Channeling your inner Keith Floyd

The Oregon grape, or as the botanists call it, Mahonia aquifolium, is a native superstar of the Pacific Northwest. With its shiny, holly-like leaves and bright yellow blooms, it’s a real head-turner. But the real treasure? Those deep blue berries! Their tart flavour makes them perfect for culinary adventures, like turning them into a unique vinegar, a sweet syrup, or even some flavourful booze!

Let the Berry Hunt Begin!
First things first, we need to gather those berries. They ripen in early summer, and every year it’s a race between me and the starlings. This year, I won! Armed with my haul of ripe, juicy berries, I headed to the kitchen to get started.

Prepping the Berries
Step one is to give the berries a good wash to get rid of any dirt or debris. Pick out any that are too ripe or mouldy. With a big carton of clean berries ready to go, I decided to start with a syrup. You’ll need about 2 cups of Oregon grape berries for this recipe.

Crushing Time
To unleash the juices and natural yeasts, crush the berries using a potato masher or something similar. Toss the crushed berries into a saucepan with a cup of caster sugar and half a cup of water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes.

Straining the Juice
I’m lucky to have a jelly bag, but a piece of muslin or a clean pillowcase will do the job too. Suspend the bag and pop a bowl underneath to collect the delicious juice. Pour the hot liquid berries into the bag and let gravity do the rest. You may need to leave this overnight, but once it’s done, bottle, seal, and label your concoction. It’s perfect for dressings, over ice cream, in a fruit salad, or even in a gin and tonic on a warm evening in the garden.

Making the Vinegar
Next, crush about 4 cups of berries in a bowl and stir in about 1 cup of caster sugar. The sugar will draw out that lovely deep purple juice. Once it’s all mixed together, pour 1.5 liters of any vinegar into the bowl and give it a good stir. Cover with a clean tea towel and let it sit for about 3 days. You should see the mix start to bubble—this is perfect. Strain the mix and discard the berries. Bottle, label, and store away for about 4 weeks, or as long as you can bear it. This vinegar adds a delicious umami flavour to tomato sauces, stews, or casseroles—and yes channel your inner Keith Floyd, it’s also fabulous in a gin and tonic on a warm evening in the garden.

Making Flavoured Gin
If you have any berries left, crush them as before, then add a cup of gin to half a cup of caster sugar. Stir and then add your crushed berries. Using a funnel, pour this mix into a bottle, then label and store it away until Christmas! When it’s ready, decant the flavoured gin and discard the berries. It’s wonderful in trifle or over ice cream. In fact, the only limit is your imagination!

Happy Garden Foraging



Transform Your Irish Garden into an Exotic Paradise

Imagine stepping into your garden and feeling as though you’ve been transported to a lush, tropical paradise. Despite Ireland’s cool, often damp climate, it’s entirely possible to cultivate an exotic garden brimming with vibrant, big-leafed wonders. This guide will help you turn your Irish garden into an exotic oasis, covering everything from planning and soil preparation to plant selection and maintenance.

Planning Your Exotic Garden
The first step to creating an exotic garden is thoughtful planning. Consider the layout and aspect of your garden. Most big-leafed plants, such as Rogersia, Gunnera, and Tetrapanax, thrive in sheltered locations that protect their leaves from wind damage. These plants typically do well in part-shade, making them ideal for those corners of the garden that don’t receive full sun.

Incorporate pathways that allow you to explore and appreciate the dramatic foliage up close. Position taller plants like Tetrapanax at the back of borders or as focal points, with lower-growing species like Rogersia in the foreground. This creates a layered effect, adding depth and visual interest to your garden.

Enhancing Soil Quality
A successful exotic garden begins with healthy soil. Most big-leafed plants prefer rich, moist, well-draining soil. Before planting, improve your garden soil by incorporating plenty of organic matter such as well-rotted manure or compost. This enhances the soil structure and provides essential nutrients for your plants to thrive.

For water-loving giants like Gunnera, choose areas of your garden where the soil stays damp. Conversely, plants like Tetrapanax prefer well-drained spots. Assess your garden’s natural soil conditions to place your plants wisely. Group plants with similar needs together—moisture-loving plants like cannas and bananas can be clustered, while drought-tolerant varieties like some Plectranthus can be placed separately.

