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Mindfulness and Herbs – A Perfect Combination

October 31, 2016

Mindfulness and Herbs - A Perfect Combination

Practicing Mindfulness

A personal question, though one you don’t have to reply to… how is your mental well-being right now? Are you struggling a bit as the days get shorter and the nights longer and darker? Are you able to practice mindfulness? For those of us in the western hemisphere winter is approaching and with it I’ve noticed moods beginning to wobble as we wave goodbye to warm sunshine. Now, more than ever, it’s important to get outside for a while and be touched by the cool light, whether that means getting on with a few late autumn jobs in the garden or simply walking in the woods in quiet contemplation.

The Wellwood Centre

A couple of weeks ago I attended a Mindfulness Retreat at the Wellwood Centre, the beautifully designed and shiny new holistic centre a few miles from us in Royal Oak, Co Carlow. I was fortunately asked to design the planting plan for the herb garden there a couple of years ago and enjoyed returning to see how the plants had settled in.

Mindfulness and Herbs - A Perfect Combination

I recommended over 250 different varieties of herbs for the four 7 m x 2 m purple raised beds, each planted in their designated aromatherapy, herbal tea, culinary and medicinal areas. With a year of growth behind them, it’s good to see the herbs settling down. They complement the striking Geodome and fit in with the rest of the eight acres of woodland, sculpture, grass, mounded, lake and ornamental gardens beautifully.

Guided Meditation

Marjo Oosterhoff from the Passaddhi Meditation Centre led the mindfulness retreat and after a day of silent, guided meditation with 15 or so other adults, I now feel more able to spend time meditating, a practice surprisingly recommended to me by my GP months ago. I hadn’t allowed myself the time, nor really understood the practice until the retreat. I particularly enjoyed learning about metta, or loving-kindness which is a way of reconnecting with our inner being that is kind and compassionate. This is something I try to practice every day now, even for just a few minutes.

Marjo read the following to us, a poem that touched me and I’ve found myself repeating since:

 By William Henry Davies

What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs

And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,

Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,

And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can

Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

As we begin to let winter enfold us, a time that can be tough for our mental health, I hope you’ll take a few moments to stop and stare at the beauty of the natural world around you and let nature work her magical healing powers.

If you’re already meditating, I’d love to hear any tips that can help me or readers of this blog keep up with the practice?


Having Fun With the Colour Purple

August 19, 2016

Having Fun With the Colour Purple

“I have friends who are black, white, purple, grey straight, Martian, yellow, old and young. I have friends who are animals and a few who I believe to be robots. All of them are people to me. In my mind it’s not about what you look like or what you do, it’s about who you are inside.” Tracy Morgan

The Colour Purple

Having fun with the colour purple

I was looking up the meaning of the colour purple for this article and came across the above quote; my thoughts exactly though I couldn’t have written them nearly so well.

Maybe we’ve become more aware now we carry the news in our pockets, but as a result of reading about the violence and inequalities that appear when screens are opened, my gratitude for everything we have at home is growing.

Our children and pets, the garden and space, the solitude, flora and fauna, the landscape and climate – yes we have to work hard to maintain our lifestyle, but we’re tremendously blessed to live in a country that’s not at war, something many aren’t. Our hopes for our children are that it will always stay the same but who knows. Life’s uncertainties and the realisation that we’ve spent 16 years renovating our old farmhouse and doing very little else have this year resulted in us deciding to embrace life, to journey around our little island and to introduce some FUN into our daily existence.

That’s why we considered painting the patio purple rather choosing a ‘safe’ landscaping material. It’s such a cheerful colour and blends in with so much around us.

Having fun with the colour purple

Thankfully Ian is with me all away on the colour and agreed to let me run with it. The result: he’s as happy as I am and is talking about painting the back of our house purple too, “why stop at the front?” he says.

