Heritage Irish Plants – An Update!

Heritage Irish Plants Logo 1
Promotional material designed by Jane Stark 

Heritage Irish Plants – Plandai Oidhreachta is a collaborative project between the Irish Society of Botanical Artists and the Irish Garden Plant Society which will lead to an exhibition of the works of the artists and the publication of a soft-back book using the paintings to illustrate a collection of articles. The introduction will be by Dr. E. Charles Nelson, formerly the taxonomist at the National Botanical Gardens, Glasnevin, founder of the IGPS and author of A Heritage of Beauty the reference book on plants of Irish origin and connection.  The coming book, which is being published with the financial support of An Bord Bia, will be available to order in late spring/early summer for a pre-publication price of €25.

When there are over seventy artists and near a dozen contributors working on the project and when these are spread not only around the country but also abroad news of progress comes along in dribs and drabs – but it is always far from drab. Each new report, perhaps a photograph sent to show progress on a painting or a draft of an article, brings new excitement as each is another step along the way to what, I believe, will be one of the most beautiful and significant exhibitions in Irish botanical art and Irish horticulture.

Heritage Irish Plants Logo 2
Promotional material designed by Jane Stark 

Jane Stark, a founder member of the Irish Society of Botanical Artists and one of the contributing artists, has had an accomplished career as a graphic designer and, along with preparing the material for the book and designing its layout, has also designed the promotional material for the project which we will circulate to invite pre-publication subscriptions.

Heritae Irish Plants Publication Brochure 1
Lathyrus ‘Rowallane’ from botanical artist Susan Sex. Graphic design by Jane Stark 
Heritage Irish Plants Brochure 2
Artwork taken from Lathyrus ‘Rowallane’ and ‘Castlewellan’ by Susan Sex and Lathyrus ‘Mount Stewart’ by Grania Langrishe. Graphic design by Jane Stark 


By coincidence, The International Rock Gardener (ISSN 2053-7557), the online journal of the Scottish Rock Garden Club has published a description of Galanthus ‘Longraigue’, one of the snowdrops included among the paintings and has used a preliminary study by one of the artists, Shevaun Doherty, as an illustration.

Galanthus 'Longraigue' from Shevaun Doherty
A preparatory study of Galanthus ‘Longraigue’ by Shevaun Doherty

The story of the origins of the snowdrop is told by Alan Briggs and is reproduced here with the kind permission of the Scottish Rock Garden Club.

“Longraigue‟ – a new Irish snowdrop described by Alan Briggs, photographs by Paddy Tobin.

At the end of 2001 my wife and I were invited to spend the New Year with friends at their home in Co. Wexford, Ireland. Our room was decorated with a vase of flowers containing a sprig of witch hazel and some snowdrops. At that time I was just becoming interested in snowdrops and I was impressed to see them already in flower at the end of December. I found a scattering of these early snowdrops growing in a bed by the front of the house. I admired them and my friend, Carol Gibbon, immediately dug up a few bulbs for me. Back in England they did well, although flowering a little later in the first week or two of January. After a few years I had enough to repatriate some to Irish snowdrop enthusiast Paddy Tobin. They prospered for Paddy whilst mine suffered a setback, so he now has far more than I do. We both think this attractive snowdrop is worthy of a name and I have chosen “Longraigue‟, which is the name of the house where they originated.

Galanthus ex Longraigue.  (3)
Galanthus ‘Longraigue’ 

“Longraigue‟ is an early-flowering example of Galanthus plicatus. The inner petals have a mark which I feel, fancifully, resembles an oil lamp. This comprises a green u-shaped mark at the apex joined to an oval shape in the basal half of the petal which has a lighter part at the centre. The receptacle (“ovary‟) is olive green and slightly elongated; the pedicel is short. The plicate leaves are glaucous green and around 12cm long at the time of flowering, when the scapes are about 16cm. This snowdrop is already gaining admirers in Ireland and would be a welcome addition to any collection.

Galanthus ex Longraigue.  (1)
Galanthus ‘Longraigue’

A previous report on this project can be read here: Heritage Irish Plants – Plandaí Oidhreachta

Paddy Tobin

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




Just Give Them Away!

I have been taught a lesson, a hard and harsh gardening lesson, but I have survived it and all will be well.

