Bloom in the Park 2016

Bloom in the Park is the most successful and best attended horticultural event in the Irish gardening calendar. Tens of thousands come each year and this, its tenth year, has been blessed with good weather and I expect attendances are likely to set a new record.

The range of attractions is extraordinarily wide in order, no doubt, to appeal to as wide an audience as possible and to attract as great an attendance as possible. This means that there will be something to please everybody but everybody will also find much which is not of interest. How one views this selection may taint how one evaluates the experience. Following previous visits I have decried the amount of space given to areas which were not of interest to me, artisan food products, crafts etc, and what I felt was the proportionately lesser amount of space given to the show gardens. However, on this occasion I simply spent my time with the Floral Pavilion(plant sales!) and the show gardens and merely dipped into the other area for lunch. This left me more pleased with the day.

Paul and Orla Wood’s, Kilmurry Nursery, Gold Medal winner at Bloom 2016

Making a judgement on the success or not of such a show has to go beyond one’s own personal expectations. I go to Bloom in the Park because I want to view interesting gardens, see and purchase new and beautiful plants, have a relaxed and enjoyable day out and, hopefully, meet some friends for a chat and a natter. My judgement of the show – purely taking those areas into consideration – was that I had a most enjoyable day out and that the show was a success for me. Were I to include an assessment of the other areas the success of the day would decline in my opinion – however, such areas will have appealed to others and made their day enjoyable. The organisers, on the other hand, have a different agenda. While they, of course, wish to attract and please the public their primary is to promote the business end of Irish horticulture – the nurseries, garden designers and suppliers of the many accessories which supply our gardening needs. After a long winter and a miserable spring those depending on this business certainly needed a boost and an opportunity to engage with a large volume of the gardening public  and Bloom undoubtedlyly does this for them and so must be considered a success.

Santa Rita Living La Vida 120 Garden by Alan Rudden  (12)
Gold Medal winner in the Large Garden category: Santa Rita Living La Vida 120 Garden designed by Alan Rudden.

As one of the visiting public, one purely interested in the gardening aspects of the show, I could make a few observations. The Floral Pavilion struck me as being a little quieter than in previous years – that there seemed to be just a few less nurseries there. However, this had the advantage – helped by the fact that we arrived very early – of making it easier to browse at leisure, view the plants at ease and make selections and purchases in comfort. As we had driven in – and we did so without bother and the carparks were well organised – we had the convenience of dropping our plants to the car which was far better than lugging them back to the train station in the evening. Overall, though there were some outstanding exceptions – which were recognised by the awards given – the displays in the Floral Pavilion were not outstanding. Perhaps, I am being unreasonable but in the biggest gardening event in the country I expect the best standards to be commonplace. As regards plant selection, this was certainly the year of the pink Ragged Robin, outstanding lupins, foxgloves and delphiniums. Actually, that pink Ragged Robin, Lychnis flos-cuculi ‘Jenny’, seemed to be omnipresent in the show gardens also. Friends who visited on subsequent days reported that the plant selection appeared to be diminishing – good news for the vendors but disappointing for the visitors.

Podscape Garden by James Purdy  (5)
Gold Medal winner in the Medium Garde category: Podscape Garden designed by James Purdy

The show gardens were enjoyable. I felt there was the lack of excellence that Paul Martin and Jane McCorkell have brought in previous years but, thankfully, there was also the lack of garish poor taste seen on some recent occasions so that I felt the overall standard was even and very good and I certainly enjoyed them all. The weather has been especially and unexpectedly hot and the plants in several gardens were showing the strain from lack of watering. It must have been a considerable challenge for the garden designers, builders and those maintaining them. One gripe – something which always irritates me – is when  garden personnel remain in the gardens, walking about or sitting to take a snack or drink as I find it intrudes on the ability of visitors to view the garden and certainly makes photographing the gardens very awkward. It’s a thoughtlessness which is widespread and a distraction.

