Living deep in the Irish countryside as I do, surrounded by a centuries-old patchwork of farm fields, hedgerows and leafy pockets of ancient native woodland, a clear winter night sky is a thing of profound beauty. It is filled with the otherworldly shimmer of a host of constellations, familiar to me from my childhood.
Orion’s Belt, with its three supergiant stars Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka, neatly aligned in a row, is easy to spot. So too is the Plough, its seven stars roughly forming the shape of a saucepan, and pointing the way towards the North Star, Polaris, situated just above the North Pole. Nearby is the W-shaped star-rich constellation that is Cassiopeia, and Castor and Pollux, the twin half-brothers of Greek mythology. And of course the moon, the earth’s natural satellite, neither a planet nor a star, but the brightest and largest of them all.
Sadly, for those living in cities or large towns, it’s increasingly rare to get the opportunity to enjoy this celestial spectacle in full, its beauty often dimmed to the point of near-invisibility by the light pollution that’s become so much a part of the 21st-century urban landscape. Putting the magic and majesty of a starry winter night sky aside, the myriad of complex ways in which artificial light pollution or ALAN (artificial light at night) also affects the natural world by disrupting the ebb and flow of its ecosystems, from the migratory patterns of birds to the life cycles of invertebrates, is only beginning to be properly understood.
According to one study, for example, it’s estimated that up to a third of all flying insects attracted to street lights will die as a result. That long list includes beetles, lacewings, aphids, crane-flies, bees, moths, butterflies,
Q: I have a winter flowering jasmine, growing profusely on a 3m-high north-facing wall. For most of its six years, it has produced an abundance of flowers, from early November until March. During the recent summer, I took a lot of its stems, which had bunched at about 2m, and gently stretched them out along a series of horizontal wires. This November I can only see a handful of flowers (less than 10). Did my gentle summer manipulation cause this drop in flowers and if so, how? CD, Co Dublin
In a world being reshaped by climate change, gardeners are increasingly asking themselves what can be done to counter the destructive effects of extreme weather events. The answer, as we’re discovering, is to take a nature-friendly approach that supports and nurtures resilience.
Flittering, twittering, and singing—birds bring so much life to a garden. Apart from their beauty and pleasant songs, they also add to the biodiversity of our landscapes by spreading seeds and eating insect pests. How can we encourage birds to not only visit our yards but to nest there? Here’s a hint: it goes beyond hanging up a bird feeder. You must provide sustenance and shelter for birds to truly thrive in your garden. Here are some tips to attract them and make them want to stay.
Little is more discouraging than discovering healthy and recently-planted spring borders and developing vegetable crops damaged or eaten by rabbits; it’s enough to bring the Elmer Fudd out in the mildest of gardeners. Annoyingly rabbits are most active feeders early in morning and at dusk, and so often hard to spot; they also seem attracted to newly-planted areas. But by employing a range of tactics it is possible to reduce problems.
In his classic book Mormon Country, author Wallace Stegner noted that nineteenth century Mormons planted rows of Lombardy poplar trees wherever they established settlements in the territory that is now Utah. The trees served as windbreaks and boundary markers, but they were also the flags that marked the advance of Mormon civilization in a hostile territory. In my hometown and lots of other towns all over the United States elm trees served a similar function, marking the spread of middle class residential neighborhoods during the end of the nineteenth and the first third of the twentieth centuries. In the 1960’s almost all of those tall elegant trees fell prey to Dutch Elm Disease, making each municipality a little poorer.
As the sun dips below the horizon, transforming the sky into a canvas of twinkling stars, your garden becomes a magical setting for an enchanting night picnic. The allure of dining al fresco takes on a new dimension when the moon casts its gentle glow on nature's stage. This celestial soiree explores the art of crafting an unforgettable night picnic under the stars, where the ordinary transforms into the extraordinary.
Lately, I have noticed that the mail-order garden supply catalogs are full of Asian-themed garden accessories such as pots, traditional bamboo fences, and stone lanterns. This seems to go along with the trend toward Asian-inspired minimalism in home décor. In California and the Pacific Northwest, traditional Asian and Asian-inspired gardens have been popular for years. Can a national vogue for Chinese and Japanese gardens be far behind?
The colors chosen in the planning of a garden are very much a matter of personal taste but there are particularly pleasing combinations.
The fall is the perfect time to plant garlic in your garden. Compared to spring-planted garlic, fall garlic produces larger bulbs, matures earlier, and often has fewer disease problems. Additionally, certain types of garlic, mainly hard-neck types like Rocambole, will not mature in time from spring planting.
The news has been awash with UK Environment Secretary Owen Paterson’s issues in relation to the badger cull. There has been fierce opposition to this issue. No one seems certain whether this strategy will help make a positive impact on the reduction of bovine tuberculosis in cattle. With fierce protests and ongoing issues yet to be resolved, it seems this is far from over.
As a kid, I remember the magic of seeing clouds of fireflies on a warm summer night. Nowadays, I get excited if I see one or two floating around our yard. Also called lightning bugs, these special little insects are an important indicator of environmental health. And they’re also good for our gardens. So, how does a gardener support them? What do lightning bugs eat? What’s the difference between lightning bugs and fireflies? What about glow-worms? (Are those even a thing?!) It’s easy to find confusing or conflicting information about these bioluminescent marvels online. In this article, I’m going to share some tips on what these special creatures need to survive, how we can help sustain them, and why we should make the effort.