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Great white hope

Outdoor Living


Venetia McEllin

I think gardeners are generally a creative, multitasking bunch, but sometimes, at least in my case, we can get quite carried away. Last year, my son Michael and his girlfriend Michelle decided to get married and have their reception at the very lovely Lodge at Ashford Castle. I immediately (and rashly) offered to grow some flowers for the small church on the Ashford Castle grounds.
It only dawned on me, once the excitement subsided, that the wedding was in early February, when blooms were thin on the ground and in my garden, non-existent. Nothing daunted, I optimistically went on the internet to get the lowdown on forcing bulbs. Easy peasy! In late September, plunge your narcissi and other spring bulbs outside in the soil and wait for the frost to replicate mid winter – that of course assumes that the weather behaves in a rational, four-seasons-a-year kind of way.
The theory is that way when you bring them into the warm, you trick the bulbs into thinking its spring.
Needless to say, the frost didn’t materialise and the soil stayed sullenly warm. By mid December, panicking, I decided that I would have to lift them anyway and bring them indoors near the radiators. I had snowdrops, cyclamen and an array of daffodils – Mount Jenny, Paperwhites, Thalia, Bridal crown and others. My own marriage came under severe strain as trails of potting compost could be found everywhere in the house, but there was no other option.
Bedroom, living room, kitchen, study were all awash with bulbs with about half an inch of growth. And that basically was how they stayed (apart from one rogue ballerina tulip which shot out of the starting gate, bloomed for two days and then wilted). Every morning I would rush to look at them and in mid January in desperation and feeling a bit of a failure, I hit the garden centres for white flowers!
The resultant cyclamen and hellebores, which had been grown in optimum growing conditions, behaved perfectly and looked lovely in the church, but the bulbs which were originally destined for the church, are now scattered around the garden in pots. The eternal optimist, I have decided to turn my failure into an opportunity and create a white garden with all the bulbs that let me down. I have visions of carpets of spring flowering bulbs under trees, with a beech archway at the end – and at the Spring Garden Fair at Claregalway I bought three bare root silver birch to get me started!
The garden itself stayed unkempt over the winter, and it wasn’t until about two weeks ago that Seán and I went out and weeded and mulched the beds. What a difference a layer of garden compost and then some mulched bark makes to the look of the place! At least now I can see weeds as they appear.
Friend Helen gave me a tip on how to protect plants from being nibbled. In my case my blue delphiniums kept being eaten, so I put cloches over them for ten days, put a few slug pellets under the cloches and now the delphiniums are growing well. Apparently the slugs don’t bother with plants once they get going.
All of a sudden it seems like fun to go outside and do a few bits, even if it is only wandering around the garden with a coffee in my hand, dreaming of a woodland with drifts of white bulbs under trees!

Venetia McEllin is a member of Ballinrobe Garden Club, which meets on the first Tuesday of the month at 7.30pm in Tacú Resource Centre, Ballinrobe.