A concrete slab or a dry seating area

Having fun with the colour purpleOur one acre site has evolved organically and the patio is no exception. We didn’t plan to have a seating area next to the front door, overlooking the driveway. Yet nine years ago when the lorry delivered too much concrete for the new hallway floor, we had to make a quick decision. We asked the driver to dump the excess in exactly that spot, not thinking about the long-term consequences. We leveled the quick drying substrate as best we could before it set and ever since, that dreary grey slab measuring 3.6m X 2.6m has been the only dry surface seating area in our garden.

Having fun with the colour purpleI used to blame the Irish weather for not wanting to sit outside for long; it was too chilly or windy and not conducive to relaxation. But I was wrong, it had nothing to do with the temperature but more to do with the uninspired outdoor seating.

Since the transformation, we’re enjoying sitting outside so much we’re already talking about creating another outdoor space in one of the ruins that we can cover with tarpaulin to keep the showers off. It might house the pallet-made bar and stools that are next on Ian’s woodwork list as well as the barbecue and fire pit that rarely make it out of the shed.

But that’s a job for 2017, for now we’re looking forward to lots of outdoor entertaining and evenings bat and stargazing. If you’re wondering how we created this low-cost, tiny purple patio read on.

Three is the Magic Number

Once I began to think of paint as an alternative to other landscaping surfaces, three things happened simultaneously.

Having fun with the colour purpleFirstly I asked my herb garden clients from Advanced Coatings for some advice on outdoor concrete paint and they generously gifted me some of their Tikkurila product range by way of a thank you for the planting design we’d worked together to create. I looked through the sheath of colours on offer, finally choosing a shade of purple that would complement our plum coloured limestone driveway, the royal purple front door and the lilac window surrounds.

Having fun with the colour purpleSecondly Ian discovered a love for pallet furniture, having made a couple of vertical planters recently. He built a pallet herb planter fence that borders the patio, able to hold lots of herbs that can be grabbed while we’re cooking, saving us the short but often crucially timed walk to the veggie patch. Everything planted into the fence has been grown from seed in our polytunnel and includes mixed salad leaves, coriander, thyme, sage, parsley and rainbow beetroot.

Not content with pallet planters and fencing, this flurry of woodworking led Ian to build two pallet seats that will be part of the pop up community garden that I was invited to coordinate again in the Global Green village at Electric Picnic. The low seat was made from one and a half pallets, the larger one used two. Ian’s talking about making more benches and a coffee table. I’m holding my breath, bringing him lots of tea and hoping he doesn’t get bored with his new hobby too soon!

Having fun with the colour purpleThe third element in the patio makeover is that we took a trip to ReCreate in Dublin and stocked up on hessian sacks, artificial grass, woollen off-cuts and many other adornments that will be helping us, along with the other ten stakeholders involved, create a fun space at the music festival.

ReCreate is a remarkable organisation that was recently shortlisted for the €100K Social Entrepreneur Inspire fund. The idea behind the enterprise is that they store unwanted, end of line surplus materials from business and make them available to members such as schools, pre-schools, youth groups and art groups for create activities. Many of the items and materials would ordinarily end up in landfill but thanks to this innovative idea, they’re now being used to create pieces of art. The idea is that groups pay an annual membership fee and take what they want as often as they want from the warehouse. It’s a treasure chest of goodies, an Aladdin’s Cave for crafting. We spent three hours there like kids in a toy shop and could easily have stayed longer. ReCreate will be part of the Global Green garden at the Festival too and we’re looking forward to spending more time with them.

Come and Visit Us at Electric Picnic

Having fun with the colour purpleBar the purple floor, most of our patio will be heading to this year’s Electric Picnic Music Festival, along with a concept tree that Ian’s now creating with ReCreate remnants. 

If you’re at Electric Picnic do drop by and say hello. There are lots of events, activities, seating and crafts planned for Global Green that will encourage people to think about the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. You might even go home with some seating ideas of your own.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this and have a small garden or patio that you’re considering making over yourself, the following article contains suggestions for 14 vegetables you might like to grow in a small garden.

