The photographer from Irish Country Magazine has just left…the magazine photo-shoot is over!
You can read all about Bealtaine Cottage in the Dec/Jan edition, which will be on the shelves at the end of November!
As we walked around the gardens, the conversation turned to the story of how Bealtaine emerged from rushy fields and it became apparent that this story becomes harder to tell…for it all seems so improbable.
The story has taken on myth-like qualities as visitors look around, finding it hard to believe that Nature could work such magic…but She has…the Great Creatrix!
The gardens are now a riot of autumnal colour, due in part to what many call ‘mistakes,’ but have turned out to be inspired tree planting, with nothing other than a gut feeling of where to plant and plant without discrimination.
When one considers it, Mother Nature does not discriminate.
She merely gets on with whatever needs to be done…nurturing and giving all her days.
Rachel Carson was acutely aware of how the future might be, if humankind did not awaken to the need to live with her…the one…the Mother, Creatrix of beauty and life.
“Silent Spring” remains to this time, an enduring legacy of the call to wake up and smell the roses.
We cannot live without her, though she can go on and on into the future without us.
The question is: does she want to?
I believe Mother Earth is reaching out to us in a last desperate bid to stop us from destroying our habitat.
What is being done in the name of economic progress is nothing less than a dance with death.
Despite what is apparent, there appears to be a mass awakening of people, much of it happening on internet media with a gathering speed and force.
If this little website is anything to go by, then all is not lost, for I see the growing numbers of people interested in a more sustainable lifestyle!
We are living in fast changing times, days of optimism and hope…we are moving into a time of co-creating with the great Creatrix…Mother Earth.
I did not choose Bealtaine Cottage…it chose me, as one who would be an enabler of the great Mother.
In the Celtic calendar, the first day of May was known in Irish as Bealtaine.
This was the feast of bright fire, the first of summer, one of the four great quarter days of the year.
The ancient Irish Book of Invasions tells us that the first magical inhabitants of the country, the Tuatha Dé Danaan, arrived on the feast of Bealtaine.
Bealtaine is all about renewal, another chance, an awakening.
I will let the great Seamus Heaney have the last word…
Beacons at Bealtaine
Phoenix Park, May Day, 2004
Uisce: water. And fionn: the water’s clear.
But dip and find this Gaelic water Greek:
A phoenix flames upon fionn uisce here.
Strangers were barbaroi to the Greek ear.
Now let the heirs of all who could not speak
The language, whose ba-babbling was unclear,
Come with their gift of tongues past each frontier
And find the answering voices that they seek
As fionn and uisce answer phoenix here.
The May Day hills were burning, far and near,
When our land’s first footers beached boats in the creek
In uisce, fionn, strange words that soon grew clear;
So on a day when newcomers appear
Let it be a homecoming and let us speak
The unstrange word, as it behoves us here,
Move lips, move minds and make new meanings flare
Like ancient beacons signalling, peak to peak,
From middle sea to north sea, shining clear
As phoenix flame upon fionn uisce here.
Stoves are keeping the cottage and the lodge warm and snug.
The nip in the morning and evening air is quite tangible.
In the scheme of things, Autumn is an exuberant finale to the year, filled with colour and joy, mindful of all that’s passed and all left to come, as the descent towards midwinter moves ceaselessly on.
“The tints of autumn…a mighty flower garden blossoming under the spell of the enchanter, frost.”
― John Greenleaf Whittier
Perlagoniums resist the cold, staying in full flower, continuing in their summer glory.
The pink roses of Midsummer have passed, leaving behind the fruits of each visiting bee…rose-hips hang plump upon the branches.
Wisteria turns golden on the veranda.
The morning and evening air hangs heavy and still, laden with mist.
Spades take up leaves
No better than spoons,
And bags full of leaves
Are light as balloons.
I make a great noise
Of rustling all day
Like rabbit and deer
But the mountains I raise
Elude my embrace,
Flowing over my arms
And into my face.
I may load and unload
Again and again
Till I fill the whole shed,
And what have I then?
Next to nothing for weight,
And since they grew duller
From contact with earth,
Next to nothing for color.
Next to nothing for use.
But a crop is a crop,
And who’s to say where
The harvest shall stop?”
