County Mayo (west of Ireland) is blessed by an amazing Atlantic coastline. This year we have not had much beach weather but we try to make the most of it when the sun does shine.
Beltra beach is just outside Westport. It is just one beach of a number in Clew Bay. It’s a lovely place to swim as the relatively shallow waters of the bay warm up quickly. There is lots to explore; rocky shore and rock pools when the tide is out; wildflowers where sand meets fields; and plenty of shells to collect too.
Above the beach rises Croagh Patrick. This mountain is a pilgrimage mountain. Before being a site of Christian pilgrimage, it was a site of pagan worship when people are thought to have gathered to celebrate the beginning of the harvest. The main day for climbing the mountain is the last Sunday of July. Up to twenty thousand people made the assent in previous years. This year, for the first time, people were urged not to climb it because weather conditions on the day were so bad (rain and wind), which says a lot about the kind of summer we are experiencing!
Today we went for a lovely walk up Croaghmoyle. In Irish it is called An Chruach Mhaol which means the bare-topped stack. Truth be told we did not actually get to the top as it started to rain quite heavily and we had to turn back, but we still got great views. The area is a Natural Heritage Area.
If you look closely you can see the track going up the hill
The track is good so it made for easy walking despite the rain. The start wanders through conifer plantations but the edges are packed with flowers, tormentil, heather, heath bedstraw and birdsfoot trefoil. I was amazed by how many ringlet butterflies were about despite the rain. Some seemed to be laying eggs on grasses which is what the caterpillar feeds on.
We also spotted a lovely common blue. The first I have seen this summer. It was trying to shelter from the rain too (so not the best photo). The forewing is an amazing blue in the males, though the females are less showy and more blue/brown.
Some of the sheep (recently sheared) had found some shelter for themselves, from the heavy rain. They are grazing what is known as commonage land – shared by a number of farmers. The farmers colour-code their sheep so they know who they belong to. In the distance of the second photograph you may be able to make out some wind turbines.
In the past, there had been a couple of farm homesteads here. They are long gone and all that remains are the outlines of some fields and the odd building, becoming surrounded by trees.
Back down at the bottom there is a little lake hidden among some of the trees, called Lough Ben. White water-lilies were just coming into flower.
Our cool wet summer is continuing. Every morning we wake in the hope of seeing blue skies, but even if it is clear it soon clouds over and the showers start. The temperatures have not got above 20 degrees Celsius for weeks now and it is often only about 16. The vegetables are growing but only slowly. Only the cabbages are thriving – they don’t mind the wet and cool temperatures. Though we have had plenty slug damage and some caterpillar damage too. We’ve been suffering some wind damage too.
Cabbage and wind blown brocolli
Outside the courgettes and beans and even the mange tout are really struggling and look pathetically small. There are plenty tay berries but they are not getting sweet and some are going moldy.
The red currants did crop well and there was enough for the blackbirds and for us. I made some pots of jam – as I like to add red currant jam to my gravies (because I am too lazy to make red currant jelly!).
It’s the first year I have tried the brassica Romanesco – this is our first one and the other plants are looking healthy so fingers crossed.
There are fewer poppies than last year but they are still beautiful. The borage is proving popular with the bees.
Looking out my back door I know I am lucky. Beyond the garden all I can see are fields, hedgerows and trees. I can hear the birds singing (and okay if the wind is blowing a certain way I may hear the cars on the main road, but not always). In the damp air, I can smell elderflowers and honeysuckle. And when the sun shines I can see the washing drying on the line and the day-lillies in the flower bed.
One of my favourite areas in the garden is our wildflower meadow. Dr. Dave Goulson, in his book A Sting in the Tail, describes wildflower meadows as ‘close to heaven’ and I would certainly agree with him. Our meadow is a work in progress. It is possible to clear an area of grass and sow a seed mix of ‘wildflower meadow’ but it’s hard to get a truly native mix. Many of the mixes available here in Ireland contain species that would be found in a British wildflower meadows though not necessarily an Irish one! In addition, where I have seen this done, the meadows look great the first year and then the grasses start to take over again.
We started our wildflower meadow in what is also our orchard. I’ve gathered wildflower seeds from the surrounding hedgerows and fields and scattered them in this area. I have also ‘move’ wildflowers that come up in my vegetable patch or lawn to the area I want them. I do this with ox-eyed daisy a lot. This year, the ox-eyed daisies didn’t put on such as good display as last year. I’ve a feeling it’s probably due to the wet weather.
