Issai in the Box

Issai made a very speedy journey from Naas to Waterford. Ordered on Monday, packed and readied for dispatch later that day, collected by a courier on Tuesday morning and delivered to Waterford early that afternoon. It wasn’t a long time to spend in the box though the care taken with the packaging ensured it was a comfortable and safe journey and that Issai arrived here in perfect condition.Stachyurus praecox 'Issai'  (1)

I had spotted Issai – or to give the full name, Stachyurus praecox ‘Issai’ one day when I dropped in to Johnstown Garden Centre just off the M7 outside Naas. We didn’t have any Stachyurus in the garden at the time but had been admiring a group in flower in Mount Congreve gardens and wanted one. The dark stems and the pendulous flowers are very attractive and, with “Issai”, the flowers are noticeably larger and make a better display.

Stachyurus praecox  (1)
Stachyurus praecox

Stachyurus praecox 'Issai'  (2)

Once home I planted it in a sheltered spot, a spot occupied until then by a clump of Inula Magnifica, adding plenty of garden compost to the area, watering well during our dry April and yet “it died on me”.  I considered it might have been hit by a late frost but the flowers on a nearby Magnolia x soulangeana were not touched so that seemed very unlikely. Its failure was a mystery and a loss so I contacted Johnstown Garden Centre in hopes they would still have some in stock. As luck would have it, they did and so “Issai” made its journey to Waterford and will replace its namesake in the garden today.

Stachyurus praecox 'Issai'  (3)

We have had a few such deliveries from Johnstown Garden Centre as to visit would entail a return journey of more than 250Km and we pass by only occasionally. The speed of the deliveries and the quality of the packaging has always impressed me – and the cost, really very good value – so using their online mail order service has great advantages for anyone living at a distance.

Stachyurus praecox 'Issai'  (4)

Over the past number of years many businesses previously seen as garden centres have changed to become “life-style centres” with ever larger indoor areas wafting of scented candles and scented soap, coffee and cakes but with less and less of a selection of plants. Johnstown Garden Centre, on the other hand, has embraced these changes, indeed probably now has the largest indoor sales area of any garden centre in the country but yet have continued to develop their plants area in tandem so that nowadays they are the premier garden centre, certainly within my striking distance, catering for the traditional gardener who wants the best of plants and the life-style shopper who enjoys the shopping experience and the catering.Stachyurus praecox 'Issai'  (5)

Paddy Tobin

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

The Garden Visit

Garden view (3)

There have been many “Why did we do this” moments of late but a visit from the members of our local garden club inevitably comes around every few years and while it doesn’t involve a great deal of extra work, as we would maintain the garden anyway, it does introduce the element of a deadline, a date when all the gardening jobs need to be finished, everything in place, looking its best and ready for the “inspection” of fellow enthusiasts. No more taking it as it comes, moving bed to border in a casual and relaxed manner, cutting the grass as needed and the weather permitted, a little potting on, a spot of pruning, some dead-heading, splitting and replanting of perennials or pricking out and potting on seed-grown plants as needs demanded. Now, the grass must be cut to look well on the night, the dahlias must be planted out before the visit, the potted cannas must be taken from the glasshouse and placed in their summer positions, potted lilies must be moved to their summer spot by the kitchen door, the vegetable patch must show signs of being productive … on that day!

We spend most of our days in the garden so the workload has not increased significantly but the atmosphere of work has certainly changed. When people are expected for a visit, a meal or a stay we all make sure the house is neat, clean and tidy; it is likewise with the garden. I would not be comfortable having people in the garden if it were not prepared as best I could have it. It is not the best garden in the country but it will be the best I can have it on the occasion of the visit. I wonder if people who open their gardens to the public have this level of tension in anticipation. It is one reason we do not open our garden in this manner – we would feel very strongly obliged to have the garden presentable for all visitors. We did open the garden for one season many years ago to make up numbers for a local garden trail and didn’t enjoy the experience and have never been tempted to do so again.

