Posts tagged ‘the garden school’

December 2, 2012

Deck the halls with boughs of Holly – Christmas Wreath Workshop

by Ciaran Burke


Not just holly! Laurel, redwood, ferns, hawthorn, spruce, cotton lavender, ivy, heather, artichokes, alder, willow, spruce and many, many more.

Getting it just right....

Getting it just right….

Take a sprig of laurel, no ordinary laurel, Otto Luyken’s low growing one. Add a spray of a bronze  leaved conifer wearing its winter clothes, darkened from summer green, Microbiota decussata from Vladivostok. A spruce shoot or two from the felled trees from behind the house and a plump bunch of creamy green flower buds from the fragrant spring flowering Skimmia x confusa ‘Kew Green’. Tied with tender care and lovingly crafted into a Christmas wreath. Take a break, sip some hot glögi, a Finnish Christmas punch, have a nibble on a mince pie or Tunisian orange cake and back to work. Creativity filled the air, mingling with the warm chatter and yummy smell of home baked cakes. Just the way a Christmas Wreath workshop should be.

A finished wreath

A finished wreath

This was the first workshop to take place in our newly built classroom. Over the last two weeks my Dad and myself have been busy hammering and sawing. The wooden building had been installed, it was our job to insulate the structure, wire it for electricity and finish off the inside with tounged and grooved wood panelling. We had a deadline to meet. 1st of December and Hanna’s Christmas wreath workshop.  We finished on time, ahead of time, last Thursday we had our first class, the RHS Level 2 course took place there, and on Friday a Christmas tree was added, decorated with lights and Hanna’s advent wreath was placed on the table. We were ready.

Sequoia sempervirens 'Adpressa'

Sequoia sempervirens ‘Adpressa’

The workshop was about making Christmas wreaths, using plant material from the garden and hedgerow, there were also cakes and Christmas punch, glögi a Finnish spiced grape drink. Homemade mince pies started the day with tea and coffee, later there was cranberry and orange tart, Tunisian orange cake and Finnish style Christmas pastries filled with delicious prune jam. Our classroom was filled with happiness, a vibrant buzz and by the end of the day everybody had created a beautiful Christmas wreath to bring home with them. Thank you to all the wreath makers for making this a memorable 1st of December and bringing good cheer to our classroom.

Links to recipes for cakes and glögi

Cakes for the workshop

Cakes for the workshop


In the gallery below are photos from our christmas wreath workshop and also some photos of some of the plants that were used in the making of the wreaths.







November 17, 2012

National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin, November 17th 2012

by Ciaran Burke

A beautiful sunny day in the National Botanic Gardens. I was there with students today. Lots of nice autumnal colour, some flowers and fruits too.

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October 20, 2012


by Ciaran Burke

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Every month I visit the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, Dublin with a group of people on The Garden School home study course. This time there was lots of autumnal tints to admire, some berries and flowers too. I was saddened to see that the great specimen of copper beech had eventually succumbed to old age, instead of its towering majestic presence there were huge slices of wood lying on the ground. Even great trees such as this must pass, and when a big one like this goes, it makes space for others to grow…

October 11, 2012

The New Growth Project – The Seed is Growing…

by Ciaran Burke

The days can be long. The days can be lonely, boring, and hopeless. It is a different world when you are unemployed, time moves slower, shops are more expensive, the cloud has no silver edge.

One afternoon in January I had an idea. This happens sometimes, especially when I garden. Digging a vegetable bed, pulling some weeds or chopping brambles, it gives you time to think. Often a simple solution springs from the earth as you tug at a dock root, sometimes the ideas are fantasy, but this idea was good, it was something new, something I had to do. It would involve doing something for nothing, something for someone, something with our garden. It was only the start of an idea, but it was growing fast. I did not know how it would be when fully formed, I had to let it grow before I could tell my wife.

That was a Sunday. The following Friday I was driving to Castlebar when I got a call. I had just parked at a garden centre and I answered the phone, my wife Hanna had an idea! During her lunch, she had been watching Sinead O’ Shea’s documentary about Ireland, the collapse of the Irish economy and its social effects, depressing stuff. But it planted an idea in her mind, the same idea that sprung from the earth and into my head the previous Sunday, The New Growth Project.

The idea had not yet got its name but basically we had the same starting point. Why not give a course in our garden, a couple of days a week, for a small group of people who are unemployed. Teach them about gardening, how to grow food, propagate plants and care for a garden, simple.

When I got home we talked about our shared idea: how we would do it? Two days each week, use the garden as a classroom. Would we get funding? Maybe, maybe not, but we would do it anyway. We gave it a name, I envisaged a logo, Hanna gave it form. We printed posters, we stuck them in shops, we e-mailed newspapers, one of them responded. We talked about it to our friends, we got encouragement. The applications came in, too many, we could only take four people. Telling unlucky applicants the bad news was hard. Then on a wet Tuesday morning at the start of March we welcomed our first four participants on The New Growth Project. Every Tuesday and Wednesday for the next twelve weeks they learnt how to sow seeds, prick out seedlings, plant plants, prune plants, move plants, about plants to eat, plants to weed, plants to admire. We studied flower structures, examined leaves and dissected seeds. We talked, we solved problems of the world, we had many laughs.

“I will miss the course next week”, he said on the last day. 9 months unemployed, the hardest part was not the lack of money but the lack of worth, the nothingness that fills the day, but now he had his garden to do. Although he would miss the course, he had been lifted by the experience, had made new friends, he could see breaks in the clouds. Sunny days will come, we are starting small but we are going to grow. Our hopes for the future; to develop further training programmes, to provide employment through social initiatives, to grow as individuals and help people to learn skills that enhance their chances of finding work.

Gardening is a cure, my grandfather often said, “the answer is in the earth”. From the cold dark earth in Spring, new shoots emerge seeking light from the sky, warmth from the sun, and can grow into beautiful things. Sharing our garden, having people come to learn, has brought a great reward for us. A positive energy, an inspiration, a purpose for our place. Our one acre plot down a country lane is now not just our garden, it is The New Growth Project.

Yesterday we started our third course of The New Growth Project with six new participants. We recently received a grant of €1,500 from Mayo County Council through the Local Agenda 21, which will help us to continue running the project. The next plan is to build a shed which we can use as a classroom, to raise the money for it and source cheap, free or recycled materials.

Noel, one of the participants on our first course of The New Growth Project told us about his experiences on the course one sunny day in March, watch the video

See what a typical week on The New Growth Project course involves

More information about The New Growth Project

The documentary “Collapse of the Celtic Tiger” by Sinead O’Shea can be viewed on the Al Jazeera English Webpage LINK

July 13, 2012

Early morning in our garden in Co. Mayo – July 2012

by Ciaran Burke

Summer, oh where is the summer? This morning was a rare sunny start and I was up early to see the fog lifting its damp veil from around our plants. There is a saying in Ireland, “sun before seven is gone by eleven”. You really do have to get up early to get the best of the day. I was out with the camera at just after 6am, I had started working on a garden plan but the light was fabulous and there was not a breath of wind, to good a moment to miss… I hope you enjoy my photos of some of my favourite plants in the garden at the moment.

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