Photo: Rainbow’s End Garden by 12 year old Alicia Kavanagh at Ireland’s Bloom Garden Festival, 2018

A Reflection of the Grief Process through the Eyes of a Child.

A Community Garden for Meath Springboard Family Support Services by 12 year old Alicia Kavanagh (Navan, County Meath). Alicia’s garden represents the grieving process for children participating in bereavement counselling. Alicia’s garden also highlights how children and adults grieve differently.


Alicia Kavanagh, Photo: Caroline Quinn for the Irish Independent

Garden Description by Alicia Kavanagh

“My hope for my garden is that its message will hep people. It’s about how children and grown ups see emotions differently. I’ve picked grief as a situation when people feel all sorts of emotions. I’ve used the planting in my garden to show you those emotions in colour, just life a rainbow”.

“My colour palette was chosen from the results of two surveys, one with adults, the other with children.  All were given the colours of the rainbow and the adults were given black, white and brown too. The results were very interesting and really showed that children and adults deal with emotions very differently. For instance, ‘shock’. For adults shock was white and for the kids it was pink and orange”.


Photo: Alicia Kavanagh, Rainbow’s End Facebook Page

“You will find the adult colours around the outer edge of the garden. The children are on the inside. The tall (adult) plants protect the smaller (children) ones. If the adult plants are not tended they will wilt and topple over on top of the small ones. Adults protect children, but the children still need to be able to feel freedom and to express themselves. Stand-by and provide support but you have to let the air in”.

“Plants chosen depended on the colour scheme of the stages of grief, with the red-hued bleeding heart plant representing grief, and herbs traditionally used as cures for anxiety disorders, being used to symbolise depression”. (Claire O’Mahony, Irish Independent,  May 27, 2018)


The Treeline Project

July 17, 2017

mud island

Photo: Mud Island Community Garden, Dublin

The Treeline Project aims to create a green corridor on Dublin’s James Joyce Street by planting a variety of trees chosen from Ulysses.”

plant printmaking .jpg

Photo: Printmaking with Flowers, The MONTO Picnic, Dublin with artist Naomi Draper

Through tree schools, music, picnics, art, spoken word, theatre and dance organisers encourage the activation of green public space in Dublin’s city centre.

tree school flag.jpg

Photo: Farmers’ Hill, North East Community Garden, Dublin

The project celebrates Dublin as a potential Playful City where outdoor spaces bring generations together through imaginative design, conversation, gardening and special events.

 hardwicke community garden

Photo: Jason Sheridan at Hardwicke Community Garden Dublin

A Tree School Manifesto from the Treeline Project

Written and Activated by Artists Seoidín O’Sullivan and Katie Holten

Tree School is a free school.

Tree School is a school without walls.

Tree School has no homework, only love work.

Tree School invites visitors of all sizes, no one’s too young or too old.

Tree School has no leaders, we are all students.

Tree School encourages radical action and radical inaction.

Tree hugging is encouraged, but is not mandatory.

Tree School keeps the same hours as trees: We’re always open.

Tree School is rooted in James Joyce Street in Dublin’s inner city.

Tree School explores all that is political and poetical about trees.

Tree School is creating a new ABC….written with a Dublin-specific Tree Alphabet.

Who doesn’t want to write a love letter with trees?

Tree School offers grafting workshops because the world needs more trees and we can plant them.

Tree School disputes the myths of scarcity. Nature is abundant if we could access land, plant a seed, grow a tree.

Tree School grafts ideas, unearthing the rhizomatic potentialities of trees.

Tree School wants every child to have access to a tree to climb and pick fruit from.

