Community and student spirit sees Westport Forest Garden initiative take life

NEILL O’NEILL neilloneill@mayonews.ie

WHEN we last caught up with Paula Cannon and Caithriona McCarthy from Westport’s Edible Landscape Project, they were taking the fi rst tentative steps towards work on a Forest Garden Project, and on October 16, in glorious conditions, the plan went into action at Westport Quay and the fi rst steps were taken on the initiative. Joined by a dozen volunteers from the local community and students from the horticulture course at Westport College of Further Education, three apple trees were planted on ground the two women had prepared adjacent to the Quay Community Garden, and the Edible Forest Garden was taking hold. The trees planted were ones that were grafted from trees at Westport House, the convent site on Altamont Street and the old Bank of Ireland garden, and were fi rst dug up by the group, before being re-planted at the Forest Garden site.

DONE The fi rst tree at the new Forest Garden is successfully planted.
DONE The fi rst tree at the new Forest Garden is successfully planted.

But this was much more than just planting a tree, there was a classroom presentation beforehand where Paula outlined her CAD drawings of the site, and Caithriona – a lecture in horticulture explained the steps that would be taken and the importance of each – information that those present would be able to use to aid them in their own gardens. There was questions and answers, suggestion and realisations, and then it was time to roll up their sleeves and don the wellies for the practical aspect of the workshop.

TOIL Pat Kearns gets stuck in with his trusty spade as an apple tree is dug out in order to be replanted at the Forest Garden site.
TOIL Pat Kearns gets stuck in with his trusty spade as an apple
tree is dug out in order to be replanted at the Forest Garden site.

SO WHAT EXACTLY IS AN EDIBLE LANDSCAPE?

“IT is a system designed around the inter-relationship which exists between trees, shrubs and perennial plants, all planted in such a way as to mimic a natural, temperate woodland,” according to the two women. “Ultimately this results in the formation of a very sustainable and stable ecosystem and the Edible Landscape Project is about food security and sustainability, planting, not using chemicals and not wasting water. Whatever we do is locally based and sourced… and we also have fun,” they explained previously.

Already with several successful workshops hosted and with work now underway on the Forest Garden, Paula and Caithriona hope that the template currently being worked on at Westport Quay will sow the seed for many such planting systems at suitable and appropriate locations around Westport. Edible forest gardening is the art and science of putting plants together in woodland like patterns that forge mutually benefi cial relationships, creating a garden ecosystem. You can grow fruits, nuts, vegetables, herbs, mushrooms, other useful plants, and attract animals in a way that mimics natural ecosystems.

TEAMWORK The group are pictured hard at work on the Forest Garden site.
TEAMWORK The group are pictured hard at work on the Forest Garden site.

Crucially, there is very little maintenance required and a successful Forest Garden Landscape should grow and regulate itself. Plenty of plants have been trialled at the site and there is also ongoing discussions about installing a bee hive and an edible hedge, while there is an abundance of other natural growth, insects and animals that will benefi t from the Forest Garden. TÚS workers will build a bank to offer more shelter and the students will work on a hedge, at the site which has been transformed from rubble.

FERTILISER Cutting up Comfrey plant to be used as fertiliser when the trees were planted
FERTILISER Cutting up Comfrey plant to be used as fertiliser when the trees were planted

The intricacies of planting were explained by Paula and Caithriona at the workshop, with factors such as the direction of the wind, depth of the hole and amount of Comfrey leaves, cut up on site by the group, that should be used as fertiliser, all explained by the duo, whose passion for the Edible Landscape Project runs deep. MORE The Edible Landscape Project (ELP) is the brainchild of Caithriona McCarthy who got the project off the ground in 2012, and she was soon joined by Paula Halpin. Both women have a passion for sustainable horticulture and their initiative continues to capture the attention of like-minded people far and wide.

DELICATE Caithriona explains the art of grafting plants and trees.
DELICATE Caithriona explains the art of grafting plants and trees.