Hi there. I am very very new to all of this and am confused about references to Hardiness. I realise that the bulk of the members are American and are referring to American gardens but I still feel I have learned a lot for a newbie Irish gardener such as myself. In your opinion though what zone in America would be most comparable to Ireland. We're in Kerry on the South West Coast. the Atlantic is about 40km away and we benefit from warmer temperatures than midland or the East of Ireland but we do have Irish rain and quite a bit of wind. Add to this the fact that I am carving my garden out of a slate quarry and my soil is very very very very very very very stony, I have to say I do get discouraged every now and then. Thanks for any help you can offer.
Zones for Hardiness
The way the hardiness zones are determined is looking at how cold your winters get, none of the other climate factors are included. So if you can give us some info on what your usual coldest temperatures are in the wintertime we can help give you a gues on what zone you are in. My guess is that your climate is most similar to the Pacific Northwest in the US, but without knowing what your winter temps are like I don't know that for sure.
As far as the stony soil, if you are able to dig some of the stones out, then mix in some topsoil and compost you can make yourself a great bed with some work, or if you don't want to work quite as hard with getting the stones out, you could always try making raised beds instead. Then you can just fill them up with nice soil and you don't have to worry about the stones.
The United States Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) publishes a world map of hardiness zones. I was able to look up Ireland from this site. The inland region is zone 8, whereas the coastal region is zone 9. It sounds as if you are zone 9.
I'm not computer literate enough to link you directly there, but I can tell you how I got there. Go to the blue bar at the top of this page and click on "My Info". Then go to left side of screen and click on "Manage Preferences". Click on "Your Location" and scan to bottom of screen where you enter your zone. There is a link "here" which will take you to the map link. Click on link for outside North America, and you'll be at the German site for all other countries. Click on "Irland" and you're there.
Hope I haven't totally confused you.
There is a good discussion of Hardiness Zones in Wikipedia that shows the US and the UK/Ireland maps (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hardiness_zones#United_Kingdom_and_Ireland_Hardiness_Zones).
I became fascinated by Hardiness Zones last year. You might find the pages on my web site helpful (http://www.centralfloridagarden.com/topics/hardiness/overview.html).
One thing to watch out for - Hardiness Zones just show you the average minimum winter temperature. They give no indication of how hot and humid the summers might be or how many chilling hours you get in late winter and spring. While the winters in Central Florida (where I live) and the winters in South West Ireland are probably pretty similar, our summers are quite different - even though we are both in Zone 9.
My guess for the most comparable US climate to where you live - the Northern California Coast (http://www.usna.usda.gov/Hardzone/hzm-sw1.html). That area has a similar hardiness zone, it is heavily influenced by ocean currents, it rarely gets too hot or too cold, and the winter rain storms are heavy and blustery.
Thank you all for your advice. After reading your suggestions and doing a bit more research, we're in agreement that we are in zone 9 although we dont have the hot humid summers I imagine of Florida. Thanks again for the help.
By the way we are busy with a raised veggie patch which will measure about 8.5 x 1.5. I'm very excited about this and hope to correspond with you all for starter suggestions nearer the time.