Our own BFGs in Fota!

Our own BFGs in Fota!

Celebrating National Tree Week. March 5th – 12th. Part 3

“Deep Roots are not reached by the Frost”   J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

We have our own Big Friendly Giants at Fota. They’re not the Roald Dahl kind, more of the Tolkien, Lord of the Rings, kind. Tall, weathered trees that rise high above Fota House and Gardens. If these trees could talk like Tolkien’s did, who knows what stories they would tell? Read on and meet some of them….

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Chocolate or Vanilla?

Chocolate or Vanilla?

Celebrating National Tree Week , March 5th – 12th. Part 2 

This small tree in the grounds of Fota is called Azara integrifolia var. brownea  but don’t walk past it if you’re hungry, on a diet or have a large, sweet tooth! The smell will stop you dead in your tracks and you’ll find yourself sniffing the air like a dog! Some people say chocolate and some say vanilla. Smell is a personal thing but whatever flavour you chose, it’s hard to believe that such a strong, compelling scent comes from this seemingly uninteresting and rather scraggly little tree. 

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From China to Fota – The Handkerchief Tree

From China to Fota – The Handkerchief Tree

Celebrating National Tree Week, March 5th – 12th. Part 1 

“A forest is the finest thing in the world: it is the expression of nature in the highest form”  Augustine Henry

It’s a long way from China to Fota but the story of how these two seed pods came to drop on the Fota lawn brings us from one continent to another. These pods may look like large acorns or small apples but they contain the seeds for Davidia involucrata, otherwise known as the Handkerchief Tree. At the moment they hang from Fota’s impressive old specimen, delicately suspended and ready to fall. On the ground, small creatures have been feeding on these soft fruits, leaving behind a scattering of oval seeds like the ones collected by Ernest Wilson in China in 1901. Wilson, who was only 22 and didn’t speak Chinese, had to contend with local bandits, a near drowning and severe illness before he fulfilled his task of sending the seeds back to the UK. But the story doesn’t just begin there and along the way we meet an Irishman.

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Can you throw your hat through the tree? Pruning in Fota orchard…

Can you throw your hat through the tree? Pruning in Fota orchard…

At a recent pruning workshop for volunteers, Ian stressed that we should  “prune weak branches strongly and strong branches weakly”. It’s a good maxim when it comes to deciding what to cut, when to cut, where to cut. He also said that apprentice gardeners were told they should be able to throw their hat through the tree, as a sign that the branches were not too crowded.   But he began by looking at why to prune.

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3 great “Workhorses” for your garden

3 great “Workhorses” for your garden

Ann’s choice – Euryops pectinatus, Erysimum “Bowles Mauve”, Coronilla valentina

If you are starting a new garden and need something to create impact quickly the following plants are wonderful. They make great fillers too for a newly planted shrub or mixed border.

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Local (gardening) Heroes

Local (gardening) Heroes

Sally’s choice…. William Baylor Hartland and Árd Cairn Russet apple trees 

I spent a very informative morning in the Fota Frameyard at a Pruning Workshop last week with the very knowledgeable Ian.  After which we all went into the Orchard to assist him in pruning the old Fota apple trees back into a manageable shape.   I went home inspired and determined to see if I couldn’t reinvigorate my own apple trees, one of which is an ‘Árd Cairn Russet’

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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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Strawberry Trees Forever…

Strawberry Trees Forever…

Arbutus unedo – Edwina’s choice...

Many of the beds and borders in the Fota Frameyard are planted in alphabetical order with plants beginning with ‘A’ grouped together, followed by those beginning with ‘B’ etc.  The majority of the plants in our Frameyard come from warmer climes and far off places, with the exception of a few natives – Arbutus unedo being one of them.

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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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