Biodiversity in County Clare

Anne’s story….

I have a lovely garden in the village of Quin in County Clare. I have never really had an interest in gardening and I have always just paid somebody to cut the grass and do some basic maintenance on the place. That has all changed in the last two years. Indeed, it all changed pre-Covid-19, as I was becoming ever more interested in biodiversity.

I joined Burrenbeo several years ago and went to a few of their events. Then I joined Seedsavers a little more recently, and I attend several of their courses, so my knowledge and enthusiasm grew. In 2019 there was a lot of focus in the media on the National Pollinator Plan. During Heritage Week, I went to several talks and workshops about different aspect of the plan, talks and walks in Ennis, at a garden centre in Galway, and in the Burren.

I usually travel a great deal, as I work on election observation around the world, but, being grounded, I tackled the garden last year. I let all of the place grow wild for biodiversity. There is about half an acre of grass, through which I have cut grass paths. I got assistance at first but then this year I bought myself a lawnmower and did the work myself.

Several years ago I had gotten a quotation for CELT nurseries to plant native hedges, but I did not proceed with that. So, last year I got 30 native fruit trees from Seedsavers and then this year I got hedges planted with several hundred indigenous trees.

I have ever greater diversity in creatures in the garden, butterflies, shrews, lots of birds, including my first ever pair of goldcrests, and endless insects. I have only pictures of a few, a I am not particularly enthusiastic about taking photographs.

I have some mature apple trees, about 60 years old, and now lots of young trees, and well as lots of blackberries, elderberries and hawthorn. I am delighted with the place and intend to continue following advice to promote diversity. This is now my second year of having the garden thus, with just one cut of grass annually. Last year it was cut in the middle of September, the grass left to lie for a week, and then collected. This year I had to travel to Canada for the election for most of September. Now I am back and having the grass cut on Tuesday next.

I could continue for ages to relate my new enthusiasm for biodiversity in the garden. But instead I am attaching a sample of some photographs of the place.
Warm regards,
Anne Marlborough

Biodiversity in the city – Georgina and Larry, Ringsend

We moved into our house in Ringsend in 2017 and while the garden at the back had some nice plants and shrubs and a lovely ornamental cherry tree all set around a grass lawn it seemed to lack something….so beginning Christmas 2020 we dug up the lawn, re-laid the planting areas and built a pond. The difference now in the amount of wildlife specifically bird and insect life in the garden is astounding – if we did not witness it with our own eyes every day, we would not believe it! We did a few other things too that seem to help in promoting diversity and bring a wide range of wildlife to the garden…
Garden organically, no pesticides
Leave plenty small dishes with water scattered around the garden so birds of different sizes can drink and wash
Grow plants mostly from seed
Grow plants with single flower heads mostly – easier for bees to pollinate and access
Leave seed heads in place, birds love them, seedlings find their own place to settle and we collect the rest to grow more plants for next year…
Echiums are wonderful for bees; left spikes in place after flowering and Goldfinches arrived in spring to gather dried sprigs to build their nests…the Goldfinches visit every day now to drink and wash in the pond…
Collect rainwater from shed roof filling water butts and excess to pond
Built a fence around birdfeeders…unintentionally it has become resting place for smaller birds and stops larger ones (mostly magpies, pigeons) coming close and stealing everything
Make our own compost, supplemented with grass cuttings collected from local park; invested in garden shredder which allows us create mulch from shrub cuttings so almost everything in the garden is re-used
Not too fussy about weeds and nettles, letting things grow where they settle and thrive…within reason!
Use variety planting materials…soil, water, gravel, sand; provides interest for growing different types of plants and birds use the gravel and sand to clean their beaks
We are enjoying days and now nights of pleasure from this garden and the creatures who visit it.

Georgina and Larry, Ringsend, Dublin



Floral Art

Huge congratulation to RHSI members Karen Robinson and Harumi Langford who qualified in the heats (held in Dunboyne on 16th Oct 2021) for the finals of AOIFA Floral artist of the year

Living easy on the land – Deborah Ballard

We live in the very south of County Carlow. We have been in this farmhouse and garden for nearly 20 years. We have about a hectare of land, of which about half is a field, kindly grazed by a friend; I hasn’t been fertilised for about 60 years, so there are plenty of wildflowers. At the bottom of this field we intend to plant a belt of native trees this autumn.

We have been growing vegetables since we arrived, and have doubled the vegetable plot, which we rotate every six years. About 10 years ago we bought a large polytunnel, which means we can grow more tender vegetables like French beans, peppers and chillies, tomatoes, and sweetcorn – springs are generally cold here.

We have also planted an orchard, soft fruit and an artichoke bed, two asparagus beds and a seakale bed – when the Hungry Gap comes along we eat like princes. We eat seasonally, so we look forward to each vegetable when it comes round, and we do a lot of successional sowing. – salad leaves especially We do store a few potatoes and apples, and make jam and freeze tomato sauce for winter. We also make our own cider vinegar from windfall apples.

