On becoming Irish

My maternal grandparents were Irish. In Liverpool everybody seemed to have Irish grandparents and listening to my grandfather sing and play fiddle with his friends in the kitchen seemed what everybody did.

When my grandparents died and the family moved away, any links with Ireland seemed to losen and I eventually felt myself wholly English. However the idea that you can part of more than one country was there as bedrock and both my grandfathers travelled the world on the ocean going liners out of Liverpool and it seemed as natural as breathing to want to see the world.

I have lived now in nine different countries and on four different continents, having come to rest ( who knows for how long) in a beautiful corner of France on the edge of Switzerland and Germany . I like being foreign because I think anywhere can be my home and I can feel at home everywhere. My British nationality has been a great good fortune, giving me the language that has has made my living and a passport respecteacross the world. As a member of the EU my potential home and work place in any of the member countries offers me a huge range of climates, countries and cultures to choose from.

And then came Brexit.

I was prepared for the result. I had spent months researching my Irish roots and my eligibility for Irish citizenship as a foreign born national , but I hoped I would not have go through with it. This is not because I didn’t want to get dual Irish/British nationality, but because I hoped no one could be misguided enough to turn their backs on all the opportunities that Europe offers.

Unfortunately I was wrong, but unlike all the millions of my fellow Brits with no European ancestors,  my Irish parents have stretched out a hand across the years and allowed me to continue being European, to continue living in France and to have the possibility to work or retire wherever the fancy takes me in the community.

I am very grateful to the Irish embassay in Paris for sorting it all out so quickly and to my Granparents for giving me the freedom to keep my options and my heart open in this amazing, interconnected world!



What to do?

img_1153It has turned cold here, but no frost yet. We may be shivering but some leaves are hanging on and the question is what to leave on and what to take off?

Winter is long and dull, so it seems crazy to loose flowering plants before their time, but the cold nights are taking their toll and nothing is as fresh as it once was, so I wander about my garden in a growl of indecision.

Nasturtiums are still bright, cosmos perky and ivy leaved geraniums are in full bloom, but each night that hoovers at zero threatens to turn them into blackened mush.

I have some favourite scented geraniums that I cut down, cram into pots and over winter in a crowded back bed room. As the winter goes on they grow leggy and pale, longing for spring. I have lemon scented; peppermint scented; rose scented and coke cola scented plants. The first three were are grown from tiny cuttings snaffled from a botanic garden and the last odd character I actually bought. Their flowers are insignificant, but the perfume of the bruised leaves is intense and worth the effort of protecting them every year. I also over winter a huge red soft leaved geranium that I rescued from a skip . It is the most extraordinarily vigorous plant and a few cuttings provide me with magnificent specimens plants that fill tubs in front of the house each summer.

So, thus far I have managed to bring in just the peppermint geranium: the lemon, the rose,  the cola and the monster red are all still waiting. I really must stop dithering and finally cram them into the pots that will fit on a window sill for the next five months and accept that our seemingly endless summer really is over!

Saving your seed

Seed packs have bright pictures outside and implausibly tiny pinches of seed inside. Many flowers, left to their own devices,  will produced their own seed in abundance . All you need to collect your own is to avoid the tidy minded urge to dead head everything; let the plant flower, run to seed and then dry a little.

The time that this takes varies widely from species to species . Currently I am collecting ipomia (morning glory) seeds from the plants that have clothed my ugly wire fence all summer. Sweet William seeds come true and are ready a few months after flowering. Wall flowers also produce copious seeds if you will allow the seed heads to dry and split many months after the spring flowering. I bought one seed packet of cloth of gold wall flowers and seven years later I am still enjoying the flowers every spring! The pinch of seed I collected from an honesty plant in Greece six years ago still sets thousands of seeds each year ( as well as beautiful seed heads for dried flower arrangements ) and the few deep red holly hock seeds I swiped from a garden in Switzerland has populated my French garden with gigantic plants that have flowered three years from the same stock.

Nasturtiums seeds work well for a few years but seem to loose their vigour , but wild hoary mullian shoot up in every dry place they can find,true to type to delight the first bees of the day, every morning of summer.

I love the feel of seeds in my hand; smooth or grooved; tiny or stocky; each speck of life waiting for the warmth of spring and some dark moist earth to transform themselves into roots and leaves, flowers and again seeds to keep us all dancing in the circle of life.

Rising Five 

This is the first sunflower I have ever successfully grown, as the slugs have always eaten my other attempts. The flower was wonderful, and I resisted the temptation to tidy away the  faded bloom, because I wanted the seeds to develope and here they are clustered black and glossy beneath the old flower. They put my in mind of a favorite poem:

Rising Five.

I’m rising five” he said

“Not four” and the little coils of hair

Un-clicked themselves upon his head.

His spectacles, brimful of eyes to stare

At me and the meadow, reflected cones of light

Above his toffee-buckled cheeks. He’d been alive

Fifty-six months or perhaps a week more;

_____________Not four

But rising five.
Around him in the field, the cells of spring

Bubbled and doubled; buds unbuttoned; shoot

And stem shook out the creases from their frills,

And every tree was swilled with green.

It was the season after blossoming,

Before the forming of the fruit:

_____Not May

But rising June._____
And in the sky

The dust dissected the tangential light:

_____Not day

But rising night;

_____Not now

But rising soon.
The new buds push the old leaves from the bough.

We drop our youth behind us like a boy

Throwing away his toffee-wrappers. We never see the flower,

But only the fruit in the flower; never the fruit,

But only the rot in the fruit. We look for the marriage bed

In the baby’s cradle; we look for the grave in the bed;

_____Not living

But rising dead.

Norman Nicholson (from Complete Verse, Jonathan Cape, 1999)


The sun is losing its heat and the nights come sooner:  the leaves are turning and the swallows have already gone.

Every year the bird migration is different.  This autumn the swallows, swifts and house martins have left earlier than usual for Africa.  Maybe the dry late summer meant there were fewer insects on the wing and there was little to tempt them to stay; maybe fewer actually arrived this year; maybe they know a cold winter is coming.

Sitting on the front porch of our house is a great place to watch migrants arrive and leave.  Birds coming south sweep down the Rhine valley, but when they hit the first folds of the Jura mountains they are funneled together and we see great wheeling flocks of hirundines feeding briefly over the garden before pushing on south.

Some migration  patterns are surprisingly similar.  Last year we were amazed to see a flock of bee- eaters burbling and tumbling over the hill, unmistakable in bright blue with a silhouette of a stocky starling.  Other people saw them on the same day as they left the Kaiserstuhl in Germany ( where they breed) returning  to Africa.  This year we were on the lookout for them and sure enough a flock of 50+ birds flew over to our great delight.  We checked our records and were astonished to see that this flock went over on exactly the same day and at exactly the same hour, last year.

Seems like some birds keep to the  timetable!