― Robert Frost
Salix Contorta and Honesty catch the morning sun.
“I saw old Autumn in the misty morn
Stand shadowless like silence, listening
To silence, for no lonely bird would sing
Into his hollow ear from woods forlorn,
Nor lowly hedge nor solitary thorn; —
Shaking his languid locks all dewy bright
With tangled gossamer that fell by night,
Pearling his coronet of golden corn.”
― Thomas Hood
“Is not this a true autumn day? Just the still melancholy that I love – that makes life and nature harmonise. The birds are consulting about their migrations, the trees are putting on the hectic or the pallid hues of decay, and begin to strew the ground, that one’s very footsteps may not disturb the repose of earth and air, while they give us a scent that is a perfect anodyne to the restless spirit. Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.”
“I ate breakfast in the kitchen by candle-light, and then drove the five miles to the station through the most glorious October colouring. The sun came up on the way, and the swamp maples and dogwood glowed crimson and orange and the stone walls and cornfields sparkled with hoar frost; the air was keen and clear and full of promise. I knew something was going to happen. ”
― Jean Webster, Daddy-Long-Legs
“Autumn that year painted the countryside in vivid shades of scarlet, saffron and russet, and the days were clear and crisp under harvest skies.”
― Sharon Kay Penman, Time and Chance
“There was a filmy veil of soft dull mist obscuring, but not hiding, all objects, giving them a lilac hue, for the sun had not yet fully set; a robin was singing … The leaves were more gorgeous than ever; the first touch of frost would lay them all low to the ground. Already one or two kept constantly floating down, amber and golden in the low slanting sun-rays.”
― Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South
For the past few evenings I have lit the stove in the Lodge and turned down the sofa bed to make a cosy sleeping area that is easy and cheap to heat!
The little wood-burning stove that seems to emanate warmth from one or two small logs, is economic and easy to maintain, making this a snug and cosy place to overwinter.
The layers of insulation packed into the walls of this little wooden cabin, makes for excellent heat and maximum comfort!
The nights are drawing in fast now and the ice, frost and mist has been a nightly feature for about a week.
Autumn appears to continue during the day and Winter holds sway from darkness onward.
This morning was particularly beautiful, with swirls of icy mist hanging over the mountains and the air still and warming around the cottage.
The berries on the Pyracantha are turning deep in colour, as the Blackbird and Thrush both eye them up!
The Larch tree betond the Lodge is getting ready to shed its needles and the Purple Beech in the foreground hangs onto her leaves well into the middle of Spring!
Autumn is colourful and delightful and definitely my favourite season!
Parsley grows through the winter in this old, bottom-less bread-bin, tucked into the raised stone bed…a good source of Iron and Vitamin C.
Tiny Lichens are beginning to grow on this Birch tree…I love the delicate colours of the Lichens!
Bamboo and Beech compliment each other on the driveway…both are a source of energy and usefulness at Bealtaine. Bamboo lends itself well to many projects and makes fantastic tapers for using in the cottage, between the fire and candles!
Bamboo is also a wonderful medium to use when making wreathes, as it is very pliable when first cut and will bend into a circular shape with ease.
It can then be wrapped around with other plants and wood.
Beech, seen here with Forsythia, grows into fairy tree shapes, all twisted and gnarled, reminiscent of the Arthur Rackham Fairy story illustrations…these are indeed beautiful trees!
Red Dogwood comes into its own at the entrance to the Fairy Wood.
Do I believe in Fairies?
Indeed I do…don’t you?
Can you believe these cheeky little Perlagoniums, refusing to give up and go to sleep?
Tomorrow I shall lift them from their big pot and put them to bed for the winter!
The clock ticks towards Samhain, literally meaning: Summer’s end!
Tomorrow is Samhain, a celebration of the last day of Summer and the beginning of Winter in the Celtic calendar. Despite cold nights creeping into Bealtaine, all remains green on the ground, with just the trees showing signs of transition into Winter.
Nasturtiums have not yet melted in the frost…it seems the ground continues to put forth enough heat to protect them!
“I ordered my food ages ago!”
Sammy-Bear waits for his breakfast on the veranda…I have to hurry up with this photography business and serve him breakfast! The Wisteria, on the veranda of the Lodge, is showing a last magnificent vibrancy before it sets itself into bed.