Some years back a friend from Yorkshire, Alan Briggs, was staying with friends of his in Co. Wexford for the New Year and was intrigued to see snowdrops included in various posies around the house. He is an enthusiastic collector of snowdrops and was given some bulbs to bring home to grow in his own garden. I heard of them when he posted photographs on the Scottish Rock Garden Club website forum and he later sent some bulbs to me because I have a special interest in Irish snowdrops.

Alan had also passed them around to friends in England but they failed to thrive in each garden where they were planted. However, it simply romped away when planted in my garden and went from strength to strength year after year until I, surely, had a clump of 100 or more flowers but reports from Alan suggested that I might be the only person with a thriving planting.

Galanthus 'Longraigue'  (28)
Galanthus ‘Longraigue’ as it was thriving in the garden

Was I proud to have it so do well in my hands? Yes, I was and delighted but the whisper of the voice of Phylis Lady Moore rustled through my mind regularly and I knew that I had to follow her advice that “the best way to keep a plant is to give it away”.  I knew that it was not a good idea to have all my eggs in the one basket, so to speak, and that the best way to ensure this Irish snowdrop – Galanthus ‘Longraigue’ after the house where is was found – continued to be grown was to give it to other gardeners.

Galanthus ex Longraigue.  (2)

Giving away snowdrops does not mean they are lost; they are simply being grown by friends and it is always possible to ask for a bulb from them should disaster strike. Paul Cutler, who is the Head Gardener at Altamont Gardens in Co. Carlow, and Robert Millar, who has his garden centre in the walled garden at Altamont, are both not only snowdrop enthusiasts but also have a special interest in Irish snowdrops so I gave each a few bulbs last summer.

Galanthus ex Longraigue.  (1)

Surely enough, disaster struck and it struck in the most dramatic and upsetting manner. This snowdrop, Galanthus ‘Longraigue’, was selected for inclusion in the “Heritage Irish Plants  – Plandai Oidhreachta” project of the Irish Garden Plant Society and the Irish Society of Botanical Artists. Shevaun Doherty was to illustrate Galanthus ‘Longraigue’ and when I went to lift bulbs in mid winter to send on to her I came on a sight which sends dread into those who grow snowdrops – the orange and brown streaking of the foliage which shows that the dreadful Stagonospora curtisii was present. This is a fungal infection which can wipe out a planting of snowdrops in a single season. It is particularly insidious as it enters the clump at the time the foliage is dying down and is not discovered until the foliage begins to grow again by which time most bulbs will have been destroyed. Present restrictions on the chemicals we use means there is no effective treatment.

Galanthus ex Longraigue.  (3)

Of the 100 or so bulbs which had been so very beautiful last spring I now had a mere half dozen and these were very miserable. I lifted them with hope rather than confidence and sent them to Shevaun but it was immediately obvious to her that she couldn’t use them and all seemed lost. Robert Millar came to the rescue for the bulbs I had passed on to him had done wonderfully well, are now with Shevaun and will appear in the exhibition in autumn and it will be a special delight for me to see them. The wisdom on Lady Moore’s words had been borne out once again: “The best way to keep a plant is to give it away”

Galanthus ex Longraigue.  (5)
Galanthus ‘Longraigue’ – it will thrive again!

Don’t forget Snowdrop Week at Altamont Gardens between the 8th and the 15th of February and that Robert Millar will have a new and exciting selection of snowdrops for sale in the walled garden.

Paddy Tobin

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



Favourite Books from 2015


I’ve taken a look back over the gardening books I have read in 2015 and selected those I have enjoyed most. It is, I believe, important to say that these are my personal favourites and I don’t aim put them out here as the best books of the year. We all have our likes and dislikes, our particular interests and biases and my choices are influenced by my particular set of likes and dislikes. Books with an Irish interest will always attract my attention while I always enjoy reading of plants, gardens and gardeners.

Top of my list for 2015 and top of that list by a long mile, was The Irish Garden by Jane Powers and Jonathan Hession. It was, I felt, a book we needed here in Ireland, a comprehensive and substantial treatment of Irish gardens which would not only show the wonderful gardens we have here but would do so in a manner and with an authority and beauty that would lead garden lovers, Irish and non-Irish, to appreciate the horticultural heritage of this island. It is no wonder that it won the Inspirational Book of the Year award at the Garden Media Guild Awards in London in November.

