The Selection!

Dan Pearson’s book, Natural Selection, draws on ten years of his columns for the Observer newspaper and are arranged in a calendar format, a diary of gardening notes.


As with all such compilations, the individual parts, while all excellent in themselves, do not add up to a unified book. The organisation of the selected articles into a diary layout is no more than a book format and does not ring true as a genuine recording of events or thoughts. We are then presented with a book which is uncomfortable to read, without a strong thread of thought or theme running through it, with a great deal of repetition and with little of great import to hold the reader. However, it might be said that this reflects the nature of gardening which is series of minor events, often repetitious and humdrum, and joys are generally small but, nonetheless, treasured and enjoyed.

Dan Pearson is enjoying a very successful career as a landscape and garden designer with commissions around the world while he has also been successful as an author and contributor to several national newspapers and magazines. His interest in gardening stems from childhood, the home garden, two parents who were keen gardeners and a neighbour who was an inspiration.  While professionally successful he continues to find time and enjoyment in his own gardens, one a city garden and the other rural, and many of the entries report on plans, progress and plants in these.

What might be considered significant is that while Dan Pearson is a very successful professional gardener, he still gets great pleasure from what we might consider the more mundane aspects of gardening. He delights in developing his new garden in Somerset, in the discovery of the features of his new plot, in the clearing of ground, the selection of plants, their first appearance and flowering, the planning, dreaming, digging, successes and failures that are all part of the making of a garden. So, it is perhaps the insight the book gives us into Dan Pearson, the person, which is significant here rather than the book’s contents for gardening is a simple pastime, with small pleasures, and it can be enjoyed by amateur and professional alike.

As with our gardening this is a book to be read a little at a time – to attempt to read it cover to cover will ruin it for the reader. And, as with your gardening, be patient and take it bit by bit, section by section and in a relaxed manner.

[Natural Selection, A Year in the Garden, Dan Pearson, Guardian Book/Faber and Faber, 2017, Hardback, 421 pages, £20, ISBN: 978-1-78335-117-6]

Paddy Tobin

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



Sincerity in the Garden!

A feature of many gardens which open to the public is that of constant change, perpetual renewal, ceaseless novelty and chronic frivolity, all in an effort to remain interesting and to attract paying visitors. Last year’s “height-of-fashion” and “must-have” plants have been discarded and the “latest thing” has been installed to be, in turn, discarded for next year’s extravaganza. This can be interesting and entertaining – and it seems to work well for those gardens – but I feel that it leads to a garden which lacks foundation, good bones or any sense of permanence or substance and these are essential elements of good garden design. The resulting garden may not have the smash, wallop, bang of the shop window style but it does have a quality which allows one to visit with great enjoyment again and again for there is depth there, depth of design and plant choice and combination, and depth of time and development. While one is a Banksy; the other is a Botticelli. One is beautiful and passing; the other beautiful and lasting.

This is the feeling I get when I visit Mildred Stokes’ garden in south County Tipperary. It is a garden which has been developed in sympathy with its surroundings; which is perfectly suited to its environment; a complimentary front to the house and comfortable in its countryside. It is of its place – that old chestnut of the genius loci; it matches and compliments the spirit of its setting. Everything feels at home there and the garden visitor feels comfortable because here everything fits together without clash, flash or pretence. Here the gardener has developed a garden for herself, in a manner which she likes and which suits her situation. It is authentic and honest and has integrity. It is a sincere garden rather than a show garden.

Enjoy the slideshow!

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Mildred opens her garden to groups and as part of the local Tipperary Open Gardens. She is in Killurney, Ballypatrick, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary. See Shirley Lanigan’s book for details.

Paddy Tobin

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

A “Blooming Marvellous” Book!

Zoë Devlin has never lost that childhood delight in the beauty of nature whether it be the excitement of seeing a flower new to her, being entranced once again by the daintiness of a daisy or the fluttering beauty of a butterfly – “wisps of aerial delight”.

