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Crainn na hÉireann – an exhibition by the Irish Society of Botanical Artists

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Crainn na hÉireann – an exhibition by the Irish Society of Botanical Artists

On the October bank holiday, the Irish Society of Botanical Artists will celebrate Ireland’s twenty-two native trees with an exhibition at the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin.

The Society launched the project in 2022, inviting their members to illustrate native trees and their botanical details. Over the past two years, the painters have gathered botanical information and scoured the countryside for examples of these native species in all seasons. They have produced a set of paintings for each tree, enlarging the smallest of details and providing a record for identification and appreciation for the wider public. Crainn na hÉireann – Ireland’s Native Trees highlights the sometimes tiny, and very beautiful buds, flowers, seeds, and leaves, which in the ordinary course of our observations, we may miss or take for granted. The ‘Winter’ painting in each series shows a portrait of the tree and shows the bark in detail, to give a comprehensive and aesthetically beautiful record of each tree.

With over sixty paintings, this exhibition is sure to captivate and engross visitors to the National Botanic Gardens. We hope to excite interest in and appreciation of our native species, as we have in previous a exhibition, Éireannach – Irish Native Plants. At a time when biodiversity and climate change are watchwords for environmental concerns, our native plants are key to preserving our landscape and our wildlife. In focusing on the tiny details of familiar trees, this project will, we hope, encourage the public to look closely and appreciate anew the wonder of nature, and how fortunate we all are to have such diverse and fascinating native flora. In doing so, a sense of ownership and responsibility for its preservation is sure to follow.

The Irish Society of Botanical Artists is an island-wide group of botanical artists and friends, dedicated to the practice and promotion of botanical art and illustration, and to the preservation of Ireland’s botanical heritage. We are indebted to the National Botanic Gardens and the OPW for their support and hospitality.

The exhibition opening is by invitation on Saturday 28th of October in the Visitor Centre at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, with an introduction by Éanna ní Lamhna, Irish biologist, environmentalist, author, & presenter. The exhibition will be open to the public from Sunday 29th of October until Sunday 12th of November. Entry is free and ISBA books, including the publication for this exhibition, will be on sale in the gallery.

Exploring the World of Plants with Seeds

In the vast and diverse plant kingdom, we encounter a fascinating division between seed-producing and non-seed producing plants. The latter includes lichens (thallophyta), mosses (bryophyta), and ferns (pteridophytes). On the flip side, we find two prominent groups among the seed producers: gymnosperms (conifers) and angiosperms (flowering plants).

Gymnosperms: The Ancient Conifers

Gymnosperms, which have been around for approximately 200 million years, encompass cone-bearing plants like conifers and yew trees. These hardy, ancient giants are known for their unenclosed seeds, a distinctive feature that sets them apart from their angiosperm counterparts.

Angiosperms: The Flowering Plants

Angiosperms, the more recent arrivals on the botanical scene, encompass all flowering plants. This includes a wide array of greenery, from grasses and herbs to the fruits and vegetables we cultivate in our gardens. These plants produce seeds enclosed within fruits and flowers, creating a dazzling spectacle of colors and forms.

Angiosperms: Monocots and Dicots

Angiosperms can be further categorized into two main groups: monocots and dicots.

Monocots: Monocots encompass plants like grasses and bulbs. They are especially relevant for food growers because they include staple crops like wheat, oats, sweetcorn, asparagus, onions, and leeks.

Dicots: Nearly all other plants in your garden fall into the dicot group. This division is important because it affects the way these plants grow and develop.

The most distinguishing feature between monocots and dicots lies in the number of cotyledons, which are the seed’s embryonic leaves. Monocots have one cotyledon, while dicots have two.

Seed Anatomy: Unlocking the Potential for Growth

At the heart of seed germination lies the intricate structure of a seed. It comprises an embryonic root, shoot, and leaves, all connected to a food store within the seed. Cotyledons, the “seed leaves,” serve as both the food source and the mechanism for nutrient transfer from the seed’s endosperm to the growing shoot. In some seeds, such as peas and broad beans, cotyledons serve as both the food source and the transfer mechanism for growth.

