Have you heard about this seed centre? It's a great place to be inspired...

Olive Ryan recently visited the headquarters of the Irish Seed Savers Association
Have you heard about this seed centre? It's a great place to be inspired...

Log hives framed with willow hedging at the HQ of the Irish Seed Savers Association (ISSA)

LOCATED just outside of Scariff in County Clare is the headquarters of the Irish Seed Savers Association (ISSA).

It is a pleasant journey there, along the shores of Lough Derg, with stunning views across the lake as you make your way to this quiet corner of Clare.

There are 20 acres of orchards, polytunnels, raised beds, a seed bank, shop and cafe to explore once you get there.

The association was founded in 1991 by Anita and Tommy Hayes with the intention of creating the first central store of food crop seeds and fruit trees in this country. It is now at the forefront of curating the plant genetic resources of native and heritage food seeds and fruit trees.

There is a living seed bank on site which maintains the country’s precious biodiversity and helps to educate the public at large about this very important job.

The apple orchards on site are recognised as a living gene bank and listed in the European EURISCO plant genetic resources database. The work here mainly focuses on the preservation of heirloom and heritage food crop varieties which are native Irish or suited to our climate.

There are currently more than 600 varieties of heritage food seed housed in the seed bank and over 180 varieties of heritage apple trees on site.

The 20 acres is located in a gentle valley with rolling hills either side. One slope faces south while the other is sloping north, with the main seed bank building and reception building situated in the valley between the two slopes. The seed bank has processing and drying facilities.

 The seed bank facility at ISSA in Scariff, Co. Clare
The seed bank facility at ISSA in Scariff, Co. Clare

From farm to finish involves collecting, sorting, threshing, dehumidifying, packing and sealing. There is a long term freezer facility on site as well as a small laboratory and a seed stock room.

The construction of the seed bank facility has enabled an increased volume of better quality seed to be produced.

The Native Irish Apple Orchard Collection was started by Keith Lamb in the 1940s and now resides at Scariff. There are ongoing apple projects which aim to collect and preserve traditional Irish apple varieties which were grown for their particular taste, cooking qualities and texture.

Some of these older varieties may also have good disease resistance and the work is ongoing.

Education is at the heart of the work in Clare and the Education Project was set up with the support of the Genetic Advisory Board at the Department of Agriculture. The aim is to provide greater awareness of the importance of agricultural biodiversity for children.

Education courses for primary school teachers are run during the summer and schoolchildren visit the site regularly, gaining knowledge and first hand experience which they can take back to their own schools and homes.

There is lots to explore at the headquarters at Capparoe, near Scariff, where the project was moved to in 1997 and where it has been continuously developed ever since.

A coppiced hazel hedge greets you at the car park with a series of ponds which create a wonderful wetland habitat area. It’s a great idea to use the coppiced material to create a dead hedge which gives habitat for birds, fungi, bacteria and invertebrates galore!

The main reception and seed bank buildings are the at the hub of the site and exploring out from here, different orchards, seed gardens, glasshouse, polytunnels, grafting sheds, woodland walks, composting toilet, cob house, cob oven and log bee hives can all be encountered along the way.

There has been more than two acres planted with native woodland, which is now home to a variety of wildlife and provides part of a woodland walking trail through the site.

One of the great advantages of visiting a resource like this is seeing all of the ideas and creativity in one place, which can give inspiration for our own gardens.

The shop is home to local crafts, greeting cards, books, and a range of seeds as well as some fruit trees, but it’s best to order online in advance so as not to be disappointed on the day.

It is a hub of activity and there is a lot of very important work going on in this quiet corner of county Clare.

For more details about workshops, seeds and apple trees available for sale, opening times and events taking place this year, check out www.irishseedsavers.ie


Tomorrow is the start of Tree Week (March 19) which runs until March 26 with the theme this year ‘Biodiversity begins with Trees’.

There are a range of activities organised throughout the week, from woodland walks and talks, workshops, wood turning demonstrations and tree plantings throughout the country.

For more details of events going on nationwide, check out www.treecouncil.ie/list-of-events, maybe this is the week to plant a native tree in the garden to celebrate trees!


Cork Alpine Hardy Plant Society are hosting a garden talk this Thursday, March 23 at 8pm.

Linda Murphy from National Botanic Gardens will lecture on “An Approach to Garden Design”. All welcome, visitors €10. Please note change of venue to Northridge House, St Luke’s, Castle Rd, Mahon. T12H970.

 Pulmonaria angustifolia ‘Blue Ensign’ - See Plant of the Week
Pulmonaria angustifolia ‘Blue Ensign’ - See Plant of the Week

Plant of the Week

Pulmonaria angustifolia ‘Blue Ensign’ was putting on quite the show in the car park of ISSA recently.

Growing happily at the base of the hazel hedge, it has rich blue flowers that early pollinators just adore.

It is a low-growing clump forming perennial that does best in full sun or partial shade on damp soil, and is a great plant to bring early colour to the garden.

A great plant for covering a bank or slope, which spreads to about 0.5m and grows to about 0.4m in height when in flower. Also would look great planted in combination with spring flowering bulbs like daffodils or tulips.

More in this section

Sponsored Content

Echo 130Echo 130

Podcast: 1000 Cork songs 
Singer/songwriter Jimmy Crowley talks to John Dolan

Listen Here

Add Echolive.ie to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more