Week 2:

Greetings plantlings – I am Orla and I am coming for you weeds!

As an upcoming botany student, spending my summer surrounded by all the awe-inspiring plants of Trinity’s botanical gardens could not be more thrilling. As I write this we are now into the third week of our internships – me and two other botany students, Caiti and Eoin. During our first week we got a tour of the different sections of the garden. Dr.  Steve Waldren also gave us a crash course in plant identification and started us on our way with the daisy family, Asteraceae. We also got set to work in the Arboretum, where I have been weeding the tree circles. Our second week was spent in the sun further tidying up the arboretum, the flower beds around the glass houses, restocking the potting shed with potting material and some regular plant ID sessions.

Working in the arboretum creates a deep sense of peace in the shade surrounded by the trees listening to the occasional squawk of the young sparrowhawks nesting above. I spent some happy hours removing the weeds from the tree circles and getting to know the trees as I do – to list a few specimens: Betula albosinensis (Chinese red birch), Decaisnea fargesii (deadman’s fingers, blue sausage fruit).

My personal favourite is Metasequoia glyptostroboides (dawn redwood). Prior to the 1940s the dawn redwood had only been found in fossil form from around 50,000,000 years ago.  Once it was rediscovered alive in central China it quickly became a priority to preserve this “living fossil”. Unfortunately, due to deforestation this ancient tree species is now endangered in the wild. With all this knowledge in mind, giving this beautiful tree the tree circle it deserves and maintaining its place in the arboretum was an honour.

The start of a new tree circle for the dawn redwood.

Another area of the garden that us interns were unleashed upon was the vibrant flower beds between the glass houses. Weeding in the sun amongst the nasturtiums, Crocosmia, Saxifraga stolonifera (creeping saxifrage), the greater quaking grass Briza maxima, the sunny South African daisy bush Euryops pectinatus was made even more delightful by the classical music playing from the gardener Michael McCann’s radio in the distance.

A hoverfly visits the daisy bush

This relaxed atmosphere was interrupted by an occasional sharp prickle after brushing against the spiny trunk of a tree echiums. Appearing as small white hairs, I soon discovered that they are in fact sharp and can irritate the skin. The Echium pininana (also giant viper’s bugloss) is another endangered plant that the garden looks after. They are found endemic on the Canary Island of La Palma, but due to agricultural practices are now threatened there. Once more, despite the prickles, it is a very rewarding task to be working amongst these inspiring plants.

Towering tree Echiums

Another task of the week consisted of restocking the potting shed. We had to top up the soil, compost and sand compartments for upcoming potting projects.

(I must here confess, to my great shame, that this was my first time using a shovel! But I soon got the hang of it and the job was made really enjoyable by the socially distanced teamwork with Dr Michelle Murray, Caiti and Eoin)

The absolute highlight of the week was being loaned a hand lens for the duration of our internship. We did some more plant identification sessions one afternoon and over the space of a few days the hand lens has already helped me progress my ability to analyse plant anatomy (thank you Michelle!).


Watch out weeds, I come armed with a fork and hand lens now: death by identification is nigh!


Week 5:

The fifth week of the internship started with a bank holiday and so was shorter than usual – however, it was still busy, so, like the previous weeks it flew by leaving only one more week left!

The beginning of the week was spent tidying up the Order Beds. The order or family beds display the relationships plant have to one another within two main groups, the Dicotyledons and Monocotyledons.  In the dicots section, the geraniums had reached around two feet tall and were at the end of their flowering. Trimming the old growth back encourages new leafy growth and will maybe produce a second burst of flowers for later in the season. We trimmed other herbaceous perennial plants in this group too, such as Nepeta (catmint or catnip – cats love this plant and sniffing and chewing the leaves can make them a bit giddy!), Catananche cearulea, Malva moschata (musk mallow).

Two frogs hopping around in a bed of thrift nearby made this a particularly delightful job. Throughout this internship the frogs of the garden have been an absolute highlight. Due to the efforts the staff at the Botanic Gardens make to operate organically there is a thriving population of wildlife. My favourite frog sighting was found in a rainwater collection pool in the Long House – this is Ireland’s Common Frog.

The Long House is where the carnivorous plants, the fern house and some desert plants are located. Whilst the weather took a turn for the damper this week there is always lots of indoor work to catch up on. I was given responsibility for the fern house where ferns from cool temperate parts of the world are kept. I was particularly interested in one of the maidenhair ferns, Adiantum capillis-veneris: it is native to Ireland but only really found in the Burren and Aran Islands and parts of the north-west:


I really enjoy learning about native Irish plants and have now added another plant I can recognise in the wild to my repertoire.




Adiantum capillus-veneris is native to Ireland but is also found across southern Europe, Africa, Asia and parts of North and South America

One of the most challenging tasks of the week was to rescue two shrubs, Viburnum plicatum and Phlomis fructicosa, from the climber Akebia quinata. Commonly known as “The Chocolate Vine” its flowers smell of chocolate, but I arrived too late to experience this for myself unfortunately!

Despite its pretty wine-coloured flowers and attractive scent it had become a nuisance in its current location due to its ability to quickly twine around its neighbours branches. In one area, it had intertwined with both ivy and the hedge bindweed, Calestegia sepium, making it necessary to remove this smothering mixture from the afflicted plants before covering them completely.

Viburnum plicatum

Phlomis fruticosa

Caiti and I worked together on this project. It proved to be somewhat of thankless task however, as Phlomis fructicosa, or “Jerusalem Sage” as it is commonly known because its leaves look like the herb, sage, is covered in very fine white hairs that detach from the leaves and branches upon the slightest disturbance. These can remain airborne and get into your airways and eyes or stick to clothes and act as a skin irritant, so we wore masks and long sleeves for the task. None of this is too serious though and the irritation usually wears off quickly. Whilst true, this was uncomfortable, the challenge made completing the task even more rewarding and memorable. It also taught me a lesson about this plant adaption by Phlomis: it is native to the Mediterranean and it’s dense white hairs help to reflect light and heat away from the plant in the hot dry climate!

Caiti hard at work with her secateurs!

With week five completed and only one more to go the internship is almost complete. I will miss learning about the plants of these gardens and being amongst the wildlife within.