Farewell Parkhouse

August is a great month in the garden. Apart from watering , weeding and harvesting it’s a time when one should try to take the foot off the gas a little and enjoy the bounty of food on offer before September when the sowings for overwinter and clearance will begin. Earlier this week we had a barbeque to celebrate all the hardwork. We had a lovely afternoon in the tunnel cooking and eating while the rain pelted the polythene above our heads. We were joined by friends from other departments. Sheilagh from the day centre in particular saved the day by offering us the use of their gas barbeque.


We had resorted to the flamer.



That morning we picked and prepared some fruit and veg. Delicious tomatoes,and basil , courgette and onion , sweetcorn, salads , baked potatoes, eggs and good quality butchers burgers, chicken and sausage. For desert raspberries and Victoria Plums with fresh cream. Hopefully this will be the first of many barbeques in the future.


With all this tasty food we were joined by some feather friends. This one was luck not to have been plucked and cooked, there was talk of it.


This is my last week at Parkhouse so feeling a little sadness mixed with excitement for the future. These are some of the lads I,ve worked with over the past 18 months. Some of the faces have changed as we operate a continuous intake system Fetac level 4 Hort. While I look forward to volunteering (woofing) on the continent I will definately miss the place as  gardening you develope a strong connection with place. A big thanks to all for making me feel very welcome , It has been a mutual learning experience. As a centre for Horticultural education one of the great strengths of Park House is that it operates year round which I think is so important to experience the entire yearly cycle.

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It’s weird taking the last walk around. Here Bulb fennel is doing well and I,m sure will be harvested and cooked when ready. For those at Park House who read this blog especially Gus  who is handing over this bed to Paddy the fennel will be ready when its about 3 inches accross. Remove the leaves from the bulb and store in a sealed bag in the fridge for use. It’s nice roasted with fish.

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The site of the corner heap is now sorted, it took a huge effort to clear. It’s a lovely spot in the garden. Joe seems to have appointed himself in charge of composting and I know he will keep on top of incoming material in the composting area.The site still needs a decent wood chipper however.

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The South West view from the former composting area looking to the top and cane fruit.

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Joe turning the compost

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An example of top fruit ( apple) with red and white currants / rhubarb planted together. The woodchips are proving quite effective at weed supression and soil protection and I would definately do this again. There is a bounty of fruit now.

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One of the heavily laden Victoria Plums. An amazing crop of delicious fruit. 

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This courgette is growing in Jordans bed , he had decided to leave it on the plant to see how big it will get. These are open pollinated so the seed can be saved also. .

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The current record holder is ..

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At this stage there are so many courgettes a competition is in order.

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Joe harvesting some cut and come again salads.

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Danny thinning a few carrots for dinner. The taste of the veg is winning him over.

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Brendan harvesting some runnerbeans.

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Woodchips used around ornamentals

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Layering: To get new strawberry plants the runners are potted up. Use a folded piece of wood or old coat hangers to hold down.These are typically detached from the mother plant in September. To get the strongest plant pot up the first runner of the season, removing all others and fruit from the mother plant thus all the energy goes into the new plant. Strawberries are grown for three years then production drops. Its a good idea each year to produce a percentage of new plants to continue on as older ones are removed. The bed can travel using this technique. Spacing is typically 45cm (plants) x 60cm ( rows)

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Sweetcorn as fresh as it gets for the barbeque.

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A selection of squash. Gabriel trained his in a tight circle using canes, a Joy Larcom method. 

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An example of Fasciation on Veronica. The growth in this case is flattened but causes no harm to the plant. Possible causes are many, hormonal, bacterial, fungal, viral, genetic.

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The square foot bed is a good way to grow a wide variety of veg in a small space.

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Leeks coming along in Jordans bed.

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Carrots surrounded by leeks to help deter the carrot root fly.

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Carrots and Parsnips protected with barrier.

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J Artichokes can be harvested from late Autumn and will store in boxes of sand.

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Figs coming on

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Apples and pears

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Cordon apples

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Harvesting area.

