Rocking on!

We have just returned from a few days on The Burren, that fabulous area of limestone pavement, in County Clare where we enjoyed excellent weather, some wonderful walks, some very special wildflowers and, not to be missed, a visit to Caher Bridge Garden – the garden of Carl Wright.

Carl shouldn’t have made a garden here; any sensible evaluation of the site and the conditions would have told him to move elsewhere but he fell in love with the area and has poured his heart and soul into this garden and the garden has responded in kind. Now, a visit to The Burren would be incomplete without a visit to Caher Bridge Garden.

Oliver Cromwell’s appointee, Edmund Ludlow, is regularly quoted: “It is a country where there is not enough water to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him.” He might have added that it would be a crazy place to make a garden!

Carl’s garden is situated on north western corner of The Burren, close to Fanore, an area with extensive stretches of bare limestone pavement so that one is, first of all, amazed that anything will grow there and then amazed at what a fabulous selection of wildflowers not only grow but thrive in the conditions. However, to develop a garden on this extremely shallow soil – as little as a few centimetres in places – and with drainage like a colander was a brave undertaking indeed.

Carl cleared the scrub hazel, built raised beds which he filled with imported soil and also grows a lot of plants in large pots – especially his impressive collection of hostas – and he has made a garden which astonishes me every time I visit for the achievement of making any sort of garden at all, for the fabulous stonework, the ingenious use of the natural layout of the ground and for the selection of choice forms of the plants he grows.

I visit The Burren for the walking and the wildflowers but a visit without calling to Carl’s garden would leave me feeling I had missed the jewel in the crown.

If you are in the area do drop in to see the gardens but, in the meantime, I hope you enjoy this slideshow.

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Paddy Tobin

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


Wroclaw Botanic Garden, April 2017

Suddenly it was spring – but not as we are used to in Ireland, with a gradual warming of days, and the sun getting stronger.

In early April whilst attending a zoo design conference in Wroclaw, Poland, I squeezed in an afternoon trip to the nearby botanic garden with a colleague. Excellent collection, but still end of winter and not much happening, plus of course this is much more central Europe, colder winters, so a different range of plants grown, more conifers. It was an overcast and chilly day, not conducive to taking pictures.

One thing I had noticed immediately, even in the taxi from the airport, was the amount of mistletoe Viscum album in the trees. Large numbers of plants, but also in a different range of trees, I’m more used to seeing it in apples and poplars (and in National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin even on Davidia), here it was in maples and willows too.

Mistletoe Viscum album on Acer saccharum Wroclaw Botanic Garden


Pre and post conference tours had been arranged, and I was looking forward to seeing the Muskauer Park in particular, a park of some 830 hectares described as one of the most beautiful landscaped gardens in the world, with the greater part of the park situated in Poland with a portion running over the border to Germany. It is the largest 19th century English-style park in central Europe with a tropical greenhouse, castle, the River Neise and a canal very carefully integrated into the design. Unfortunately, it was not to be as travel times had been longer than expected. I was surrounded by zoo directors rather than horticulturalists so it’s a case of “next time perhaps!”

Though we missed out on Muskauer Park we spent a few happy hours in Gorlitz Zoo which had a small natural woodland area showing the first hints of spring, a meadow of yellow flowers that at first distant glance I took to be Cowslips, Primula veris, but once nearer the lighter colour and slightly different form said Oxlip Primula elatior, I had not seen so many in one place before, lovely.

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Primula elatior at Gorlitz Zoo

The spring appearance at Gorlitz Zoo made me decide to look at Wroclaw Botanic Garden again. It was now 6 days after the first visit and I was filling in time waiting for a flight much later that evening. After the visit to the garden I planned to finish with a walk around the historic cathedral area which was lovingly rebuilt after the city was largely destroyed during World War II.

What a difference those six days had made! The sun was out, the day was warmer but not hot, and the garden had come to life, with flowers popping up everywhere, particularly through the woodland areas, and the rock garden.

The photographs and their captions will give you a flavour of the gardens.

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Walsteinia geoides in large masses with other woodland plants. 


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Corydalis solida, Anemone nemerosa with leaves bulbs gone out of flower
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In the centre of the pond a curious bundle of bubble wrap protected something precious perhap?     It turned out to be Gunnera manicata, not hardy in Wroclaw without protection! We do not appreciate our temperate climate in Ireland!
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Ribes aureum which has a sweetly clove scented fragrance. I could not see the difference between this and R. odoratum
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This I could not figure out – and with no English speaking staff I was at a loss – a padlocked frame cover for Sempervivum and Sedum.
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Jeffersonia dubia (here still labelled Plagioreghma dubium)

Wroclaw is at the centre of the Silesian Mountain range, with great deposits of coal, minerals – and fossils. One of our conference tours was to a dinosaur exhibit, more a museum, with life size reconstructions around an old clay quarry, masses of fossils. The botanic garden had a display on this too. The round ‘stones’ are in fact fossilised tree or tree fern trunk sections, you can still see the bark impression.

