The Lafcadio Hearn Gardens at Tramore House, Co. Waterford.

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The gardens of Tramore House in Co. Waterford have gone though several major transformations in their time and from that and its latest redesign it can certainly be said to reflect the life of Patrick Lafcadio Hearn after whom they are now named.

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The house and gardens date from the 1880s when Tramore was a Victorian seaside resort at the height of its popularity. Standing on the upper level of the two and a half acre garden it is easy to imagine the wonderful views to the seafront when the house was first built and before later developments interfered. By all accounts the gardens were magnificent on a steeply sloping site with natural rock outcrops, springs and waterfalls. These became overgrown and were left neglected until a restoration was commissioned by Waterford County Council under The Great Gardens of Ireland Restoration Programme with a design by Angela Jupe which developed pathways through the slopes of mature trees to the water basin, canal and rock garden at the lower levels. A natural stream fed a large waterfall while on a terrace a formal pool was developed and at the lowest level there was also a more natural looking pool planted with gunnera and bamboo.  A large border of mixed planting provided colour through the summer month and was a great attraction to visitors.

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The latest reincarnation of the garden is one dedicated to the memory of Patrick Ladcadio Hearn, an author better known in Japan, his adopted country, than here in Ireland and was sparked by the visit to Tramore of his great-grandson, Professor Koizumi Bon, in 2012 and taken up by the voluntary organisation, Tramore Development Trust, in partnership with Waterford City and County Councils with a plan to design a garden which would reflect the course of Lafcadio Hearn’s life and also reflects themes from his writing.

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His father was Surgeon-Major Charles Bush Hearn (a native of Co. Offaly) who was stationed on the Greek island of Lefkada during the British occupation of the islands and married Rosa Antonios Kassimatis in 1949 in a Greek Orthodox ceremony. His father was reassigned to the British West Indies leaving his wife and son in the care of his family in Dublin, an uncomfortable arrangement as they were Protestant so his mother deserted him and he was passed to the care of his grand-aunt Sara Holmes Brenane, a widow who had converted to Catholicism and became her permanent ward at the age of seven.  She lived in Dublin but visited Tramore during the summer months, staying at her father’s estate and this was his connection with the town.  She provided for his education but, along with her financial manager Henry Molyneaux, became bankrupt when he was seventeen and sent him to London where he subsisted on menial jobs until Molyneaux later paid for a one way ticket to Cincinnatti. The promised help from Molyneaux’s sister did not materialise and he was left penniless in a strange city. He eventually worked for the Cincinnatti Daily Enquirer and later the Cincinnati Commercial where his crime reporting was highly regarded and popular.

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He moved to New Orleans where he worked on the Daily City Item and then the Times Democrat where he later took on an editorial position and was also employed to translate items from French and Spanish newspapers. He translated a significant body of work from French to English, contributed frequently to national publications such as Harper’s Weeky and Scribner’s Magazine and wrote extensively on New Orleans, its culture, history and cuisine.

After two years in the French West Indies he went to Japan with a commission as a newspaper correspondent in 1890. This was a short-lived position and he took several positions as a teacher eventually teaching English Literature at Tokyo Imperial University. His writings on Japan came at a time there was a general interest in the west in all things Japanese while his rewriting of Japanese traditional legends and Japanese stories were hugely popular in Japan itself. He became a naturalised Japanese and took the name Koizumi Yakumo in 1886, married the daughter of a samurai family, Koizumi Setsu and had four children.

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He taught in Matsue, a seaside town in western Japan, and the Lafcadio Hearn Memorial Museum and his old residence there are two very popular tourist attractions in the town. The Lefcadio Hearn Historical Centre was established in his birthplace Lefkada, Greece, in 2014 while there is a cultural centre named for him at the University of Durham. Now, we have a garden to commemorate him in Tramore, Co. Waterford.

An essay he wrote, “In a Japanese Garden”, published in 1892 which gives an insight into his own garden in Japan has provided inspiration for the design at Tramore House by Waterford architect, Anne Harpur, and Kilkenny architect, Mike Roberts.

The garden is not yet complete and, as would be expected, looks a little raw and bare at the moment with newly planted and immature trees and shrubs. Some of the hard landscape elements are not quite complete and a small number of structures have yet to be added. The story of the garden is interesting but the planting needs time to develop and lacks the prettiness one wishes to see on a garden visit.  An involvement by the horticultural sections at the Waterford Institute of Technology and at Kildalton College sounds promising for the future development of the gardens but I do hope a full-time qualified horticulturalist is employed so that this garden may reach its potential and continue to develop and flourish for many years to come.

