Welcome back to the first garden blog for 2023.
January went by in a very wet and cold manner, not too much in our favour.
We found records from the first Head Gardener here in Kylemore, James Garnier, who set up and managed the garden from 1866 until 1883. Within his 17 years of workmanship, he succeeded to establish one of the most iconic Victorian Walled Gardens in Ireland. He wrote many articles for different Garden chronicles and magazines back then. One of the articles we came across during our research is from the Gardeners Chronicle and dating back to August 1882, where James Garnier described the challenging weather and its effects here in Kylemore in the west of Ireland
Well, it didn’t change much within the last 141 years and every year seems to provide new challenges. Thanks to the extensive tree planting of well over 100 000 trees during that period, we still have substantial shelter from the strong Atlantic gales from the West, something James Garnier could only hope for and predict for the future.
We continue that legacy, although on a much smaller scale. We will take part in the national tree planting week once again and show, educate, and plant trees with our local schools and creche. Our annual goal is to plant at least 200 mainly native trees on the estate, especially in the areas which were previously cleared of the invasive Rhododendron ponticum.
Picture 1 One of the areas where we clear the woodland from Rhododendron this Winter is just outside the garden gate.
We had a few nice sunny but very cold days at the end of 2022 and the scenery was stunning around here. The garden looked like it was covered with a thin layer of icing sugar. You could only describe the atmosphere as very peaceful and tranquil.
Picture 2 A frosty morning in the Victorian Walled Garden.
Picture 3 The frost had a grip on evergreen plants like Euphorbia but it didn’t harm them.
Picture 4 The last of the crabapples will be soon devoured by our garden birds like Thrushes and Blackbirds; they provide an important source of food especially during the recent cold snaps.
Picture 5 The Robin is eying up a crumb of bread on the frost-covered table, the ice crystals look nearly artificial.
One of the winter jobs we undertake every year is sieving our own produced compost, produced from green and brown matter coming out from our garden like leaves, twigs, old bedding plants, offcuts of herbaceous plants and vegetables, or small amounts of grass clippings. The quality of the last heap seems to be really good. A lot of hard work went in over the last 7 months until it reached the desired condition. Several turnings, watering, and feeding with seaweed and comfrey were necessary but worthwhile. We hardly have to buy compost and it feeds our plants well enough so we can avoid the usage of other fertilizers. The sieved compost will be used throughout the garden in borders, beds, and the herb garden for example. Heavy rainfalls are washing out essential nutrients and lead to soil erosion, especially in sloped areas. The annual top-dressing is an important task to ensure the stability of these garden elements but it also makes our work more meaningful and satisfying.
Picture 6 Sieved compost ready to use.
Picture 7 The Herbaceous Border is getting the most amount of compost dressing every year, soon the perennials will cover the bare soil again.
February is the start of our propagation season. On top of our own harvested seeds, I also have to buy heritage seeds, dating back to the 19thcentury. Besides a few Irish seed companies, I order from France, Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, and even Greece, wherever I can locate vegetable and flower seeds from the Victorian period. The English market is unfortunately not supplying seeds to Ireland at the moment, due to Brexit.
We have sown sweetpeas (Lathyrus), cigar flowers (Cuphea ignea), Tagetes, different cabbages, and spring onions in seed trays, pots, or plugs already. It only took a week for most seeds to germinate which is great to see. It is very much the start of a new cycle in our heritage garden. We are particularly proud of the extensive heritage selection of sweet peas, all dating back to 1901 and before.
The sweetpeas need to be soaked for 24 hours before sowing for easier germination. We sow them into deep rose pots so the roots have enough space to develop properly and are not getting disturbed too much when transplanted outside beside the sweetpea supports. The supports are made of natural material, all located and grown on site. Willow, hazel, and branches of Rhododendron ponticum, the invasive species we try to eradicate, are providing a sturdy frame for the annual climbers.
Picture 8 Sweetpea seeds soaking for 24 hours before sowing.
Picture 9 Sweetpeas germinated after only 7 Days.
Picture 10 Building a new support for our sweetpeas in a creative and natural way.
There is plenty of other work going on inside and outside our garden walls, but more about it in my next garden blog in March.
Our onsite living animals are also nosy and wondering what we are up to these days. Even the sheep try to get a glimpse into the garden, very much to our dismay.
Jenny, our very popular garden cat prefers a higher position on one of the old stone walls for better observation. Gloria is only interested in her daily intake of oats and barley, who would blame her?
Picture 9 Jenny at her prime position!
Picture 10 Gloria is feasting away!
I am wishing everybody a great start to this year's garden season, may the weather be with us!
Your Head Gardener