Plants grown outdoors here are better equipped to survive than cheap imports, writes Peter Dowdall.

WE ARE rich in this country in many ways and not least of all in terms of our biodiversity. We have a huge number of native flora and fauna and these need to be maintained and carefully managed to ensure not just their survival but to enable them to flourish.

However, as with all walks of life, we need to welcome foreigners and foreign species. This is what expands the gene pool and broadens biodiversity. Plant hunters of the past were responsible for introducing new species to these islands and thus the range of plants available to grow in our gardens has grown over the years. Indeed, even nowadays there are plant hunters travelling the globe, though for most now it’s more about conservation than commerce.

Some plants most associated with Ireland are actually introductions from abroad. The beech tree, so synonymous with the Irish countryside, and the lovely beech hedges which take on a beautiful seasonal russet colour each winter throughout the land, are not actually native. Crocosmia, the common orange montbretia, and the fuchsia which bring our hedgerows to life each summer and autumn are also species which originated from abroad. These species are referred to as naturalised as opposed to native.

This kind of international plant swapping and movement is important for many reasons. It helps to ensure continuation of species, where they may face disease and obliteration in one country they can survive in another. So too, it helps to increase biodiversity and develop larger ecosytems.

However, when purchasing garden plants for your own garden it is important to buy, where possible, plants that have been grown in Ireland. I’m not saying this for patriotic reasons, though they too are important. Buying Irish-grown plants makes sense as it supports jobs in Ireland and as many of the nurseries are family-run concerns in rural locations and supporting these businesses is clearly benefitting the social fabric of Ireland. However that’s not my main reason for promoting Irish grown garden plants, important and all as it is.

Plants which have been produced outdoors in Ireland will naturally tolerate our conditions and survive the cold, rain and wind. If they have spent all of their life growing locally then they will stand a much greater chance of success in your garden.

We live now in times of cheap imports where international transport is regular, cheap and easy. Many of the plants which you see available everywhere from garden centres to supermarkets and even petrol station forecourts may have travelled halfway across Europe. They may give the impression of being cheaper though they normally aren’t but that in itself can be a false economy.

Most of these imported plants will have been grown under glass and then will have spent two or three days in refrigerated trucks as they travel into Ireland and then they end up on a trolley or shelf, often indoors and under artificial lights. It’s surely no surprise then that if these plants which have spent most, if not all of their lives in artificial environments and are planted outside immediately when they get to their new home and they are faced with the rigours of the Irish climate and the likes of storm Ophelia that they quite simply turn up their roots and die.

Several of the good, larger Irish growers have developed individual brands to differentiate their ranges on the busy garden centre floors so you will be able to see which plants are locally grown. Perennial Performers developed by Young Nurseries in Kilfinane, Co Limerick, I Love Plants from Abbey Nurseries in Thurles, Co Tipperary and the Bella Bloom range from Tully Nurseries in Dublin are three Irish brands which have developed over the last number of years and you can be certain that plants bearing one of these labels will be of good quality and grown here in Ireland.

Bord Bia too have been doing their bit with through the GroMór campaign which has been encouraging people to get gardening and to source quality Irish grown plants and again you will see the GroMór branding on locally grown plants.

It’s great to see vibrant Irish nurseries developing in this way and taking on the foreign imports and producing plants of top standard and at comparable prices which will, without question be more successful in Irish gardens. I was speaking to Niamh Tully recently about her Bella Bloom range and she was telling me with much excitement about the development of their new website which will work hand in hand with the brand so that the gardener can log on to see information on how to grow particular plants, common problems and preferred growing conditions. I have no doubt the others won’t be too far behind.

Work for the week

Be sure to buy Irish plants

It’s a good time to plant shrubs and trees for your garden as the soil is still warm and the plants will establish well before the onset of the winter temperatures, with a chance to get used to their new home before the growth starts actively next spring.

Make sure that plants you are buying aren’t pot bound and hungry but equally make sure that they have developed a good quality root system. It can be a good thing to tap the rootball out of the plastic pot to see if the soil falls away from the roots or if it all comes out as one.

If the soil does fall away and the rootball doesn’t look secure this could be a sign of damage caused by the grubs of vine weevil and should certainly be left behind.


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