Read a full review of The Irish Garden…. HERE! 

Somewhat peculiarly, I have a series of books rather than a single title for my second choice as I feel The Plant Lover’s Guides from Timber Press has been a series of books of the highest standards of editing, production, writing, illustration and information presented in the most accessible and reader friendly manner. I mention “editing” first as I have been very impressed by the work of those at Timber Press in this project. They have selected a dozen flower groups, sought out experts on these and then had each write to a format so that the books in the series are similar in layout and design and are also pitched at a similar lever which will appeal to the enthusiast while being accessible to the beginner. Salvias, Ferns and Snowdrops were published in 2014; Dahlias, Epimediums, Sedums, Tulips and Asters in 2015 with Hardy Geraniums, Magnolias, Primulas and Clematis due in 2016. The titles to date have all been excellent and those coming will certainly be as good.

asters     DAHLIAS     TULIPS

For full reviews: Asters                         Dahlias                                        Tulips

This is the Burren by Karsten Krieger depicts a most beautiful region of Ireland with photography which does it justice. The Burren is among my favourite walking locations where there is also an incredible wealth of wildflowers so it is no surprise that this book would appeal to me. It is a gem of a book.

This_is_the_Burren  Read a full review …… HERE! 

I hold the following three books in equal regard though they each deal with a different aspect of horticulture.  One covers flowers in the wild; the second the delights of a single garden and the third the gardens of a single designer so each has its appeal to different interests.

I have only recently read Flowers of the Silk Road by Christopher Gardner and Basak Gardner and it was a book of almost overwhelming beauty displaying a range of plants which most of us could only dream of seeing.  Christopher and Basak have travelled sections of the Silk Road from Turkey to China over fifteen years and have recorded the beautiful flowers along the route.  The photography is stunning and is presented in a large format and sumptuous book.

Flora of the Silk Road Cover    Read a full review…… HERE!

Paradise and Plenty is Mary Keen’s account of Eythrope in Buckinghamshire, the private gardens of Lord Rothschild, where she gives an historical insight into the development of the gardens as well as describing present day gardening methods and practices there. It is wonderfully written and delightfully illustrated and recounts not only tried and tested gardening techniques which have come down through the years in the garden but also tells of today’s approach and successes.

paradise-and-plenty-131112-800x600     Read a full review …… HERE!

The Gardens of Arne Maynard is a book of the most sumptuously beautiful gardens designed by the author. The photography matches the designs and is quite breathtakingly beautiful. For most of us these are gardens to dream of and with this book you can dream perfectly.

ARNE MAYNARD COVER    For a full review read…… HERE!


Finally, worth mentioning:


Paddy Tobin

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

Paradise and Plenty – A Rothschild Family Garden

Paradise and Plenty – A Rothschild Family Garden by Mary Keen

This book provides the ultimate peep over the walls of a closed and private garden and what a delight we are shown. We are shown Eythrope, the private garden of the present Lord Rothschild, one of a family of great English gardeners.



Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild bought the Waddesdon estate in the Vale of Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire from the Duke of Marlborough in 1874. It was one of a string of Rothschild properties along the Vale of Aylesbury and it was said that on a clear day the cousins could wave one to another from the roofs of their various houses  – Tring, Waddeston, Mentmore, Ascott, Aston, Clinton and Halton. Baron Ferdinand’s wife, Evelina, unfortunately died after only eighteen months of marriage and he move to Waddeston with his sister, Miss Alice, and built a fabulous house in the French chateau style while developing the gardens both beautifully and extravagantly. In a time when the number of bedding plants a landowner used was a good indication of their status the parterre at Waddesdon required 41,000 plants to be planted overnight and these were changed four times each year.

For health reasons, Miss Alice had a pavilion built at Eythrope and because it was considered too damp for her she returned to Waddesdon each night to sleep. It was here in Eythrope in 1875 that she began to develop the garden which would come to the present Lord Rothschild in time and become the subject matter of this book. To give an indication of scale, it was reported that in the early years of the twentieth century the garden had 100 gardeners and an annual budget of £500,000. Miss Alice was a perfectionist, and this would appear to have been a common Rothschild trait, and the gardens were developed and maintained to a standard which is quite impossible to imagine nowadays. That said, the present gardens at Eythrope could certainly be held up as an exemplar of both beauty and best practice in all aspect of gardening.

