Archive for 28/08/2014


One Billion Hungry: Can We Feed the World?

ID-100219796A recent paper, No Dominion over Nature, authored by UK ecologists, Professors Mark Huxham, Sue Hartley, Jules Pretty and Paul Tett, describes how current approaches to food production are damaging the long term health of ecosystems, hampering their ability to provide ecosystem services and leaving them vulnerable to collapse. Focusing on continual (and unsustainable) increases in agricultural productivity, for example through intensive monocultures, will inevitably lead to a “boom and bust” cycle.

The “dominant narrative” in meeting the ever increasing demand for food (some estimate we need to increase food production by 100% by 2050 to meet this demand) is to intensify agricultural production, an approach, such as the Green Revolution, that has so far allowed food production to keep pace with population growth. Such a pathway, as authors argue, is causing ecosystem deterioration, eroding the ecosystem services we rely upon such as pollination, climate regulation and water purification…

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Beyond the Wild Garden

I think by now you will know I am a big fan of the gardens at Powerscourt Estate. I have talked so much about their great trees and roses here before. It will come as now surprise to you all then that after a recent visit to the gardens I decided to dedicate my latest Kildare Post gardening column to the gardens. It was a great time to highlight the estate as recently it was named the third best garden in the world. An edited version of this article appeared in the print edition of the Kildare Post on 26th August 2014.

The world’s third best garden – By David Corscadden 

When it comes to Irish gardens that have had an impact on garden design a hand full of gardens come to mind. None standout more strongly to me though than Powerscourt Estate in Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow.

For me these…

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Physalis seed pods mark the move into autumn...

Physalis seed pods mark the move into autumn…

Old School Garden – 28th August 2014

To Walter Degrasse

Dear Walter,

The last few weeks have felt more like autumn than summer, here at Old School Garden. The first week of the month was thankfully sunny and warm and coincided with our holiday in Suffolk; you may have seen a couple of articles I’ve posted about some of our visits.

I feel that I’ve been very lazy in the garden over the remaining weeks, just focusing on the ‘ticking over’ tasks of grass cutting, dead heading, watering, feeding and harvesting- and the occasional bit of weeding. Taking it easier seems to have made my back problems disappear, at least for now.

I dug my carrots up the other day and I was relived that this year I seem to have had some success; though a few have been nibbled around the tops and one or two have split or forked, most are what would pass as good specimens for the supermarket (not that this is test of quality of course!). The celery and courgettes and runner beans continue to crop well; I think we’re just about on top of the courgette glut! We’ve discovered a great recipe for ‘Italian style courgette and Parmesan soup’ on the BBC food website– well worth a try if you like a creamy soup with a bit of ‘edge and bite’. cauliflowers and cabbages seem to putting on a lot of leaf, but no heads, so these may be a ‘no show’ this year.

The ‘heritage’ squashes are rampant and I’ve started removing flowers to try to concentrate the energy into fewer fruit; they are colouring up nicely. Cucumbers are exceeding our needs; I must remember to resist the temptation to grow two plants next year. The tomatoes are steady, if not prolific, though recent weather conditions have probably contributed to the re-emergence of blight in the greenhouse. Still,  it seems to be under control, especially as I’ve removed most of the foliage now to try to concentrate the growth into the fruit and to help with ripening.

I’ve also been regularly harvesting plums (including a wonderful crop of cherry plums from a wild tree on our street border), raspberries and more recently blackberries. Both of these berries all seem to be doing well, with good-sized, tasty fruit, though the mystery of my raspberries remains- for the second year now the back half of both the summer and autumn raspberries have not yielded much if any flowers or fruit. I wonder if this is due to some sort of soil deficiency, though many of the summer fruiting plants are old and in need of replacement; but I can’t understand why the back end is so poor, and the otherwise good autumn row is also affected. Yes, they are next to the wood, but they are in full sun  just like the southern end of the rows. Any advice would be welcome! Here are a few pictures of fruit in the garden at present.

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I’ve also harvested my first pears from the two ‘super column’ plants I put in about four years ago. These (Williams and Conference varieties) are looking great (and the first couple of Williams tasted delicious); I must ensure I get to them before the birds do! As I’ve reported before, the apples this year are disappointing; some large cookers have appeared and been used from one of the ‘super columns’, but more generally in the orchard there are very few fruit developing, due to a combination of pest attack and probably the wet, mild spring causing blossom wilt. I’ve now given all the trees and trained fruit their summer prune, cutting back the ‘water shoots’ to encourage spurs to form (I’ve also done the Wisteria).

Begonias keeping the terrace colourful

Begonias keeping the terrace colourful

The ornamental garden areas are hanging on in there, the late summer performers just coming into their own; sedums, grasses, asters, cannas, helianthemum etc. I’ve grown some autumn pansies from seed and also bought a couple of trays to brighten up the containers on the terrace, which are starting to look tired- apart from those full of ‘non stop’, bright red Begonias.

You remember I said that I was going to experiment with the ‘Chelsea Chop’ this year? I’m pleased with the results. I gave many of the sedums this treatment back in May and the plants are now looking squat, bushy and with lots of flower heads starting to colour up, obviating the need for staking and giving a nicely proportioned show. I shall definitely do this again next year.

Sedums given the 'Chelsea Chop'

Sedums given the ‘Chelsea Chop’

The courtyard fruit is also developing, though the recent lack of sun and warmth has obviously checked this to a degree. Still grapes, figs and possibly olives are all on the way; my miniature peach which suffers from Peach leaf curl has now recovered and put on a good show of healthy new leaves, though the fruit, as before, is disappointing. I must take a closer look at what I need to do with this next year.

I’m afraid the excavating moles are still going about their business, and the main lawn is looking very patchy as a result. I’m in two minds about what to do, if anything about this- do I leave well alone and see the, probably enlarged, mole family wreak even more havoc next year, or do I get a ‘mole man’ in to ‘deal’ with them? Despite reading ‘Noah’s Garden’ and its advocacy of an ecological approach to gardening (so I should convert my lawn to meadow to hide the mole hills), I’m not yet convinced of the case for ‘leaving them be’.

As I mentioned last month my gardening support at the two schools has come to an end, though I’m still puttign in some time at Gressenhall Museum to keep on top of a few areas i’ve been involved with. I shall start to look for other projects once September is done; one might be a new project at our nearby National Trust property, Blickling Hall, where they are intending to restore the large walled garden which is currently largely a ‘blank canvas’. I’ll keep you posted.

I hope that you and Lise enjoyed your holiday in Scotland, though I guess that you didn’t have much good weather in the last couple of weeks, like here? We’re off to Devon next week to do some walking. Now that Deborah has retired she has an ambition to do some ‘open moor’ walking, trying to reach as many Dartmoor tors as we can in four or five days- I may be longing for some work in the garden as light relief after this!

All the best Walter, as we’re away towards the end of September, it’ll probably be early October before you hear from me again. I hope that you enjoy the transition to autumn. We’re looking forward to our visit to you in October.

Old School Gardener

 

 

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