A 300-year-old Montreal Cyprus tree leaves you in awe as you start a trek around Ballintubbert House and Gardens.
Laois Public Participation Network (LPPN) resource worker Dan Bergin and the amenity's head gardener Jennifer Taggart organised an outdoor event called Wild Food Wander recently which was lead by wild food and foraging expert Mary Bulfin from Derrinlough Co Offaly.
Over 15 people of various ages attended the outdoor event which began with everyone sampling Ballintubbert House’s own organic apple juice fresh from its orchards before heading off into the 14 acres of undisturbed woodland on a two-hour adventure.
Ms Bulfin had a stack of cards containing information about each plant that she might stumble on explaining their variety of traditional uses. Asking for a volunteer to hold the cards and give her the correct one when she identified a species Clonad boy Aedan Conroy took to the task like a duck to water, later saying that he enjoyed helping and learned so much about wild plants and their uses.
Ms Bulfin showed the group how to identify a huge variety of wild plants including mushrooms, herbs, bushes and leafs and spoke about the wild foods and treasures that Ireland has to offer during the autumn months. She also spoke about their traditional medicinal and healing qualities as well as various other uses for everything that she came across.
As the group trekked along, led ably by head gardener Jennifer and her trusted second in command Brandy the dog Wild Food, Mary focused on foraging often disappearing into the undergrowth only to emerge with several other samples.
The discoveries of the day included leaves of lime trees, shaggy ink cap wild mushrooms, alexandria, bamboo, vetch, spindle, acorns, nettles, robin round the hedge, sticky backs, itchy backs, rosehip, wild onion, wild garlic, horsetail, dock leafs, walnuts, hazelnuts, hops, several types of wild berries, apple trees in the large orchards and quince fruit trees.
There were some surprises in store within the grounds of Ballintubbert House and Gardens along the way as not only did the group come across some standing stones hidden in the gem of a forestry area but they also stumbled upon a sculpture that Ms Taggart said was named The Green Man and had been sculpted by someone called Mad Willie at the first Electric Picnic festival in Stradbally back in 2004. The sculpture with faces on its sides is now home to several birds that nest inside it.
Following the event, everyone was treated to tea/coffee and a picnic which included sandwiches, cakes and a bottle of organic apple juice to take home. First built in 1725 Ballintubbert House and Gardens is a local venue for weddings, corporate events and short stays and is also available as a filming location.
At the end of the tour, Ms Taggars spoke about the preparations to make the amenity Ireland’s first-ever certified organic ornamental gardens in January 2022.
“We started a conversion plan in January 2020 to become Ireland’s first organically certified ornamental garden," she said.
"The gardens were very wild and woolly for years beforehand, since around 2015 and had no pest problems. The ecosystem has balanced itself so why mess with anything? We didn’t spray any pesticides at all and the gardens are going through a two year conversion period so in January 2020 we should be certified.
“We have 14 acres of arts and crafts style gardens styled with the landscape. Local craftspeople are involved and all staff is local. What a big deal it is we’re trying to promote Laois through Laois and that’s a big feather in its cap,” she said.
Dan Bergin spoke at the end of the successful outdoor event which adhered to all government health advice.
“We have over 600 socially inclusive groups and this event has been hugely popular. We look forward to hosting several other outdoor events throughout Covid-19 which will also follow guidelines and at the same time we will promote local attractions all around the county as we go,” he said.
For more information Laois Public Participation Network, Ballintubbert House and Gardens and Wild Food Mary can all be found on their respective websites and on their Facebook pages.