Archive for April, 2012

April 30, 2012

Spicy Fried Dandelion Flowers – Recipe

by Ciaran Burke
15 - Spicy Fried Dandelion Flowers

Spicy Fried Dandelion Flowers

Dandelions, Taraxacum officinale , are the bane of many a gardener’s life. They pop up everywhere, their happy flower heads cheekily appearing in the lawn, in the borders and even in the driveway. They are however nice flowers, they spread like a golden coat over the spring green fields at this time of year. Soon their fluffy seedheads will take to the wind, only to settle in gardens, roadsides and fields. There the seeds will germinate and grow a deep tap root that breaks when gardeners pull them out. Even a small portion of the root remaining in the soil can grow back to taunt us. Well, revenge never tasted so good…

Dandelion flowers in the colander

Dandelion flowers in the colander

Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 30 dandelion flowers, collected when fully open and fresh. When foraging for wild food, do not collect flowers, leaves or fruits from beside busy roads, or areas where they are exposed to possible pollution.
  • ½ cup of flower, we used wholegrain spelt.
  • ½ teaspoon of cumin
  • ½ teaspoon of coriander
  • ½ teaspoon of paprika
  • pinch of chili powder
  • salt and pepper
  • oil for frying, we used rapeseed oil.
11 - Fry the flowers until golden brown (2-3 minutes)

Fry the flowers until golden brown (2-3 minutes)

Method:

  1. Remove the green calyx from the backs of each flower (that is the green leafy bits attached to the base of the flower).
  2. Wash the flowers in cold water. Don’t dry them.
  3. Mix spices in a bowl with the flour.
  4. Heat the oil in a frying pan.
  5. Dip each flower into the flour and spice mixture and place flower side down on the pan, about 2-3 minutes.
  6. Fry until golden brown and turn the flowers over, let them brown, another 2 minutes.
  7. Remove from the pan and drain on a sheet of kitchen towel.
  8. Eat immediately, savour the flavour and think of all the dandelions that wont be growing in your garden next year!
14 - Drain the fried dandelion flowers on a piece of kitchen towel

Drain the fried dandelion flowers on a piece of kitchen towel

A tasty snack in the evening after pulling weeds in the garden for a few hours.

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April 29, 2012

Gorse Flower Cordial

by Ciaran Burke

Image

Gorse bushes can be seen all over the countryside, their florescent yellow bloom light the hillsides, a blaze of colour across the land. Unfortunately sometimes their blaze is literal, their oil rich wood all too quickly ignites in dry weather and fires of gorse burn fiercely every year. The truth is that gorse is often hated, it spreads like, well, wild fire, and land is quickly colonized by its spiny stems.

Ulex europeaus; gorse, furze or whin, growing on the road near our house

Ulex europeaus; gorse, furze or whin, growing on the road near our house

Even in our own garden, the one acre of land that we endeavour to tame and reclaim from the wild clutches of vegetation, we have a love and hate relationship with this shrub botanically called Ulex europeaus. When the blooms are out their sweet fragrance drifts through the air, along the roadsides as we take a morning walk the sweet coconut scents waft along the country lane. In early morning sunlight the blooms glow bright, it is beautiful, yet we cut it from the garden. There is an old Irish saying that says that the time for kissing is when the gorse is in blossom, Iuckily it is not just our spring walks that are enhanced by this terrible beauty, but at any time of the year you can find a gorse bush in flower.

Gorse shrub flowering by the stream that runs behind our garden

Gorse shrub flowering by the stream that runs behind our garden

These days a gorse covered field is seen as a waste land, but in times past the gorse, which is also called furze or whin, was seen as a sign of prosperous land. The old Irish saying “An t-ór fé’n aiteann, an t-airgead fé’n luachair agus an gorta fé’n bhfraoch”, says gold under gorse, silver under rushes and famine under heather. Around our garden are rushes, heather and gorse. Heather grows in the bog, rushes in wetter soil but gorse grows on the drier soil. In the past gorse hedges made great barriers for lives stock and walking sticks were made from the wood. But I am sure if you ask most people if there is any use for gorse they will say there is none.