Her childhood love of wildflowers developed into a lifelong pastime and in her “retirement” years it has become an all consuming passion which has her travelling to all corners of the country in search of our natural wildflower beauties.

Blooming Marvellous.indd

What runs through the book is the excitement of it all, of this love of nature, the sense of joy and happiness which is intricately bound up in Zoë’s adventures – “something like a Christmas Eve as a child, the stocking at the end of the bed, hopes high as a house.”  As she says, “It was pure magic!”

The book is arranged by the months of the year with each month introduced by a note on the origin of the month’s name, a spread on the butterflies “on the wing” at the appropriate months and then to her first love, the plants…but not as we might know them. These are all plants with stories, with memories, with recollections and connections, with adventures and misadventures, with people and places; each, especially the first encounter, irrevocably etched in her memory and recounted here with an infectious and entertaining humour.

Blooming Marvellous (3)
“On the Wing in September” 

A visit to the Rock of Cashel was significant only because “there was a beautiful Rue-leaved Saxifrage on top of one of the walls there.” The office staff war game came to a sudden end when she spotted an Early Purple Orchid and left her boss undefended – his demise did not reflect well on her. Picnic entertainment has varied from watching a prancing stoat to a horse being shampooed in a river. Pete, her constant companion, husband and roadie on her treks, was the one who stood to ward off bulls or feed donkeys with Marietta biscuits though his actions shocked her on one occasion. I could not repeat the circumstances of her finding her first Fly Orchid on The Burren but she certainly would not wish to have had the occasion photographed. There are many, many “added value” moments in this book – along with the beautiful descriptions and photographs there are the personal stories that bring such things to life and make them memorable and even more enjoyable.

Blooming Marvellous (9)
The Cowslip – a childhood favourite for Zoë Devlin

She credits and recalls those who inspired her generously: her grand-aunt, the watercolourist, Gladys Wynne; her cousin Dr. Kathleen Lynn and another grand-aunt Winifrede Wynne who introduced Primula ‘Julius Caesar’ which I grow in my garden and now value all the more as I hadn’t realised its connection with Zoë. She also thankfully acknowledges the assistance she has received from many other plant enthusiasts, for she is one of a network of friends who keep each other informed of current flowerings and notes of locations.

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The Marsh Helleborine – one of those plants which send shivers of delight when found

Plants evoke memories and childhood recollections for Zoë and this calendar of anecdotes brings together fond and happy days over her lifetime and, given the interconnectedness of nature, it ranges beyond flowers to birds, insects, history, herbal practices, literature and poetry. Invasive plants are a concern and the children of today are her hope for the future – introduce them to flowers with a hand lens, she recommends, and they will be enthralled by their detail and beauty. Her love of flowers has lead her to make a wildflower meadow at home and also elderflower  cordial, jams, tarts and sloe gin but Pete baulked at her Ramsons pesto – there is only so much a loving husband can endure!

Blooming Marvellous (6)
Blue-eyed Grass – one which delights all wildflower lovers

Though this book is very informative for the plant lover it is above all a collection of light-hearted and humorous tales from Zoë, arranged in a style which allows one to dip in for a short read or to see what might be of interest in any particular month. Above all it is infected with her enthusiasm and love of plants and it is a delight to read.

[Blooming Marvellous – A Wildflower Hunter’s Year, Zoë Devlin, The Collins Press, 2017, Hardback, 295 pages, €16.99, ISBN: 978-1-84889-327-6]

Available online at The Collins Press

Also by Zoë Devlin:


Paddy Tobin

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





Gardening for Wildlife

The countryside is no longer the haven for wildlife that it once was. Changes in how land is used and managed along with other factors have lead to an alarming fall in the population of all wildlife species. Accommodating the needs of wildlife into how we manage our gardens may smack of desperation and futility but not to do so will have far reaching consequences not alone for wildlife but also for the planet and for us.

