The recently established Irish Phenological Garden Network seeks to encourage the collecting of phenological data in Ireland (i.e. the time in the year when various biological phenomena occur, such as the first cuckoo, the first leaf etc.), and to archive these data so that the effects on the natural world of climate change can be assessed in the long term. The creation of a phenology garden in Armagh, a project still in its infancy, is part of this effort.
The project grew out of discussions during 2003 between Research Astronomer John Butler and Dr Alison Donnelly and colleagues in the Department of Botany, Trinity College Dublin. There is a need for such gardens to be close to meteorological stations having long time series of observations for calibration purposes, one of the Armagh Observatory's strengths in the environmental field. Moreover, the scientific value of a phenology garden extends well beyond climate research, and impinges also on long-term prospects in agriculture and horticulture, areas that Trinity College Dublin is particularly interested in.
Following these discussions, construction of the phenology garden was largely completed during 2004, and a garden established in the north-west corner of the Observatory's estate in the area between the Stone Calendar in the Armagh Astropark and the Observatory Bungalow. This provides a gently sloping site, similar in many characteristics to the orchard-covered drumlins of Co. Armagh. The location has all the qualities required of a good site for a phenology garden in this area with more than adequate space for several specimens of each of the 15 recommended species. The principal additional requirement is the need to construct a bound gravel path to facilitate access to the garden by all visitors, including those with disabilities.
The main aim of the phenology garden project is that, as part of the International Phenology Garden (IPG) programme, the Armagh garden will help to give a clearer picture of how the effects of climate change vary geographically across Europe, and Ireland in particular. In this respect, it is evidently of particular importance to have such gardens close to meteorological stations with long records and to ensure that the standard plants are exposed, so far as possible, to the same environmental characteristics as the meteorological station. The standard plants should be free to grow with a minimum of hindrance, and the groundsman's regular reports should include not just a comment on each IPG plant's growth and development, but notes on any additional factors that should be considered when interpreting the plant's development, such as the need for weeding the surrounding ground, watering or mulching etc., or the presence of any pests or infections.
The following report, by Research Astronomer John Butler, provides more details on this new initiative and summarizes progress to date. The summary report, together with images and links to a number of related web-sites can be seen at http://star.arm.ac.uk/phenology/.