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Rainbow chard

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Salad beds.

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A quick design to introduce drip and overhead irrigation in the tunnel.

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This is a very special place with a long history of gardening. Its been a pleasure to work here with some lovely people. I would like to thank all the staff especially Ann O’ Sullivan and David Shorthall. This has been a great experience for me that I,m sure will open up all sorts of opportunities in the future.  Many thanks and goodbye for now.

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The unattended garden , Farm walk in Carlow and Eco talk

Part 1 Home Garden

Its almost mid August and there is now a noticable nip in the air as the day length shorten. Over the past week or so I,ve been away from home for much of the time except for some essential indoor watering every 3 days to keep the indoor crops going. I suppose you can sort of get away with a week away at this time as most of the sowing for the season has been done and many of the overwintering crops can be sown in September and October. In any case we won’t be doing this as there is just 6 weeks remaining before we give up the house. I’m looking forward to the change of scene.

It’s amazing how much things change even in a week. Below the grass in need of cutting. It had gotten too long to chop and drop as it would exclude light from the grass underneat. I decided to collect some and spread the fresh clipping over some of the beds.


I got rid of the petrol mower sometime ago and use a push type which is much better at getting in around the beds. The grass is much lusher and returning to areas of bare soil by regular cutting. At the start of the season in spring I kept the setting high but as the growth rate has increased I lowered it.  With all the guano that the lawn receives I,m sure robbing a bit of greenery this time is  not going to do the lawn any harm.


There are some spuds to be dug in this bed. As the surface is mulched fairly roughly so adding a layer of grass  will help to break this material down quicker before the next crop.


There was great excitement at finding this pumpkin hiding.


I try to do as little digging as possible save for growing spuds at present but this wil change. After about 2 weeks with very little attention what bit of weeding there is will take a fraction of the time had there been bare soil. One thing I will take forward to any future garden is digging as little as possible if at all. In my opinion its only one method of gardening but I recon it’s unnecessary work. I would recommend any gardener to try spreading on the surface what they had intended digging in well rotted ,  FY.M. etc and see what happens. There is no one solution for how to garden, no catch all, no such thing as if you do this this and this it will be guaranteed to work,  every site is different, the resources time and aspirations of every gardener are different and so the approach must and should be different. Personally I love experimenting I,m not long enough at this to be fixed into a method or style, I say forget style, forget convention, forget trend and make decisions based on what’s in front of you.  Recently I,ve been visiting some gardens and farms. It is very interesting to see how others garden. I,m interested in the reasons why gardeners do things a particular way and I am fascinated with the nutshell of how their system works for them.

Below is a bed of onions after two weeks with no weeding or hoeing. I dont hoe either. It will take less than a minute to pull what few weeds there are here.


On a recent visit a grower told me they had produced and sold 200 euro of salads on about 1 square metre in a tunnel. Charles Dowding has some interesting figures on yields on dig and no-dig systems. Of course it not all about quantity and there are environmental problems with high imput gardening. I would love to see some examples of gardens with no imputs from off site manure or compost resources other than that which birds and wildlife bring as they are attracted in or that which is cycled from within. All the while at the same time being no dig/ no till. I get the feeling this is entering the realm of the forest garden system with a mix of nitrogen fixers, deep rooted dynamic accumulators,  decomposers and stacking.

I can only imagine how much one could spend in an organic shop. It makes so much sence to grow some food. Its better for you and will save money.


In this bed two bush type tomatoes have been interplanted with Oca. The tomatoes are growing outdoor and will all ripen together within a two week period. This is ideal for making large batches of sauce. The tomatoes are in their hundreds on these two plants.




Before heading off for a few days I cleared part of this bed ready for replanting. The drip feed irrigation can be seen snaking its way along the bed. I decided to sow radish , coriander and beet etc. The radish follow the line of the drip feed as they are fast growing and can be harvested first. The other crops  are growing in blocks. see below.



