Fiann Ó Nualláin says greening our cities is not only cool it’s also cooling and regenerating.

I’M A big advocate of gardening for personal health. 

I have researched and practiced all the aspects of how gardening elevates mood, lowers blood pressure, tones muscles, strengthens cognition, eases stress and inflammatory markers and brings about a more grounded self.

But what’s the point if there’s no planet left to inhabit. We gardeners can’t deny climate change — it’s in the flowers full bloom two months too early for the bees, it’s in the overnight swimming pool at the end of the garden and the hailstones in June. 

The Mallow home and garden festival at the Cork Racecourse, Mallow, Co Cork
The Mallow home and garden festival at the Cork Racecourse, Mallow, Co Cork

Once upon a time, we all thought climate change meant warmer weather — really it just meant weirder weather. But we gardeners may be the answer and recruiting some new members may be part of the solution.

OK, your compost heap reduces waste and the petrol of those waste collection vehicles. 

Our organic choices will reduce plastic and packaging, fumes and pollution, toxic drift and ecological damage. But beyond the life choices, just having a garden means less water run-off, less heat island effect and so less flooding and less rises in temperatures.

Garnish Island, West Cork.
Garnish Island, West Cork.

Greening our cities is cool — it’s also cooling and regenerating. An urban pine forest will secrete volatile oils to form an aerosol layer which reflect heat back towards the sun and slow greenhouse effect. 

So if you live on a pinewood estate, how about a community garden with a pine woodland? If you live in oak view is there an oak to view?

We need more community gardens, and planting around your place name is a good start. 

Allotments are brilliant but mini parks and community gardens are beneficial to social cohesion (they belong to all not just the few keen gardening regulars) and in greening corners and sections of our towns and cities we bring nature to our doorsteps. Not just singing birds but fresher air.

A seal taking in some of the rare sunshine on the rocks near Garnish Island, Glengarriff.
A seal taking in some of the rare sunshine on the rocks near Garnish Island, Glengarriff.

We are making a difference with pollinators — planting plants that feed the bees and butterflies. 

We can make a difference to climate change too. We just need more plants in our front and back gardens, on our shed roofs, on the bus shelters, in train stations, in places we are.

Plants not only purify air and filter out pollutants and particles with a boon to our health but in the process mitigate some of the side effects of climate change. But it’s not just plants, it’s the soil we grow in.

In fact the health of our soil is vital to a carbon cycle that keeps the planet regulated. 

In the normal and grand scheme of things the carbon cycle is beautiful — take a single carbon atom held in a blade of grass, that blade is grazed by an animal — the carbon atom moves to the body of the animal.

Raindrops on Lilly Pond at Garnish Island
Raindrops on Lilly Pond at Garnish Island

In time the animal dies and as it decays it releases back that carbon atom which may just join with oxygen to form CO2 in our atmosphere. 

Then a nearby blade of grass may absorb that CO2 for photosynthesis and the cycle begins again. 

The problem is that fossil fuel is carbon extracted from the earth and added eventually to the atmosphere.

The Industrial Revolution, coal and steel and later on, a car for every GI, a light on in every room and so on — shifted the carbon balance and we are struggling to keep up. 

How many blades of grass are required? How many trees? Your garden is a start, even better — it’s a spear head.

Plants absorb carbon from the atmosphere — it’s a part of photosynthesis. 

Around 60% of the absorbed carbon dioxide (CO2) is converted into energy to fuel the plants growth and the remaining 40% or so goes to the plant’s roots, to feed those beneficial soil microbes which then sequester any remaining carbon.

Looking skyward from the Grecian Temple on Garnish Island which is celebrating its centenary this year in West Cork.
Looking skyward from the Grecian Temple on Garnish Island which is celebrating its centenary this year in West Cork.

That’s part of the carbon cycle too. The micro-organisms that bind and process our soil layers are part and parcel of keeping carbon intact in the soil and out of the atmosphere.

Chemical fertilizers, pesticides and over tilling destroy these micro-organisms and allow billions of tons of carbon to enter back into the atmosphere each year. 

That’s OK if we were not pumping trillions of tons of carbon into it via pollution, fossil fuels and war.

The agri-industry needs to look at how it manages carbon. But we gardeners can be a bit more no-dig (less disruption of organisms and the carbon sink of the garden) and try out garlic as a pesticide and pressed, fermented or blitzed nettle and comfrey leaves as a fertiliser.

At a recent talk I was giving on wellbeing in the garden, an audience member asked a two-point question: what’s good for tired feet and how do I stop my roses from getting yellow leaves. 

The answer was simple. Epsom salts. It has magnesium that soothes tired feet when added to a foot bath. 

Then after the soak use the basin contents as a foliar feed and soil drench for your roses — magnesium is key to the formation of green chlorophyll. Now not every solution is two birds with one stone but many are.

It’s back to granny throwing the sudsy dish water over the aphids — it wasn’t temper or an attempt at frugal watering, it was natural pest control — the suds simply seal up the breathing apparatus of aphids and suffocates them. No chemicals there in a plastic container shipped in from wherever for that job.

The compost heap takes carbon out of waste and puts it into the soil. Carbon in soil keeps plants in a healthy root zone. 

Carbon in soil feeds the microbes that maintain a healthy soil structure and formulation.

Healthy soil holds more water – so absorbs more from run-off and flooding. 

Healthy plants replenish oxygen and remove more carbon from the atmosphere. 

The dots join themselves. Creating healthy soil via active gardening and compost-making is a not a life style it’s a life necessity.

Check out Community Gardens Ireland at http://cgireland.org/ or the GIY community plan at http://www.giyinternational.org/pages/giy_community_garden_initiative


Lifestyle

Kim Sheehan is an opera singer from Crosshaven, Co Cork, and is this year’s recipient of the Jane Anne Rothwell Award from Cork Midsummer Festival.A Question of Taste: Cork opera singer, Kim Sheehan

Developed in Ireland by Dublin-based indie gaming house Dreamfeel, If Found follows university graduate Kasio as she returns to Achill, Co Mayo, from the big city.'If Found': a story of belonging from the Irish videogame scene

B-Side the Leeside: Cork's Greatest Records - Giordaí Ua Laoghaire tells Don O’Mahony about the offbeat outfit who created some of the most innovative music on the Irish scene in the 1990sB-Side the Leeside: Nine Wassies from Bainne - A quirky slice of creativity

More time indoors is a chance to consider how we buy for our homes without being slaves to fleeting trends, writes Carol O’CallaghanMore time at home offers a chance to consider how we buy for our interiors

More From The Irish Examiner