Monday, 21 July 2008

Knickers on Buddleia

We've been busy here in Kiltumper...

I write from the garden wet with rain as another summer in Kiltumper passes wetly by. St Swithins' Day was mixed, so perhaps the rest of of the summer will send us sunshine as well as the usual rain. The swallows have nested in the open cabin once more and magpies, rather a nuisance, have made a home in the top of the cedar tree. Luckily they're too big to fly through the open cabin and up into the rafters, so the swallows should feel safe to return next April.

For Niall it began with a lot of teaching. Following his now usual session at Listowel Writers Week, where he gave a workshop in fiction writing, he headed to County Carlow where he began working with MFA students from Carlow University of Pittsburg for an intensive 10 day residential series of workshops. By all accounts it was very successful. Carlo Gebler and poets Mary O Donnell and Mark Rowe were also teaching, and a number of other Irish writers came for readings or lectures, among them Anne Enright and Aidan Matthews. Niall will continue to mentor the MFA students work for the next six months. After that he headed to New Jersey where at Monmouth University the Shadow Lawn Players produced his play The Way You Look Tonight. He said their production was even better than the original one at Druid in Galway. And he got to swim on the Jersey Shore.

He returned just in time for our first ever Kiltumper Writing Workshop. We welcomed participants from as far away as Abu Dhabi and Maryland. A beginning playwright, one of Co Clare's own darling girls from Corofin, wrote: 'I really enjoyed the workshop and boy, did I learn a lot. Niall certainly put the fire into my writing... I will always be greatfull and appreciative for that. ...Thank you all once more, and I thank God for guiding me towards such wonderful, talented people.' Guess she enjoyed herself. And, she added, 'I loved your cooking Christine, and the beautiful rendition of the 'Homeruler' played by the very talented son of the house.'

Speaking of the son, he participated in this year's Willie Clancy Week up in Miltown Malbay and learned a good few more tunes on his fiddle. So next year when our Corofin playwright returns he can play her a set of reels and jigs, and her toe tapping might very well turn into a full blown Clare set. Our daughter is in New York interning with Tommy Hilfiger's company and Rag and Bone, and loving every minute of it. I'm half afraid that next year when she gets her B.S. in fashion design from NCAD she'll be moving back there and another love relationship with New York will have begun. She writes, 'Oh guys, just found a cool apartment in the East Village!'

At the beginning of April, I was engaged in designing and refurbising the garden at the Old Ground Hotel in Ennis. Working with the owner, Allen Flynn, we've revamped it entirely, planting a boxwood hedge 50 metres long, a laurel hedge, a herbaceous border in front of the hotel, and laying two Doolin stone patios--with the help of my friend Mark of . Then, we laid 100 sq yards of turf for a new lawn and made a shrub border with three multi-stem birch trees (betula utilis jacquemonti) and some specimen shrubs from Tully Nurseries in Dublin. A lighting designer from Feakle, John Maloney of has done a stunning job with lights--up lights, and down lights that he calls moonlights, and copper spotlights. Looks great. Allen would be delighted if you stopped by to tell him so!

And now, after all that activity, things are returning to normal for a while. Normal summer in Kiltumper that is. I awoke this morning to a hay mower cutting the back meadow. Maybe that will mean the weather will hold for a few days. God bless the farmers and their secret understanding of nature's ways. The hedgerows are full of grass and the scent of clover is filling the road that we walk along. The clothes are hanging on the line to dry in the sunshine while the extras that didn't fit are set out to dry on the butterfly bush in the garden. (You'll have to imagine the knickers on the buddelia yourself.) J is playing the guitar with notes of Blackbird flying out the window while Niall is clipping the front hedge so he can get down the path to the postbox. Every year we mean to cut it way back and every year it beats us.

Elsewhere in the garden, the carrots that I planted last year are well and truly up! Their lacey tops looking like iron lattice work on tall green stilts at the top end of the garden. As cut flowers, who knew they'd last such a long time in the vase? Lettuces and cabbages too I let go to seed and I don't mind one bit. Trying to keep up with a garden that outpaces me in my 5th decade is hard work and just when you think you're finished one job another rears its head.

Ahead, on the August Bank Holiday we hold the second workshop here with attendees this time coming from Washington State, Canada, Norway, Italy, and the British Isles, as well as one from County Clare! It's a family affair between the organising and the getting ready and the catering...and its wonderful! In a way its everything we first dreamed of for this place, where people can come and enjoy the garden and the house and hopefully be inspired in their own work.

So here's to August and tomatoes and basil from the glasshouse and, well, more weeding, and writing, I suppose...