Al fresco


view along the Kerry Camino near the village of Camp

It’s all about the outdoors lads. Even the cats have mastered the understanding of what al fresco means when I wave their dishes at them and walk out the door. I know its hard to believe but people are griping already about the longest day having past and the summer being over.

Bullshit. Its only started. Get outside and stock up. Fresh air, sunshine (when it appears), long days while they linger.You can retreat to the armchair in November and look out at it. But the time to be outside is now.

Every year I promise myself I will be ahead of the garden jobs by now. Ever year I fail. Small potted plants look at me sadly wondering if today is their day. I hurry past keeping my head down hoping they don’t see me. Seamus waters them. Hes immune to their guilt inducing stares. But the important thing is that I’m actually improving year on year. So I tell myself anyway. Measuring my success in the ever shrinking amount of pots waiting on me. So who knows? Maybe some year I might catch up with where I’m supposed to be. Then what will I do? What do people do who have no gardening to do? Its a mystery!

In between weeding, going for the odd long walk and trying to plant out the last of the pots there is lots of eating to be done. So far I reckon its been an excellent growing year but strangely enough for everyone who agrees with me there are just as many claiming its a rubbish year for their crops. WTF?? How can we have such different opinions of the year on one small island? I know soils vary from one place to another, often within very small areas.  Only last night two Tipperary place names explained to me illustrated that point very well Foildarrig (red earth) and Foilduff (black earth). Micro-climates exist in town gardens and sheltered lower fields that allow to prosper what a windswept hillside cannot allow to grow well. And then of course some people really look after their soil and their ecosystems and some don’t. For example I overheard this conversation in a garden shop at the weekend;

Older lady customer;” is this the stuff?”

Shop Assistant; “No that’s plant food that will just help them to grow”

Older Lady customer; ” O no! I don’t want them to grow! I want to kill every last one of them!!”

You see what I mean?

That’s not to say I’m not tempted to blast some blackbirds out of the sky when I find not a single cherry has survived their attention. Even the “white” cherries supposed to be a “breakthrough” in plant breeding as they are “invisible” to birds. I think you might guess what my feelings are on that statement as I look at my tree empty of its fruit. Anyway. In the end you have to accept, on some admittedly grudging level, that the birds are entitled to fine dining too. And if you are the only fool on your street providing fruit in abundance you are going to be a magnet for every blackbird in the neighbourhood.So my only solution is to get my neighbours to grow more fruit.

When a pig flies past you know Ive succeeded. In the meantime a new whole bed cage contraption thing has been put in place over the strawberries. The only choice in the rest of the garden is to roar loudly and clap my hands like a lunatic. The glamour of it all!!!


Hardening off my ….

over winter fleece

overwintering onions and garlic  today with fleece in action on the bed behind

I think it was two years ago, on a bleak November day up in the organic centre that I met Charles Dowding. Of all the things I learned from him that day, and I really did learn a lot, one of the most useful things I came away with was his idea that hardening off was a load of old tripe and could be dramatically improved for both the plant and the gardener by a piece of horticultural fleece.

In a nutshell he transplants plants at a much earlier stage out into his garden, (skipping a time consuming labour intensive potting on period in some cases) and covers them in horticultural fleece, laid flat over the bed for several weeks. After that time he removes the fleece. The plant is now growing well, having acclimatised to the outside conditions and away it goes. Given the choice of taking things in and out for a week or just planting them out and covering them with fleece which one would you choose?

There are multiple uses for horticultural fleece. One great example is using fleece for overwintering crops like garlic and onions. In the last few years since I have gotten into the habit of fleecing the crop immediately after planting in November and leaving the fleece in place until the end of January/early February I have noticed a dramatic improvement in both the success of the sets or cloves (99-100%) survival rate over winter (as opposed to 70-80%), and much improved vigour of the green leafy growth with none of the usual beating they would take without the fleece over winter in the wind and cold, all of which gets them off to a flying start in spring and yields large returns. Win win as they say. Now onward to conquer the April/May drought pattern we have been experiencing for the last few years!