The Designer's Back Garden by Oliver and Liat Schurmann (3)
Gold Medal winner in the Small Garden category: The Designer’s Back Garden designed by Liat and Oliver Schurmann

And then we had a peep at the floral arrangements and the work of the botanical artists as we waited to hear Gerry Daly speak at 1.30p.m. in the Floral Pavilion. However, the lady speaking before him was onstage and we found it so difficult to hear her that we decided to leave before Gerry appeared. That was a disappointment. However, lunch and a sit down revived us and we headed home – with a stop at Johnstown Garden Centre in search for an elusive hydrangea, which continues to elude us!

Across Boundaries by Barry Kavanagh  (5)
Across Boundaries designed by Barry Kavanagh attracted great attention and admiration as it reproduced a seemingly perfectly natural gardenscape in this showgarden.
Peter Hennessy with Barry Kavanagh  (1)
And, finally: Yes, we did meet some good friends there. Here is Peter Hennessy chatting with Barry Kavanagh, designer of the Across Boundaries shown above.

Paddy Tobin

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




A Display of Gems

Each year in April the Dublin branch of the Alpine Garden Society holds its show at the Cabinteely Community College and it is an opportunity to view the most beautiful plant gems imaginable and, of course, an opportunity to meet some of the people who are gems of the gardening world.

A visit to the dentist before leaving Waterford had us decided to avoid a restaurant and we had a light lunch with coffee from the flask in the carpark. The society members had been inside much earlier to stage their displays and for the judges to appraise them. While we ate we observed members arriving with plants for the members’ plant sale – quite a feature of the event and an opportunity to acquire some very nice plants. We watched one member, one we know well, as he practically wore a path from car to hall with his deliveries and we also could see the earlybirds forming a queue for the 1.30 opening.

The Members’ Plant Sale area is the first encountered on entering the hall and is always a source of good plants – at a good price.

Once indoors we headed for the members’ plant sales where Mary added some of Harold McBride’s “Waverley Seedling”s to her collection of Primula auricula. We don’t know what colour the flowers will be but Harold always has good plants so it is worth the chance and there is the excitement of the wait to see what we have bought and it is nice to have a plant raised by a friend.

Once into the main hall I was greeted by the plant of my dreams – there is always a plant we dream of and would wish to have. There are several reasons I long for this plant – this one is Trillium chloropetalum ‘Bob Gordon’. Some years back, Bob gave Billy Moore some seedlings of Trillium chloropetalum from his garden. Billy grew them on to flowing size and found he had some with yellow flowers – T. chloropetalum is usually a rich bungundy – so he knew he had something special. He grew it on before showing it at an AGS show in Belfast where the members of the Joint Rock Committee  commended it highly and suggested it deserved a cultivar name – a recognition of its worth. Billy, of course, named it after Bob Gordon who had given him the seedlings.

Trillium chloropetalum 'Bob Gordon' - grown by Billy Moore  (2)
Trillium chloropetalum ‘Bob Gordon’ which was raised by Billy Moore from seedlings from Bob Gordon’s garden. 
Trillium chloropetalum 'Bob Gordon' - grown by Billy Moore  (9)
Trillium chloropetalum ‘Bob Gordon’
Trillium chloropetalum 'Bob Gordon' - grown by Billy Moore  (4)
Trillium chloropetalum ‘Bob Gordon’

Quite simple, this is a fabulous plant, with a distinct colour for a Trillium – even T. luteum is not as good a yellow as this. It is also one which would make an excellent garden plant – while I admire greatly the many plants the AGS members display I realise that many would not make good garden plants but would require pot culture and a level of care and attention which would be more that I would wish to give. Trillium chloropetalum, on the other hand, is an easy and excellent garden plant – seedlings from Bob’s garden have simply romped along in our garden – and I am especially delighted that Billy has put Bob’s name to such an outstanding plant.

Further along the same bench was a much smaller plant which stopped every visitor in his/her tracks. Paddy Smith has shown Gentiana ligustica at previous shows over previous years and it has continued to improve and to impress even more with each showing. The blue of gentians has something magical about it and invariably catches the eye and the admiration of viewers. Paddy has grown this specimen to a very high standard so that his display represents not only a beautiful plant but an example of the wonderful skill of the grower.

Gentiana ligustica - grown by Paddy Smith. First Prize (5)
Gentiana ligustica grown to perfection by Paddy Smith

It is plants, such as the above, which make the AGS shows so wonderful. There is a purity here – thoughts of garden design, plant combinations, colour coordination and those many other considerations of the garden maker can be put aside – and the visitor can focus purely on the beauty of the individual plants and this is a pure joy.

