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GARDENING A fruit and nut case

Outdoor Living

A fruit and nut case

Westport horticulture group launches DNA investigation into local heritage trees

Ciara Moynihan

Westport residents with old fruit and nut trees are being asked to contact the Edible Landscape Project, as they might just be sitting on a valuable piece of the town’s horticultural heritage.
The Westport-based Edible Landscape Project aims to create ‘edible landscapes’ on suitable sites along the Great Western Greenway between Westport and Achill by planting them up with fruit and nut trees, as well as edible shrubs, root and leaf vegetables and wild herbs.  
Several project workshops have already taken place in and around Westport town. Apple and damson trees have been planted against the Leenane Bridge wall, and a live willow archway was planted at Westport Skate Park.  
Now, as part of the Historic Towns Initiative, the Edible Landscape Project is investigating the heritage varieties of fruit and nut trees that were grown in Westport in years gone by, and that now exist only in pockets in the town.
Speaking to The Mayo News, Caithriona McCarthy of Edible Landscape explained that members of the group are taking DNA samples from old trees to identify which varieties have survived the years. The the aim is to then run grafting and planting workshops to replant those successful heritage varieties in new locations along the Greenway. (The next grafting workshop will be on March 29.)
“So far we’ve taken samples from the Sacred Heart Convent’s garden, the old Bank of Ireland garden and a number of private gardens in the town that have small remaining orchards. These samples have been sent to the Botanic Gardens, where visual testing will be done, but really DNA testing is more conclusive. This involves sending the samples to the UK,” McCarthy explained.
“It’s really exciting, as it’s part of our history. We think that many years ago, gardeners at Westport House either trialled varieties themselves and then distributed the ones that proved able for the local climate, or else they gave a selection of varieties to people around the town to see which ones survived – we’re not sure, but the more information we have the better.”
McCarthy also explained that replanting these old heritage varieties that have proven suitable to the local climate increases the odds that they will survive for decades, even centuries, to come.

For more information, contact Caithriona McCarthy on 086 600 8560, visit the Edible Landscape Project’s Facebook page, or visit www.ediblelandscape.ie. The group is also involved in promoting Westport town as a destination for horticultural enthusiasts, in conjunction with Destination Westport and the Clew Bay Garden Trail.