Sunday, June 27, 2010

Our Summer Garden: Bay, Bananas, Grow-bags - and Babysitting!

I posted some photos of our garden and the new grow bags at the start of June in this post here - so as I have been busy with babysitting granddaughter Sofia (a labour of love!) yesterday and mooching around the garden today weeding and admiring the progress of the grow bag veggies I thought to post a few photos of them.

There are plenty of flowers on the tomatoes and courgettes, and there are even a couple of green tomatoes putting in an appearance. I've staked the tomatoes today, as they were starting to keel over. There's a bay bush that's grown like a triffid in the past month since being repotted to a bigger home - it's hard to credit it started out as a windowsill plant from the supermarket for 99cent three years ago.

Also the banana plant has come on in leaps and bounds and hubby has split it and put two of the dozen suckers (that's what they're called, baby banana plants - not a term of abuse!) in a barrel that previously housed a nice palm that didn't make it through last winters record sub-zero temps. It's already put out two new leaves so it seems to like its new home.

So we are planning to get some new plants for the bed where we lost all those palms last winter - now the area's been cleared of weeds and the irises and allium have died off there are sad gaps and we need to fill them up with some hardy perennial shrubs and plants that will give cover and colour. We have some fuchsia and lupins and lavender in the bed, and a few lilies that have seen better days.

I took these photos of the garden this evening, and there's also one of Sofia who is nearly 5 months old and as cute as all babies are at that age. I spent yesterday babysitting while her mother was at work and her dad played cricket in Kerry. A good granny-bonding day!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Coffee Walnut and Sultana Madeira Cake - a new take on an old favourite

I was baking the other day and thought I'd divert half the batter from an 8oz/4 egg Victoria Sponge basic mix to make a Madeira cake, but as I had no cherries to make a fave cherry madeira I decided to make do with what was available in the store cupboard.

I had walnuts from Lidl and some sultanas, and of course coffee. So I made some yummy jam and apple bakewells with pastry I had in the fridge, and filled half with stewed apple and half with some fresh strawberry and blueberry compote - kinda like jam but not as set or as sweet.

Then I took the remaining batter and added another 2oz/50g self-raising flour and 4 tablespoons milk, and 2oz/50g each of chopped walnuts and sultanas, along with 4 tablespoons strong coffee (I made some in this nice cafetiére (which I got free with Bewley's coffee a few weeks ago along with a nice coffee book - as opposed to a coffee table book!).

I put the lot into a parchment liner in a 2lb loaf tin and dotted the top with walnuts - and into the oven for 45 minutes or so. End result - a nice nutty cake that's not too sweet, perfect with coffee or tea for elevenses.

I brought it into work for the tea-break and it went down a treat - I have recently moved office into the hospital in Dungarvan, so I have company now, with my other public health nurse colleagues and the office staff.

I hope you enjoy this - I'll summarise the recipe here. Bung everything in and mix well, and it's a doddle to make, so enjoy it.

Coffee Walnut and Sultana Madeira Cake


  1. 6oz/175g Self-raising flour
  2. 4oz/115g Butter - soft
  3. 4oz/115g Vanilla sugar (or sugar with added vanilla essence)
  4. 2 eggs
  5. 4 Tablespoons milk
  6. 4 Tablespoons strong coffee (instant or filter/cafetiere/percolator)
  7. 2oz/50g chopped walnuts
  8. 2oz/50g Sultanas
  9. Whole walnuts to decorate


  1. Put everything in a bowl and mix well - until stiff dropping consistency.
  2. Put in lined loaf tin (greaseproof liner or paper).
  3. Bake in preheated oven at 180 degrees Centigrade for 45 minutes until a skewer/knitting needle comes out dry when stuck into the cake.

Enjoy and tell your friends to give it a go!

Oh - I have to tell you that the strawberry bonanza is finally over and we have a number of delicious pots of jam to last the next few months - maybe into the autumn and some of the winter.

