We have some really high calibre garden designers in Ireland — Waterford-based Ger Mullen is one.
I would have been a showgarden neighbour to Ger at Bloom on several occasions in the past, and like a good Waterford man with all that Viking linage — he would have stolen gold every time.
Deservedly so — with adventurous rammed earth walls, celebratory of Irish botanical heritage, and a garden based upon the habitats of the Comeragh Mountains.
I like an Irish designer who is unafraid to be ‘not-British’.
Too many budding designers look to the Chelsea Flower Show aesthetic and places like Sissinghurst etc, for inspiration when we have it in spades here.
You may have seen Ger wielding a spade and his expert advice on RTÉ’s Super Garden— where he has been a mentor in the past to the contestant gardeners.
You might also have caught him on the talk circuit, or at a Ballymaloe garden festival or a GIY fest.
If the latter, you would have seen the great work he helps coordinate with the Grow project to green up and beautify Waterford city centre at key times of the year, or found yourself looking at a roundabout or street corner effervescent with horticultural displays — that’s more than likely Ger.
His current public space project is on view this weekend and right across the Christmas season as the Grow project team again transform Waterford city centre into a winter wonderland to highlight and celebrate the return of the Winterval Festival.
Forget the trip to the Berlin winter markets, Waterford council has even laid on a sleigh service for visitors.
The Winterval Festival is also full of food stalls, gift stalls and family-friendly events.
There is even a giant free Toy Museum featuring a Star Wars and Transformers exhibition.
There are 3D Lightshows and Keith Barry and Santa will be mingling with the crowds — I don’t know which will scare/delight more?
In fact there are over 30 Winterval trail events (19 of which are free of charge). Look out especially for the Ice Slide and the Helter Skelter.
The ‘Winter Wonderland’ garden is located on the quays where 100 conifer trees line the way and are illuminated from dusky evening into the night.
Look out too, for the ‘Gingerbread Square’. Don’t eat the buildings — that’s a note to self as much as to yourself. For further details see www.winterval.ie
The Grow project of which Ger Mullen is Project Coordinator is a community-based Training Initiative and a model which other towns and cities across Ireland should adopt.
I know Tidy towns is great and those local committees do brilliant work, but there’s space too for more – to work in tandem or separate from tidy towns, for community allotments, for GIY clubs, for green skills clubs and for gardening projects that get people back to work.
The Waterford grow project is Funded by Waterford Education & Training Board, it is a 48 week, fulltime, FETAC accredited programme where participants learn gardening skills including how grow their own produce and perhaps,gain employment in horticultural sectors.
The Winterval is a full-on Christmas festival but what makes it a community celebration and not a commercial exercise is the ongoing collaboration with community— with the high quality educators and horticultural activists like Ger and the Grow project team.
Every county could have similar midwinter fairs which not only support local businesses, but get the community together. Maybe 2016 can see some ‘greening of the community’ revolutions? Led by you or supported by you, perhaps?
* If you haven’t done so already, then now is time to lag outdoor taps, standpipes and irrigation lines before sudden frosts and annoying bursts.
* Check overwintering veg for root rock and other potential pitfalls; earth up, stake in place, tie in or net as required.
* Prune and tidy all fruits if not completed last month.
* Cover cold susceptible crops.
* Check that compost bins are covered to prevent an excess of rain from leaching away nutrients.
* You would think the weeds would take a break at this time of the year, but no – there are still some about, heavy frost or not. Weed grasses, cleavers, brambles, hairy bittercress and chickweed are all doing well. Any pulled cleavers can be used as a lymphatic tonic – infused in cold water or as crunch to a sandwich.
* Ventilate greenhouses and polytunnels on warmer days to prevent moulds from establishing.
* Insulate glasshouses with bubble wrap
* Elevate pots off ground and remove saucers but leave one for the birds
* Hardwood cuttings are still possible but get a move on.
* Get in early and send off for seed catalogues.