Fiann Ó Nualláin muses on the peace and meditation the garden has to offer at this time of year

The male blackbird feeding his newly hatched chicks in their nest in an old Christmas tree in UCC. /Picture: Richard Mills.

I have been as busy as a monastic scribe recently, working early to late, on a new book and translating some bardic poetry into inspiration for a garden I hope to create.

All the while, yearning to get outside and soothe my eyes on some tangible nature. I work in silence when I write so after long spells I do crave a bit of birdsong, traffic noise, Schubert or AC/DC — anything to break the quiet.

The trill notes of blackbirds and thrushes echo through the poems that I have been reading, and I have had their song in my head for days now. 

A female blackbird is darkish brown with speckled breast like a song in her markings, but muddied out. Picture: Kieran Clancy
A female blackbird is darkish brown with speckled breast like a song in her markings, but muddied out. Picture: Kieran Clancy

Yesterday morning I got my chance to get outside, I had some potatoes to lift and green manure to sow in their place.

I was five minutes in when a blackbird appeared. Synchronicity I guess. I love that. 

The visitor reminded me of not just its iconic status, but of my real relationship to the life in my garden, to the welcome in my heart for any garden thrush or wildlife that makes itself known.

When a blackbird feels at home enough to chirp five feet from me, when a robin lands on my spade two seconds after I have let it out of my hand, when a red admiral sips at my nectar bar (a planted pallet, wall mounted,) or a fox slow stares me as I throw a midnight bucket of leftovers on the heap, it makes me feel that I am not in a manmade version of a perfected environment, but amidst nature, that my garden is not my domination of it, but a desire of my spirit or soul to be natural — and that I am achieving naturalness.

Blackbird with the winter blues at Clogheen Milcon Bird Sanctuary County Cork . /Pic Pat Good
Blackbird with the winter blues at Clogheen Milcon Bird Sanctuary County Cork . /Pic Pat Good

OK, a little too much mysticism perhaps — I can hear you, my editor and the man with the oversized butterfly net saying, ‘Put down the bardic poetry and step away from the edge’, but honestly I garden for that thrill. 

I garden for that truth. And hey, that’s really why you are gardening too — to cultivate your heart.

I do believe that to garden is to be in love with life. It is to embrace the explicitness of the real. It is not a hobby. 

Hobbies are mere distractions. Gardening is life and death. Death and life inform it. Compost heaps and fresh shoots — the circle of life.

It’s emotional too. 

Gardening is devastation at the failure of a sowing or the destruction of a plant at the feet of some slugs and it is elation in the successful graft, in the waft of a fragrant plant on the air, in the sense of achievement. 

Fiann Ó Nualláin muses on the peace and meditation the garden has to offer at this time of year

It is a complete connection to what is happening in real-time, in reality, in your immediate environment, in the life you are living.

No wonder monks took it up. The garden is a sacred space. If you are just starting today, have bought your first packet of seeds, and picked up this article for some inspiration — then welcome to the cult of cultivation. 

Now you know why you have to pass five aisles of candles and incense in garden centres before you get to the first plant. No, only kidding — just welcome.

You won’t have to fast or send me half your wages or feel really bad about feeling good. No, you will just reap the genuine pleasure all gardeners experience when they are at home amid their patch of nature, being natural beings.

Hallelujah or hell yeah. Just go for it, embrace your inner pagan.

Back to the song birds. Every religion needs a choir. Although residents are ever present, recent influxes from Scandinavia and Germany make garden-visiting thrushes very noticeable this month. 

The two prominent garden visitors are the song thrush (Turdus philomelos) and blackbird (Turdus merula). The con side is that both will eat their share of earthworms and steadily pick away at autumn fruits.

Song thrush in full throated glory - but the numbers of the bird are falling rapidly and are the thrush is close to becoming an endangered species
Song thrush in full throated glory - but the numbers of the bird are falling rapidly and are the thrush is close to becoming an endangered species

On the pro side both will have away your slugs and more importantly your snails. 

The thing with snails is that they escape many garden predators by virtue of their hard shell but thrushes use garden stones as anvils to bash the shell open or drop them from heights onto the hard surfaces of your garden.

Song thrushes are speckled with prominent blackish-brown arrow-shaped to dot-daub markings in lines down breast and flanks. The upperparts are brown while the undersides are buff-white. 

Thrushes are a really pleasant companion that manage to swoop in, moments after you’ve lifted a few leeks or scarified the lawn.

Athrush bird
A thrush bird

Blackbirds are named for the glossy black male — with his orange ocular ring, yellow beak and charcoal legs, he is a familiar one and much celebrated in our song and poetic heritage.

The female is darkish brown with bespeckled breast; somewhat like a song thrushin her markings but muddied out. And she is no less beautiful and no less productive in scavenging your beds and borders for edible pests.

If you want to attract them, blackbirds and thrushes will avail of large open-fronted nestboxes, but songs need some seclusion — so place appropriately. Both avail of hedging and both come to tables. You can net or cage your fruit to forgo the need for hypervigalant shooing.

If you plant a rowan tree (Sorbus spp) you just might get a territorial pair to take it up and defend it as a food source and consequently protect the rest of your garden from other autumn-berry eaters.

In terms of timely chores, this could be a busy bee weekend but it will ready the garden for winter and smooth the transition into pottering about (the only options for the cooler and dimer days approaching).


Lifestyle

FOR many of us, health insurance is high on the list of financial products which that we tend to avoid changing out of fear and confusion.Money and Cents: cover all the bases for best health insurance

Anya Taylor-Joy plays the titular Emma in the latest adaptation of Jane Austen’s romantic comedy about the spoilt, meddling matchmaker who means well, says Laura HardingAnya Taylor-Joy: ‘Emma is my little monster’

Setting sail to travel the world as part of your job has a romance all of its own but for marketing manager Máire Cronin and engineer Mark Crowe it led to love.Wedding of the Week: Cruise ship co-workers Máire and Mark sail off into sunset

One of the genres that has seen exponential growth in the podcast world is the sleepcast. Open Spotify on your phone in the evening and a number of offerings are available, writes Eoghan O'SullivanThe Podcast Corner: podcasts that will put you to sleep

More From The Irish Examiner