This fleece business is great but why isn’t it mainstream? Reading the GIY weekly column of May 13th here I was surprised to see them recommending the older time consuming, labour intensive method of hardening off. I think fleecing is by far easier for beginners and experienced alike. Just don’t forget to shake out a few slug pellets if you are putting a particularly tasty crop out; lettuces, pumpkins and beans all come to mind!

O by the way in one of the school gardens this year we set everything from seed, left them in the polytunnel to germinate and covered them with horticultural fleece to moderate both day and night temperatures, (leaving one tunnel door open at all times). We sowed the same seeds, used the same compost etc in another school garden polytunnel and had dramatically different results. Faster and better germination rates all round under the fleece despite minimal watering and attention from a once a week class. Same input in the second school garden, same once a week class but much poorer results.

I rest my case.

Charles has some good books under his belt but if you can meet this very nice and unassuming man for a day course with him I highly recommend you do. He makes his living growing veg and has really tested the ” old rules” of gardening to see if they are worth doing.

I’m not on commission for the makers of horticultural fleece in case your’e asking.

Brave New World



The road to 2017 (via Cappamore)

In the greater scheme of things one year changing into another doesn’t seem like such a big thing.A huge percentage of the population no doubt loathe January. Not yet bright or warm, an anticlimax after Christmas and a flaking VISA bill to be paid. But if you are a gardener January brings great excitement. Wading through seed catalogues looking for new exciting plants to try (Jicama and agretti roscano anyone?), adding seaweed and compost mulches to beds, and actually cracking on with the first seed sowings of the year; sweet peas, aubergines and chillies.


You get a kind of renewed energy too for projects and for tidying up. In this garden the fruit cage is finally going up. So in the next few weeks a part of the vegetable garden will be sacrificed for the ultimate satisfaction of picking unmolested fruit(goodbye pesky blackbirds). Of course the big trouble now is reaching agreement over what goes in the cage. Above all else I am choosing a dwarf sweet cherry tree while my husbands number one choice will be red currants. After that negotiations will be interesting!

As the forecast fluctuates between mild and damp from the Atlantic and ass kicking freezing cold from the Pole it is sensible to potter around doing odd bits of weeding and pruning only as the day permits. There is still a bit of harvesting to be done too, the Ocas have just come into season and need digging out or covering with fleece before the next forecasted freeze arrives around Thursday, as does the last of the celery and carrots. Parsnips are staying put for the moment but as the plan switches from 2016 to 2017 their days in the bed are numbered.When its too cold to be outside planning crop rotations and plant combinations by the fire is a much more sensible idea.


Another cold start

With dire forecasts for very cold temperatures in January and February its hard to get started without worrying slightly about looking after the seedlings sown through these particular months. But gardening is mostly a leap of faith, planning and doing things in advance in anticipation of rewards down the line so there is no escaping the things that must be done when they ought to be done.If you are thinking of continuing to hibernate Id advise against it. Dust yourself off, (mentally, not just the mince pie debris on your pants!) get into your gardening gear and go outside to embrace the brave new gardening world of 2017.


A stint in the sun


I’m galavanting abroad for three whole weeks during which time the aim is to consume roughly my weight in figs and olives.Although the weather is georgous I miss my garden and it’s happy army of butterflies who had taken over before my departure. Luckily I have a lovely pair of replacement cat and garden sitters enjoying and eating everything in my absence *not the cats i hasten to add.still i lie awake at night wonderig how they are getting on, sending long emails with 20 more things i forgot to tell them. I will try not to worry too much….after all I am on holidays!

A plant from the pit of Hell….