Vegetable Garden

Herb Garden Design ~ How to Create an Herb Garden

May 4, 2014


Herbs were one of the very first edible plants I grew from seed over thirty years ago and they’re a great way to begin the journey of growing your own. They’re undemanding plants and can grow well in containers outside your door, in flower beds or in specially built herb gardens.

globe artichoke

globe artichoke

If you’ve thought about growing herbs but aren’t sure where to begin, the following will help you to start growing and picking your own herbs from your garden this year.

Soil Conditions for Herbs

Most herbs prefer warm, open sites that aren’t subjected to prevailing winds and are out-of-the-way of frost pockets.



Ensure the site has been cleared of pernicious weeds and there’s good drainage, which is essential for growing herbs as the majority of the ones mentioned below don’t like sitting in water. Try to prepare the area you’ll be planting herbs into a few weeks before planting time. This will allow you to remove any weeds that have grown in the disturbed soil.

Herbs generally like to grow in fertile soil with a neutral pH that isn’t too rich, so home-made kitchen compost or leafmould forked in as a soil conditioner when you’re preparing the soil will be perfect. If you don’t have your own compost to hand yet, head into a garden centre and ask the staff to point you in the direction of a good soil improver.



Herb Garden Design

When you’re choosing herbs to plant in the garden, it’s a good idea to place taller varieties in the back of the bed and  smaller ones at the front. In a circular bed place the taller plants in the middle.

With a careful mix of colour, leaf shape and texture you can create a herb garden that will be a joy to be in. For instance, tall architectural plants such as silvery globe artichokes are shown to their very best if they’re accompanied by the soft, feathery foliage of a bronze leafed fennel.

How to Create an Herb Garden

If you’d like some ideas for more popular hardy, kitchen herbs that are suitable for growing outside in Irish gardens click here for a free PDF of Popular Herbs.

borage plant

borage plant

How many plants?

A basic rule of thumb is ten plants per square metre (one plant per square foot) which will give you something to look at during the first year and a good effect thereon after.

Smaller plants such as chamomile and thyme will need to be planted closer and can make good edging plants.


Very little maintenance is required in the herb garden bar keeping the weeds down. Allow them to settle down and establish before you begin to pick them for the kitchen and make sure they don’t dry out if they’re in containers.

If you’d like more information about creating a herb wheel, take a look at the guest post I wrote for CountryLife last year which gives detailed instructions. There are several posts on the Greenside Up blog for herbal teas and vinegar too as well as advice on drying them.

Are you growing herbs yet? There’s nothing like snipping a few leaves of fragrant plants you’ve grown yourself and adding them to dinners or refreshing drinks.



Food & Drink

Drying Herbs? Here’s how to air, oven & freeze them

November 1, 2013

Drying Herbs? Here's how to air, oven & freeze them
Drying herbs, freezing or even using the ones we grow has been a topic of conversation with a few community garden groups recently and one I was reminded of again during a recent chat with Orla Rapple when we were discussing the benefits of blogging and horticulture.

Many of us grow herbs in pots outside the door or in herb beds or gardens, but how often do we harvest and store them for use over the winter months?

With food waste very much on the agenda after the revelation that Tesco sent 28,500 tonnes into landfill from their UK stores (not composted) in the first six months of this year, now might be a great time to think about preserving our own herbs.

There’s been many a year that I’ve regretted not collecting the leaves from my coriander (cilantro) before it went to seed or not drying the basil plants before they withered and died, yet preserving, drying or freezing herbs is a very simple exercise that will only take a short time to do.

Drying Herbs? Here's how to air, oven & freeze them

Basil ‘gone to seed’

How to dry herbs

The best time to pick herbs for drying is early to mid summer when shoots are young and fresh. If they’re left until later in the year they may become tough and flower, which can alter their flavour. However, if you’ve left it late (as we had in Callan this year with the basil), taste a leaf or two and see if you’re happy with the flavour. If you are, better to dry it than waste it!

