There’s no denying it, winter has arrived. We’ve had rain and strong winds but no frost so unbelievably the nasturtiums are still going strong. I can’t get over the volume of flowers one packet of seeds produced. Best value for money ever.

So what else has been a hit through 2021? The weather certainly made a difference. All I recall of 2020 was a miserable June when it never stopped raining. My roses were a wash out but there was no such problem this year and the roses looked great.

Repeat planting of nepeta and dianthus kept colour at the front of the borders. I clipped the nepeta and dead-headed the dianthus and they kept flowering. I also got a second flush of lupins and dahlias by dead-heading regularly.


If you are not up to doing much in the garden, just go for a walk with a secateurs in hand and you will be amazed at how much you can do and it’s easy into the bargain.

My big win for 2021 was getting a 12-foot echium to flower. I know they grow like weeds in some parts of the country but that’s not the case where I live. I have a grove of self-seeded echiums and my hope is to get them through the winter.

Me and my echium.

While we planted a berry bed with raspberry, blackcurrant, tayberry and gooseberry bushes and raspberry canes we didn’t make a good job of getting them to crop. Doing a better job here is another challenge for 2022.

So, dear readers I wish you well with whatever challenges you face in 2022. Keep safe and well and have a lovely Christmas.

Sustainable gardening in the heart of Laois

Anytime I visit Tanguy de Toulgoet’s wonderful one-acre garden near Abbeyleix I come away thinking: “Oh, if only I could do that too.” His is a garden where weeding is almost non-existent and where the boundaries between what’s edible and decorative are blurred.

Tanguy de Toulgoet and his wife Isabelle of Dunmore Country School.

Based on the traditional French “potager” or country garden, it’s not just about the vegetables or the fruit or the flowers – it’s about all of these together. Tanguy uses techniques that are traditional to gardening in France, techniques which he learned as a child.

Living in Ireland for 25 years with his wife Isabelle and daughters Corentine and Jeanne, Tanguy says a similar sustainable gardening culture exists here but we don’t use it. “When I came here 25 years ago people knew how to garden sustainably. They had learned the skills from their parents. But many people don’t use these skills or pass them on to the next generation,” he says.

So what strategies can we adopt to garden more sustainably?

Tanguy is passionate about soil and says it is the most important feature in any garden. As a first step he recommends a “no-dig” system. “When you till or plough the soil you mix soil with oxygen. This ends up oxidising the organic matter in soil to emit more carbon. This is not good as we need less not more carbon as CO2.”

A system of less or no digging is good for the environment as the soil micro-organisms help to store carbon. Instead you place organic matter on top of the soil to be digested by all the organisms of the soil as well as insects, wood lice, fungi and bacteria.

You can also create a very simple “energy transfer” system in your garden. Carbon grows in your garden in the form of grass, hedge clippings, leaves and maybe even a meadow. All of these can be harvested and transferred to the garden. Grass can be used as a feed, while leaves can be harvested in autumn to protect beds when used as a mulch. Hedge clippings can also be used on vegetables.

However, he advises not to use grass clippings that have been sprayed with any 3:1 product that kills moss and weeds and feeds lawn. It won’t work.

Using hay

Tanguy recommends making a mulch for plants using organic matter such as hay, which he says makes for a top class mulch. Now is the best time of year to apply this mulch, where it will decay and be digested by organisms of the soil, enriching it in the process and saving precious water later on.


If you want to know more about sustainable gardening Tanguy has a series of courses that run from February to November. You can join a physical or online month-by-month ‘Stroll in the Garden’ course or you can ‘Start your Garden from Scratch’ and ‘Polytunnel’. You can contact Tanguy on 087-125 8002 or on

WIN: a two-night stay at a self-catering lodge at Ballykealey House


If snowdrops are your thing, then an annual pilgrimage to Co Carlow in February is a must. To celebrate the launch of Snowdrop Month in February 2022, we have an amazing break away to offer you and up to five friends in one of the beautiful self-catering lodges located in the parkland grounds of Ballykealey House, Carlow.

Nestled between the Blackstairs Mountains and close to the picturesque village of Ballon and the wonderful Altamont Gardens, sits the 19th century Ballykealey House. Each lodge offers two en-suite bedrooms, lounge and dining area and can accommodate up to five guests.

We are also delighted to add a €100 voucher from Robert Miller of Altamont Plant Sales to the prize and if you are looking for choice snowdrops this is the place to find them.

Just answer the following question: How many named varieties of snowdrops will you find at Altamont Gardens?

To enter, fill your answer out in this week's paper and send your answer to:

Mairead’s Garden Quiz,

Irish Farmers Journal,

Irish Farm Centre,

Old Naas Road,



Gala day

The Snowdrop Gala at Ballykealy House can’t be missed and it takes place on Saturday 5 February. Speakers include Tom Coward from Gravetye Manor and Anne Repnow who will talk about Old and New Favourites. After lunch there’s a guided tour of the snowdrop collection at Altamont Gardens. With 150 named varieties it is one of the largest collections in the country.

That evening a specialist plant sale featuring unusual bulbs and spring flowering perennials from a wide range of specialist nurseries will take place at Altamont Plant Sales. Not to be missed.

There’s lots more happening and you can check it all out on or contact Carlow Tourism on 059-9130411. Special accommodation packages are available through February at


Ballykealey, Ballon, Co Carlow | 059-9159288 | |

Altamont Plant Sales, Tullow, Co Carlow | 087-9822135 | |