Galanthically Annoyed!!!

There’s always one; and there’s probably more than one! There are always those who think they are not bound by the practices of normal politeness; those who feel free to demand without any right to do so, to complain and grumble without any justification.

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Snowdrops have been an interest for over twenty years with a few new varieties collected each year; a few received from friends and a few exchanged with fellow enthusiasts. Newspaper articles regularly comment snidely on the blinkered enthusiasm of galanthophiles – a term which has become one of derision, departing from its simple and what was its original use to describe people who are lovers of snowdrops. Of course, these comments and such attitudes come generally not from snowdrop enthusiasts but from newspaper/magazine contributors in need of something to fill a page or two and material with a little frisson always reads more entertainingly and they consider it better not to allow the truth to impede.

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My own experience in snowdrop circles has been overwhelmingly positive. Our dabble into snowdrops started modestly with purchased dry bulbs of the common snowdrop; I grew G. caucasicus from a society seed list and then Mary began ordering three different snowdrops each year from Avon Bulbs or Beth Chatto’s. A few years later, a great gardening friend in Northern Ireland, Bob Gordon, heard of Mary’s interest in snowdrops and sent on a box of snowdrops and followed up with further boxes in subsequent years. Margaret Glynn and Harold McBride were also generous donors – and so it developed until Mary put me in charge of our snowdrops as they came in such number that she felt no longer able to keep track of them all. Over the years more and more wonderful friendships developed and snowdrops flowed into and out of our garden with no thoughts of who owed whom what or whatever. Most snowdrops here are now treasured because of their connection with some generous gardening friend.

Various online forums allow enthusiasts to view the gardens and prize snowdrops of other enthusiasts and to show one’s own.  Contacts are also made and offers of special snowdrops received regularly. It is all in a generous and friendly manner – well, mostly so!

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Recently, someone wishing to start a snowdrop collection asked if I would sell some snowdrops. I explained that this was my hobby and that I felt selling them would change the nature of my pastime and I didn’t wish to do so. This was followed by a request for swaps though this person at present has nothing to swap other than taking bulbs from wild populations, something I could not encourage. There followed a request, which might more accurately be described as a demand, that I simply give bulbs to help start their collection. Now, if this were a person I knew, someone who lived close enough to drop in, then I could easily lift a few bulbs and pass them on but, for this person, I would have to lift them, package them and post them to the continent and I thought this a little unreasonable. This person was “very disappointed” with my lack of generosity and very taken aback that I would not oblige.

Perhaps, I shouldn’t find this upsetting but my experience with gardeners has so often been so very positive that this incident came as quite a shock. I suppose this is just a fly in the ointment and I should dismiss it and enjoy the snowdrops and the snowdrop people who have always been a joy and a pleasure!

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Post Scriptum: The Christmas period did not allow time for writing – seasonal celebrations, visiting family, the christening of a beautiful grandson and laptop trouble – so it is good to get back to the keyboard again.

Though belated, a Very Happy New Year to you all.

Paddy Tobin.

To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook

Irish Heritage Plants – A Review

A very nice review from Kevin Hutchinson in Irish Forestry.

And I’m cheating on my blogging – as I have not written in a while –  by using somebody else’s material. The holiday season, visitors, illness and computer difficulties have all intervened but I’ll soon get back to it. The break did allow great time for reading though and I enjoyed that! Happy New Year!

 

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Going Home to Cork – Brownea x crawfordii

William H.  Crawford (1812 – 1888) was one of a set of enthusiastic gardeners in Cork in the 19th century. William Edward Gumbleton and Richard Beamish were two others of this group.  Crawford inherited ‘Lakelands’ on the shore of Lough Mahon and, as with Gumbleton’s ‘Belgrove’ and nearby ‘Fota’, the garden was situated in an area which allowed the owners to grow many tender plants outdoors. To this day, Cork gardeners enjoy the facility of growing many plants outdoors which simply will not survive outside elsewhere in Ireland

The names of the Crawford and Beamish families will be familiar to many through their brewing business – Beamish & Crawford and the Crawford name continues in the Crawford Municipal College of Art and the Crawford Municipal Technical Institute as he was a generous benefactor to many good causes in Cork.

