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Cover Girl Surprise in Irish Country Living

October 5, 2014
Cover Girl Surprise

Credit: Country Living with the Farmers Journal. Photographer Carol Dunne

I was delighted to be asked to talk about my work with community gardens recently, as well as share the story of our move to Ireland 16 years ago, with Maria Moynihan of Irish Country Living, a lifestyle magazine that accompanies the Irish Farmers Journal. On a warm sunny morning Maria arrived at our home and we spent a long time at the table in our unusually sparkly kitchen, chatting away and pretending not to notice the courgette cake I’d made that was waiting for an appropriate moment to cut. Maria was such a great interviewer that before long I found myself telling her my life story.

From childhood to teens and then on to meeting Mr G, having three children, renovating our home and finally how I came to be working with community gardeners in Carlow and Kilkenny, we covered many topics and Maria was a pleasure to talk to.

Cover Girl Surprise!

Credit: Country Living with the Farmers Journal. Photographer Carol Dunne

She mentioned a photographer would be calling up a couple of days later so I had an anxious wait thinking about meeting her. I’m not a natural model and for years our children have had a bet on which one will win a prize for taking a half decent photo of mum with none of them winning.

I was so nervous the night before Carol arrived I’ll admit to googling “how to pose for photographs” in an attempt to look even remotely professional (and yes, there are lots of suggestions out there).

On advice from a client who’d been in a TV gardening series, I decided not to cut the grass but booked a hair appointment at my favourite Kilkenny stylist, Kieran O’Gorman, for the morning of the photo shoot. Kieran expertly managed to transform my untamed, frizzy locks into silken waves and I floated out of the salon feeling fabulous – step aside Nigella! It never ceases to amaze me how a good hair doo can heap confidence on a woman.

Back to the real world however, and with an hour or so to spare I was torn between cleaning the bathroom, putting on the makeup and have a clothing crisis… what does one wear on an Irish Country Living photo shoot? In the end I chose an outfit that’s not remotely associated with gardens but is one I’m super comfy in; gave the loo a quick once over and settled down at the dressing table, with a cup of tea to calm the nerves, to finish the transformation.

Cover Girl Surprise!

Credit: Country Living with the Farmers Journal. Photographer Carol Dunne

I needn’t have worried about the photo shoot. Carol Dunne really was a professional and I’m not sure who laughed the most when I mentioned the posing tricks I’d learnt the night before… ears out, tongue at the roof of the mouth, turn this way, bend that knee, hair like so, heels a must, we continued to chuckle as I showed her around our overgrown garden.

Despite all the fun, it was a huge relief to sit down that afternoon with the interview and photo shoot over. Finally I could relax again, though I was slightly anxious about just how much I’d talked and hoped that at least one of the photographs would be suitable for publishing. I’d expected a small article, nothing major in the magazine, so it was a tremendous surprise when I checked the notifications on my phone on the Wednesday evening of National Ploughing Week, the night before publication of the Farmers Journal:

Cover Girl Surprise!

Credit: Country Living with the Farmers Journal. Photographer Carol Dunne

I was awake at half past five the following morning, heading off to Fermanagh with Susan, my Green and Vibrant business partner. As we made our way to the Lusty Begs resort on a  press trip, I picked up an early morning copy of the paper and scanned the article quickly with bated breath, nervous about what I might read.

Maria’s accompanying full-page article wasn’t a disappointment in any shape or form. Far from it. I read the piece out loud to Susan as she drove us North in her little blue Micra and it struck me how skilled good journalists are… Not only did Maria manage to accurately condense about three hours of chat into a one page article, she did it in such a way that it made me feel like I was sitting at the kitchen table listening in to the pair of us. She also included a column of Greenside Up tips for beginners who might want to start growing their own.

Both women who visited our home were so genuine and professional, it was a pleasure to meet them and I’ll be reading all articles in the paper and magazine with new eyes as a result.

If you missed the article in the Farmers Journal, you can take a look here at the online edition (you have to sign in but get to read 10 journal + articles free), or you can take a look at the full interview with Maria here.


Gardening Gossip ~ A Chat with Mona Wise

July 29, 2013

Do you like to hear how others are growing their own fruit and veg, what motivates them and what tips and tales they share?

