, green oakleaf, romaine and little gem are almost ready to be planted. Here too small pots of herbs are being prepared for selling at the farm shop.

Tomato seed sown into module trays last month remain in the heat controlled growing room, successive sowing of tomatoes will fill three bays in the glasshouse as the weeks proceed.

However, the award for a spectacular display this month in the glasshouses must be given to the delicate blossoms of the plum, nectarines, almond and peach trees.  The fruit trees are trained against the glasshouse walls and provide welcome cheerful colour and necessary nectar for the busy bees as the growing year gets underway.

As always Nature continues to show us there is light at the end of the tunnel.

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