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giant hogweed

Giant Hogweed image courtsey of Alamy/

It’s heritage week this week and lots of stuff is happening around the country, see here for the full listings. Yesterday on my way home from work I had the great pleasure of seeing a walking tour at Johns castle in Kilmallock in the middle of the afternoon with their leader enthusiastically waving her arms and pointing up at the medieval house on the street. Kilmallock was once a walled town and has loads of interesting history, enough to rival Adare I reckon. But while Adare basks in hoards of tourists and the happy sound of euros dropping into tills poor old Kilmallock languishes quietly, the only excitement the Monday mart when jeeps towing horse boxes make chaos of the traffic and people sell puppies from the boot of their cars.I suppose you could describe Kilmallock as a town in the twilight of its years, the faded grandeur of its lovely old buildings, a serious lack of jobs and a high percentage of buggy pushing unemployed added to a distinct overall feeling of exhaustion, as if the vital energy had gone out of the town.

It is nice then to support  activities that bring a bit of life and interest to the place especially when they collide with actual course work for the students too. This worked out nicely for us on Tuesday when I took the group to an intriguing sounding talk, (part of heritage week) in a beautiful old part of the town. The “Talk on the Loobagh Invasive Species Control Project” was across a footbridge over the Loobagh river in  Kilmallock Priory.  This is an impressive atmospheric ruin, dating from 1291 and in beautiful condition except for want of a roof.The fact we can stroll over and visit is a triumph of persistence in the face of bloody-mindedness.

Of course the main topic of the talk was Giant Hog Weed Heracleum mantegazzianum, and if you haven’t heard about it you are most certainly living under a rock. A brief summary is as follows; some fool brought it in as a garden plant in the 1880’s, it’s from the Caucasus and central asia where something must eat it and keep it under control, it can grow  up to 15 feet high, it’s a member of the carrot family, it’s often on river banks where you will see the huge umbel flowers during the summer months, it has thousands of seeds and spreads like mad and most importantly it is highly dangerous to humans who come in contact with it.

It’s the sap of the plant that is dangerous although I have heard that the pollen can be too. Once the sap comes in contact with your skin it ruins your natural ability to filter our harmful sunlight, (a sort of reverse sunblock). Once the sun comes out you burn badly and can blister dramatically. According to our speaker on Tuesday ( I think her name was Rianna?) this can be permanent damage, with blisters reoccurring years after the initial contact with the plant. Just thinking about it is enough to bring you out in a rash.As someone on so eloquently put it ” a plant from the pit of hell”.

Apparently it was galloping away madly on the banks of the Loobagh until an unfortunate pollution incident drew experts to the river a few years ago. Once the plant was discovered a plan was put in place to train local farmers and fishermen in the treatment of the weed and to clear the river in sections starting (as of course you logically should) upstream and working downwards. The Loobagh feeds into the Maigue which is a busy fishing river so the pressure was on to eradicate the plant to prevent it colonising the banks of that river too. The project is still underway but they are making progress. It’s slow and poorly funded. And here’s where my blood begins to boil, what is wrong with the dept of agriculture?? surely it is very important to support this??? Christ! Anyway, wait till some TD’s relation gets scalded by this plant then we  might see some bloody results.

By comparison to Giant Hog Weed other invasive species like Japanese Knot-weed Fallopia japonica(universal wrecker of house foundations) and Himalayan Balsam Impatiens glandulifera ( madly invasive plant with pretty pink flowers loved by bees) begin to look almost benign; Himalayan balsam has obligingly small roots and is a doddle to pull out and you can actually eat Japanese knot weed as a type of delicate green! But all three plants have one thing in common, they push out native species ruining local biodiversity so they have to go. If you are curious about which other alien plant species are roaming around the countryside causing havoc to native flora and fauna look no further that the National Biodiversity Data Centre who put together a “dirty dozen” list. It makes for some interesting reading.

Kilmallock Merchants House 001L

16th century Merchants house Kilmallock from

What I didn’t know about Kilmallock is that it has a museum. Run by volunteers on a ground floor of an old town house it has lots of memorabilia from the town and best of all a terrific scale model based on a map from the medieval period complete with walls and town gates (and our lovely priory).We popped in to see it after our talk to be met with a lonely volunteer who took us through the exhibits, wall by wall finishing triumphantly with a “button from Michael Collins’s coat” which he held out like it was the holy stone of clonrickard. You couldn’t ask for a more entertaining and improbable way to end the day. Kilmallock lads-that’s where it’s at. And in the meantime beware the Giant Hog Weed. If you see it stay far, far away.

