Colour for the Gardener

Colour is everyday and commonplace yet somebody with an artist’s eye can help us to truly see it and understand what it is doing. Andrew Lawson wrote “The Gardener’s Book of Colour” in 1996 and Pimpernel Press has recently released a revised and undated edition.

The Gardener's Book of Colour

The years since it was first published have seen a move in gardening towards a more natural style and planting and a move away from beds and borders where colour and the combination of colours were always of utmost importance. Only last week I was reading about Gertrude Jekyll, the great authority on colour in the garden, while this week I am reading Andrew Lawson on the same topic and it struck me as remarkable that both had an artistic background and both were outstanding photographers. It is a much used comment that somebody has an artist’s eye or a great eye for photography and it is simply perfectly true with Andrew Lawson.

I feel my own sense of colour is rather poor and, were it not for a kind admonishing voice, would certainly leave the house on occasions in rather odd colour combinations of shirt/tie/trousers. My favourite socks have rainbow coloured vamps – which, fortunately, are not visible while I wear shoes. I remove my shoes when I go to my granddaughter’s house so she can see I appreciate her beautiful Christmas gift.

Andrew Lawson can bring an understanding and appreciation of colour even to one so challenged as I. An introductory chapter on the power of colour – “Colour is the most potent weapon in a gardener’s armoury. Nothing in a garden makes more impact” – is followed by a chapter on “Understanding Colour” with an explanation of the colour wheel, saturation, tones, light etc. A treatment of single colours follows explaining how each colour performs in the garden and how each is best used before chapters on harmonies, contrasts and mixed colours. Each topic is lavishly illustrated by reference to plants we can use in our garden and the book finishes with a section, “Keyline Drawings” which refer back to photographs of garden planting schemes in the book, presents them in line drawing format and lists the plants used.

The book is wonderfully written and illustrated and the major contribution to this central aspect of gardening since the writing of Gertrude Jekyll.

[The Gardener’s Book of Colour, Andrew Lawson, Pimpernel Press, 2015, HB, 232 pages, £25, ISBN: 978-1-9102-5802-6]

Paddy Tobin

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


The Art of Gardening…Chanticleer

It would seem impossible that a garden designed by committee would be considered a “standard bearer of excellence in horticulture worldwide” (Dan Hinkley at ) but it seems such is the case for Chanticleer Gardens, on the outskirts of Wayne, Pennsylvania, as they are extraordinarily successful and deeply loved by the American gardening community.

The gardens, developed on what had been a small family farm, extend to approximately 50 acres and were begun early in the 20th century by Adolph Rosengarden who inherited them from his parents though he credits his wife “whose indefatigable interest and impeccable taste not only furthered the enterprise, but also saved me from some horrible follies.” Together they established the Chanticleer Foundation “for education of people from the city on how to landscape and keep places beautiful and attractive.” The charter for the foundation was written in 1976 and opened to the public in 1993.

It is this charter which makes Chanticleer so very different from other gardens. The primary aim is education  and that is interpreted in a most generous and broad manner so that every effort is made to make gardening interesting, attractive, beautiful, enjoyable and so not only entice visitors to garden themselves but also inspire and show them how to do so well.

William Thomas is the garden director and his approach to his position and the gardeners who work at Chanticller seems to be that there are general guidelines under which all must work but the competence of each gardener is respected and each is given independence and autonomy to develop and maintain a garden which will fulfill the aims of the Chanticleer charter. Thus, Chanticleer is, in fact, a collection of seven wonderful individual gardens and runs contrary to our experience of large gardens where gardeners are generally little more than functionaries to an overall plan.

The Art of Gardening

The book has also been created in the same manner. The garden director, R. William Thomas, introduces the reader to the gardens, its history and raison d’etre, and each of the gardeners then contributes a chapter on their own garden, its design, hard landscape, furniture, maintenance and plants – and plants dominate in all accounts of the garden. The photographs of Rob Cardillo are quite excellent and illustrate the book wonderfully so that visually the book is as inspiring and as educational as the gardens themselves.

As with a garden designed and maintained by a committee I  believed such an approach to writing a book could not succeed but, as the garden is an outstanding success, so is the book. Rob Cardillo

[The Art of Gardening, William Thomas and The Chanticleer Gardeners, Timber Press, Portland, 2015, HB, 338 pages, £25 ISBN: 978-1-60469-544-1]

Paddy Tobin

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


Gertrude Jekyll – A Lady of Many Talents.