Garden view (1)

In the past month I have had a running conversation with another enthusiastic gardener on Irish gardens and gardens open to the public. She is a far more forgiving and gentle natured person than I and less inclined to criticism of people’s efforts. I, on the other hand, find myself infuriated by low standards in gardens which charge me admission – a very important distinction this charge as it changes the nature of the garden visit when one pays to enter. Visiting a friend’s garden is more a social occasion where enjoying their company is more important and central to the moment than the garden. The fluffy edges to the lawn or the odd weed are of no significance and the enjoyment is in the chat about this plant and that etc etc. However, I find poor maintenance in those gardens which are pay-to-view completely unacceptable. I mention maintenance first though it does sound rather pedantic because I view it as such a basic requirement. In such a garden weeds in the beds, on the paths, un-mown lawns and the likes are to me the restaurant equivalent of serving a meal on a dirty plate. It feels as if these people have extraordinarily low standards and do not mind charging you for the privilege of seeing it. I wonder at times if they see it themselves – do they really  feel their standards and their gardens are good enough to charge people admission? I find this very hard to believe and am more inclined to the view that they do not realise what standards should be maintained or simply do not care; that if there are fools willing to part with their money they are perfectly happy to take it from them.

Coupled with this situation is an atmosphere that it is unacceptable to criticise gardens. Gardens are seen as very personal and a criticism of the garden will, almost certainly, be taken as a criticism of the person. The same standard does not apply to reviews of restaurants, theatre production or books, for example. In these cases, once the criticism is fair and balanced, it is seen as perfectly normal and acceptable but regarding gardens we must continue with our meaningless platitudes that it is “lovely”, “very nice” and never mention the poor design, the bad taste, the shabby maintenance or any other fault which may be present. I feel there are many gardens around the country which open to the public when, really and truly, they would be better enjoyed privately with family and friends. However, it’s a free world; they are free to ply their wares and people are free to avail of them. A little honesty would be welcome though, in my opinion.

Garden view (6)

Now, in the meantime and back on the home front, there is the list, the list of things to be done in advance of the big visit: get petrol, a waterproof kit for an electrical connection for a pond pump, put canes to the tomatoes in the glasshouse, freshen a bed which has some of my prized snowdrops – Mary won’t touch it! The grass must be cut, not too long in advance and not at the last minute, so I am planning to do this on Tuesday afternoon as the weather forecast is good then but bad for Wednesday afternoon; use the blower to clean the drive and footpaths on Wednesday morning; final gallop around on Thursday. Now, the big question is whether the nine bracks Mary has in the freezer will be enough for the visitors. We will wait and see.

Garden view (5) Garden view (2)

Garden view (7)

Paddy Tobin

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

A Weekend Away – Our Annual General Meeting Weekend in Co. Donegal, May 2015

It’s great fun to go off with a group of fellow gardeners, leave your own patch behind for a while, and wander around other gardens admiring, chatting, photographing and finding new ideas that you might try back home. We had such a weekend recently. It was the occasion of the Annual General Meeting of the Irish Garden Plant Society with the meeting itself held in Glenveagh Castle in Co. Donegal followed by visits to four gardens over two days. A busman’s holiday!  Speaking of buses, it was a delight that we had bus transport on the Saturday as, for us, the journey to Co. Donegal had been a five hour drive.

One overall impression and great delight from our four garden visits was that we were so warmly welcomed in each one of them. Seán O Gaoithin, Head Gardener, welcomed us to Glenveagh with refreshments before our meeting and afterwards, along with other members of staff, brought us on guided tours of the garden. The castle and gardens are situated on the banks of a lake and there are beautiful views at every turn. The Walled Garden occupies an area where once stone was quarried to build the castle and is now a beautiful combination of the practical and the ornamental. The gardener’s house, where Seán lived for some years, attracted every camera in the group like a magnet. We roamed on to the Pleasure Gardens, the Italian Terrace, The Tuscan Garden, The Swiss Walk and all agreed that it was the most enchanting garden we could possibly imagine. This garden alone made the five hour journey worthwhile. Everything else for the weekend was going to be a bonus for me. Apparently, midges can be a nuisance here but it was a blustery day with occasional showers when we visited and we were spared.

