Discovering the benefits of Nature.
By Albert Nolan.
The toilet paper stretched in an unbroken line from the bathroom and twisted and turned like a country road to the bottom of the stairs. We were only making a car track was the giggling response from the kids as they hid in their den under the bed. Yes the summer stretches ones sanity and with well rested kids it requires plenty of trips to the great outdoors to survive the challenge that is the school holidays.
The following morning I dropped the children of at the nans and headed of for a much needed walk. As I left Rossa Avenue I headed out towards the Tipperary roundabout and away from the hustle and bustle of a very busy household. It wasn’t long before I discovered my first treasure. Rue leaved saxifrage is growing on a windowsill. This is a hardy plant and I have often found it growing between the slates on the unseen world of roofs. Its stems are reddish and it has a dainty white flower.
I cross the road and pause at the entrance to St Joseph’s Hospital. Under the shade of a Lime tree I find dozens of glittering tracks on the wall made by the night time adventures of snails. These much maligned creatures are very important for a healthy environment as they recycle plant material and release trapped nutrients back into the soil. There are also food for birds like Blackbirds and a gardeners favourite Hedgehogs. Red valerian is in flower in a crack in the wall and these flowers are brilliant for attracting butterflies and moths.
The grounds are very well kept with neat and tidy lawns. Only low growing flowers can survive this intensive cutting regime and when I look closer I find Daises, Buttercups, Red clover and germander speedwell. The open nature of the grounds suits birds like Jackdaws and Blackbirds as they can easily probe in the grass for worms and grubs.
St Josephs has some of the biggest trees in Limerick. Tall Beech and Ash trees look out over the wall along by the Jail boreen. There is a mature Horsechestnut tree and every Autumn the local children pop in on their way home from school to fill their bags and pockets with hard and cold conkers. The most unusual tree is a Weeping Ash and its long branches hang down and touch the ground. I go inside this natural amphitheatre and it would make the perfect location for a picnic and a roasting summer’s day.
On my way out I pause by the Oak tree and give some of its leaves a good shake. Winged Greenfly tumble onto my clothes and they are superbly camouflaged in their natural green. On the nearby Lime tree there are dozens of tall red galls. These are abnormal growths caused by insects but don’t harm the tree. Some of its leaves have neat holes and these could have been caused by leaf cutter insects.
I head out and continue my walk against the natural flow of the traffic. Shepard’s purse has found just enough soil by the base of the wall to grow and produce seeds. These are contained in heart shaped seed pods and it can flower throughout the year.
I leave the hard footpath and walk along a narrow strip of grass that is bordered by an old stone wall. The wall has been colonized by an interesting selection of plants and these provide plenty of interest for the urban naturalist.
The yellow flowers of Milk thistle, Groundsel and Dandelion contrast with the reds and purples of Rue leaved saxifrage and Ivy leaved toadflax. Nettle leaves are food for hungry moths and caterpillars and moss provides a comfortable base for birds’ nests. Cleavers, Spleenworth, Ivy, Hairy bittercress and Sedum complete this community of plants. It is so important to leave habitats like this throughout the city as they all help nature in their own special way.
Across the road in a large green area in front of the houses a Rook and Jackdaw are probing in the grass for food. The Rooks nest in the Conifer trees in Mount St Lawrence while the Jackdaws take over any unused or unguarded chimney pot. A Wren starts to sing and his nest must be nearby in a low shrub or pile of forgotten branches. I find a single Cuckoo flower growing in some tall grass that the mower has thankfully missed. This flower is the host plant for the caterpillars of the Orange tip butterfly and likes damp places.
I reach the gates of Mount Saint Lawrence and see a Starling flying in and out of a shop vent. I check and see a nest and can hear the begging calls of the chicks. The smell of food from the deli is wafting out but it must be a warm and secure home for these young birds. Two plump Rooks are hanging around the front of the shop and they have supplemented their natural diet with foraging for fast food. A Blackbird is singing inside the gates of the graveyard but today I don’t have time to explore its grounds.
As I near the railway bridge the volume of traffic picks up. I admire the different personalities of the gardens as I pass by. Some are full of old style roses and hardy Hydrangeas. Many have lost even their green lawns to accommodate the beast of modern living the car. I particular like one gardener who in their wisdom has left the Dandelions to carpet their lawn.
Trees and shrubs of various sizes are scattered throughout the gardens creating a loose woodland affect. This provides shelter and nesting sites for adaptable urban birds like House sparrows. Starlings and Collared doves. By the bus stop I find Pineapple mayweed growing. It can survive quite severe trampling and in the countryside is often found at the entrances to fields. Its flowers not only look like a Pineapple but smell like one too.
