Summer drought brought ghostly reminders of the past

One of the most interesting things that happened during this summer's unusual and prolonged heatwave in Britain and Ireland was the mysterious reappearance of historic gardens and buildings. Outlines of old houses and villages that had been lost and forgotten for centuries emerged and brought the past vividly to life, if only for a short few weeks. Why does this happen?

Apparently it's caused by the depth of soil, or lack of it. Parched grass in extreme temperatures dies off when there is less soil under it. A hard area, such as a wall or pathway, will show up as a brown scorch mark.

The lawn at Chatsworth in Derbyshire displays scorch marks of a 17th century parterre - (Photo: © Chatsworth House)

The lawn at Chatsworth in Derbyshire displays scorch marks of a 17th century parterre - (Photo: © Chatsworth House)

What was once a 17th century parterre, or formal garden, at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire reappeared and was photographed from above. In this first photo, the hard landscaped areas of Chatsworth's parterre are clearly visible in the modern lawn.

A 1699 illustration of the parterre garden at Chatsworth - (Photo: © Chatsworth House)

A 1699 illustration of the parterre garden at Chatsworth - (Photo: © Chatsworth House)

In the second photo, we can see the illustration of the formal design dated 1699 and it's obvious where the original paths belonging to this are still lying beneath the lawn today. The 1699 design was covered over when Lancelot 'Capability' Brown created his more natural landscape. I'm grateful to Chatsworth for allowing me to use their photos. They weren't certain whether scorch marks of this historic parterre had ever appeared before. 

 

The lost village of Edensor

What was also fascinating at Chatsworth was the reappearance of parts of the lost village of Edensor, which has only been seen a few times in the last two hundred years. The last time was an extremely dry summer in the 1940's. When a drone camera took photographs from the air during this summer's heat wave, outlines of the high street, a school and other buildings that had been demolished to make way for Capability Brown's new natural landscape in the 18th century were clearly visible. The new village of Edensor was completed in 1842. 

 

 

Prehistoric site discovered near Newgrange in Co. Meath, Ireland

Closer to home in Ireland, a 'giant henge' structure appeared on a tillage farm near historic Newgrange in Co. Meath. Drones photographed the outline of a prehistoric archaeological site approximately 200 metres in diameter. It's thought that this might have been built 500 years after Newgrange, which dates from 3,000 BC. The summer drought provided archaeologists a once in a life-time chance to discover outlines of important sites that we didn't even realise existed. 

 

 

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An abandoned demesne with walled garden

Abandoned demesne, walled garden, Ireland, Victorian kitchen garden

I’m fascinated by walled kitchen gardens and there are many in Ireland. Some have been restored and some aren’t so lucky: their history of people and plants either celebrated or else fading into oblivion.

Two interconnecting sections in a walled kitchen garden

Two interconnecting sections in a walled kitchen garden

Back entrance leading to an abandoned yard

Back entrance leading to an abandoned yard

I stumbled across this property last week. It looks like the original mansion from the 17th century was demolished and replaced with a smaller house, now also a ruin. It must have been a fine home centuries ago as there are two entrances. 

The walled garden is made up of two interconnecting sections and vegetables and fruit for the big house would have been grown here. It now appears to be used by a farmer for grazing livestock as the grass is short.

It obviously takes money and time to restore and maintain an old walled garden and some owners can't afford this. Some owners don't need to. An enclosed space is useful for farmers for keeping animals that are adept at escaping from more normally fenced fields, such as sheep, calves and small ponies. The high walls provide shelter from cold, winter winds. 

At least the red brick walls still stand and the property gives us, with its noble gateways, a shadowy glimpse of the lives once lived here.

 

Ivy and brambles scramble up the walls but they remain solid

Ivy and brambles scramble up the walls but they remain solid

The red brick arched entrance leads to a yard and another archway

The red brick arched entrance leads to a yard and another archway

Dramatic setting for two walled gardens at Duckett's Grove

Ducketts Grove ruin.jpg

Duckett's Grove. A ruin of an Irish Victorian Gothic mansion, abandoned and mysteriously set on fire. Home now only to the birds that swoop amongst its turrets (and several ghosts, according to locals).