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There is a wealth of information at this website, http://lafcadiohearngardens.com/,   and a read before a visit would make the experience more informed and enjoyable.

Paddy Tobin

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

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The Plant Lover’s Guide to Tulips by Richard Wilford – A Review

TULIPS

All the gardener will need to know about tulips is presented in this book in an informative, concise, readable and well-illustrated manner. The author, Richard Wilford, spent many years looking after the general bulb collection at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, but travels to see species tulips growing in the wild and to the Keukenhof Gardens in Holland, sparked a passion for tulips. He is a member of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Bulb Committee, has contributed to many publications and has also written a number of books, Tulips: Species and Hybrids for the Gardener (Timber Press, 2006), Alpines: From Mountain to Garden (Kew, 2010) and Growing Garden Bulbs (Kew, 2013) all illustrated extensively by his own photographs.

This is one of a series of Plant Lover’s Guides from Timber Press and follows the general layout of the series, a layout which makes for easy reading and quick access to relevant information. Indeed, it is a feature of this series that all the information included in each book is relevant. The editing has been very tight with the authors writing to strict guidelines and I have found this has been a very successful approach and could not but recommend these books to the gardener reader. If there is a title on a plant which interests you then you can purchase that book  with an assurance that you will enjoy it, be well informed and have a good reference book to hand. Others plants covered in the series include dahlias, sedums, ferns, snowdrops, salvias, epimediums and asters. It would be fair to say the series is pitched at the enthusiast rather than the specialist and so will have a wide audience.

After some brief introductory comments the book gives an extensive treatment to “Designing with Tulips” and covers their use as bedding plants, in containers and in mixed plantings, on gravel beds, rock gardens, in woodland and grassy meadows with suggested cultivars or species for each use. “Understanding Tulips” describes the morphology of the bulb before describing the fifteen cultivar groups used to classify tulips today.

The central and largest section of the book, “100 Tulips for the Garden” is the one which will attract readers most and its colourful illustrations and informative comments will have us making lists for the autumn orders.  Given that there are thousands of tulips cultivars the 100 presented here is obviously a selection and has been chosen to show the variety not just in the shade of each colour but also in flower shape, size and bloom time. When the choice available to us can at time be overwhelming such a narrowing down and recommendation of the best is very useful indeed.

The final section, “Growing and Propagation” deals with the practicalities of growing tulips with advice on planting, soil preparation, growing in containers,  pests and diseases etc – the basics, well covered and well explained, to the point and useful.

Another good book in this series, certainly worth a read.

Paddy Tobin

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

Paeonia ‘Derek Hill’

Paeonia 'Derek Hill'
Paeonia ‘Derek Hill’

Many of us will grow the species tree paeonias P. delavayi and P. lutea var. ludlowii in our gardens. They are tough, easy and long-lived plants in the garden with deeply-cut attractive foliage as well as beautiful flowers each year. Both are shrubby plants, upright in habit, and need little care except the removal of any damaged branches or occasional thinning out in order to rejuvenate the plants.

Paeonia delavayi is named after Pere Jean Marie Delavay (1834 – 1895) a French missionary to China who introduced an enormous number of plants, as many as 1,500, as well as collecting, documenting and pressing another 200,000 specimens. The paeonia was named in 1892 and introduced by Gregor Nikolacvich Potanin in 1904. It is found mainly in north Yunnan, south-west Sichuan and Tibet. It grows to 1.5 metres in height and produces its 8cm wide maroon flowers in June. It can be a disappointing flower in the garden and its main strength is in its use in hybridisation, introducing its strong colour to many cultivars.

Paeonia lutea is another woody species which was introduced from China around 1886. P. lutea var. ludlowii was  collected by Frank Ludlow and George Sherriff in Tibet in 1936. This latter introduction was bigger in general size and flower size than the original species and it the one generally grown in our gardens. It grows to 1.5 metres with 10cm yellow flowers.

George Forrest reported on seeing probable hybrids between P. delavayi and P. lutea in the wild. They varied from yellow with crimson blotches at the base to brownish orange. Roy Lancaster reported similar plants in his “Travels in China”. Similar crosses have been found in cultivation with variations in the proportions of yellow and crimson in the flowers as well as differences in flower size.

The best known of these crosses here in Ireland is Paeonia ‘Anne Rosse’, named for Anne Parsons, Countess of Rosse, wife of Michael Parsons, the 6th Earl of Rosse whose family has lived at Birr Castle for almost four centuries. There is a good specimen of this plant at the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin.

