Looking back and looking forward

Outdoor Living

In the garden
Eriko Uehara Hopkinson

September; the apples are ripening and the swallows are preparing for their long trip south. We see another summer passing amidst the Covid crisis.
Gardening has been a godsend for many of us, especially during lockdown – people have become so appreciative of nature and their surroundings, and many of us have embraced gardening.
I’ve had many people looking into my garden while they were on their walks, and it’s been nice to get to know the neighbours better.
In a way, we’ve had to re-examine our lives; how to live, and what really matters to us. Perhaps we’ve learned to find happiness in simpler things.
Our Clew Bay Garden Trail proved to be a very popular event this year. To our delight, many people visited our gardens, and we felt an overwhelming degree of genuine interest.
So, I thank the people who visited the gardens on the trail, on behalf of our members.

My garden, to me
When RTÉ’s new garden programme ‘Ireland’s Garden Heroes’ came to film our garden, it gave me the opportunity to look at it in a different light – what is my garden to me?
A sanctuary? A place to learn about myself, and life, and the earth I stand on? An exercise in collecting plants that excite me? A playground?
When I came to live in our 170-year-old cottage 22 years ago, I was especially ecstatic to own an orchard with old native Irish varieties of apples. What a pleasure it is to taste the apple juice from your own orchard! I think of the people who planted these trees, the children who sneaked in to pick them (some of whom have since confessed!), and all those who, over the years, have admired the scented apple blossoms and chased crows from pecking at the fruit.
My garden is not a show garden but it’s how we live. It is a place to grow food, somewhere to sit and enjoy morning coffee and afternoon tea. It is somewhere to share lunch with friends, or to simply soak up the sunshine whilst listening to the birds singing and smelling the flowers. It is a place to learn to be patient, and to let go of certain things in life.
I also mustn’t forget about the living creatures in our garden; the birds singing during nesting season, the bees buzzing on sunny days, the butterflies enjoying the sedum and buddleja in late summer. Without these seasonal dramas, our garden would not be half as attractive.
Even the lowly slugs and snails are needed to complete the cycle of the natural world. Therefore, we must forgive their occasional nibbling of our precious plants.
The way our garden was captured and received by the crew gave me a sense of reassurance and the understanding that the garden itself will speak to the people more than I intended.  
Now the garden is getting ready to rest over the winter, but is also quietly preparing for next year’s growth; this is the time for collecting seeds and taking softwood cuttings of roses, hydrangeas and salvias. So, some advice for this month here follows.

Softwood cuttings
Softwood (this year’s fresh growth) material roots easily, but dries out quickly, so hydration is very important. Avoid cutting from rotting stems, and keep the cuttings in a covered area, spraying with water every day, rather than covering them with plastic.
Choose non-flowering shoots 10cm long, and cut just below the node in the morning. Strip the lower leaves, and leave the growth at the top.
Dip the cuttings into rooting hormones, then make a hole with a dibber and insert them into the compost while damp. It will take about four weeks for them to root.

Ordering tulips
Another important and fun part of planning next year’s garden is ordering spring flowering bulbs. Especially tulips!
There are so many types of tulips, from wild tulips to the early-flowering and robust Darwin Hybrid to the late-flowering, flamboyant parrot tulips.
I usually order from Peter Nyssen as they don’t use fungicide or other wildlife threatening chemicals (especially for bees) on their bulbs, and all their packaging is compostable. Also their tax rate is the same as before Brexit. There are other companies – BULBi, Rose Cottage Plants, Jaque Amand Intl.

Eriko Uehara Hopkinson is a member of the Clew Bay Garden Trail, a chain of beautiful and unique private gardens that open to the public during summer to raise funds for charity (see www.clewbaygardentrail.ie for more). Each month an article by a trail member will appear in these pages. Episode 6 of ‘Ireland’s Garden Heroes’, featuring Eriko, originally aired on August 26 and is available to watch on the RTÉ player.