We use the no-dig method, layering compost or manure on the vegetable plot and polytunnel to preserve the mycelium web, worms and microscopic soil life. As our soil is so dry, we sometimes cover this with hay from the meadow to stop the manure drying out. When we roll back the hay to warm the soil in spring, we scoop up the slugs which lie between the hay and the manure and rehome them down the boreen. The manure has been absorbed into the soil and formed a perfect tilth for sowing. We get our manure from our next-door neighbour, who keeps his cattle on straw in the old-fashioned way – we think slatted sheds and slurry are horrible. We also sow some green manure and make tonnes of compost.

We also layer on compost or manure in the ornamental garden, but do occasionally dig out and divide the herbaceous perennials when the borders get too crowded. If perennial weeds take hold (we are martyrs to hedge bindweed) we dig them out with a trowel, although we do straighten the edges of the rather migratory vegetable beds once a year. We mulch the vegetable-plot paths with grass-clippings from the paths through the meadows – grass seed comes in, inevitably, but on the plus-side, we find that slugs hate crossing grass-clippings.

We plant a lot of single flowers and perennials, for the pollinators, and choose pollen- and nectar-rich ones – the nepeta, agapanthus and lavender are alive with ­honey, bumble and solitary bees. We have buddleja in the ditches and grow sedums and Verbena bonariensis in the borders for the butterflies. I love old garden roses and peonies, but we also have semi-double roses and single peonies, and there are not many of the doubles compared with the single flowers we grow.

We leave ivy on the walls for late pollinators and late-winter forage for birds, and grow some other berrying shrubs. We feed the birds from October to May – I want them to feed their nestlings with pests, and there are also plenty of seeding weeds here.

We have a lot of grass in the orchard, full of wildflowers and underplanted with bulbs, native bluebells and cowslips. We also sowed a wildflower meadow in front of the vegetable plot, the seed kindly given to us by a friend as a house-warming present. We allow these meadows to grow – they are especially beautiful in May and June – and cut it once a year, at the end of August or beginning of September, when it lodges (August is a rainy month here). If it needs another cut, we use the lawnmower, but it hardly ever does. We mow paths through it, for access and to make it look more disciplined and less wild, and this is the source of our grass-clipping mulch.

In front of the house is a large gravelled yard surrounded by ornamental borders, and I am amazed at how worms colonise the gravel. It gets a bit weedy, but a rake soon sorts out the small ones. As we live in an isolated, agricultural area, weeds do drift in, and our wildflower meadows don’t help, either.

What we don’t have is a pond, apart from a large tank, originally for farm horses, and a breeding ground for midges – the swallows love them. Our soil is extremely light and gravelly, and a pond would have to be lined with a butyl liner, which we are reluctant to use; clay for puddling would have to imported from God knows where, so is unsustainable. There is a stream on the boundary of the field, so birds and animals don’t go short of water.

We don’t use fungicides, pesticides or herbicides. We strongly believe in nature balancing itself out. We don’t kill pests; I rebury soil-borne ones, although Carole occasionally feeds them to the hens if  there seem to be too many in the vegetable plot, and no sign of predators. We have hedgehogs, a woodpecker (newly arrived from Wicklow) pygmy shrews, field-mice, rats, foxes (we have lost a few hens, when we get home too late) and a noisy host of insect species – bees, wasps, hoverflies, butterflies, spiders, grasshoppers, crane-flies, midges, the odd mosquito (our summers are warm) and doubtless countless others, including ticks – we wear boots in the garden. We keep patches of nettles for butterfly larvae, and leave one ragwort (beheaded) for the cinnabar moth larvae.  There are countless little creatures in our wood-pile. We felled some elderly spruces which were shading our orchard, and used the brash to make a dead hedge, a hibernation resource for hedgehogs and insects, and (doubtless) rats and mice.

We have a neutered cat, but, luckily, she’s not a good hunter – our last one, also neutered, was a robotic hunter and could bring in three rabbits a day; we took them from her and skinned, paunched and ate them, lest they go to waste. We are only too aware that cats are terrible slaughterers of small mammals and birds, but a neutered female cat does keep mice down in the house and rats in the outhouses.

We have seats for looking at the garden and a table and chairs to eat lunch under one of the apple-trees, and there is also a hammock – not that we often manage to use them!

Deborah Ballard and Carole Nelson

Co Carlow

#COP26 & Colm O’Driscoll

There are more organisms living in a tsp of soil than people living on the planet!

In today’s video for #ChelseaFlowerShow with @britembdublin, Colm O’Driscoll from @AirfieldEstate talks about the importance of soil health in protecting biodiversity & the Planet

#Cop26 #TogetherForOurPlanet

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