Mary Keen, the author, was asked by Lord Rothschild to redesign the walled gardens at Eythrope and at her suggestion, Sue Dickinson came to Eythrope. Sue Dickinson had trained at Waterperry College and her first placement was at Malahide Castle before going on to Sissinghurst and under her direction the gardens produce all the fruit, vegetables and flowers for a large county house using methods – many traditional techniques which might otherwise be lost – which are of the very highest standards.

The book is organised thematically, moving through Vegetables, Fruit, Glasshouses, Borders, Special Collections, Pots and Topiary and Flowers for the House while each section is an embroidery of historical notes on the garden and its methods, a description of present practices, advice of selection of plants for the various topics with comments on what has worked best at the gardens. It is a book which is both interesting and highly informative and illustrated perfectly by photographer, Tom Hatton, where an unusual approach is employed with colour photographs used to show the beauty the various aspects of the gardens and black and white photograph used to display the practical aspects, skills and techniques of the work at Eythrope.


I enjoyed the book thoroughly and recommend it unreservedly and, for your interest, Mary Keen will present a talk at Hardymount House as part of the Carlow Garden Festival which is organised annually at the end of July. See the Carlow Tourism website for further information nearer the date.

[Paradise and Plenty – A Rothschild Family Garden, Mary Keen, Pimpernel Press Ltd, 2015, HB, Cloth bound, 304pp, £50, ISBN: 978-1-9102-5812-5]

Paddy Tobin

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



Flora of the Silk Road – An Illustrated Guide

The Silk Road is a place of legends, adventures and dreams, hard travelling and great beauty. It connected the west and the east, Rome and China, and along its various routes it carried trade in silk, spices, gold and ivory and introduced the compass, printing and gunpowder from the east along with learning in astronomy, mathematics and medicine from the Arab nations.

Flora of the Silk Road Cover

The name was first applied by the German geographer, Ferdinand von Richthofen, in 1877 and, despite the name being always mentioned in the singular it was never a single route but a 5,000 mile traverse of Asia which varied over time. What might be described as the central route ran from Turkey through Syria, Iran, Iraq, Central Asia, through Western China to Central China connecting such fabled cities as Istanbul, Kaysen Damascus, Aleppo, Baghdad, Tehran, Kabul, Samarkand and Anxi.

Alternate routes brought travellers to Xi’an via Almatz, over the mountains of Afghanistan or the Pamir of Tajikistan a long journey where water and brigands were plentiful or over the steppes of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and southern Kazakhstan which was flatter, easier but considerably longer. Political upheaval and wars have disrupted travel and changed routes at times but, as the author states, “Whatever else has altered over time in Samarkand and the other Central Asian Silk Road cities, the natural beauty of the area has not.” There has been one constant factor of the Silk Road which neither war nor custom have changed and that is the flowers.

Flora of the silk Road 4
Sample page showing Arisaemas in flower

It was the beauty of the flowers which brought Christopher and Basak Gardner back to the Silk Road over fifteen years to search them out and photograph them in their natural surroundings and, having read the book and especially after enjoying the photographs I am not at all surprised by this. The wealth of species, the breath and range of environments and the sheer beauty of the photography in the book is simply magnificent. It was rather mind-boggling then to read the author saying he had portrayed 545 bulbs, herbs, trees and shrubs in the book and that this represented approximately only 1% of the flora of the regions in which he had travelled as he had estimated that there are approximately 40,000 temperate species to be found along the Silk Road and, as half of the Silk Road is in China, 31,000 of these are to be found there. The numbers only serve to open the mind to some appreciation of the wonders of the plant world in these areas – though I must admit that I found it difficult to open my mind to that extent. We can only gaze with wonder and enjoyment at those flowers so beautifully photographed for this book and try to imagine that there another 39,500 plants we have not seen. It is a statistic I find somewhat flabbergasting.

Sample page showing various iris

Christopher Gardner is a trained horticulturalist who worked for a time at The Lost Gardens of Heligan, travelled extensively in the Himalaya and was co-author with Tony and Will Musgrave of “The Plant Hunters”. Basak Gardner is also a professional botanist and was head of the herbarium at the Nezahat Gokyigit Botanic Garden in Istanbul. Together they have led specialist botanical and wildlife tours worldwide, particularly along the Silk Road.

