A Special Garden, Very special!

There are a few gardens you walk into and feel all is perfectly comfortable. Is that an old age description, I wonder? However, I’m sure you know what I mean – not a matter of comfortable armchairs and slippers – but that feeling in a garden when everything fits together in an apparent effortless manner, the perfect fit.

I recall the first occasion we walked into Beth Chatto’s garden and feeling it so very clearly – this was a garden perfectly in tune with its location and setting. There was no artifice, no pretence, nothing gaudy nor vulgar, no gimmicks. Instead, a garden of good, simple design filled with well-chosen plants and a blend of house and garden which felt as though they had both been together for many years.

Mildred Stoke’s garden at Killurney, near Kilsheelin, Co. Tipperary is another example of such a garden. We have visited many times, have always enjoyed the occasion, and have done so again today.

I’m not going to waffle on – have a look at my photos from today and you will understand.

Mildred Stoke's Garden (1)

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And an album of views within the garden…

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Paddy Tobin

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

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

Mount Congreve’s Magnificent Magnolias


Mount Congreve Gardens must be one of the very best places in the world to see magnolias. There are three spectacular plantings of magnolias in the garden: the first and original planting was on the terrace below the house where we can see Magnolia campbellii, Magnolia veitchii and Magnolia sprengeri var diva among others, all now mature and impressive trees. This planting is best viewed from an elevated spot near The Temple where one can look along the top of the canopy of this planting and see magnificent planting one could not encounter anywhere else in the world.

Magnolia campbellii  (5) The view over the canopy of the magnificent planting of Magnolia campbellii (in the main) on the terraces under the house.

Seed from the specimens of Magnolia campbellii growing in this area were collected and propagated in the early 1960s and later planted on the terraces near the waterfall, an area below…

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The Dilemma of Respecting the Elderly!

Some gardens, by reason of their history and previous owners, will have plants which are of great historic and horticultural significance. Their loss might be a great tragedy but their continued presence can be both a great burden of responsibility and an impediment to the development of the area as a garden.

The National Botanic Gardens at Kilmacurragh are home to many magnificent plants



Gardeners of my generation will recall the “miniature” conifer and heather fashion trend in gardening in the 1970s and will, probably, have also found, like me, that those “miniature” conifers did not always behave to their description. The day comes when the mind is finally steeled and the decision is taken to remove them. They leave a gap and are a loss to some degree, yet they open opportunities for the gardener to plan anew, to introduce new plants and for the garden to remain vibrant and interesting.

However, when the plants in question are historically significant the gardener is faced with a dilemma. It was a visit in the last few days to the National Botanic Gardens at Kilmacurragh, Co. Wicklow, which brought these thoughts to mind. The gardens have an outstanding and historically significant collection of plants. Here we can see plants such as the weeping cedar of Goa, Cupressus lusitanica ‘Glauca Pendula’, planted between 1820 and 1840 and the peculiar ash, Fraxinus excelsior ‘Monstrosa’, a tree which was noted as being 1 foot tall in 1840!

When Thomas and Janet Acton took on Kilmacurragh in 1854 they planted with enthusiasm and with the advice of David Moore of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Glasnevin furnished the garden with the choicest plants. The association with Glasnevin continued with Sir Frederick Moore and the planting riches of Kilmacurragh continued to expand, especially  to give a home to those plants which the alkaline soil in Glasnevin did not suit. Sir Joseph Hooker’s 1849 collection of rhododendron seed in the Sikkim Himalaya, after germination at Glasnevin, were grown on in the suitably acidic soil of Kilmacurragh, and developed into Europe’s most comprehensive collection of rhododendrons from Sikkim, Bhutan and Nepal. Many of these original rhododendrons are still in the garden – the original plants, not subsequent propagated generations, the original plants and so of extreme value for their historical significance and association with such wonderful past generations of Irish gardeners and I wonder if they are a blessing or an impediment to Kilmacurragh’s present day gardeners.


The Broad Walk might serve to consider this thought. It was laid out to the rear of the house by Thomas and Janet Acton in the early 1870s. At the time it was planted with alternate Irish yews, Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata’, the tall and bright red Rhododendron ‘Altaclerense’ and Rhododendron ‘Cunningham’s White’ which is lower growing. Given the passage of time the plants, especially those of Rhododendron ‘Altaclerense’, are now quite enormous both in height and in width so that The Broad Walk is now not as broad as it once was and here is the quandary: Should the garden plants or the garden design take precedence?

At present, Kilmacurragh has a significant collection of plants but the garden layout has become somewhat overshadowed and overcrowded. We see the same problem with those who are more plant collectors than garden makers; it can be challenging to accommodate a plant collection within a satisfactory garden design.

What will happen at Kilmacurragh? I really don’t know but suspect that, as the present curator is an enthusiastic plantsman, these venerable old plants will continue to be treasured for as long as their good health allows and we may enjoy the garden with them for it would not be the same without them.