It looks like this year we'll have a bumper crop of apples which is terrific after last year's disastrous non-harvest - we're having a lovely summer and are afraid to jinx it by taking it too much for granted. Hope it lasts through July and August, and beyond.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Immrama 2010 - another terrific weekend in Lismore

The 8th Immrama Travel Writing Festival has ended and it was a great success - I am still on a high after the buzz of all the events and the Eason's bag bursting with new books signed by the authors beckons from the sunroom table - a winter of reading is warmly anticipated, if they don't get me through the summer.

We had a blast - I am not going to do a journalistic resumé of the weekend, just dip in and out of what floated my boat - an apt analogy as Immrama is all about voyaging about in boats! The line-up was impressive as you'll know from my last post and the one from the launch, and there were some events and speakers that stood out more than others.

I found the deadpan droll self-deprecation of Sir Ranulph Twistleton-Wickham-Fiennes hilarious (with a name like that you'd need a major sense of humour!) and very engaging. He had the capacity audience of 500 enthralled with his tales of derring-do boys' own adventures, and was very open about his motives for doing expeditions - to put bread on the table, nothing loftier or nobler than that. He has written his autobiography and also a family bio, and some motivational books on fitness and endurance - he has been monitored and evaluated more than a recession-bound nation by the IMF. The elephant in the room of course (which he was asked about and duly elaborated on) was his digital self-amputation of most of the fingers of his left hand following a close encounter with Arctic water that resulted in frostbite and gangrene. He couldn't wait the requisite six months the medics demanded so off he went to the shed where he hacksawed them off - a messy job with the hand saw so he hightailed to the hardware shop for the Black and Decker version which did the business. All tastefully accompanied by graphic colour photographs, and not for the faint-hearted.

Today's Irish Times has a feature piece on him, and Immrama gets another mention . Manchán Magan wrote a nice piece last Saturday on it, so it's really arrived as a festival when it gets such national acclaim.

He seems to have been an impoverished aristocrat with a string of impressive titles and ancestry. That seems to be a pattern in such circles, and I still laugh at the description of the Anglo-Irish aristos of yore, in the post-colonial era so well described by Waterford's own late Molly Keane in Good Behaviour when she wrote about how the dogs ate better than they did in their shabby gentility lifestyle. Her father bought the dogs steak, a rarity on the family dinner table.

Homan Potterton wrote in Rathcormick that the Anglo-Irish were distinguishable from the Irish Protestants in the nascent Republic as the ones where the dogs occupied all the comfy armchairs while their owners shivered in their unheated big rooms, sitting on kitchen chairs. He distanced himself from these recent settlers and landlord classes, as a proud Irishman from a Protestant family with roots in Ireland for over four centuries.

Back to Immrama - we were very lucky to have an invitation for the premiére of a film on the life of Lismore's internationally renowned travel writer - Dervla Murphy - which was unique as she is such a private person. It had wonderful cinematography, and showed the moods of Lismore trailing Dervla through the Warren Path and down by the Blackwater as well as around the Old Market where she lives. It was a bit surreal to see familiar faces on the big screen - her daughter Rachel in Italy with her three daughters, Dervla herself, and Manchán Magan the film maker and writer/journalist who was in the audience - he was at Immrama as a visitor this year, having been the Literary Breakfast speaker last year.

We enjoyed Tim Severin on Saturday evening - he has been on some incredible voyages and writes novels now based on his experiences - the Viking Trilogy and the Pirate Trilogy - as well as lots of non-fiction based on his voyages. He lives in West Cork and is practically an honorary Irishman by now, and he showed some memorable film clips from his journeys, particularly the Brendan Voyage which explores the possibility of the Irish monk travelling to America centuries before Columbus.

The Literary Breakfast in Ballyrafter House was lovely - Damien Lewis was speaking about Africa and Burma where he has written the stories of some incredibly brave women of the Southern Sudanese conflict and the Darfur genocide, and the Karen refugees from Burma. A serendipitous moment was meeting his Tanzanian partner - we had a Kiswahili exchange - a bit rusty on my part but a surprise for her to meet someone in Lismore who could attempt to speak it! More serendipity was the link to previous Immrama speakers, as Tim Butcher

knows him and commented on one of his books.