The plants and trees are making a fantastic show of colour this season!
The view from the doorway of the Lodge remains green and tranquil.
The micro-climate created here serves the cottage well.
All is sheltered from the North, West and East! We really have been blessed, with perfect weather this year, here in the west of Ireland.
Each season has behaved itself extraordinarily well! Despite the fact it was my birthday yesterday, I was sufficiently inspired to work and spent the afternoon crocheting this hat.
It’s an “Annie Hall,” inspired creation…I adore Diane Keaton!
I love the “cloche” type, 1920’s inspired, hats and adore working with pure wool and natural fabric.
This one is made using Donegal Tweed Pure Wool and the colour is just wonderful!
I shall be making many more for the Bealtaine Cottage Etsy shop!
Here’s the link to the Bealtaine Cottage Etsy Shop…
As early Lughnasa transforms the permaculture gardens of Bealtaine Cottage into a colourful abundance and the harvest continues, the early days of an Irish autumn unfold.
The berries on the Hawthorn are turning colour and the magic of a warm autumn fills the air!
These mushrooms are growing today near a clump of Birch trees in the woodland gardens further down from the front of the cottage.
The willow archway here has closed in on either side as the summer growth has cast even more shade in the new woodland. Bamboo and Dogwood have almost merged to close this path. As you can see, the leaves are beginning to drop.
The entrance to the Fairy Wood is closing too…there is a lot of work ahead this Autumn as the cutback begins!
Here are the new beds by the front door of the cottage. They are filled with home-made compost and planted with Birch and Cotoneaster, both grown from seed.
I love the simplicity of creating gardens around an old cottage…fuss-free and free!
One of the evergreen trees originally by the front door has been planted in the corner. It had grown far too big for the terracotta pot.
I love the way the silvery autumn light changes the way the sitting room of the cottage looks. This is my best-loved season!
I have just returned from the wedding of my son, held over three days at Markree Castle in Sligo. My beautiful grandsons are here with me in the picture. The flowers were grown here at Bealtaine Cottage and all the guests were gifted with bags of seeds.
As the wild and vivid colours of autumn consume the landscape around me and the nights draw in, illuminated by a full moon, I have been reading 12th century Irish verse…my ancestors had a deep respect for the natural world as displayed in these extracts…
“Little antlered one, little belling one, melodious little bleater, sweet I think the lowing that you make in the glen.
Home-sickness for my little dwelling has come upon my mind, the calves in the plain, the deer on the moor.
Oak, bushy, leafy, you are high above trees; hazel-bush, little branchy one, coffer of hazel-nuts.
Alder, you are not spiteful, lovely is your colour, you are not prickly when you are in the gap.
Blackthorn, little thorny one, black little sloe-bush; water-cress, little green-topped one, on the brink of the blackbird’s well.
Saxifrage of the pathway, you are the sweetest of herbs; cress, very green one; plant where the strawberry grows.
Apple-tree, little apple-tree, violently everyone shakes you; rowan, little berried one, lovely is your bloom.
Bramble, little humped one, you do not grant fair terms; you do not cease tearing me till you are sated with blood.
Yew, little yew, you are conspicuous in graveyards; ivy, little ivy, you are familiar in the dark wood.
Holly, little shelterer, door against the wind; ash-tree, baneful, weapon in the hand of a warrior.
Birch, smooth, blessed, proud, melodious, lovely is each entangled branch at the top of your crest.
Aspen, as it trembles, from time to time I hear its lovely rustling, and think it is the foray…
My postman, Tom Benson, was clearing out the cowsheds on his farm in Keadue and kindly offered me an absolute mound of well-rotted cow manure, one of the best additions to the permaculture gardens at this time of the year.
It will boost the fertility in all areas of the land, especially the fruit and vegetable gardens.
The harvest next year will be a good one, for sure!
Spreading it on the earth before the soil cools is also a way of letting it get in around roots before the next growing season.
Never mind diamonds…this is a permaculture girl’s best friend!
And on the subject of diamonds…here’s my little Pumpkin Mouser Missy, sitting beside the pumpkins on the veranda.
