Posts tagged ‘IRELAND’

August 23, 2013

Burnets- Greater Burnet in the the wild and great burnets for the garden

by Ciaran Burke
Sanguisorba officinalis growing amongst trees at Lough conn, Co. mayo, Ireland

Sanguisorba officinalis growing amongst trees at Lough Conn, Co. mayo, Ireland

Recently while I was researching a plant profile article on the genus of Sanguisorba for The Irish Garden magazine, I consulted my old and slightly battered copy of Webb’s Irish Flora. This versatile and showy genus of plants has two Irish natives amongst its members. The salad burnet, S. minor, which is small and not very attractive, although useful as a salad ingredients, and the taller more showy greater burnet, S. officinalis. According to the old book, S. officinalis is not widely encountered, populations are confined to the north east of the island and also the shores of Liugh Cullin and Lough Conn, in my county of residence, County Mayo. Lough Conn attracts visitors for fishing and I would guess not so many plant hunters, on a cloudy August afternoon we set off to see if we could encounter, the greater burnet, S. officinalis, growing and flowering in its native habitat.

Shore line at Lough Conn, Co. mayo. In amongst the trees, Sanguisorba officinalis grows and flowers in stone covered soil.

Shore line at Lough Conn, Co. mayo. In amongst the trees, Sanguisorba officinalis grows and flowers in stone covered soil.

Lough Conn, Co. Mayo, Ireland

Lough Conn, Co. Mayo, Ireland

Our searches at a few places on Lough Cullin gave us no reward. We continued our search at Lough Conn, both lakes are separated by only a narrow strip of land. At our first Lough Conn stop we drove down a bumpy gravel road with a healthy sward of grass along the centre.

Shore of Lough Conn, Co. mayo with view of Nephin Mountain

Shore of Lough Conn, Co. Mayo with view of Nephin Mountain

We hopped out and strolled across the pebbled covered beach, past purple loosestrife and knapweeds flowering along the shore. We ventured into some sparse woodland, here native species of willow, ash and alder grew between stones. The water lapped the peacefully and a breeze made a lively yet soothing rustle with the leaves. The world was t peace around me, then the silence was broken, a triumphant shout from my Hanna, my wife, the greater burnet had been found.

Sanguisorba officinalis flowering at Lough Conn, Co. mayo

Sanguisorba officinalis flowering at Lough Conn, Co. Mayo

It is not often that you encounter a fashionable herbaceous perennial that is a native to these shores. Sanguisorba officinalis bears its tight clustered flowers in dense dark purple spikes on top of wiry swaying stems. Its appeal is simple and seductive, possessing an elegant reserved charm. The increasing popularity of the genus amongst gardeners reflects tastes of our time. The burnets are perfect for placing in naturalistic planting schemes, prairie planting and floral meadows where structure and texture matter more the flamboyance and brash colours.

Sanguisorba hakuasanensis var. japonica flower close-up flowering in our garden

Sanguisorba hakuasanensis var. japonica flower close-up flowering in our garden

In our own garden we grow quite a few species and hybrids. Earlier in the summer, S. ‘Pink Elephant’ and S. tenuifolia ‘Alba’ entertained us with their swaying displays of flowery haze. Now the pink fluffy heads of S. obtusa swing lightly in the breeze, while the even fluffier S. hakuasanensis var. japonica, which we brought from a nursery in Finland a couple of years ago, shimmers its stamens along an erect infloresence. In the garden there is the cool S. ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’, and in a raised bed the carpeting green mound of S. ‘Tanna’ has been flowering for a couple of months, its flowers like a cloud of purple bumble bees. Burnets, the greater burnet and many others are just, great!

Sanguisorba 'Tanna' flowers flowring in our garden in a raised bed

Sanguisorba ‘Tanna’ flowers flowring in our garden in a raised bed

Sanguisorba obtusa flowering in our garden, it grows in a poor stoney soil

Sanguisorba obtusa flowering in our garden, it grows in a poor stoney soil

Sanguisorba 'Rock 'n' Roll'  flowering in our front garden.

