The warm sunny afternoon of 9th August saw an impressive turnout of IGPS members and guests to celebrate the 30 year partnership between the rectory garden volunteers and the Ulster Folk and Transport museum. A virtual horticultural who’s who; the guests, many of whom had been involved in the early days of creating the garden, included 1987 IGPS Chair Mary Davies from Dublin, travelling from Donegal, her successor Mary Forrest, who in 1988 planted the garden’s weeping ash, past Northern regional representative Reg Maxwell who served on the first working party with the museum, the first volunteer Katherine Nixon who recalls frequently working on her own, Mike Snowden former head of Rowallane Gardens and past Secretary of the Northern region Catherine Tyrie and her husband, Paul Hackney who had also worked for the museum. The event was well supported by many IGPS members from across the regions.
Attractions for the day included, flower arranging demonstrations by Cherry Townsend and children’s activities such as making paper flowers and lavender bags. There was a bee-keeping stand, guided garden talks and also a very successful plant sales table. Complimentary refreshments, including a delicious homemade sparkling elderflower cordial, were served and a melody of live traditional Irish music provided a pleasing background to the festivities.
The anniversary marked the conception of the garden, first embarked upon in 1987 when the IGPS was looking for a garden project. By happy coincidence the old rectory from the townland of Lismacloskey, near Toomebridge, County Antrim, had been reconstructed at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, Cultra. The Society were asked to design and plant a garden appropriate for that of rural clergyman circa 1900. Since then the garden has been developed and maintained by a succession of volunteers, mostly, but not always, IGPS members. The plan of the garden is simple with a central straight path leading from the gate to the front door and two rectangular flower beds in front of the house, which now includes many Irish heritage plants.
In commemoration of the anniversary, IGPS Chairman Billy McCone, assisted by volunteer Lorna Goldstrom planted two heritage plants cultivated by Irish nurseries; Agapanthus ‘Midnight Blue’ bred by Slieve Donard and Escallionia ‘C. F. Ball’ originally grown at Glasnevin but then grown and distributed by Daisy Hill, Newry.
Billy thanked all those ‘pioneer gardeners’ who were present, also including Andrena Duffin and Patrick Quigley who were unable attend, remarking on how much they had done in taking the site from a patch of grass to the garden it is today. Congratulating the current volunteers – Marion Allen, Lorna Goldstrom, Barbara Mayne, Carrie Mercer, Sharon Morrow, Margaret Newman, Yvonne Penpraze and Maureen Reid on their organisation of the day, Billy also praised the team on the appearance of the garden which he thought magnificent. Thanks were also given to the Folk Museum staff, in particular, Ruth Osborne, retired head groundsman Andy Bingham and Operations Manager David Blemings, for their help, support, drive and enthusiasm over the years.
Billy McCone concluded:
“Not only is the rectory garden a collection of beautiful plants, but it is more than that; it is a safe haven for Irish plants and without the garden, without the volunteers and without the support from the museum we would not have that safe haven. Increasingly some of the plants left as our legacy, as part of our heritage and plants with our stories are becoming scarcer. We very much need gardens like the Rectory garden and we very much need the volunteers. So to the volunteers, past volunteers to the staff of the Ulster Folk and Transport museum, thank you for the 30 years and we wish you many, many more.”
This report is from Barbara Kelso, a member of the Northern Committee of the IGPS and the photographs are from Stephen Weatherall.