Moving from plant to plant and from bench to bench is a slow process and this is as it should be so that there is time to admire at length the beauty which is presented and the skills which brought them to us. This slow  movement is guaranteed by meeting so many people, great gardeners and great friends, some of whom we meet only once a year, and who are as much an attraction as the plants on the benches so the pleasure of visiting the Cabinteely show is on many levels and a rich and wonderful experience.

Some photographs from the show to give you a flavour of the occasion: 








Paddy Tobin

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

A Reflection on The Carlow Garden Festival 2015

It was a week of garden celebration and enjoyment, of gardening experts, gardening celebrities and enthusiastic followers travelling and gathering and sharing in plants and gardens. This was the Carlow Garden Festival, a week crammed full of events, talks, guided walks and garden visits which seems to grow and grow in its success year on year with greater and greater numbers attending.

The house at Altamont Gardens where conservation work has begun and the fabric of the house has been safeguarded.
The house at Altamont Gardens where conservation work has begun and the fabric of the house has been safeguarded.

It was impossible to be everywhere, to attend all events, so I was forced to pick and choose the occasions where I might attend and I choose very well. No doubt, I could have enjoyed other events also but I cannot imagine I would have enjoyed them any the more.

Altamont Gardens never fails to attract nor to satisfy; it has always been the most delightful garden, a quintessentially Irish garden fitting into its surroundings so perfectly comfortably that one can stroll from garden to ice-age glen, to river bank without feeling the jar of change and on to pasture land and back to lake and find all lie so happily together, so perfectly at ease.

The double herbaceous borders in the walled garden at Altamont
The double herbaceous borders in the walled garden at Altamont

A visit to Altamont invariably brings sad thoughts to mind. I recall the days of Mrs. Corona North, her great love for her garden and her great struggles with the financial demands of maintaining both it and the house and that it is only now after she has passed it into the hands of the state that the gardens are once again thriving and looking as she has always wished them to be. The Office of Public Works with Paul Cutler, the Head Gardener, who worked with Mrs. North for many years, has performed that extraordinarily difficult task of taking on a person’s garden and continuing to maintain and develop it in a style and manner which is very much that of Mrs. North. It is sad that it was only in her death and in her passing on her garden that her vision was maintained but I’m sure she would be delighted to see it now. It is very heartening to see the gardens continue to develop – as they must for no garden can stand still – and to witness such developments as the snowdrop collection and the very successful Snowdrop Week, a wonderful example of how a garden may progress while still remaining loyal to the vision of its creator . The double herbaceous borders developed by Assumpta Broomfield have matured very well and are a great attraction to visitors while the garden centre developed by Robert Millar, has become one of the best places to visit for interesting and top-quality plants.

The central axis of the garden at Altamont, edged with box hedging and filled with roses.
The central axis of the garden at Altamont, edged with box hedging and filled with roses.
The iconic yew arches on the central axis at Altamont Gardens
The iconic yew arches on the central axis at Altamont Gardens

Of the three events that I attended during the Carlow Garden Festival, two of them were at Altamont which I like to imagine was because I was attracted more by the garden than by the various gardening “personalities” who were providing similar guided walks in other gardens. The cult of the personality is strong, very strong and while it is something I view with a certain degree of distain it must, in fairness, be credited with attracting the large numbers to so many of the events of this past week and to giving a big boost to garden related business in the Carlow area.

The lake at Altamont

Matthew Jebb, Director of the National Botanic Gardens at Glasnevin, and Roy Lancaster, plantsman and author, both conducted walks of the gardens at Altamont during the week and both were excellent with the events very well attended and certainly enjoyed by the enthusiastic gardeners who were there. One aspect of both speakers’ presentations impressed me greatly. There is no doubt that both of these men have probably forgotten more about plants than I have ever known yet it was obvious, and confirmed to me later, that both had visited the gardens in advance, taken note of what was of particular interest to them, and had prepared for the event so that their talks were well organised, well delivered, very informative and very entertaining. I have attended such events previously where it seemed the “celebrity” felt their mere presence should be sufficient for our enjoyment and entertainment and that a few off the cuff light and frivolous remarks would satisfy the audience, an approach I feel is hugely disrespectful to people who have made the effort to attend and who have come with great interest and hopes of learning something applicable to their own gardening. Matthew Jebb and Roy Lancaster displayed a deep knowledge of their subject, a passion for it, professionalism in preparation and a respect for their audience and I admired them greatly for this. Such a great garden with two such speakers made for two marvellously enjoyable occasions.

