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Thurles
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17°C
real feel: 17°C
wind speed: 4 m/s WSW
sunrise: 5:32 am
sunset: 9:42 pm
 

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Blue Tits Become Next Door Neighbours In April 2018

Blue Cap; Blue Bonnet; Nun, and Tree babbler are just some of the names given to our native Irish Blue Tit.

Here in Thurles, Co. Tipperary, this year, two such Blue Tits, whom we affectionately came to know as Thomas Tit and Sharon Tit, moved in quite unexpectedly to a newly installed Tit box.

Blue tits are small, lightweight, short legged, acrobatic and highly intelligent birds, with a somewhat convivial nature, most often found hanging upside down from branches and bird feeders, in their endless search for insects and seeds.

Once the removers of foil milk bottle caps; from once door to door milk bottle deliveries; stealing the energy rich non-lactose cream; the sturdy beaks of these little birds are well suited to their diet of fruit, seeds and berries in the autumn and winter; while changing to mostly larvae, insects and spiders, found in abundance during spring and summer.

Sharon Tit remained in total command with regard to family matters, especially when it came to choosing not just a mate, but also a home/nest site. The breeding season for Tits usually starts in early to mid-April. In the weeks before egg laying, Sharon Tit increased her weight by 50%, aided by food collected and shared with the help of partner Thomas Tit.

Tits will usually build their nests in holes and crevices in trees, walls or in this case a nest box purchased from O’Driscoll’s Garden Centre, here in Thurles. But Tits have been known to nest in such places as rural ‘An Post’ letter boxes.

Sharon Tit formed a deep hollow in her chosen, soft hair nest materials, by simply wriggling and continuously twisting around and around, while continued to erect higher sides. The nest when complete saw Sharon Tit producing nearly her own weight in eggs, laying one egg each day for 12 days.

Her eggs took 14 to 16 days to hatch completely and both Sharon and Thomas, together, made up to 300 daily visits  to and from the nursery, during the first few days.  Together these visits rose to some 800 or more each day, prior to the youngsters leaving the nest.

As can be seen in the video above, Tits will collect caterpillars, feeding themselves only the smallest; while feeding the larger ones, containing the most energy, to their siblings. No need for pesticides here, as the dietary practises of Sharon and Thomas Tit made them extremely effective pest controllers in the gardens; feeding their babies as many as 15,000 flies, spiders and green caterpillars in the first three week as parents.

Three weeks on, with all children left the nursery, Sharon and Thomas Tit continued to support this family roaming freely for a further two weeks, but at five weeks old they were abandoned to fend for themselves, as is normal Tit family practise.

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Time To Get Back To The Garden

“Gardening is the art that uses flowers and plants as paint, and the soil and sky as canvas.” – Elizabeth Murray.

All of the early blooms, plants, bulb material, trees, bird boxes, rich colour etc., shown in the video hereunder, can be obtained locally here in Thurles, from Seamus O’Driscoll’s Garden Centre, Mill Road, Thurles, Tel: (0504) 21636, where you can acquire also, and at no cost, the benefit of a wealth of gardening knowledge, experience and sound advice, simply for the asking.

Time To Get Back To The Garden from George Willoughby on Vimeo.

After a longer than usual winter just past, which saw unprecedented raw weather conditions; Irish gardens and more importantly the perennial bulbs, plants and shrubs growing therein, managed to survive remarkably well. Perhaps the earlier varieties of Daffodil took a beating, certainly to quote the poet W. Wordsworth, they were “Fluttering and dancing in the breeze”. However, the later varieties showed little sign of having been mugged by the more recent freezing conditions which emanated from “Son of the Beast from the East”.

Still, that is all behind us now and it’s time to return to that great outdoors, latter being for most of us, our beloved gardens. For the past number of days here in Thurles Co.Tipperary the sun has embraced us with a smile. Gone are our thermal vests and our ‘Long John’s’, as nature again resumes her cycle, while also reviving once more, our human souls.

So turn over that clay; feel that mixture of organic matter and minerals crumble between your fingers, and watch as that friendly, cheeky “Roly Robin” gets closer acquainted, as worms are exposed from below the surface.

I believe it was the late, great actor / comedian Robin Williams who once said, “Spring is nature’s way of saying, Let’s party!”

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Davidia involucrata ‘Birr Gold’ – “The Handkerchief Tree”

Seamus O’Driscoll’s Garden Centre on the Mill Road, here in Thurles, Co. Tipperary, is as far as you need to travel over the next week or so, should you be on the lookout for something extremely rare and truly exotic.

By rare and exotic, I refer in particular to “The Handkerchief Tree” (Davidia involucrata ‘Birr Gold’) just one of the many rare trees, shrubs and plants located at this ‘Mecca’ of garden cultivation and management; all specimens which are strikingly unusual and delightfully strange, both in visual effect and in appearance.

Pictures Left to Right: (1) French Lazarist missionary Catholic priest, zoologist, botanist and naturalist, Fr. Armand David, (1826 to 1900); (2) Davidia involucrata (The Handkerchief tree); (3) Kew Garden’s trained gardener, botanist, plant collector / hunter & explorer Ernest Henry Wilson, (“Chinese” Wilson – 1876 to 1930).

The tree Davidia involucrata, was first named after French Lazarist missionary, Roman Catholic priest (Lazarist – A Catholic organization founded in 1625, at the priory of St Lazare in Paris, by St. Vincent de Paul, latter renowned for his compassion, humility and generosity to those found impoverished) and naturalist Fr. Armand David, who first described it, and who coincidently was also the first westerner to describe the Giant Panda Bear, native to south central China.

