Leytown by the sea. And nearby, Sonairte, an organic garden which is like a glimpse of another world. A world of ancient apple trees, vibrant rows of organic vegetables, birdsong and the river Nanny flowing slowly by. Sonairte is an “interactive visitor centre promoting ecological awareness and sustainable living”. This 10 acre project was set up in 1986 by members of the local community. The walled garden has rows of organic (certified) fruit trees and vegetables beds. The woodland walk follows the river along a Salt Marsh and leads to a bird hide with a view of local wildlife and Ballygarth Castle. Volunteering at Fota makes us curious about other gardens and this curiosity led us to Sonairte in “The Ninch”.
It’s election time in the USA and while a battle rages between the Democratic and Republican Parties our thoughts turn to things American. Perhaps this is a good time to look at the connection between a big house in County Cork and a big house in Geneseo, New York.
We can begin this story in another big house in London, where James Samuel Wadsworth and Mary Craig Wharton went on honeymoon in May, 1834.
Our beautiful Ginkgo Biloba trees grow side by side in the centre of the Frameyard like a pair of Chinese vases.
At this time of year the fan-shaped leaves are turning a mellow shade of yellow. How can we not admire these trees? They survived the dropping of an atomic bomb in Hiroshima where almost all other plants were destroyed, they’ve outlived dinosaurs, they produce nutrients which are used in health supplements and they link us philosophically and botanically to both the past and the future.
We have many reasons to love our Ginkgo trees in the Frameyard. They stand elegantly tall in our walled space, provide us with beautiful colour and just last week our gardener Bernard remarked how they provide much-needed shade for our seedlings in Glasshouse No. 4.
Many people find autumn a melancholy time. Maybe it’s the post-summer blues (or reds and browns). We talk about the days shortening or the evenings closing-in. The Autumn Equinox happens when the length of day and night are roughly equal, usually around the 23rd of September. But it’s a bountiful and fertile time for nature. This late burst of production brings us a multitude of fruits, nuts and seeds.
In the Frameyard, in Pithouse Number 3, the tomatoes are ripening.
Among the varieties there are Sungold and Sweet Apperitivo, cherry tomatoes that can be eaten like sweets off the vine. Standing beside these vines, the wonderful earthy, tobacco smell fills the warm air.
Some say that this smell is a natural deterrent against insects or pests. (It’s suggested that one could pick the foliage, soak it in hot water and use it as a spray). According to the University of California, glandular trichomes are responsible for secreting a yellow substance that gives off that characteristic “tomato plant” smell (see explanation below). Whatever the scientific explanation is, some gardeners love it, some hate it. But the fruit is universally enjoyed nowadays, unlike the first reaction to tomatoes in medieval times.
In typical Irish fashion, bees are closely associated with folklore and saints.
St. Modomnoc is credited with bringing bees to Ireland in the 6th Century, when his hives resolutely followed him across the Irish Sea as he returned from Wales.
St Gobnait, whose feast day is 11th Feb, is the patron saint of bees. She is portrayed by Harry Clarke in the luminous stained-glass windows of the Honan Chapel, University College Cork.