Choosing Exotic Plants
Selecting the right plants is crucial for achieving a stunning and sustainable exotic garden. Here are some excellent choices that thrive in the Irish climate:

Rogersia: With its large, palmate leaves, Rogersia adds texture and depth. It likes moist, humus-rich soil and thrives in dappled shade, making it a perfect understorey plant.

Tetrapanax papyrifer ‘Rex’: Known for its enormous, deeply lobed leaves, Tetrapanax is a fast grower that can give an instant tropical look. It prefers a sheltered position in well-drained soil but can tolerate some moisture.

Hostas: With a wide variety of sizes and impressive foliage, Hostas can complement your bigger plants and help fill the understory of your garden.

Fatsia japonica: This versatile plant offers large, glossy leaves and thrives in shady conditions, making it a perfect addition to the exotic shade garden.

Gunnera manicata: Often called giant rhubarb, Gunnera’s massive leaves create a dramatic focal point. It needs space to spread and a damp environment, making it perfect near a pond or in a bog garden.

Banana (Musa spp.): While not frost-hardy, banana plants can be a splendid addition to an Irish exotic garden during the warmer months. They need a sheltered spot, plenty of moisture, and protection from wind. In colder regions, consider growing them in large pots that can be moved indoors during winter.

Schefflera (Schefflera taiwaniana): The leaves are a wonderfully glossy dark green. It’s highly exotic forming a wonderful mid-sized shrub. During late summer green-brown flowers form which are followed by black-purple fruit. Relatively hardy in warmer areas of Ireland. Requires well-drained but moist soil in full sun or partial shade. Do not allow to become waterlogged.

Cannas: With their broad, vibrant leaves and stunning flowers, cannas are perfect for adding height and color. They enjoy full sun to partial shade and rich, moist soil. In areas with harsh winters, their rhizomes can be lifted and stored over winter to be replanted the following spring.

Begonia Species: Begonias offer a wide variety of leaf shapes, sizes, and colors. Fibrous and rhizomatous begonias, in particular, are excellent for shady parts of the garden where their dramatic foliage can really stand out. They prefer moist, well-draining soil and some protection from direct sunlight.

Plectranthus: Known for their ease of growth and striking leaf patterns, Plectranthus species are great for adding ground cover or filling under taller plants. They thrive in partial shade and well-drained soil, making them quite versatile in a mixed planting.

Coleus (Solenostemon): Renowned for their incredibly vibrant and varied foliage, coleus plants can create a tapestry of color in the garden. They prefer shade to partial sun and moist, fertile soil. Being tender, they should be protected from frost, treated as annuals, or moved indoors during colder months.

Maintenance Tips
Maintaining an exotic garden requires attention to specific needs to keep your plants healthy and attractive.

Big-leafed plants often require more water than average garden species, particularly during dry spells. Mulching can help retain soil moisture and reduce watering needs.
Apply a balanced, slow-release fertilizer in the spring to support the lush growth of these nutrient-hungry plants.
Regularly remove dead or damaged leaves to keep plants healthy and gardens tidy. Some plants, like Tetrapanax, may need pruning to control their spread.
Provide winter protection for tender plants like banana, cannas, and coleus. This might involve moving pots indoors or applying a thick mulch over the roots of in-ground plants.
Exotic plants can sometimes attract specific pests or suffer from fungal diseases due to the damp Irish climate. Regular inspection and prompt treatment can help keep your garden healthy.

Benefits and Challenges

Creates a visually stunning impact with diverse textures and forms.
Provides an immersive, tropical-like experience.
Offers a habitat rich in biodiversity, attracting various wildlife.
Some plants, like begonias and coleus, offer spectacular foliage that remains attractive across seasons.

Requires considerable maintenance and attention, especially in terms of watering and feeding.
Some plants may become invasive if not controlled.
Vulnerability to wind and cold snaps; protective measures may be necessary.
Tender plants require more effort in winter protection and may not suit all gardeners.

By carefully selecting and maintaining these diverse plants, you can elevate the complexity and beauty of your Irish garden. Each species not only contributes its unique charm but also enhances the overall ecosystem of your garden. Embrace the challenge and enjoy the transformation of your garden into an exotic paradise. Happy gardening!


RHSI Russborough Garden Show

Our RHSI Russborough Garden show on May 5th was an absolute triumph!

Our volunteers dedication and hard work made every moment magical. Those who manned the RHSI stall and directed visitors through the courtyards and onwards to the walled garden, the amazing walled garden volunteers, the team in the speakers tent and all who helped. You are pure gold. Nothing happens in the RHSI without your input. Sincere thanks to everyone. Your passion truly embodies the spirit of our Society, and we couldn’t be more grateful for your unwavering support.