The amount of energy stored within a seed, and consequently the growth it can support, depends on the seed’s size. This is why it’s crucial to plant seeds at the correct depth. If a small seed is sown too deep, it might not have enough stored energy to grow the shoot above the soil level. Sowing depth plays a significant role in the germination of very small seeds, like carrots, and careful attention to this detail can ensure a successful outcome.

Factors Affecting Seed Germination: Moisture, Oxygen, and Temperature

Seed germination hinges on several factors, including moisture, oxygen, and temperature.

Moisture and Oxygen: Seeds have a moisture content ranging from 4% to 12% when they come from a seed pack. Planting them in dampened compost increases their moisture content to between 25% and 50%. This extra moisture initiates enzymes in the seed that digest the stored food, providing energy for the embryo’s growth. However, efficient digestion requires oxygen, and excessively wet compost can hinder the process.

Moisture and Dormancy: Some seeds, particularly those from woody species, have natural dormancy mechanisms that moisture alone can’t break. This isn’t a concern for most vegetable growers, but it does apply to woody herbs like rosemary, which can be challenging to germinate. To overcome dormancy, a process called ‘Cold Stratification’ is used, involving refrigerating seeds for about 12 weeks in damp conditions.

Temperature: While most seeds don’t require light to germinate, temperature plays a crucial role. A minimum temperature of approximately 5°C is required for germination, with an optimum range of 25 to 30°C. For cool climate crops, like those grown in Ireland and the UK, 18°C is recommended, while warm climate crops should be at 20 to 25°C. This temperature-light relationship can lead to issues like leggy seedlings when the balance isn’t maintained.

Light-Sensitive Germination

While most vegetable seeds don’t rely on light to germinate, some, like lettuce, celery, and celeriac, require light to trigger their germination. These seeds should either be lightly covered with fine compost or left uncovered. This light-sensitive adaptation in lettuce seeds can be traced back to their ancestors, which colonized disturbed ground, taking advantage of sunlight when trees fell in forests, disrupting the forest floor. This adaptation is a double-edged sword, as it applies to many garden weeds as well.

Photoreceptors and Timekeeping

The mechanism by which plants measure day length and determine the timing of events like leaf shedding and flowering is called photoperiodism. Photoreceptors, specifically phytochromes, play a crucial role in this process. These photoreceptors switch between Pr (phytochrome red) and Pfr (phytochrome far red) states in response to red and far red light.

In full sunlight, red light is abundant, whereas in the shade, it’s filtered out, leaving primarily far red wavelengths. Therefore, when seeds and trees are exposed to strong red light, they perceive it as sunshine, while far red light signifies shade. This ability to perceive light conditions helps seeds germinate in the most favorable conditions, utilizing the sun’s energy for growth.

How Trees Measure Time

Trees use this phytochrome-switching mechanism to measure day length (hours of darkness), which helps them decide when to shed their leaves. During daylight, Pr switches to Pfr. In darkness, Pfr slowly reverts to Pr at a fixed rate. Longer nights lead to more Pfr at sunrise, signaling the approach of winter and prompting leaf fall.

This same phytochrome system controls flowering, bud setting, and vegetative growth in most plants, including many of the vegetables we grow. For example, certain vegetables like spinach and Asian salads bolt or go to seed in summer but remain steady in spring or autumn. This is because they are “long-day” plants programmed to flower in summer. Adjusting your planting times or choosing bolt-resistant varieties can help you work with these natural patterns.

The fascinating relationship between light, phytochromes, and hormonal action in plants highlights the intricate, precise mechanisms governing their growth and development, making the world of botany endlessly intriguing.

Planting Spring Bulbs in Containers

A Burst of Colour and Fragrance for Spring

As we embrace the beauty of autumn, it’s time to think ahead to the vibrant colours and fragrant blooms that spring will bring. One fantastic way to ensure your spring garden is nothing short of spectacular is by planting spring bulbs in containers. Bulbs are uniquely adaptive, and they thrive just as happily in a container as they do in a garden border. So, let’s dive into the world of container planting for a sensational spring display!