However, the yellow catsear Hypochaeris radicata, have increased significantly just by collecting and scattering seeds.
One of the great successes has been the introduction of yellow rattle, Rhinanthus minor. This plant is parasitic to grasses and so reduces their vigor allowing the flowers to get better established. It’s called yellow rattle or hay rattle because when the seeds dry they rattle in the wind. I originally scattered some seeds in one small area but I can find it all over the garden now. Last year, I purposely scattered seeds in our new poultry field and there are quite a few plants there this year.
There has always been plenty of white clover, but this year the red clover is also doing well.
We will cut the meadow when everything has set seed, usually in September. The last to flower will be the knapweeds and scabious. Last year, I only had a couple of plants of each but over time they will increase. One needs to be patient. Some of the seeds I will collect and scatter where I want the plants to grow. It’s important to remove the cut grass once the seeds have fallen, otherwise the decaying grass will increase the fertility and generally the flowers do better in relatively poor soil.
The beauty of a flower meadow is not just in the flowers but in all the insects that visit it. At the moment these are some of the commonest insects about. The solitary bee is a leaf cutter bee (Megachile vesicolor). The photo is from last year but I saw one today flying with a large cycle of leave in it’s jaws!
This week’s rain has confined me mostly to the greenhouse and polytunnel, both of which needed attention anyhow! Yesterday I cleared out the last of the mangetout plants (the outside ones are now cropping). We’ve been enjoying the Charlotte potatoes, broad-beans and purple kohlrabi all from the tunnel.
In the greenhouse, some of the tomato plants have set their first fruit and there are a couple of tiny cucumbers too, though the plants are still small. The purple dwarf beans have cropped quite well and the courgette plant is looking great. I need to take it out as it’s taking up too much room and I have more plants outside (looking very small and miserable) and one in the polytunnel. As it’s cropping very well I’m going to leave it as long as I can. So for now I’m removing some of the leaves.
Courgette in polytunnel
Today, it had stopped raining so I had a chance to do some weeding in the vegetable plot. I am leaving the strawberry bed (it’s full of weeds), as the damp weather has resulted in lots of slug damage and those the slugs aren’t eating the birds are. My plan for next year is to put the strawberries in pots in the blueberry fruit cage.
Slug eaten strawberry
Today, my son did manage to find a few nice ones. He decided he was going to eat a lunch that he himself picked. This was the result. (He did take my offer of a freshly cooked pancake too!)
My son’s lunch plate
Yes, we have some nice black and red currants ripening. They are one of our most reliable fruits. The green bean like pods are actually the seed pods of some of my brassicas. I leave some plants to get seed for next year but the kids and I find them quite tasty too.
We are back from our annual trip to Wales to see my husband’s family and have returned to a garden that resembles a jungle. The grass in the meadow seems to have grown about a foot in our absence and some of the vegetables (though not all) have grown too. But more about the garden later in the week.
First some highlights of our Wales visit. Grandma and Grandpa’s garden was awash with flowers, the roses in particular caught my eye.
Meanwhile, in the hedgerows and banks along the Welsh roadsides, foxgloves with their tall pink spires, seemed to abound.
One of the visits we made was to Dinefwr Park, a National Trust property and home to a herd of White Park Cattle. This is a very old cattle breed but it is also very rare with only about 1000 animals worldwide. The breed is descended from Britain’s original wild white cattle. Because the white cattle look so noble they were enclosed in parks by the nobility during the middle ages but when these estates started to decline so too did the cattle. The cattle are white with black spots and black on their muzzle, ears, eye-rims and feet. The wide-spreading horns are usually black-tipped. As they are an ancient breed the animals still have a matriarch system, i.e one of the females is in charge. In Dinefwr the matriarch is Miranda – she is the oldest female in the herd (at about 16 years of age). During the Second World War a small number of the cattle were shipped to the USA, where today two herds still remain – one in Texas and one in Montana.
Miranda, Park White Cow
White Park bull
The park is also famed for its ancient trees. They have nearly 300 trees that are thought to be over 400 years old. One of the oak trees is estimate to be 700 years old. We didn’t get time to see that one, so will have to make a return visit.