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Gert and Elisabeth Stam busy working in Caherhurley Certified Organic Nurseries at Bodyke. Photograph by John Kelly

Clare-based Dutch horticulturalists share organic wisdom


A LEADING podcaster has paid tribute to the work of two Dutch natives who have been running an organic nursery outside Bodyke for more than two decades. 

Gert and Elisabeth Stam are qualified horticulturalists who now run Caherhurley Nursery. Their unique enterprise, which is part of an organic farm on the slopes of Sliabh Bernagh, was visited recently by award-winning agricultural journalist Hannah Quinn-Mulligan for her podcast ‘Organic Matters’. The weekly show for the Irish Organic Association has generated huge interest in recent years and features all aspects of organic farming and growing. 

The couple, who ran a Dutch garden that catered for 25,000 visitors a year, left the Netherlands more than twenty years ago to come to East Clare, and they shared their vision with Hannah and her listeners. 

They explained that when Elisabeth sold an Arabian horse to a Limerick native, it gave the couple an opportunity to visit Ireland and to radically change their lifestyles. They bought an isolated farm outside Bodyke and made the move into organics.

“It was fairly neglected, but there had been no spraying, no artificial manure, no nothing for years, so we saw this as an opportunity to convert it into an organic farm,” Gert explained.

“It’s 45 acres and we have Aberdeen Angus, but not many, just a small enterprise. I’m a grower, I’m not a farmer. Elizabeth loves animals and she’s very much involved with the horses and she also looks after the cattle and I look after the plants.”

“We wanted to start a new chapter,” Elizabeth agreed. “I’m a bit religious and the Lord told me to take care of the environment and that’s what I wanted to do.”

“My background is that I am a botanist and have a degree in Nature Preservation,” Gert added. “Organic [growing] comes, more or less, natural for us. Organic comes organically.”

One of the things that impressed Hannah was the lack of polytunnels at the Caherhurley facility, and the diversity of unusual plants.

“We don’t want to ruin the beautiful landscape with polytunnels,” explained Gert. “We can grow our crops, our plants, without them. It would be different if you were growing vegetables, you need them. There’s no way around it. Plants are much healthier when you grow them outdoors, outside.

“On a slope, here on the foothills of Sliabh Bernagh. It’s very windy, very exposed. In summer, it’s nice, but it can be pretty harsh here and when you grow plants, under these harsh conditions, you get far healthier plants that will thrive in any garden in Ireland. I think Ireland deserves much better plants that are generally available everywhere else. Ireland needs strong and healthy plants.”

The couple grow around 800 different varieties of perennial plants and shrubs. Volunteers and students support their activities and benefit from the opportunity to learn about organic growing. Gert and Elisabeth told Hannah that their philosophy is unique in that they are focused on more than just commercially-popular plants.

“What’s commercially available everywhere else is not necessarily the best,” Gert said.

“There are so many plants in the wild and in small nurseries all over the world and for the last 40 years we’ve been collecting unusual plants that no commercial wholesale nursery would grow because there would be no money in it. We’re not in it for the money, we want to have good plants. That’s what gardeners need, certainly here in Ireland.”

“We also have plants that are from the wild,” Elizabeth said. “We grow them because they’re lovely to have in your garden.”

With an increased public awareness of biodiversity and supporting pollinators, Gert told ‘Organic Matters’ that there is still a way to go to educate people. “There’s a total misunderstanding here in Ireland between plants for biodiversity and native plants,” he said.

“If you want to care for the bees, you have to make sure the verges are not cut until after a certain time and certainly not sprayed. That’s a job for the County Council and politicians. In the garden, it doesn’t really matter if you have native plants, but there is so much better than native plants that are good for the bees. That’s what we want. We want to make people aware of the possibilities and that there is more available that what is available everywhere else.”

Running the nursery in remote, rural East Clare, is very much a labour of love for the couple. 

“You have to be very passionate and very focused on the job,” Gert told the podcast. “We’re open seven-days-a-week. The only day we take off is Christmas Day. That’s our life. It’s not a big sacrifice because we love it.”

The ‘Organic Matters’ podcast is available on SoundCloud.com and on Irishorganicassociation.ie.

ENDS

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