A gardener’s work is never done

A gardener’s work is never done

Even in the middle of Winter, a gardener has work to do. Even when it’s dark and wet and many of us are sitting by the fire, gardeners are working – cutting back, potting, replanting, tidying, painting… Even though the doors of the Fota Frameyard are closed until March, Bernard and Ian are busy, along with the volunteers, tending the gardens and getting ready for the new season of visitors.

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A Woman’s Place is in the Garden – Meet Gertrude Jekyll

A Woman’s Place is in the Garden – Meet Gertrude Jekyll

“And a garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift;  above all, it teaches entire trust.” Gertrude Jekyll, 1899 (Wood and Garden)

In the Fota Frameyard, among the many women volunteers, there are some excellent gardeners. These women gardeners can relate easily to one Victorian woman whose vision, creativity and experience shaped much of how we garden today.  Gertrude Jekyll was an extraordinary woman. (And if you’re wondering about the name, yes, there might be a connection with the famous book by Robert Louis Stephenson.)* Born in 1843, in the 6th year of Queen Victoria’s reign, she defied convention and achieved things most of the women of her generation could only dream of. She was an artist, horticulturist, garden designer and a wonderful writer.

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The art of the garden

The art of the garden

This delicate watercolour of the geranium Henry Joignot was painted by one of our Frameyard volunteers, Vivienne Johansson. Vivienne is a talented botanical artist and a Friend of the Society of Botanical Artists, London. She is also a keen gardener and her art work has allowed her to combine both passions with beautiful results. She “looks at flowers with a view to painting them”.

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Behind the scenes at Fota – the Volunteers

Behind the scenes at Fota – the Volunteers

According to the 1911 census, 73 people, excluding Lord and Lady Barrymore, are listed as residents at Fota House. This number of servants gives some idea of how many people it took to keep the house, garden and farm running. Nowadays, a team of volunteers, working with the Irish Heritage Trust Staff at Fota maintain the house and the frameyard.

The term “volunteer” comes from the French noun voluntaire, which means “one who offers himself for military service”. But while there isn’t an army of servants any more, our dedicated platoon of  volunteers work as house-guides, on the cleaning and care of the house and contents, in the Frameyard and generally answering the call to duty to help when various events take place. All seems quiet now that the house is closed for winter, but behind the scenes…

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October Glory – Acer rubrum

October Glory – Acer rubrum

The common name for this beautiful maple is apt. Acer rubrum is one of the most widespread trees in eastern North America but this particular young specimen, planted in 2011, is growing at the entrance to FOTA House. It’s living up to its name “October Glory” and stands out among the other trees there, showing off at this time of year.

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Getting your birds on the property ladder!

How can we attract more birds into our gardens? One way to do this is to put up bird boxes. The kinds of birds you attract will depend on the size of the box and the aperture in the front of it. Smaller birds, such as blue tits, coal tits and great tits are frequent tenants. For them the entrance hole at the front should be small.  But larger boxes can attract sparrows or starlings. Boxes with open fronts will attract robins, wrens, wagtails and even spotted flycatchers.

October is national Reuse Month. The Southern Waste Region, through Cork County Council, along with Fota House, sponsored  a bird-box making workshop in the Frameyard on Saturday, 22nd.  In the spirit of recycling, we used  wood from the old library at Fota House and gathered in the sun-filled greenhouse, under the guidance of Gerry Kelly, to put the boxes together.

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“The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.”

“The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.”

What joy to find myself in the beautiful FOTA Frameyard on Saturday 3rd October. I was attracted to attend this programme for educators on planting native Irish Tree seed boxes because of my general interest in the environment. However nothing prepared me for Ecologist Tom O’Byrne’s inspirational talk on the native Irish Oak.

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Anything Kew can do…..Ginkgo Biloba – yin xing 銀杏

Anything Kew can do…..Ginkgo Biloba – yin xing 銀杏

Our beautiful Ginkgo Biloba trees grow side by side in the centre of the Frameyard  like a pair of Chinese vases.

At this time of year the fan-shaped leaves are turning a mellow shade of yellow. How can we not admire these trees?  They survived the dropping of an atomic bomb in Hiroshima where almost all other plants were destroyed, they’ve outlived dinosaurs, they produce nutrients which are used in health supplements and they link us philosophically and botanically to both the past and the future.

We have many reasons to love our Ginkgo trees in the Frameyard. They stand elegantly tall in our walled space, provide us with beautiful colour and just last week our gardener Bernard remarked how they provide much-needed shade for our seedlings in Glasshouse No. 4.

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Clint Eastwood and the Talking Trees

Clint Eastwood and the Talking Trees

“I talk to the trees, but they don’t listen to me”, Clint Eastwood sang in the 1969 film Paint Your Wagon”. Maybe now we know why! It’s because they were too busy talking to one another.  According to German forester, Peter Wohlleben, trees communicate with one another. He describes the “woodwide web” of underground arboreal communications in his book “The Hidden Life of Trees”.

Trees are able to decide, have memories and even different characters. There are perhaps nicer guys and bad guys”.

Mr Wohlleben believes that trees have distinct characteristics. For example, Willows and Poplars are loners, while Beech trees can be aggressive towards other species.

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The Bees Knees….

The Bees Knees….


In typical Irish fashion, bees are closely associated with folklore and saints.

St. Modomnoc is credited with bringing bees to Ireland in the 6th Century, when his hives resolutely followed him across the Irish Sea as he returned from Wales.
St Gobnait, whose feast day is 11th Feb, is the patron saint of bees. She is portrayed by Harry Clarke in the luminous stained-glass windows of the Honan Chapel, University College Cork.

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