Gertrude Jekyll was without doubt the person who most influenced the style of English gardening and gardening worldwide through the 19th and 20th centuries. However, she was much more than a gardener; her talents elsewhere were equally gifted and this book gives a wider view of the person and the breadth of her achievements.


Gertrude Jekyll (1843 – 1932) could be described as the greatest of the artist gardeners.  She selected plants for their artistic merits, for how they would contribute form, shape, texture and colour to the picture she was creating.  It was said of her that a plant was “a colour in her paint box”.  She approached horticulture from the perspective of a painter and garden planning as a series of pictures. Of course, the most famous and best known of her garden paintings was the hardy herbaceous border in her garden at Munstead Wood, created in the early 1890s and measuring 200 feet x 14 feet, backed by a high wall and featuring the harmonious colour relationships she developed  and which became de rigueur in all better gardens.  It is estimated she designed over 400 gardens many in partnership with the successful and famous architect Sir Edwin Lutyens.

Parallel with this wonderful ability she was also a talented silversmith, woodworker, craftswoman and photographer; she was extraordinarily interested in vernacular architecture and domestic design. Of course, she was a very successful author writing over 1,000 articles for gardening magazines; generally, illustrating them with her own photographs and also wrote a list of very successful and influential books.

(c) Elizabeth Banks; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Portrait of Gertrude Jekyll by William Nicholson, painted October 1920; commissioned by Sir Edwin Lutyens, donated to the Tate Gallery in 1921

This book is neither a biography nor a discussion of her contribution to garden design but, rather, it explores the many activities and enterprise in which she was engaged and so presents us with a fuller picture of this remarkable woman – artist, craftswoman, designer, photographer and author.

It is an excellent book, interesting, informative and enjoyable to read.

[Gertrude Jekyll at Munstead Wood, Judith Tankard & Martin Wood, Pimpernel Press, London, 2015, first published 1996, HB, 207pp, £25, ISBN: 978-1-9102-5805-7]




by Thomas Hood

No sun–no moon!
No morn–no noon!
No dawn–no dusk–no proper time of day–
No sky–no earthly view–
No distance looking blue–

No road–no street–
No “t’other side the way”–
No end to any Row–
No indications where the Crescents go–

No top to any steeple–
No recognitions of familiar people–
No courtesies for showing ’em–
No knowing ’em!

No mail–no post–
No news from any foreign coast–
No park–no ring–no afternoon gentility–
No company–no nobility–

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member–
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,

And, so the first frosty and foggy morning of the year arrived!

This is how the garden looked this morning.

Garden in fog  (4)

Garden in fog  (5)

Garden in fog  (9)

Garden in fog  (6)

Paddy Tobin. 

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


Julius Caesar, where did you come from?

Primulas do very well for us in our Irish climate and it is no wonder that we have a long list of cultivars which have arisen  and been named here. These are passed around from friend to friend but, unfortunately, can be lost over the years so it is well to take care of them and to give them to friends whenever they come your way.

Primula 'Julius Caesar'
Primula ‘Julius Caesar’

This little darling, Primula ‘Julius Caesar’ was very kindly given to me during this past summer, a small plant in a 10cm pot and, as the saying goes, the best gifts come in small boxes and it has lived up to that saying. When I went to plant it in the garden I managed to get three very small growths and these have bulked up very well in the last months and are now, unseasonably, in flower at the moment tricked by the wet and warm conditions of our unusually mild autumn. It promises to be ready for splitting again after flowering in the spring and, hopefully, I will be able to pass on a piece to somebody else who will grow it, pass it on in time and so preserve a little of our Irish gardening heritage.

Primula 'Julius Caesar'

The best source of information on heritage Irish plants is to be found in Dr. E. Charles Nelson’s book, “A Heritage of Beauty” which was commissioned by the Irish Garden Plant Society in 2000. Charles was the founding member of the IGPS and taxonomist at the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, Dublin, and has always had a passionate interest in Irish plants, Irish gardens and Irish gardeners, indeed all things horticulturally Irish. The book is out of print but a small number of copies are still available through the IGPS website.

