There is always a place in any garden of mine for roses, because roses make my heart glad. But the truth is that there is little that makes my heart gladder than to eat something I’ve grown myself in my garden. To me, the perfect, most enchanted garden is a rather messier version of the classic French potager: flowers, fruit, herbs and vegetables all mixed in together – together with a few hens (we have five) and a bee hive or two. (Or three, in our case.)
Here, baby Red Russian kale seedlings have just been planted between flowers and herbs like this young lavender and feverfew; by the time they are dying back later in the year, the kale will be coming into its own and will feed us through the winter.
We have spent spring and summer of this year (it’s only early July and already it’s been a long, hot summer – in fact, Ireland is suffering from a drought) doing our best to create a fruitful garden. Having learned many lessons from living in bogs and other places with poor soil, we’ve developed a penchant for slightly raised beds: easier to drain, easier to improve. So our fruit bushes have gone into raised beds, and our herbs. We’re currently making a raised bed for potatoes and bean-type things. But the finest raised beds of all are those to be found in the new polytunnel. Yes, a polytunnel! After four years without, I finally have a polytunnel again.
First, an area of empty, uneven ground at the back of our little wood had to be cleared and levelled by Paddy, our neighbour.
Then the construction began, under the careful supervision of Fionn the dog. David is a dab hand at such things, as this is exactly the kind of polytunnel we erected when we lived on the Isle of Lewis, and which I tended for many years.
On Lewis, we had a large Keder polytunnel – the only one which was guaranteed to stand up to the severe gales which used to hit us from both the south and the west. It also has a kind of bubble-wrap as a covering; that makes it especially well-insulated. We grew almost everything in that polytunnel; the strong, salt-laden winds demolished anything which was left exposed outside. And, as you can see from the image below, everything outside had to be inside windbreaks.
Connemara is a gentler land. Here is the completed (except for a bit of tidying up outside) new polytunnel, in the evening light, with silver birch and willows (and the odd giant conifer) in the background. Once you’ve had a Keder, you’re spoiled for everything else. So that is what we have.
And even though it’s only been up for just around three weeks, here are a few things already planted and growing well:
So now there’s a new level of enchantment to each day, and one which makes my heart sing even when the world around me seems to be intolerable. As, these days, it so often does. Regular trips to the polytunnel keep me sane. There is hope in the heart of a seed. There’s a determination not only to survive, but to thrive. To grow and to flower and to fruit and to be everything that it possibly can be, in the space of just one short season. A seed doesn’t know how to give up. It doesn’t know how to despair. It just carries on, being the best that it can be. And to be the best that it can be is simply to be itself.
And there’s hope in the heart of my increasingly enchanted garden, too – for an enchanted garden needs to nourish as many things as it can, in every way that it can. This garden now, just one year in, provides nourishment for my heart in the form of beautiful roses – many of which we’ve rescued from thickets of brambles – and other flowering shrubs which have survived the years of neglect: giant bright blue hydrangeas, cerise camellias, clematis montana rambling madly through the beautifully scented flowering privet which is so beloved of bees. It provides nourishment for the body and mind, in the wildflowers and cultivated herbs which are beginning to clutter its edges, and from which I make teas and balms and hydrosols. Our garden, by design, provides food for birds, for bees, for hens, and for us. Even the dogs are inordinately fond of cooked, chopped kale mixed in with their tea – and a nice raw or scrambled egg when there’s a surplus. It provides food for the insect life which depends on our many native trees. There are cobnuts showing up on the recently planted cultivated hazel trees, and tomatoes ripening fast in the sunny summer polytunnel. Blackberries are slowly forming on the bramble thickets which remain. There is little apparent order in this garden, where ‘weeds’ like nettles and ox-eye daisies, like yarrow and rosebay willowherb, are allowed to flourish on the fringes of the more cultivated areas – but to me, that’s all part of its enchantment.