Paeonia 'Derek Hill'
Paeonia ‘Derek Hill’

I saw a specimen of a lesser known example of this cross when we visited Glenveagh Gardens in Co. Donegal recently. This is Paeonia ‘Derek Hill’, named for the English artist who settled in Churchill, Letterkenny, and had an association with Tory Island for over 60 years helping to establish the internationally renowned community of artists on the island. The plant grows to approximately one metre in height and the flowers are a dark yellow with distinct red flares on each petal. Dr. E. Charles Nelson, in “A Heritage of Beauty”, records that it was raised by Derek Hill though I have heard that Derek Hill intimated that he had received it as a gift from the 6th Earl of Rosse.

Paeonia 'Derek Hill'
Paeonia ‘Derek Hill’

This paeonia is a very scarce plant in cultivation because of the difficulty of propagating these tree paeonias. For the moment, we will have to enjoy looking at them when we come across them and wait until they become more widely available.

Paeonia 'Derek Hill'
Paeonia ‘Derek Hill’

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 Dahlias by Andy Vernon – A Review.

DAHLIAS

A gardening book written by a knowledgeable, enthusiastic and experienced gardener quickly wins the heart and the mind and makes for enjoyable, informative, applicable and pleasurable reading. Andy Vernon is writing about the razamatazz element of many of our summer gardens, dahlias, and provides wonderful background information on these plants, excellent advice on growing and the other practical information needed to keep them healthy and looking well from year to year. Along with this we are treated to a beautifully illustrated list of 200 dahlias which would look wonderful in any garden.

The earlier sections deal with the aesthetic and practical aspects of how to grow dahlias in the garden, what types are the most gardenesque,  what companion plants to use with them – umbellifers, grasses, perennials, biennials, annuals, tender exotics etc, growing for garden effect, in pots and for cut flowers. Each of these sections comes with suggestions of cultivars which would most suit the purpose.

To help us better understand dahlias there is a brief account of the original species which came from Mexico, were grown by the Aztecs, and were introduced to western gardens in the 1800s. A craze for dahlias gained force in the 1840s which lead to an explosion of bred cultivars and founding of the Dahlia Society in the UK in 1881. Their popularity has waxed and waned over the years and they are presently enjoying a time in fashion again at the moment, something attributed to Christopher Lloyd of Great Dixter Gardens and his championing of Dahlia ‘Bishop of LLandaff’.

Although there are thousands of named dahlia cultivars the author restrains himself to a selection of 200 which he can comment on from his own growing experience. As he says, with dahilias colour is king and he has arranged his selection by colour and each is beautifully illustrated and described succinctly. Indeed, it could well be said of this book and the other books in this series by Timber Press that the editing has been extraordinarily well controlled. These are not books for fluff and waffle but each paragraph has had to prove its worth before being included.

The latter sections of the book deal with many of the practical aspects of growing dahlias – staking, watering and feeding, treatment of pests and diseases, the overwintering of tubers and propagation of new plants.

I doubt if you will find a more practical and useful book on dahlias. I recommend it highly.

Paddy Tobin

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

Outwitting Squirrels – 101 Cunning Stratagems to Reduce Dramatically the Egregious Effects of Garden Pests and Honest Advice Concerning your Chances of Success by Anne Wareham – A Review.

The Bad Tempered Gardener, Anne Wareham, has returned with another salvo for the gardening world in her latest book, “Outwitting Squirrels”. The book is a tongue-in-cheek, dry-humoured, witty treatise on how to deal with the myriad pests which assail our gardens.

Outwitting Squirrels

Traditional and modern solutions are discussed in view of her own experience; some are dismissed for the bunk that they are; others recommended for the success they have provided; the best way forward is planned and comfort and sympathy are dispensed to unfortunate gardener though with a certain air of “What a twat you were to imagine your garden would never have pests or problems – this is what nature is about and does and you are not immune either”.

Given the rather long list of problems dealt with I feel quite glad that the Irish Sea separates me from the U.K. as we are spared a considerable number of these pests here – no voles, for example. The list is, indeed, lengthy ranging from creatures such as squirrels, rabbits, cats, deer, slugs, aphids, vine weevil and ants to infestations such as box blight, clematis wilt and honey fungus but I feel The Bad Tempered Gardener finds the human pest the greatest pest of all with particular scorn poured on gardening “experts”, a description applied liberally nowadays to anybody who has managed to bring themselves to public attention in much the same way as we have so many celebrities about.

The Bad Tempered Gardener is not without her barbs and her wit is sharp but I feel she wears her barbs for her own amusement as much as for public entertainment and that really she is an experienced and gentle-natured gardener with plenty of common sense at the back of it all.