I gingerly cross the road as an over grown and abandoned garden has caught my eye. It borders the beautiful named Rose Avenue and I can hear a Song thrush singing in the garden of one of the houses. It is full of colourful wildflowers and I find Nettles, Bramble, Bluebells, Ragworth, Buddleia, Figworth, Daises, Ribworth plantain and Common dock. A large garden snail is crawling up a wall and he better be careful in case he ends up as lunch for the hungry Song thrush.
The sound of the cars reach fever pitch as I walk beneath the Railway Bridge. Stressed drivers and bored kids peer out at me and i am glad that at least this time I am on the right side of the windows. This junction is one of the busiest in the city but the piece of ground between the main road and the railway line is a fabulous habitat for nature.
While all of the wildflowers I find are not uncommon in the city bounds finding them all growing in the one place is becoming increasing rare. The tall white flowers of Cow Parsley and Ox eyed Daisy tower above the yellows of Buttercups, Silver weed, Birds foot trefoil and Black medic. Growing between these are Cuckoo flower, Daises, Ribwort plantain, Ragworth, Creeping thistle, Bush vetch, Nettle and valerian. All these flowers have attracted colourful insects. Bright Common blue butterflies flit between the flowers while a Common Carder bumblebee searches for nectar. A male Orange tip butterfly flashes by while a large white rests for a few seconds on a leaf.
The railway embankment has been colonized by trees, climbers and shrubs and this linear woodland is important for birds. A summer migrant the Blackcap is singing and it rarely leaves deep cover. Goldfinches fly overhead and I also hear a resident Robin and Dunnocks.
A beautiful garden escape is growing on a mound of soil and it has lovely flowers but I don’t know its name. This is something I often impart to adults and children that we don’t need to know the name of every species to appreciate its beauty and importance. The winged seeds of Dandelion float by on the gentle breeze and hopefully they will grow someplace where they will be appreciated. I move along and find more wildflowers from Mares tail, Yarrow, Knapweed to Herb Robert. High in a tree a wary Magpie is calling. Across the road the management of the land is dramatically different. The grass is short with only a few Red and White clovers. I hope that a few of the stressed drivers take a few safe moments to admire the wonderful natural display and share it with everyone in the car.
I head towards the roundabout at the Old Cork road and walk up towards Roxboro roundabout. The traffic is very heavy and I can barely hear a Great tit and House sparrow calling. Tall Popular trees are growing inside the fence at the opposite side of the road but one would have to risk life and limb in attempting a crossing. The grass here is kept short with a few occasional Birch trees planted for cover. Bindweed has taken advantage and is slowly climbing up towards the life giving light. I reach the Roxboro roundabout and hear a Chaffinch calling from a tree.
I am delighted to move away from the noise of the cars and find an old Sycamore tree growing in a quiet corner of a Green lawn. It has an Elderberry tree growing at its base and ivy growing up through its branches. I can hear a Woodpigeon, Chaffinch and Dunnocks calling from its branches. Old trees are an important part of our heritage providing a living link with the past and you been afforded protection. They also support dozens of different species from birds to insects.
A Red Hawthorn tree is in flower and this species is more common in the city while the white version turns our hedgerows into a sea of white during late May and June. I spy a female Blackbird feeding and a Rook flies overhead. In the grounds of the Garda station I see a Mountain ash tree and this will have a fine crop of berries for birds later in the year. A Pied wagtail is feeding between the parked cars and he mainly eats insects and seeds.
I push on and pause by the Grotto dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It is immaculately kept with blood red poppies, white roses symbolizing purity and wild valerian. Across the road I take a quick peek in through a hedge into a shaded garden with lots of tall trees. I can hear a Goldcrests calling and this is Ireland’s smallest bird. There is a lovely smell of resin from the pine trees and they have a wonderful cottage garden just in front of their house.
I reach the next railway bridge and lean over the wall to look at the hedgerow. Railway hedgerows are roads for birds and plants allowing them safe access into the city and providing them with berries, seeds and places to nest. I hear a Chaffinch singing.
The busy city looms but I am feeling very refreshed and ready for another spell of the most rewarding and challenging role in the world, that of been a parent. And of course with a little bit of help and support from the amazing natural world found right on the doorsteps of Limericks homes. When the pressure strikes why not head out to refresh your soul?
Please join me on Limerick City Community Radio for my show “ Wild about Limerick” where we will be chatting to people about the different nature projects that are going on in the city and what Limericks wildlife means to them. The show is broadcast every second Saturday( Next August 1) at 4.30pm .
Tune on online at www.lccr.ie or 99.9fm.
If you have a story or event you would like to discuss please contact me.
Comments/questions to [email protected] or 089 4230502.
Read more of Albert Nolan’s stories HERE