Tree School curriculum is germinating…

Blackrock Community Garden

October 25, 2015


Gardens are hubs that connect people…the landscape itself can be an ongoing art piece, which when managed by creative people, can serve as a kind of lab or platform where ongoing experiments with biomaterials can be carried out and the public engaged in wider aesthetic discussion as well as encouraged to participate in the site’s ongoing stewardship….The idea that people can just follow their creative impulses I think is very important, because that is what human society is based on: people’s ability to fulfil creative and compassionate impulses… (Oliver Kellhammer in conversation with Sharon Kallis, Common Threads: Weaving Community Through Collaborative Eco-Art)

Blackrock Community Garden is located in County Louth, Ireland. It is composed as a layering of horticultural crops (vegetables, orchard fruits, and herbs), combined with an edible field hedge (hazel nuts, rose hips, hawthorn berries, blackthorn berries and crabapples), and cottage garden floral displays (hollyhocks, roses, sweet peas, geraniums, foxgloves, etc.). The garden enhances both the ecology of the community while also supplying fruits, nuts, and herbs that can be harvested by local residents. Additionally it acts as a refuge, a place apart from the built up environment, a chance to be surrounded by the vitality of nature. The close proximity of the garden to residential areas, a playground, schools, and an outdoor gym means that it is situated within the heart of community life. Since its inception four years ago, residents of all ages have developed an affectionate embrace of the garden, cultivated from neglected land.


A dedicated group of volunteers maintain the garden, always inviting newcomers and families to join them as they continue to develop new features, garden spaces and seasonal activities. Irish customs and folklore associated with particular times of year are celebrated through the course of garden processions, nature crafts, land art, and rituals that involve residents of all ages. Local schools have developed groups of guerrilla gardeners that have initiated new garden areas incorporating herb, flower and woodland themes. Public education workshops are also available on a range of topics from composting and vegetable gardening to tree planting and mulching with natural materials.


Perhaps the most essential aspect of the garden is its therapeutic nature. A garden that is always there when you need it (close at hand and freely available) relevant to the needs of local people. New residents find friends through garden volunteering and seasonal celebrations. Social contacts are generated amongst the generations as senior citizens mentor adults and children in a range of gardening skills. Families visit with autistic children, toddlers roam to find mint and willow huts, and school children use the outdoor classroom space for art and nature study. Horticultural skills and creativity are shared with generosity, as part of the garden’s cultivation of grassroots social networks. There is overall a sense of enthusiasm and a belief that shared resources are the foundation of community living.


As well as places for ecological environments, biodiversity community gardens are spaces for social gatherings. Biodiversity is a relationship between different kinds of life. Communities are composed of relationships between people of all kinds, reflecting the meaning of biodiversity as a collective life force.


Decorations reflect individuality, and can be used to symbolically reflect special times of the year, community events. or public planting events. Decorations provide colour, evoke imagination, and provide a creative opportunity for people of all ages to make their mark within the common grounds of everyday life.

Community gardens are studios for collective expression. They accompany children and adults throughout the seasons, as an interactive space for creativity.

They are spaces for artworks developed from growing art materials. Branches, leaves, stems, seed heads, and flowers can all be used for art making. Experimenting with these materials can develop tactile artworks that eventually decay within their outdoor locations.

Decorations can also be produced with wool, bunting, fabric, painted stones, knitted garlands, children’s toys, flags, ribbons, etc. They particularly highlight the Celtic seasons, with their rich symbolic content.


For example, the tradition of the May Bush for Bealtaine, is a rich symbolic element  that embraces the agricultural history of Ireland. Decorating hawthorn or rowan branches, as well as Irish trees and bushes with egg shells, ribbons, pieces of fabric, etc. for the month of May, is a reflection of the importance of the growing season for Irish farmers. The May Bush is a symbol of protection, fertility and abundance. It is placed in front of the home, along with hawthorn and rowan branches distributed across doorways and windows.


Decorations bring spontaneity to the activities of daily living. They appear unexpectedly, and enhance the magic of gardens and life itself.


The photos were taken within the Biodiversity Children’s Garden at Blackrock Playground. 

The following poem was written by Fourth Class students attending Scoil Mhuire na Trocaire, Ardee.

My Wonderful Garden

Alone in my garden watching the wonders around me.

I see the birds flying, the squirrels running and climbing.

I smell the grass, fresh air and flowers.

I hear the birds, the wind surrounding me and the laughing of children next door.

I feel the grass at my feet, the wind blowing at my neck.

The nature in my garden is my own personal wonder!

Two primary schools in County Louth, St. Peter’s National School (Dromiskin) and Scoil Mhuire na Trocaire National School (Ardee) have celebrated the traditional Irish festival of Bealtaine during the course of planting flowers for biodiversity. The tradition of decorating a May Bough (a branch of Rowan or Hawthorn), to bring luck to new gardens growing in Spring, has been re-enacted by students from both schools.