The magnificent Sweet Chestnut at Hardymount
The magnificent Sweet Chestnut at Hardymount
The greeting to the walled garden at Hardymount
The greeting to the walled garden at Hardymount

The other event we attended was at Sheila Reeves Smyth’s Hardymount Garden near Tullow.  Though not as large a garden as Altamont, Hardymount has its own charm and interest and a visit there is always enjoyable.  The walled garden is compact and full both with plant interest and a range of strategically placed statuary. At the front of the house is a most magnificent example of Sweet Chestnut, a specimen gauged to be two hundred and fifty years old.  Anna Pavord spoke to an audience of more than two hundred people in a marquee on the front lawn and her hour long talk, without illustration or prop, had the audience engaged and attentively enjoying the occasion from beginning to end. She has been the gardening correspondent for The Independent newspaper for many years but is better known here in Ireland as the author of several highly regarded books. Indeed, she has a long list of books to her credit but “The Tulip”, “The Naming of Plants”, “Bulb” and “The Curious Gardener” are her latest and best known and the story of “The Curious Gardener” provided the subject matter of her talk at Hardymount.  Refreshments, a raffle for plants and a walk around the garden completed the afternoon very pleasantly.

How well the eye is lead by the clever placement of this statue at Hardymount
How well the eye is lead by the clever placement of this statue at Hardymount
The Gardener's Rest at Hardymount
The Gardener’s Rest at Hardymount

Now, I can only look forward to the2016 festival but the gardens are there all year round.

Paddy Tobin

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

Bloom in the Park 2015

Bloom in the Park (The Phoenix Park in Dublin) is the biggest gardening event of the year in Ireland and attracts thousands of visitors. While the title indicates a strongly horticultural leaning it has, in fact, come to host a far broader range of attractions with a view, I imagine, to make it interesting to a wider range of people, a family event rather than a purely gardening occasion.

This broadening of the interest base for Bloom has produced contradictory results. At the one time it is an event which attracts and pleases more people each year and yet also presents aspects which displease many of those attending; a case of pleasing some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, I suppose. Those who wish it were more true to its gardening core can find the non-gardening elements a nuisance and an aggravation and regularly comment that they take away from the essential aspect of the show, gardening, Should the gardening aspects not be to their satisfaction their criticisms are often exaggerated by their having to tolerate the non-gardening side-shows.

My interest is in gardening so the show gardens, the plant displays and plant sales in the pavilion are the areas which interest me. There are large areas given to a huge range of food producers with jams, cheese, sausages and everything else imaginable at a multitude of stalls and, while I will walk along these, I don’t find any reason to stop and look more closely. Likewise, I walk past the craft areas, the farm produce areas, and the dozens of stalls where one can go for information on a myriad of matters ranging from education, furniture, cleaning products and many more. These do not displease me; they are simply not of interest to me; I look briefly and move along.

Nor am I interested in the various cooking demonstrations, the music stages or the multitude of food vendors – though I did stop for a pulled pork dinner box which sustained me for the rest of the afternoon. There were talks on gardening topics and one by Gerry Daly which I would have liked to hear but missed it. I had been told that Gerry made mention of our garden and showed a photograph of it and my curiosity would only love to have been satisfied.

When I enter the grounds the weather dictates my first move: if it is dry I go immediately to the show gardens; if it is raining I go to the plant pavilion. This year it was straight to the gardens – Irish weather does oblige occasionally. As always with show gardens there were some I found adorable, some amusing and interesting and others which left me dumbfounded as to why they should be there at all. The standard of design, plant selection and general finish to the gardens can vary enormously and the medals awarded by the judges can puzzle the visitor but this should not come as a surprise. Each designer presents a written statement of intent before the garden is built and the judges gauge to what standard they have achieved their aims in the garden. We, the visitors, on the other hand simply judge whether we like the garden or not, whether the planting is suitable and sustainable or not, whether it is appealing or not but all without any opportunity to reference the original statement of the designer so it is no wonder there would be differences of opinions. We are judging from a different perspective.