The lover of plants will experience a taste of heaven while reading this book. The lover of photography and beautiful illustration will risk drooling on the page and all gardeners will be inspired to seek out and grow some of the treasures of the Silk Road in their own garden.

Flora of the Silk Road campanulaceae

Can I blow trumpets in my writing? Can I shoot fireworks here? Can I wave banners so you will know what a wonderful book this is? Unfortunately, not but I do hope you realise what a treasure I believe it is. You will be delighted with this book.

In The Garden (RHS magazine) Roy Lancaster wrote: “Without a shadow of a doubt this is the most spectacular account and presentation of native flora I have ever seen” while, in The Financial Times, Robin Lane Fox wrote, “The most beautiful new book… for a gardener, the book is like a glimpse of paradise”.
[Flora of the Silk Road – An Illustrated Guide, Christopher Gardner and Basak Gardner, I.B. Tauris, London, 2015, HB, 12 X 10 inches, 406pp, £35, ISBN: 978-1-78076-941-7]

Flora of the Silk road 2

Flora of the Silk Road nomocharis

Paddy Tobin

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



Heritage Irish Plants – Plandaí Oidhreachta

The beauty of the work of the members of the Irish Society of Botanical Artists was the inspiration for this project which features heritage Irish garden plants. The ISBA is quite a new society but has already made a fabulous contribution to Irish art and to our heritage of Irish plants with its initial exhibition, “Aibitir” which was an alphabet of native Irish plants. Indeed, the alphabet was twice covered and I had the delight of viewing the exhibition at its launch in the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin and again when it came to Waterford.

The Irish Garden Plant Society was founded in 1981 when a group of gardening enthusiasts noticed that many of the old and treasured Irish garden plants were becoming more and more scarce. Dr. E. Charles Nelson, who was the taxonomist at the National Botanic Gardens at the time,  gathered a group of like-minded people and set out to redress this situation through the IGPS. Charles’ book, A Heritage of Beauty, one of several he has written on Irish plants, continues to be our standard reference.

We are at present checking on the availability of all the plants listed in A Heritage of Beauty so that those which seem to be slipping from being commonly available can be sourced, propagated and placed in safe-keeping with our members who act as Plant Guardians and also with various large gardens around the country which have shown a particular interest in our Irish Heritage Plants – Blarney Castle Gardens is a good example and their garden trail of Irish heritage plants will be of interest to visitors.

This work is being lead by Stephen Butler, Chairperson of the Leinster Branch of the IGPS and Chief Horticulturalist at the National Zoological Gardens, and there is group of others working with him to source these threatened plants, propagate and distribute them. This work is at the centre of the hopes and aspirations of our society and raising awareness of the richness of our plant heritage runs alongside.

Galanthus 'Longraigue' from Shevaun Doherty
Galanthus ‘Longraigue’ – a preliminary study by Shevaun Doherty of this pretty snowdrop found in a garden in Co. Wexford
Betula ‘White Light’ – a preliminary study by Fionnuala Broughan of this beautiful birch bred by John Buckley of Birdhill, Co. Tipperary
Dahlia 'John Markham' painting by Elaine Moore Mackey  2
Dahlia ‘John Markham’ – a preliminary study by Elaine Moore-Mackey

We could not previously have hoped for nor imagined a more marvellous way to show people the beauty of our Irish plants than this joint project with the ISBA. It has thrilled and delighted me to be involved and I feel the exhibition and book will appeal to a great many people and will highlight the rich heritage of Irish gardening and Irish plants.

It is significant and noteworthy that both of our societies, the ISBA and the IGPS, had their origins in the National Botanic Gardens. The IGPS has always had very active members from the Botanic Gardens and, to this day, there is still practical support, advice, exchange of information and plants without which the society would be all the poorer. It was Brendan Sayers, an IGPS member of many years, who mooted the idea of a society of botanical artists and he is central to this project, coordinating the various branches very effectively and he is assisted in this work by another of the Glasnevin personnel,  Alexandra Caccoma of the National Botanic Garden’s library.