Sanguisorba ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ flowering in our front garden.

Achillea ptarmica flowering at Lough Cullin, Co. Mayo, Ireland

Achillea ptarmica flowering at Lough Cullin, Co. Mayo, Ireland

View wild Irish native plants and some scenery photos of Lough Cullin, Co. Mayo on my Photoshelter site

The August issue of The irish Garden features my plant profile article on Erigeron, and the forthcoming September isuue will be in the shops very soon. THE IRISH GARDEN MAGAZINE

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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October 20, 2012


by Ciaran Burke

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Every month I visit the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, Dublin with a group of people on The Garden School home study course. This time there was lots of autumnal tints to admire, some berries and flowers too. I was saddened to see that the great specimen of copper beech had eventually succumbed to old age, instead of its towering majestic presence there were huge slices of wood lying on the ground. Even great trees such as this must pass, and when a big one like this goes, it makes space for others to grow…

September 27, 2012

Fruit of the vine- a gift of grapes means lots of grape jam

by Ciaran Burke

I got the call on Sunday morning,” I have friend of a friend who has a grape vine…”. The vine grower now lives in France, but the vine in question grows in Sligo. Nobody wanted the grapes, the caller thought of me, “would I like the grapes?”  Yes, definitely. We arranged to meet on Tuesday morning, we were told there were lots to pick, but were not sure how much that was. So we packed a couple of buckets and off we went to Tubbercurry, Co. Sligo, a short drove from our home.

We arrived at the vacant house, a west wind blew damp and fresh, the garden overgrown, the grass long and weeds invading the driveway. We followed our friend Mary to the tunnel, a stunning sight greeted us. The vine had started to wander, side shoots stretched out like tentacles, reaching into the air, looking for something to grab. The main body of the vine was supported on a homemade support sytem of wood and steel, winding stems looked ancient, older than their years. They twisted along the suports from the far end of the tunnel. Almost the entire length of the structure was filled by its fruitful presence. The large leaves tried to hide its bounty from our view. We gently eased back foliage to see the large clusters of grapes revealed. We got busy with out scissors, our buckets soon overflowed, luckily I had a crate in the car, the harvesting could continue.

Grape vines are easy to grow, the west of Ireland climate does not provide good ripening conditions, a protected structure such as a greenhouse or plastic tunnel over comes the disadvantage of our location. Each end of the tunnel had plastic netteing for doors allowing good ventilation, essential for vines so as to reduce the incidence of powdery mildew, which can be menace for Vitis vinifera.

So what to do with all these grapes? First of all jam. We have also made cordial and my wife Hanna baked a delicious rustic Italian grape cake. All the recipes are on their way, but first the jam!

Grape Jam Recipe

Grape jam takes a little work to prepare. The work involves removing the pulp from the grape and separating the skins. Then the pulp is cooked and sieved to remove the stones. While the pulp is cooking you blend the skins with a food processor or hand blender. The skins are then added to the sieved pulp, then cooked slowly for about 30 minutes. Then add sugar and boil like mad for about another 30 minutes until the jam is setting. A good set can be achieved without the addition of pectin. I try to limit the sugar quantities to a minimum, partly for healthiness but I also prefer the jam to taste of grapes and not be too sweet.


  • 4kg of grapes
  • 500ml of water
  • tbsp of lemon juice
  • 1.5kg of sugar


  1. Remove the skins. This is easy, just squeeze the fruit so that the inner pulp and seed ejects from the opening where the fruit was attached to the bunch. Put the skins in a separate bowl. Two people doing a 2 kilos took about 30 minutes
  2. Put the pulp containing seeds to cook, when they start to boil reduce heat to simmer for about 10 minutes
  3. Meanwhile chop up the skins using hand blender or food processor
  4. Sieve the grape flesh to remove the seeds, a coarse sieve will do, I used a colander with small holes
  5. Retutn the grapes to the saucepan and add the puled skins. Add the lemon juice and water and bring to boil
  6. Reduce the heat to simmer the fruit for 30 minutes, cooking slowly releases the pectin
  7. Slowly add the sugar and then turn up the heat
  8. The jam will boil heavily and keep the temp up high. It took about 30 minutes for the jam to start thickening.
  9. When it is starting to set, fill the jam into sterilized jars.

