Diary of the Plague Year: Day 56 10 May 2020: Mowing again

I feel the garden sometimes tells me what to do – whatever I decide to do, it means doing a lot with very little. It means using my imagination as I simply cannot afford to go mad buying plants. The tension between order and anarchy is something that I love and is something that occurs in my work as well as in the garden. I love the contrast between a sharply mown line and blowsy wildflowers. It feels like doing earth art, drawing in the grass. I have mown a semicircle with a wildflower bed surrounded by a path. I may plant a tree there or one of the white hydrangea cuttings I am growing in pots. I also put cardboard – to stop grass growing around the roots – around the trees and shrubs by the wall. Planning another cherry tree in the corner. And another tree by the boiler-shed.

Lots of little wildflowers are appearing as well as much more clover than last year.

Unbelievably, I need more lawn seed.

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 44 28 April 2020: The first swallow …

I have just seen the first swallow!

Today I spent most of the day in the shed working on my drawings.

In the late afternoon I walked round zapping the docks. I love docks actually but they do tend to take over and are more-or-less ineradicable. So off with their heads.

As I was walking around I noticed a few flowers …

The first day of the creative writing course arranged by Cork Arts Office. I hope the swallow is a good omen. There seem to be so many birds in the garden this year. The crows actually stand on the windowsills and bang on the glass. Cheeky buggers. Not to mention insects. Sometimes it looks like one of those old fashioned science fictions films with layers of flying machines in the sky only the insects are more haphazard and do not fly in straight formations. I wonder if it is because I will not use any chemicals in the garden whatsoever and only the mildest soap, Dr Bonner’s Castile, in the house. The birds seemed to love it when I mowed the long grass.

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 41 25 April 2020: The mowing is finally finshed!


A cool, grey day after yesterday’s heat.  The front meadow around the fruit trees has now all been mown and the tough, dead, matted grass taken off. I am using the grass clippings as mulch around the trees. I read up a bit about this.  Apparently, this is a good thing if the grass has not been treated with any chemicals e.g. weedkiller. If treated grass is used it can also kill the trees. I can safely say no weedkiller has touched this garden for at least the time I have been here, two and a half years.

Lawn seed has been scattered along the paths and around the trees and now I just have to wait.  I have found that the best tack is just to ignore parts of the garden once the heavy work is done and then come back to it later. Last year it was just a patch of ground with fruit trees but now there is more coherence and creating the winding paths felt like drawing with a lawn mower.  I have a lot to do with very little at my disposal these days so simple sculptural solutions work best. This series of photographs is really for comparison for when the meadow gets going.

I have been reviving the fuschia hedges around the perimeter by cutting them right down and removing the ivy and undergrowth which has worked very well. However, I will be leaving most of the hedges round the orchard wild, they are full of ivy, brambles and wild flowers and it seems a shame to destroy what seems to already be a complex habitat. I have just cut back a few of the encroaching brambles and trimmed the top of the hedge. The bluebells are out and I have noticed that the garden is already buzzing with insects and butterflies.



The libertaria is doing very well in its pot.

The weather is on the turn and we are apparently in for some rain. Again.




Diary of the Plague Year: Day 32 16 April 2020: Wildflower seeds arrive!


Great excitement! The wildflower seeds have arrived. They are produced by DESIGN BY NATURE in Carlow, are EU Conservation standard and are an Native Irish Conservation Grade seed mix.  Germination takes three to six weeks.  I have sown them and am now going out to lightly rake over them. I had previously mowed the area to within an inch of it’s life. You are supposed to kill anything off with weedkiller first but I was never going to that. For one thing there are a lot of flowers that come up naturally I did not want to destroy.

We are due some rain in the next couple of days so that’s good.

This is the list of species which should come up (most of which I have never even heard of to be honest) and are all native to Ireland.

Birdsfoot Trefoil
Black Medick
Burnet Saxifrage
Corn Marigold
Corn Poppy
Field Cranesbill
Field Scabious
Kidney Vetch
Lady’s Bedstraw
Lesser Knapweed
Scented Mayweed
Ox-eye Daisy
Red Campion
Red Clover
Ribwort Plantain
Rough Hawksbit
St. Johnswort
White Campion
Wild Carrot
Yellow Rattle.