I love walled gardens and their history. I was fascinated to find Duckett's Grove last week in County Carlow, with its two interconnecting walled gardens built of red brick with curved corners. The first garden has large lawns and long borders with a mix of shrubs and herbaceous planting. The second garden is smaller than the first and includes a row of fruit trees. 

Walled Gardens - Ducketts Grove ruin from garden.jpg

The property oozes romance and mystery. Ghost hunters flock to it and it has also been used as a film set. The dramatic Gothic features were added to a Georgian mansion in the nineteenth century. The Duckett family left it in the early 1900s and, three decades later, the house went on fire one night. Locals managed to put out the blaze but another fire the following week destroyed the property. No one knows who or what started it.

The gardens are being restored and maintained by Carlow County Council. It's an interesting place to visit for a walk and a cup of tea. But perhaps not after dark.

I look forward to further developments there. 

More info here... http://carlowtourism.com/ducketts-grove-walled-gardens-and…/

Old roses and romantic suspense

Old deep pink rose the neglected garden novel Suzanne Winterly

As the sun continues to beam down on Ireland, I'm working hard to finish another draft of THE NEGLECTED GARDEN in time to send it to the copy-editor. A cloudless blue sky and a temperature of 25 degrees centigrade are both difficult to resist when I'm used to summers that usually last about three days, so I'm allowing myself a few breaks with a mug of tea and a stroll around the garden.

The book description has arrived and, if you'd like to see it, click the link at the bottom. If you enjoy reading romantic suspense, why not sign up for the occasional update by email and I can let you know when the novel is published. There'll be an opportunity to buy it at a reduced price. 

 

Our roses are loving the sun

Our roses at home haven't been holding us in suspense. They've been loving the sun. We've certainly had seasons of extremes in Ireland this year. When I was writing my March blog with deep snow outside, I never could have imagined we'd get weeks of endless sunshine with up to 29 degrees. 

Our own well is holding up so far but families on mains water supply have a legally enforced hosepipe ban until the end of July. The drought is tough on local farmers who are struggling to feed their livestock. Irish grass is usually green and lush but this year it has turned brown and dry. Not even our lawns are growing.

Many of the old rose varieties in our garden originated in France so it's no wonder they're flowering with enthusiasm. Here are three of the best:

This is a rambler rose called Paul's Himalayan Musk and it's six or seven metres high. It needs a tree or a hedge to scramble up. I just leave it alone and off it goes. No need to prune if you have the space.

This is a rambler rose called Paul's Himalayan Musk and it's six or seven metres high. It needs a tree or a hedge to scramble up. I just leave it alone and off it goes. No need to prune if you have the space.

Great Maiden's Blush has never been as happy as in this summer's sun. It hates the rain and protests by turning brown but is magnificent this year. A beautiful, old-fashioned shrub rose.

Great Maiden's Blush has never been as happy as in this summer's sun. It hates the rain and protests by turning brown but is magnificent this year. A beautiful, old-fashioned shrub rose.

Madame Isaac Pereire is a Bourbon rose and was named after a French banker's wife in the late 19th century. I keep this one in a large container by a garden bench where I can sit and appreciate its huge, deep pink blooms and divine scent.

Madame Isaac Pereire is a Bourbon rose and was named after a French banker's wife in the late 19th century. I keep this one in a large container by a garden bench where I can sit and appreciate its huge, deep pink blooms and divine scent.

If you'd like to share your own rose photos, please send them by email or upload them to my Facebook page.  And if you've got any tips for keeping garden plants happy in drought conditions, I'd love to hear them!

May spring growth be with you

Gilly has been working on her design for the walled garden at Glanesfort (THE NEGLECTED GARDEN - due to be published in 2018)

Gilly has been working on her design for the walled garden at Glanesfort (THE NEGLECTED GARDEN - due to be published in 2018)

As I look out on my May garden, it's hard to imagine what it was like only two months ago but all I have to do is glance back at the photos in my March post to see several feet of snow. Unlike my hero in THE NEGLECTED GARDEN, nature never dwells on the past and, although spring plants are late arriving this year, they are just as beautiful and even more welcome than ever. I'm going to celebrate spring with plenty of photographs.