Drying Herbs? Here's how to air, oven & freeze them

Goresbridge Community Gardeners Collecting Herbs

Here’s a few tips to help get the best flavours from preserved herbs:

  • Harvest on a warm, sunny day, preferably in the morning after the dew has evaporated but before the sun has scorched them.
  • To prevent flavours and aromas mingling, only pick one variety at a time.
  • Check the herbs carefully, removing any damaged or diseased leaves or stems and shake them to remove any small insects.
  • Tie small bunches of herbs together, ensuring that stems are preferably no more than pencil thickness. This will prevent mildew forming and allow an airflow.
  • To help to keep their colour, small-leaved herbs such as thyme can be tied and dipped into boiling water briefly then shaken and allowed to dry on kitchen towel. This will also make sure any tiny insects that you might have missed on inspection are dealt with.
  • Tie bunches of herbs together ensuring that stems are preferably no more than a pencil thickness which will prevent mildew forming and allow an airflow.
  • Hang the bunches upside down with paper bags or muslin tied around the leaves to protect them from flies and dust.
  • The best place to dry herbs is in a cool, dry shed or hot press (airing/warming cupboard). This method should take around seven to ten days.

Storing the dried herbs

Once your herbs are dry, simply crumble the dried leaves with your fingertips, discarding any stalks or spiky bits and preferably store them in small, dark, glass jars to keep their flavour.

Drying Herbs? Here's how to air, oven & freeze themHow to dry herbs in the oven

Air drying herbs is preferable for concentration of flavour however, speed is sometimes desired! If so herbs can be dried in the oven in about an hour.

Pick and clean the herbs as in the air drying method above but instead of tying sprigs into bunches, remove the leaves from the stems and lay out on a baking tray on top of a piece of muslin. Place the tray in an oven set at the coolest setting and leave the door slightly ajar. Turn the leaves over after about half an hour.

Freezing Herbs

Freezing is a handy method of preserving herbs but they tend to go limp when they’re defrosted so are not suitable for garnishing. They can however, be added to stews etc., straight from frozen.

Simply chop up the leaves, add them to ice-cube trays, top up with cold water and pop the trays into the freezer. When the cubes are frozen, empty them into a bag or container and add them to your soups or stews as your recipe requires. This is an ideal method for saving supermarket fresh herb bags or containers that may have been added to the shopping trolley for one or two recipes and are now left withering in the bottom of the fridge or on the windowsill.

Alternatively, divide sprigs of herbs into bags and freeze them whole. The method for picking and washing herbs is the same as those in the drying instructions above.

Drying Herbs? Here's how to air, oven & freeze them

Given that food waste is such an issue, I’m going to make an effort to dry and preserve more of my own herbs. Do you preserve yours?

Food & Drink

How to preserve herbs in vinegar

July 16, 2013
How to preserve herbs |

Herbs – a little bit of summer in a bottle

Do you ever preserve the herbs you grow?

I’ve written a couple of posts about growing herbs but once you have a sufficient quantity, you might like to start using them. Herbs can easily be popped into bags and frozen loose. They can also be chopped up, placed into ice-cube trays, topped up with water and added directly to dishes later, or they can be dried by hanging them upside down in bunches which allows the full flavour of their oils to develop.

This year I’m making much more of an effort to preserve our food. It started with the three different fruit cordials recently blogged and now it’s the turn of the herbs

If like me you tend to leave herbs to flower for the bees, popping outside only occasionally to snatch fresh handfuls to add to cooked meals or salads, you might like to try flavouring vinegars with them that can be drizzled onto food for a change.

How to preserve herbsI’ve chosen the simplest method I’ve come across that was suggested by Darina Allen in her Complete Cookery Course.

It involves adding a few sprigs of herbs to sterilised bottles and completely covering them with a vinegar of choice. I’ve started by separately adding tarragon, mint and fennel into three small, *sterilised bottles filled with a simple white wine vinegar. I’m still on the look out for a locally sourced cider vinegar given that it’s so good for us too!

