Posts tagged ‘gardening’

April 26, 2016

Vertical Spring

by Ciaran Burke

I took a few pictures of my vertical planting for a talk to a garden club that I am giving tonight.

They planters were made from old 5l plastic water bottles, chicken wire and weed control fabric.

Recent research from Harvard reports that people who live in areas with more leaves and plant life around them live longer and have less illness. Maybe we need to encourage more people to make use of vertical surfaces for growing plants. If nothing else, it will look nice!




June 22, 2015

Two little big surprises from seed

by Ciaran Burke

Alnus fruticosa – dwarf seedling


Betula albosinensis – 9 year old in centre at back of deck


Buds of dwarf alder


Bark of dwarf Betula albosinensis


dwarf Betula albosinensis in spring

We made a list of all the plants that we are currently growing in our container garden. Some of the plants we brought with us from our old garden. Included in these are a number of plants that we raised from seed. When growing plants from seed, each one is genetically distinct from the others. Although the majority will usually look quite similar when growing trees such as birch or alder, occasionally one can be pleasantly surprised. In 2006 we sowed seed of Betula albosinensis and an unusual alder, Alnus fruticosa. We potted up the germinated seeds and after a few years some plants were planted in the garden. From each of the two species, we got one individual amongst the seedlings which displayed characteristics remarkably different from the rest of their seedling batch; dwarf bushy plants! In the case of the Birch, after nine years our selected plant now measures less than 1 meter and has a bushy habit, all other plants grew much taller and average about 3 meters or more. From the alders only two plants survived, one growing to 2.5 meters, typical of whet on would expect, but the other is hardly reaching 30cm and retains a distinctly bushy growth habit. The dwarf plants from each batch we dug up and now grow as prized plants in our containers. With Plants that we have propagated ourselves, we create a stronger attachment when compared to bought plants. Seed raised plants have the bonus of potential individual interest, diversity and the potential to be something special.

February 6, 2014

“Why do you garden?”- My Answer

by Ciaran Burke

Would you garden if you had no garden? What if you were imprisoned, locked away for life, unjustly, punished out of hate? Would you ask your captors for compost, for pots, for seeds? And if they let you, would you share your earthly bounty with your jailers?

One man did. And in his actions he found freedom, freedom of his spirit. Through his caring for seedlings, nurturing of plants and toiling with soil, his soul found solace. It was many years later that he walked to his freedom, for that man was Nelson Mandela.

In his writings he speaks of his gardening, his love of the natural world and his need to connect with nature, and to nurture. His captors provided him with seeds and compost. He created a garden in a hostile prison where his crops grew abundant. The prison guards shared in the crops, which he happily gave to them. Gardening helped to keep his mind free when his body was held captive.

Madiba wrote of his love of walking through the long grasses of the veldt. For an Irish man it might be the bog on a summers day, for a Finn it could be the journey through a lingon berry carpeted woodland, for a Moroccan the cool meander beneath the palm trees of an oasis. Nature connects us all, reconnects us to the reality, and transports us to the eternity.

In a plant we can see the wonder of creation; the sacred geometry of an unfurling frond, the sacred spiral of an infloresence, the dazzling beauty of colour in a speckled or striped petal. In the wind we feel power, in the sun, magnificence and warmth, and with rain we our showered with life. When we feel the earth, we feel the past, the present, the future. The product of erosion millennia old, teeming with life, the essentials for our seeds to grow and one day our labours may bear fruit.

One of the greatest pleasures of gardening and maybe most important, is that which is not often spoken about with such freedom and ease as is the harvest, or or the perfectly trimmed lawn or disease free rose. One of the best reasons to garden is that it sets us free, through the act we gain freedom of our spirit. As we nurture our crops and care for our plants we also feed our soul and ease our minds.

Gardening sets us free. Whether you are a prisoner or a judge, black or white, a leader of a nation or slave to a regime, nature is the level playing field. Moments spent in reverie, admiration of the sunset, listening to the drone of a working bee, or moving to one’s own rhythm making the garden weed free. In the act of gardening our spirits are nurtured and our minds revived.

Recently someone asked me why I like to garden. I said it because I liked the exercise, that I enjoyed the air and the smell of flowers. That it was nice to grow your own food. I did not mention that I did it for my soul, as like many gardeners I felt shy to speak of its spiritual benefit. If I am to be honest with myself, and with others, this is probably the main reason, the whole reason. When asked the question, I should have replied, “it sets me free”. I think that is an answer Mandela would have liked.

November 17, 2012

National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin, November 17th 2012

by Ciaran Burke

A beautiful sunny day in the National Botanic Gardens. I was there with students today. Lots of nice autumnal colour, some flowers and fruits too.

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November 17, 2012

Lonicera nitida – learning to love it

by Ciaran Burke

The warm golden foliage of Lonicera nitida ‘Baggesen’s Gold’

I thought it was a box hedge that we were chopping. We had a saw, a shears and even an axe. It was a family event. My dad was cutting the thick stems with the saw while questioning the wisdom of the act. My mother directed the operations, ensuring him that it had to be done. I chopped up the cut stems with the shears, The axe lay on the ground unused, but at least we prepared.  I piled the chopped stems into a wheel barrow and trundled them to the end of the garden.

