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The garden is a great place to be with nature. Nature is to be respected and as such we don't use any pesticides in our garden. We like to garden on the wildside. Not that it means ywe don't try and grow exotic plants, we do!


I love unusual shrubs and trees. Although one acre is too large to look after perfectly when trying to earn a living aswell, when purchasing plants you soon sstart to run out of space.

Our garden is constantly evolving,. Our meadow areas will eventually become woodlands when the trees and shrubs grow. New borders get created as planting densities increase.


We have vegetable beds and grow fruit bushes too. This spring I have to plant our new apple trees that we purchased from Irish Seed Savers Association in Co. Clare. I am going to train some as cordons.


Projects that I have planned for this year include; finishing the green roof on the shed; making a smoking pit for cooking; constructing an anaerobic composter and finishing an area of stone mulch using only stones collected from the garden.


Aronia melanocarpa - foliage, berries and jam!

25 September 2010 19:24:59

We walked under the spruce trees, passed the twisted hawthorn and down the slope. The long grass brushed our knees, the mild damp autumn evening surrounded us and calmed our senses. The small river trickled over rocks, a soundtrack to soothe. 


To be honest, the low part of our garden is a wilderness. Rushes mingle with grass and the trees and shrubs compete with wild vegetation.  Many of the trees species have grown well, and some shrubs too. Plants that grow here are tough. Birch trees are happy, willows are ecstatic.


The alders, Alnus glutinosa, which we planted in the sucking, wet ground a few years ago have rocketed skyward, their branches provide shelter and their roots fix nitrogen to enrich the soil. The soil in the bottom of our garden is always wet, sometimes the river floods. 


We picked our way through the grass, trying to ignore the weeds and concentrate on the trees. A bush of deep red foliage and large clusters of shining black berries stopped us in our tracks, Aronia maelaoncarpa. Here in our wilderness, it has grown and triumphed. 1.5 metres high so far, it will in time grow higher. A close relative of the wider grown genus, Cotoneaster, Aronias have a similar display of small white flowers in May.


Now in Autumn it gives us its best, the green leaves start to turn a rich red before fading to orange and gold before they fall. Hanging from the stems are juicy black fruits, the size of grapes. A plant of beauty and strong constitution. No weeding has been done around it, no fertilizing, no pruning. In wet acid soil it has thrived, and it has been fruitful.


There are other species of Aronia and hybrids too.  Aronia arbutifolia is a smaller leaved plants with small red edible fruits and fiery red autumn foliage. Aronia ‘Viking’ is vigorous with dark purple edible fruits and good autumn colour. We also have another plant of Aronia in our garden with dark fruits that are smaller that A. melanocarpa with a different taste, I think it is A. x prunifolia. 


I was surprised by how well our plant of A. melanocarpa had grown, and by how beautiful it looked, my mind turned to jam. I mean, I thought about making jam! Not many people knowingly consume aronia,the fruits have a dryness like that of cranberry.  It is however, often blended in fruit juices, it lends its dark colour to the mix. The fruits are high in anthocyanins, which may be beneficial in treating cancer.

Jacinta D Jacinta D 25 September 2010 19:36:16

Very descriptive journal, Ciaran.

Gracedieu Lass Gracedieu Lass 25 September 2010 20:13:23


I grow A. melanocarpa and A. x prunifolia but never thought of making jam. The common name, "Chokeberry" would not encourage one to try them. There are always plenty of berries which the winter thrushes adore, redwings and fieldfares love them.


brigette brigette 23 December 2010 11:37:47

Definitely one to try in our soil then.

whyte whyte 29 November 2011 11:27:18

HI Ciaran,

really interesting journal, where are you gone since 25 sept 2010?????

Gracedieu Lass Gracedieu Lass 29 November 2011 13:41:16

I spotted him last week in Cork. 


CIARANBURKE CIARANBURKE 29 November 2011 15:08:59

I am alive! I have not beenactive on garden.ie in a while, i did not realise it has been so long... must make amends.


Allotments and Gardens in Finland

12 August 2010 20:11:18

I have been in Finland the last couple of weeks. With my partner Hanna we have visited some lovely gardens and fabulous allotments. I have been writing about them on my blog on www.ciaranburke.ie. Here is the latest one about the gardens and allotments in the Apegren gardens in Pietesaari.


In a restored eighteenth century garden 63 degrees and 40 minutes north in Finland, aromas of strawberries and herbs mingle with scents of roses and sweet peas. Potato plants flower alongside day lilies, blue flax flowers, Linum perenne, flutter in the breeze beside cabbages, busy gardeners work while the visitors stroll and admire.

Once the garden was the home to Dean Gabriel Aspegren. He introduced the first apples and potatoes to west Finland in the eighteenth century. Now in the twenty first century the Aspegren garden is home to colourful allotments, collections of plants including 75 varieties of apple trees; old varieties from Finland, Russia and Scandinavia. There is also a collection of nordic potato varieties, 16 types sourced from the Scandanavian seed bank.