This deciduous Chinese native ‘Handkerchief Tree’  is also referred to as the ‘Dove Tree’; which can grow up to 20 metres in height (or 66 ft.) and is best acknowledged for its striking display of floral bracts in late spring. Its small, reddish purple flower heads surrounded by a pair of large, white bracts, same up to 30cms (1 ft) in length, said to resemble dangling handkerchiefs or doves perched on its branches. Foliage here is vivid green, heart shaped leaves with serrated edges and with fine points developed at each tip. Here also you will find that the very young leaves are strongly scented.

Henry Veitch (1840 – 1924)

The obituary of Henry Veitch, published in the Gardeners’ Chronicle on 12th July 1924 stated; “Sir Harry Veitch may be regarded as the most outstanding figure in contemporary horticulture, and during the last fifty years no one has exercised so great an influence on all things pertaining to gardening”.

It took some 35 years, following Fr. Armand David’s formal description given back in 1868, before the ‘Handkerchief Tree’ eventually arrived into Britain. While preserved specimens of Davidia involucrata had been sent to Kew Gardens, it was the eminent English horticulturist and nurseryman, Sir Henry Veitch, (Latter instrumental in establishing the now famous Chelsea Flower Show), who insisted on obtaining some seeds from which to propagate the tree.  In 1899 he commissioned a bright young prize-winning botanist, Ernest Wilson, to travel to China to locate the ‘Handkerchief Tree’. This proposed trip presented something of a challenge for the 22-year-old Wilson, who had had never travelled abroad previously and did not speak one solitary word of the Chinese language.

Nevertheless, following some six months stay at Veitch’s Coombe Woods Nursery, Wilson then travelled west towards China, staying for five days at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Massachusetts. Here he studied identified and established techniques involving the shipping of seeds and plants, without causing damage, before continuing to cross the United States by train; eventually sailing from San Francisco, to reach Hong Kong in June of 1899.

With difficulty, he eventually located a specimen of ‘Handkerchief Tree’ in Yichang city, in the western Hubei province of China. It was from this same first trip that Wilson would also introduce to Britain ‘Actinidia deliciosa’, or the Chinese gooseberry, better known today to supermarket shoppers as Kiwifruit.

Irish Botanist and Sinologist, Professor Dr. Augustine Henry (1857 to 1930).

Just a 53 minute drive, travelling north some 55.7 km via the N62, we reach the town of Birr in Co. Offaly. Here in the formal garden at Birr Castle, a “Handkerchief Tree” grew, before its death in 1980. This was propagated by Hillier’s Nursery in Ampfield, Hampshire and young plants were, I believe, planted at Birr Castle.

It is believed that the cultivar that resulted in ‘Birr Gold’ may have been a seedling from one of the original introduced here into Ireland. Certainly, Professor Dr. Augustine Henry; latter an Irish Botanist and Sinologist (Sinologist meaning person with knowledge pertaining to all things Chinese including language, literature, culture and history), further prompted the sending of Ernest Wilson to China with secret instructions to locate the ‘Handkerchief Tree’.

If you are around Thurles in the coming days, why not find your way to O’Driscoll’s Garden Centre, Mill Road, to view “up close and personal”, this rare and unusual tree, and marvel, while recognising the sheer beauty, complexity and equilibrium that is openly displayed to our world, courtesy of Mother Earth.

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A Love For Exotic Bloom?

The sun is “splitting the trees” here in Co. Tipperary today, with temperatures of some 17° at present, and rising.

On the Mill Road in Thurles town, over at O’Driscoll’s Garden Centre, [Tel: (0504) 21636] this welcome warmth has begun to waken the many exotic Daffodils, Narcissi and Tulips; latter all ready and potted to take away for your own personal delectation, or as the perfect gift for someone special.

All these exotic bulbs are guaranteed to bring immediate enchantment to your garden; both this year and for many years into the future.

O’Driscoll’s Garden Centre, Mill Road, Thurles, Co. Tipperary, are open today (Saturday) and from 2.00pm tomorrow afternoon, (Sunday).

Do drop in and say hello!

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Bring Early Spring Colour To Your Garden.

Japanese Pink Pussy Willow (Salix gracilistyla ‘Mt Aso’) [Salix = Willow, – gracilistyla = slender style, – Mt Aso (Aso-san) = largest active volcano in Japan and overall amongst the largest in the world.

The above ‘Mt Aso’ Willow shrub, with its changing pink, to purple, to red coloured catkins was first selected in Japan by a cut-flower developer.

In your garden, this shrub spreads to a maximum size 6ft x 6ft, with handsome bluish-grey leaves that are silky underneath. The twigs are covered with a greyish-tan fuzz and here in Ireland the catkins will begin to swell in late January; opening fully in February and March, depending of course, on the prevailing climate temperature.

The wonderful shrub will grow almost anywhere in full sun and in either sandy, average or moist soil, but will insists on being watered regularly, if residing in an area of low rainfall.

Little troubled by disease; the soft and silky catkins grow from 1 inch, expanding as they mature to around 2 inches in length. If coppiced (cut back annually) firmly; this truly ornamental shrub will maintain a steady annual supply of young stems, producing maximum flowering.  The cut stems can be brought indoors from late January onwards and placed in 3-4 inches of water until the flowers expand. Then remove the water and the dried stems will hold the pussy catkins, literally for months.

Currently, while stocks last, this rare and unusual shrub is available at O’Driscolls Garden Centre, Mill Road, Thurles, Co. Tipperary [Tel: (0504) 21636] and is categorised under our ‘Good Deals‘ section, retailing for the amazing price of just €8.50.

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