The enthusiastic gardener will be immediately reassured by the author’s introductory chapter which dispels several commonly held misconceptions or “myths” as he calls them about adapting our gardens to suit wildlife. All need not go to nettles, brambles and of rotting log piles and every garden, of whatever gardening approach or style, has something to offer and every gardener can add to their garden in many simple ways so that the space around the house is even more beneficial to wildlife. This book will show you how to do this.

Gardening for Wildlife

The author recalls the experience of one person who gardened with wildlife in mind. Jennifer Owen has an average suburban garden in Leicester and set out to identify and record every species she encountered in the garden. Over the course of thirty years she met with 2,673 species, among these were 94 species of hoverfly, 375 species of moths and 442 species of beetles. She even came on one little wasp which was a species new to science – a first record and that was in a small garden. We really don’t know what lives all around us!

There are four sections in the book. The first deals with various wildlife groups – birds, butterflies, bees, moths and mammals – and outlines their habitat, food needs and how we might provide such in our gardens. Not surprisingly, greater attention is given to birds as they are the  most popular of our wildlife groups, being more visible, generally pretty and often entertaining – and useful to the gardener when they remove another range of wildlife – garden pests!

Another section gives guidelines for creating different habitats – woodland, shrubland, wildflower meadows, wetland and ponds along with recommendations for compost making and keeping compost heaps and all this in a manner which seeks to accommodate wildlife within existing garden areas. In other words, the author does not call for a demolition of our existing garden but rather some tweaks within this framework which would be of benefit to wildlife – and to the gardener, I think.

We are given a listing, with illustration and description along with benefits for wildlife, of the top 500 plants we might use in our garden to benefit wildlife and also a calendar of gardening for wildlife.

All in all this is a book which is well organised, well presented, and very attractive. The information is presented in a very easily accessible manner which makes the book a very convenient source of information and the illustrations are perfectly clear which is a wonderful help to recognising and identifying many of the species we may encounter on our patches. Perhaps this was not the immediate aim of the author but one could quickly become proficient at identifying quite a wide range of birds, insects etc from reading this book and that is may be the start of a lifelong interest.

This is a good book with the important message that we can, through many small ways, have a very positive effect on our environment and the creatures which inhabit it with us.

[Gardening for Wildlife, Adrian Thomas, Bloomsbury Publishers, London, 2017, Hardback, 288 pages, £25, ISBN: 978-1-4729-3857-2]

Paddy Tobin

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


Three Wishes

Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish’ was a chance seedling in the garden of Wendy Smith in Victoria, Australia. As she is an enthusiastic salvia grower there were several candidates which might have been the parents but a Salvia buchananii x Salvia splendens cross seems the most likely, the first contributing the deep magenta colour and the latter the dramatic calyxes.

Salvia 'Wendy's Wishes'2
Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish’ 


Salvia specialist Sue Templeton recognised that it was an outstanding plant and suggested to Wendy that she have the plant patented, a process which was handled for her by Plants Management Australia, a licensing and marketing company which manages the protection and introduction of new plant varieties across the globe. This arrangement ensured that a portion of the proceeds of each sale returned to Wendy Smith and she arranged that it be donated to the Australian Make-a-Wish Foundation, an organisation which makes wishes come true for children with life-threatening, chronic illnesses.

Gardeners worldwide fell in love with Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish’ and the reaction to its philanthropic aspect inspired Plants Management Australia to repeat it with two subsequent cultivars.

A sport with bright coral-coloured flowers arose on a plant of Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish’ in one of Plant Grower’s Australia’s nurseries. They wished to continue the contributions to Make-a-Wish Australia but also added to the publicity – and very significantly to the income – by auctioning the rights to name this new plant. Paul and Lyn Shegog, from Tasmania, won the auction and named the plant in memory of their teenage children Emma and Brett who had died from an incurable genetic condition – Salvia ‘Ember’s Wish’.