Of course, none of this would have been possible without our friends and allies in the Russborough management team. Together we cultivated an atmosphere of warmth and camaraderie, fostering memorable moments for the throngs of visitors who graced our gates.

Among the thousands throught the gates were of course, the avid gardeners but also this year we saw an increase in families who revelled in the beauty of Russborough, accompanied by their beloved four-legged companions who, it seems, have embraced their inner gardener with fervour!

As we bask in the glow of this year’s success, we’re already looking ahead to next year’s Garden Show. But of course, we want to make it even better, so can you help! Share your ideas and suggestions with us—we’re all ears!  Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your unwavering support. Together, let’s keep cultivating experiences that bring joy, inspiration, and connection to our wonderful community.

Meadow makers and pollinators By Richard and Wendy Nairn

Article taken from The Journal Spring 2023 edition

Running down to the woodland at the bottom of our farm in County Wicklow are several fields that, when we bought them, were grazed to a short sward by horses and sheep. We decided to leave one field ungrazed to see what flowered there and the result was spectacular. What emerged was a diverse flora with at least nine meadow grass species, speckled with the yellow flowers of bird’s foot trefoil, blues forget-me-not, red clover and purple vetches. As one of the driest, hottest summers on record took hold, butterflies danced over the grass and swallows, that had bred in the barn, gorged themselves on the clouds of insects above the field. We knew that this permanent pasture, which had not been ploughed in several generations, could be made even richer by introducing yellow rattle, a traditional hay meadow plant. When the hay was cut and cleared in late summer we scraped the surface of the ground in strips to open the sward and scattered seeds of this plant, hoping that it would do the trick.

By June the following year the meadow was in full flower. The grasses swayed in the summer breeze enlivened by masses of yellow rattle, plantains, vetches and clovers. There was a loud buzzing as millions of tiny creatures went about their daily business. Hundreds of bumblebees were feeding on the yellow flowers. Clouds of meadow brown butterflies rose from the ground as we walked through the sward with common blues and small coppers also feeding there. The insects were benefitting from an abundance of pollen and the diversity of food plants that succeed each other throughout the summer months. Apart from a few mown pathways we leave the meadow undisturbed until September, allowing these creatures to breed in peace, to hatch and distribute their eggs for the following year. The grasses and other flowering plants all set seed which blows around to maintain the sward for future seasons. When the hay is finally cut, we toss it several times to dry in the late summer sun, bale and remove it from the field to reduce soil fertility. The hay is used as mulch on our vegetable gardens.

To diversify the meadow even further we collected seeds of yarrow, devils-bit scabious, greater knapweed, red campion and ox-eye daisy from local wild areas and planted these up in seed trays. Over the winter they were plug-planted into the meadow, in bare areas that had been left under some of the hay bales. In the years that followed, the sward became even more diverse as the density of grasses decreased and other species benefitted. The meadow is not empty at night as we have recorded seven species of bats flying over it. Badger trails and diggings show that they too are foraging in the meadow. Spear thistles are not cut as their flowers are very attractive to bees, hoverflies, butterflies and the dayflying six-spot burnet moth.

Pollinators are primarily insects that feed on flowers and inadvertently carry the pollen from plant to plant. Without pollinators it would be impossible for farmers or gardeners to affordably produce many of the fruits and vegetables we need for a healthy diet. Pollinators are also necessary for a species-rich environment. One third of the 100 wild bee species in the island of Ireland are threatened with extinction. This is because the areas where they can nest and the amount of food that the Irish landscape provides for them have been drastically reduced. As well as the loss of rare species, the abundance of common pollinator bees in the countryside is on a steady downward trend due to the use of pesticides and loss of habitats.

The All-Ireland Pollinator Plan was published in 2015 by the National Biodiversity Data Centre listing numerous actions to make Ireland more pollinator-friendly. At ground level, this is a shared plan of action. Everyone from farmers to councils, local communities, businesses, schools, faith communities, gardeners and transport authorities have a role to play. A key focus of implementation has been the publication of a wide range of guidance and advice such as information leaflets, videos and posters to help explain the steps to making more pollinator-friendly habitats (see By working together, participants can take simple steps to reverse pollinator losses and help restore populations to healthy levels. To date hundreds of local communities have taken genuine steps to make their local areas more attractive to pollinators.