Why Plant Spring Bulbs in Containers?

Container planting of spring bulbs has numerous advantages. It infuses life and vibrant scents into your outdoor spaces during a season when little else is in bloom. Even if you have limited gardening space, there’s always room to squeeze in some containers, adorning your patio, porch, or any area you frequent during spring. Autumn is the best time to embark on this rewarding journey, and you’ll be profusely thanking yourself come spring.

Choosing a Suitable Container

The first step in planting spring bulbs in containers is to select the perfect vessel. Your choice of container style can greatly impact the overall aesthetic of your garden. Most garden centres offer a variety of options, including Wicker Pots, Terracotta/Clay Pots, and eco-friendly Pots. Choose a style that resonates with your personal taste and garden design.

However, irrespective of your choice, ensure that your container has adequate drainage holes at the bottom. Bulbs can quickly rot if they sit in waterlogged soil, and proper drainage is crucial for their health and vitality.

Also, consider the size and shape of the pot. If you have limited space, measure the area to ensure your pot fits perfectly. For exposed areas prone to wind, select pots that are less likely to topple over. Remember, your choice of container will be a part of your garden for years to come, so choose wisely and with love.

How to Plant Spring Bulbs in Containers

Prepare the Container: Start by placing a layer of stones or pot shards at the bottom of the pot to aid drainage and protect it from becoming waterlogged.

Add Compost: Fill the pot halfway with a high-quality, multi-purpose compost. Break up any lumps to ensure a consistent growing medium.

Plant the Bulbs: Plant the bulbs in a manner like how you would in the ground. Larger bulbs like daffodils and tulips should be planted about 6 to 7 inches deep, while smaller bulbs like crocus can go 4 to 5 inches deep. Ensure that the pointed side of the bulb faces upwards, and the rounded side faces downwards. You can place the bulbs closely together, with about 2 inches of space between them. Densely planted bulbs create a more impressive display.

Finish Planting: Add more compost until the pot is nearly filled.

Water Thoroughly: Water the pot well after planting. Ensure that excess water can drain out, preventing waterlogging.

As the weather warms, you’ll notice green shoots emerging, promising a magnificent display of spring flowers. To keep your containers colourful throughout winter, consider planting some pansies or cyclamen on top. This will ensure your pots are not only a delightful sight but also an early harbinger of spring, full of life and fragrance.

Container planting of spring bulbs is an easy and rewarding way to enhance your outdoor spaces. Whether you have a sprawling garden or just a small patio, there’s always room for these bursts of springtime beauty. So, seize the opportunity this autumn and make your spring garden a true masterpiece. Happy gardening!

Spring Bulbs: Guide to Planting and Care

When it comes to planting spring bulbs in Ireland, you have a wide range of options that can brighten up your garden. Spring bulbs thrive in our temperate climate, and they are easy to plant and care for. Here are some popular choices, along with planting instructions, expected bloom times, and potential issues to watch out for.

1. Daffodils (Narcissus)

• Planting Time: Daffodil bulbs should be planted in early to mid-autumn (September to early November).
• Planting Depth: Plant daffodils about 6 inches deep, with the pointed end facing upwards.
• Bloom Time: Daffodils typically bloom in late winter to early spring (February to April).
• Potential Issues: Daffodils are generally low maintenance. Just be cautious when planting them near other plants, as their bulbs contain toxic alkaloids that can harm neighbouring vegetation.

2. Tulips (Tulipa)

• Planting Time: Tulip bulbs are best planted in late autumn (October to early December).
• Planting Depth: Plant tulips about 6-8 inches deep, with the pointed end facing up.
• Bloom Time: Tulips bring a burst of colour in late spring (April to May).
• Potential Issues: Squirrels can be a common problem, as they may dig up the bulbs. Consider placing wire mesh or chicken wire over the planting area to deter them.