A new name for us was Pico Iyer who is an amazing, softly spoken travel writer and philosopher who has written a novel set in Cuba and a number of travel books on subjects as diverse as the Dalai Lama and airports - he has been described as a transcendental travel writer - and he reminds me of Alain de Botton with his reflective take on the trivia of travel. He was with his Japanese partner Hiroko, a lovely lady with silk clothing to die for - she wore a traditional Tibetan dress with wonderful intricate weaving and fabulous wraps - and they live in Japan though they travel all over the world. They spent the weekend in Lismore so we met on numerous occasions outside of his talk and book-signing.

Jan Morris was another rare treat and a great honour for Immrama to have such a well-known and respected writer speaking - she is in her eighties and has led an amazing life, writing over thirty books on so many subjects and places. She spoke at Fortwilliam House, a Georgian hunting lodge dating back to the 1830s - a wonderful place now owned privately and offered as a venue for Immrama to stage an event. A marquee on the tennis courts was the perfect location for the 150+ who were there for the closing gig of the weekend - although rain stopped play on two occasions as the noise on the roof drowned out the microphone. Undaunted, she read from her latest book Contact! and followed it with a Q&A session with Pico Iyer and her friend and biographer Paul Clements, who was here for the third time doing a Travel Memoir writing workshop over the weekend. We had a chance to savour the delights of Fortwilliam House before and after the talk as there was a wine reception beforehand and we had supper there afterwards, with some of the other guests. The vistas of parkland rolling down to the river Blackwater are idyllic and in the glorious weather which Lismore had for most of the weekend it was perfect - rainshowers notwithstanding!

There were Poetry Readings for kids in the Park by Alan Murphy, a locally based poet, and Pippa Sweeney, Irish Language Workshops for Primary Schools by Áine Uí Fhoghlú, Paul Clements' Creative Writing, Poetry Slams, and The Molly Keane Short Story Award, all going on over the weekend. So there was something for everyone, and the Family Fun Day in the Park on Sunday afternoon is a firm favourite fixture, with Buí Bolg (Yellowbellies) from Wexford entertaining with jousters and damsels in distress, and face painters from Lismore's Foróige, as well as the talented band Carouse who kept the crowd going for the afternoon.

The Farmers' Market was buzzing all weekend and hopefully they had plenty of business, with a great variety of stalls from Jane's ceramics to Pie in the Sky treats, with lots in between. A real treat this year was to meet one of my fellow bloggers - Ann from Inkpots'nQuills via Wisconsin and Dungarvan who was here last year before we met in the blogosphere!

I should really break up this post into a few parts as I could go on for way past anyone's attention span (and probably have done so) but I just want to convey a sense of the weekend while it is still fresh in my mind. We had late nights and early mornings which took its toll in that I was running on adrenaline and tea all weekend - no alcohol whatsoever as I daren't risk a hangover headache - and I was pretty wrecked on Monday! Lucky it was a day off work for me, and I could chill and zone out a bit. We were in a different pub each night as the Festival Club diplomatically spread itself around - and it really felt like old friends came to call as we met so many people who were at previous Immrama weekends - including Manchán, Paul Clements and some of the regular visitors. One of the joys of Immrama is the social contact with writers, speakers, journalists, locals and visitors all together at the events and the social gatherings afterwards, and the great accessibility to the speakers by the general public.

Who knows how many more of you might make it to Lismore for Immrama 2011! You'll be guaranteed a great time and plenty of good memories - as well as a lot of new books!

I hope you like the photos - they just give a flavour of the wonderful weekend in a lovely corner of the country.