In mid-summer our meadow is alive with bees, hoverflies, butterflies and other insects collecting pollen from the numerous flowering plants. The bumblebees make nests in the soil, collect pollen and have a worker caste. Solitary bees often make nests in bare ground or in the hollow stems of hogweed or other tall plants. The mechanisation of agriculture, loss of hay meadows, extensive use of pesticides and reductions in the density of the flowering plants as well as the removal of rough grassland where they nest and overwinter have all combined to cause serious declines in pollinator populations. Many species forage within a kilometre from the nest, so nearby areas must be both flower-rich and diverse to provide enough flowers to sustain the insects each year. To see some magnificent wildflower meadows, visit Castletown House, Celbridge, Co. Kildare (see

Even small patches of native wildflowers in the corner of a garden can be valuable foraging areas for bees and other insects. If possible, don’t buy commercial packets of wildflower seeds but collect your own seed from other local meadows. Studies have shown that the seeds in many wildflower seed mixes are imported from other countries, and are not native, despite what the packets might say. There is also a risk of accidentally bringing in invasive species. Our pollinators need the native wildflowers alongside which they have evolved. By simply reducing mowing to a single cut in late summer, valuable wildflowers like dandelions, buttercups, clovers and bird’s-foot-trefoil appear naturally year after year at no cost. These common flowers provide the nutrients our insects need. Anyone with space to offer has a part to play. Meadows are a valuable contribution to conservation of Ireland’s wildflowers and pollinating insects and a joy to experience.
Richard Nairn is an ecologist and writer who has published six books. Wendy Nairn is a lifelong organic gardener and member of RHSI.

Discipline is key in the fight against slugs By Hans and Gaby Wieland

90 percent of all slug problems in the garden are caused by the Spanish slug (Arion vulgaris), the green, yellow and black slugs are not a problem as they feed on decaying matter, also snails are quite harmless.
In our experience the most susceptible plants are lettuce and brassicas.
Slug control takes first of all discipline, discipline and discipline and a bit of common sense. Natural predators like frogs, runner beetles, hedgehogs and birds will be on your side.

To prevent a slug problem there are a few key actions:
• Keep grass around your garden beds short.
• Tidy up any possible hiding places (pots, boards, mulch etc.).
• Water only in the morning.
• The following barriers work in our experience: 3-5cm wide copper strips, gorse twigs.
That is the discipline bit and here is the common sense approach:
• Always raise plants in modules and plant out as sturdy “teenager” plants, not as “baby”-seedlings. If slugs attack, the plant will most likely survive and you can take action.

To catch slugs:
• Identify slug hot spots
• Lay out traps for slugs like boards, sheets of plastic in problem areas and pick up in the morning.
• Torch and bucket (the Spanish slug is most active 90 minutes after sunset and one hour after sunrise)
• Beer traps (in our humble experience better than slug pellets, but rain will dilute the beer and craft beer is expensive!)

Maintenance (again discipline is important)
• Capture slugs routinely (see above methods)
• Water in the morning
• Keep grass in the garden short

So, do you have the discipline it takes?

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Notes from Bellefield by Paul Smyth

A few days good weather has brought Bellefield to life and reinvigorated us all. The garden is teaming with birdsong, light and flower!

Our daffodils have all but finished but the tulips have continued to perform, despite lots of them being in the ground for a number of years. ‘Princess Irene and ‘Ballerina’ both brilliant oranges are shining in the pots by the back door as I type this.

With the heat come the weeds but our team of volunteers have been helping keep them at bay. We try to balance the work and give a lesson on relevant topics every week too, gardening isn’t all weeding!

This brilliant spell of weather gives us false hope that frost is gone, but be warned there’s plenty of chilly morning and surprise frosts on the way… especially here in Irelands Hidden Heartlands.

Some formative pruning of one of the large yellow Magnolias left us with some flowers which we floated in the pond with the volunteers help. I later learnt I should have pickled them, lesson learnt!

We’re moving on seedlings at a fast rate too, potting on, pricking out and sowing new batches. Hopefully we’ll have lots of new annuals and perrenials to fill the garden and to sell as the season progresses.

Our colleague Judith celebrated her Birthday this week by planting a beautiful specimen of Malus ‘Profusion’. A stunning variety with pink flowers followed by masses of deep red crab apples. Something for us all to enjoy for year to come.