The garden has been restored, based on plans found on site and after early excavation revealed the original layout. The upper part of the garden holds collections of herbs, plants with practical uses, including culinary, medicinal and dyeing. Similar to the plants once grown there. There are also unusual varieties of vegetable plants including Finnish heirlooms. In the lower part of the garden allotments are rented to the public for the princely sum of €20 per annum.

As we strolled along a path being neatly edged, we met the head gardener Ari Vainionpää. He was working with spade and twine cutting a straight line into the overgrowing grass. Along with one part time gardener, some students that come for 6 week work placements and people who work on social schemes he enthusiastically maintains the gardens to a very high standard. Plants are clearly labelled, weeds are banished and every plant is healthy, all without the use of chemicals.

Ari explained to us that the allotment holders are free to grow whatever they like, and that is why there is so much colour in their part of the gardens. Finnish allotment gardeners like to grow flowers not only food. They view their spaces as small gardens, places to visit and enjoy, rather than purely utilitarian plots. “Finns have long dark winters, we love to see lots of colour”.  

Ari was keen to bring this Irishman to the potato plots and share with us some unusual varieties for us to try back at home. Potato ‘Karjalan Musta’ (Karelian Black) is a deep purple skinned variety from Karelia in the east of Finland, much of which was lost to Russia during the second world war. Potato ‘Lemin Punainen’ is a pink skinned Finnish variety while the curiously shaped asparagus potato, Potato ‘Parsaperuna’ ,which Ari thinks might be from south Sweden, has knobbly finger shaped tubers.

Throughout the allotments bees gathered pollen, butterflies drank nectar and hoverflies flew from flower to flower. Pink Echinacea purpurea, orange calendulas and golden rods of Solidago lined the paths leading to the coffee shop. There we enjoyed strong Finnish coffee and excellent bang on the ear or korvapuusti, its a Finnish cake!

The Aspegren Garden is open to the public and it is free to enter. Vegetables produced in their display gardens are sold to a vegetarian restaurant in Pietarsaari 

Cloncaw Cloncaw 12 August 2010 22:01:38

Must be interesting to meet gardeners from different countries and learn from their experiences and discover other types of veg and plants.

Gracedieu Lass Gracedieu Lass 12 August 2010 22:08:11

Great report, Ciaran. Sounds very interesting. Paddy

Drumanagh Drumanagh 12 August 2010 22:17:56

Fabulous photos on the blog Ciaran. Will have to put Finland on the list of destinations for garden visits, it looks stunning.

brigette brigette 13 August 2010 19:37:26

Checked it all out on your blog. Sounds great, brill photos, gave one a real sense of the place.

Respect Your Elders!

30 June 2010 19:47:01

It’s wild. Its everywhere. Its elder flower -Sambucus nigra. In the month of June its flat flower heads whiten hedgerows and fields around Ireland. Outside my office window I can see the branches bob and sway with the breeze. Seedlings all too often appear in the garden, in unwanted spots, in abundance. But I don’t mind, the elder flower is a handsome plant and it provides much pleasure, not only to look at, but for the taste buds too.

There are some really good garden varieties of the common elder. The dark leaved S. nigra ‘Black Beauty’ not only has dark seductive divided leaves but also bears beautiful pink flowers. Just like the wild one, it is vigorous and tough. If elders are pruned hard in the spring they re-grow with increased vigour and produce enlarged foliage, but flowers are absent. Dark leaved cultivars can be treated in this manner to produce excellent foliage plants. They provide interest to a herbaceous or mixed border. The finer leaved “S. nigra ‘Black Lace’ is excellent when treated this way. 

One of my favourite is the green cut leafed cultivar, S. nigra ‘Laciniata’. A beautiful textured plant with darker green foliage than the native species. The flowers are said to be bigger too, but I have been cutting our plants back each year. I moved one to a new position this Spring, this one I will leave to flower. Another with intriguing foliage is S. nigra ‘Pulverulenta’, the leaves are irregularly marbled with white. It produces flowers in the same way as the species.

The flowers will fade by mid-July and in the Autumn the dark purple berries hang in masses from the branches. Both the flowers and fruit can be made into a delicious cordial. The fruits can also be used for making wine and last year we used the fruits to make an autumn pudding, a recipe I got from an old book which also used sloes and blackberries.

Yesterday we cut some flower heads to make Elder Flower Cordial. if you have not tasted home made cordial, you are really missing out. Sweet and delicious, diluted with still or sparkling water. A squeeze of lemon juice adds an extra zing. 

Elder flower cordial is very easy to make. Here is how!