A bed of mixed salad leaves. A few weeks back I added a layer of homemade compost. I then mixed a bunch of saved seed in a bowl and sprinkled it over the top. The surface of the compost was not smoothed so the seed found its way down cracks etc. With the rain the compost settled and covered the seed.


A singly sown lolla rossa lettuce, filling a gap in a carrot bed. Its a good idea to have a bunch of plants ready for transplant into gaps after direct sowings.






To the rear of the garden some of the bed are within the drip line of trees from the neighbours garden. On the edge that sees a little sky some brassicas are doing well. They got a deep watering when they went in as well as a good surface mulch with homemade compost.



Deeper into the shade a bed of  mixed salads went well. Their cooler position seems to have prevented early bolting.


Some broadbeans and a vine along the boundary.


One of the pumpkins heading toward the light.


The cucumber plant doing well in the tunnel.


The shinseki pear tree. We had,nt yet spotted the pumpkin from above seen in this pic.


Yellow pitcher apple tree from seed savers an eater ready in October


The green sprouting brocolli in the tunnel is still producing spears.


Growth through the sawdust in duck dome. I think this is germination of wheat grains from their feed. Fumitory growing up the dome.


Bed of Brassicas


The last strawberry this summer


The grapes have taken on a lovely dark colour. Must resist picking


Minnesota midge melons in the little greenhouse. Delighted with these.


The signs of autumn


The pumpkin patch has gone mad ! Love it .


The tunnel also gone mad. The garden is an organised mess of plants


Part 2

Paulas Farm walk

Headed down to Carlow on Sunday for a farm walk with other students from the Organic college. Our course tutor Paula showed us around her 2 acre farm.



Below is a sketch layout. The orientation is,nt shown but rotate the image -45 degress approx and North is up the page. Near the entrance a complex of barns are used for packing veg and flowers ready for the Carlow Framers market. The site is in the form of a long narrow strip bounded by mature trees to the North West and lower trees and shrubs to the South East. Near the entrance a native trees nursery of local provenance are growning in tyres for planting. The complex of barns and hedging provide shelter from the prevailing winds. Water is fed into a large elevated water tank and the 2 tunnels are watered every 3 days approx using hoses. The site is non residential.

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Cut flowers for market  are grown both outdoor and in the tunnels. Some of the flowers  are Nigella love-in- a-mist, Scabiosa, Yarrow, single stem sunflowers (zoar) available from the organic centre and is pollen free, Cosmos( much loved by the slugs), Liatris, Sweetpea ( spaced at 1 foot), Veronica sightseeing mix, Solidago ( Golden rod does however spread a lot) Larkspur which is like Delphinium but easier to grow, ,  Marigold Frances choice, Verbena bonariensis, Callendula Resina ( high oil content good for hermal uses) , Ageratum and zinneas. In the tunnel Amaranth ( Hopi red dye) and Foxtail millet do better inside for the late season bouquette.


Some of the vegetable varieties grown are Courgette Darkstar ( open habit, smaller leaves easier for harvesting) and Dundoo F1 and Costrata (Italy). The squash variety grown is Uchiki Kuri. Salad varietys grown include Cos and saladbowl.

In the tunnel dwarft french beans are grown and the tomato varieties include Black Crimea (cherry), Isis candy, Gardeners delight, Yellow pear, Yellow gooseberry, Zuckertraube, Chadwick cherry, Sungold F1 and Peacevine. We did a taste test and the peacevine is particularly delicious. This tomato was developed by Dr Alan Kapuler and is so named for it high amino acid content which has a calming effect on the body. Definately one to try. These are all types of cherry tomato which customers want at the market. Other varieties include Paste and Brandywine.


We saw an example of the webs created by the red spider mite on the underside of a courgette leaf. Also we saw deformation on many of the crops, elongated flattend stems on the tomatoes and elongated fruit, which I think looked like fasciation after having seen this recently on a veronica plant.