Rhododendron 'President Michael D. Higgins' (12)
Rhododendron  ‘Michael D. Higgins’ bred my Michael White, Garden Curator at Mount Congreve Gardens in Waterford.
Primula 'Moneygall'
Primula ‘Moneygall’ one of the range of Kennedy Irish Primulas bred by Joe Kennedy and propagated and distributed by Pat Fitzgerald of Fitzgerald Nurseries in Stonyford, Co. Kilkenny

The project has grown a little since its inception and approximately seventy Irish heritage plants have been selected for the artists to paint. Many of the paintings have been completed while others – those to flower this spring, primulas and snowdrops for example – are being done at present. The selection will include a number of daffodils, iris, dahlias, sweet peas and snowdrops with a bias towards plants which have been introduced since 2001 when A Heritage of Beauty was published.

Of course the paintings will all be beautiful but there are some which I look forward to especially. The snowdrops are a particular interest of mine and a number growing in my own garden have been sent to artists – Galanthus ‘Lady Moore’ which remembers that great Irish gardener, wife of Sir Frederick Moore, Keeper of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Glasnevin; Galanthus ‘Ruby Baker’ remembering a wonderful galanthophile in the U.K. ; Galanthus ‘Cicely Hall’, perhaps our most beautiful Irish snowdrop and Galanthus ‘Longraigue’, a recent foundling from Co. Wexford.  It is a delight to see Agapanthus ‘Kilmurry Blue’ and ‘Kilmurry White’ included as Paul and Orla Woods have always been such enthusiastic supporters of Irish plants.


Agapanthus 'Kilmurry Blue'  (1)
Agapanthus ‘Kilmurry Blue’ from Paul and Orla Woods’ Kilmurry Nursery in Gorey, Co. Wexford which has small flowers produced in abundance and makes a perfect plant for a large pot 
Iris chrysographes 'Kilmurry Black'  (2)
Iris unguicularis ‘Kilmurry Black’ from Paul and Orla Woods’ Kilmurry Nursery in Gorey, Co. Wexford which has a striking dark colour

Pat Fitzgerald of Fitzgerald Nurseries in Stonyford, Co. Kilkenny, has raised the profile of Irish plants internationally with his launch of the Kennedy Irish primulas a few years back and these will feature.  Seamus O’Brien’s Cornus ‘Kilmacurragh Rose’ – a fabulous plant – and his Iris Chrysographes ‘Thomas O’Brien’, named for his brother will both be included. A wonderful birch, Betula ‘White Light’ will be there and will always remind me of the generosity of John Buckley of Birdhill Nursery in Co. Tipperary who bred it and who very kindly gave me a plant.  I am delighted that Rhododendron ‘President Michael D. Higgins’ will be included for several reasons: it is a beautiful plant, it honours an outstanding Irishman and it was bred in Mount Congreve Gardens by Michael White, the garden curator, so it is very local to me and very special for that reason.

I could go on and on. The list of beautiful plants which will be included in this book is simply fabulous and especially so because they are our plants; they are Irish raised plants, part of our heritage and to be treasured for that and “heritage” is not a nebulous term when we talk of plants because these plants bring Lady Moore, Cicely Hall, Ruby Baker, President Higgins, Seamus O’Brien, Kilmacurragh, Pat Fitzgerald, John Buckley and all those others into my garden where I can enjoy them year after year.

I believe the work of the artists of the ISBA – and I have seen some of the early work for this project – will be a delight to all who see it and that the accompanying book will allow people to bring this beauty into their own homes. The book will feature a collection of articles related to the plant groups and will be illustrated by the work of the artists. Jane Stark who was a founding member of the ISBA and who has had a career in publishing is designing the layout of the book and organising all ready for printing.


Galanthus 'Lady Moore' (2)
Galanthus ‘Lady Moore’ which was Phylis Lady Moore’s special snowdrop and has come down to us today and keeps the memory of this wonderful Irish gardener in our minds. 
Betula 'White Light' (1)
Betula ‘White Light’ showing its autumn foliage colour and exquisite bark  in my garden, a kind gift from John Buckley of Birdhill, Co. Tipperary, who bred it. 