On the way home with the harvest

On the way home with the harvest

Each morning as I smell its fragrance on the air if makes me hungry, it has a sweet foody smell, surely there is a use for gorse? After searching for a bit I found a recipe for gorse flowers, gorse cordial. With some enthusiasm my wife Hanna and I brought our wheel barrow for a short walk along the road and cut some flowering shoots, quite a few flowering shoots in fact, a whole wheel barrow full. We wore thick gloves and brought our loppers, they are incredibly spiney. We then brought them home and removed the flowers with a scissors. Below is the recipe that we used, it is quite delicious!

Ingredients

  • 1.5 litre of gorse flowers
  • 250g of fructose sugar (fruit sugar)
  • 900ml of water
  • Juice of one lemon
Squeezing lemon juice

Squeezing lemon juice

Method

  1. In a saucepan slowly add the sugar to the water and stir to dissolve. Boil for ten minutes with the lid on.
  2. Place the prepared flowers in a large bowl and pour the sugar and water over the flowers
  3. Add the lemon juice.
  4. Cover with a plate and leave to cool over night
  5. The next morning squeeze the flowers and water though muslin cloth.
  6. Bottle the cordial in sterilized bottles.

Serving

  • Dilute the cordial with still or sparkling water, about 1:10 (cordial:water or to taste). Refrigerate the cordial after opening.

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April 27, 2012

Gardening with Children – Teaching The Teachers…

by Ciaran Burke
Tools and Equipment- Teacher Training Workshop, Castlebar, Co. Mayo, Ireland

Tools and Equipment- Teacher Training Workshop, Castlebar, Co. Mayo, Ireland

One of my earliest memories from my childhood is being with my grandfather when he was digging potatoes in a garden in Wexford. He used to do some gardening work for a neighbour after he had finished his postman’s work for the day. I remember too, shifting wheel barrow loads of gravel with my dad and a neighbour to make a drive way when we w moved to out house in Swords, I was seven, probably more in the way of the two men shovelling than I was of any great assistance. But I did shovel gravel into the barrows and I felt like a man, working alongside the grown ups.

My mother had always dreamed of a garden, that is why we moved to a semi-detached cottage two miles from Swords village in north County Dublin in 1977. The front of the house looked over fields which were planted with barley or potatoes each summer, the fields stretched over the county as far as Naul. Often on an afternoon after school or on a summers day, I helped my parents in garden, digging, cutting long grass with a shears, picking strawberries, getting dirty and collecting ladybirds in a jar.

I am very fortunate to have such good memories from my childhood, of those days spent “working” in the garden, my parents doing what their parents had done with them, passing on the experience of working in the garden together. Unfortunately our lives have got a bit complicated and busier, priorities have changed and there has been a disconnection with our garden and our families. Many parents do not have the knowledge and experience to pass on to their children nor to experience such moments themselves and to pass on simple memories and experiences to their children.

Schools are increasingly taking on the role of teaching gardening to children. Perhaps it is time to recognaise that gardening is a necessary life skill, just as everyone should be able to tie their lace they should be able to grow food for themselves and also experience the beauty of nature; the scent of a bloom, the intricate beauty of pattern on flower petals or watch a butterfly flitter past. There is a healing in the soil, my grandfather always said that the answer is always in the soil. therapeutic both also fun and social.

During the week I gave two workshops to a group of teacher in Castlebar, Co. Mayo. It was a great experience and they learnt a lot too. On the first evening we discussed ways of integrating gardening into the school day; filling a simple vase with flowers or branches from the garden, the way to school or children’s garden. Even a bare branch of a birch tree has a beauty in winter. The world of flowers is filled with stories to enthrall children; Fuchsia magellanica, from the exotic continent of South America, the explorer magellan and his exploits! Not only in the classroom, parents can do this at home too.

I told a story of the seed, told in such a way to create a feeling for a seed that a seed is a living thing that aspires to grow and needs our care.Then we dissected the seed so that the teachers could see what a seed is from a scientific perspective, not that it would be doe by the children. We made newspaper pots and sowed nasturtium seeds. School gardens could be beautiful places for learning and social interaction, not just a collection of raised beds.

On the second evening we made a raised bed outside. Some people used a powered screw driver and a saw for the first time. We dug the soil, filled the bed with top soil, planted plants. I finished the workshop with a hugely positive feeling, that there will be more children enjoying gardening in their school days.

