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.