While we have been working away on this project in relative privacy, Fionnuala Fallon’s article in the Irish Times Magazine, 16th January, has put it out in the public eye and her comment that further information was available on the IGPS and ISBA websites has rather pushed me to write this article but it is a pleasure to share it with you as I believe it is a wonderful project and that you will enjoy it later in the year when the book is available and the exhibition is launched.


To find out more about the Irish Society of Botanical Artists visit their website: ISBA

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

Read Fionnuala Fallon’s article: “Masters of the Floral Art” in The Irish Times.

Paddy Tobin





Kneepads and things!

My weekend travels brought me to four very large garden centres. On Saturday we went to Johnstown Garden Centre near Naas now, with the M9, only a little over an hour’s journey from Waterford.  We went to meet with friends who use an Irish internet gardening site, Garden.ie. It was a time to press the flesh of those we see for most of the year only in cyberspace, to catch up on news, to chat on gardening matters, to exchange plants and gifts and have a pleasant meal together.  Of course, as Johnstown Garden Centre is the best stocked garden centre that I know, it was also time to purchase a few new plants – something gardeners seem unable to resist and what harm is in that as we enjoy them so much.


However, I had another mission for the day: I wanted a new pair of kneepads. Yes, I had once imagined I wouldn’t be seen dead in the likes but a back which prefers not to bend has me working very often on my knees in the garden and there were several occasions when kneeling on a small pebble led to alarming bruising which ran from my knee to my ankle. Despite my doctor’s reassurance I determined to avoid such in future and have been wearing knee pads in the garden for the past few years and now need a new pair.



Johnstown Garden Centre had two kinds available but both were pads covered in nylon material in aubergine and cerise and I felt this would do little for my manly image which I cling to desperately as the years pass by. I felt it might bring me closer to the vivid pink body-clinging lycra outfits which my friend in New Zealand, Dave Toole, is famous for wearing as he treks the mountains there and while Dave does it with style and aplomb I just don’t have the confidence that I could pull it off. My search for manly kneepads was left for another time and opportunities arose far sooner that I had anticipated.

kneepads 5
No, not my colour!
kneepads 4
No, not for me!

On our return journey to Waterford we stopped in one of the country’s biggest garden centres though I believe their own title, “lifestyle centre”, is more accurate. We browsed the plant displays quickly as we had purchased already and there was nothing which caught our eye and then we went to the enormous indoor sales area where Christmas had not quite finished. There were displays of Christmas decorations and ornaments on sale, pots and pans, delph and cutlery, hats, scarves and coats, boots, shoes and socks, preserves, jams and sweet things and we eventually found the corner, the out of the way and quite small corner, where gardening requisites were displayed.  I don’t imagine the gardening corner took up more than 5% of the ground floor and what was on offer was very little and I found no kneepads. Garden centres have certainly changed and the emphasis has gone far away from gardening. As an aside, we had been impressed by the number of cars filling the carpark and then surprised that the sales area was not as busy as anticipated but realised that the restaurant was doing a busy trade.

More my style! 

Sunday had us in the Cork area to return our son to his college accommodation and it gave us the opportunity to search out the elusive kneepads once again. Our travels brought us to two garden centres, one proclaimed by the notice on the entrance as a Five Star establishment and the other a modern establishment on the outskirts of the city. The restaurants in both were busy; the displays of scented candles, fragrant soaps, bargain Christmas decorations, pots and garden ornaments were stacked almost sky high while the selection of plants was poor – though one had a colourful display of the new Ballerina primulas – and gardening requisites were difficult to find. And, again, I didn’t find my kneepads.

Kneepads 2
Would I look well in these? 

Yes, gardening centres have changed. The gardener is no longer the target market but instead those who wish to eat and adorn their house with ornaments.  I have no doubt but that the demands of running a business profitably determines the manner in which they have developed but I do wish that some more of them, in the manner of Johnstown Garden Centre, could hold on to what gave them existence in the first place – the plants and gardening items – while they continue with their necessary diversification.

kneepads 3
Or these? 

As for the kneepads, I think the local builders’ suppliers may be the place or the local DIY store. I bet there won’t be any aubergine or cerise there! Solid black and functional and not a whiff of scented candle or soap on them!

Paddy Tobin

The images above are all from Amazon.co.uk – where there seems to be an endless range of kneepads and where I may purchase if I don’t find them nearer home. 

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