Glenveagh View
Glenveagh View
The Pleasure Garden at Glenveagh
The Pleasure Garden at Glenveagh
The Walled Garden
The Walled Garden
The Gardener's House in the Walled Garden at Glenveagh
The Gardener’s House in the Walled Garden at Glenveagh
Glenveagh - a view from the garden.
Glenveagh – a view from the garden.

Our onward journey brought us over the mountains where we stopped to view the Poisoned Glen and Dunlewy Lake. A gale was blowing as we left the bus to take the view but it was worthwhile. The rather odd name for this glen arose from a mistranslation from Irish and the Heavenly Glen would be a more accurate and appropriate name.

We arrived at Cluain na dTor Nursery at Falcarragh in mid-afternoon. Seamus O Donnell with family and staff greeted us and brought us on a tour of the garden. Seamus has a keen interest in growing different and unusual plants and a particular passion, a necessary one given the location of his garden, in identifying plants which will do well at the seaside where salt-laden winds would reduce many a plant to shreds.

Cluain na dTor
Cluain na dTor
Cluain na dTor
Cluain na dTor
Cluain na dTor
Cluain na dTor

Sunday morning brought us to Oakfield Park, a Georgian deanery dating from the early 18th century, now fully restored and the home of Sir Gerry and Lady Robinson. To one side of the house there is a walled pleasure garden and a kitchen garden both restored to perfection while, on another side there is a wonderful downhill vista to a lake and nymphaeum and, further, to a recently installed and magnificent sculpture. Impressive specimen and heritage trees grace the landscape near the house while the parkland at the other side of the road has an abundance of walks through recently planted woodlands with lakes, follies and much to entrance the visitor. The miniature railway brought out the child in us all and we each enjoyed our tour by rail around the grounds.

Oakfield Park view to lake, nymphaeum and vista to sculpture in distance
Oakfield Park view to lake, nymphaeum and vista to sculpture in distance
Walled Garden
Oakfield Park Walled Garden
Oakfield Park Kitchen Garden
Oakfield Park Kitchen Garden
Oakfield Park Sculpture
Oakfield Park Sculpture
Oakfield Park Miniature Railway
Oakfield Park Miniature Railway

Our final garden of the weekend was to Dunmore House, in Carrigans, the home of Lady Maryette and Sir John McFarland. First impressions do matter and here we were immediately wowed by a magnificent specimen of one of the Loder rhododendron cultivars to the front of the house. It was simply fabulous and we continued to be delighted as we walked around the walled garden which was on a slight slope so that the upper part suited azaleas perfectly and the damper lower end was perfect for primulas which flourished there. One red primula stole my heart; it was without a name and had come to the garden, as so many of the old Irish cultivars, “from an elderly lady”. Her memory lives on in the plant here.

Dunmore House
Dunmore House
Dunmore House Walled Garden
Dunmore House Walled Garden
Dunmore House - a fabulous primula without a name.
Dunmore House – a fabulous primula without a name.

It was a wonderful weekend; well worth the long journey and we can only look forward to our AGM weekend in the Cork area next year.

Paddy Tobin

Links:

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

First Ladies of Gardening: Pioneer, Designers and Dreamers by Heidi Howcroft with Photographs by Marianne Majerus – A Review.

First Ladies of Gardening

This has been one of the most delightful and enjoyable books I have read in quite a while. Marianne Majerus’ photographs are immediately captivating and this lead to my having to wait until my wife had read the book before I could have the pleasure. It was worth the wait and if you too wish to read of wonderful gardens and gardeners then I highly recommend this book.

Fourteen gardeners are interviewed, fourteen gardens displayed, and each is given a substantial entry, sufficient to give us far more than a glimpse over the garden wall – rather the gate is opened to us and we are welcomed to view the gardens and chat with the gardeners and the tone of each chapter is such that it is obvious that the gardeners were generous with their time and their information so we gain valuable insights into their gardens. Marianne Majerus’ photographs could stand alone as garden essays but their marriage with the wonderful text makes a perfect combination where one compliments and illuminates the other.