From the top:

  • Sir Ranulph Fiennes
  • Fortwilliam House
  • Audience at Ranulph Fiennes
  • Jan Morris, Pico Iyer and Paul Clements at Fortwilliam, and audience
  • Shayne and Jany with Sofia in the Park
  • Our sons with Ranulph Fiennes
  • Me and sons and Jany with Tim Severin
  • Larks in the Park with jousters
  • Damien Lewis at the Ballyrafter House Breakfast
  • Me with Pico Iyer and Hiroko
  • Jane Jermyn Ceramics at the Farmers' Market
  • Áine Uí Fhoghlú (Irish Poet) with Bernard Leddy, schoolchildren and me at Lismore Library
  • Me with Ann - bloggers united!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Countdown to Immrama 2010 - Lismore Festival of Travel Writing

I am too busy to write a proper post these days as I am getting swept up in the flow of the preparations for Immrama 2010 - our literary festival of travel writing in Lismore. I blogged about the launch here and also last year's festival here. We are looking forward to this year's festival as there are two great keynote speakers - Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Tim Severin.

Both are speaking on Saturday June 12, which happens to be our wedding anniversary. For the past 7 years this has fallen during the festival so it's subsumed into the events and celebrated on the hoof, rather than romantic candlelit dinners-for-two. We're more likely to be at the gig and then at whatever pub the festival crowd gathers for the evening afterwards - one of the many in Lismore, where we enjoy the post-event celebration and the post-mortem of the event, and chat to the presenters as they usually come along.

So next week I hope to post on the festival and how it went. There has been great national radio coverage and also press coverage this year, with interviews on Arena and the Pat Kenny Show on Radio One (RTÉ - Ireland's national broadcaster) with Pico Iyer and Ranulph Fiennes respectively.

Pico Iyer is a new name for me, and he sounds really interesting, having a philosophical approach to travel, reminiscent of Alain de Botton, in that he writes about the experience of air travel and airports and how we get hung up on the destination and ignore the journey. Maybe that's why I like slow travel - overland rail and road trips appeal far more than mad stressful flights and jet lag!

There is a film tonight in the Courthouse Theatre on Lismore's own travel writer extraordinaire, Dervla Murphy. A retrospective on her life, the film crew have been following her for the last year and this is the result, and it is going to be screened over the weekend for the punters at the festival as tonight is invite only.

Our book club (real, not virtual bloggers' one!) are planning to go to Sunday's Literary Breakfast with who sounds like a treat of a travel writer, Damien Lewis, in Ballyrafter House Hotel. He is another new name and we are looking forward to his talk while we enjoy the full Irish heart-attack-on-a-plate breakfast!

Meanwhile we pray for fine weather as it's been a very rainy week so far, as you can see from the raindrops on the lovely Irises in the garden the other evening. As it's Exam Time -Leaving and Junior Cert State Exams are in full swing - we can expect good weather - it's one of life's ironies that the weather is always sweltering during the weeks of the exams!

Today is fine and dry but Monday's Bank Holiday was a washout. Good for the farmers and gardeners, and it was great that the weekend to then was blissfully sub-tropical. The Farmers' Market looked positively Provençal, as in the photos even though these ones were taken the previous weekend - in the interests of blog integrity I can't pass them off as last weekend's as one already put in an appearance in another post!

Carmen at Lismore Castle was the inaugural opera of the new Lismore Music Festival, and was widely acclaimed locally, though the Irish Times' Michael Dervan was less fulsome in its praise. They had two performances, and if it takes off in future years it will be good for Lismore and have a knock-on effect on Immrama. We noticed this year that every preview in the national media for Carmen also referenced Immrama so we will become known as a cultural watershed for Munster and Co. Waterford.
(I have to declare an interest on a few fronts: I look after first aid, hubby Jan is the Festival Administrator and graphic designer son Martin designed the logo you see above for the first Immrama when he was still in secondary school.)