If you’re interested in volunteering we are always on the lookout for gardeners of any and no ability, just bring your enthusiasm and we can supply the rest. If you’re interested please email

Shout out for help….

By Emily Moorcroft

I’m currently volunteering on a project to design and rejuvenate a number of gardens for St Michael’s House.

St. Michael’s House provides a comprehensive range of services and supports to adults and children with disabilities and their families in 170 locations in the greater Dublin Area. It supports c. 2,300 people.
The current project is a day centre in Belcamp which hasn’t really been touched since before Covid. The service users there could really utilise the space and gain at lot of enjoyment from it however I’ve enclosed a few photos for you to see the state it is currently in.

The problem we have is they have an extremely low budget.

The site has a polyltunnel and I plan on making a number of sensory raised beds. I was wondering if you might be able to help source some donations of plants. I am looking for any help especially edible plants for the taste sensory bed, grasses for the sound bed and colourful plants for the sight beds. Then shrubs and low maintenance plants to bulk out some of the rest of the borders. Any donations from members would be extremely helpful to the charity

with thanks


Contact Emily directly if you can help at

Nutritious food starts with fertile soil from Neantog

Article from Gaby and Hans Wieland super website

The world is changing and some people lose hope. I do not! In fact I see a lot of positive changes happening in the world of gardening, growing and food production. Some of these changes are not “in the news” and do not appear in statistics yet, but are significant and will have a long term effect. Gardening and growing some of your own food reduces your carbon foot print. According to a 2017 study by Bord Bia, there are approximately 1.3 million regular gardeners in Ireland. (Just imagine we had a United Garden Party!) About 300 000 grow regularly vegetables at home and more than 900 000 sow or plant herbs in their garden. And although we don’t feature in the big debate about reducing emissions, our gardens have potential to store huge amounts of carbon, as well as mitigate some of the effects of climate change such as flooding risk, urban heat island effect and loss of biodiversity. The more we garden and keep soil fertile the healthier the planet will be – we all do make a difference.

Hundreds and thousands of gardeners and growers are very aware of the benefits of growing food for the family. Many are new to growing and the hunger for knowledge and know-how is huge. Here are my thoughts to help making this awareness permanent for the benefit of all gardeners and ultimately for our planet.

“There is nothing in the whole of nature which is more important than or deserves as much attention as the soil. Truly it is the soil which makes the world a friendly environment for mankind. It is the soil which nourishes and provides for the whole of nature; the whole of creation depends upon the soil which is the ultimate foundation of our existence.” (Friedrich Albert Fallou, 1862)

Huge advantages of growing your own food
If we grow our own food in our own garden we have the huge advantage to grow the most nutritious, the most nutrient dense food. There are no food miles, we do not need artificial chemical fertilisers, we do not need weed killer and pesticides, all we need is the best soil we can get and if our soil is poor for starters we can remedy that in one season with compost and/or manure. By growing food from seeds we can also use varieties best suited to our local conditions and microclimate and even better save seeds.

“Cultivating soil and encouraging plants to grow in harmony with nature’s wondrous system has been an honored avocation throughout history”, writes Bill Wolf in his foreword to ‘The Soul of Soil’ in 1999. This avocation has now become the main occupation for many farmers, growers and gardeners, because cultivating soil and keeping soil fertile to grow nutritious food single handedly is the best contribution anybody can make to combat climate change and its consequences.

To understand soil is to be aware of how everything affects and is affected by it. We are all part of the soil ecosystem. Soil is not just dirt or the loose surface that covers most land. Soil provides the structure for plants to grow and anchor, it is also their source for water and nutrients. Soil contains minerals, organic matter and a rich biodiversity.

The microcosm under our feet
Garden soil resembles a city organised down to the smallest detail, a city in which millions of inhabitants are at work day and night. The teamwork takes place in three well organised zones. The uppermost layer in a garden consists of a mulch cover, then comes the decomposition zone, about 5 cm deep, where earthworms, millipeds, woodlice and other specialized microorganisms start the decomposition process, next comes the humus layer 20-30cm deep, where different microorganisms , bacteria, algae and fungi construct building blocks of life from the ingredients of the decomposition layer and create food for the root systems of the plants.

Soil is the foundation of nutrition
“ We really should be orienting agriculture toward ensuring that nutrient levels are as high and as balanced as they can be in plants (…), because that ultimately has an effect on human health”. (Anne Bikle and David R. Montgomery, The Hidden Half of Nature).