In his description of Primula ‘Julius Caesar’, Charles writes:

This primula dates from before 1954 and is described as “One of the first to bloom and one of the best… large red-leaved, claret coloured flowers.”
The flowers are single, deep claret on bronzy-green foliage. It was raised by Miss Winifred Wynne, Tigroney, Avoca, Co. Wicklow. This very fine cultivar was said to have been a seedling of ‘Miss Massey’. In 1967 Cecil Monson reported that “although ‘Julius Caesar’ was ‘a strong grower with me it seems to be very rare”.

Primula 'Julius Caesar'  (1)

Charles does not give any note of explanation as to why the name, “Julius Caesar” was applied to this plant, a name which has amused and puzzled me. There is a long list of primula cultivars in A Heritage of Beauty and, for the most part, the names are understandable. There are those which are descriptive: “Old Irish Blue”,  “Cloth of Gold” or “Dark Beauty”; those whose name recall their location of origin: “Kinlough Beauty”, “Rowallane Rose” or “Tipperary Purple”; those which recall a person: “Lady Greer”, “Dark Rosaleen” or “Doctor Molly” but where or why the “Julius Caesar” attached to this primula arose is a mystery to me. Nonetheless, it promises to be a fine garden plant and one which I look forward to multiplying and passing on to other gardens where it will be equally treasured.

Primula 'Julius Caesar'  (4)

Paddy Tobin

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

Label that Memory

While cutting down a now large clump of crocosmias I came on a label in the centre which read, “Crocosmia Bristol/Severn Sunrise/Sunset.” Check the name. From Anna Nolan. Sept. 02″ .

Crocosmia'Severn Sunrise'
Crocosmia’Severn Sunrise’

I know now that this is Crocosmia ‘Severn Sunrise’ and I have enjoyed it in the garden for the years since I received it as a gift from Anna when we visited her garden in September 2002. It is odd the memories which we attach to gardens but most engrained in my mind are the directions we used to get to her. We travelled up the N11 – long before the new layout there at present – and, after passing St. Brendan’s Hospital in Loughlinstown, would keep our eyes peeled for a pair of service stations, one at either side of the road. When we passed the one on the left we knew it was time to move to the right hand lane and do a U-turn to move to the opposite carriageway. Such a move nowadays would probably bring Dublin traffic to a standstill for hours. We then passed the other service station and took the next left and though we knew the address, 12 Shanganagh Vale, it was always the planting which guided us to the house. There was no doubt but that you were arriving at the home of an enthusiastic gardener as Anna’s plantings extended out on to the pathway outside her home

Front garden - you knew straight away that this was the garden of a plant enthusiast.
Front garden – you knew straight away that this was the garden of a plant enthusiast.

Anna always had what we might call tasty plants, something different, new and interesting. She created a beautiful garden but was first and foremost a lady with a passion of plants. She was very active in local gardening societies and had been especially involved in the Dublin branch of the Alpine Garden Society from its very beginnings. Shirley Lanigan in her “Irish Gardens” wrote, “This is a perfect, tiny town garden that earns its keep all year round” and it was Carmel Duignan who recalled a French journalist commenting when he visited that the garden was “Tres chic”.

At the back of the house, a beautiful garden
At the back of the house, a beautiful garden
Anna showing the garden
Anna showing the garden
I recall these steps had only recently been built when we visited in September 2002 and Anna was so delighted with them
Tea, cakes, chat and plenty of beautiful plants

It was always a pleasure to visit and her gardening friends remember her with great fondness as, unfortunately, Anna passed away in 2009. So, it is good to have a well inscribed label and a plant in the garden which preserve her memory for us.

As an aside, Anna came to visit our garden with the Irish Garden Plant Society on one occasion. Her husband, Seán, was one of the party but Seán was not particularly interested in gardening, certainly not an enthusiast at any rate and, soon after arriving, someone commented that he was a bit grumpy because he was missing a football game on the television. Seán and I slipped away from the group and I set him up with television, bottle of whiskey and glass and I believe no visitor has ever enjoyed our garden so much.

Some of the plants from Anna’s garden photographed in September, 2002:


And rain never deterred the enthusiastic gardener.
And rain never deterred the enthusiastic gardener.

Paddy Tobin

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