The book is divided into two sections with eight gardens reviewed in “Pioneers of Design” and the remaining six in “New Directions”, the first obvious from its title and the latter for those who have done something new and different with their plots. Overall, this is an unimportant distinction as all entries are so interesting, enjoyable and inspiring. Were I to suggest an overall unifying theme for the gardens it is that each of these gardeners show two fundamental qualities needed to create a good garden – a thorough and comprehensive knowledge of plants and a realisation that this must be matched by hard work.

Gertrude Jekyll’s work is celebrated in the restoration of Upton Grey Manor by Rosamund Wallinger – her own book on this garden is an excellent read, by the way –  as is Vita Sackville West’s at Sissinghurst, Marjorie Fish’s at East Lambrook Manor,  Rosemary Verey’s at Barnsley House, Anne Chambers’ at Kiftsgate Court and also the creations of Beth Chatto and Mary Keen while the contribution of Beatrix Havergal at Waterperry Horticultural School to the making of so many outstanding lady gardeners is warmly documented.

Moving in new directions could refer to the restoration of an ancient garden, the recreation of an established garden or the creation of a new garden in challenging conditions. Gill Richardson’s garden at Manor Farm is in the latter category – Gill’s name will be known from her breeding of Astrantias and her memory will remain fondly in my garden as she kindly sent me a very difficult to source Irish snowdrop which I had failed to find anywhere else. Lady Xa Tollemache’s work on the gardens of 16th Century Helmingham Hall is featured. Rachel James has created a wonderful garden at the seaside while Rosanne James gardens on a sharp country hillside. Sue Whittington has created a country garden in the city while our own special favourite, Helen Dillon, continues to be innovative and creative in an already fabulous garden.

Each entry has a final page listing the “Guiding Principles” and “Signature Plants” of the garden along with a final quotation from each gardener. We all know of Helen Dillon’s wonderful knowledge and flair with plants but she has always been a hands-on and practical gardener. When asked “How do you get rid of weeds?” she replied, “I pick them up between finger and thumb and put them in a bucket.”

This book is a beautiful celebration of 14 wonderful lady gardeners, ladies who have contributed so very much to our joy of gardening, and it is a delight to enjoy them in this book. A great read and a great treat for the eyes!

[First Ladies of Gardening by Heidi Howcroft with photography by Marianne Majerus, Frances Lincoln, 2015, HB, 176 pages, £20, ISBN: 9-780-7112-3643-1]

Paddy Tobin

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

The Plant Lover’s Guide to Epimediums by Sally Gregson – A Review.  

Epimediums Sally Gregson

We have entered a period of renewed interest in epimediums following the introduction of a range of new species from China and the subsequent richness of cultivars bred from them. For many years gardeners have considered epimediums as the pretty plant for dry shade conditions but the new Chinese plants are simply astonishing and have started a revolution in the horticultural world.

While the author always had an interest in growing these plants she was inspired by visits to Elizabeth Strangman’s Washfield Nursery in Kent and to Robin White’s Blackthorn Nursery in Hampshire where she saw a completely new range of plants which brought Epimediums out of the shadows to become the “showgirls” of the main borders. Nowadays, the selection of plants available is far more interesting and attractive than previously with new flower colours and variety in foliage to make these interesting all-year-round plants.

The author does not aim at providing a comprehensive treatment of the genus but rather presents a selection (123 plants described in detail) of the very best available. This book is one of a series of “Plant Lover’s Guides” commissioned by the publishers, Timber Press. It would appear the authors were guided to pitch the books at a level which would be of interest to the enthusiast yet not daunting to the beginner and they seem to have hit this target very well – I have six of eight titles to hand and find them all commendable.

After the introductions, there is a sizeable chapter on “Designing” with epimediums which covers the practicalities of using them in the garden with details of site, soil conditions, companion plantings and plant suggestions sorted into flower size and foliage interest. The newer Chinese species and their offspring get some extra attention as their requirements are somewhat different to what we have become used to for epimediums. These enjoy rich and improved soil and are front of the border “divas”, as the author describes them.