The soil doesn’t only supply the major macronutrients like nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), in big quantities, but also calcium, magnesium, and sulphur. And in relatively small amounts, the soil supplies iron, manganese, boron, molybdenum, copper, zinc, chlorine, and cobalt, the so-called micronutrients. Therefore, soils that provide a healthy, nutrient-rich growth medium for plants will result in plant tissues that contain most of the elements required for human life when the plants are consumed.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has published a fascinating fact sheet on “Soil – the foundation of nutrition” featuring the role of 18 nutrients necessary for plant growth and human health. Zinc (Zn) for example is needed by plants for seed quality and growth, humans need it for a functioning reproductive system and to promote immune system health. Plants need Calcium (Ca) for photosynthesis, growth and fruit formation, humans need Calcium for healthy bones, the digestive process and muscle and nerve activity.

Soil degradation leads to micronutrient deficiencies
The fact sheet (published 2015 during the International Year of the Soil) also states that over two billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, because of soil degradation. The Organic Consumers Association cites several studies with similar findings: A Kushi Institute analysis of nutrient data from 1975 to 1997 found that average calcium levels in 12 fresh vegetables dropped 27 percent; iron levels 37 percent; vitamin A levels 21 percent, and vitamin C levels 30 percent. A similar study of British nutrient data from 1930 to 1980, published in the British Food Journal, found that in 20 vegetables the average calcium content had declined 19 percent; iron 22 percent; and potassium 14 percent.

“Mineral deficiency is estimated to afflict more than a third of humanity, causing health problems in both developed and developing countries,” says David R. Montgomery says. “Mineral elements are essential for hundreds of critical enzyme reactions, and inadequate levels have been implicated in a wide range of maladies.”

Regenerative Farming can help create healthy soil
Because intensive agriculture and production has put a strain on our soils, we need a shift towards practices that bring life back to our soils. And there are solutions everywhere, like regenerative farming, which is take up by a whole generation of young Irish farmers and growers. Bord Bia explains that this agricultural system “puts more back into the environment and society than it takes out. By naturally reintroducing carbon and nutrient resources back into the land, this approach can support ecosystem health, mitigate climate change, and support farmers and their livelihoods through more reliable growing yields.”

Recent study showed that food grown on regenerative farms contained on average more magnesium, calcium, potassium and zinc and more vitamins (including B1, B 12, C, e and K) than food produced on conventional farms.

We can all compost
So back to our gardens and polytunnels and how we can regenerate and keep our soil fertile and alive. The answer is simple: Recycling nutrients by composting! Compost, like humus is made of decomposed organic material. Humus is created through the natural decay of plant materials in the soil’s top layer. Composting is recycling material by people from leftover plant and food waste and other natural waste materials. My anecdotal research through social media shows that gardeners are as enthusiastic and resourceful when it comes to home composting as they are in using polytunnels of all sizes to produce healthy and tasty food.

Blanchardstown Gardening Group creates environmental synergies with our young people.

In an ongoing exploration of who gardeners are, what they are growing in Fingal and why that matters to all of us, Blanchardstown Gardening Group (BGG) headed to St. Francis Xavier Senior School. Member of BGG and born educator, Karen Williams, started off the day sharing her knowledge of planting practices with the students and helping them to plant a well thought out design for the years ahead, before getting to work planting their little patch of the world.
In part two of the project which was funded by Fingal County Council, the group went even further in imagining and planting a mini orchard for Roselawn Park, with the help of the students and some of the local residents We can’t forget the man power of Fingal representatives who also assisted with the apple tree planting event.
Graham Fallon of Teagaisc, a key contributor to BGG and a believer in the ability for intentional design, also came along to share his knowledge his skills, helping us to plant for our communities as we grow into the future.
The Green Schools committee at Francis Xavier actively champion for biodiversity and nature. Minister Roderic O’ Gorman attended the cross community event to support and discuss the environment with the students. He commented, “Most young people care deeply about these issues, and wish to make a positive change to the nature living around us. The Green-Schools Programme provides an ideal way to foster environmental awareness in the entire school in a way that links to many curriculum subjects.”
Founding member and Cllr Michelle Griffin said “BGG is full of diverse plant thinking and we can all create beautiful abundant and thoughtful places in our communities, for our communities. I would like to thank all involved for their work and commitment to sustainability, especially the young people of St. Frances Xavier.”
Michelle and BGG asks us to think like healthy habitats as we look to our future, by planting landscapes that echo our native meadows and woodlands, while producing resources and improving our lives.

