Going Home to Cork – Brownea x crawfordii

William H.  Crawford (1812 – 1888) was one of a set of enthusiastic gardeners in Cork in the 19th century. William Edward Gumbleton and Richard Beamish were two others of this group.  Crawford inherited ‘Lakelands’ on the shore of Lough Mahon and, as with Gumbleton’s ‘Belgrove’ and nearby ‘Fota’, the garden was situated in an area which allowed the owners to grow many tender plants outdoors. To this day, Cork gardeners enjoy the facility of growing many plants outdoors which simply will not survive outside elsewhere in Ireland

The names of the Crawford and Beamish families will be familiar to many through their brewing business – Beamish & Crawford and the Crawford name continues in the Crawford Municipal College of Art and the Crawford Municipal Technical Institute as he was a generous benefactor to many good causes in Cork.

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Brownea x crawfordii – photograph from Carlos Magdalena

Crawford’s arboretum contained Himalayan and Andean plants, including Rhododendron falconeri, R. thomsonii and R. dalhousiana along with Berberidopsis corallina, Dacrydium franklinii, Podocarpus andinus, Cordyline indivisa all growing out of doors when, at the time, they were generally considered conservatory plants. The Himalayan Magnolia campbellii also grew there and flowered there for the first time in the British Isles. It was also grown in Gumbleton’s ‘Belgrove’ where the original tree still exists.

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Brownea x crawfordii – photograph from Carlos Magdalena

Crawford was best known for his collection of Brownea species which are native to Central America and the West Indies and are too tender for outdoor cultivation in Ireland. The species are trees or shrubs which produce very showy red inflorescenses. He grew his collection in a glasshouse and in 1876 he reported that they threatened to outgrow the greenhouse and rather than cutting the plants back he had an addition of several feet in height made over the whole house, later removing the lower roof.

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Brownea x crawfordii – photograph from Carlos Magdalena

Numerous reports of his collection were published in The Gardener’s Chronicle and in The Garden between 1873 and 1888. Among the collection was Brownea macrophylla which was painted by M. Hill and this illustration appeared in The Gardener’s Chronicle. In 1878 this plant was in flower over a two month period and bore over 100 inflorescenses.

One of Crawford’s preoccupations was the hybridisation of Brownea species and succeeded in raising several hybrids. One of these,  Brownea grandiceps x Brownea macrophylla, was named Brownea x crawfordii. He sent a plant of this hybrid to Kew in 1888 very shortly before his death and it flowered in 1891. Another plant sent the Botanic Gardens at Glasnevin flowered in 1890.

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Brownea x crawfordii – photographs from Carlos Magdalena

Carlos Magdalena who is the chief propagator at Kew Gardens in London is presently propagating plants of Brownea x crawfordii and asked me recently if I thought some Irish gardens might like to grow it again and, already, we have made arrangements that one will go to the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin and another to Blarney Castle Garden in Cork. It will be good to have William H. Crawford’s plant back in Ireland again and, especially so, to have it back in Cork.

Isn’t it wonderful that the plant – for this is a direct descendant and a vegetative propagant from the original – that William H. Crawford raised, grew and sent to Kew will be returning to Ireland. Many, many thanks to Carlos for his kindness and generosity and for the thoughtfulness that this plant would be appreciated in its home place.

The background and historic material for this article was taken from “Irish Horticulturists. I: W. H. Crawford” by T. Crawford and E. C. Nelson in Garden History, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Summer, 1979), pp. 23-26. Published by The Garden History Society.

All photographs are courtesy of Carlos Magdalena.

Paddy Tobin

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