Co. Limerick “dirty dozen ” non native invasive species with great photos, maps and info here

Revenge of the courgett(ini)


a typical haul from the Cappamore class garden including some giant courgettes

Yesterday my boss surprised us all by bringing in a pot of courgette, potato and onion soup. It was delicious and it got me thinking about why I don’t make soup from courgettes. Isin’t it the obvious thing to do? There are loads and loads of them; hanging off the plants,  piling up in the fridge, looking at you wide eyed just begging to be eaten. I sat in the lunch room eating away and mulling over this mystery-why had I abandoned the idea of making courgette soup?

Later in the afternoon on a visit to Tara, Martin and Nick (not forgetting dogs Jack, Captain and Pepper) an uneasy feeling came over me, a feeling of something familiar and a rising sense of dread. Halfway through my first cup of tea with Tara I realised I was full of courgette wind and that it wanted to be released!! I spent my visit discreetly trumping all over the garden, trying to ignore the magnificent noises coming from the escaping courgette gas, they do make an incredibly loud sound! as I remembered EXACTLY why courgette soup is off the menu.Be warned all ye who make soup with courgettes!!

There are other ways to eat courgettes that don’t involve loud embarrassing noises a few hours later and abolishment from all social circles.Roasted courgettes won’t embarrass you, neither will stir fried or stewed (lightly), but the number one way to use a courgette, especially if it has gotten a bit on the large side is definitely as courgettini.

I do like kitchen gadgets but I’m not into faddy stuff that lasts a year and is gone (my husband might dispute this pointing to the wheat grass hand juicer sitting idly at the back of the press).Last year I heard about these gadgets that make pasta-like strips from vegetables which you then cook lightly instead of pasta. I can’t eat pasta, and the gluten free versions are mostly inedible anyway so this seemed like a great idea to me.Except for one thing. Holy smoke! the price tag. I went around the shops poking at these “yokes” with extraordinary prices that seemed to start at €40 and go up.Yes that’s not a typing error; FORTY flaming EUROS.

So I put it to the back of my mind and soldiered on liking the idea very much but refusing to pay the money involved. Then lo-and-behold last December my dear brother brought me the very gadget in a nice small compact form as a Christmas present. There were two great things about this gift; first my mother caps us all to spending only €20 on presents so he assured me it was cheap and cheerful and secondly its a doddle to use, clean and store. My wildly enthusiastic reaction to this gave great amusement to everyone but who is laughing now eh? Ha! with this courgettini maker I am queen of the courgettes.

Being the ruler of the courgette crop is now very easy. A delicious pasta sauce is made, a pot of water is boiled, the courgette(or two; its quite surprising how much you can consume as courgettini) is twisted through the gadget, courgettini come out the other end, they are dropped into the boiling water where they cook in under 1 minute, they are drained, tossed in olive oil or butter and put on the plate with the pasta sauce, (where might I add their fresh green/yellow colouring looks stunning against the sauce). They also taste delicious, are very good for you, and in this incarnation at least they don’t make you fart.Surely this is the best way ever to cook courgettes?

Dace and Joe were here a few weeks ago passing through on their way home from holidays. Dace, the most practical person on the planet, was introduced to the courgettini maker and given the task of making enough courgettini for herself, myself and Joe from some overlarge courgettes that were in truth heading for marrows.She was completely enamored with the resulting “pasta”, as was Joe, Seamus is too suspicious by nature to eat any odd stuff I produce unless enough people have tasted and lived through it first.The result was Joe ringing me next day to ask where could he get the gadget as they have lots of courgettes and want to make more courgettini!!

So now, far be it for me to act as a sales person but if after reading this you too are bitten by the courgettini bug I happen to have seen a version of my gadget (mine is from the USA probably via China) in Tesco’s where they keep the JML stuff. I have no idea if its as good as mine but at around €14 its a safe enough gamble.I think this is it; veggie spiralizer .One small word of warning!! I cut myself numerous times on the extremely sharp blades before I got sense and was more careful washing and handling it. Be careful!!