Teacher Training Workshop, Castlebar, Co. Mayo, Ireland

Teacher Training Workshop, Castlebar, Co. Mayo, Ireland

Constructing the raised bed

Materials:

  • 3 x 2.4m decking timber 28mm x 130mm
  • 1x 2.4m garden stake  50mm
  • wood screws (6×70) approx 14 screws

Tools

  • Powered screw driver with philips no.2 bit
  • Rubber or wooden mallet
  • wood saw
  • spade
  • shovel
  • wheel barrow
  • measuring tape
  • bamboo canes
  • builders line or twine

Raised beds offer a number of advantages including increased periods of workability as you do not need to walk on the soil in order to cultivate and plant. Raising the beds can also improve drainage, increase the depth of the topsoil and make working easier as you dont have to bend as far.

Old scaffolding planks can be used instead of treated timber, they have the advantage of being untreated and hard woods and the fact that they are being recycled is a good environmental plus. They can also be half the price. The downside is that they are thicker and harder to get the screws in to and they are wider, therefore more soil will be needed in order to fill the beds. Getting good quality topsoil, cheaply can be difficult.

Position beds in sunny situations, shelter from winds is best for vegetable crops. Avoid over hanging branches of established trees. Construct the beds no wider than 1.2m to ensure that the centres of the beds can be reached from the sides. In theory the beds can be as long as you want, but in practice if the beds are too long, gardeners end up taking short cuts across the beds, this means compacting the soil and in a school situation it creates an unnecessary hazard. 2.4 metre beds are a good size.

Start with cutting one of the decking boards in half, this will give you two ends for the bed.

Mark out the area for the beds using twine and bamboo canes. If laying out a number of beds in a geometric pattern ensure that the beds are square, use pythagoras theorem for getting the corners square and making sure adjacent beds are parallel.

Where grass is present the sod (top 5cm of soil can be removed. this can be buried under the topsoil when digging the or placed in a compost heap.

Place the sides and ends of the beds in position and align the corners. Put two scres from the sides into the end boars and two from the end boards into the sides at each corner.

Ciaran hammering in a post - Teacher Training Workshop, Castlebar, Co. Mayo, Ireland

Ciaran hammering in a post - Teacher Training Workshop, Castlebar, Co. Mayo, Ireland

Check that corners are square and then hammer in posts at each corner and on the sides inside the boards half way. Use a wooden or rubber mallet. The posts should go into the soil as much as the height of the sides. Cut the 2.4 m stake into required lengths for this purpose.

Now that the beds have been constructed, it is time to fill them. It always surprises me just how much soil it takes to fill beds. As the beds are being filled, tread over the soil to settle it, natural settlement will occur anyway, but this reduces it.  As you fill in the soil, look out for weed roots and stones which need to be removed.

Teachers around the newly constructed raised bed - Teacher Training Workshop

Teachers around the newly constructed raised bed - Teacher Training Workshop

Some things to watch out for when building beds for schools. Avoid sharp edges on the beds. Look out for any sharp materials that may be in topsoil, things like glass pieces, bits of metal.

Note: 1.2m beds are quite good for adults, perhaps narrower beds of 1 metre would be more suited for young children.

Ciaran and the teachers, teacher training Workshop, Castlebar, Co. Mayo, Ireland

Ciaran and the teachers, teacher training Workshop, Castlebar, Co. Mayo, Ireland

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April 21, 2012

The Garden School in the Botanic Gardens, Dublin, April 21st 2012

by Ciaran Burke

I spent the day with students from the Royal Horticutural Society level 2 home study course in the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin in Dublin today. What a nice day! The sun shone most of the time and there were so many nice plants to see. I took some snaps with my phone of some of the interesting plants that we saw.

CAMASSIA SCILLOIDES

CAMASSIA SCILLOIDES

Camassia scilloides is commonly called wild hyacinth and is native to the eastern half of north America. It Grows to about 60cm high and will thrive in damp soil conditions.

BRUNNERA MACROPHYLLA

BRUNNERA MACROPHYLLA

Brunnera macrophylla produces masses of forget-me-not like bluse flowers over rounded leaves with heart shaped bases. An excellent species for ground cover and thrives in moist shade. Ht. 30-60cm. There are many variegated varieties and especially the silver foliages cultivars such as B. macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ are attractive, the green leafed species has it own charm.