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Brownea x crawfordii – photograph from Carlos Magdalena

Crawford’s arboretum contained Himalayan and Andean plants, including Rhododendron falconeri, R. thomsonii and R. dalhousiana along with Berberidopsis corallina, Dacrydium franklinii, Podocarpus andinus, Cordyline indivisa all growing out of doors when, at the time, they were generally considered conservatory plants. The Himalayan Magnolia campbellii also grew there and flowered there for the first time in the British Isles. It was also grown in Gumbleton’s ‘Belgrove’ where the original tree still exists.

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Brownea x crawfordii – photograph from Carlos Magdalena

Crawford was best known for his collection of Brownea species which are native to Central America and the West Indies and are too tender for outdoor cultivation in Ireland. The species are trees or shrubs which produce very showy red inflorescenses. He grew his collection in a glasshouse and in 1876 he reported that they threatened to outgrow the greenhouse and rather than cutting the plants back he had an addition of several feet in height made over the whole house, later removing the lower roof.

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Brownea x crawfordii – photograph from Carlos Magdalena

Numerous reports of his collection were published in The Gardener’s Chronicle and in The Garden between 1873 and 1888. Among the collection was Brownea macrophylla which was painted by M. Hill and this illustration appeared in The Gardener’s Chronicle. In 1878 this plant was in flower over a two month period and bore over 100 inflorescenses.

One of Crawford’s preoccupations was the hybridisation of Brownea species and succeeded in raising several hybrids. One of these,  Brownea grandiceps x Brownea macrophylla, was named Brownea x crawfordii. He sent a plant of this hybrid to Kew in 1888 very shortly before his death and it flowered in 1891. Another plant sent the Botanic Gardens at Glasnevin flowered in 1890.

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Brownea x crawfordii – photographs from Carlos Magdalena

Carlos Magdalena who is the chief propagator at Kew Gardens in London is presently propagating plants of Brownea x crawfordii and asked me recently if I thought some Irish gardens might like to grow it again and, already, we have made arrangements that one will go to the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin and another to Blarney Castle Garden in Cork. It will be good to have William H. Crawford’s plant back in Ireland again and, especially so, to have it back in Cork.

Isn’t it wonderful that the plant – for this is a direct descendant and a vegetative propagant from the original – that William H. Crawford raised, grew and sent to Kew will be returning to Ireland. Many, many thanks to Carlos for his kindness and generosity and for the thoughtfulness that this plant would be appreciated in its home place.

The background and historic material for this article was taken from “Irish Horticulturists. I: W. H. Crawford” by T. Crawford and E. C. Nelson in Garden History, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Summer, 1979), pp. 23-26. Published by The Garden History Society.

All photographs are courtesy of Carlos Magdalena.

Paddy Tobin

To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook

The Extra Room – A Review!

Armchair gardening is hugely popular. We have regular garden shows, garden festivals, books, newspapers, magazines, television programmes and eternal reruns on YouTube. There certainly is no lack of inspiration for the novices who wishes to create their own green paradise, their own room outside, their own Extra Room and who better to guide them along the way only Diarmuid Gavin.

Diarmuid Gavin is one of the better known of Irish garden designers with many years of television programmes, books and fabulously entertaining, enjoyable and imaginative show and home gardens behind him. Who better to show the way!

The book title, “The Extra Room” echoes the phrase coined by John Brookes, one of Britain’s most influential garden designers. It was he who brought us the term “room outside” and Diarmuid Gavin’s approach here is of the same practical nature, to develop the area outside our houses so that it will become both a practical and aesthetic addition to the home.

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He states his purpose as follows: “My aim is for you to take note of what you have, consider what you’d love and show you the steps towards achieving the Eden of your dream. The most important thing is relax, take hour time and enjoy. Gardens are ultimately about cultivation ‘- growing something. The basics are easy and the rewards can be everlasting” He begins by cautioning that the level of media coverage given to gardening may lead to unrealistic expectations and emphasises that “gardening is something you learn slowly and by taking a few wrong turns.” He lists some of his personal favourite gardens, his own inspiration, and outlines various styles which may both influence and inspire the new gardener – cottage garden, contemporary etc but turns quickly to the practical aspects one must deal with when beginning with their garden – storage, play area, eating area etc, another room to the house.