And finally. Despite a lot of reading up on courgettes, there seems to be no single consensus on the best ones to grow for taste. If you are after the stripy mediterranean one that everyone thinks of as a courgette and has great flavour then really you cant go wrong with “cocozelle”. But having said that I really think since so much of the courgette is made up of water that flavour is only excellent when the right mix of trase elements are in the soil. Only good home made compost will really do that for the soil and the plant that grows in it.



Are we there yet?


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When tomatoes meet apples it must be Autumn

Here, August is a bone of contention. According to my husband it’s still summer, any stray afternoon of warm sunshine proof that Summer is not all over. According to me it’s Autumn, cool morning mists and noisy crows pecking at apples are proof enough of that. But there’s lots of other things; evenings drawing in, picking the first apples, leaves starting to change colour on trees, seed pods on flowering plants, ditches more gold than green….you get the idea.

At this time of the year (wither you think its summer or autumn) there is a surprisingly large amount of food to be sown  in preparation for eating in the coming months. For tunnel owners in particular a huge amount of plants can be started in August which will feed them right into Christmas but if you are gardening outside with a bit of assistance from cloches you can grow the same stuff. This is what Joyce Russell, the excellent author of the Polytunnel book recommends sowing this month;

  • French beans
  • Kohl rabi
  • Swiss Chard
  • Winter Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Florence Fennel
  • Rocket
  • Mizuna
  • Mibuna
  • Lambs Lettuce
  • Corn Salad
  • Land Cress
  • Winter purslane
  • Texel greens
  • Spring Cabbage
  • Pak choi
  • Turnip
  • Kale
  • Oriental Salad leaves
  • Potatoes
  • Calabrese
  • Beetroot

You can add hardy varieties of spring onion and of course fast crops like radishes to the list too. Its not entirely over for herbs either, parsley, coriander and chervil can be sown to stay indoors for the winter, on the windowsill or cold frame, or a tunnel/glasshouse if you have it.

All these flower arrangements have one thing in common; sweet peas sown last October!

About this time last year I took some good advise to sow perennial and biennial flowers for the coming year. In many ways its a much better time than in early spring when you are up to your eye balls in all the other seedlings for the vegetable garden. You also get stronger plants for planting out the following spring and earlier flowering too. The catch? you need to overwinter some of them under glass or plastic so it all depends on that space being available and not tied up in producing something else over winter. If you do have the space these flowers can  be set from seeds now with sweet peas (maybe the most important and worthwhile flower to sow in autumn and overwinter) not being sown until October with overwintering onions, garlic and broad beans;

“Halo” Hollyhocks sown this time last year blooming in the garden today.

Flowers to sow in August( directly outside)

  • Poppies
  • Cornflowers
  • Scabious
  • Violas
  • Larkspur ( a weeks holiday in the fridge before sowing)
  • Nigella
  • California poppies
  • Echium
  • Calendula
  • Cerinthe
  • Forget-me-not
  • Foxglove
  • Candytuft

Under cover inside;

  • Linaria
  • Orlaya
  • Gaura
  • Euphorbia
  • Delphinium
  • Antirrhinum
  • Salvia
  • Hollyhock
  • Oriental poppies


A final word. A few years ago I got a free packet of flower seed from T&M. These turned out to be Nicotiana mutabilis ‘Marshmallow’. I took no notice and sowed the other packets I had bought putting these lads away in the box. Last spring I sowed a few, transplanted them into pots and eventually some out into the garden and some remained in pots. Nothing happened, no flowers, sod all growth, but then it was a rubbish year for flowers in general. Winter came and went, Spring arrived and lo-and -behold they all shot back to life grew like mad and began to flower. They have been flowering solidly ever since and are just terrific, putting out loads of little faded flowers that just go on and on and on. No big scent like their cousins but just tall, pretty and bountiful. Terrific plants. I’m currently saving seeds from the best of them and I will sow them now for next year, maybe doing some under cover and some outside to see how they fare.Great plant and highly recommended. Check out info on them here.