 

Gilly's design plan for the walled garden at Glanesfort

Leo our cat likes to think he has been helping my heroine to dream up some garden design ideas

Leo our cat likes to think he has been helping my heroine to dream up some garden design ideas

I mentioned earlier in the year that I would post my heroine's garden design plan for the walled garden in my novel THE NEGLECTED GARDEN. Here it is (see top). She's been working hard on it but has had a little bit of help. The garden has been divided into four sections or rooms. I'll go into more detail about these another month with a list of suitable plants.

 

Living in another world

THE NEGLECTED GARDEN manuscript is now back with the editor as I dream about how Gilly's plants will turn out. That's one of the best things about being a writer. I live in another world a lot of the time. Since last November, I have spent many hours at Glanesfort in Co. Kildare, the Georgian house bought by a London property developer. I have worked with Gilly in the walled garden and helped her choose suitable plants. I walked with her down to the lake and watched her employer's four-year-old boy feed his two favourite swans. I've worried with her about Marc's mysterious past that entangles her more each day and wondered what family secret he is trying to hide. 

Hopefully it won't be long before you too get a chance to meet these characters. I'll keep you posted so please come back soon or join my mailing list for updates and special offers.

 

Garden rooms add privacy and surprise

You don't have to have a walled garden to design garden rooms - use hedging instead

You don't have to have a walled garden to design garden rooms - use hedging instead

You can put garden rooms into any garden of a reasonable size. It's a great design idea for a large country garden or if you're starting from scratch with an open field around a new house. Garden rooms add privacy and surprise. We created them in our own garden but used beech hedging to separate the rooms as we had no walls. So, even if you don't have a walled garden, you can still create an interesting and unique space that flows from one section to another. 

 

Spring narcissus and tulips

Back to my own garden which is often an inspiration for my writing. April was cold and wet so spring flowers arrived late. Daffodils took a battering from the snow in March but bounced back to prove how tough they are. Narcissus poeticus "Old Pheasant's Eye" (a favourite of my grandfather's) is the last to flower with us and what a finale it provides! It has beautiful single white flowers with a round pheasant's eye in the centre. Its wonderful scent makes it a fine cut flower, if you can bear to pick it. If the weather is bad, it lasts longer indoors and gives you a chance to admire it close-up.

Unfortunately I don't remember the name of the white tulips (top right) but they open like stars to catch the sun and close again when the light fades. Like all white flowers, they add a touch of magic to a garden in the evening. The pink and white tulip Angelique (bottom two photos above) is a recent favourite. This peony-type opens like a rose and is one to plant in bulk so that you have some to pick as it is a charming and long-lasting cut flower. 

 

Spring wildflowers

Our garden cowslips have invited their family and friends to stay

Our garden cowslips have invited their family and friends to stay

Cowslips are enthusiastic self-seeders in gravel - or anywhere else where they feel at home

Cowslips are enthusiastic self-seeders in gravel - or anywhere else where they feel at home

An oxlip is a hybrid of a primrose and a cowslip and it is quite rare where we live

An oxlip is a hybrid of a primrose and a cowslip and it is quite rare where we live

And lastly the wildflowers. They've been fantastic this spring. Perhaps it's just because I really appreciate them after our unusually long winter here in Ireland. Clumps of violets and primroses peep at me from the hedgerows as I walk the dogs. Wild garlic along the avenue has burst into a mass of creamy flowers.

Yellow cowslips in the garden invited all their family and friends to stay and self-seeded in the gravel. Our one and only oxlip - a hybrid of a primrose and a cowslip and quite rare here in the Midlands - has grown in size since last year. 

I love to hear about other people's gardens and their plants, so please do get in touch and send photographs. You can reach me by email using the contact button at the end of every page or join me by signing up for my newsletter. I'm also on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. 

Take care and happy gardening until next time.

 

Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling - The novel

Leo has that crazy look in his eye when he's really into a novel. "Touch it and I'll scratch you." I have the scars to prove it.   

Leo has that crazy look in his eye when he's really into a novel. "Touch it and I'll scratch you." I have the scars to prove it.