The main section of the book deals with the listing of 123 epimediums for the garden where for each plant we are given notes on its origins, a full description of flower size and  colour, notes on the foliage, how best to grow it in the garden and, regularly, suggestions of where we might obtain the plants. This section is a delight with the plants beautifully illustrated and the text to the point and perfectly informative which, of course, leads to a “Want-list” of some of the most beautiful plants illustrated: E. illicifolium, introduced in 1998 from China, with white flowers and strikingly large leaves; E. grandiflorum ‘Purple Princess’ has exceptional purple flowers while E. grandiflorum ‘Karin’ has flowers of a delightful red. The cranberry-coloured flowers of E. ‘Kodai Murasaki’ and the purest white flowers of E. sempervirens ‘Okuda White’ stir up an unreasonable desire for possession while the two metre – yes, two metres – flower stems of E. ‘The Giant’ signal that epimediums are now what they used to be and that the future will be very interesting.

Photographing epimediums is something I have always found challenging. The flowers are generally small and demand a close-up shot but this fails to show the foliage and general habit while a general shot of the plant fails to show the beauty of the flowers. From this experience I was delighted with the photography, drawn from a number of contributors.

A section on “Growing and Propagating” continues the practical advice aspect of the book with information on position, soil preference, planting and maintenance as well as notes on growing in pots and containers. While most of us will propagate by division there is fun, and possibly new cultivars, to be had from growing from seed. Pests and diseases, though few, are also treated.

A final section on “People, Places and Plants” was the most enjoyable to read of the entire book ranging from Philip Franz von Siebold’s introductions to the work of William Stearn, Roy Lancaster and Ghent University Botanical Garden along with present and past Japanese and Chinese collectors. I found this section most interesting and also see a very interesting future for epimediums in our gardens and recommend this book to anybody taking an interest in the genus.

Epmediums 2 Sally Gregson

[The Plant Lover’s Guide to Epimediums, Sally Gregson,  Timber Press, London, 2015, HB, 238 pages, £17.99, ISBN: 978-1-60469-475-8]

P.S. Sally Gregson visited and gave me a beautiful plant of Epimedium wushanense, spiny-leaved form, but I had read the book and had formed my opinion before that! I am waiting to see the 70 – 130cm flower spike and the 30cm long leaves.

Paddy Tobin

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

Hidden Histories: Trees –The Secret Properties of 150 Species by Noel Kingsbury. A Review

This book presents a collection of snippets of interesting information about a world-wide selection of trees and presents this in an arrangement of text boxes along with accompanying illustrations.136

As would be expected the practical uses of trees feature regularly – those used for building purposes, for making furniture or tools, for weaving into baskets, those which give us cooking oil, food or can be used as medicine. Then there are those to which people have attached various beliefs or superstitions over the centuries and, of course, those selected simply for their beauty, be it of their flowers, fragrance, growth habit or general appearance. Trees are an important part of our environment and this book brings an interesting selection of information to our attention.

Rather than running on with a list I will take a random example of one entry to illustrate what one might encounter in the book: The Black Cherry, Prunus serotina, is native to central and eastern North America which grows to 80 feet in height. It has small white flowers and the autumn fruit is edible with a bitter-sweet flavour. The North American settlers used it to flavour rum. . If you scratch the rugged, dark-grey bark it emits a pepper-like smell. It self-seeds and spreads with ease in its native habitat and has become an invasive tree in parts of central Europe. The foliage, if eaten, can cause illness in cattle but is rarely fatal. The timber is highly prized, being rich dark-brown in colour, strong, easy to work and does not warp easily and is used for flooring, furniture, musical and scientific instruments as well as for smoking food. This information is all contained in one page with an illustration of the foliage and fruit and a thumbnail shot of the tree, half in foliage and half bare.  So, a lot of information in a small space and presented in a post-it note style.

The format is that more often encountered in pocket identification field guides which means it is not a book for a long read but one into which one might dip occasionally or read in short snatches. Ideal for a short daily bus or train commute or, dare I say, while on the throne!

[Hidden Historie: Trees – The Secret Propeties of 150 Species, Noel Kingsbury, Timber Press, London, 2015,SB, 224 pages, ISBN: 978 1 60469 617 2, £14.99]

Paddy Tobin

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