Tour of Airfield Kitchen Garden

During the week I joined the organic college on a tour of the 2 year old kitchen garden at Airfield Dundrum led by garden manager Kitty Scully. The location for the kitchen garden is on what was formerly an overflow car with some of the topsoil having been scraped off and piled into one of the fields elsewhere on the 38 acre site. This and the former building site nature of airfield in recent years have led to soil compaction and large amounts of construction materials being uncovered as this new garden is being establised.

The site is very exposed to wind and from the fairy mound one looks out across an open field with livestock and views up toward the Dublin mountains. You could almost imagine there are no roads or apartment blocks to stop you going for a hike up into the Dublin hills but for the hum of the traffic. As a consequence of this exposure the soil tends to be quite drying. A native hedge is being established at some distance from the kitchen garden but its function is more one of field boundary than wind protection for the garden.

One of the design Ideas was to visually connect the kitchen garden with the field giving the sense of a country garden in a rural setting. Below in the image are some hazel wigwams made locally with beans.These have been undersown with nasturtiams which tend to grow a bit wild. Beyond this a walkway with young damson trees and In the middle distance a field and the hills beyond up to the Dublin Hills. This gives some idea for the level of exposure currently. Hopefully as the damsons mature this will help a little.


Site exposure

The design for the new airfield was done by Arabella Lennox-Boyd an english designer at a cost of over 1 Million euro.Two of the more ambitious features of the kitchen garden include a small vinyard on a south facing slope and an apple maze. Unfortunately I didn’t find out the varieties of vines being trialled but it will be interesting to find out and follow their progress in this location. I,m told only down the road at the allotments in Goatstown is an establised small vineyard so I will have to look into this also. The vines should benefit from the dryness of the soil but the exposure wont help the grapes.


Vines on south facing slope

The apple maze was planted up with 1 year old maiden whips supplied by seedsavers. Unfortunately with the public having access to the area the buds are getting knocked off. This is making it very difficult to train the young plants. A similar apple maze in France used 6 year old trees from the start. The difficulty here is in allowing access while doing what is best for the plants. It’s a question of priority I suppose but the current solutions proposed are to prevent access for a few years or start over with older trees. Paula suggested making a maze from a cereal crop somewhere else on site in the meantime.


Struggling Maiden whip apple maze

Kitty has a great knoledge of vegetables and in this garden they are combined with ornamentals. Old cds dangling above brassicas are used to deter birds.


Mixed planting

A motif of alliums is used throughout. In this garden how a plant looks when it dies is very important and potato die really bad. There is a constant supply of new plants being propagate ready for replanting and in some areas rotations are not strictly used.


Alliums for dramatic effect

Allium heads are dried on racks in the tunnel for seed saving. Allium schubertii was particularly recommeded


The drying rack

Kitty recommends growing musselbourg leeks from brown envelope seeds which can take a wet autumn. .Nearby the leeks a drill of flax which drops its flowers every night and linseed was growing. Callendula “Indian Prince” came highly recommended  especially along borders where it should attract aphid eating hoverflys. This seed can be bought from Sarah Raven seed company.

The red lettuce “ear of the devil ”  brought up an interesting conversation about how it seemed to be looking untouched by herbivores while neighbouring plants were nibbled. I looked into it after Paula mentioned something about the pigment and it’s probably because of the anthocyanin molecules which cause the redness in plants. Found in red berries it helps with seed dispersal attracting animals, while in leaves it protects against uv radiation by reflecting the red part of the spectrum. Anthocyanin found in red leaves is believed to act as a visual mask to edibility when compared with the green of other plants which act as a visual cue for edibility. Very interesting stuff indeed with more on this in the link below.


Ear of the devil red lettuce

Kitty tends to plant small amounts of any one plant together. One of the benefits of this is the idea of “false landing” .The theory goes that because butterflys taste a host plant for laying eggs with their feet they decide on a good location by tasting or landing on a variety of plants in the area. The theory is that they get a bit confused with all the variety of tastes and move off. The name Martin Finch was mentioned in connection to this theory.

The large rhubarb forcer below costs 250 euro as compared with a black bin for a few euro. They are nice though. The variety of rhubarb here is Livingstone and the winter dormancy has been bred out.


Livingstone Rhubarb

One of the things Kittys wants more of are border plants such as herbs or perhaps even garlic and onions to define  the boundary with the paths more clearly. The beds are wide requiring one to step onto the soil for access. In some areas timber boards have been layed down to define paths and reduce compaction and this will develop into steping stones through the larger beds in time.

The wildflower mix for the meadow came from and leads down to the “Permaculture garden” where herbs grow in close proximity to the kitchen. As you move towards this you past a crop of oats, barley and wheat great for explaining where porridge,beer and bread come from. More linear planting is used down here in raised beds with brassica crops such as Brocolli variety Atlantis.

The kitchen gardens are not certified organic but no harsh chemicals are used.  . Considering it’s only 2 years old there is a lot of work gone into this.

The natural hazel fencing around the meadow and cereals looks fantastic and is a very clever way to limit access.


Crop protection

More unusual edible plants such as oca, red orache, strawberry sticks, and tree spinach are grown here too.


More unusual edibles

Other interesting plants grown around the garden are elephant garlic , sea kale and hibiscus and a variety of pumpkins  called ” Crown Prince”. A very duck like duck courgette was growing also which I didn’t get a pic of but it looks exactly like a duck. Last year they grew enormous Conneticut field pumpkins but this year the pumpkin crop is not so great.

We got to taste radish seed called “munching beer” which were very nice. Other planting combinations used are carrot and crocosmia and kale with rudbeckia. The tastiest tomatos in the tunnel were sungold and while golden sunrise crop well they taste a little bland.

The tunnel cucumber varieties included marketmore, crystal lemon, casino and a cucumber melon cross. The melon variety sweetheart was also being grown. Below is a vietnamese corriander plant


vietnamese corriander

The kitchen garden is well worth a visit and there are plans to develop a cookery course. The most impressive thing I saw was the series of composting bays by the tunnels. These are unfortunately down on a concrete base instead of soil which would be better but they do allow access by skid steer to turn it. To some composting may not be the most glamorous of gardening activities but for me I always want to know what is happening in this regard. Green material generated on site is being taken seriously and recycled back into the land.

I was thinking it would also make a lot of sense to develop a horticultural course or perhaps even a permaculture design course here. The true potential of this site, its location and what it could showcase is very exciting into the future and it’s easy to see the direction Kitty is heading with her enthusiasm.  As a space for education it’s great to get a tour which includes things that didn’t work, this is so much a part of the learning and shouldn’t have to be hidden.

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