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Bloggers' Book Club - Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

In May we read Let the Great World Spin for our Bloggers' Book Club, a great idea inspired and established by Lily a few months ago. This is the much-acclaimed new book by Colum McCann, a writer I first heard of in our own book club in Lismore when we read one of his books - This Side of Brightness - some years ago. That book was beautifully written given the dark theme - literally and metaphorically - as it was set in the New York underground, the subculture life of those who live on and beyond the margins of society's norms. I have forgotten the finer details but I can still visualise the mind pictures the book conjured up in me.

This book was somehow redolent of that earlier book. I found it relentlessly bleak in the middle while the beginning and end were more hopeful and optimistic. The book's premise of linking seemingly random lives by a single factual event on August 7th 1974 was certainly an interesting one and he pulled it off in that there was a cohesive holding together each of the main characters. These connections were fairly nebulous and random at first glance, and you had to pay close attention or you might find yourself re-reading to clarify any confusion. I found it a bit hard to keep the links in my head as I didn't get to read the book in a short time-frame, rather it was over a couple of weeks between everything else going on - life and work get in the way of reading at times!

The breadth of the story was vast, as was the geographical reach - from Dublin to New York. But this was a subtle twist on the Irish-American literary fiction genre as it centred around the tightrope walker Philippe Petit, a guerrilla highwire walker who defied security guards and the NYPD to walk across a wire that he slung between the iconic Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, which assumed a mythological status post-9/11. This became a metaphor for the terrible events to follow nearly three decades later, where everything hung in the balance and the world spun a little off its axis, and nothing was the same afterwards. New Yorkers gazed skywards that day too, to see the man on the wire, and cheered when he made his way to safety, despite his immediate arrest. The Judge dealing with his charge took a lenient view of the "crime" - and he was peripheral to one of the central characters in the story, as it wove its web around the city.

Video of Petit's daring walk which inspired the recent film Man on Wire

Both the tightrope walk and the events of 9/11 were moments in history where everyone would remember what they were doing at the time, a bit like my generation remembers what they were doing when Kennedy was assassinated. (I was lying on the floor in front of the fire, drawing and colouring in, and it came on the old wireless. It was only months since his helicopter had flown over Lismore and our school, when he came to stay in the Castle where his sister Kathleen should have been the Duchess, had she not been tragically killed in a plane crash in 1948, four years after her husband the heir to the Duke of Devonshire title was killed in action in World War II.

Once again I digress; back to the book. Its opening, set in an affluent Dublin suburbia of the 50s, gave no indication of the direction it would take, Stateside to New York to follow a hermit-style priest whose life's work was looking out for the hookers in the Bronx, while naively or otherwise falling foul of their pimps. I know this is the real world for far too many women but it made for very brutal and bleak reading, especially the narrative by Tillie, one of the women whose daughter Jazzlyn was also on the streets and who saw no other future for her grandchildren after their mother's death and her jailing, until a twist of fate saw their lives turn around, although they could never forget their origins.

All the women in the story are all strong women who are influenced for good or bad by their circumstances in life and the external events like the Vietnam war has had an impact on two of the women who lost sons there. The description of the upper-crust Claire's brittle demeanour and her efforts at bringing a group of similarly bereaved mothers together was one of the strong parts of the book and it brought into stark relief the contrast with the lives of desperation of Jazzlyn and Tillie, the daughter-mother hookers. I found this intriguing, and I think he captured the mood very well, especially the dynamic between Claire and Gloria, one of the mothers, which gets off to a bad start and ends with their friendship - a mutual need fulfilled. There are some characters who seem to have minor roles, like the computer hackers, and the graffiti tagger in the subway tunnels - a nod to This Side of Brightness here - and drop-out artists in the woods, and I enjoyed the depiction of their life. McCann paints vivid imagery and like his forenamesake Colm Tóibín did in Brooklyn (last month's book club choice) can bring a place to life for someone like me who has never been to New York.