 

Aisling was born as a Facebook page and attracted such a huge following that she turned into a book

“Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling” is hilarious, moving and a little bit sad all at the same time. Written by two graduates of journalism, Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen, it’s an Irish internet phenomenon. Aisling was born as a Facebook group and attracted such a huge following that she turned into a book. There’s a waiting list to get into the Facebook group now. I should know, because I’m on it.

 

Reared to be thrifty without notions

Many of us have a little bit of Aisling in us: the country girl in the big city who is reared by her parents to be thrifty and without notions, but is led astray by others who prefer taxis to buses, designer handbags to the fakes and a bit of winter sun to escape Ireland’s monotonous grey winters. She’s disappointed with her steady GAA boyfriend of seven years because her friends are getting hitched and he seems strangely reluctant to pop the question.

 

A romantic holiday to Tenerife backfires

Aisling decides to take matters into her own hands and, with her usual efficiency, gets boyfriend John and herself onto a Ryan Air flight to Tenerife with the minimum amount of luggage (so as not to boost Michael O'Leary's bank balance). A visit to an Irish pub and it's all downhill from there when she tackles John about his matrimonial inclinations. Back in Ireland, disillusioned and tearful, she dumps the boyfriend and propels herself into a new life in a penthouse apartment in Dublin with a glamorous colleague. Will she find a new love in her life? Will she ever forget John? 

 

Aisling is like Bridget Jones but more Irish country

If I have to compare Aisling to another literary heroine, I’d suggest Bridget Jones. She’s the same lovable, vulnerable type but more Irish country. And did I mention the drink? Oh my God, there’s lashings and lashings of drink.

I also learnt to drive in a tractor as my father thought I could do no harm in a wide open field and, although I’m probably old enough to be Aisling’s mother, or Mammy, I’m loving this novel.

Find out more about Aisling and what other readers think of her here: 

 

 

March roars like a lion

March has come in like a lion this year and, as I write, the wind is battering our house and hurtling rain at the windows. It's 10 degrees outside - an average temperature for this month in Ireland. 

 

Irish obsession with weather

Visitors often marvel at our Irish obsession with weather. I think it's the top national conversation because we get such variety and, if we had several weeks of snow, we'd soon tire of talking about it. The same with sunshine. A hot summer day is exciting in Ireland, usually ephemeral and always to be celebrated because there might not be another one for a week or a month. We just don't have the experience to handle days of endless snow or sunshine. No point in our local councils buying snow ploughs to use once every ten years and very few commercial horticultural growers or cereal farmers need to install field irrigation.

 

Personification of storms

Since the naming of storms became the norm (we share our storms with the UK), extreme weather events have been elevated to drama. Storm Brian sounded more engaging than a gale force wind. Ex-hurricane Ophelia became a viscous personality who prompted a Red Alert national emergency. She lashed our country last October, knocked trees and power lines, and ripped off roof slates. Storm Emma, a colleague of The Beast from the East, disabled our infrastructure when her winds blew snow into deep drifts that brought the country to a standstill.

Our dog sitting in a track left by a tractor wheel

Our dog sitting in a track left by a tractor wheel

Camaraderie and care

The Beast from the East stole in silently overnight and was at first beautiful, entertaining and fun. Children who hadn't seen snow since 2010, or who had never seen snow, were given a holiday from school and enjoyed snowball fights, built snow people and igloos. Our dogs loved it. We got a break from being busy and concentrated on caring for others, checked on older neighbours, helped to dig each other out and shared stories and cups of tea. Fortunately The Beast took no human lives. Our Met office and Government issued a curfew type warning for everyone to stay indoors during the worst Red Alert hours and it worked.

 

No unnecessary sandwiches

One thing we hadn't bargained for was a shortage of bread. Our local supermarket bread shelves were bare 24 hours before the first snowflake fell and buttermilk sold out (used in traditional homemade brown bread). One #snowjoke meme doing the rounds depicted a well known TV reporter warning us "not to make any unnecessary sandwiches."

Empty bread shelves before snow arrived

Empty bread shelves before snow arrived

Birds were victims of the Beast

The Beast from the East made life tough for our birds. Snow is easier on the little ones that can flock to garden feeders but thrushes and blackbirds had a hard time. Their less frequently seen cousins, the Fieldfares and Redwings, came closer to houses searching for food. 