How to preserve herbs | greensideup.ieWhen to pick herbs

The best time to pick herbs is in the early morning after the dew has dried and before they flower and are at their most flavourful.


Tarragon vinegar can be used as a base for a vinaigrette or added to soups, casseroles and sauces. Mixed with cream it’s a delicious accompaniment to chicken. Mint and vinegar are synonymous with lamb dishes but will be tasty with salads and couscous. Fennel vinegar can be added to salads, chicken and fish dishes.

How to sterilise bottles

We save bottles and jars for preserving but there are some pretty alternatives for sale if you’d like to use them for gifts. Either way they should be sterilised and the easiest way I’ve found is to soak them in hot, soapy water, wash them thoroughly removing all the labels and glue then pop them in an oven to dry at 180 °C for about 15 minutes and fill them when they’re still hot.

Once bottled the vinegar should be stored in a cool, dark place.

Do you have a favourite recipe that would taste delicious with a herb vinegar?

Vegetable Garden

Versatile Herbs ~ Guest Blog for

June 28, 2013

mixed herbsI was delighted recently to be asked to write a post about herbs for which coincided with their herb demonstrations in stores around Ireland.

lemonbalmI’m a huge fan of herbs. My first introduction to growing food was filling pretty containers with multipurpose compost and choosing small herb plants from a local garden centre to plant into them. Once planted up I’d move and arrange the pots until they were perfectly placed outside the kitchen door, instantly brightening up the postage stamp gardens that almost all the rental properties I lived in happened to come with.

If I was ever given birthday garden vouchers (my favourite kind of present!) I’d head straight to the container section and spend hours choosing pottery or earthenware tubs that I could plant thyme, sage, fennel and oregano into, all herbs regularly used in the kitchen. Once planted they pretty much looked after themselves,  perfect for a city working girl with not much time for gardening.

oreganoAs I moved digs I was able to move my containers with me until I finally found a place I could call my home and plant roots into. The herbs were taken out of their containers and placed into a new border, where they’ve since made their permanent home. The tubs are now full of pretty summer bedding plants, interplanted with lemon balm, chamomile and summer salads – old habits die hard.

herb bed & beetroot

If you’d like to know more about herbs, which ones grow well in gardens outside in Ireland, as well as read a step by step guide on how to make a herb wheel, you can view the guest blog on the Countrylife website here.

Vegetable Garden

“It’s Time for Tea” ~ Grow Your Own Lavender Tea

October 8, 2012

Herbal teas, also known as infusions or tisanes have been around for centuries and used to treat minor medical ailments. Many of you may already be familiar with chamomile or mint teas, readily available at most supermarkets.

Lavender Tea

An herbal tea that’s perhaps not so common is lavender. If this pretty perennial plant isn’t growing in your garden or containers already, all garden centres should carry stock and it’s very easy to propagate from semi-ripe cuttings or to sow from seed.

To Grow Lavender From Seed

Sow the seeds in February into individual modules using soil that will resemble the plants final growing place. Sow them 2.5 cm deep, cover with compost and keep moist as the seedlings grow using a spray bottle containing tap water. It’s essential to keep the seedlings in a warm, bright area until they’re established. In May plant the seedlings into well-drained soil or large containers in full sun.

"It's Time for Tea" ~ Grow Your Own Lavender Tea

To Make Lavender Tea or Tisane

Just add a teaspoon of dried lavender blossoms to hot water and allow to infuse for five or ten minutes then strain the liquid into a tea-cup.

Lavender tea is said to be good for insomnia, helps to calm if you’re anxious, is good for headaches, and apparently acts as a great mouthwash for halitosis!

Does it work?

I’ve been drinking this tea today and certainly feel calmer than I did this morning so would definitely recommend trying it if you’re feeling at all stressed.

That said, herbal remedies can cause allergies and if in doubt you should always  check any medical symptoms with your GP.

