The Orchid Hunter

This is book bursting at the binding with enthusiasm and an almost obsessive love of our native orchids. Leif Bersweden, a precocious botanist who fell in love with native wildflowers as a child, was unsuccessful in his initial application for a place at Oxford University and decided to use his gap year to track down and photograph all the native orchids of Great Britain and Ireland in one year (with one forgivable exception, The Ghost Orchid, as it is so very rare) a feat which had not been completed previously.

THE ORCHID HUNTER

The first ticked off his list was the Early Purple Orchid and his last Autumn Lady’s Tresses which, by coincidence, were my own first and last of this past season though I must confess that I didn’t come across the other fifty in between.  Our native orchids are extraordinarily interesting and it is not uncommon for those who take an interest in them to find they are willing to go to some extremes to view one not found previously. With a group of friends I made several such journeys during this past season and one suggested we ought to dub our group the Fellowship Of Orchid Lovers with the appropriate abbreviation of F.O.O.Ls. Leif Bersweden would have been a very welcome member!

Orchis mascula Early Purple Orchid (10)
Orchis mascula, The Early Purple Orchid – the first of his list found by Leif Bersweden

 

His year was certainly a madcap adventure and how wonderful that we have eighteen year olds who have the interest and enthusiasm to do such things. His travels, in a none too reliable car, ranged from the south of England, to Wales and to the north of Scotland, to the Island of Jersey and to Ireland. He has since completed his degree in botany and, with such enthusiasm, I can only imagine and hope he has every success.

As he works his way though his list of orchids and his accounts of finding them we are treated to general historic notes on each species, when it was first recorded, what previous authors and authorities have said about each, the origins of the name and vernacular names applied along with the excitement of the search and the eventual find. We are treated regularly to idyllic bucolic descriptions of the various locations in which he found himself and these read a little a little sweet at times – “Chaffinches were trilling from the hedges and sheep bleated in the fields down in the valley. A barge chugged silently past on the river below cutting a wide “V” shape into the otherwise glass-like water.”

Spiranthes spiralis Autumn Lady's Tresses (40)
Spiranthes spiralis, Autumn Lady’s Tresses – the final orchid of the search. 

The subtitle to the book is “A Young Botanist’s Search for Happiness” might first be assumed to refer to the happiness he would achieve in locating all the orchids but there is a regular parallel narrative through the book where the author expresses his thoughts on personal matters. As a child with an interest in wildflowers he felt apart from his peers and, as a teenager, regrets that his hobby is so often one engaged in alone. He wishes for a friend who might share his interest and had the company of a lady for part of his summer pursuit but, as the saying goes, he blew it. Most will choose this book for what it has to say on orchids – I cannot imagine too many are overly concerned about the author’s happiness though, of course, we would wish him well – and this thread in the book is incongruous. There are also some comments on those who helped and advised him which might kindly be described as juvenile humour where the editor’s red pencil might have been justifiably applied.

This book will be of little use to anybody wishing to learn more about our native orchids; it will certainly not become a book of reference but it will be a light read for those already interested. Indeed, I found the many quotations and references to earlier books especially interesting and enjoyable. Though he mentions taking a very large number of photographs in the course of his adventure, very few are used in the book – one for each species recorded and these gathered as one group in the centre of the book. There is a scattering of line drawing through the book, some illustrating orchids and others various views and vignettes mentioned in the text.

THE ORCHID HUNTER

The author has since completed his degree in botany and considering orchids as a topic for his PhD. It is heartening to see young people taking up botany and Leif Bersweden, with his enthusiasm and single-mindedness, is likely to make significant contributions to the depths of our knowledge in years to come. I wish him the best.

[The Orchid Hunter, A Young Botanist’s Search for Happiness by Leif Bersweden, Short Books, London, 2017, Hardback, 352 pages, £12.99, ISBN: 978-1-78072-334-1]

Paddy Tobin

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

 

 

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On the Edge!

The seasons are moving; summer is past; autumn is in and all is change! Some plants continue in fine form and are treasured for performing so late in the year while others are well past their best and have already made their way to the compost bin.

Though near  the end of their season and soon to be lifted and stored for the winter, dahlias continue to give colour in the garden. 

Three which continue to perform brilliantly

One regularly reads advice to allow herbaceous perennials to stand overwinter, to enjoy their winter hues and skeletons and to provide food and habitats for wildlife. I prefer to clear up in autumn as I dislike untidiness in the garden and also because we have a large collection of snowdrops with cultivars flowering in the garden from November to March.

Clearing up at this time of year is a good opportunity to tackle those changes one has thought of and planned during the summer. Left on the long finger they are likely to be forgotten until it is too late and next season is in full swing.

One bed in the garden was earmarked for work this autumn. Three beautiful cultivars of Campanula latiloba – ‘Hidcote Amethyst’, ‘Chattle Charmer’ and ‘Beauty of Exmouth’ – had become rampageous and had swamped a planting of nerines which, as a result of being shaded out and lacking their summer baking, had not flowered for several years. It was decision time: the campanulas and the nerines could not live together and one had to go. It wasn’t a difficult decision. The campanulas, though very pretty and colourful in summer, were ever badly behaved. They spread too quickly, were awkward to support and needed constant dead-heading to prolong flowering – they had become a nuisance whereas nerines require little attention. Once planted correctly, in a sunny and dry position with their snouts above ground, they flower reliably year after year and congestion seems only to meet with better performance.

Nerine x bowdenii Phlox variegated
Nerine x bowdenii – planted here many years ago and thriving in this dry and sunny position. The variegated phlox in the background is a little striking but seems to go well with the nerines!

The necessity of dealing with the campanula/nerine conflict was the opportunity to do a general reorganisation of that particular bed. Plants which had been merely tolerated for several years were finally dispatched and congested plants lifted and split. As there had been some over vigorous plants in the bed and we feared they might sprout again in spring those plants which we wished to retain have been lifted and potted up and will be held until late spring/early summer before being replanted. This will allow time for the offending plants to reappear and removed if any have escaped our attention on this occasion.

The scene of our work this week.

With the plants removed it was an ideal time to add compost to the bed. The soil level had dropped a little while nerines and bearded iris prefer the best of drainage in a good sunny position.

Compost heap
The source of all goodness! The compost heap being emptied – how quickly it empties!
Scissors
Perhaps this was the real edge. The compost heap regularly reveals lost tools and on this occasion it was this small scissors which came as a very kind gift with a twine holder. It’s cutting days are over.

Gardening is a repetition of these routine tasks; it is neither often exciting nor glamorous but it is pleasantly enjoyable and we will look forward to this bed next year and imagine it will have been improved hugely – optimism and high hopes!

Paddy Tobin

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

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.

Natural-Selection-page-001.jpg-TG-rs

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.

Blooming Marvellous (5)
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 Wishes’ 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 Wishes’ 

 

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 Wishes’ 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 Wishes’ 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 Wishes’ 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