Signage explaining the rock formation behind, and the associated plants, ferns and horsetail Equisetum.

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The carefully constructed rockwork showing the folding visible today, and all used for alpine plants


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Pulsatilla vulgaris ‘Rode Klokke’ – dare I assume ‘Red Cloak’?
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Too early to see this beauty in flower – Rosa pendulina, the alpine rose, native to central European mountains.
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Maples may not be regarded as flowering trees by some, but this Acer negundo var. californicum was looking great. This was obviously a male tree, maybe deliberately, as Acer negundo is invasive, and poisonous – I’ve seen it in Hungary as rampant as Sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus in Ireland, and no animal will eat it, so be careful!
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The most unusual display, for me, was this greenhouse devoted entirely to cultivars of ivy Hedera helix.

One aspect of the botanic garden that intrigued me was the labelling. A lot of the scientific names were very old – ‘used to be called’ – and many had the Polish name too, I’d imagine they would be the equivalent of our use of a common name, but sometimes the specific name was given a Polish name which was sometimes a combination of a very old name, and a specific common name!


And lastly,, I must double check against the Irish Heritage Plant list for Cryptomeria japonica ‘Kilmacurragh’ which looks very like Cryptomeria japonica ‘Cristata’ below!

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Stephen Butler

Note: Stephen is the Director of Horticulture at the Zoological Gardens, Phoenix Park, Dublin. He has been a long time member of the IGPS, has been Chairperson of the Leinster region, and leads our work on Irish heritage plants.

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

Annual General Meeting, Birr, 2017

BarReports are coming in on the A.G.M. weekend in Birr with some members posting images on Facebook with their comments.

It would seem there was some rain but that this did not dampen spirits and that it was a very enjoyable weekend. Certainly some of the private comments on the garden were simply gushing in their delight.

Victor and Roz Henry, Jenny & Dennis Constable, Sharon Morrow, Barbara Kelso and Anne-Marie Woods have sent photographs for me to use – many thanks to them for taking the time to do so – and I hope they give you a flavour of the weekend.

We will begin with Birr Castle grounds from Victor and Roz Henry:

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Here are some impressions of the town of Birr from Jenny Constable:

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And Jenny’s shots from Birr Castle Gardens:

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Angela Jupe’s garden from Jenny Constable:

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An album from Sharon Morrow – the tree trunks are at feature at Lough Boora, taken from the bog and used to make an interesting feature

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Oxmantown Mall Garden, a private town garden in Birr – photographs from Anne-Marie Woods

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Oxmantown Mall Garden – photographs from Barbara Kelso

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Oxmantown Mall Garden – photographs from Dennis Constable

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I can add further photographs as they come to hand but in the meantime, enjoy the show and many thanks to Jenny, Victor and Roz and congratulations to those who organised the event – members of the Leinster Committee.

Paddy Tobin

How Will He Be Remembered?

Will it be as a politician or as a gardener? Michael Heseltine has an established reputation as a long serving politician in the United Kingdom while his significant contribution to English gardening may not be as widely or as popularly known. Hopefully, “Thenford” written by Michael and Anne Heseltine and describing the development of their garden may go a long way to change that balance.

Thenford 2

A simple comment might be that this is a substantial, impressive and significant – and beautiful – book and that such is appropriate given the garden it describes.

The early chapters recall the search for a new home – brought about by the necessity of living close to the political constituency and being in touch with his constituents. When Michael and Anne Heseltine arrived at Thenford it was not in a dreadful condition but the estate had been significantly reduced in size over previous years through land sales and there was general need for a good renovation and a new spark of life and this they brought with enthusiasm and vigour.

Thenford village is part of the estate and the renovation of many of the houses there along with the reconfiguration of other for community/public use demanded early attention. The initial attention to the garden was to the area immediately around the house but was extended quickly to digging out a series of lakes and the start of the arboretum – Yes, Michael and Anne might well be called Mr. and Mr. Whirlwind!

Lanning Roper was engaged to advise on the area around the house and Hillier’s – in the person of Roy Lancaster – for the arboretum and further plantings. It was interesting to note throughout the book, and the various projects described, that those whose advice was sought were all horticulturalist and plant enthusiasts, something which clearly reflects Michael and Anne Heseltine’s love of plants.