My barrow was piled high, too high! For I was eleven and eager to prove that a boy that skinny could do the work of a man! My twiggy load seemed to mock my twiggy frame and although it was not heavy, my over loading made it an unsteady burden. Loose leaves blew in the wind.  Branches grabbed onto other shrubs as I passed, as if clinging to another plant would some how give them a reprieve from their compost heap destiny. Occassionally the shaky pile of stems would dive over the side, like they were desperate to avoid their fate. I would be devastated by my latest failure, quickly looking around to ensure their was no witnesses to my embarassment. Quickly I would pile them back on top of the barrow. After throwing them unceremoniously on to the pile of garden debris that we fancifully called a compost heap I ran back with the empty barrow to impress everyone with my speedy work rate.

That is one of my earliest memories of my many encounters with the hedge that bordered my parents front garden and the Daly’s next door. Seven years later I would learn that the hedge was not in fact a box hedge as my father called it but a hedge of Lonicera nitida. My dad was not alone in this misguided nomenclature, many people refer to the honeysuckle relative as box, real box hedge is another unrelated plant called Buxus sempervirens. If previous owners of the home of my childhood had planted real Box hedge instead of Box-leaf honeysuckle, then we would have had less hedge butchering days, much less trimming and a much neater line of continuos shrubs that we call a hedge.

The previous owners planted Lonicera nitida as a hedge, perhaps also the misapprehension that it was a box hedge, hoping to emulate the neat trimmed hedges of large country estates and fine gardens pitured and described in gardening books. Many people around the country did the same, the unruly stems carrying tiny dark green leaves protrude from hedgerows all over the country side, further investigation usually reveals a derelict cottage hidden from view by the hedge. I guess that the untidy Lonicera was widely planted in late forties and early fities. The ruins of the houses lie lifeless and empty while the hedges thrive unbounded by human intervention, their scrawling twigginess thriving with neglect. If one did not understand the history of rural Ireland you might think that the occupants of the houses left because they could not keep their hedges under control, but their emigration was due to economics rather than gardening troubles.

Through my teenage years the daunting task of trimming the front hedge became more punishment that fun. After my college days and when my gardening enthusiasm had been inspired, the front hedge was still viewed with a degree of dislike. It grew so fast, that any misplaced belief that our hedge could resemble a neat Box was shattered by time I had to give it its third or fourth trimming during the summer. Lonicera nitida does not do neat, at least the ones we have in our gardens in Ireland

When reading the invaluable tome that is W.J. Bean’s Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles, I found out that the Lonicera nitida clone that we grow is much less suited to being a neat hedge than a form of it that grows in Germany. The plant introduced by the prolific plant hunter Ernest H. Wilson at the dawn of the 20th century. There are different forms, some much slower and neater growing than the one we have in common cultivation. Its typical, the Germans get the neat tidy well behaved plant, and we Irish grow the wild, untidy, disorderly form.

Not quite as comon but still widely grown is the form with yellow leaves, Lonicera nitida ‘Baggesen’s Gold’. This plant I treated with the same disrespect that I had for the green leaved plant. It has the same bad hair day outline, but a warm golden presence. Gradually I started to view it in a new light. I realised it does not want to be clipped into a defined line, it is a bit like an eleven year old boy, much happier with messy hair and dirty pants than with grooming and shirt and tie. I planted it in our yellow border, it grew with vigour as one would expect, the shears was kept at long distance and its branches grew without hinderance. Now it fills it space with character and colour, as it grew in the garden, it grew on me.

Lonicera nitida ‘Baggesen’s Gold’ before being moved last week

Last week I had to dig it up, I did so with great care as its move is only temporary. It had to make a journey to a temporary home until work on our ne wooden building is completed, our new classroom. So once again I was trundling with an over flowing wheelbarrow of Lonicera nitida, this time the fate of the Lonicera is for much better, replanting rather than compost. An this time the wheelbarrow did not topple, at least no one saw it topple.

My wheel barrow piled high with a single plant of Lonicera nitida ‘Baggesen’s Gold’

Now when I travel along a country road, I enjoy the sight of the dark green untidiness that is Lonicera nitida. I am pleased with its character, they refuse to be bound by strict regulation, they wont be told what to do, they shrug off imposed rule, they enjoy their freedom. Long live Lonicera nitida.

Sprigs of Lonicera nitida ‘Baggessens’s Gold’ stuck in a pot with Cornus alba stems provides ornament in a pot over the winter months. They will root in Spring.

prigs of Lonicera nitida ‘Baggessens’s Gold’ stuck in a pot with Cornus alba stems provides ornament in a pot over the winter months.

Lonicera nitida ‘Baggessen’s Gold’

Neils Baggesen

Niels Baggesen was Danish and that he established a nursery in Cardiff after working at Kew this was in the early 1900s.  He later established a nursery in Pembury, kent in England. It is  here that he first came across a single plant of Lonicera nitida with golden leaves. According to Neils Baggesen this occurred after the war, the introduction date for the cultivar is given as 1967. Lonicera nitida ‘Baggesen’s Gold was awarded an Award of GardenMerit (AGM) by the Royal Horticultural Society in 1993. Sadly Neils had died before the event.
Here is a link to an interesting tribut piece to ‘Baggesen’s Gold’ LINK
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