Helping you to create gardens that won’t cost the earth!
This Website offers gardening training, garden design and ecology advice that will help create a wildlife haven.
Wildlife friendly gardening is a wonderful way to create a beautiful garden that enhances nature in a sustainable way. By working to attract wildlife, you are protecting valuable habitats and helping to halt the decline of many species.
Why not explore this site and let me know what you think. I am very interested in hearing your thoughts!
We offer the following services:
- Half day Sustainable Gardening courses
- Presentations on garden ecology and garden design
- Garden design service for wildlife friendly garden
- Eco Tours
Contact Lorraine to make an appointment today.
Botanical talk at Bective
Recently, I delivered a talk to a brilliant group from the OPW during the excavation at Bective Abbey. The subject was on the wild flowers that grow at the abbey. Some plants associated with Medieval monastic farming still flourish in the vicinity.
Is this the end of the Ash tree?
The majestic ash tree (Fraxinus excelsior) can be found among hedgerows and fields throughout the country. It’s identified by its large canopy, sweeping branches, pinnate leaves and large black leaf buds.
In October, the Department of Agriculture identified a fungal disease called Chalara fraxinea that causes die back in ash trees. It is a serious problem that requires felling infected trees. The disease is a windblown pathogen. The symptoms include leaf tip die back and legions on leaf stems appearing on both saplings and mature trees.
Such a loss will affect the forestry industry and hurley manufacturing. Over 70% of hurleys used in Ireland come from imported ash wood. With over 3% of Irish forests hosting ash trees, this loss from our countryside will be profound. The loss will be greater in our hedgerows that line the countryside.
It is a large tree with a long life span reaching 400 years. This long duration makes it very important for wildlife. It supports insects, birds and flora and lichens. The seeds produced are food for bullfinches. Its broad airy canopy allows light to travel to the forest floor which encourages spring time flowers like anemone and bluebells.
Efforts to curb this disease by the department include controlling the imports of ash from areas known to be free of the disease. The general public can report any concerns about unusual ill health in ash in their area to Forest, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine by email firstname.lastname@example.org
If These Walls Could Talk
Recently, Bective Abbey was visited by a team of archaeologists from the OPW. Their findings present additional information about this beautiful Cistercian abbey on the banks of the river Boyne.
Interesting finds include the foundations of annex buildings, pottery and tiles. However for me, the most interesting find is the site of the kitchen garden. Such dedicated work by Ger and Matthew Stout, indicate the garden was enclosed by an earth bank with paths and a rich organic layer of oyster shells, charcoal and loam soil. Seed analysis reveals vegetables such as carrots, cabbage, peas and beans.
Yet the past can also be revealed by the living flora on the abbey walls. Pellitory on the wall is a tiny green perennial that drapes the old abbey walls, once valued as a healing herb. Common mallow grows among the paving stones and was considered an expectorant for coughs. Other wall flora includes wild grasses, ferns and geraniums. The sheer variety of species illustrate that old walls are a perfect habitat for wild flora. It is worth examining all stone walls for wild flora to better understand their legacy.
Just in case you hadn’t noticed, it has been a very cold, wet and windy spring this year, which has impacted on growth in the garden. Peonies wilt with mildew, roses dissolve under heavy rain and new foliage is scorched by the cold winds. It seems that the only things growing well are weeds!
As plants struggle, pests like aphids colonise on any new growth. Roses are particularly targeted by greenfly.
A successful garden needs predators such as wasps, ladybirds and hoverflies to consume the greenfly and control their numbers. In fact wasps consume large quantities of aphids as well as pollinate flowers, making these the most valued soldiers of the garden. By spraying greenfly with an insecticide, many other useful insects are destroyed too. So it is better to encourage all insects by growing a vast array of flowers, in particular phacelia, mint, marigolds, verbena and geraniums for bees, hoverflies and butterflies.
As the weather improves so too will the flowering capacity of garden stalwarts such as hypericum, dianthus and aquilegia which all defy diseases and pests with their eternal good humour and blooms.
Sometimes it is better to just smell the roses and let the wasps, bees, hoverflies and ladybirds do their job.
Roses, the Organic Way!
Some roses are showing signs of black spot, white powdery mildew and aphids on their leaves. The natural reaction is to spray them to deal with all these problems. However I tend to shy away from such solutions and instead focus on the causes of these ailments.
Environmental factors do influence the health of roses. Many roses that grow against walls struggle for adequate moisture and fertility. Such conditions will lead to a weaker plant which is susceptible to disease. By applying a thick layer of leaf mould or well rotted manure as mulch each winter, helps hold moisture and valuable nutrients. This is not a cure for black spot however a stronger plant copes better against disease. Regular watering during dry spells creates humidity and alleviates mildew. Pests can be washed off with a jet of water or soapy water.