Paddy Tobin

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

What a Diva!


Impossibly beautiful, fabulously elegant, deep rose-pink from head to toe and with a sensational presence which effortlessly dominated the garden – this was quite an encounter!

I’m sure you all have had  moments when visiting a garden when you knew you had come on something supremely special, be it brilliant design, captivating plant association or, as with me today, a single plant which simply took your breath away.

Magnolia sprengeri 'Diva' (1)
First glimpse – interesting! 

We entered the garden at Lismore Castle and caught a glimpse of colour at the far end of the Lower Garden, near the Berlin Wall, which immediately drew us along to investigate. It was obviously a magnolia but, my goodness, what a colour!

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Looking more and more promising! 

We moved along, giving little attention to other plants along the way and our rush along was well worthwhile.

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It all its glory and looking fabulous – Magnolia sprengeri var. diva!

The first view of the entire tree was breathtaking; this was a truly outstanding magnolia and one of the most beautiful I have ever seen – Magnolia sprengeri var. diva!

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Pink blossom against a blue sky are a perfect colour combination. 
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Magnolia sprengeri var. diva 
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Magnolia sprengeri var. diva 

The plant hunter, Ernest Henry Wilson (1876 – 1930) collected magnolia seed while on his first plant hunting expedition, on behalf of the famous Veitch Nurseries, in south-western China in the autumn of 1900. Plants raised from this collection were put up for sale in 1913 and one was bought by J. C. Williams of Caerhays Castle in Cornwall. When it flowered in 1919 it turned out to have very attractive deep rose-pink flowers while all the other plants produced white flowers. J. C. Williams’ specimen was named Magnolia sprengeri var. diva while the others had Magnolias sprengeri var. elongata. It was named, by the way for the German botanist, Carl Ludwig Sprenger (1846 – 1917) who was a partner in the Dammann & Co. Nursery of San Giovanni a Teduccio, Naples.

As well as its large and beautifully coloured flowers, Magnolia sprengeri var. diva is also strongly fragrant and this gathered wonderfully around the tree in the Lower Garden at Lismore Castle as it is planted in a natural hollow which escapes the breeze and allows the fragrance to linger. What a tree!

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There were other plants and areas of interest in the gardens at Lismore Castle and here is a short slideshow to give you a flavour of our day out. It is worthwhile visiting the gardens right through the year so make your way there at some stage.

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Paddy Tobin

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

Three Days to Eternity

Dicentra spectabilis
Dicentra spectabilis

We spend time in the garden every day, even on bad-weather days, if only to have a quick peep to see what is in flower, what is doing well, or not, etc. We weren’t out over the weekend as we had an indoor attraction far more important than the garden – a six-month old grandchild in the house! – and a walk around the garden today was a time to notice how much can change in a very few days.

Erythronium 'Susannah' (1)
Erythronium ‘Susannah’

The grass is looking a little fluffy even though I cut it only last week, a real sign that the soil has warmed up and that the garden will be into full and profuse growth from now on; Frittilaria imperialis have come into flower;  the orchids are above ground in the beds and appear to have multiplied – they had been planted as single roots last year so it is good to see them begin to bulk up again; that bergenia that I was told came from Carmel Duignan’s garden has flowers – nice purple foliage and pink flowers, promising!; the first tulips are out in the garden – a yellow one whose name is long lost, T. kaufmanniana ‘Heart’s Delight’ is fully open; the Skunk Cabbage, Lysichiton americanus, is well into growth showing its yellow spathes; Leucojum vernum are all out of flower but the taller Leuojum aestivuum have continued the show; snowdrops are gone – just a few stray flowers on Galanthus ‘Lady Moore’ in a sheltered spot but daffodils are in profusion, some old varieties which have been years in the garden and some news ones to keep the interest going – one named ‘Chiva’ has multi-headed flowers and truly outstanding fragrance; magnolias are magnificent at the moment with M. soulangeana and M. stellata at their very best – they have escaped frosts this year though it is forecast for tonight; our native primroses are in full flower and their ornamental relatives are also in season; a number of pretty Primula x polyantha – a cross between our native primrose and the cowslip – are looking well in the garden with some different colours appearing also; Flowering currants are in full swing – I enjoy the smell from the foliage!; Erythroniums flower and vanish too quickly but they are so pretty and have such an attractive flower shape that they are worth growing; trilliums are terrific at the moment – I struggled with these for many years but now have a number which are thriving in the garden and it is still a thrill to have them growing well and flowering profusely; Snakeshead fritillaries are doing fabulously in our bulb lawn, they are obviously seeding about very generously and promise to be a feature in future years; what was expected to be an important old Irish daffodil – I received one bulb last autumn – opened today and was not what it should have been.. pffffffffff, there are often disappointments but tomorrow will have something else of interest; Arum creticum will surely open tomorrow and, maybe, the first of the yellow magnolias!

A lot happens in a few days in the garden!

Paddy Tobin

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

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