Subsequent chapters, with the authors writing on those areas which are their particular interest, describe a range of projects undertaken over the years. The range and the scale of these projects are staggering for this is certainly gardening on a grand scale. We read of the development of the drives, the water gardens, woodland, a sculpture garden, the walled garden, the herbaceous borders, the rill (Wow!), the rose garden etc. and what I found most charming and pleasant throughout was the tone of the writing. Both are obviously very practical people, used to gardening, used to the trials and errors and are perfectly down to earth and honest in their accounts. Mistakes were made – who hasn’t made them! – and these are recounted candidly and honestly and a good sense of humour. The entrance gate with the arch too low so that vans hit it on entering or the lake with several small islands – it was only after flooding the lakes that they realised it would have been cleverer to have planted the trees on the island first rather than trying to bring them out in a small punt. However, it is well that the authors can say, “Looking back, there were mistakes but no regrets.”

When interviewed for the Daily Mail, Michael Heseltine said that none of his political battles or achievements will matter one jot 100 years hence and that his former Deputy Prime Minister days are not what he will be remembered for but his garden. What people will recall, he says proudly, is his garden. ‘Who can recall the name of any 19th-century politician except perhaps Gladstone, Disraeli or Pitt? But people know Westonbirt,’ he says, referring to Britain’s most famous arboretum in Gloucestershire, established in 1829.

Presently, I can only judge the garden by the book – having never visited – but I believe Michael and Anne Heseltine have made a magnificent and beautiful contribution to English gardening. In the meantime I commend this book to you wholeheartedly. You will enjoy it.

Here is a selection of images, taken from the book, to give you a flavour of the book and the garden.

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[Thenford, Michael & Anne Heseltine, Head of Zeus, 2016, Harback, 319 pages, £40, ISBN: 9781784979737]

Paddy Tobin

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

Heritage Irish Plants Launch – Opening Remarks by Martyn Rix

On November 22 2016 the Irish Society of Botanical Artists and the Irish Garden Plant Society had the great honour of welcoming Martyn Rix to the National Botanic Gardens. Martyn had generously accepted the invitation to come to launch Heritage Irish Plants – Plandaí Oidhreachta. As the time for speeches approached, the crowd of attentive gardeners, artists and guests crammed into the gallery that held stacks of books and catalogues along with the 62 paintings used to illustrate the latest book to celebrate Irish plants and horticulture. As the large attendance inhibited our ability to take in all that Martyn had to say I asked if he would, in the modern sense, put pen to paper for us. And he did.

Martyn Rix at the opening of the Heritage Irish Plants/Plandaí Oidhreachta exhibition in November 2016 at which he launched the book.

Martyn began with by remembering that some of his most enjoyable and formative years were spent at Trinity College Dublin and when reading the introduction to the book he remarked that …

I was interested in the story that Charles Nelson tells about the Provost Mahaffy, a great classicist and fancier and collector of snowdrops. On a visit to Athens in 1884, Mahaffy collected an Autumn-flowering snowdrop which Frederick Burbidge, the director of the Trinity College botanic garden in Ballsbridge, named Galanthus rachelae, after Mahaffy’s elder daughter. It was growing on Mount Hymettus, east of Athens, then covered in spiny Euphorbia acanthothamnos (spiny cushion). Even in classical times, Hymettus was famous for its honey, and the spurge is a great source of honey in early spring.

Euphorbia acanthothamnos pm1

Euphorbia acanthothamnos, Peter A. Mansfeld via Wikimedia Commons

A few years later, Mahaffy visited Mount Athos, famous for its monasteries, and collected another snowdrop, which was named after his younger daughter, Elsa.  This was a dwarf, early-flowering Galanthus reginae-olgae.  Both were planted at Glasnevin but by 1948, even Lady Phylis Moore–Irish gardener and wife of the Director of the botanic gardens at Glasnevin, Dublin–could find no trace of either. 

It was then that we see the logic in the Irish Society of Botanical Artists and the Irish Garden Plant Society desire to have Martyn Rix launch the new book. Martyn Rix is the current Editor of Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, the longest running botanical periodical. Through this work and his many other publications he has built an incredible knowledge of the art of plant portraiture. Martyn continued…

Rachel’s snowdrop is, however, preserved as a painting by E.A. Bowles (an early snowdrop enthusiast) in the Royal Horticultural Society’s Lindley Library, and this would be a guide to anyone who might rediscover the original clone surviving in an Irish garden.

Curtis’s Botanical Magazine has been a source of paintings of wild plants in cultivation, since its inception by William Curtis in London in 1789.  Initially most of the flowers illustrated were grown in the Chelsea Physic Garden, or in Curtis’s own botanic garden in South Kensington,  but from an early date, Ireland provided some of the models. Charles Nelson has identified one of the earliest, dating from 1810. This was Leptospermum lanigerum, from the east coast of Australia, grown in the Dublin Society’s garden at Glasnevin, which had been founded in 1795.

