The dream is for the house to disappear, more overgrown with every passing year.
On a foggy St Patrick’s morning we planted 50, mostly native Irish trees. Oak, Rowan, Silver Birch, Wild Cherry, Willow & Hornbeam.
Even before our house was built we knew we didn’t want a standard garden with ordered beds and so much lawn. The dream was something between the prairie or cottage styles you see in magazines, plus lots of trees and our own vegetables.
The dream behind the dream was, still is, something magical, wild and otherworldly.
No one said it was going to be easy, luckily my approach to most things is, why not?
The struggles to achieve something of the house we’d envisaged, from design and throughout the building process are legendary. They can perhaps be summed up by saying no one wants to give you what you want, they want to give you what is convenient for them.
You could also say some people lack imagination but at least once the house was built the struggle ended and it quickly became our territory to do what we wanted in. We’re agreed now, it was worth the hassle.
This is the beauty of your own four walls where the only impediment to imagination or expression ever is money, and it hasn’t stopped me so far, though the words of Dorothy Parker come to mind;
‘I’ve never been a millionaire but I know I’d be just darling at it.’
My point is your home is your castle, but not your garden.
I think it’s because the limits to having the garden you want are not individual but cultural, plus, if your’re in Ireland, weather.
When it comes to options beyond a lawn, no one can tell you anything because no one knows.
The extent of wisdom may be that nothing will grow, we were told this many times, unless you have tons of money to spend. And that folks is about the height of readily available wisdom on the matter.
Our garden is one acre, with a hill at the back. It’s a difficult site, that part the advisors got right. Leitrim land is wet, the joke that is close to the truth is, you can buy it by the gallon.
Still, we planted fruit trees and shrubs including apple, plum, blackcurrant and raspberry, ornamental trees and shrubs like lilac, laburnum and cherry. Our hedging, already in place, is whitethorn, sycamore, holly, blackthorn, blackberry, wild rose and sally. We also planted an organic vegetable garden and oceans of flowers including deep beds of wildflowers, sigh.
I can’t wait to see them again.
There was a learning curve with the flowers. When we planted them first I wondered how we’d weed them.I quickly learned you don’t. We have planted so many bulbs, seeds, shrubs and flowers now the weeds are being crowded out, you can’t see them anyhow, or tell the difference. Now every year I have deep swathes of flowers and grass and no weeding. We just keep sowing and planting…
As bewildered beginners we were open minded, willing to experiment, to fail and to learn. We cultivated a survival of the fittest mindset, a kind of loving and benign neglect. We were just willing to give things a go.
In the early years with babies I found myself in the house more than I’d hoped while Adrian did what he could while also working full time and farming. Real life is such a pain some/all the time. So far so good but we still had a lawn, a rough rushy, thistle filled wide open lawn.
Funny, in the house I love clear paths and space while outside I crave the overgrown, secluded walkways.
When it came to buying the trees we had to balance our desires and plans with cost and potential loss if the trees don’t make it. With all that in mind we opted for optimism and the least expensive option of very young trees or whips as they’re known.
And just think, if they work we’ll see leaves in just a few weeks with the start of the growing season. That will be so exciting! For every tree that makes it the ground will be helped, especially with varieties like willow that take in a lot of water, not to mention ten oak trees with their potential centuries of life and life giving ahead of them.
In spite of the immense challenges our vision has remained the same, only thanks to the wonders of the web we have been able to find methods that answer our questions, like Permaculture and Coppicing.
In coppicing a tree is repeatedly cut down so it starts growing new shoots that can be then cut for firewood, for eternity! Well, for the natural lifetime of the tree. Can you believe it? It’s knowledge like this that fuels the flame, how wrong our current system is, how un-educated we’ve all become.
So our own interpretation of permaculture, not forgetting we’re far from expert so it’s just our feeling, is as follows;
Permaculture for Dummies…
- Forget ideas of how a garden should look, how would you like it to look? To achieve? For example, we’re working to achieve a wild garden to blow the senses, low on maintenance and cost, high on colour and native species, that will support the earth, local wildlife and ultimately us i.e. through timber for the fire and food of course.
- Plant a lot of stuff, as much native as possible. And if it dies? Plant more. Think in terms of more is more, manifest abundance.
- Remember that cuttings are free. Ask neighbours, family and friends not forgetting the lanes. To date we’ve rescued a few baby trees growing in lane verges where they’d no chance of survival plus one woodbine and oodles of cuttings.
- Add all green waste to your soil. Start a compost heap, I’m still amazed at the amount we can generate. Adrian sectioned off a corner of the garden with wooden palettes, couldn’t have been simpler, and there’s no smell. I throw all my veg waste in there. Start saving all your lawn clippings and add back to the garden. Collect and add untreated cardboard, leaves, cuttings, just keep putting it down. You can do this one section at a time and plant directly into the mess which very quickly rots down.
- The idea is that in time, all that grows is returned to the earth.
- In the early days you’ll have a lot of mowing, just like with a lawned garden, but as it grows up you’ll have less and less, eventually no mowing to do.
- Permaculture is healthy, organic, pretty much cost free and low maintenance.
In an ideal world we’d have had the funds to do some groundwork first but like anytime I think it would be nice to wave my magic wand, Adrian’s response is ‘Sure where would be the fun in that!‘ Clearly he likes hard graft!
He and my brother, Colm, dug drains themselves to give these trees the very best chance in life.
To sum up folks, lawns are relics, think trees, wildflowers and veg, this is the future. The future is now…