Celebrate the Irish

Friday, March 17th, 2017 by Jenny Watts
    • Plant potatoes! St. Patrick’s Day is a traditional day to plant potatoes, so the season is upon us now.
    • Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce and other cool season crops should be planted this month for delicious spring harvests.
    • Mouth-watering strawberries should be planted now for delicious berries this summer. Plant them in a sunny, well-drained bed.
    • Plant sweet peas for bouquets of delightful blooms.
    • Last call for bare root fruit trees. This is the most economical way to plant an orchard, so choose your trees now.

Celebrate the Irish

This St. Patrick’s Day, let’s celebrate the Irish by considering the botanical gifts that have come to us from the Irish.

The shamrock or clover has a special significance to the Irish. It is told that St. Patrick used this three-leafed plant to demonstrate the mystery of the Christian Trinity, and thereby converted the King of Ireland to Christianity. There are many different kinds of clover and several if them are grown for shamrocks, including white clover that is the most common one used.

The Irish potato is well-known to all of us. Actually, it didn’t originate in Ireland. It is native to the Andes region of South America and was first brought to Spain by the Spanish explorers. From there it was imported into Ireland in 1543, and came to North America by way of England in 1719. A staple food for many a family in Ireland, England and America, it has made its way into the American diet of meat and potatoes.

St. Patrick’s Day is the perfect time to plant potatoes in our area. You can choose from dozens of varieties now: Yukon Gold, Red La Soda, Yellow Finn, French Fingerling and German Butterball and just some of the many varieties ready to go into your garden.

The Irish yew, Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata’, is an Irish original. In about 1760, a wild yew was taken from the mountains and planted at Florence Court in Northern Ireland. As it grew, it took on an unusually upright form, and by the early 19th century, a nursery was taking cuttings and selling them. All Irish yews grown throughout the world are descended from this one ancient tree.

Hazelnut trees come to us from Ireland. Hazelnuts, or filberts, are a tasty and vitamin-rich nut. Modern cultivars now make larger nuts that are disease-resistant. ‘Jefferson’ produces a sweet, buttery nut, and it is pollenated by the variety ‘Eta’. Forked hazel twigs are still used by water diviners today to locate underground water sources.

The strawberry tree, Arbutus unedo, is native to Ireland. It grows wild in western Ireland where it shares the rocky lake shores with oaks and yews. Its red-brown, shredding bark is very attractive. Clusters of small, white, urn-shaped flowers produce round, red, ¾-inch fruit that resembles strawberries. The dwarf variety, ‘Compacta’, grows only 8–10 feet tall and makes a fine, small specimen tree.

Irish moss doesn’t come from Ireland at all, but rather from the drier climates of Europe. It is called Irish moss because of its rich green foliage, and it makes a good groundcover in sunny places with plenty of moisture.

So here’s to the Irish for sharing their plants as well as their good name.


Saturday, December 3rd, 2011 by Jenny Watts
    • Stop peach leaf curl by spraying now with copper sulfate to help prevent this disfiguring disease from attacking your trees next spring.
    • Choose living Christmas trees now. Most will be able to be kept in their containers and used for one or two more years as a Christmas tree.
    • Clean up rose bushes by removing spent flowers and raking up old leaves, but wait until February for heavy pruning.
    • Plant bright red amaryllis in pots now for Christmas gifts.
    • Rake and destroy leaves from fruit trees that were diseased this year.

Bewitching Hazels

Native to Great Britain, hazels have been cultivated for their nutritious nuts and useful branches for centuries. Hazel branches were once used for fences and wattle-and-daub walls, but are used today mostly for basketry as they send up many slender limbs remarkable for their brown bark and their great flexibility. 

In Britain, hazels have been coppiced for centuries. This woodland management technique involves cutting all the branches down to the stump every 7 years. Cut limbs are used for firewood, walking-sticks, fishing-rods and rustic furniture. The new growth is vigorous and coppicing actually extends the life of the tree.

The subject of many superstitions, hazel twigs were said to protect houses from lightning, and forked branches are commonly chosen in Europe as dowsing rods to locate ground water. Grown as hedges, hazels make excellent cover for birds and small wildlife.

Hazels are most commonly seen as shrubs and will grow 15 to 20 feet tall at maturity. Also known as filberts and hazelnuts, these large shrubs can produce delicious nuts. They are long-lived and begin bearing in about four years, but it takes about seven years for filberts to become fully productive.

Filberts like sun, average summer watering and deep well-drained soil. Don’t let them dry out during our long, hot summers. Allow the nuts to drop to the ground and then gather them up. You must have two different varieties for good pollination. Check with your nurseryman for varieties that will do well together.

There are also some very decorative ornamental hazels. The best known is the Contorted Hazel, or Henry Lauder’s Walking Stick. Twisted and spiraling stems give this variety the common name of corkscrew hazel. In winter it is a striking addition to the garden and should be planted alone where its unusual form can be enjoyed. It grows slowly and gains character as it ages, eventually reaching a height and spread of about 10 feet.

Similar in habit is the purple-leaved corkscrew hazel called ‘Red Majestic.’ In spring bright red foliage emerges along with large purple catkins. As summer approaches and temperatures rise, the red deepens to a dark burgundy until, by late-summer, the mature foliage turns a beautiful dark green. The large crinkled round leaves turn an outstanding red in the fall. The twisted dark brown bark and brown branches are extremely showy and add significant winter interest. Shrubs grow to about 7 feet tall and wide. Cut branches are excellent in floral arrangements.

Hazels look lovely with bulbs, like crocus and daffodils, planted underneath them. Good companion shrubs include Forsythia and Witch hazel, with their yellow spring flowers, and red-leaved Japanese barberry or bright green Viburnum ‘Spring Bouquet’.

Enjoy these useful and ornamental shrubs on your property.