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