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 27 11 April 2020: Hommage to Hieronymous

Having spent the last few days throwing my little mower around and really putting it through its paces I have grown very fond of it. It has mowed its way through really rough grass and weeds and sometimes to a horrible grinding noise as it came across stones, which it contemptuously spat out – sometimes as far as 15 feet. I am not given to anthropomorphism, especially when it comes to inanimate objects but I feel the little Bosch deserves a name, if only for conspicuous gallantry in the field – “arise, Sir Hieronymous”. It is a machine only meant for mowing small suburban lawns and it, like me, has had to acclimatize to a much tougher country life. Perhaps it dreams of a civilized semi-detached residence in Sunningdale …


I now have a haystack in the corner of the field and three distinct areas of mown meadow.

I have close-mown all around the trees in the orchard and have ordered wildflower seeds.  I had estimated the area by some fantastic amount but actually it is an area roughly 50 metres square. Somehow I had calculated 600 metres square!! I will sow the wildflower seeds here.

The next area is at the back of the house next to the painting shed.  I have close-mown here too and will just see what come up.  Ditto, the area across the path under the tree.

The rest of the meadow has been strimmed to height of about 3 cms and it will be interesting to compare.

It turns out I have done exactly the right thing if I want to sow seeds incidentally so am feeling quite optimistic about the wildflowers.

My lovely neighbour, Fionnuala,  has just given me a big bag of grass see which I really need to vamp up the paths in the orchard.  God, gardening is exciting …


Diary of the Plague Year: Day 24 8 April 2020: Wildflower meadow continued …


This morning started off very misty but the sun soon burst through and today was like summer. It was hot work mowing and raking.

According to the purists I have gone about this arse over tit.  The meadow should have been mowed in October/November. Well, I wasn’t here to do it so that’s that. It has now been mowed and I am in the process of hauling the cut grass off it. Some of it I have close-mown, leaving some of it just strimmed as a sort of control. It will be interesting to see what comes up. I just hope I haven’t thrown out the baby with the bathwater though I imagine any seeds in the grass will have been disturbed and dispersed and so as spring seems very late this year maybe no great harm …. what I need now is a deluge. The forecast is good for the next couple of days. I honestly didn’t think I would be happy for it to rain ever again after the winter we have just had.

On the radio – L’apres midi d’un faune.

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 23 7 April 2020:


Into the garden this morning, the sun is out, cloudless.

The air actually smelt faintly of hot cross buns this morning. There is nothing like the air of West Cork. I think if I was lying in a darkened hospital room and someone brought in a bottle I would recognise it immediately. It is indefinable; a slight salt tang, grass, the inevitable undertone of slurry, though I would know it immediately. It is especially lovely first thing and in the evening. The air of an Irish evening after rain or a warm day … the lovely thing about getting up early is the morning air.

Gardening jobs can be divided roughly into two classes:

i.    hard work but enjoyable; and
ii.   hard work but deadly, deadly dull.

I have just come in from carting barrow-loads of hay off the meadow which I would definitely define under category ii.  If leave the mown grass it will mulch down and the goodness will improve the soil.  If taken off, wildflowers, in theory, should flourish as they prefer poor soil.

Am giving myself a well-earned tea break now and to listen to the no-doubt ghastly plague news.

Hot off the press:  Boris Johnson is in ICU.

If there is a God he is definitely an ironist.

Tea, news, a less-boring gardening job and then more barrowloads ….

Having reviewed my old notebooks recently I think I will start keeping one again. I thought this diary would take its place but actually there is nothing like the spontaneity of a book and pen.


Diary of the Plague Year: Day 22 6 April 2020

After yesterday’s deluge the sun is out – I am just scurrying out to rake up more grass and then start mowing …

Haymaking in April 6 April 2020

Fuck these April showers.

Another poem by Blake:

The Voice of the Ancient Bard.

Youth of delight come hither.
And see the opening morn,
Image of truth new born.
Doubt is fled & clouds of reason.
Dark disputes & artful teazing,
Folly is an endless maze,
Tangled roots perplex her ways,
How many have fallen there!
They stumble all night over bones of the dead:
And feel they know not what but care;
And wish to lead others when they should be led


Haystacks April 6 2020