‘We got lazy and let the gazebos blow away’

A strong wind took away the cheap gazebos, but a cherry tree gives us just the right shade

“At least we got the ornamental cherry tree right: placed between the hedge and the old piggery; its lower boughs trimmed; and with a table under the spreading branches – it casts a dappled shadow perfect for breakfasting beneath.”

“At least we got the ornamental cherry tree right: placed between the hedge and the old piggery; its lower boughs trimmed; and with a table under the spreading branches – it casts a dappled shadow perfect for breakfasting beneath.”

 

The Irish weather often drives me indoors but usually I’m sheltering from rain, not seeking refuge from a blistering sun. The continuing tropical heat raises a rare question: is there adequate shade in the garden?

When we bought our Wicklow cottage, it came with an acre of ragwort and dock leaves. I cleared a corner, hammered stakes into the stony soil and threaded a pleasing lattice of coloured string to mark out a vegetable garden which, eventually, came to pass. That tamed a twentieth part of the field. The rest was beyond me so we called in assistance. After ploughing, harrowing and re-seeding, we acquired a sloping meadow of lush grass nourished by soft rain and gentle sun.

Our first child’s early life coincided with consecutive, glorious summers. We lounged languorously, but the baby baked: a half forgotten collection of umbrellas from our city days suddenly proved useful again. When it rains here, you wear waterproofs or get wet. A golf umbrella sheltering three parents on the drenched touchline of a children’s GAA match is acceptable but any other use of such effete, urban accessories is sniggered at. We dusted ours down and, with the additional aid of bed-sheets and broomsticks, constructed a cooling bivouac for the boy.

We needed something bigger when his brother arrived and bought a bargain gazebo. Erecting then deconstructing it was annoying. I grew lazy and left it up. A strong wind which had been awaiting its opportunity ripped up the guy ropes. We woke one morning to find a tangle of canvas and buckled metal struts at the bottom of the field. We got a great deal on another the following year but ignored the lesson – with the same resulting crumpled mess – this time enmeshed in a hedge of thorns.

Looking, in the meantime, for longer-term solutions, we planted trees but these take time. The chestnut might provide shade for future grandchildren and the oak may one day shelter my grave. The orchard blossoms in spring and bears fruit in autumn but gives negligible cover right now. We arranged its trees in a snug phalanx along the roadside – to leave space for boys kicking balls – and there is barely room to walk through, let alone lie beneath a canopy of leaves rustling in a cool breeze.

The silver birch is a bit of a dud. It has grown admirably and throws a long shadow but is awkwardly placed behind the cottage. It’s a weeping variety and droops ponderously so needs to be pruned severely before casting a welcoming pool of dimness beneath its boughs. And we’ve realised it would be uncomfortably close to our hoped-for extension, but my wife claims this is excellent and intentional as our new bedroom window would open onto refreshing greenery.

Mint juleps at dusk

She also declares we must have a veranda. She currently imagines straw hats and mint juleps at dusk – not stacking logs out of the rain. But both uses should be considered so we discuss prevailing winds, the house’s orientation to the sun and its position on the land. Many similar homesteads were built around here a century or so ago: each with a piggery; an acre for potatoes and grazing; and always with the house placed by the roadside for easy access. But modes of living change. We would prefer the cottage further up the field for a better view: a frivolous notion to the builders – like planting trees for shade. Back then, trees were for shelter from wind and rain. Our perimeter hedge of whitethorn and holly is dotted with stumps of huge conifers. They must have formed a high, dense barrier shielding biped and quadruped alike from inclement weather and a sight of the surrounding hills.

Only four remain: gloomy giants standing at watchful intervals along the hill behind. It’s only just occurred to us how much we could lengthen the evening light if we felled a couple. Maybe we should have sought informed advice earlier but I’m sometimes reluctant to pay for professional help – I’ve a vague suspicion there’ll be an attempt to sell me something I don’t need or a suggestion that I ought to make more effort than I’d planned. It’s more comforting to operate on the “Feck it, it’ll be grand!” principle; to make mistakes then realise your folly – it’s the Irish way.

At least we got the ornamental cherry tree right: placed between the hedge and the old piggery; its lower boughs trimmed; and with a table under the spreading branches – it casts a dappled shadow perfect for breakfasting beneath. Our tree planting programme has been partly improvised and largely haphazard but attempting to be weather ready is a mug’s game. After the 2010 big freeze, we bought a four-wheel drive which proved pointless till the recent blizzard. This year, we’ve also had hurricanes, monsoons and a heat wave. I’m writing this article in the reliable shade of the kitchen – when it’s read it’ll be freezing/lashing/boiling (delete as appropriate).

In Sight of Yellow Mountain by Philip Judge is published by Gill Books

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