October has brought dramatic changes throughout the grounds and gardens. We’ve had the inevitable drop in temperatures that heralds the changing season, and our arboretums have transformed into their autumn coats which come in so many wonderful colours and shades. There are the buttery yellows and vivid reds, copper, bronze and purple shades which combine to form a rich tapestry. I would go so far as to say it is the best I’ve seen it in 5 years. That is just the start of it though. It’s the sign of the coming winter, and many other changes are taking place.
Plants are entering their dormant periods and we are busy cutting back, mulching, digging out, dividing and protecting where necessary. If you look after your plants now they will reward you next year. This time of year usually signals the end of our busy tourist season but 2020 has been rather different. Our challenges this year, have been significant. We have managed to keep the gardens looking their best for most of the year with considerably less staff than usual. Our volunteers that work on Wednesday and Friday mornings have been tremendous, and we are currently missing them too. Hopefully they will be able to return soon.
As we are currently in lockdown we are only seeing locals visiting the gardens but there has been a huge increase in purchases of our season passes, and I’m delighted to see so many families enjoying walking the grounds. It is said that a good walk in the woods can do wonders for clearing one’s head. Being active has a whole range of benefits when it comes to mental wellbeing. In Japan, they call it Forest bathing or Shinrin-yoku. The practice was developed in the 1980s. Although people had been taking walks in the country’s forests for centuries, new studies showed that such activity improves self-perception and self-esteem, mood, and sleep quality, and it reduces stress, anxiety, and fatigue. A chemical released by trees and plants, called phytoncides, was found to boost the immune system. Personally, I just always enjoyed the fresh air and peace! I believe it is vital for our mental health to have places such as Blarney Castle Gardens to get outside for a walk. It is a safe environment, and we are lucky to have such a beautiful facility on our doorstep.
Our fruit and vegetable areas are currently undergoing their autumn tidy. We are organising our beds for next year and planning where to plant what. We have a crop rotation system in place, which helps prevent pests and disease and keeps the nutrients in the soil more balanced. We will shortly be planting out garlic and shallots and sowing sweet pea indoors for next year’s crops. We are currently keeping glasshouse vents open overnight to encourage leaf fall on our indoor fruit such as peaches and grapes. The grape vine needs to be fully dormant before we start to prune it. Other jobs we will be doing over the next month include: lifting and dividing herbaceous perennials, wind lopping roses, spreading compost and digging over vegetable beds, leaf collection to form next year’s leaf mold, lifting dahlias, begonias to overwinter inside, fleecing tree ferns and tender plants to protect from frost, and the planting of new bare root hedging and trees. This time last year I was in the final stages of planning our expedition to Vietnam. We were plant hunting in the high mountains of northern Vietnam close to the Chinese border. The high altitude creates similar climatic conditions to what we experience here in Ireland, which means many of the plants that we find are suitable for planting in our own garden. Many of the seeds collected on the expedition were germinated and grown on in our walled garden. Some have already been planted out, and if all goes well, many more of these new collections will be added to our own Vietnamese Woodland in the spring, as well as being shared with other gardens throughout Europe. Unfortunately, we are in a race against time with many of these planet species, as their habitats are being destroyed by the continued expansion of humanity. Activities such as cardamom farming, fish farming, road building, hydroelectric dams and the general push to develop the countryside are destroying what are often irreplaceable habitats. Unfortunately, it may be the case that gardens such as Blarney will end up being the final refuge for many of these rare and special plants. Hopefully we can do our bit to help!
Come and see us in November and enjoy the walks! Adam