This amount made 13 8oz jars. When making jam stir the fruit occasionally to make sure it does not stick to the sauce pan, never leave it alone as it is sure to boil over and burn as soon as you turn your back.

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August 27, 2012

I fought the root and the root won…. cooking burdock roots

by Ciaran Burke

Bowl of cooked burdock roots- a tasty healthy snack

The story goes, George de Mestral took his dog for a walk and then invented Velcro. The Swiss inventor took his canine for a stroll one day sometime in the 1940s and upon arriving home he noticed that his dog has in this fur the spiky seed heads of Actium minus otherwise known as Burdock. The barbed seed heads attached themselves to the dog’s fur as they do to any fur or clothing that they come in contact with, this is the plants clever method of seed dispersal. Mr. de Mestral was fascinated by this and apparently examined the seed heads under a microscope and voilá…velcro was invented. Well, maybe not quite so easily.

The spiky seed heads attach themselves to clothes and animal fur

Burdock grows in our garden, especially under the old hawthorn tree in the woodland. Each year their impressive wide leaves wave in the wind to be followed by their thistle flowers, which then make fruits that attach themselves occassionally to one of our cats. Many a time I have cursed the burdock plant. Its roots go deep into the earth and I treated it with disdain, because I had viewed it as an unwanted plant, a weed. It was very hard to eradicate. But things have changed, or rather my attitude to plants, and what I condsider a nuisance or a weed has changed. As I grow increasingly interested in using native and wild plants for cooking and exploiting their culinary possibilities, it means that I now embrace a far greater range of plants than I did previously whenI gardened purely as a gardener interested in ornamental, exotic plants.

Burdock, Arctium minus is a handsome plant in its own way, broad dramatic foliage and emphatic thistle flowers of pink. It is a biennial, it dies after it flowers, just as carrots do. Also in common with carrots, the food stored in its long deep tap root can be exploited by us. In Japan, burdock is commonly used in cooking and is cultivated as a crop for its slender tasty roots. In Japanese the it is known as gobo. It is also used in England for making a traditional beer .

Cover the burdock root slices with water and add a good dash of soy sauce

To cook burdock the Japanese way, you cut the centre core of the root into slivers the size of match sticks and boil them in water into which a dash of soy sauce has been added. When the roots become tender, the liquid is reduced until the root pieces have absorbed all the flavour of the soy sauce.

Deep rooted burdock root

With this recipe in mind my wife Hanna and I decided to tackle a burdock root with a garden and tool of which she makes much use of called a Cobra Head. The Cobra Head tool is made in USA and is most effetive a removing weeds from the garden especially deep rooted weeds such as dock and dandelion. As she dug around the burdock root it became apparent, that even the Cobra Head was no match for the stubborn nature of a burdock root, they do not like to be dug up. After much digging and scraping, Hanna’s efforts to remove the whole root intact were in vain, the burdock root won, and a fair portion of the root remained deep in the soil as I finished the extraction process with a shovel.

Use only the central part of the root, burdock roots are best harvested before the plants have flowered

Luckily we had more than enough to work with for our tasty snack. When preparing a burdock root for cooking, wash it well. Then with a sharp knife remove the outer layer of the root and only use the central core. The outer parts remain woody even after cooking. The flavour of burdock root is mild and agreeable but the addition of the soy sauce when cooking gives it a salty zing. It is high in fibre, calcium, potassium, amino acids, and is low in calories. Also, as it is prepared in water and not frying it makes a healthy snack. I wish I had not weeded out so many burdock roots in the past…

Cooking burdock root slivers in water with a good dash of soy sauce


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