It was thrilling to get a letter from the planning board this week listing why the site in St. Anne’s Park – playing fields my son and brother-in-law so enjoyed as schoolboys – are being saved chiefly for their value as feeding grounds for the Brent Geese so often seen there. The protest there was so massive, so many like us made the journey to town with our objection and cash in hand. Well done to all who fought this good fight. Of course we need homes in Dublin; displacing our wildlife is not the answer though, here in the Dublin Biosphere nature needs a home too. Given that 17 “exclusive luxury” homes have just been completed on the hockey pitch despite the fight to keep it on the other end of the same road I don’t imagine the mooted development would have been a city treasure of affordable housing. Already the park has no space for further planting by local children so that is a good enough reason to save this land, why not some new native woodland ringing the playing fields? On that subject I enjoyed these ideas for the future of affordable housing in cities while respecting nature;
How we can design timeless cities for our collective future (Vishaan Chakrabarti | TED2018)
I thought it would be of interest to tell of a walk round the Arboretum in St. Anne’s Park, adjacent to this site, among the autumn trees.
What a treat treat it was to be one of the lucky group brought around the Millenium Arboretum in St. Anne’s Park by the immensely knowlegeable Mick Harford, Parks Manager, during Irish Heritage Week.
Mick began the tour by providing us with a glorious map – I am going to laminate it at school – newly put together in his office by a talented young worker – listing the different areas of the Arboretum. The map is laid out in 4-Are sections, (400m square). What joy! It contains an Irish Native Tree area, containing a great collection of trees much more mature than those on the Dublin Tree Trail. This corner will be a favourite of ours on visits with children researching what we will plant. Mick hopes over time to name the trees using GPS which will make identification very simple as physically labelling trees is a challenge. This idea would work so well for our project in Easyas12TREE/Plant-for-the-Planet as we expand the Dublin Tree Trails to new areas and plant our million trees.
Mick provided us with an explanation of the meaning of Botanical Names for trees which he illustrated using people’s names; “Farrell, Orla ; my family name is Farrell. This does not mean I look like all the other Farrells (true). After such a family name, such as perhaps a tree he pointed out in the North American section called, “Robinia” are listed some characteristics such as where the tree is from, e.g. “Pseudo-Acacia” – (like an Acacia). Such names mean that growing things can easily be identified internationally and they often include Latin and Greek elements. When new traits are detected, for example a weeping or variegated form, propagation can lead to the spreading of this new type.
The area now occupied by the Arboretum was once farmland. It contains over 2,000 different trees, most planted to celebrate the millenium of the foundation of the city of Dublin in 1988. Many members of the public sponsored a tree though specific trees were not allocated to a named donor. We viewed the Prunus Pissardii which has proved not to be a great street tree; it has quite a short lifespan. There is a move away from planting all of the same type of tree in one area, it helps to avoid a situation such as when disease hits a particular tree and it then results in all of them requiring removal such as happened with a case of the tree disease fireblight recently. If a group of trees have all come from the same nursery this can mean it is easier for illness can hit them all. Diseased and over aged trees often need removal for reasons such as public safety when they show signs of stress. In high winds limbs may be lopped off for example. People can become very attached to local trees; they may remember a particular tree blooming when a child is born for example (I remember being thrilled to spot cherry blossoms coming out on a tree at our new house on my daughter’s first birthday for example!) The council seeks not to upset those attached to particular trees while at the same time not allowing a tree disease get out of hand and having it spread. It was sobering to view some of the very few elms surviving in Ireland following the attack of the Dutch Elm Disease beetle in the 1980s; it will not be known whether a strain flagged as being resistant proves to be so when the trees mature. One way to spot a tree in trouble is when snail trails go up and down tree bark; this tells that there is a pocket with water within the tree and that there may be a potential problem. We came upon such a tree where the recent storm had sheared off a weakened branch. How wonderful to learn that a charity takes charge of the resulting logs to benefit the poor, take a bow Parks Department.
We enjoyed newly recognising a great variety of trees new and old; a red-flowered hawthorn, a variegated elder, (bad luck is associated with bringing the elder flower indoors according to a piseog of old), a prostrate yew. The dogwood. We learned interesting facts; Mick explained that the sticky red juice in yew berries is eaten by birds who then deposit yew seeds in pellets of fertilizer far from the parent tree, helping new trees grow. We observed the spongy bark of the Redwood Sequoia Sempervirens (“always flourishing, green”, the tallest species of tree; though its bark goes on fire the core of the tree is protected in forest fires. In Siberia hundreds of hectares are covered in Birch which is all the one tree. Funguses indeed can travel hundreds of kilometres. We spotted grey squirrels out looking for food but we have no red squirrels in the park. They had done a good job of clearing all but one of the hazelnuts under the coppiced Hazel tree, a procedure very useful for producing commercial timber. Mick answered a question about Ivy; it is the last plant to flower for the bees and its berries are first out for the birds so it is an excellent plant for encouraging biodiversity. We were astonished at the quantity of poplar saplings that had sprung up from the root of a felled poplar. We saw the lovely flowers of the Southern Hemisphere tree, a late source of food for the birds. Since birch trees spread their seeds using the wind they don’t need a showy flower. We got to taste delicious baby apples from an ornamental variety.
Mick spoke of the task he worked on of making the park the world-class amenity we are so happy to enjoy today. By raising the crowns of the trees on the Avenue, (pruning the low-down branches), visibility was increased so that those enjoying the park had more light and could see much further. There was a problem around a Horse Chestnut tree where eager children were stripping branches from the new saplings in order to hurl them at a high-up conker which Mick’s department most cleverly solved by leaving a pile of sticks from another source near the tree in question. The grass under the new trees was allowed grow long to discourage the saplings being trampled in error. By degrees many activities have been introduced to the park from the running events which were among the first organised public events to take place to the huge variety of activities now happening regularly. We all agree the park is an outstanding amenity which we are very lucky to enjoy and we are very grateful to Mick and his team who put it all together on a very tight budget for us to savour.