Principal Sean McKeown, Green Schools advocate and class teacher, Suzanne Garvey and Minister Roderic O’Gorman.
Blanchardstown gardeneing Group member, Liz Carroll, Minister Roderic O’ Gorman, Principal Sean McKeown, Councillor Michelle Griffin and students of St Frances Xavier Senior School.
Karen Williams, member of Blanchardstown Gardening Group sharing her knowledge with the students.
Graham Fallon of Teagaisc teaches the students about our mini orchard.
Fingal County Council helping out with the planting.
Selection of photos of the day.

Jerusalem Artichoke by Klaus Laitenberger

Jerusalem Artichoke

My new book was meant to be on Jerusalem artichokes but I was discouraged by a number of people with the simple question: Who or how many people would buy a book on Jerusalem artichokes?

A pamphlet for Jerusalem artichoke

The aim of this booklet is to promote this ancient, half-forgotten vegetable and also to campaign to re-name it as “Sunroot”, because as you will read later, it has been falsely or mistakenly named Jerusalem artichokes.

Jerusalem artichokes have been grown in Europe since 1605. Their popularity has waxed and waned throughout the last few centuries. Generally in times of food shortages or potato failures, it has gained in popularity. However, when the crisis reverted, people quickly went back to the potato.

I am surprised that it has never become a staple crop. In one way it doesn’t make sense as it is a much hardier crop than the potato and can withstand frosts, it doesn’t suffer from any of the many troubles the potato encounters and it yields even higher than the potato. Could it be the knobbly shape of the tubers or the effects it causes due to its high inulin content which gives it the nickname “fartichoke”?

However, with new findings of its health and environmental benefits, Jerusalem artichoke is set to become an important food crop throughout many parts of the world. Due to its low glycemic index (GI) score, it is an ideal food for diabetics. It contains no cholesterol, plenty of iron, potassium, fibers and antioxidants and most importantly inulin. There is an increasing worldwide demand for inulin as a healthy sugar substitute and as a prepiotic.

More and more research points to its health benefits and I’m sure that within a few years the poor neglected “Sunroots” will at least become an important health food.

I know the next question – how do they taste? A simple answer – delicious! They can be cooked just like potatoes and can even be eaten raw.


The Jerusalem artichoke is definitely one of the easiest and most highly productive vegetables to grow. It is grown for its edible tubers which have the appearance of a knobbly potato. It can also be grown as a livestock feed both for the tubers and foliage. Some people grow them as an ornamental plant, especially the more flowering types.

There are a number of varieties available in Europe, but unfortunately none of them are well known or easily available. Unlike the potato it appears to be completely free of any diseases. The Jerusalem artichoke is extremely high yielding and can grow in relatively poor soil. We achieved yields of up to 100 t/ha (10kg/m²) in Ireland. In appearance the plant is very similar to the sunflower and is sometimes called “tuberous sunflower’.

I am surprised why not more people grow this amazing vegetable especially given the fact that it is very nutritious and highly beneficial for people suffering from diabetes. In Germany it is commonly known as the “Diabetiker-Kartoffel” (diabetes potato). It’s also very delicious and can be used in various ways in the kitchen. It can be eaten raw – grated in a salad or cooked, boiled, roasted or blended in a soup.

However, when you eat them initially they may cause wind and bloating. Thus it is important to ease yourself into eating them

Jerusalem artichoke is also one of the best prebiotic foods and encourages all the good bacteria in the lower gut. The rumbling in your stomach and other side-effects are the result of the feeding of all the good bacteria – a good sign!

Jerusalem artichokes are still an under-utilised crop but due it’s highly beneficial medicinal uses it is quickly gaining in popularity in many countries throughout the world.

Jerusalem artichokes make an ideal crop for a permaculture garden as they can be grown as a perennial and can live up to 30 years. In fact, it is one of the very few vegetable crops that can survive in the wild without the care of a gardener.

This booklet aims to revive and popularise an ancient vegetable that deserves more attention.

