My name is Caiti Farren and I am one of the Cathcart interns in the Botanic Gardens in Dartry this year. I will be undertaking my moderatorship in Botany this semester and I have a keen interest in remedial plants, plant conservation, animal-plants interactions, and a long list of other things. When I found out I had been offered the internship, I considered it a dream of mine come true as there are no other opportunities like this in Ireland for an undergraduate student.

On the first day, I met the two other interns, Eoin and Orla, for the first time at the garden entrance, all of us were blurry eyed from a years worth of studying in front of a laptop, but excited to see the outside world again. We were greeted by Outreach Officer, Dr. Michelle Murray, and then quickly introduced to gardener Mick Mc Cann and two cats, named Cheeky and Fluffy. I am still not convinced that the cats like me… but I am working on it!

Armed with my rake and barrow in an overgrown area of the arboretum!

We were taken on a tour of the gardens, which was much larger than any of us realised. The largest and most breath-taking part was most definitely the arboretum which has several hundred trees and shrub species. The species with the most character was definitely the Davidia involucrata which is part of the Nyssaceae family. The flowers appear in spring with large white bracts which look like pieces of cloth- giving it the nickname ‘handkerchief tree’.

The creamy bracts of the handkerhief tree, photographed by Michelle in late spring

It was clear that those that worked on the grounds put a lot of effort into- and took great pride in- their work there. Dr. Stephen Waldren, Curator of the gardens, gave us an insight into the history of the gardens: the original garden on Trinity College campus around 1700s became neglected, and was even used as a dumping ground, and then abandoned and built on. Even its location has changed three times since it was created. The common factor in its perseverance in the last few hundred years has clearly been the involvement of people who recognise what an invaluable resource it is.

Armed with gloves, secateurs and a fork we tackled our first project: clearing the weeds from the tree circles in the west arboretum – Bellis perennis (daisy), Lapsana communis (nipplewort), Taraxacum officinale (dandelion) and Soleirolia solerolii (Helxine, baby’s tears) to name a few, in preparation for a new layer of bark mulch. We also helped Eoin to clear ivy from an overgrown section of the arboretum floor and from around some of the tree trunks. At the end of the week, myself and Orla cleared out the Fern Bed for some new ferns. This was difficult because it was covered in pearlwort (Sagina procumbens) which had formed large mats, but it was very rewarding to see the difference we made- although I am not sure my nail beds, or my secateurs, will ever be truly clean again.

‘After’ photo of the cleaned Fern bed – we forgot to take our ‘before’ shot!

Mid-week, we were given a lesson on plant identification in the daisy family (Asteraceae) by Dr Stephen Waldren. We examined Catananche caerulea in great detail and learned that each ‘petal’ was actually its very own flower with its own reproductive system held together in a capitulum. The petals are modified and fused, hence the 5 points at the end of each flower. The ovary is located at the bottom of a tube called the style and the stigma on top of the style is what sticks out of the flower and it is shaped like two horns. Pollen from the stamens surrounding the style land on the sticky stigma. This was definitely the highlight of the week.

At the end of week one, we were exhausted but exhilarated with the progress that we had made in such a short amount of time. Already I had learned quite a bit and made some great friends. In week two, I intend to take on more personal projects- to put even more effort into learning about the species and families of plants around me, to try my best at plant identification, and to yet again attempt to befriend the cats!

Catananche caerulea – Cupid’s dart – in the Asteraceae family. The Asteraceae is one of the largest flowering plant families in the world.