The final strategy for organic care of roses is to grow varieties that are disease resistance. I recommend Rosa “Compassion” for its perfume, beautiful blooms and terrific resilience. With an annual pruning and organic mulch, you will be rewarded with blooms and heady fragrances that evoke hot lazy summers.
Food Harvest 2020 Report – “foresight or no-sight?”
There is much discussion on climate change and its impact on melting ice burghs and lonely polar bears. There is also as much discussion on whether climate change is even anthropogenic, caused by the actions of us. There is a correlation between high emissions of green house gases (nitrous oxide, methane and carbon dioxide) from industry and rising temperatures. The Kyoto Treaty addresses the need to reduce our emissions and halt climate change. By identifying high emitting industries, mitigation methods and research are our main tools for reducing green house gases (GHG).
Farming is one of our highest emitters of GHG in this country. High emission sources include the national cattle herd and the use of nitrogen on the land. In a bid to reduce emissions, research indicates that mitigation methods, reduction in fertilizer use and optimised farm practices will go a long way to reduce our GHG levels. We must meet our EU commitments of 20% emissions reduction by 2020. However Irish farming is undergoing a renaissance with a drive to increase our national agri food exports by 2020. This drive is promoted in the Food Harvest 2020 Report issued by the Department of Agriculture. It will require increases in food production and the national cattle herd size. This is bound to have a huge consequence on our GHG levels. Is research enough to allow for intensification to flourish with very little GHG emissions? Can farming be really sustainable in the face of such expansion and demands?
Let me know your thoughts on climate change and the future of farming. Read my essay on “Food Harvest Report 2020 – “foresight or no-sight?” and its affect on climate change and sustainable farming by clicking here.
To read the Food Harvest 2020 Report, visit http://www.agriculture.gov.ie/agri-foodindustry/foodharvest2020/
Seeds of Inspiration
Autumn can be observed with hedgerows resplendent in a riot of foliage colour and a bounty of berries and nuts. The fruity fragrances of elderberries, crab apples and blackberries never fails to evoke childhood memories of eating too many blackberries on the way home from school.
In the garden the seeds of many flowers can be collected with the same childlike relish. Let’s consider the perennial agapanthus, as it is easy to grow from seed. The seeds are black within the seedhead when ripe and ready for collecting. Once collected, they can be sown straightaway in a tray filled with peat free compost, lightly covered with grit or vermiculite. As the new seedlings establish they can be transferred to individual small pots later on in the year. Keep these in a warm dry place throughout the winter. The new plants need two years to establish before flowering. Agapanthus grows best in a sunny location providing late summer flowers. They are also ideal in containers.
Other plants that are easy to grow from seed now include wallflowers, foxgloves and sweet williams and of course the vast array of annual flowers.
In recent years, I have designed and created a woodland garden that is now establishing into a wonderland rich in wildlife. I used a mix of ornamental and native varieties of trees and shrubbery. The garden is designed to celebrate the seasons. Spring and summer is fresh with the bright green leaves of Birch and Alder. Autumn is announced when the diminutive Liquid Ambera and Parrotica persic explode with a riot of colour before shedding their leaves. The vibrancy of autumn colour is later replaced by the calm ambiance of the brilliant white stems of Betula jacquemontii. The twisted sculptural stems of the contorted hazel also add winter interest. Each year as the wood matures, the canopy will increase, creating an atmospheric rural haven. If you are interested in creating your own idyll haven, see “Creating a Woodland Garden” within this website.
Spring Cleaning Time!
This winter knocked the very stuffing out of many plants. The casualty list is long and painful but now it’s time to examine the damage and decide what goes and what stays. This clearance of dead plants can create a new opportunity for developing a planting scheme that celebrates the seasons in our gardens.
The winter of discontent has removed some very mediocre boring plants that plagued gardens for years. Gone are the bland Griselinia hedges and the urbane Cordylines that clashed with our rural landscapes. Now a hedge can be redesigned to include mixed species producing flowers, fruit and nuts. Consider the leaf colour of beech that celebrate the changing seasons from fresh green in spring to copper and russet reds in autumn. No more monotonous green boundaries, let’s celebrate colour and flowers with berberis, viburnum, Forsythia or Escallonia that buzz with life each summer.
Cordylines are fast growing tall palm plant that works so well in a tropical themed garden but not so good in small front gardens. Replace them today with bare root ornamental trees like Sorbus acuparia or the more unusual Cercis or Liquidamber. The opportunities are huge!
Now put on your wellies and get out there!
This is me at the launch of my booklet “Medieval Plants of Trim” earlier this year. This was written and illustrated by me. I hope this reference booklet will enhance the visitors’ experience when they walk through the medieval landscape of Porchfield in Trim, Co. Meath. This booklet is available free from the heritage centre in Trim (beside the castle) and Trim library.
Click here to open a pdf file of the “Medieval Plants of Trim”