Corrigan, the priest who is known by his surname, is a maverick character who epitomises the Christ-like humble and serving priest, in stark contrast to the current image of the clergy who have got a hammering in recent years, much of it well deserved, however good individual priests may be. The church and the clergy cannot hide behind their collars and Canon Law as mitigation for the disgraceful handling of the sex-abuse scandals that have beset them since the disclosures, denials and cover-ups. These have been exposed thanks to brave survivors of abuse, and no thanks to the church leaders in Ireland and Rome who have been dragged kicking and screaming to a grudging acceptance of their role in the institutionally-sanctioned cover-ups. I wrote about that last year when the Ryan Report was published and I despair that anything has changed for the better in the interim.

That terrible date, 9/11, marked a shift in global attitudes both towards and by the US after which the world has never been the same again. Certainly international air travel has become more stressful and restrictive, and the halcyon days of yore when you could go as far as the steps of the plane or at least the boarding gate when seeing off a child who couldn't get or refused the ignominy of unaccompanied minor status are gone forever.

I remember doing precisely that in 1999 when middle son, aged about 13, went off to stay with his old school pal from Laos who'd moved home to Berlin. Dublin airport staff were totally unfazed with such an occurrence and it reminded me of all the long-haul flights we took over two decades between Ireland and Africa and Asia, where the boys had their Aer Lingus log books and got the Captain's signature with all the flight details completed, and were invariably invited up to the cockpit for a chat with the pilots. Those days will probably never return and I hope the boys will treasure those special memories along with the log books.

Did I like the book? I did - but a caveat - it is hard going at times and very harrowing - yet McCann's way with words and language is lyrical and gets you through the tougher parts, and there was a lot of empathy with the various characters, especially the women. I am glad I read it; McCann is a decade younger than Tóibín yet they have similarities in their fluent writing style and the ability to draw in the reader.

I will be fascinated to read all the other reviews as I am sure it will be a book that inspires a diversity of opinion, once again! The title is from Tennyson's "Locksley Hall" - a little bit of serendipity I hadn't been aware of till I read the end notes - I have a pocket collection of Tennyson from my mother who loved his poetry among others, and she gave me a love for it too. I think the title is fitting for a book with a theme of the Twin Towers, as the world has been in something of a spin since, with the conflicts it sparked in Iraq and Afghanistan -notwithstanding the fact that 9/11 had nothing to do with Iraq but that's a whole other blog post.

I have gone all over the place with this review, as it inspired streams of thought I had no idea would emerge, but they just seemed to flow and I went with them. I hope you stuck with me to the end, through all these tedious ramblings, and got something from the post that will set you off to read this writer - he has quite a few books I have yet to read, but I think he has a lot to offer.

The other members of the Bloggers' Book Club are listed at Lily's blog which seems down at present so I don't have an updated list but those I have are:

Marian @ Made Marian
Treasa @ Irish Mammy On The Run
Kathy @ Rumble Strips
Marie @ Diary of a Country Wife
Kirsty @ The Road Less Travelled
Val @ Magnum Lady
Jen @ Smurfette Jens
Edie @ Munchings & Musings
Steph @ The Biopsy Report
Susan @ Queen of Pots

When I do get the other links I will add them to this list. Drop by these blogs and see what they thought of the book, though it may be the weekend before they post their reviews.

(I'm posting this a bit early - the deadline is next Sunday but as I've been late the last two months with the reviews it can't do any harm to be early for once - bucking the trend for me!
NB - It's Saturday 5th June - I am moving the post to today's date so other members will find it at the top of my blogpost roll!)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Strolling through a purple haze - our summer garden delights

This evening the sun shone and there was a lovely red sky (red sky at night, shepherd's delight) and hopefully this is a good omen for the summer to come. May has been a dry and warm month, with an amazing heatwave over the past couple of weeks.

I wandered around the garden and took some photos of the plants that have made it thus far. A lot of damage was done by the harsh winter with record sub-zero temperatures of -10 to -15 degrees Centigrade and many of the plants didn't make it.

We had to replant all the lavender border as the old plants died off - they'd been cut back in the autumn and should have regrown new shoots from the old woody shoots but didn't. So this year we'll leave well enough alone, less pruning and cutting back before the winter sets in.

