A guide to food-growing courses

HOME GROWN: IF YOU HAVE been following this column’s food-growing advice for the past month, you are now intimately acquainted…

HOME GROWN:IF YOU HAVE been following this column's food-growing advice for the past month, you are now intimately acquainted with your soil, you have built yourself some handsome vegetable beds, you have sown enough seeds to supply a fine harvest feast at the end of the season, and you have planted your perennial vegetables in your perfectly-prepared ground.

Your seedlings are pushing into the light: courgettes, peppers, tomatoes and basil in the warmth of indoors; and the rest of the crew in porch, greenhouse, conservatory and the open ground.

Okay, that’s the storybook idyll. The real picture is probably a little less wholesome and abundant – at least it is in my garden, from where these blithe instructions have been issuing. To be honest, I’m always playing catch-up, and this year has been worse than usual: I’m already taking refuge in the “next year will be different” consolation clause. But this is the story of gardening. It’s never ideal, except in our heads – not unlike the rest of life. Once a gardener cops on to that, the whole process becomes more enjoyable.

So, if you are a novice at growing your own food, you can rest easy in the knowledge that things almost certainly won’t turn out as you expect. There may be spectacular failures, but there will also be splendid triumphs. In gardening, we all learn from our mistakes. And we learn almost as fast from others’ errors, and from their experience. Indeed, some of the most useful tools in a gardener’s kit bag are books, courses, clubs, associations, and other gardeners. With this in mind, I’ve gathered here a few resources that could help you in your quest for the exemplary vegetable. But before you leave this paragraph, do let me know how you get on with your growing. I look forward to hearing your gardening tales.



Ballyknocken House and Cookery SchoolGardening master classes with Wendy Nairn. Glenealy, Ashford, Co Wicklow, 0404-44627, thecookeryschool.ie

Clare Island Retreat CentreOrganic gardening weekends with Cait Curran, editor of O rganic Mattersmagazine. Ballytoohey, Clare Island, Co Mayo, 098-25412/087-2621832, ecofarm.ie

Dunmore Country SchoolIntensive, one-day organic courses with Tanguy de Toulgoët, and excellent lunches by his wife, Isabelle. Swan Road, Durrow, Co Laois, 057-8736578, dunmorecountryschool.ie

Glebe GardensJust a couple of courses remain this season with mega-experienced gardener Jean Perry, one of the early advocates of organic growing. Baltimore, west Cork, 028-20232, glebegardens.com

Irish Seed Savers AssociationMany organic gardening workshops, and for those who wish to branch out, beekeeping and cheese-making are included. Capparoe, Scarriff, Co Clare, 061-921866, irishseedsavers.ie

The Organic CentreProbably the longest-running organic destination in the country, it offers a cornucopia of courses in gardening and sustainability. Rossinver, Co Leitrim, 071-9854338, theorganiccentre.ie

Plot to PotEight-week courses based in Terenure, with Michael Fox, chairperson of the South Dublin Allotments Association. 01-4926265, plottopot.ie

SonairteOrganic gardening courses with Kathryn Marsh and Geraldine O'Toole. The Ninch, Laytown, Co Meath, 041-9827572, sonairte.ie


Anything by Joy Larkcom is good, but if you buy only one book, make it Grow Your Own Vegetables(Frances Lincoln, £9.99); Organic Gardening: The Natural No-Dig Wayand Salad Leaves for all Seasons, by Charles Dowding (both published by Green Books, £10.95); and Growing Your Own Fruit and Veg for Dummies, by Geoff Stebbings (Wiley, £15.99).


These are both cyber- and land-based.

Garden.ieA virtual club of gardeners, run by Irish Gardenmagazine.

GIY IrelandAn ever-expanding community of gardeners throughout Ireland with dozens of local groups, and a strong web presence. giyireland.com

Garden OrganicThe British organic gardening organisation. gardenorganic.org.uk

My GardenExcellent online community of gardeners run by the Royal Horticultural Society. mygarden.rhs.org.uk


Check the opening hours before you visit.

Ballymaloe Cookery SchoolFrench-style potager created by Darina Allen in 1989. Shanagarry, Co Cork, 021-4646785, cookingisfun.ie

Glebe GardensBeautiful organic potager gardened industriously by the Perry family. Baltimore, west Cork, 028-20232, glebegardens.com

The Victorian kitchen gardenThe grounds of the Visitor Centre in the Phoenix Park is home to 2.5 acres of productive gardens. phoenixpark.ie

Local allotmentsA lot of the plot-holders will be beginners, but the old hands will be obvious. Have a good look at how they do it.

Diary Dates

Today, 2-5pm:South Co Dublin Horticultural Society annual Spring Flower Show. Kill o' the Grange School Hall (rear Church of Ireland), Kill Lane, Deansgrange, Co Dublin.  €3.

Tomorrow, 11am-4pm:Fota House Plant and Garden Fair, the largest plant event in Munster, featuring 50 specialist nurseries and garden sundry suppliers. Fota House, Carrigtwohill, Cork. fotahouse.com, €8.