Tending to the great outdoors


Lovely weather altogether in Co. Clare.

The cherry blossoms are exploding everywhere, the meadows are emeraldizing magically, there are early blossoms on our apple trees in Maisie's garden in front of the cottage, the clouds are passing high overhead, and whatever rain is in their bellies will tumble down on top of the English, the sky is blue as the Atlantic, the lough behind White's is molten silver and the five white swans that live there are flaunting themselves atop it.

Even though I'm inside now at the keyboard I know all this because I've just come in from gardening. The back of my left hand has been wounded by a briar and there are three little beads of blood there. I notice that my blood is still good, healthy looking red blood, and that's encouraging.

I hope ye are all well, especially my own editor whose deadline dragged me here out of the sun and the garden. And I send special greetings too to my venerable friend Bill Drennan in Chicago. On days like this Bill tells me that he tends to go out on the river in his canoe and just drift along in contemplation.

Let's go back out to the garden for a while. As I write I can hear the hum of all my neighbors out cutting their lawns.

There's an interesting dimension to that somehow. Maisie's Cottage, more than 150 years old, is the matriarch of all the houses along our country road. Most of them were built inside the last 20 years.

Almost all of them are huge by the old Irish standards. They would have sold for at least €450,000 to €500,000 at the height of the property boom. They are imposing homes.

Many of them, ironically, have the same kind of pillared frontage which hallmarked the Big Houses of the gentry who landlorded us all in the past. I don't know if there's any significance in that at all, but such modern two-story houses mushroomed all over the island when the Celtic Tiger walked among us.

They are welcome evidence of the better times that we have seen and will see again, please God, in the near future. The spokes of the wheel keep spinning around.

All my neighbors have splendid flat green lawns. All these lawns are immaculately maintained.

You will never see a stray dandelion poking up its golden head. Never. You will never see a bald patch or any other defect at all.

All my neighbors also have ride-on mowers for their lawns. It is at least three of these that I can hear operating now. Sunday is a busy day for lawn mowing in this new Ireland.

The aroma of the mown grass is enchantingly heavy on the air. If you stand outside in that scent at Angelus time in the evening the effect is spiritual.

I do not have a lawn at all. Lovely old Maisie filled the area in front of her door with shrubs and flowers, fruit bushes like blackcurrants and gooseberries, all crowned by the two apple trees.

If you tried to use a ride-on lawnmower in our garden you would skull yourself on an apple tree branch inside one minute. Even if you had a lawn to mow!

I do not own any kind of lawnmower, even the basic push mower, even though I have to tame the wild grasses and weeds that sprout up in every small space between the shrubs and trees.

What I possess is a snarling little petrol strimmer. It takes me 20 minutes to get it started by jerking one of those pull cords. Then it screams vengeance against all weeds.

Our sound is far angrier than that of the mowers all around. It is not that pleasant. But when the strimmer starts its snarl I strap myself into it and we attack the undergrowth.

I am not a gardener in any shape or form. The vibrations of the strimmer make me vibrate as well, from the waist up, and we jointly slaughter everything in sight.

We also believe in the scorched earth policy. It will be as long as possible before we go out again so we cut everything down to the bone. The clearings do be more black than green before we are finished.

My neighbors' machines automatically collect the mown grass. I leave mine where it fell.

For three days afterwards it is not so pleasant to see all the wilted corpses of giant nettles and docks lying in their gore on top of the tough skeletons of briars that are constantly attempting to reach out from the hedges and take over the whole garden.

I don't really care and the Dutch Nation takes it all in her stride. At least she normally does. This morning, sadly, I mowed the whole head off a Buddha she had placed under the sweetest apple tree. The dust has not settled since!

In addition to their splendid lawns almost all my neighbors are magnificent gardeners. Their gardens blaze with color even in midwinter for God's sake.

No sooner has one batch of flowers passed their peak than the next are blooming. They clearly operate a planned rotation system that I envy greatly. I am quite frankly jealous but I try to hide it.

Most of the homes around this townland also have garden ornaments garnishing them. There are gnomes and young gods and fountains and that sort of thing.

There are also gardens that are lit at night by solar-powered lights. And there are always ongoing projects being developed as you drive by.