The naming of Jerusalem artichoke

The name ‘Jerusalem artichoke’ is very misleading as it has nothing to do with Jerusalem and is not an artichoke. It was simply a false interpretation from the Italian name “Girasola articiocco” – the sunflower artichoke. Girasola means ‘turning to the sun’. Jerusalem artichoke flowers are identical to small sunflowers and they also turn towards the sun. When the Jerusalem artichoke was brought into England in 1617 the name ‘Girasola’ changed into ‘Jerusalem’ and for some reason this mispronunciation of the word has stayed until today. In a book published in 1620 by Tobias Venner, an English doctor, Girasole was translated into “Jerusalem” and for some reason this has stuck until today. English chefs made a delicious Jerusalem artichoke soup and it was aptly named “Palestine Soup” and the recipe is still available.

The artichoke part of the name came from the similarity of taste between the tubers and the globe artichoke with which people in southern Europe were already familiar with.

On the continent, it is mostly called Topinambur (German) or Topinambour (French). But unfortunately even this name is a misnomer and has nothing to do with this wonderful crop.

This mistake originated in France when several members of a Brazilian tribe called the ‘Tupinambas’ or ‘Topinamboux’ were brought to Paris in 1613 as a curiosity. This was around the same time as the Jerusalem artichoke was introduced. Since then, the French, Germans, Romanians, Russians and Spanish call the “Sunroots” by its wrong name.

A separate account reported of a visit from the same Brazilian Tupinamba tribe to the Vatican in 1615 and this coincided when a sample of a Jerusalem artichoke tuber was on display there at the same time.

In America, Jerusalem artichokes are often known as “sunchokes”. This name was created in the 1960’s by a Frieda Caplan, a Californian vegetable wholesaler to popularise this vegetable. I’m not sure why such an unappetising name was chosen, but it seems to have stuck in America.

Other names for this delicious vegetable include tuberous sunflowers, woodland sunflower, earth truffle and earth apple.

The Native Americans called them sunroots which is definitely the best name for this wonderful vegetable. The Cheyenne name is “hohinon” (meaning: brought back by the scouts) and the Pawnee name is “kisu-sit” (meaning: tapering, long). The Cree Indians called the plant ‘askipaw’ and the Huron Indians of eastern North America called the plant ‘skibwan’ (raw thing).

They are available on

Gardening Talks and Workshops

Date: Tuesday 19th March 2024

Talk: Carrigtohill Gardening Club

Time: 8pm

For venue and booking, contact Caroline on the email below.


Date: Thursday 23rd May 2024

Course: Grow your own food in healthy soil

Venue: Ballymaloe Cookery School

Contact: Karen on

This course is suited for anyone who plans to start a food garden. It is filled with practical tips and demonstrations on how to sow seeds outdoors, transplant crops and how to look after a variety of plants. The course is held at the productive and beautiful gardens in Ballymaloe as well as in their 1 acre greenhouse.

A hands-on course – so bring gardening gear.


Airfield Estate Gardens

Ardan Garden

Ballintubbert Gardens and House

Ballycommane Garden

Ballyedmond Castle Garden

Ballymaloe Cookery School

Ballyrobert Gardens

Bantry House and Garden

Belvedere House Gardens & Park

Benvarden Garden

Birr Castle Demesne

Blarney Castle and Gardens

Burtown House and Gardens

Caher Bridge Garden

Colclough Walled Garden

Collon House

Coolaught Walled Garden

Coolwater Garden

Dawros Gallery & Garden

Dower House

Drimbawn Garden

Dromana House and Gardens

Festina Lente

Fota House – Victorian Working Garden

Gash Gardens

Glenarm Castle Walled Garden

Glenavon Japanese Garden

Hester Forde Garden – ‘Coosheen Garden’

Hillsborough Castle and Gardens

Hunting Brook Gardens

Irish National Stud and Gardens – The Japanese Gardens and St. Fiachra’s Garden

Johnstown Castle, Estate, Museum and Gardens

June Blake’s Garden

Kilfane Glen and Waterfall

Kilgar Gardens

Killruddery House and Gardens

Killyreagh Garden

Kilmokea Country Manor and Gardens

Kilravock Garden

Kylemore Abbey and Victorian Walled Garden

Lodge Park Walled Garden

Loughcrew Gardens


Mount Congreve Gardens

Mount Stewart House and Gardens

Mount Usher Gardens

Oakfield Park

Old Deanery Garden

Patthana Garden

Rothe House Museum and Garden

Rowallane Garden

Salthill Garden

Seaforde Gardens

Seanabea Cottage


Strokestown Park Gardens

Tourin House & Gardens

Tullynally Castle Gardens

Tyrrelstown House Garden

Woodville Walled Garden

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