Landscape of Irish Hunger Memorial

To convey the sense of a rural, abandoned countryside in the west of Ireland the memorial is not manicured like a park or garden. It is a startlingly realistic quarter-acre replication of an Irish hillside. Along the pathways are abandoned fields of overgrown potato furrows and rocky heartlands of indigenous grasses, weeds and wild flowers specially chosen to withstand the harsh New York winters.

Plants of some 62 species were transferred from the rainy moist growing conditions of the west of Ireland to the hot, humid and oftentimes unbearable heat of their new home - plants that are growing, and are grateful for the state-of-the-art irrigation system that symbolises growing conditions of home; Bearberry, Ling Heather (Lus na Stalog), Foxglove, Soft Rush, Burnet Rose (Briulan), Gorse, Blackthorn, Yellow Flag Irish (Feileastram), Cross Leaved Heather (Fraoch Naoscai). Only the soil was mixed in America as U.S. officials balked at allowing soil from an area with, what was then, a recent foot-and-mouth disease incident into the country. The landscape will change with the seasons and the years and with its encounter with the local environment.

Irish folklore attributes special values to some of the plants that grow in the Memorial. Buttercup (Cam an ime) (Ranunculus sp.) was rubbed on cows' udders on May Day. Foxglove (Lus mor) (Digitalis purpurea) was a remedy for weak hearts, lumps, fleas, and fairy-struck children. Blackthorn (Draighean) (Prunus spinosa) was believed to overcome evil spirits. Iris (Feileastrom), used for bedding and thatching, was placed outside the door on the feast of Corpus Christi.

When it became clear that the landscape was a central element in the design concept, Tolle decided to bring Gail Wittwer-Laird on board as the landscape architect. A 1996 Fellow of the American Academy in Rome, graduate of the Harvard School of Design, and specialist in urban greening, Wittwer-Laird developed the palette and planting scheme of wild Irish Flora that will thrive in lower Manhattan as part of the Memorial. She said 'This memorial will be especially meaningful because it will allow visitors to experience for themselves the spare beauty of the Irish countryside to which so many Americans trace their heritage. We will create a rocky Irish pasture complete with native flowers, plants and grasses, many of which have symbolic value in Irish culture. The blackthorn tree, for example, often grows at abandoned grave sites, and the foxglove is frequently associated with the mythical figures of Irish folklore. We will also plant wild nettles, which were used as food during the desperate days of the famine." The official seed supplier of the native Irish wildflower to the Irish Hunger Memorial is Design By Nature. However all their recommendations must go through the landscape architect, Gail Wittwer-Laird.

There is no real difference between the lazy beds of the memorial and those found in Parks in Manhattan. Lazy beds are shaped and are planted with dry species for the top and greener species hinting at moisture in the valleys. White Clover, planted throughout the garden is an invasive species that is not wholly suitable for the site, its climate and the final look of the Lazy beds.

The wall tops have colourful flowering wildflowers many of which hang down over the walls and make the garden look old. In time if managed the plants will root into the gaps between the stones into the limestone mortar. However the Heathers are not established and will need extra attention if weeds are to be controlled. Heathers can withstand periods of drought and should stand up to the climate once established. They enjoy mulch or any organic matter that is not alkaline.


As the Battery Park City Authority has simply not got the space for collections of plants to restock the memorial from, a search was undertaken for gardeners with gardens near Manhattan, who will host in their own garden, a genebank of all species found on the Memorial. Appeals were made to the Irish-American press to help get this campaign started. Once established the plants can be grown in safety and used to replant the Memorial's garden when species die or need replacing.

The genebank gardeners can log on to Species Data Pages to see how to grow each plant variety. Each species grown in the Memorial Garden will have a special section attached to the Species Datapage for the Memorial garden.

Native Irish Sourced Wildflowers will be continued to be grown in Ireland according to Gail Wittwer-Laird's species list. Collected seeds or prepared plants to be tested by Department of Agriculture Ireland for Phytosanitary tests will be exported to the USA. The plants will be then sent directly to the holders of the genebank in the USA, to be grown on until ready to plant at the memorial. The Gardeners and Horticultural staff can then collect the plants from the genebank and plant them into the garden.

This is what Brian Tolle had to say about the landscape I don't know if people are anticipating how much this thing is going to change over the course of the year. All these plants that we're talking about importing from Ireland are indigenous species, there's nothing hybrid. Beautiful things will happen in the landscape in the spring and summer when wildflowers come up. There are also weeds and thistles included in there as well. People will find logical ways to move through the potato furrows; they're going to make paths. We're going to have to adjust to the conditions as the environment, as the culture, as the population comes into it.

Missing Irish apple trees

There has also been suggestions that the memorial be used to help find some of the remaining missing apple trees from the first national collection of apple trees in Ireland. The latest national collection is due to the work of an American lady, Mrs. Anita Hayes, of the Irish Seed Savers now living in Ireland. Her work is based on a 1940's Irish apple collection and most of the lost old Irish Apple tree varieties have been found. However there were many more species never recorded in the original collection and it is hoped to be able to help Anita Hayes save a few more.

Hunger and Biodiversity go hand in hand, every species lost is another species gone forever from the pharmacopoeia and food store of this planet. Hunger and Famine are linked to species as much to politics and greed are linked to starvation. Much cannot be done about the latter but something can be done to help save species from extinction.

In the 19th century some Irish immigrants to the USA, (it is said) placed the bud of an apple tree inside a potato, and sealed it in with a plug, when they arrived in the USA, the bud was grafted to an American Apple and it has been said that some still survive in Boston and New Jersey.

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