From Tree Spotting to Seed Harvest


What is this life if, full of care;

We have no time to stand and stare?”

These are the opening lines from a 1911 poem by Welsh poet W.H. Davies. In the era of Covid-19 we all have more time to stand and stare. We are forced to park the cars and aeroplanes and have taken to walking and running.

John McKeon tells us how to make our travels on foot more interesting and productive by taking a closer look at trees and plants we pass along the way.

Many trees and shrubs are now in full bloom and easy to see and identify. Blackthorn flowers have just passed but Crab Apple, Wild Cherry and Rowan (Mountain Ash) are now in Flower. If you see a flowering tree that you like, now is the time to mark its exact location so you can return at harvest time to collect seeds and grow your favourite tree. Wild Pear and Purging Blackthorn are very rare trees and I discovered them in my rambling along country lanes. I collected seeds from both trees and now have many saplings ready for planting in hedges next winter.


Dutch Elm disease wiped out most Elm trees in Ireland in the 1970’s. Some did survive and are the earliest tree to produce seed, doing so in May. Elm seed must be collected now and sown immediately. So locate your tree (pictured) now as you walk and collect seed later when ripe. We have a little more time with Wild Cherry, which is covered white blossom now and produces its seed in July/August. Collect the seed then, store in a sand/compost mix over the winter and sow in seed trays or garden next March. Guelder Rose, Rowan and Whitebeam seeds are ready for collection in September. During October, November, and December the seeds of Hazel, Oak, Spindle, Whitethorn, Blackthorn, Yew and Holly are ready for collection. Willow and Poplar are usually grown from cuttings. Take 12 inch cutting from Willow branches and push 6 inch into damp areas in the early months of the year. Nothing could be easier so no excuses! I am still on the hunt for seeds of Bird Cherry and Alder Buckthorn. If any reader can point me to a local site of these trees I will give a free bundle of all tree saplings mentioned in this article (contact me on 087 146 2790).


Trees are keen to reproduce through their seeds. If you or your children are new to tree growing, some advice from the following sources may help. 1) The many videos on tree growing. 2) The tree council of Ireland publication “Our Trees – A Guide To Growing Ireland’s Native Trees”. This book has been my bible since I started growing trees ten years ago. 3) I often organise free workshops on seed collection, storage and tree growing to help people get involved, so get in contact if interested. Some tree seeds need special treatment and may take a few years before dormancy is broken and seeds grow. So beginners might start growing a few easy ones like Crab Apple (blossom pictured), Wild Cherry, Hazel and Oak.


It’s not all plain sailing. Birds eat seeds from trees and spread them in their droppings, so they may take a fancy to seed you have sown and dig them up. Mice and rats feast on our food stores and will eat stored and sown seeds and nuts. A cat or dog around your garden provides a good deterrent. If and when Covid-19 pandemic ends, the environmental crises will still be with us. We are all hoping for a return to “normal”. Is this the normal of ship loads of plastic trash arriving from around the world to satisfy our gluttonous consumerism? Items that we use a few times and then dump in land fill, incinerators, or the sea. We can’t wait to get back into cars and aeroplanes. There is no hope for Mother Earth if we continue to consume as before. All this consumerism has not led to happiness of contentment, we just whinge for more. Trees and hedges are the lungs of the world, they absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. So let us all grow a few trees (my seedling bed pictured) and give something back to Mother Earth – are you on board?

The closing lines of W.H. Davies’ poem, “A poor life this if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare”.


Fascinating Facts

As Cunning as a Fox

There is something quite thrilling about the glimpse of a fox as it slips quietly into a hedge or darts across a field in front of you. An Irish proverb about the fox describes its three watchful traits – a light step, a look to the front and a glance to each side of the road. Rare is the occasion that you might catch Mr Fox unawares, he is remarkably well attuned to the goings on around him and has a knack of losing himself very quickly. A flick of his shiny tail, a rustle of the hedgerow and he’s away like a shadow in the night. This may be because he knows that one Irish folk cure for infertility involves a woman sprinkling sugar on the testicles of a fox, roasting them in an oven and eating them before her main meal for three days in a row[ Niall Mac Coitir, Ireland’s Animals], and he wants to avoid this at all costs!

Aside from his wily cunning and useful testicles, there is another lesser known talent of the fox that deserves mention – his ability to use the Earth’s magnetic field when judging distance while hunting his prey, especially in snowy conditions. Up until quite recently it was assumed that the fox relied on his sense of smell and keen hearing but there is evidence that it is actually using magnetic fields in a similar way to birds using magnetic fields to sense direction and location, especially during migration. There is a special protein, previously only found in birds and bats, that has also been found in foxes and other mammals such as dogs, wolves, bears and badgers. It is called “chryptochrome” and is found in the retina, allowing these creatures to detect the Earth’s magnetic field and use it to judge direction. Foxes use it to judge direction as well as distance.

When it’s hunting, especially in snowy conditions where visibility is obscured, the fox will be listening for the movement of a mouse scurrying around as much as three feet under the snow. Each one of its ears can rotate up to 180 degrees to allow it to accurately locate the origin of sounds. Once it has a mouse located, the fox begins aligning the Earth’s magnetic field with the angle of the sound waves being received through its ears as a range finder or targeting system. Once the angle matches, the fox can calculate the exact distance and depth of the prey and pounce, using its distinctive high jump called “mousing” (pictured). Often considered to be vermin and prized on the hunt, there is a lot more to the cunning of the fox than we realise!


Staying Connected @ Home

Finding our power – an Active Hope Workshop with Carolyn Mitchell and Dearbhaile Bradley: Within the crisis we face, there is an opportunity for positive change. In this on-line workshop, adapting practices developed by Joanna Macy, we experience the liberating effects of sharing our true feelings about what is happening in the world. By doing so, we reconnect with our power to co-create the world we want to live in. Saturday 23rd May from 3pm-5pm, email for the registration link.

12 Veg – 12 Weeks: Free course from GIY Ireland, learn how to grow 12 veg in 12 weeks with Mick Kelly. Start with the basics and only add what you need when you need it. See for more details.

NOTS Growing in Polytunnels (Online Course): Taught by organic grower Klaus Laitenberger, this 10 session course will give participants access to an exclusive HD video lesson each week as well as a weekly 2-hour interactive Q&A with Klaus. Course begins 27th May, see for more details.

Stories from the Waterside’ Competition: The Local Authority Waters Programme (LAWPRO) in partnership with Inland Fisheries Ireland, Waterways Ireland, The Heritage Council and The Heritage Officers Programme, is launching a Storytelling Competition ‘Stories from the Waterside’ or ‘Scéalta Ó Thaobh An Uisce’ with €4,000 in prizes to be won. 600 words or less and only original and previously unpublished stories. Closing Date is 31st May 2020, see for more details.

40 million COVID-19 support package launched: The package consists of a €35 million ‘Covid-19 Stability Fund’ and a €5m Philanthropy Fund, ‘Innovate Together’, focussing on innovative solutions to existing and emerging challenges. Deadline 5pm on 27th May, see

Are you a reader of the column? Do you have something to say? Is there a particular subject you would like to hear more about? Do you want to submit an article? Contact us by texting 086 830 3392, even if it’s just to say hello!

Around me the trees stir in their leaves and call out, “Stay awhile”.

The light flows from their branches. And they call again,

It’s simple,” they say, “and you too have come into the world to do this,

to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.”

[Mary Oliver]

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