Outside crops

Outside in the field 16 rows of potatoes were planted varieties include Nicola, Sante and Sarpo Mira . Unfortunately they were lost to blight. The pea variety grown are Rondo supported with posts and sheep wire. They grown to about 3 feet and tasted very nice. Celeriac is grown in staggered rows at 15 inch spacings approx. Green sprouting brocolli varieties are Bellstar and Fiesta ( 1 main head)

At the top of the field a row of summer and Autumn fruiting raspberry canes and beyond this some apple trees with varieties, James Grieve, Discovery and Bramley ( for pollination) on row ends.

Beyond the apple trees was an area planted with willow one variety was packing twine others were purples and yellows. If cut fresh willow can be used within 6 weeks. Kept longer the canes will have to be soaked for 1 day per foot before they are ready for use in basket making. They can be kept for up to 8 years before use. A bee hive was located here as well as another down near the barn.

This was a very informative visit and really glad I went along.

Part 3  Eco Talk

Was delighted to be asked by a good friend to give a gardening talk on monday to a group of Jesuit Eco Pilgrims.




Recent visits

Garden visits

On monday the 28th of July we visited Mount Usher and Kilmacurragh gardens in Wicklow. That morning before leaving we had spotted an example of Fasciation on a Veronica plant which got the learning off to a good start.  We spent a few hours with our guide books  in hand following the river Vartry and the numbered tree trail around the gardens. Some plants in particular took my eye. Lunaria  Honest / The money plant which had finished flowering and its disc shaped seed pods were on display. This plant is suitable for part to shady areas and  its seeds used in flower arranging.

I was drawn to Colletia from the Rhamnaceae family. This plant is from South America and Its rather a leathal looking thing with a stem that forms flattened triangles with sharp points. It’s one of a small number of plants that are non leguminous nitrogen fixers. Other examples of this include Alders , Sea-buckthorns, and Gunnera ( Cyanobacteria).

Another odd looking plant Ruskus ( Butchers Broom) caught my eye with its flattened shoots that look like pointed leaves. It tollerates deep shade and has many medicinal uses connected with blood flow in the body.

Heading on to Kilmacurragh we took a tour at 3pm

Plants noted include

  1. Silphium perfoliatum ( gum, medicinal uses, edibility, high protein content)
  2. Cardiocrinum giganteum the largest of the lilys which flowered earlier this year after 8 years
  3. The Chillean aromatic laurel was probably the higlight of the day with its wonderful scented leaves. Its a champion our guide exclaimed !
  4. Wolllemia nobilis.( considered extinct untill 1994 when discovered near Sydney)

Kilmacurragh provides refuge for plant that are endangered in the wild

Rock pools 

Ballybunion Mens beach kerry Monday the 4th

At low tide Dad and I headed out onto the Limestone rocks to take a look about. We began our search by turning over a few rocks in the small pools and then waiting a second or two to see if a Porcelain crab would reveal itself by moving around the smoothed stone. Sure enough we found them as he had said. We also found hilarous little Hermit crabs and watched as they made a  dash for water. Other crabs we saw were the shore, Montague and the shell of an edible crab.

We found 3 types of  Periwinkle, edible, rough and flat. We also found top shell, Dog Whelk, Limpets, Acorn Barnacles, Koil worm and Sand Hoppers. In the rock pools we found a cute Blenny ,prawns, Beadlet Anemone, Sea Squirt,and Compass jellyfish washed up on the beach and later seen from a canoe.

Seaweeds seen were: Sugar Kelp, Kelp , Bladder wrack, Gutweed, Pink encrusting seaweeds, Coral Weed, Pepper Dulse, Carageen Irish Moss ( blue iridescent tips under water),Gut weed and Sea Lettuce.

Cashen river near Ballybunion

Abundance of Glasswort and Sea Aster growing together on the mud flats, Seabeet on rocks, Duke of Argylls Tea Plant ( Goji berry) ,growing in limestone gabions only a few red berries as the site is windy. Spear Leaf Orache, Wild Carrot, Ladys Bedstraw growing nearby. The glasswort ( Marsh samphire) is very nice boiled and served with butter stripping the flesh from the stringy centre and a bit like Rock Samphire in taste.