Life on Mars


Another grey day in the veg garden…..

The bloody weather would really get to you, flat expanses of grey misty skies that blanket the horizon, filtering light levels so dramatically that artificial light is necessary indoors while you eat dinner, and you feel mildly confused as to why the basil in your salad lacks its usual punch. That combined with the healthy glow of family returned from holiday in eastern Europe, passing around sun drenched photos of parties in gardens and canoeing down the river, while other family members enjoy the heatwave on the eastern seaboard of the united states posting pictures at the beach while we sit in semi-darkness it’s enough to push you over the bloody edge!!

I know it’s not actually the fault of the met office-though it would be handy to blame them, if not for the weather itself maybe all the changing of forecasts that goes on, e.g.on Monday predicting that Friday will be dry (woohoo! you say to yourself, a thousand jobs will be done on Friday in the garden, and you make your plans accordingly). Suddenly by Wednesday the met office announcer sends all your plans straight to hell as they very seriously announce that Friday will be wet, really wet, Indian monsoon wet (and you of course throw down your trowel in an absolute fit and cry out “how do you expect me to garden in THESE conditions????!!!!)

If you could look for a positive in all of this at least there is no watering to be done and everything is growing really well. Maybe the other upside is that it’s warm; warm AND wet makes for great growth for most things, unlike last year which was cold and wet. It also means that on dry overcast days you can just wear shorts and pretend the sun is shining! How tragic is that? Even worse you might need to wear a winter hat with the  shorts to counter the effects of that head-cold you cant shake. Ridiculous but true. Well at least I am entertainment for the neighbors and my own cats if they take any notice.


The Kulli black corn bed looking fab

Everything is growing well but my favorite  bed this year is the black corn bed which you might remember me planning earlier in the year in this post. The corn is terrific, huge, lush and strong, how much taller it will get I don’t know. Commentators on Baker Creek claimed huge sizes for it but I’m thinking maybe not much taller here than your average corn? Don’t know, we will have  to wait and see. “Mrs Mars” the diminutive sunflower has turned out to be the perfect companion for the corn, modestly growing in its under-storey, and for once sunflower flowers are entirely visible to admire, also the bumbles like it so a winner all round. The nicotiana is just coming into bloom and is absolutely lovely of course although presently purple is the only visible colour, so I’m waiting for the pinks and reds to arrive. The most disappointing plant of all is the red Gaillardia which so far is tiny and a bit miserable. The seedlings were slowest and planted out latest perhaps everything else just has the jump on them, or competition for food was too strong by the time they were planted out into the bed?

As I cross fingers, toes and anything else that might be bendy enough for a fine autumn to see out the pollination and swelling of the corn I can only offer one nugget of weather advise. My most reliable forecasters are my cats. If they come in and refuse to go out you might as well kiss the day goodbye! Look out for cats in the following position;


Gingers weather prediction-stay indoors

Last chance to see…


Sadly Helen Dillion’s wonderful Dublin Garden will be closed after next month as Helen and her husband Val have sold the house and are downsizing to a new place. While I am pleased for them and sometimes think myself that it must be lovely to manage  tiny courtyard gardens where every inch is precious rather than 3/4 of an acre where time is constantly against you, this does mean that a longstanding gem famous throughout the world will soon be gone forever.Maybe I’m sounding a bit melodramatic! but you get the idea…this is your last chance to see it.

If you need a further nudge please note that Monty Don and the BBC were there only last Thursday week filming with Helen (one of my students casually informed me that he met him there and they had a good old chat, as if they had gone to school together!!). All the details are here on the website, go see it before its really, really gone.

The Dillon Garden

I was on a visit myself a few years ago, here is the blog link

Adventures on St Declan’s Way

20160426_160900“Giorraíonn beirt bóthar” is an old Irish expression. It’s direct, and no doubt slightly puzzling translation is “two cut the road”, but a more complete explanation is that with company a journey seems shorter, with conversation and craic any long road will be easier. I was thinking about this on the last two painful km through Cashel, my body tired and exhausted and already shutting down because I knew the long walk from Ardmore was at it’s end, but meanwhile my head insisted that we still had to walk into town and find the bloody hostel! So between talking and focusing as much as I could on Jude I dragged my unwilling feet the last part of the journey ready for collapsing into a damp and smelly heap with whatever other crusties we might find when we got there.