  • 5 or 6 Bunches of cut flowers, freshly opened flowers are best.
  • 0.5 Kg (1lb) of raw can sugar
  • 0.5 L water (just under 1 pint) of water
  • A lemon cut in four

A litre sized storage jar with a good seal is ideal.

  1. Wash the elder flowers in cold water.
  2. Place the flower heads in the jar with the cut lemon
  3. In a saucepan dissolve the sugar in the water and bring to the boil.
  4. Cool slightly and then pour over the elderflower and lemon in the jar. 
  5. Seal the jar and leave for three days.
  6. Sieve the cordial into a bottle and store in a cool dark place.

To enjoy the cordial dilute with water to taste. It is also great when added as a dash to apple juice.


For more pics of ornamental elderssee this entry on my blog at www.ciaranburke.ie 

Cloncaw Cloncaw 30 June 2010 19:54:46

Have Black Lace in my south bed and also planted in containers for my daughter's wedding love the leaves and in the bed leaves and flowers look great. From the hedgerows elderberry jelly or with crabapples great addition to the larder.

Periwinkle Periwinkle 30 June 2010 20:50:56

Oh thanks, Ciaran, have been wanting a recipe for elderflower cordial. Cloncaw, do you have a recipe for elderberry jelly you could pass on, please? Like you I have Black Lace and love it. Do either of you know if it can be grown from cuttings and does it come true to colour?

brigette brigette 02 July 2010 09:18:45

Really must try and get some cordial made. Our German neighbours used always make elderflower fritters. It was a yearly ritual. I also make a jelly from the berries which is really good. In the winter a teaspoon of the jelly dissolved in hot water makes a nice drink which is good for colds.

HippyChick HippyChick 03 July 2010 03:13:30

ditto what Periwinkle said - thx for sharing

Summer Sunday in the Garden

22 June 2010 12:16:35

It is is good for the soul. You can’t measure it, quantify it or fully explain it. Sitting outside having breakfast in the garden while the sun shines, the sky is blue and bumble bees buzz by, it feels good.

Here in the west of Ireland the weather  has been sunny and warm of late. Yesterday we spent the day in the garden, not just working but eating and relaxing too. 

While we were away at Bloom and then touring Irish gardens with the Finns, the weeds were busy reclaiming the garden. At first it looked impossible, we thought we would never get back on top of things. We started early and after a few hours pulling tearing and digging, some parts were looking like a garden again. Busy in the sunshine, we could soon see the soil between the onion rows, the flowers on shrubs could be admired and forgotten plants re-discovered. 

Hanna had cut the grass on Saturday which always makes a huge difference, she purposely mowed around a large clump of flowering red clover mingled with golden buttercups. After an afternoon meal, which featured a daily head of lettuce from the vegetable plot, we put a rug on the grass and took an afternoon nap beside the clover. Soaking in the sun, we were soothed into a short snooze by nature’s soundtrack of buzzing, chirping and breezing.

Recharged and refreshed we tackled another border, cracked a few snails, and watered the tunnel. By nine o’clock it was time to call it a day, we admired our progress and walked through the garden, taking stock of the tasks to be completed. We praised plants that had done well, survivors of the winter cold, lamented those that had not. We felt good, the satisfaction of toil, the warmth of summer sun and the goodness of garden time. A perfect Sunday.


more pics of our garden on my blog at www.ciaranburke.ie 

LindaB LindaB 22 June 2010 14:48:48

Sounds as if you have had a lovely few weeks, I was reading your Blog, would love a job like yours!!  You have some gorgeous photos in it too, thank you.

unagrant unagrant 22 June 2010 14:52:19

A lovely journal.  Had a look at your blog amazing pictures of gardens.  My kids did the project Nasturtium, well they planted sunflowers and all going well.

Cloncaw Cloncaw 22 June 2010 23:47:41

Lots of hard work done but fabulous working a relaxing in a garden just alive with wildlife.

Starting a garden tour today with 38 Finns

08 June 2010 08:20:44

We will be meeting 38 Finnish gardeners at Dublin Airport this afternoon. Then we will be heading straight to the Dillon Garden in Ranelagh. Over the next week we will be visiting some of the loveliest gardens in Ireland. Each day I will be posting updates, a diary if you like, of the gardens that we visit. I hope that the rain stops soon...

www.ciaranburke.ie  - go to blog and follow link



Lìga Lìga 08 June 2010 09:30:13

I wish you look and good weather,hope won't be raining all time!

Cloncaw Cloncaw 08 June 2010 20:05:44

Hope the weather picks up again although we need the rain that fell today look forward to reading about your tour.

fraoch fraoch 08 June 2010 20:38:01

Good luck! I think weather is to improve from Thursday on.

Jacinta D Jacinta D 08 June 2010 20:52:33

Brilliant. Looking forward to your journals, Ciaran.

fran m fran m 08 June 2010 20:56:09

Again, good luck


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