GREAT OAKS GROW Native trees like oak are ideal for planting in the west.
The weather picked up recently, and has given us some hope for the future again. Since lockdown started last March, the demand for gardening supplies has been unprecedented, and I am only going to try to add to that fervour: the best thing we can do, for the environment and our own health, is to grow more plants!
We moved into our forever home a few years ago, and since then we have slowly been adding to the existing plants. It turns out that the lovely, mowed field in front of the house that we saw during the viewing is an illusion—the ground is usually far too wet to mow regularly, and that’s actually not our idea of fun.
We immediately started with a large-scale planting of close to 200 bare-rooted whips (very small trees), which was a good way to get loads at a reasonable price. We focused on having a variety of native species: alder, blackthorn, birch, elder, guelder rose, hawthorn, oak, rowan and willow.
This year we have focused on populating the wettest areas of the field, opting for a large number of alders, some of which have been gifted by people who had additional trees growing in an area they wanted to change. We also have been lucky to find others who have very young trees – oaks and hazels – that we are nurturing in pots until they are a bit bigger. It’s worth asking around to see if anyone you know has small trees popping up that they might share. We managed to order a few bare-rooted fruit trees and bushes from Future Forests in Co Cork. Smaller local garden centres will hopefully reopen soon, and they will also have more mature trees and bushes that will be ready to grow and harvest. We went for two each of pear and plum, plus one cherry tree, in addition to apple and crab apples from previous years.
We also have blackcurrants, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries to keep the kids engaged, and this year are trying ground cover raspberries on a slope.
We are awaiting a polytunnel to be installed, so we are starting seeds on all available sunny windowsills – herbs, tomatoes, lettuce – and this can be done in houses and apartments without gardens. Previously, I had a small balcony on which I grew a number of greens and herbs such as chives, basil and rocket that are expensive to purchase in shops, which was a satisfying use of pots and a bit of soil.
But, if you do have garden space as well, many staple crops, such as potatoes, onions, carrots and salad leaves can be easily grown outdoors, even in small spaces.
Consider also any flowers that that will be good companion plants to vegetables and attractive to pollinators, including nasturtium, honeysuckle, marigolds and sunflowers. And, try to leave some room for ‘weeds’ such as dandelions, buttercups, nettles and others that are important sources for loads of insects.
McKinley Neal co-runs PAX Whole Foods & Eco Goods, a minimal-waste shop in Westport offering bulk organic foods, reusable goods, household products, eco-friendly personal care items and gifts.