It’s one of the reasons I’m such a fan of community gardening; I’m always interested and the following chat with Mona Wise is no exception as she reveals among other things how her family choose what to grow each year, their favourite vegetables and her recommendations for books.

Mona Wise

Mona Wise

The Chef and I

For any of you who aren’t familiar with Mona, it seems appropriate that I should introduce you to her on this my 300th blog post. I first met Mona at a KLCK Bloggers network meeting and she’s an inspiration to bloggers and aspiring writers in many ways. She came away from the Blog Awards Ireland in 2012 with three awards (Best Blog by a Journalist, Best Food/Drink Blog, Best Photography Blog) as well as the overall Best Blog Award. She’s a columnist for the The Sunday Times, has just finished a four-year creative writing degree where she self published a memoir cookery book entitled The Chef & I. A nourishing narrative, which shares her story about meeting and marrying Ron (The Chef) and she’s mum to four children.

Mona, having read and indeed cooked several of the recipes from your book and newspaper column, it’s obvious that you’re passionate about cooking and eating good quality, locally sourced, seasonal food. When did you start growing your own and where do you grow it?

Ron and Mona

Ron and Mona

I have a confession to make Dee. It’s my husband Ron who has the green thumb in our house. I am an excellent ‘weeder’ and ‘grass cutter’ but he can make anything grow. We live on 3/4 acre less than 5 miles from Galway city and a half mile from my Mum, where I grew up as a child. We have been growing our own food (a lot of it) for 20 + years and it has always been chemical free.

As a chef, Ron has always been very careful about what he grows for the table and believes in making his own organic fertilisers like rain water-soaked with nettles, and plenty of manure from the chicken coops and neighbours horses and a twice annual dose of rotted seaweed from the beach.

Continue Reading…


Interview with Sile Nic Chonaonaigh, presenter of Garraí Glas

April 24, 2012

I’ve been watching the wonderful gardening series Garrai Glas on TG4 since series one. Recorded in the Irish language, it’s subtitled for those of us who don’t speak this old language fluently and the cinematography is beautiful.

What makes Garraí Glas particularly special however is that it’s all about growing your own food.

Síle Nic Chonaonaigh travels around Ireland in her little green Datsun talking to all manner of people about how they grow their food and eat it using traditional and organic methods.  I’ve been twitter friends with Síle for some time now and was delighted when she agreed to chat to me about her experiences.

How did you become involved in Garrai Glas, were you a keen gardener beforehand?

“Well it was a series of happy coincidences really. I work for Abú Media, the company that makes Garraí Glas, and my colleague Ali had the idea to make a programme that would show people how to grow their own food. I loved chatting to him about the idea and the people they hoped to visit, and was fascinated by the subject – but I knew nothing about it and had no gardening experience bar planting a few nasturtiums in summer! It was supposed to be a show about a gardener going to visit people and teach them how to grow, but they hadn’t found the right presenter. The producer, Bríd Seoighe, chatted to me about screen testing for the job. My background was acting, I’d worked in theatre and on TV for a few years, but I really had no desire to be on camera again. However I find it very hard to resist a challenge (i.e. I’m terrible at saying no!) and a snowy March morning found me out in a garden shaking with nerves at the idea of being on tv again.” 

The sun always seems to be shining during filming, is that just a fluke?

“A total fluke! The shoot dates are all booked far in advance as there’s a crew of five people on the road for 40 days, so every detail has to be organised. We were incredibly lucky in years one and two – last year was more difficult as it seemed to be cloudy all the time.”

We’ve met some fascinating people on your travels; do any stand out for you in particular?

“Wow, that’s a hard question, there are so many! In year one we went to Inis Oirr and one of the guests there was Pádraic Póil. In the final segment of that programme he brought out his mother’s old butter churn and gallons of cream and we stood outside in the sunshine making butter, looking out over the Atlantic. It was magic. Marcus Thornton in Galway was an inspiration; he is an incredibly passionate man who makes the gardening journey seem easy. This year there’s a lady called Nancy Murray in Cúil Aodha. She’s just lovely and though in her eighties is out working every day.  Her attitude was an absolute tonic.”

What was the most unusual method of growing food you’ve come across?

