Farm Ireland

Thursday 15 November 2018

A woodland haven in Tipp with 40,000 plant species

Joe Barry

Joe Barry

It is medically proven that a walk among trees lowers blood pressure and reduces stress levels. This is just one of the reasons why I take every opportunity to visit gardens and arboretums, for apart from the pleasure of such walks, they help distract me from thinking about the proposed cuts to the agricultural budget and what this might mean for the future of farming and forestry.

Recently, I found myself in Dundrum, Co Tipperary, strolling through the wonderful Celtic Plantarum that was established 25 years ago by Peter Alley.

There are roughly 40,000 trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants in its eight acres with more than 2km of winding paths, two lakes and numerous reconstructed features representing Ireland's ancient past including a delightful crannog built on an island on one of the lakes.

Peter said the plantarum contains possibly the largest selection of hardy outdoor plants in Ireland and during the walk, one is met by a host of unusual, attractive and cleverly positioned plant species and built features.

Located on what was originally a wet area that contained some Norway Spruce, willow and alder, the entire woodland garden is now well established and is an education in good design, showing how virtually any section of land can be used to enhance the landscape and make leisure areas that require little maintenance.

It is well worth visiting just to see how one can turn neglected farmland or one's own woodland into a place for relaxation or a valuable tourist amenity.

Few of us have the resources to create anything on the scale of what is on view in Dundrum but we can all benefit from seeing how the different species interact, where to place them and how, once established, they require the minimum of care.

Peter is retiring from forestry after a lifetime working with trees that originally began with the Department of Lands.

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During his time there, he ran Dundrum sawmill and, on leaving, set up the nursery and garden centre, now a huge business catering for both the wholesale and retail trades.

One of the greenhouses and polytunnels I visited covers an entire hectare.

During his long and successful career, Peter founded the woodland management firm Forestry Services Ltd and later began hurley manufacturing with Sár Camán Teo.

He established a wood fuel business, Red Squirrel Logs, to add further value to ash thinnings and, with others, founded the Forewood business in order to improve on general timber handling, management and thinning of conifers. During this time, he also won an international environmental award for forestry management practices.

Last winter's severe frost caused damage to plants in the nursery running to hundreds of thousands of euro but, despite this, everything is again thriving with damaged material long since replaced.

Deer are also a problem and are carefully controlled, but Peter said he felt that the issue of our overpopulation of deer is not being addressed, and that they cause more harm to woodland than all the well-publicised diseases put together.

It is interesting to reflect on the recent media attention given to Sudden Oak Death and Phytophthora diseases in general compared with the relative silence regarding the urgent need to control deer.

Perhaps there is a fear of a negative reaction among the public to shooting Bambi and his cousins, but anyone trying to grow broadleaves or re-establish coniferous woodland will testify to the cost of deer damage and the havoc they are causing in private gardens close to wooded areas.

Another of Peter's concerns is the way in which the insurance industry has created a situation that makes it almost impossible for woodland owners to allow friends and neighbours entry to their woodland to harvest firewood. The existing requirements for individual insurance cover and the potential damages that woodland owners could be liable for has virtually eliminated entry for work in both private and Coillte woods in recent years.

I really enjoyed my visit and learned a lot from Peter's extensive knowledge of forestry, the individual needs of each species and how, with a bit of imagination, one can create a fine woodland garden.

On Sunday, starting at 1pm, there will be a special open day at Celtic Plantarum, where groups will be taken on guided walks and gardening expert Gerry Daly will be present to give advice along with other well-known personalities. The autumn colours will be at their best then and, remarkably, admission is free.

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