Playground Forest Garden, Blackrock, County Louth

The Playground Forest Garden in Blackrock, hosts a variety of special conversations and celebrations between local Tidy Towns volunteers and children. Adults and children plant side by side, cultivating a nature friendly garden next to a playground and outdoor classroom.

One of the  celebrations in the garden marked the beginning of Bealtaine. The children celebrated May Day with the decorating of Hawthorn trees (the Irish May Bush). In Ireland May has traditionally heralded the beginning of summer and the growing season. Bealtaine is the mid-way point between the Spring Equinox in March and the Summer Solstice in June. Children in the playground decorated a Hawthorn hedgerow located next to the Forest Garden to support the growing of their new plants and trees. Hawthorn was traditionally decorated with ribbons and pieces of material. Branches were also brought into the home, or placed at doors and windows of a house to symbolically represent growth, regeneration, and new life.

The young emerging garden also contains many plants once considered important remedies. These ‘cures’ restored physical and mental well being. Many of these remedies took the form of strongly held beliefs, they cultivated hope, empowering people to find their own ‘answer’ to health, social and emotional difficulties through the collection of local wild plants and herbs.

The references for these plants in the Forest Garden are listed below:

The Complete Book of Herbs by Lesley Bremness

Herbs and Healing Plants  by Dieter Podlech

Irish Wild Plants: Myths, Legends and Folklore by Niall MacCoitir

20 000 Secrets of Tea by Victoria Zak

The following plants are included in the Children’s Forest Garden:

Lady’s Mantle

The scalloped leaves of this plant correspond to a woman’s cloak. The dew that collects in these leaves was once deemed magical. In traditional medicine the leaves were cooked and the liquid used to treat wounds and inflammation. Women used the herb in baths in preparation for pregnancy. The leaves make a green dye. (MacCoitir).

Mullein

This tall and striking plant’s stems were once dipped into tallow and used as a torch, hence it’s nicknames the “Virgin Mary’s candle” or the ‘hag’s taper,’ as it was also associated with witches. The flower was once steeped in hot water then drunk for coughs and respiratory problems. The flower was also used to flavour drinks. “In Ireland country people traditionally believed that carrying mullein about preserved the wearer from enchantments and witchcraft” (MacCoitir, p. 240). “An Irish cure for asthma and bronchitis was to dry the leaves of mullein and smoke them like tobacco, making sure to inhale the smoke” (MacCoitir, p. 242).

Vervain

Historically considered a magical plant with the power to “protect against harmful influences and promote positive ones” (MacCoitir, p. 125). On May Eve Vervain was once carried through farmlands to protect both animals and crops. This plant was also tied onto cattle for extra protection. People once carried vervain for good luck, or attached it to the clothes of children for their security.  It was also used as a plaster for sores, or worn around the neck for general well-being. The leaves can be infused in water and used as a tonic for tired eyes, or the leaves can be used for a tea to aid in the treatment of nervous exhaustion (Bremness).

Feverfew

This herb’s leaves can be eaten in between bread for the prevention of migraines. Hot feverfew tea can help in the treatment of asthma, allergic reactions and nervous tension (Zak).

Valerian

This plant if grown near vegetables boosts their growth, the leaves add nutrients to composts, and it can be steeped in baths to soothe irritated skin (Bremness). The dried root can be cut up (5ml) and soaked in cold water for a day in order to make a sedative drink for headaches and exhaustion (Bremness).

St. John’s Wort

This plant is linked to the midsummer feast of St. John traditionally held soon after the Summer Solstice on June 23rd.. “It was one of the most important herbs in European medicine, and was used to cure a wide range of ailments, including melancholia and nervous depression” (MacCoitir, p. 107). The herb was gathered on St. John’s Eve and then smoked over bonfires to enhance it’s protective powers. The smoke of the burning herb would protect family, home and farm. This plant is also associated with love charms in Ireland.

On the right are pictures (from top to bottom) of Lady’s Mantle, Hawthorn, Vervain and Valerian.