“To be honest most methods of growing that I’ve seen have been the old fashioned kind; good soil and seaweed or manure! John Dolan’s garden in this series is amazing because he more or less carved it out of a wetland. He dug the wet areas deeper and used any soil he took out to raise the surrounding space. He uses a permaculture model and has made his corner of the world very beautiful indeed. Trevor Sargent was an inspiration too; he has such a small space in his Balbriggan back garden but manages to nurture it and use every inch productively.”

What was the tastiest recipe you’ve tried?

“Well I’m so lucky to have visited experts like Gaby Wieland over the years – I’ve been introduced to incredible foods! A few stand out – the Gorse Flower Wine we made with Gaby last summer was absolutely divine and I’ve bought a bell jar to make my own batch at home. It was like drinking nectar. The apple and onion chutney we made with Enda Ó Conghaile on Inis Oirr was fabulous. The thing I loved about this, apart from the fabulous taste, was that I got to use up apples from the tree that would normally go to waste, and my own onions went into it as well.”

The latest series has included you creating your own vegetable garden in the garden of your new home. Was this a bit nerve wracking?

“It was! I have a full time job and anyone who gardens knows how long it takes to get it into a condition you’re proud of. I started from scratch with no topsoil, no shelter from the wind and a cameraman recording it all! It’s a true Connamara garden, lots of rocks and not a lot of soil. We began filming two weeks after I moved into the house, which was crazy really. It became embarrassing as the summer went on because, of course, I was away so often filming the show that I didn’t spend as much time as I’d have liked in the garden. All’s well that ends well though. I won’t win any prizes but it provides me with enough food to be able to share with others. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in three years of Garraí Glas its patience; the garden will grow and develop over the years and I’m happy with that. “

What have you learnt from your travels?

“Well, I suppose the wrong way, if there is one, is to ignore the soil. The thing I’ve taken from every single gardener is to feed the soil, not the plant. What have I learned? I’ve learned how to sow a seed, how to use seaweed and manure to increase fertility, how to rotate crops, how to create shelter to protect plants, how to avoid pests and diseases, how to use the produce I grow. That all sounds very simple but those are skills I didn’t have at all three years ago. I can now feed myself from a patch of ground – and that is an incredible thing.”

What have you enjoyed the most about being involved with a gardening series about growing your own food?

“I’ve really enjoyed finding a bit of myself I’d lost. I loved the garden when I was a child but had moved to a city for university and hadn’t touched soil since. Now I find it hard to resist being outside and resent all the things that keep me from it! It’s also been really lovely to meet so many people and be inspired by them. Without exception people have welcomed us into their homes and made us feel like our crew of five people wasn’t intruding at all. And let’s be honest – what a gig! I’ve spent three summers in other peoples’ back gardens, asking them questions about anything that interests me – and that’s called work. I feel very lucky.”

A massive thanks to Síle for sharing her delightful story about being involved with Garraí Glas and for providing the lovely photos for this post. The third series is currently being aired on TG4 on Tuesdays at 8pm. If you’ve missed any (or want to watch some over again), all the programmes from the current series are available on the TG4 player. You can follow Sile on Twitter @Garrai_Sile, Facebook at or You Tube channel:


Ever wondered what fruit and veg other people are growing?

August 15, 2011

Fruit and Vegetables That Other People Grow

Several months ago I set up a Facebook questionnaire asking everyone to list the fruit and veg they were growing at home, primarily to help me design workshops and gear my advice in the right direction.

There were 420 votes in total and for anyone like me who likes stats, the two charts below show the results. For anyone who doesn’t, this is likely to bore the pants off you…

Although interesting, (I was surprised how few people answered garlic), it’s difficult to really determine the chart’s accuracy. My original questions covered the (I thought) most common veg but over the week they were added to resulting in over 40 different fruit or veg categories. Some people may have got bored (3 people ticked the newly added ‘weary with all these questions’) and a couple of people commented the questionnaire was causing their computer to stall, which is enough to stop even the most dedicated from answering!

So, for anyone else who likes facts and figures, here are the results:

Grow Your Own Vegetables - Table of Resultsand a much bigger chart for the vegetables:

Grow Your Own Vegetables - Table of Results(Struggled to fit them all in there were so many! The last one is celeriac)

The charts incidentally were created by a very handy online chart tool that was linked by Amanda over on the helpful blog.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to answer.