FOTHERGILLA MAJOR FLOWERS

FOTHERGILLA MAJOR FLOWERS

I love the shaggy white flowers of Fothergilla major. It must have acidic soil conditions in which to thrive and although the flowers are beautiful it has another season of spectacular display in autumn when the foliage turns all manner of autumnal red, orange and yellow. The foliage is similar to witch hazel to which it is related.It can reach 3-4 metres high and spread as much with time.

LATHREA CLANDESTINA

LATHREA CLANDESTINA

One of the most curious plants that you are likely to see in flower at this time of year is the leafless Lathrea clandestina. It is commonly called toothwort and it is a parasitic plant which lacks chlorophyll and therefore it does not have the ability to manufacture its own food. It grows on the roots of certain tree species; alder, poplar and willow. The flowers are pretty, lying close to the soil and intriguing as they appear without any foliage.

SYRINGA LACINIATA

SYRINGA LACINIATA

Lilac trees and shrubs are starting to flower in Dublin/ The scent from the common lilac, Syringa vulgaris is gorgeous. An interesting related species is the more compact growing S. laciniata. The foliage emerges as the airy sprays of dark lilac colour flowers are produced in panicles at the tips of the shoots. The foliage is also attractive being deeply lobed, hence the specific epithet, laciniata. It can eventually attain proportions of 2m high and wide but it will take time to do so.

TULIPS

TULIPS

The tulips were in bloom and the mixture of colours was dazzling. I particularly liked the lily-flowered Tulipa ‘Marilyn’.

TULIPA 'MARILYN'

TULIPA 'MARILYN'

PAEONIA SUFFRUTICOSA 'DUCHESSE DE MORNY'

PAEONIA SUFFRUTICOSA 'DUCHESSE DE MORNY'

The tree peonies were just starting to flower and some were astoundingly flambouyant. Paeonia suffruticosa cultivars are hugely variable, some have flowers so large that the plants seem to struggle to hold the blossoms upright. P. suffruticosa ‘Duchess de Mornay’ is large but too big and has a delightul shade of pink petals packed into a double flower.

As one of the students living in galway bit originally from Dublin said to me, the National Botanic gardens are Dublin’s best kept secret. It is certainly a treat for any gardener or for anyone who appreciates nature’s beauty.

Each month we visit the gardens as part of our course. There is an option to join the garden visits only or to combine the visits with a correspondence course based on the syllabus for the RHS Level 2 Certificate in the Principles of Horticulture. More info:www.thegardenschool.ie

April 21, 2012

“A Woman In The Garden” – revolutionary advice from an Irish Countess

by Ciaran Burke
Countess Constance Markievicz

Countess Constance Markievicz

Easter 1916 marked a turning point in the Irish struggle for independence. On April 24th, Easter Monday,  Irish revolutionaries took over key sites in Dublin including the G.P.O. and tried to inspire a nation to fight against foreign rule. Although the insurrection was a failure, the subsequent ill treatment and execution of the leaders of the rising, public opinion changed and the subsequent events lead to the war of independence which culminated in a treaty and formation of the Irish Free State in 1922. A prominent figure of the Irish independence movement was one of the most unlikely people; a woman, with a title, born to landed gentry. Countess Constance Markievicz was born in London in 1868 and christened Constance Gore-Booth. She was raised on the family estate, Lissadell, in picturesque surroundings in Co. Sligo, Ireland.

Walled Garden- Lissadell House with view of bay, Co. Sligo, Ireland

Walled Garden- Lissadell House with view of bay, Co. Sligo, Ireland

 

In 1900 she married Casimir Markievicz who she met while studying art in Paris. He was a wealthy Polish  Count. The Markieviczes settled in Dublin in 1903 and moved in artistic and literary circles, the Countess gaining a reputation for herself as a landscape painter. She became increasingly sympathetic to the cause of Irish independence and in 1908 joined Sinn Fein. In 1909 she started writing for an Irish nationalist newspaper called Bean na hÉireann (Woman of Ireland), her subject each month was a gardening column, “ A Woman In The Garden”. She wrote under a pseudonym but right from the first article where she recollects memories of discovering wild flowers on the mountain of Ben Bulben it is obvious that it is her.

In her first article she  she states “I am going to give a few simple hints to the women who wish to make the most of what little bit of their native land that falls to their share in this life.” 