Subsequent chapters bring the reader through the steps in making a plan, choosing material, garden buildings and the selection of plants – and though it is a limited selection which is presented in the book it is a choice selection and each plant deserves its place in his listing and would grace any garden. Another chapter covers lighting, water, pots, the installation of a fire pit and similar interesting “additions” while it is very interesting to read his own account of several gardens of his own design.

Diarmuid has always made gardening entertaining and fun and this enthusiasm and joy in what he does also runs through this very practical book. Though our own garden is now about thirty years old I found much of interest in this book and will be passing it on to my son who is presently starting his own garden.

[The Extra Room, Diarmuid Gavin, Gill, Dublin, 2016, Hardback, 198 pages, ISBN: 978 07171 7254 2, €22.99]

Paddy Tobin

To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook

The Breathing Burren – A Review

The Breathing Burren by Gordon D’Arcy

It is wonderful to pick up a book and have the immediate reaction “Oh, this is beautiful” – comfortable in the hand, attractive in size, print and illustration – and there is an immediate longing to read. This is how it was when Gordon D’Arcy’s “The Breathing Burren” arrived from The Collins Press recently and my subsequent slow and savouring read proved that my first impressions were not only accurate but even understated. The author admits to an infatuation with The Burren and I certainly confess to a deep awe in the area so the book had certainly come to a receptive reader.

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Gordon D’Arcy is Belfast born and came to explore The Burren, fell in love with the place and moved there and has been resident for over thirty years. His 1999 The Natural History of The Burren has been an inspiration to many who have come to love this unique environment in Co. Clare. The Burren is a landscape of limestone karst, its clints and grykes housing a summer display of flowers which attract both plant enthusiasts and tourists in great numbers.

The author describes this volume as a “salutation” to The Burren and presents a marvellous miscellany of experiences, recorded in his diaries, from many years of roaming the area so we are presented with a distillation of years of enjoyment and experience. As such, it is a book of highlight, of great experiences and wonderful occasions, a compendium of personal experiences which may not be unique but are certainly memorable – the first flowering of gentian in the spring, the incredible encounters with stoats and otters, the rare migrant seabirds, the dawn chorus of Burren birds and broadened and deepened by his recollections of other enthusiasts with whom he had spent time on The Burren. There are accounts of farming, caving and archaeology, all engaging and informative and all very pleasantly illustrated by the author’s watercolour paintings which are quiet and unobtrusive but a perfect complement to the text.

Beyond the recollection of happy events and encounters there is a final substantial section, “Musings” where the author goes far beyond the simple recollection of happy days poses serious questions which he has considered himself and urges us, the readers, and everybody involved with The Burren – those living there, those responsible for decisions which will affect the area – to think about what the area, its value, its use, its worth, its contribution to our culture and how we might care for it for the future.

It is clear that the author is passionately in love with this wonderful area of our country and this love extends far beyond simply enjoying it – which is about the extent of my interaction with the area – to feeling a responsibility and duty of care for it. When you read this book you will understand why he feels this way and you will find yourself agreeing with him very easily.

This is an outstanding book which goes beyond the usual approach of simple descriptions of the natural phenomena of The Burren and is likely to inspire an even greater appreciation for this treasure which is part of our landscape.

[The Breathing Burren, Gordon D’Arcy, The Collins Press, Cork, 2016, Hardback, 304 pages, ISBN: 9781848892682, €24.99 – €17.49 special offer on The Collins Press website at the moment: http://www.collinspress.ie/the-breathing-burren.html]

Paddy Tobin

To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook

Snowdrop – far more than a simple flower!

As with its subject matter, this book is a joy, a jewel, a treasure and an interesting, and different, addition to our reading material on snowdrops. Few could deny the appeal of snowdrops in the garden, those apparently dainty flowers which defy our harsh winters and bring interest over the six months of October to March. There has been a strong resurgence of interest in these flowers over recent years but over the centuries they have appealed not only to avid gardeners but also to artists, authors and musicians among others and this book delves into this broader appeal. Even the early chapter which describes the various species of galanthus concentrates as much on the social, historic and geographic connections as much as on the purely botanic. It adds an interesting and very enjoyable richness to the treatment of the marvellous genus of plants.