Jane McCockell's
Jane McCockell’s “Our Origins are Green”
Our Lady's Children's Hospital Crumlin Garden by Anthony Ryan and Kieran Dunne
Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital Crumlin Garden by Anthony Ryan and Kieran Dunne
Santa Rita - The Moment is Yours by  Ingrid Swan
Santa Rita – The Moment is Yours by Ingrid Swan

There were, without any doubt, some gardens of the very highest standard in the show this year. Chatting with friends there seemed to be general agreement that Jane McCockell’s “Our Origin is Green”, Anthony Ryan and Kieran Dunne’s “Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin, Garden”, Ingrid Swan’s “Santa Rita – The Moment is Yours”, Alan Rudden’s “The Solus Garden of Light”, Fiann O Nuallain and Lisa Kelly’s “The Irish Country Garden Magazine” and “Beechpark Gardens” by Jane McCockell were all wonderful. There was particular comment for “Darkness into Light – Pieta House Garden” by Niall Maxwell which had such a dramatic backdrop and for “Saison” by Breffni McGeough which captured an atmosphere so magically. Each of these gave great pleasure and it was wonderful to see such work by Irish designers.

The Solus Garden of Light by Alan Rudden
The Solus Garden of Light by Alan Rudden
The Irish Country Magazine Garden by Fiann O Nuallain and Lisa Kelly
The Irish Country Magazine Garden by Fiann O Nuallain and Lisa Kelly
Beech Park Gardens by Jame McCockell,  John Harrington, Fingal County Council, Hort Dept at Institute of Technology Blanchardstown
Beech Park Gardens by Jane McCockell, John Harrington, Fingal County Council, Hort Dept at Institute of Technology Blanchardstown

There were some minor matters which irked me regarding the gardens. The postcards gardens at the entrance to the show grounds suffered,, as those of last year, by not having a good background; it was better than last year but could still be improved significantly. It annoyed me, when viewing the gardens, to have people walking about in them. I can understand that when family and friends arrive it is the most natural thing in the world to want to share the garden with them but it does distract from the enjoyment of the visitors – who have paid to see them – and is a particular nuisance when one wishes to take photographs. Also, I suppose it is not unreasonable for sponsors to wish to make best use of the opportunity to promote their business but I felt a cooking demonstration in a show garden was a step too far and spoiled the garden for the visitor. Likewise, I wondered – and do not know if this is true or not – if one of the sponsoring paint manufacturing companies exerted a degree of influence on the choice of colours used on walls and garden buildings as these certainly seemed to be chosen to catch the eye and be a feature in the garden; few of us make a feature of our walls or garden sheds!

Darkness into Light - Pieta House Garden by Niall Maxwell
Darkness into Light – Pieta House Garden by Niall Maxwell
Saison by Breffni McGeough
Saison by Breffni McGeough

Of course, the plant pavilion is a place of pure indulgence for the gardener. This is where we can treat ourselves to the treasures we will enjoy for years to come and one sees many people indulging themselves with great abandon, great enjoyment and great fun. Here is a density of plant suppliers that we rarely encounter and a wonderful range of new plants, often seen in flower here for the first time this season, Geums seem to be the plant favourite of the moment and several different cultivars were on sale – ‘Mai Tai’, ‘Lisanne’, ‘Totally Tangerine’ and ‘Princess Juliana’ and there was a planting of Geum ‘Cosmopolitan’ in the Irish Country Garden Magazine garden which seemed to catch everybody’s eye. Iris siberica cultivars are making a comeback with ‘Sparkling Rose’ and ‘Butter and Cream’ on offer – the names tell you the colour. The resurgence of interest in dahlias is continuing with the simpler flowers in bright colours especially popular – ‘Happy Days’ and ‘Pooh’. Polemoniums ‘Heavenly Habit’ and ‘Purple Rain’ herald a return of interest to this old-fashioned plant. Trollius are becoming more and more popular and the cultivar ‘New Moon’ was one which especially caught my eye. I searched and questioned for Leucanthemum ‘Tommy Bowe’ (a Hazel Woods’ introduction) to no avail but, as a gardening friends say to me, “if we got all we wanted this year there would be nothing left to look forward to for next year”.