To mark the occasion students of St. Peter’s National School planted bee and butterfly friendly flowers in their intergenerational garden and outdoor classroom. They also lighted a flying lantern to symbolise the Bealtaine Fire. This lantern was lit during lunch time, and the students hoped it would travel to Newfoundland, Canada where descendants of Irish immigrants still decorate May Branches to protect new crops and celebrate the warmth and sunlight of the growing season.

In Ireland the month of May has long been celebrated to mark the start of new growth,  longer days, warmth, and the return of new leaves and flowers. It is also signifies the mid-way point between the Spring Equinox in March and the Summer Solstice in June. The time of Bealtaine inspires acts of caring for nature.


Students of Scoil Mhuire na Trocaire National School planted traditional cottage garden flowers at the Moorehall Retirement Village (Ardee, County Louth) to mark Ireland’s Bealtaine Festival, which “celebrates creativity as we age”. The Bealtaine Festival co-ordinated by Age and Opportunity is a national celebration of creativity which takes place during the month of May. Fourth Class students are also decorating rocks to place in the new garden, with words describing biodiversity themes, and also words which together create a feeling of sanctuary and peace.

In her book, Trees of Inspiration, Christine Zucchelli has written about many traditions in Ireland, which mark the veneration of trees. Particular trees have many symbolic associations to pilgrimage and recovery. Often specific trees were closely situated near holy wells, offering cures, sanctuary and the possibility of overcoming personal challenges. Adorning these trees are pieces of fabric, or small personal tokens of appreciation, left behind to acknowledge the tree’s potential to transform maladies into well being. Leaving something of one’s self behind also honours the spirit of the place, a space in nature set aside from everyday life. A small personal offering in exchange for good health and good luck, represents how a tree may take on the afflictions of both body and mind. Certain trees were considered mediums of transformation, with their ability to absorb all kinds of troubles and offering in their place, a certain level of contentment and health. Ireland’s cultural history has a link to the reverence of trees, which offer refuge and renewal.



Gardens are Nature Reserves

While there is a dedicated effort to feed and supply habitats for birds, there are less gardens feeding the needs of bees and butterflies. Traditional flower gardens filled with a variety of flowers, blooming between March to September, are havens for bees and butterflies. However flowering plants need to be ‘joined up’ routes and corridors where bees and butterflies can roam freely. These corridors can encompass domestic and community gardens, hedgerows, fields and wild habitats. The combination of cottage garden flowers, annuals and wildflowers work to create a nectar trail across a variety of landscapes. Drifts of flowers planted close together in a sunny location will attract bees and butterflies. A garden should be a naturescape, or habitat for beneficial insects.

The loss of flowering biodiversity habitats (i.e. wildflowers, flowering native hedgerows, and  domestic gardens filled with a variety of flowers) is the cause of the decline of many bee and butterfly species. Changes in farming have deleted the contributions of hedegrows and wildflowers, which traditionally framed agricultural crops. The move away from hay to silage has also had negative impacts. Pesticides and pollution also contribute to the decline of bees and butterflies.

Gardening for Bees: Bee Friendly Gardens

In Ireland there are 101 species of bees including bumblebees, honeybees, and solitary bees which do not form colonies. There are currently 6 species of bees that are endangered in Ireland, a further 16 species are vulnerable and an additional 13 species are threatened. More than half of Ireland’s bees have been in decline since 1980, and 3 species of bees have become extinct.

Bees require early flowering trees, herbs and plants beginning in March, and then a continuous supply of flowers blooming until September. Bees have different tongue lengths, so varying different kinds of flower heads is important to attract a variety of bees (e.g. foxgloves, daisies, borage, thyme, etc.)

Bees are essential for the pollination of crops, fruits and native plants. The services of bees are of significant economic and ecological importance. An Taisce estimates that the value of this service to the Irish economy is 53 million Euros annually.

Solitary bee species make their homes in holes within sandy or clay soils, while other species of solitary bees prefer to nest in dead wood, south facing stone walls or in hollow twigs or reeds. Bumblebees and honey bees live in colonies.