Salvia 'Ember Wishes'
Salvia ‘Ember’s Wish’ 

The third in the series came as a result of the deliberate breeding efforts of John Fisher who lives in Orange, New South Wales, Australia. He sought to produce salvias in new colours and used ‘Wendy’s Wish’ as one of his parent plants. He was also enthusiastic about the support which Plants Management Australia gave to the Make-a-Wish Foundation; named the plant Salvia ‘Love and Wishes’ and contributed a portion of the proceeds from sales to the foundation also.

Salvia 'Love 'n' Wishes' (5)
Salvia ‘Love and Wishes’ 


While we can enjoy these salvias in our gardens it adds to the pleasure that they also support a very worthy cause.

Paddy Tobin

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


Much More than Sketches!

There is so much more than botanical sketchbooks in this volume that the title does it an injustice. This is one of those treasure troves of a book where every page brings a new delight, new fascination and new interest – Botanical Sketchbooks by Helen and William Bynum

Botanical Sketchbooks 2
Image courtesy of Thames & Hudson

Quite simply, the book is a collection of pages from the botanical sketchbooks of a myriad of botanical artists showing, in the main, those early drawings, early recordings which all artists do in preparation for a complete work later on in the better conditions of their studio. Even at this level it is fascinating to see how the various artists worked with pencil or ink sketches and added notes for colour and reminders of where and when a plant was seen and, with some, entries more akin to diary notes and all are fascinating.

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Image courtesy of Thames & Hudson

It is the range of artists, the breadth of plants from those local to us to the most exotic imaginable, the worldwide countries included from South Africa to South America, Australia to China and, it seems, everywhere any anywhere in between. The collection is truly eclectic and each entry seems to open a window into a person, a plant, a time and a place all fascinating and beautiful. This book went far, far, far beyond my expectations and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I am not an artist and one need not be to enjoy this book as its contents range so well beyond botanical art that it will have a general appeal to anybody with an interest in gardening. I recommend it highly.

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Image courtesy of Thames & Hudson

The authors, Helen and William Bynum, historians of science and medicine, present over 80 artists from around the world from the 15th to the 20th century organised into four main sections, each with its own set of sub-sections, which serve to group the artists in a manner more accessible to the reader. Each entry is relatively short with copious space given to the illustrations which are the heart of the book and these are the raw, immediate and spontaneous notes and sketches of the artists which, of course, are all material we would never see but that the authors sourced them from various repositories and libraries – the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew being a major source of their material.

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Image courtesy of Thames  Hudson

There is an endless stream of interesting people, places and plants which will fascinate the reader and open the door to other times and ways. Pierre Joseph Redoute left his home in Belgium at the age of thirteen and spent the next ten years of his life as an itinerant artist! John Doody was transported to Australia following his conviction for forgery but was immediately taken on by Captain William Paterson to record the natural history of the Norfolk Islands. Ferdinand Bauer seems to have been the first to “paint by numbers” as he developed a colour chart which he brought with him and used it to record the colour of plants in the field and could then refer to it on return to his studio where he had notes on how to recreate that colour accurately. Francis Bauer was the first resident botanical artist at Kew Gardens with a salary of £300 per annum and had the title “Botanick painter to His Majesty”. William Hood Fitch was brought to Kew by William Hooker and, along with his work at Kew, contributed almost 3,000 illustrations to Curtis’s Botanical Magazine and has a total of 12,000 of his images published.

Albrect Durer’s “The Great Piece of Turf” is one of the few final paintings included in the book and it is truly both beautiful and captivating and is an example of the present day approach in botanical art to present faithfully accurate depictions of plants in a beautiful manner, “finding a balance between the realistic depiction of plants and the artist’s aesthetic vision”.

[Botanical Sketchbooks, Helen and William Bynum, Thames & Hudson, London, 2017, Hardback, 296 pages, £29.95, ISBN: 978-0-500-51881-6]

Available to purchase online at Thames & Hudson  

Paddy Tobin

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