Iris siberica 'Sparkling Rose' - Kilmurry Nurseries
Iris siberica ‘Sparkling Rose’ – Kilmurry Nurseries
Geum 'Mai Tai' from Kilmurry Nursery
Geum ‘Mai Tai’ from Kilmurry Nursery
Geum 'Cosmopolian' in The Irish Country Magazine Garden
Geum ‘Cosmopolian’ in The Irish Country Magazine Garden
Dahlia 'Pooh'
Dahlia ‘Pooh’

Bloom is over for this year; it was a wonderful day out and we will all do it again next year – we will enjoy and criticise the gardens, admire and buy the  plants and will probably grumble about this and that again but, all the same, wouldn’t miss it.

Trollius 'New Moon' - Kilmurry Nurseries
Trollius ‘New Moon’ – Kilmurry Nurseries

            Paddy Tobin

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

A Weekend Away – Our Annual General Meeting Weekend in Co. Donegal, May 2015

It’s great fun to go off with a group of fellow gardeners, leave your own patch behind for a while, and wander around other gardens admiring, chatting, photographing and finding new ideas that you might try back home. We had such a weekend recently. It was the occasion of the Annual General Meeting of the Irish Garden Plant Society with the meeting itself held in Glenveagh Castle in Co. Donegal followed by visits to four gardens over two days. A busman’s holiday!  Speaking of buses, it was a delight that we had bus transport on the Saturday as, for us, the journey to Co. Donegal had been a five hour drive.

One overall impression and great delight from our four garden visits was that we were so warmly welcomed in each one of them. Seán O Gaoithin, Head Gardener, welcomed us to Glenveagh with refreshments before our meeting and afterwards, along with other members of staff, brought us on guided tours of the garden. The castle and gardens are situated on the banks of a lake and there are beautiful views at every turn. The Walled Garden occupies an area where once stone was quarried to build the castle and is now a beautiful combination of the practical and the ornamental. The gardener’s house, where Seán lived for some years, attracted every camera in the group like a magnet. We roamed on to the Pleasure Gardens, the Italian Terrace, The Tuscan Garden, The Swiss Walk and all agreed that it was the most enchanting garden we could possibly imagine. This garden alone made the five hour journey worthwhile. Everything else for the weekend was going to be a bonus for me. Apparently, midges can be a nuisance here but it was a blustery day with occasional showers when we visited and we were spared.

Glenveagh View
Glenveagh View
The Pleasure Garden at Glenveagh
The Pleasure Garden at Glenveagh
The Walled Garden
The Walled Garden
The Gardener's House in the Walled Garden at Glenveagh
The Gardener’s House in the Walled Garden at Glenveagh
Glenveagh - a view from the garden.
Glenveagh – a view from the garden.

Our onward journey brought us over the mountains where we stopped to view the Poisoned Glen and Dunlewy Lake. A gale was blowing as we left the bus to take the view but it was worthwhile. The rather odd name for this glen arose from a mistranslation from Irish and the Heavenly Glen would be a more accurate and appropriate name.

We arrived at Cluain na dTor Nursery at Falcarragh in mid-afternoon. Seamus O Donnell with family and staff greeted us and brought us on a tour of the garden. Seamus has a keen interest in growing different and unusual plants and a particular passion, a necessary one given the location of his garden, in identifying plants which will do well at the seaside where salt-laden winds would reduce many a plant to shreds.

Cluain na dTor
Cluain na dTor
Cluain na dTor
Cluain na dTor
Cluain na dTor
Cluain na dTor

Sunday morning brought us to Oakfield Park, a Georgian deanery dating from the early 18th century, now fully restored and the home of Sir Gerry and Lady Robinson. To one side of the house there is a walled pleasure garden and a kitchen garden both restored to perfection while, on another side there is a wonderful downhill vista to a lake and nymphaeum and, further, to a recently installed and magnificent sculpture. Impressive specimen and heritage trees grace the landscape near the house while the parkland at the other side of the road has an abundance of walks through recently planted woodlands with lakes, follies and much to entrance the visitor. The miniature railway brought out the child in us all and we each enjoyed our tour by rail around the grounds.