The strange thing about abandoning your life for a week to walk across hills and fields, through graveyards, towns and villages, past ancient high towers, shipwrecks and sea, over mountains and into woods (not forgetting crossing rivers and falling into the odd stream;as you realise the balance you had aged 8 has sadly deserted you) is how much better you feel immersed in the countryside. Jude and I had a kind of calm zen like approach to the distances we needed to do each day to get to our next place of rest. We walked a nice relaxed pace with time enough to look in fields and quiz farmers about unusual looking crops (never saw fodder beet before), step out of the way of evening time processions of cows headed to milking, stop and admire birds on the Backwater river where Jude introduced me to sand martins and we stalked a heron (David Attenborough style not Bear Grylls), rescue a newborn lamb on the side of the knockmealdown mountains despite the weather closing in, take Keith’s guided tour of Cahir “some fu*kers buried there”, picnic over a sewer pipe and stop to admire wildflowers and puzzle over the ones we didn’t know.

We ate hearty fries every morning and big nourishing dinners at night.Sleep came swift and was refreshingly deep, except for the first morning when I woke to the sound of the dawn chorus,and it has now cured me of every again getting up deliberately to hear it.In the evenings Jude read Rosamund Burton’s “Castles, follies and Four-leaf clover-Adventures along Ireland’s St Declan’s Way”, the same route we were walking but in the reverse order and punctuated with more cups of tea and time off along the way visiting old friends and family. I read Dervla Murphy’s autobiography “Wheels within wheels” which had me so in besotted with Lismore that I found it hard to leave it. Just as well that on the day we arrived in the town we took our time visiting St. Carthage’s Cathedral and two local cafes where we stuffed ourselves with Lismore biscuits and cake before reluctantly crossing the bridge and heading onward towards Mount Mellary.

Everyday we learned something new from each other.  I learned how to read a map, use a compass and send ( with the aid of a nifty phone map app called view ranger )buddy beacons to Seamus so he knew where we were.I also learned that Vaseline prevents friction and blisters, and that I bought my boots a size too small for long walks.Jude mastered the forwards and backwards road salute to passing traffic (not the done thing in Yorkshire) learned loads of Irish words, and how to use them; she sent me a text when she got home to say she had reached the centre of Sheffield” an lar”,she also fell in love with O’Donnell’s crisps and Lismore biscuits. Perhaps the biggest thing I learned about my old Friend is her incredible endurance. After all that journey, all 90 odd km of walking over 4 days Jude only went and ran the full Limerick marathon two days later on the Sunday! Even better she actually enjoyed it. She is amazing. I have heard before that there is a vein of steel that runs through people from Sheffield but now I bloody believe it!

Why go on this old pilgrim path in the first place? It was a chance to spend time with Jude and though I loathe to use that over-worn phrase “a chance to reconnect” but most importantly a bit like Bilbo Baggins I was off on an adventure. I didn’t bloody do it for “the cure”that’s for sure! Jude and I should both be sorted for a lifetime of good eyesight having bathed our eyes in holy wells and been promised ” a cure for the eyes”. Mind you its a bit slow to work. Neither of us have been able to throw our glasses away just yet! So if you walk St. Declan’s way bring your glasses and ignore promises of “cures”.

What does any of this have to do with gardening? absolutely nothing. The only tenuous link I can offer is than on arriving home I was relieved to find my dear husband had looked after all my precious seedlings really well and everything had grown beyond belief. They didn’t even miss me and I talk to them every day and ask them how they are . You can be sure Seamus did nothing of the sort. Yet they grew and prospered anyway! It’s amazing what happens while you are gone out for a walk.

St Declan’s Way and other old pilgrim walks here