3. Crocuses (Crocus)

• Planting Time: Plant crocus bulbs in early autumn (September to October).
• Planting Depth: Plant them about 3-4 inches deep with the pointed end upwards.
• Bloom Time: Crocuses are among the earliest bloomers, brightening up your garden from late winter to early spring (February to March).
• Potential Issues: Slugs and snails are attracted to crocuses, so consider using natural slug deterrents or set up physical barriers to protect your bulbs.

4. Hyacinths (Hyacinthus)

• Planting Time: Hyacinth bulbs are best planted in autumn (October to November).
• Planting Depth: Plant them about 4-6 inches deep, with the pointed end facing upwards.
• Bloom Time: Hyacinths perfume your garden with their fragrant blossoms in early to mid-spring (March to April).
• Potential Issues: Hyacinths are susceptible to bulb rot if the soil is overly damp. Ensure good drainage to prevent this issue.

5. Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)

• Planting Time: Plant bluebell bulbs in autumn (October to November).
• Planting Depth: Place them about 3-4 inches deep, with the pointed end facing upwards.
• Bloom Time: Bluebells carpet woodlands and gardens with their lovely blue hues in late spring (May).
• Potential Issues: Bluebells can become invasive, spreading rapidly. Plant them where they can naturalize without overcrowding other plants.

To ensure successful growth of your spring bulbs in Ireland, make sure to choose a well-drained location with plenty of sunlight. Bulbs typically need good soil enriched with organic matter. Water your bulbs moderately after planting, and then sparingly while they’re actively growing. Once they’ve bloomed, allow the foliage to die back naturally to feed the bulbs for the next year.

With these beautiful spring bulbs, you’ll be rewarded with a vibrant, colourful garden, even in the Irish climate. Enjoy the anticipation and the breathtaking beauty they bring to your outdoor space!

Southern Symposium VIII

Southern Symposium VIII at Kells Bay Garden in Co Kerry was an unforgettable gathering of plant enthusiasts and experts, orchestrated by none other than Chelsea Gold winner Billy Alexander. Set against the breathtaking backdrop of Dingle Bay, this weekend symposium was a true celebration of the botanical wonders.

The event began with a remarkable tribute to Irish tree guru Thomas Pakenham on the occasion of his 90th birthday, where a Redwood, Sequoia Sempervirens, was planted by the legendary Irish dendrologist himself. Séamus O’Brien, representing the IDS, presented this symbolic tree to Kells Bay, honouring Thomas Pakenham’s lifelong commitment to Irish Trees.

Throughout the whirlwind weekend, attendees were treated to an exhilarating array of talks and explorations by a lineup of distinguished speakers, including Daniel Hinkley, Ken Cox, Bleddyn Wynn-Jones, and Jack Aldridge. The setting couldn’t have been more inspiring, surrounded by the horticulture treasures that adorn Kells Bay Gardens.

Highlights from the symposium included Neil Porteous’s guided stroll through the gardens, the formal opening of the ‘Plant Centre’ by Dan Hinkley, and an unforgettable moment when Thomas Pakenham planted the giant Sequoia sempervirens. Jack Aldridge’s presentation at the marquee after supper added to the weekend’s charm.

Saturday morning took us on an enthralling journey to the mountains of Colombia with Bleddyn and Sue Wynn-Jones, followed by Ken Cox’s riveting tales of Rhododendron adventures in China. Dan Hinkley’s talk, while rooted in his own garden at Windcliff, transported us to distant horticultural wonders.

Sunday brought us to Van Diemen’s Land with Séamus O’Brien, where we braved leeches in our quest for Banksia near the walls of Jerusalem. Dan Hinkley then guided us to the top of Phan Xi Păng, revealing the plant treasures of Vietnam in their native habitats and at his home in Washington State.

Beyond the wealth of knowledge and insights gained, Southern Symposium VIII was a weekend of friendship, fun, and an abundance of plants. It’s a heartfelt thank you to everyone contributed to this remarkable occasion. The symposium left us not only enriched with knowledge but also with a deeper appreciation for the beauty and diversity of the plant world.  Photographs with thanks to Billy Alexander Kellsgarden.ie

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