I love the herb border; we had parsley and chives survive the frosts, and I got presents of some new herbs from Simon in the Farmers' Market when I bought new lavender. He gave me two thyme plants, including a lemon thyme, and a savory and a sage plant.

They are thriving now, alongside the parsley which is on the verge of bolting. It's in its third year and seems to self-seed so I will let nature take
its course.

The chives I'm very chuffed with - they were bought in a pot for 99c in Lidl (my fave discount
supermarket!) and I divided them up and planted them out about three years ago, and they have thrived to the lovely purple-headed plants you can see in the photo.

I got a rosemary plant in Lidl last winter and moved it from the kitchen windowsill in the spring, and it seems to love being in the ground, where I hope it will live for many years. Rosemary was a victim of last winter in many places, and gardening articles are full of tales of woe of plants that died off.

Perhaps we've taken a lot for granted in Ireland where we have the Gulf Stream giving us a mild climate where palm trees and sub-tropical plants do really well, and now that we've had a taste of more usual Northern European climates it's been a wake-up call. We lost a palm in a pot on the patio (there's alliteration for you!) and wonder what to replace it with. I want a cordylline or yucca-like palm - the one we had was a Phoenix Canariensis and lasted about 4 years, so we were very disappointed that it succumbed.

But the surprise has been the banana plant which has put in an unexpected appearance with 7 new shoots or suckers! We were sure that would be gone, but no, it made it. It's a hardy Japanese variety, that is meant to withstand frosty winters and reappear each year, so that's one good news story.

Purple seems to recur in the garden this year - I planted Allium bulbs last October and now there are huge purple onion-flower balls, like chive flowers on steroids. There's the lavender too, and the lupins are a kind of blue-lavender. Bluebells are nearing the end of their span too, and there are some mystery bulbs about to flower but I have no recollection of what I planted so it will be fun to see what emerges.

The tunnel this year has been given over to strawberries - the polythene is 12 years old and is only meant to have a lifespan of 5-6 years and there is so much algae on it that it's practically opaque. So until we renew it we can't use it to grow light-loving things. However, it's a dream for strawberries which need heat but apparently not much light. Makes sense I guess, as they are always hiding under the leaves.

I ain't complaining with a dozen pots of jam in the store cupboard and another dozen in the offing, it'll definitely shorten the winter! I pick a pound or so every evening and leave them stand on the kitchen worktop near the window for another day and then they are ready to hull and put in jam or cakes or muesli or yogurt - or just eat with cream or ice cream.

We have tons of rhubarb again this year - I blogged about it last year here - and as hubby split the stools to propogate more plants we have a whole bed by the high stone wall near the house which will give an even bigger crop next year - I think you're not meant to pick from the newly transplanted/split rhubarb plants in year one.

I planted some tomatoes in an organic grow-bag as I don't think they'll do well in the tunnel, with its poor light, likewise courgettes/zucchini. They are on the patio against the south wall so they will be sheltered and have lots of warmth.

The garden is a bit straggly on the flower front, with a lot of stuff to come, like the Cosmos I am growing on in pots in the tunnel and hope to plant out in a few weeks, and the dahlias that come up trumps every year but not till July. Trouble with our weather is that there's just not enough sunshine to go with the mild climate - no wonder the Food Safety Authority of Ireland has advised every kid under one year to take Vitamin D every day - advice that us Public Health Nurses are giving out every day to new parents.

Here are some photos of the garden and its produce - with strawberries just picked tonight, and those picked yesterday now ready to hull and clean, before making yet more jam or just keeping them for breakfast tomorrow - always a great start to the day and with muesli or porridge, and a dollop of plain yogurt.

The various hues of blues and purple are also on display, in all their splendour, as well as the other more mundane shots, of the tomatoes-in-a-bag, and the rhubarb as well as the banana suckers. I will keep posting updates of the banana as it grows to maturity - like Groundhog day, it repeats this process year in, year out, without ever seeming to tire. I wonder will we ever get any bananas? Not at this rate I'd say.