Though writing specifically on advice on dealing with honey fungus her comments reflect her general attitude throughout the book: “What it (advice) does succeed in doing for me is making me feel guilty and obscurely responsible.  If I really tried hard I could have stopped this, goes the thought. It’s bad enough to have honey fungus without feeling guilty about it too. It seems to me that this is the result of much well-meant advice, and it’s worth bearing in mind. People don’t like to appear inadequate, so they don’t like to say, ‘you can’t do anything useful about this problem’. In the garden world especially, remorseless positivity is mandatory, so ‘solutions’ get offered that are possibly no solution at all in reality.”

No, this book will not provide the solution for all and every problem which you may encounter in your garden but, after reading it, – and you will enjoy doing so – you will realise that some problems are inevitable, simply part of the ways of nature, that they rarely are catastrophic and that containing them and enjoying our gardening may be as much as is sensible for us to expect to do in life. The book is light-hearted and fun to read; it contains an amount of solid information and advice but, most importantly of all, shows an attitude to gardening garnered from experience, common sense and a sense of humour.

I should add that the book is simply shooting up on Amazon’s popularity lists!

[Outwitting Squirrels – 101 Cunning Stratagems to Reduce Dramatically the Egregious Effects of Garden Pests and Honest Advice Concerning your Chances of Success, Anne Wareham, Michael O’Mara Books, 2015, Softback, 223pp, £7.99, ISBN: 978-1-78243-370-5]

Paddy Tobin

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

The Paeonia Borders at Mount Congreve Gardens, Waterford

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Early June each year brings one of the most spectacular and popular flower displays at Mount Congreve Gardens in Waterford.  It is one of the most wonderful examples in the garden of Mr. Ambrose Congreve’s planting philosophy of planting in large numbers. He would always wish to have his plants in groups of 25, 50, even a hundred so as to create a striking and powerful impact. He achieved this so perfectly with the Paeonia Borders in the walled gardens.

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Here we have a pair of borders running for over 50 metres along the central axis of the walled garden chock full to a depth of two metres with a fabulous selection of herbaceous paeonias in a wide range of colours, pinks, reds, maroons, whites and yellows. It is a kaleidoscope to delight and dazzle the eye.

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Such a mixed planting of many colours could so very easily be disastrously incoherent, clashing and jarring to the eye but the whole planting is united by being fronted by the beautiful and soothing colour of Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ and then backed by blue delphiniums and the magnificent swags, 4 metres tall, of Roses ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’ and ‘Veilchenblau’.

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I don’t believe there is a display to match these borders in the country; they  truly are magnificent in their proportions, array, design and display.

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Paddy Tobin

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

“Irish Demesne Landscapes 1660 – 1740” by Vandra Costello: A Review   

“Irish Demesne Landscapes 1660 – 1740” is a scholarly treatment of an era of Irish gardening written in a delightfully accessible and pleasantly readable style. Vandra Costello was inspired after reading the diaries of Samuel Pepys to read those of John Evelyn and was very taken by the many references they contained to gardens in Ireland.

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Further research – and, indeed, the research was obviously extensive – lead Vandra to write this description of demesne landscapes of the late 17th and early 18th centuries in Ireland. This was the era when the formal symmetrical style of gardening was fashionable on the continent and Irish gardens were influenced by those in France, Holland and Italy.  Charles II was in exile on the continent at the time and was accompanied by, among others, James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond. These developed a taste for the continental style of gardening and developed their own gardens along similar lines on returning home. This style held sway until about 1740 when the English landscape style of William Kent, Charles Bridgeman and Lancelot “Capability” Brown became prevalent.

The book presents a description of these Irish gardens (1660 – 1740) based on an examination of what remains of the gardens along with archival material, maps etc. and ranges through an examination of the political and economical background of the seventeenth century, the culture of improvement in gardens, the development of the pleasure garden, advances made in horticulture at the time, the use of trees and timber plantations, botanical studies and the physic garden, the use and control of water and concludes with the role of parks for field sports and domestic animals.

The gardens which are the subject of this book are of a bygone era and are almost entirely lost to us. They are part of our horticultural heritage and this book is a wonderful resource which will inform our understanding and appreciation of them. An understanding of the past will inform us in the present and guide us in the future and this book is a valuable contribution to that understanding.

This quotation from John Evelyn might suitably be attributed to this author also: [I] pretend not here to write to cabbage planters; but to the best refined of our nation who delight in gardens, and aspire to the perfection of the arte.

[Irish Landscape Demesnes, 1660 – 1740, Vandra Costello, Four Courts Press, 2015, HB, 256pp, €45, ISBN: 978-1-84682-506-4]

Paddy Tobin

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