“The root cause of most wild-bee declines is thought to be the drastic loss of flower-rich grasslands and other habitats which healthy bee populations depend on. They are all suffering from catastrophic habitat loss, which can be at least compensated for within household gardens. Gardens now provide a stronghold for bumblebees in an otherwise impoverished agricultural environment: furthermore, data suggests that the positive influences of gardens on bumblebee populations can spill over at least 1km into surrounding farmland. All gardeners should be encouraged to think of their plots as an ecosystem with plants and insects at their core. It is critical that wildlife gardening becomes just good gardening practice. Gardens generally don’t suffer from pesticide use, chemical run-off and soil imbalances. They can mimic natural habitats, offering multiple sources of pollen and nectar, food plants, water and shelter” (The Financial Times, February, 2011).

Gardening for Butterflies:  Blossoming Nectar Habitats

Approximately 18% of butterfly species in Ireland are threatened. Butterflies are also pollinating insects, but do not transport the same volume of pollen as bees. However, they are able to move pollen over larger distances than bees.

Butterflies are attracted to clusters of short tubular flowers (e.g. lilac, buddleia, verbena bonariensis, valerian).

A sunny flower garden near a hedge will supply shelter from wind, retain moist ground for butterflies to drink from, and offer food for caterpillars (who are not seeking flowers, but often leaves). Caterpillars require wild grasses and common ‘weeds’ (i.e. thistles nettles, plantain, dandelion, docks) as their food source. Other caterpillars use the leaves from willow, blackthorn, hawthorn, alder, birch and oak as their food sources. During the winter months do not clean up your garden by cutting back overgrowth, as you might will disturb the habitat of caterpillars and their pupae. Dense vegetation, log piles and sheds are also places where butterflies might hibernate.

Annual bedding plants do not offer nectar supplies for bees and butterflies, therefore they do not attract these insects. Bedding plants are temporary garden decorations that are disposed of once their blooming period is past. Double flowers do not produce nectar (e.g. double begonias, double petunias, double flowered carnations, double flowered peonies), and do not have any appeal for bees and butterflies.

Flowering periods can be prolonged by deadheading flowers, mulching and watering flowers regularly, preferably with a liquid feed made from nettles, or seaweed and water. Healthy plants will produce more nectar for butterflies.

Beneficial Plants and Flowers for Bees and Butterflies

Heathers, Scabious, Knapweed, Honeysuckle, Clovers, Bird-Foot Trefoil, Lavender, Bluebells, Buddleia, Rudbeckia,Valerian, Borage, Lilac, Foxgloves, Fruit Tree Blossoms, Viburnum, Yarrow, Aster, Cornflower, Hollyhock, Mint, Thyme, Sage, Oregano, Rosemary, Fennel, Chives, Primrose, Viper’s Bugloss, Nepeta (Catmint), Columbine, Lavender, Purple Loosestrife, Goldenrod, Lupin, Sea Holly, Phlox, Cornflower, Sedum, Bergamot, Azalea, Echinacea, Verbascum (Mullein), Geranium (Cranesbill), Teasel, Red Campion, Ox-eye Daisy, Cowslip, Bluebell, Sweet William, Californian Lilac (Ceanothus), Broom, Bugle, Flowering Currant, Poppy, Comfrey, Cardoon, Hyssop, Delphinium, Rock Rose, Salvia, Michaelmas Daisy, Ivy, Chrysanthemum, Wallflowers, Forget-me-Nots, Bergenia, Cosmos, Flowering Brassicas (i.e. Kale and Broccoli).

“Gardens make up a huge amount of our land mass and they provide food and shelter for a huge number of birds, butterflies, and other important wildlife. Growing native trees, shrubs, and flowers or planting old-fashioned traditional garden plants from herbs to scented flowers provide more food and shelter than the newer hybrid and exotic breeds. Everyone could play a part by planting native and traditional plants and using less insecticide and other garden chemicals in their gardens and public spaces”  (The Heritage Council of Ireland)

St. Peter’s National School (Dromiskin, County Louth)  is making a home for bees and butterflies in the garden surrounding their outdoor classroom. This garden is a laboratory for students to learn about biodiversity. It is a habitat for bees and butterflies, as the nectar from cottage garden flowers, flowering shrubs and wildflowers feed these vital pollinating insects.