In the 1830s William Hooker, then in Glasgow, took over the editorship of the magazine, and again obtained plants from Glasnevin, notably those collected by John Tweedie in the Argentine between 1836 and 1854. Twelve of Tweedie’s introductions are illustrated in the magazine; Tweedie is remembered by Tweedia coerulea, an Asclepiad with flowers of a unique shade of pale greenish blue. It is more correctly known today as Oxypetalum coeruleum.

Oxypetalum caeruleum

Oxypetalum caeruleum By Kurt Stüber via Wikimedia Commons

Tweedie also introduced the wonderfully scented Sinningia tubiflora.

Sinningia tubiflora illustration

Sinningia tubiflora illustration by Swallowtail Garden Seeds from Santa Rosa, California via Wikimedia Commons

A less familiar Illustrator’s name is then introduced to us by Martyn…

One Dublin-born artist has, until now, received little recognition. He is A.F. Lyndon (1836-1917),  who travelled widely in Bermuda and New Brunswick in particular,  before settling in Driffield in Yorkshire, to work for the engraver and publisher Benjamin Fawsett.  Lyndon drew the illustrations for Lowe’s Our Native Ferns, and Beautiful-leaved Plants, as well as the Revd. William Houghton’s British Freshwater Fishes.

One of Lyndon’s illustrations for British Freshwater Fishes by Rev. William Houghton

It is then that the setting of the National Botanic Gardens for the launch and as a ‘home’ for both Societies is broadened…

While the Hookers, father and son, were directors of Kew for the last 70 years of the 19th century, the reign of the Moores at Glasnevin lasted 84 years, from 1838 until 1922. The elder Moore is remembered in Crinum moorei, introduced from Natal, and illustrated in Curtis’s magazine in 1863.  Large clumps of the original plants still thrive at Glasnevin.

Crinum moorei from Brendan Sayers. 

The last of the Moores was Lady Phylis Moore, much younger than her husband, who died in 1949, and who was still spoken of in hallowed terms by gardeners in Ireland in the 1960s, though, sadly, I never met her.

W.E. Trevithick (1899-1958) contributed around 60 plates to Curtis’s Botanical Magazine. He was born when his father was head gardener to Lord Headfort in his great garden near Kells. The white, scented Rhododendron headfortianum was painted from the garden, as well as Lilium formosanum and Tsuga chinensis. His son, also William Edward, was a gardener at Headfort from the age of 13, then at Glasnevin, and finally at Kew, where he worked in the herbarium.

It is not only the mention of orchids, a particular favourite plant family of mine but also the move to more recent history that made me even more attentive to Martyn’s words…

Orchids were a particular favourite of the younger Sir Frederick Moore, and I remember the wonderful display in the glasshouses at Glasnevin in the 1960s, when I came to Dublin to read botany at Trinity under David Webb. Another speciality were the hanging baskets of Dampiera, formerly Clianthus formosus, with silver leaves and striking red and black flowers.

In these years Lord Talbot de Malahide was building up his collection at Malahide Castle, and was a friendly host for lunch on Sunday, followed by a tour of the garden and tea upstairs in the drawing room, presided over by his sister Rose. Many of his plants came from the Malahide estate in Tasmania, and were the models for paintings by Margaret Stones, the great Australian flower painter, in the Endemic Flora of Tasmania. He also grew plants from other areas, and I collected seeds for him in Turkey and Iran, with Gillie Walsh-Kemmis and Michael Walsh in 1968 and, with Audrey Napper from Loughcrew, in 1969.

Wendy Walsh and her family were also great hosts, as well as being very artistic.  It was when Michael was working in Kiribati, in the South Pacific, in 1970, that Wendy visited him and began painting flowers again.  As well as her paintings for Irish postage stamps, she painted several plants for Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, including Iris lazica, which Michael had collected in Turkey, and Deutzia purpurascens ‘Alpine Magician’, collected by Reginald Farrer in Burma in 1919, and preserved at Glasnevin.

Wendy’s main work was published in a series of beautiful books in co-operation with Charles Nelson, on Irish plants, both native and cultivated. These will be her most lasting legacy.

And to round it all off…

It is great to see this theme being carried on in the present exhibition by young botanical artists at work today.  Deborah Lambkin is now a regular contributor to Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, specialising in exotic orchids, and Susan Sex has recently painted native species for the Magazine.  Lynn Stringer is also a regular contributor, painting new introductions grown by Séamus O’Brien at the National Botanic Garden at Kilmacurragh, Co. Wicklow.

It was a great honour to be at the podium alongside Martyn Rix. We, the Irish Garden Plant Society and the Irish Society of Botanical Artists, owe him a great debt of gratitude in his acceptance to launch the book and open the exhibition but also for his generosity while visiting. As often happens, events will go by and in the excitement of it all some details will be forgotten. I am happy to say that this will not happen to Martyn Rix’s words of the day.

Brendan Sayers