Oakfield Park view to lake, nymphaeum and vista to sculpture in distance
Oakfield Park view to lake, nymphaeum and vista to sculpture in distance
Walled Garden
Oakfield Park Walled Garden
Oakfield Park Kitchen Garden
Oakfield Park Kitchen Garden
Oakfield Park Sculpture
Oakfield Park Sculpture
Oakfield Park Miniature Railway
Oakfield Park Miniature Railway

Our final garden of the weekend was to Dunmore House, in Carrigans, the home of Lady Maryette and Sir John McFarland. First impressions do matter and here we were immediately wowed by a magnificent specimen of one of the Loder rhododendron cultivars to the front of the house. It was simply fabulous and we continued to be delighted as we walked around the walled garden which was on a slight slope so that the upper part suited azaleas perfectly and the damper lower end was perfect for primulas which flourished there. One red primula stole my heart; it was without a name and had come to the garden, as so many of the old Irish cultivars, “from an elderly lady”. Her memory lives on in the plant here.

Dunmore House
Dunmore House
Dunmore House Walled Garden
Dunmore House Walled Garden
Dunmore House - a fabulous primula without a name.
Dunmore House – a fabulous primula without a name.

It was a wonderful weekend; well worth the long journey and we can only look forward to our AGM weekend in the Cork area next year.

Paddy Tobin


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

Snowdrop Time is with us again!

The major event of the snowdrop season is the open week at Altamont Gardens in Co. Carlow. The gardens are open to the public completely free of charge and Paul Cutler, the head gardener, gives a guided walk of  the garden twice each day pointing out the various cultivars grown in the garden and telling of their origins and distinguishing features.

Over the past number of years Paul has built up an interesting collection of snowdrops and has taken a particular interest in snowdrops of Irish origin so it is a good place to view these.


Many of my age will recall with great affection the days when the gardens were in the hands of the late Mrs. Corona North. This was her family home and they created a wonderful garden here. The layout and comfortable atmosphere of the garden is a great credit to her. Since her death the gardens have been in the hands of the Office of Public Works and I often reflect that she would be delighted with the gardens as they are today. Her original layout, planting and the feeling she created in the garden has not only been maintained but has been improved and this is a great credit to the present gardeners at Altamont.


There are three main plantings of snowdrops in the garden. On entering from the carpark area – we will skip the walled gardens for the moment – the first view is of the “Nun’s Walk”, a line of beech trees underplanted with Galanthus nivalis, G nivalis flore pleno along with a sprinkling of cyclamen and hellebores with all bordered by a white-flowering periwinkle (Vinca). Some of the older beech trees have had to be replaced but the area still has the atmosphere of great age and of peace and quiet.


The central axis of the garden is lined with box hedges which have been brought back from bad health and are now looking wonderful again. Behind the hedges are the rose beds which run down a gentle slope from the house to the lake. The roses are underplanted with a wide selection of snowdrops and the snowflakes – Leucojum vernum var carpathicum – which Mrs North loved so much. The iconic yew arches of the garden are also on this axis.


Parallel with the main axis there is an small area of woodland which houses an excellent selection of snowdrops in a most natural setting. The snowdrops are interplanted with hellebores with a generous sprinkling of winter aconite, Eranthis hyemalis, all followed by the feathery soft foliage and flowers of corydalis.



The non-snowdrop lovers on your outing to the garden need not want for enjoyment as a walk around the lake is a delight – and you needn’t mention that there are several good plantings of snowdrops on the way round. Half way round one comes on a set of steps running down to the glen. This is an area where the only work done by the gardeners has been to facilitate access. It is an area of running streams, small bridges, large rocks, high tree, fallen trees with moss, greenery and shafts of overhead sunlight.