The garden was planted by the students of St. Peter’s National School to celebrate the European Year of Active Ageing and Solidarity Between Generations 2012. This garden celebrates traditional flowers; it is a living history portraying the colourful variety of flowers typically enjoyed in the past. St. Peter’s National School and Dromiskin Tidy Towns are encouraging everyone in Dromiskin to make bees
and butterflies feel at home by planting flowers in their gardens. By welcoming bees and butterflies into our gardens, we are not only propagating our heritage, but also planting for our future.

Biodiversity gardens in schools contribute to emotional fulfillment, inspiration, environmental activism, solace, creativity, language, psychological and spiritual well-being (ENFO Ireland).

Children’s relationship with nature also enhances their concentration, conceptual understandings of the world and develops their communication skills through teamwork.

The Hedge School, Bee and Butterfly Garden Plant List:

Ceanothus (California Lilac), Tree Mallow, Valerian, Forsythia, Achillea (Yarrow), Tree Lupin, Viburnum, Broom, Verbena bonariensis, Spirea, Rudbeckia, Buddleia, Scabious, Sedum, Elecampane, Hollyhocks, Foxgloves, Lilacs, Nepeta (Cat Mint), Apple and Plum Trees, Asters, Chrysanthemums, Verbascum, Teasel, Rock Rose, Monkshood Flower, Purple Leaved Geraniums, Teasel, Salvia, Nasturtium,s, and Sweet Peas.

Growing Through the Ages is a project supported by The Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Louth County Council, Environment Section.  The purpose of the project is to celebrate The European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity Between the Generations.

St. Peter’s National School, Dromiskin, County Louth has been chosen to participate in the promotion of this year. The school has begun an intergenerational garden planted by former students of the original school (now senior citizens) and current third class students. The garden will be planted with traditional flowers such as peonies, lupins, delphiniums, heathers, irises, forget-me-nots, sweet williams, wallflowers, cornflowers and wildflowers.

Pupils past and present also participated in a living history project at the school to discuss changes in childhood and school life, comparing the past to the present. The design of the garden was drawn from ideas contributed by the principal, Pat Mulligan, school children, and local community gardeners.

The chosen design is symbolic of two strands of history meeting in a common circle of community. Public community gardens are located within the thoroughfares of everyday village life, and are part of the community’s landscape. They breed a sense of collective responsibility and ownership, with the added benefit of being nurtured by many hands.

School gardens can be a source of natural art materials to facilitate the development of classroom learning.

The educational benefits of working with nature develop children’s problem solving skills, and enhance their adaptability, confidence, and intellectual stimulation (Carol Duffy, Childhood Specialist, Ireland). Bringing the school garden indoors can develop environments that bring children in contact with their natural world. Recent research proposes that exposure to the outdoors reduces anxiety and enhances learning (Dr. Dorothy Matthews, American Society for Microbiology).

“By bolstering children’s attention resources, green spaces may enable children to think more clearly and cope more effectively with life stress.” Engagement with natural settings has been linked to a child’s ability to focus, and enhances cognitive abilities. Nearby nature is a buffer for anxiety and adversity in children (Dr. Nancy Wells, Cornell University, New York).

Encouraging children’s sense of wonder with nature, influences positively on their capacity to learn in all subject areas. It is vital for classrooms to include nature, as a means of stimulating learning (Richard Louv, Author).

The photos were taken at St. Colman’s Abbey Education Centre in Newry, County Down, Northern Ireland. Where students worked to create a ceiling installation composed of sewn muslin, sheep’s wool, pine needles and branches. They also explored poems dedicated to the many aspects of winter light – mist, early dusk, candlelight, firelight, and the light qualities of cloudy, snowy and frosty days. The project was called Poetry of Earth and it was funded by Sticky Fingers Early Years Arts.

Collecting natural materials from the school garden, and school trips can develop creative spaces within the classroom for children to renew their sense of wonder, amidst the routine of classroom learning. For many children, creating a space for their imagination can help with learning in a variety of subjects. This is more than just bringing in contributions to the nature table, it’s about a chance to create an area of focus in order to refresh perceptions and renew a sense of curiosity about the world.