If you’d like to find out more about this wonderfully scented plant, Naomi over at Dr How’s Science Wows wrote a lovely blog post which includes recipes for bath bombs and oil.


Kilgraney Herb Gardens – Beautiful and healing in many ways…

August 6, 2011

Healing and Herbs at Kilgraney House

Unusually I’m feeling like quite the social butterfly meeting up with social media friends this month at various summer festivals and events. From wildflower walks in Tipperary to classical guitar concerts as part of the Abhainn Ri week in Callan, it’s been a busy month. Last week was no exception when on Wednesday I was lucky enough to be able to juggle childcare (a rare thing during the summer holidays) and spend three peaceful hours at Kilgraney House and Herb Gardens in County Carlow.

Carlow Garden Festival is celebrating it’s tenth anniversary this year and is an ideal opportunity to visit several gardens around the county, with guest speakers on-hand to offer their expert advice and provide demonstrations.

Dermot O’Neill was this year’s guest at Kilgraney and it was to everyone’s delight that we heard he’s now in remission from his recent encounter with cancer. As Dermot lead us around the Medicinal Herb Gardens, and in particular the new Oncology bed, he told us about his shock discovery on developing this (frightening for most of us) disease and gave us an insight into his treatment. He really is looking much better than he did in his TV series Secret Garden last year and judging by his mostly female audience on Wednesday, has not lost any of his appeal!

Kilgraney Herb Gardens

There are several beds in the courtyard Herb Gardeens, each containing plants specific to various ailments. The Oncology herb bed was newly created in honour of the co-owner’s mother who passed away earlier this year, containing several herbs that are used to aid the treatment of various cancers – Irish Yew, Opium Poppy, Caster Bean, Feverfew, Elderflower – familiar names to many of us but who’s extracts are often used to treat or aid pain relief. Pebbled pathways lined with granite lead you around the gardens and there are several inspired themes to chose to visit next….

Healing and herbs at Kilgraney House

The Cosmic Herb Circle

I loved the Cosmic Herb Circle where I discovered that the plants for my own star sign Virgo are Fennel, Savoury, Southernwood and Valerian (all of which are growing in the Greenside Up garden!).

There are tremendous views from this particular garden too looking across the valley to the top of our hill.


The Monastic Herb Cloister opposite contains many herbs that would have been grown in monasteries throughout Ireland, either to eat, heal or brew.

Healing and Herbs at Kilgraney House

Monastic Herb Cloister

From this area you can either walk up to the Kitchen Garden where all the fruit and vegetables are grown for the Kilgraney kitchens (and purchase plants too from their polytunnel) and then on to the Herbal Tea Walk, or walk across to the Rose and Aromatic Herb Gardens which are in the spa area of the complex, filling the air with their intoxicating scents.

A garden humming with busy insects and full of beautiful scents

Still there’s more…. Kilgraney is so full of romance that even the trees reach for each other across pathways, their limbs entwining. The orchard trees are laden with fruit and the sound of birdsong and busy bees fill the gardens as you meander along the pathways.

Even the trees embrace here

The afternoon finished with us all tucking into some delicious home baked refreshments provided by Kilgraney and then an excellent propagating demonstration held by Dermot where he shared the art of taking cuttings (to a captivated audience) chosen from a large variety of hard and softwood plants.


This wasn’t a free event, although some of the Trail week’s demonstrations are. The cost was €10 but it was money very well spent. To their credit, owners Bryan and Martin donate every cent raised on their annual open day to charity and this year it will be heading to the Friends of Wexford General Hospital.If you’re interested in visiting the herb gardens they’re open from Thursday to Sunday, May to September from 2.00pm to 5.00pm. There’s a small charge of €3.00, groups by prior arrangement and refreshments are available. Alternatively you could always stay in the gorgeous Georgian house and wander around the gardens at your own leisure, perhaps availing of the Aroma spa to perk you up, or settle down to a creatively cooked six course dinner.