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July 2011

To see a sample of the current issue of Ireland's best-selling gardening magazine, click the image below.


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Regaining the knowledge?

Shirley Lanigan is surprised that common trees were not recognised

I was walking in the woods with some pals a few weeks ago. The trees were glorious, the leaves still fresh and limy. It had been raining a few hours before and the ferns underneath were glistening and wet. Even the brambles looked well. There were a few tailend bluebells and, all in all, it was a good place to be. One of the pals said something admiring about a particular tree ahead. They referred to ‘that big one', ‘the sort of wide one' and so on. I couldn't figure out what tree they were talking about. There was an impressive oak ahead so I asked if they meant the oak.

‘Is that an oak?', came back the answer. There was a branch hanging close and the leaves were well in view. ‘Yes', I said. ‘Right!' came the response, as if something big had been cleared up for them. As we walked, I thought I'd see how extensive the lack of knowledge was, and it turned out to be fairly extensive. The ash tree also came as a piece of news as did various ferns. But they did recognise the bluebells.

All this was a bit of a shock - these were not X-box generation teenagers, or early twenties or even thirty-somethings. They were of my own, older vintage. They were part of the generation brought up on nature tables in the classroom and nature walks for school tours. They would have seen more than their fair share of children's television featuring how to make creatures out of pine cones, toothpicks and pussywillows. They certainly would have hurt knuckles trying to play conkers. One of them I know for a fact went to a one-teacher country school, and must have spent more than a bit of time in contact with oak, sycamore, ash and maple trees.

Where did the recognition of the most obvious leaf shapes go? What will their children know of the countryside? Will they bring them out to collect conkers and fly maple helicopters? Will they recognise blackberries on a bush? As someone brought up in the city until the late 1970s, by the time I moved proximate to the countryside there were no elms left. But because of the nature table and enthusiastic teachers who spent time showing us the difference between lime and elm leaves, we all knew what an elm looked like. We saw avocado stones being grown by teachers years before we ever met one on a plate. So we need bigger, busier nature tables come September - the next generation needs it more than ever.

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