These will soon be ready to bring into the pantry and store for the winter, ready for pies, soups and curries.
Grown only on home-made compost, these cabbages continue to develop good firm hearts, ideal for saukeraut and freezing.
The autumn is continuing to be a fair season, dry and mild.
Time to tidy sheds and treat all outside wood with a preservative.
Last night was a full moon and the land was illuminated beautifully.
The autumn continues to progress through it’s mellow display of earthy colours.
Tomorrow is the Equinox and the beginning of the descent towards midwinter.
The time of year denotes the slowing down of all that is life as we know it.
Time to sort out the winter woolies and hang the heavy curtains to keep out the drafts.
One of the big tasks I have lined up here at Bealtaine Cottage is the coppicing of the majority of the trees that were planted eight years ago, in the first flush of restoring the fertility of the land.
Trees are one of the most important connections we have to the Divine, embodying the sacred fertility that anchors us all on this planet.
Where trees grow, life is abundant…without them we are bereft of all that makes life comfortable and good.
One of the great delights of the shorter days is the ritual lighting of the stove and the chance to sit around the fire and enjoy the scent of woodsmoke on the air.
There are few pleasures in life quite so comforting.
From this point in time the autumn will wend its way through to Samhain and evolve into the dark depths of winter, finally rising towards the light in the deep midwinter, a time of renewal, hope and promise.
Life is cyclical.
The builders of Stonehenge and Newgrange knew all about that.
The light is changing.
The nights are drawing in.
The Equinox approaches…a time of equality in night and day, dark and light, balanced on the cusp of the descent into winter.
Much more of autumn is to come, with the delights of Samhain and last harvest in the coming month…my favourite time of year, for it is the season of my birth.
The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…the dying sun. I love the changing of the seasons and the scents of the earth as the musky, mellow scent of autumn evokes a spirit of welcome for the darker nights.
We are seasonal creatures forced unwillingly into man-made rhythms that go against our inner desires to snuggle down into the deep recesses of a feather quilt and keep warm.
Now is the time to plant Broad Beans, Garlic and Onions for a good early crop next year.
This is also the time to hang winter curtains and make sure all outside painting tasks are completed to safeguard wood against the rigours of winter.
When I lived in London, I often ventured into the Hertfordshire countryside to buy sacks of vegetables direct from farms,to store in my pantry and use during the winter months.
I believe that a good pantry is worth any amount of fitted kitchen and can be easily constructed for little money!
The Equinox is near…make the most of your time outdoors and enjoy the autumn, one of the most beautiful seasons!
Cutting back the willow in the forest fruit garden today, allowing the willows archways space to develop more.
The cut willow is shredded and spread around the fruit bushes as an autumn mulch.
This will compost down over the winter months and provide food for the soil which in turn will feed the bushes…cycle of life completed with a bountiful harvest nest summer.
I have cleared some of the potager beds today to make room for an autumn sowing of garlic and onion sets.
It makes good sense to plant out the garlic bulbs before the soil cools down…same for onion sets.
This is the sure way to grow good-size onions to harvest next year!
This is my favourite time of year to work outdoors.
It’s not too hot nor too cold…and the autumn scents are so evocative.
Meanwhile, indoors, Jack and Flo have spent the morning fighting over who gets the biggest dog basket…Flo has lost this time, so has decided to make Jack as uncomfortable as possible by sitting on his back!
Isn’t it amazing how little dogs can be so bossy?
The paths around the garden are so overgrown that some are no longer navigable.
The word “jungle,” springs to mind!
However, the sheer volume of prunings is adding enormous bulk to the compost heap, which is now the biggest ever!
I have grown some mighty pumpkins in the potager beds this year that have had only compost in them.
I think that the sheer biodiversity of the plants here at Bealtaine is the basis of some great compost!
Clearing the paths and cutting back is a lovely way to spend quiet time on the land…being outdoors on a fine autumn day is hard to beat!
I grow over fifty different herbs here at Bealtaine Cottage.
All are grown organically, in keeping with everything I do here.
Lavender grows in profusion in the tunnel and dry areas of the gardens.
Wild Mint grows in the Bog Garden.
Oregano grows wild in the gravel driveway…one reason among thousands why NOT to tarmac!
