Gardening break that puts a sprint in step

Lifestyle – Growing healthy fruit, vegetables and flowers in an organic environment was the focus of a gardening weekend at Renvyle House Hotel led by experts Klaus Laitenberger and Fionnuala Fallon. JUDY MURPHY went along to learn more.

Tai Chi hadn’t been on the itinerary when we signed up for a weekend in Renvyle House Hotel that was designed for gardening enthusiasts.  But unexpected and lovely things happen when gardeners get together, so there we were at 7.30 on a Sunday morning, embarking on a slow intricate series of movements designed to create stability of body and mind.

This session was courtesy of Hong Kong woman Cissy Chui who had travelled to Ireland especially for this weekend which was being led by organic gardener Klaus Laitenberger and Irish Times gardening columnist Fionnuala Fallon, who also runs a sustainably managed flower farm in County Wicklow.

Businesswoman Cissy wasn’t a Tai Chi teacher, she stressed, but was happy to share her knowledge of the ancient Chinese practice.

Generosity was the theme of the weekend which was the result of a friendship that formed when German-born Klaus, an expert in organic horticulture, came to stay in the historic Renvyle House Hotel in Connemara several years ago.

Hotel manager Ronnie Counihan is a keen gardener who has established herb beds and a polytunnel on the grounds of the building once owned by writer and surgeon Oliver St John Gogarty (1878- 1957).

He and Klaus began chatting and have since developed a strong friendship and working relationship, based on sustainable horticulture.

The presence of horticulturalist Fionnuala Fallon, who with her husband Richard Johnston, has restored an old walled garden in West Wicklow where their flower enterprise is based, ensured this weekend appealed to a broad spectrum of gardeners.

This was designed to be a practical weekend and, so couple of hours after our impromptu Tai Chi session, we were in the gardens of Renvyle House, learning how to make ‘Lazy Beds’ in which to grow potatoes.

This low-maintenance method of tillage must be the easiest way ever to grow potatoes – all that’s required for a seriously high yield is a bit of legwork at the beginning of the process.

Klaus, who lives in Leitrim and is a fount of knowledge about growing vegetables in West of Ireland conditions, is a rare creature. As a teacher he imparts knowledge and instils enthusiasm in equal measure.

So, when he says that while human beings needed to evolve over millions of years to adapt our surroundings, the same isn’t true of slugs. They have been the same forever, because “slugs are perfect”.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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