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At this time of year the gardens remind us we are still in winter. However, beautiful birdsong is to be heard, the snowdrops are in bloom and the new foliage of a variety of bulbs is in abundance; spring is certainly pushing its way through. As a result of this mild winter, there has been a greater than normal level of rainfall for a number of months; it does not favour vegetable growing in the outdoor beds, however all is not lost as indoors in the glasshouses, the first potatoes were sown at the end of December, the peas and beans have been sown, and there’s lots of lettuce and salad varieties being grown. Delicious organic vegetables such as rhubarb, turnips, leeks, Jerusalem artichokes and parsnips are being harvested from the vegetable field outside.

The sea kale remains covered by cloches in the form of black bins and special terracotta pots. The first shoots should be ready for harvesting at the end of March.   

In the Ornamental Fruit Garden, the Hellebores are in bloom under the bare fruit trees. With their foliage having been removed, they provide a beautiful array of colour, from deep purple, pink, green and white; definitely a welcome sight when there is little else in bloom. Here also, the snowdrops are showing their snow-white blossoms and the Snowflake (Leucojum vernum), a bulbous perennial to 30cm in height with 1 or 2 broadly bell-shaped, green-tipped white flowers.

We lost two old trained apple trees in this garden last year, so these have been replaced with new two-year-old ‘Gibbons Russets’ (a tasty, juicy and crunchy apple, medium sized with russet patches) popular in Kilkenny since the early 1800’s and later in Cork, Dublin and Meath.

Over in the Potting Shed in the Herb garden, Eileen has planted trays of miniature Narcissus Tête á Tête and Muscari armeniacu (Grape Hyacinth) which will be ready for planting out soon. The Herb garden has been cut back and dead leaves continue to be gathered up and added to the compost heap. The new foliage of the globe artichokes and the silver-green foliage of the cardoons already add colour to the otherwise bare parterre.                          

As you follow on into the Pleasure Garden, the geese and ducks are happy in the wet conditions we’ve been experiencing these past few weeks. Opposite the pond, a beautiful specimen shrub, Hamamolis mollis ‘Pallida, (Chinese Witch Hazel) is in full colour with clusters of sulphur-yellow flowers. It cannot but take centre-stage in the bleakness of a winter garden. The large Cornus capitata or Himalayan Strawberry Tree is covered in large rounded red fruits which the birds love. It’s a hardy, elegant, evergreen tree and its leaves have a slight drooping habit and give a good weeping effect to the whole plant all year round.

The glasshouses are getting their annual intensive clean. The glass is being hosed down inside and out and any cracked or broken panes are replaced. The bays have been cleared and the soil rotavated with the addition of well rotted garden compost.

The first potatoes (varieties such as ‘Colleen’ and ‘Casablanca’) were sown before Christmas and a further crop sown this month. Peas (var.Ambassador) and broad beans (var.Crimson flowered) have been sown.

A bay of lettuce is covered by fleece day and night. Varieties of different salads and herbs such as parsley, coriander, dill and chervil are growing in module trays on benches; they will be planted in the glasshouse in the weeks to come.