The amount of self-seeding that occurs in the driveway is amazing!
I have taken lots of Lavender Cuttings and potted them on, so there will many more plants for next year.
It is important to keep a well stocked Nursery Garden…this enables continued expansion.
The garden has begun it’s slow transitional journey into Autumn.
By the Celtic Calendar, this is the beginning of the second month, and some plants already display that.
The Birch trees are colouring into autumn hues, the Willow hangs low in the early morning frost and harvesting food is well under way.
Hazel nuts are ripening, Rosehips are ready and apples are being harvested.
The hips of the Rosa Canina, or DogRose, rich in Vitamin C and ready to collect to make syrup.
They can also be used in Hedgerow Jelly and Jams.
I planted several of these bushes in various locations around my smallholding and they have all grown and fruited well, though sunlight is important, so shady locations are not that good…semi-shade is tolerable though!
The fruits of the Rosa Rugosa, rich in vitamin C.
These were collected by people during W.W.2. and delivered to the local collection points for the Ministry of Food where they were turned into Rosehip Syrup and given out to families with children as Vitamin C Syrup.
Isn’t it amazing just what governments can do for their people when they have to!
It’s worth looking at the history of the Ministry of Food during this time…some of the recipes produced by them are incredible…!
There are many hundreds of metres of pathways in this garden, connecting many different types of growing areas and gardens, all of them organic and all permacultured for ease of managing.
One of the paths, leading from a compost area in several directions…the orchard, the east garden, the cottage and if you turn right, along the north bank.
At this time of year, when there is so much to cut back, I use all the waste to mulch within that area.
The mulch, as it degrades, feeds the plants and builds up the soil.
It’s amazing how much is uncovered and revealed when this cut back happens.
The paths are all grass and are mown weekly…grass being used as a harvest food for the nearest trees and shrubs.
Did you know that there are over 300 species of Willow?
In wet ground, Willow only has to be inserted into the earth and it will take root.
Bees love Willow!
It makes great wood for burning in the stove, with just a little seasoning, depending on the thickness.
Baskets can be made from it, as can all kinds of decorations.
There is an archaelogical site in Antrim, recently uncovered that shows that the Ancient Celts used Willow and Wattle to create dwellings.
It is also a sacred tree, featuring in both the Celtic and Saxon Chronicles as such.
Here in the Bog garden, by the lower pond, this Willow provides wildlife food and habitat as well as structure and form.
It’s one of my favourite trees.
Willow lends itself easily to Permaculture, feeding so many insects and birds as to be totally amazing!
For the gardener it is a growing medium without restraints, bending into arches, fedges and garden sculpture.
Lughnasa fades into Samhain and there is magic in the air!
Into the kitchen for a warming cup of tea after spending the morning cutting back brambles in a bid to open up another part of the land. Autumn continues and there remain quite a few leaves on the trees.
Missy cat…staring at Jack in a sort of threatening way…The autumn sun shines silver into the sitting room…I love this season for the soft silvery light.
Jack makes sure he stays in his little home in the porch…he knows that Missy is not allowed in without his say-so!
Lime trees have almost completed their leaf drop, feeding the earth for another year.
November has stayed relatively mild and warm, so many of the trees are showing off their colours a little longer!
Manure from the hens has been spread on the vegetable beds…hoping for massive pumpkins next year!
Thanks to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall… A fabulous and easy recipe…
Chickpea and pumpkin salad
Chickpeas go very well with sweet, roasted squash, adding a little bite to contrast with the silky flesh. Serves three to four as a starter, two as a main course.
1 butternut or other squash 6 garlic cloves, unpeeled but bashed to break the skin 1-2 small red chillies, deseeded, membrane removed, finely chopped 4 sprigs fresh thyme 4 bay leaves Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 5 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil 150g dried chickpeas, soaked and cooked as above (or a 400g tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed) Juice of 1 lemon 1 large bunch parsley, stalks removed, leaves chopped 1 large bunch coriander, stalks removed, leaves chopped 1 small bunch mint, stalks removed, leaves chopped 20g pumpkin seeds, toasted
Heat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Peel the squash, if you like (I usually leave the skin on), halve it, scoop out the seeds, then cut it into 4cm chunks. Put these in a roasting tin with the garlic, chilli, thyme, bay leaves, some salt and pepper. Trickle over three tablespoons of oil and mix with your hands until well coated. Roast for 35-45 minutes, until the squash is softened and beginning to char around the edges. Add the chickpeas, toss and cook for five minutes to warm through. Add the lemon juice and toss with the herbs, pumpkin seeds and a bit of sea salt. Serve warm, with a little oil trickled over the top if you like.