I tried to revive this Redwing

I tried to revive this Redwing

I found this Redwing flopping about under a hedge and brought it into our house in an attempt to revive it. A friend who knows about rescuing birds advised me to put it in a cardboard box with air holes in a warm, dark place as this apparently helps it relax. Sadly, exposure to cold and lack of food proved fatal. I also came across a dead thrush on my dog walk later.

 

Snow drama on the front page

Everyone old enough to remember talked about 1987. Our neighbours remembered skating on frozen flooded land while I have vivid memories of 2010 when we actually had snow on Christmas Day and frozen water pipes in the stable yard for several weeks. We're so used to mild, wet Irish winters, it's no wonder serious snow made a front page story.

 

Hornbeam walk to stable yard

Hornbeam walk to stable yard

Rambling Albertine - fragrant and vigorous

Albertine flowers once in the summer

Albertine flowers once in the summer

I mentioned the vigorous rambler rose Albertine in my last post and here it is in the summer of 2017. One of my grandfather's favourites, Albertine is salmon-pink with a scent. It climbed the walls of his walled garden for many years. What I love is the way the buds are a darker, almost coppery-pink and they open and fade to a lighter shade. The rose dates from 1921 and comes from France.

 

Albertine growing tips

My rose in the photos was planted in my vegetable garden because I had nowhere else for it to go. It is vigorous and will grow to sixteen feet (five metres) and is ideal for planting against a wire fence because it appreciates air circulation. The rose will sometimes get mildew if planted against a wall but it's worth a try. A tip is to plant it where it will get the early morning sun to dry off dew and make sure you plant it in well drained soil. It doesn't like soggy roots.

Albertine flowers once in late spring or early summer but last year I had a bonus. The rose flowered again in the autumn. This is the first time I remember this happening. 

Copper buds open to salmon-pink and fade to lighter pink

Copper buds open to salmon-pink and fade to lighter pink

Walled gardens - past and present

Hello and welcome to my blog. I've called it a scrapbook because some posts may be longer than others. I hope you enjoy it and if you'd like to share any stories or information, please get in touch. 

My debut novel, THE NEGLECTED GARDEN, is due to go back to the editor soon and, if you'd  like to be kept updated on progress, please sign up here

 

A walled garden in the past

I've always loved gardening and walled gardens. The setting for the novel is based on a house where my grandparents lived years ago. The walled garden at Glanesfort is much the same size as theirs was - about an acre - with vegetables and flowers. My grandmother loved her border for flower arranging and filled the house with her creations. My grandfather was an organic gardener - not so common in Ireland then - and I can still recall the flavour of his fruit and vegetables. I remember sneaking into the garden as a child with my brothers and devouring Royal Sovereign strawberries when no one was looking. We'd eat peas straight from the pod and juicy tomatoes, warm from the greenhouse. 

 

Favourite rambling roses

The garden was constructed in the Georgian era and roses scrambled over its walls. My grandfather's favourite rambler was Albertine. I still grow Albertine in my own garden and, although it only flowers once a year, its copper pink buds that open and fade to pale pink are beautiful. This rose needs lots of space as it is vigorous. Another rose that requires even more space, preferably a tree to scramble up, is Paul's Himalayan Musk. Ours grows up a hawthorn and is twenty to thirty feet tall. Fabulous in the summer against a blue sky. Again, it only flowers once but when it does, it's spectacular. 

 

The heroine's garden design

When Gilly Townsend comes to Glanesfort, her brief is to design a more formal garden for the owner's tenants. She decides to divide it into four sections, with a pond and fountain, a rose garden, yew hedging and gravel paths. I asked a garden designer to draw up some ideas and this became Gilly's plan in the novel. I'll post a copy of her design later on and, who knows, you might even be able to use some parts of it yourself. 

The walled garden is a huge challenge for Gilly and she's excited about the project. She makes good progress but unfortunately Denys Fletcher, the London property developer who owns Glanesfort, has a secret past that begins to overtake them both. Perhaps I'd better not tell you any more. You'll have to read the novel to find out what happens!

 

Pauls Himalayan Musk.jpg

Paul's Himalayan Musk

A rose that loves climbing and easy to grow. Just point it at a tree and off it goes.