In her article in April 1909 the Countess advocates shopping locally; “..and here let me impress upon my readers the advisability of buying Irish plants whenever they are procurable; not only from the National principle, that where we can employ irish hands to work for us, either directly, or indirectly, by buying things from Irish firms we must do so; but also for practical common sense reason that plants accustomed to Irish earth and to irish air are more likely to thrive in Irish gardens.  It would seem that things have not changed much in nearly on hundred years, imported plants must have been common then as they are now.

    She reminisces about the roses from Dickson’s Roses, who are still in business, and extolls the virtues of roses cultivars bred and sold by Alex Dickson and Son’s Rose and Flower Farm including the roses George ‘C.Waud’, R. ‘Betty’ and ‘R. Killarney’. the first two are no longer available but R. ‘Killarney’  a mid pink HT bred by Dickson in 1898 and is still available through ing it locally for Irish gardeners.  

Each month she gives tips on growing plants, both ornamentals and food. For April she advises those gardeners that have not yet pruned their roses to do so right away and to pant the late season crops of potatoes. Dahlia roots should be planted out, 3-4 inches deep and 5 feet apart, ten week stock should be planted to the garden air can be filled with scent for summer as well as sowing vegetable crops such as radish, spinach, beetroot, broad beans and slasify.

Constance would have been exposed to gardening and plants while growing up on the Lisadell estate. It was known for its great collection of plants and in later years the Lissadell nursery was famous for its alpine plants and walled alpine garden.

Over the latter part of the 20th century the estate fell into ruin but great restoration work took place when it was purchased by the current owners, Edward Walsh and Constance Cassidy. The gardens were restored and the gates were open to visitors, a coffee shop sold delicious cakes and produce from the bountiful walled kitchen garden was on sale. Sadly, the gardens are no longer open to visitors, the reason being a court case over a disputed right of way, a great loss to all gardeners and visitors to the north west of Ireland.

Countess Markievicz was imprisoned five times, the total duration of her incarcerations totalled over three years, the last time she was imprisoned was by the Irish Free State. Following the signing of the treaty in 1922 there was a civil war and the Countess sided with those who refused to accept the treaty and the partitioning of the island into Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State. She was released after being on hunger strike. Markievicz was the first female to be elected to the British Parliament in 1918, but she did not take her seat. She was also the first ever female minister in an Irish parliament, she was appointed as Minister of Labour from August 1919 to January 1922. In fact, she was the only female cabinet minister until 1979 when Máire Geoghegan-Quinn was appointed a junior ministerial post. 

Apart from her role in politics she was involved in the arts and she performed in several plays at the newly established Abbey Theatre an institution that played an important part in the rise of cultural nationalism. She was also did a huge deal of work with the poor of Dublin and worked at distributing food and set up soup kitchens, often paying for the food from her own resources.

View from Lissadell House

View from Lissadell House

The garden columns of Countess Markievicz reveal that she was a keen gardener and wrote with love about the subject. through the course of her fourteen articles we can see how she was becoming more involved in politics and the independence struggle. Her first articles are purely gardening advice, progressively her columns become highly flavoured with anecdotes and examples of historical Irish nationalists. She laments that the English occupation cannot be dealt with as one would deal with a snail and just simply crush it under foot. In her article from January 1910 she uses the growth of a snowdrop emerging from the cold and barren earth to flower and bring joy and hope as a simile for the Irish struggle.

    “ The Irishwoman looking at the first tiny spike pushing up from the bulb below, is at once struck by the simile, for what is Ireland but a poor wee bulb buried away in the dust and dirt of English rule and English influence and struggling to gain light and air.

    Should not Ireland take a lesson from the Snowdrop, and gather her forces together for the supreme effort to gain light. The whole forces of the earth are ranged against the Snowdrop, the whole of the British Empire against Ireland, an if our tiny Snowdrop can prevail and force the pass into life, surely the task is not too great for Ireland, and one day we shall see the white flower of Ireland’s beauty shining starlike, pure and free, a star in the garden of the world.” 

It seems once again, that Ireland needs to seek inspiration from the snow drop to break free from the cold economic mud hole and enjoy sunnier times! 

Lissadell House Website  Biographical information about Countess Makiezicz and the Gore-Booth family as well as information about the house and gardens. 

Rosa ‘Killarney’ at Peter Beales Roses

PODCAST: Listen to the radio show: In The Garden with Ciaran Burke on the Johnny Oosten show, CRCFM 102.9  iTUNES PODCAST

    

 
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