Leytown by the sea. And nearby, Sonairte, an organic garden which is like a glimpse of another world. A world of ancient apple trees, vibrant rows of organic vegetables, birdsong and the river Nanny flowing slowly by. Sonairte is an “interactive visitor centre promoting ecological awareness and sustainable living”. This 10 acre project was set up in 1986 by members of the local community. The walled garden has rows of organic (certified) fruit trees and vegetables beds. The woodland walk follows the river along a Salt Marsh and leads to a bird hide with a view of local wildlife and Ballygarth Castle. Volunteering at Fota makes us curious about other gardens and this curiosity led us to Sonairte in “The Ninch”.
We’re open again! The weather was very kind to us and our visitors on the first day of our new season in the Frameyard. Our visitors today included people from Pittsburg, USA, Wexford, Tipperary, West Cork and some locals too. Sunshine. Bird-song. Flowers. Trees. What more could you want on a Monday in March?
In the first week of February I was travelling in the hilly northern part of Gran Canaria. There I saw a huge number of big plants with yellow flowers growing in the wild. It dawned on me that this was a plant I’d seen previously in the glasshouses in Fota. It was the Aeonium Arboreum, which had been presented to Fota’s Frameyard by Mrs Reiker.
Crows get a bad rap. Is it deserved? They can be noisy as they gather in large, sociable groups for the evening roost. Farmers justifiably hate them because Ravens can kill lambsor eat seeds and root vegetables. We often attribute human characteristics to birds and animals and in the case of crows we use words like – raucous, aggressive, cheeky, quarrelsome, devious or even call them vermin. To this list we can add more positive adjectives like – intelligent and playful, with the ability to learn how to use tools. Whatever we think of them, they feature large in our lives, whether we live in the city or the country. And Fota is no exception, where they live in the high trees and feed on the expansive lawns.
Birds need water. For both drinking and washing. It’s not uncommon to see larger birds dipping pieces of dry bread into water, to soften it and make it easier to eat. But even the small birds can only eat so many dry seeds and nuts without a welcome drink of water. Washing gives the birds a chance to get rid of the dust on their feathers, dispose of mites and parasites. Or maybe they just enjoy it!
Recently we observed a blackbird and a thrush sharing the bird-bath at Fota. Here’s what we saw…
It’s old-fashioned, a bit quaint but the wallflower produces a wonderful scent at this time of year. The Elizabethans loved this plant and regularly used them in posies to mask the smells of daily, urban life when they ventured outside. The name cheiranthus is thought to come from the Greek for hand (cheir) and flower (anthos), suggesting their use as a fragrant bouquet. They were also a favourite in Victorian borders. In the Frameyard, where they’re now blooming plentifully, their bright colours signal the arrival of Spring.
When you enter the green door into the Frameyard, you are immediately met with a wonderful smell of vanilla. Straight in front of you is a fabulous shrub/small tree and it’s called Azara Microphylla ‘Variegata’.
Celebrating National Tree Week, March 5th – 12th. Part 5
Cryptomeria japonica ‘Spiralis’, Japan. 1852
If there’s one tree you must see at FOTA it’s rhe Cryptomeriajaponica ‘Spiralis’. This striking evergreen rises in clumps of bright green cloud-like clusters, building on top of each other. Not surprisingly it’s the national tree of Japan, where it is regularly planted at temples and shrines. Here in Fota, there’s a well-worn path to a low gap at the base of the tree. If you crouch down and enter you can look up at a cathedral-like canopy and admire the rich, red, fragrant bark. Due to its tight, spiraling needles, it has the rather irreverent nickname of ‘granny’s ringlets’.
Celebrating National Tree Week, March 5th – 12th. Part 4
단풍나무 Danpung na mu Acer palmatum
This Acer palmatum “Koreanum”, from Korea (planted 1937), seems to be at odds with itself, each half of the tree growing in the opposite direction. The smooth bare trunks look like limbs reaching away from each other. In one way it looks like a giant bonsai tree and one can see why Acer is a popular choice for these Japanese miniatures.