Of Irish interest is that the first recorded use of the name “snowdrop” was in 1664 by the Irish chemist and physicist, Robert Boyle in a paper entitled, “Experiments and Considerations Touching Colour”.  Another early name was “schneetropfen” as the closed snowdrop flower resembled the greatly valued pearl earrings of the time – as seen in Johannes Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring”(1665). The French admired its ability to pierce the snow calling the flower “Perce Niege” while the Spanish referred to them as Spring Bells, “Campanilla de Invierno”. These latter do seem somewhat more accurate and appropriate than John Gerard’s “timely flowring bulbus violet”.

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We hear the word “galanthophile” used nowadays almost as a pejorative term and though it was listed in the Oxford English Dictionary in 2012 it was in fact first used by E. A. Bowles (1865- 1954) early in the last century. The caustic pen of Christopher Lloyd wrote that he grew around twenty snowdrop varieties in his garden but that “a genuine nutter might have upwards of 300 and still be far from sated” while Reginald Farrer, famed plant-hunter, commented “the snowdrop gives me chilblains only to look at it.”  Yes, indeed, they can be an addictive interest and while this book will certainly appeal to the “nutters” it will also appeal to those of more modest interest as the author threads her way through the wide and various ways in which snowdrops have been loved, used, appreciated and featured over the centuries. It is a wonderfully interesting journey, full of insight, unimagined connections, and delightful treasures.

Gail Harland’s previous books, The Tomato Book (2009), Designing and Creating a Cottage Garden (2011) and The Weeder’s Digest (2012), were each well-researched, readable and enjoyable and she has continued with another excellent volume. You will enjoy Snowdrop whether you are a nutter or not!

[Snowdrop, Gail Harland, Reaktion Books,London, 2016, Harback, 216 pages,£16, ISBN: 978-1-78023-492-2]

Paddy Tobin

To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook

The Making of Place

The Overview!

The extraordinary range of approaches and styles one sees in gardens throughout the world, in different countries and different cultures can be quite bewildering. It is fortunate to have one such as John Dixon Hunt, who seems to have a comprehensive knowledge and grasp of all matters of garden design, to organise such divergent and wide-ranging approaches and present them to us in a way that is easily comprehended. I cannot say that I didn’t find this book challenging – I am no more than an amateur domestic gardener – but I also found it informative, insightful and, very importantly I believe, enjoyable. To be educated without enjoyment would be a dreadful trial and educated I was while certainly enjoying the process.

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The traditions of garden design stretch back over the centuries and while many of today’s gardens play homage to this tradition, garden designers of today also seek to be innovative, fresh, spontaneous and reactive to the differing situations with which they are presented as they seek, in the words of the author, to make a place for respite in nature. The author discusses approximately one hundred gardens ranging from large to small, public to private, botanical gardens, campuses academic and industrial, parks large and small, memorial and sculptural gardens, festival and reinvented gardens, even gardens still only on paper, a wide range from around the world – the United States, Australia, China, Germany, United Kingdom and France. Each is discussed and each is assessed for its contribution, importance and influence in landscape design and it is particularly heart-warming that the author can be unhesitatingly honest and critical where such is demanded.

John Dixon Hunt’s early academic career was in teaching English literature. He wrote extensively in this area before pursuing an even more successful and highly regarded academic career in the study of gardens and landscapes. He is presently Emeritus Professor of the History and Theory of Landscape at the University of Pennsylvania, edits the journal Studies in the History of Gardens and Designed Landscape and is the author of many books. Given that he normally writes for an academic readership or those already familiar with gardening philosophy, theory and history it comes as a pleasant surprise that this book is written to be easily accessible to all who are interested in gardening, amateur and domestic as well as academic and professional.

The author’s knowledge seems to be encyclopaedic and his grasp of the subject comprehensive yet he presents a wealth of information and comment in a manner which is a pleasure to read and which gives the reader an overview of the current landscape and gardening scene – quite an achievement and a joy to read.

[The Making of Place: Modern and Contemporary Gardens, John Dixon Hunt, Reaktion Books, London, 2015, Hardback, 304 pages, £25, ISBN: 978-1-78023-520-2]

Paddy Tobin

To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook