By NEILL O'NEILL
THERE is a sustainable food concept gathering pace in Westport, and the passion of two likeminded women is instilling small pockets of change on the ecosystem of the town and the mindset of the local community. 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 likeminded people far and wide.
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 ELP 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!”
Already with several successful workshops hosted – such as apple tree grafting and pruning – the next step for the ELP is to explore the concept of a Forest Garden in Westport. Paula and Caithriona hope that this template, currently being worked on at Westport Quay, will sow the seed for many such planting systems at suitable and appropriate locations around Westport. The Mayo News will work with the Edible Landscape Project to promote this new initiative over the coming months, as part of the ‘Local Ireland’ newspaper grouping organisation’s Get Involved Community Project 2015.
Edible forest gardening is the art and science of putting plants together in woodland like patterns that forge mutually beneficial 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. Imagine a small forest where almost everything around you is food. Mature and maturing fruit and nut trees form an open canopy. If you look carefully, you can see fruits swelling on many branches while shrubs fill the gaps in the canopy, bearing berries and nuts of all sorts. Assorted native wildflowers, wild edibles, herbs, and perennial vegetables thickly cover the ground. That is a forest garden and that is what the Edible Landscape Project are now working on.
“You can grow plenty in Ireland and it is about making people aware of that,” said Paula.
“There are a lot of plants we can eat and the amount of labour and time and energy and effort that goes into a regular vegetable garden is often quite substantial. Using this system doesn’t require the same input of time.”
Caithriona added that it is about food security and sustainability.
“There are people who can live off a hectare of land using this system. We are experimenting to see which plants will adapt and thrive here in the west of Ireland, and we have a co-operative approach where several people will experiment and trial different perennial plants and share their results.
Using this concept you can also provide fuel for your home.” The duo continue: “At The edible Landscape’s Forest Gardening Workshop in early October we will be considering aspect, shelter in the form of hedges or fencing, soil management and the best types of plants to use for this site.
There is a lot to consider, but we have identified the site and are currently preparing the ground. “We are going to use apple trees that we have grafted from Westport House as well as plants that grow well with apples, such as strawberries, chives and fennel,” revealed Caithriona.
We will draw up a planting plan which Paula will design on a CAD system. It is not just about planting and moving on. You have to get the design right to ensure little or no maintenance is required on the site once we’ve finish planting.”
The Edible Landscape Project is community based and anyone who would like to attend the Forest Gardening Workshop can do so, although there will be a maximum number of ten to 12 participants. The ELP hope that in time the forest garden area will form its own ecosystem with a succession of planting and wildlife, and that this can then be replicated in much the same way around Westport.
“We are hopeful to get the forest garden up and going shortly, we will aim to incorporate, strawberries, raspberries, hazels, gooseberries, mint, apple trees and we are experimenting with nuts, we would love to do a walnut orchard somewhere,” said Caithriona.
“There are a lot of flowers you can eat too and leaves from trees, and bamboo, sweet potato, kiwis,sustainfennels, cold climate bananas. We are trying to expand the range but it requires some experimenting.”
ACCORDING to Paula the most obvious project they have undertaken is the row of apple trees planted along by the skate park on the way up to McConville Park, and the mix of fruit and nut trees planted at the back of the Elms.
They also worked on a planting project on the Greenway near Allergan, in conjunction with TY students from Westport’s schools. “We got funding to work with the schools on food security and sustainability, showing students what they can easily grow at home and in school,” explained Paula. “People come to our workshops and they learn and they love it. At these we plant, prune, and do various things. We had a willow weaving workshop.
We ran several grafting workshops using cuttings from Westport fruit trees which we will replant around town when they grow.” None of this would be possible with partnership adds Caithriona. “We have a great relationship with a lot of community groups, and TUS have been fantastic, their workers are on board for a lot of projects. Carrowbeg College of Further Education, [where Caithriona teaches in horticulture] have also forged a strong partnership with us, it is all about partnerships.”
Ann Moore and Simon Wall from Mayo County Council have been a fantastic help say the ELP and all of their planting so far has taken place on the Town Greenway.
A common background and passion for horticulture got Paula and Caithriona talking and spawned the Edible Landscape Project, and now, just a few short years later, the fruits of their voluntary labour are looming all around Westport.
For more information on the ELP and their workshops see: ediblelandscape.ie/index. php/projects/ or check out www.facebook.com/ theediblelandscapeproject