The end of the pathway through the glen brings one to the banks of the River Barrow, to open skies and views along impressive stretches of the river. The return to the garden is via “The One Hundred Steps” – yes, 100 granite steps set into the hillside and I have checked the count on several occasions with my sons when they were young enough to wish to come with us and on my own accord regularly just to be sure all is as it should be.


After completing the tour of the garden it is time to visit the walled garden where the double herbaceous borders, originally designed and planted by Assumpta Broomfield, are a feature of summer visits. At this time of year they are home to a collection of very interesting snowdrops and to Robert Millar’s outstanding plant sales area. I know of no better place in Ireland to find interesting snowdrops as Robert has been collecting now for many years, has built up many varieties in good numbers, and has a large range available for sale. This really is the place to go to purchase snowdrops and this is a great benefit as you can see the snowdrops before you purchase them and be sure they are true to type and are in good health – and I can assure you that they are.


Presently, along with the snowdrops, there is a fabulous collection of hellebores in the most amazing colours – the yellows were especially amazing –  with stocks from Ashwood and Harvington Nurseries in the UK. Other delights were the witch hazels and the spring flowering irises.

Enough said – as you can gather I really enjoy my visits to Altamont and particularly enjoy the gardens at snowdrop time. Come and visit the gardens any day through this week and enjoy a guided tour with Paul Cutler and follow up by treating yourself at Robert Millar’s plant sales.


Paddy Tobin

Some dates of interest:

IGPS: “Snowdrops in an Irish Garden”, a talk at the Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin on 12th February

Naomi Slade at Bellefield House on 14th February. Naomi Slade is the author of The Plant Lover’s Guide to Snowdrops, an excellent book (Review).

IGPS members are visiting Altamont on Sunday 15th for a guided tour with Head Gardener, Paul Cutler.

Assumpta Broomfield at Burtown House a “Walk and Talk” of the garden featuring the snowdrops in flower on Sunday 22nd. The gardens will be  open from March 14th to April 1st from 10a.m. to 4p.m.

Primrose Hill, Lucan is open all this month in the afternoons – the home of Irish snowdrops!


For more information on the Irish Garden Plant Society, to see our Calendar of Events etc, visit our Website or come follow us on Facebook IGPS

Lismore Castle Gardens – Past and Potential: A Talk by Darren Topps, Head Gardener

Lismore Castle Gardens – Past and Potential: A Talk by Darren Topps at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin Thursday 13th November

Lismore Castle and gardens are steeped in history with an initial design by Sir Joseph Paxton dating to the 1840s with some elements of the gardens almost certainly older. In his talk to the members and visitors at our recent meeting Darren Topps, Head Gardener at Lismore, guided us through the various areas of the garden. The lower garden has a champion specimen of Magnolia delavayi and a yew avenue which is over three hundred years old but after a good spring display from Rhododendrons and Magnolias it has little in flower for the rest of the year though the Eucryphia are excellent in late summer. The upper garden has long been used for fruit and vegetables and still is with an emphasis on cut flower production for display in the castle. A mix of herbaceous borders and shrubs gives a very colourful summer display.

A view over the Upper Garden towards the castle.  Photo from Stephen Butler
A view over the Upper Garden towards the castle.
Photo from Stephen Butler

Times change though and with very few planting records there is a very free hand in replanting. Overgrown hedges, essential for the framework, are being reduced back to a correct width and height. Weed infested borders are being stripped, dug over, cleaned, and replanted. Box blight has badly affected the garden but an edge to the borders is essential so, instead of box, chestnut hurdles or step over apple cordons have been used. The grass in the orchard was previously kept mown but this year it was developed as a meadow giving much more floral interest, a great increase in insect life and far less work. The garden enjoys a remarkable microclimate and this has facilitated new plantings of unusual plants.

A ridge and furrow greenhouse range, a very rare style seldom found now, is due for renovation and an area termed the relic garden which has an interesting collection of trees, especially conifers, is also due to be reopened shortly. The Devonshire’s interest in art is evident too from the various sculptures displayed around the gardens.

Forty people braved the wind and rain for the lecture and their interest was very evident by the number of questions Darren fielded afterwards.

An excellent talk enjoyed by all and if you would like to join us at future events check out our website for dates and locations: or come join us on Facebook:

Stephen Butler

For Leinster Events Committee