The phases of the annual cycles of certain flora and fauna have been known throughout history to be influenced by climate. Many diaries and garden records from past centuries, including those of Armagh Observatory, give dates of phenological events such as bud burst, first flowering and leaf fall as well as the return of migratory birds such as the cuckoo. This type of material can help to provide, not only proxy climate data for periods during which no instrumental records were kept, but also valuable knowledge of how our changing climate is affecting the natural world today.
In the mid-20th century, a series of phenological gardens were set up in Europe with the intention of employing observations of certain common species of plants as indicators of climate change. They used genetically identical material provided by a central coordinating laboratory in Germany. Four such gardens were established in Ireland at: Valentia Observatory, Co Kerry, The JFK Arboretum, Co Wexford, Johnstown Castle, Co Wexford, and the Botanic Gardens, Dublin. Only one or two such gardens were established in Great Britain at that time and none in Northern Ireland.
In order to relate the phenological data with climate change, it is essential that a nearby meteorological station exists which can provide information on local environmental variables such as precipitation, temperature, sunshine and humidity. Armagh Observatory, which has the longest (209 years) such climate record in Ireland and one of the longest in the UK, is a prime location for such a garden. The establishment of a garden in Armagh will provide a valuable addition to the current Irish network, and, in association with exhibits at the Observatory, Planetarium/Eartharium and AstroPark, will highlight the importance of climate change, how it has occurred throughout geological history and how it continues to affect our environment.
We have established a phenological garden in the north-west corner of the Observatory's estate, between the Stone Calendar in the AstroPark and the Observatory Bungalow. This will provide a gently sloping site, similar in many characteristics to the orchard covered drumlins of County Armagh. The site is exposed to the south and west and partially sheltered from the east. It has all the qualities required of a good site for a phenological garden in this area with more than adequate space for several specimens of each of the 15 IPG recommended species as well as other native plants.
The site lies to the west of the Stone Calendar, in the direction of several important vistas relevant to the AstroPark. These include the setting points on the horizon of the Sun at mid-winter solstice, mid- summer solstice and the equinoxes, and dramatic views of the RC and CoI Cathedrals on neighbouring hills in the City of Armagh. The lines of sight of these phenomena and buildings are to be left free of obstruction. Further dramatic views of the RC Cathedral from the Observatory Lane should also not be obscured. Figure 1 shows the position and direction of the important sight lines and where they cross the proposed site.
A grass path (shown in light green), 1-2m wide, will link the three planted blocks. It will connect to the tarmac path around the Stone Calendar, to the garden at the rear of the bungalow and to the car park. This will enable the meteorological observer to make a short detour through the phenological garden from his current daily walk between the met station where the readings are taken and the bungalow where they entered into computer. A second path (shown in brown) with a more moderate slope will be provided for handicapped visitors. The area between the plants and path will be established as a wild flower meadow with the sward cut only once or twice annually and the mown grass removed. No fertiliser or weedkiller will be used in the garden.
A list of 15 species has been proposed by the IPG which includes a few species native to Ireland. In late March 2004 the IPG Central Coordinating Laboratory at the Humboldt University of Berlin provided clones of 13 species. These have been planted in the northwestern part of the garden. As it may be some time before we are able to obtain the full quota of suitable cloned specimens, we have also planted a selection of native species proposed by Trinity College Botany Department together with some taken from a longer list in the Woodland Trust's booklet "A guide to recording spring and autumn events in Nature's Calendar". The native specimens have been provided by Woodside Nursery, Ashford Co Wicklow and Future Forests, Co Cork
This project is being undertaken in association with Drs A.Donnelly and A Caffarra, and Prof. Mike Jones of the Department of Botany, Trinity College, Dublin who have an ongoing research project to study the environmental triggers of tree phenophases. Such studies could be of considerable value for the horticultural and agricultural industries in Ireland, North and South.
We are also indebted to Dr Eoin Moran and Jack O'Sullivan of the Valentia Observatory, Caherceveen, Co Kerry who first gave us the idea to initiate a garden in Armagh. The staff at Valentia Observatory have first hand practical experience of operating such a garden for several decades and have in the past given us help with the calibration of instruments at Armagh.
The data from the phenological garden in Armagh will be passed in a standard format to the central coordinating organisation in Ireland (to be based at the Valentia Observatory), to the Woodland Trust of the United Kingdom, and to the International Phenological Garden Data Centre at the Humbolt University, Berlin.
Phenological Gardens in Ireland 2003, Donnelly, A., Caffarra, A. and Jones, M. Dept. Botany, Trinity College, Dublin (2004)
Instructions for Establishing an International Phenological Garden, Faculty of Agriculture and Horticulture, Inst. of Crop Sciences, Section of Agricultural Meteorology, Humbolt University, Berlin
International Phenological Gardens Illustrated Guide, PDF Format
Table 1. Species supplied by the IPG Central Coordinating Laboratory, March 2004 IPG Species Common Name 111 Larix decidua European Larch 122 Picea abies Norway Spruce 211 Betula pubesc. Downy Birch 281 Tilia cordata Small-leafd Lime 311 Ribes alpinium Alpine Currant 323 Salix acutifolia Pussy Willow 324 Salix smithiana Smiths Willow 326 Salix viminalis Basket Willow 331 Sambucus nigra Elder 411 Corylus avellana Hazel 421 Forsythia susp. Forsythia 431 Syringa vulgaris Lilac Table 2. Native Species included in the Pheonological Garden 1. Taxus baccata Yew 2. Quercus robur Pedunculate Oak 3. Ilex aquifolium Holly 4. Euonymus europaeus Spindle 5. Arbutus unedo Strawberry Tree 6. Fraxinus excelsior Ash 7. Prunus spinosa Blackthorn 8. Crataegus monogyna Hawthorn 9. Corylus avellana Hazel 10. Viburnum opulus Guelder Rose _____________________________________________________________________________ List of Native Species planted at Armagh Observatory in 2004 In order of list supplied by TCD Department of Botany, January 2004 NS English Name Latin Irish Grid X Irish Grid Y 1. Yew Taxus baccata 87713 45778 87712 45781 2. Juniper Juniperus communis 87727 45791 87724 45791 87724 45789 3. Peduncul. Oak Quercus robur 87708 45788 4. Holly Ilex aquifolium 87710 45775 87707 45773 5. Spindle Euonymus europaeus 87729 45794 87727 45798 6. Strawberry Tr. Arbutus unedo 87705 45779 87707 45779 7. Common Ash Fraxinus excelsior 87704 45784 87709 45785 8. Elm Ulmus glabra 87700 45796 87706 45799 9. Blackthorn Prunus spinosa 87715 45798 87713 45792 10. Hawthorn Crataegus monognya 87716 45809 87710 45808 11. Buckthorn Rhamnus cathartica Not yet available 12. Alder buckthorn Frangula alnus Not yet available 13. Hazel Corylus avellana 87716 45804 87712 45803 14. Gorse Ulex europaeus Not found 15. Autumn Gorse Ulex. galli Not found 16. Elder Sambucus nigra 87721 45793 17. Guelder Rose Viburnum opulus 87717 45781 18. Heather Erica or calluna Not found 19. Dogwood Cornus sanguinea 87720 45787 87721 45783 20. Bilberry Vaccinium myrtillus Not found 21. Bog Myrtle Myrica gale 87740 45801 Also: Rowan(?) 87744 45799
Last Revised: 2009 November 5th