It’s been a beautiful day in the west of Ireland! The sun has shone for most of it and the rain has disappeared! good thing too as the rivers are full to the brim and many have broken their banks, gushing over fields and roads!
I have wandered around the gardens, soaking up the autumn sunshine and attempting to catch a little of it all on video…enjoy!
Splitting logs of Ash for use in the stove this winter. This wood is easy to grow and easy to harvest if continuously coppiced. Ash, if coppiced, can grow steadily for 2,000 years and more. Ash can be burned in the green, that is, on the day it is cut. It is the perfect the perfect permaculture fuel!
Michelmass daisies and almost ripe pears heralds the middle of Autumn. Both pear trees are heavy with fruit. This winter I will plant more fruit trees, definitely plum and pear among them!
As the season progresses and the harvest is gathered in, the recipe books are opened and real saving of the harvest begins. So far I have made Autumn Chutney, apple chutney, various pickles and jams as well as a most unusual Blackcurrant Chutney.
Colours of Autumn simply absorb the whole landscape. This picture from today at Bealtaine Cottage says it all!
And more colour…
Grapes in the tunnel this morning. This is the best harvest so far. These are sweet and juicy. I am attempting to grow a vine outside here in the west of Ireland and will keep you posted!
Plant propagation is the process of creating new plants from a variety of sources: seeds, cuttings, bulbs and other plant parts. This is a great time of the year to engage with this way of increasing your garden/smallholding for free.
Now is the time to…MULCH!
In agriculture and gardening, mulch is a protective cover placed over the soil to retain moisture, reduce erosion, provide nutrients, and suppress weed growth and seed germination.
This is the best time of the year to do that…before the soil begins to cool off as the Autumn sets in. That way, the soil is warm as it is mulched and this keeps in the heat to a fair degree, which is good for the plants and life forms.
Mulching in gardens and landscaping mimics the leaf cover that is found on forest floors.
As you progress through permaculture, you will find you have access to more and more compostable materials in your garden/smallholding/farm. This is, simply a golden opportunity for your land to benefit from compost!
Compost can be rich in nutrients. The compost itself is beneficial for the land in many ways, including as a soil conditioner, a fertilizer, addition of vital humus or humic acids, and as a natural pesticide for soil.
In ecosystems, compost is useful for erosion control, land and stream reclamation and wetland construction.
Compost is organic matter that has been decomposed and recycled as a fertilizer and soil amendment.
Compost is a key ingredient in Permaculture. At its most essential, the process of composting requires simply piling up waste outdoors and waiting a year or more.
Perennial crops are crops planted and grown to reduce inputs necessary to produce food. By greatly reducing the need to replant crops from year-to-year, perennial cropping can reduce topsoil losses due to erosion and increase biological carbon sequestration within the soil. Rhubarb is a great example of perennial cropping, though division every 4-5 years is necessary. This is also a perfect way of increasing the crop yield and spreading the planting base.
And Flowers to feed the bees and the soul…
And…one ab fab simple permaculture idea!
The idea was pioneered by Brazilian Engineer Alfredo Mozer in 2002 –
The first day of Autumn in the Celtic calendar and the harvest continues. Blackcurrants are being picked at Bealtaine, along with masses of herbs, including Oregano, Chives, Dill and Fennel…though the Fennel in the tunnel is seeding and will be dried and stored for baking purposes later on.
The Plum trees are bearing up well with the wight of the fruit and this will be used for jam and wine. I have planted four Plum trees so far and am also growing some trees from seed.
Yes…it’s hard to believe, but there have been bumper harvest every year at Bealtaine and this is set to continue as the land moves from monoculture in year one to wonderful biodiversity in year seven, with shelter developing and compost heaps bursting…
This is the Fennel in the tunnel this morning, with a good crop of seeds developing.