Those wretched, rotten, accursed (f…ing) fairies are threatening to take up residence in my garden!

For years I have looked in astonishment, amazement and disgust at the vomit-inducing and incongruous bad taste shown by those who placed fairies, fairy doors, fairy houses, fairy paraphernalia etc. in their gardens. It has baffled and bewildered me that adults could find these appealing and could consider they added to their gardens. The Royal Horticultural Society has banned the use of gnomes in any competition gardens at their shows for many years and I truly hope they extend this ban to include fairies – though, I believe there is some softening of approach re the gnomes. Yes, standards are dropping!

Children seem to have always enjoyed fairy stories and, of late, there is a growing interest in these, in fairy books, fairy figures, fairy doors and such like and it is good innocent fun for them and loving adults will play along for the sake of amusing and pleasing the children. Adults will often be childlike for the sake of the children – normal behaviour – but when adults are childish I find it very peculiar. The beliefs children might have regarding fairies are acceptable because they are children but it always strikes me as very odd when adults begin entertaining such beliefs and start acting accordingly. Reports of adults on an early morning “let’s listen to the dawn chorus” when the chorus is expected from the fairies of the garden or of listening to the fairy music and dancing to it leave me wondering if these people are simple minded or simply stark raving mad.

While there are fools there are people who will have their money –  the fool and his money are soon parted! – and there are now companies, it seems, who manufacture fairy doors and other bits and pieces for these susceptible unfortunates. Some gardens go so far as to make a theme of these fairy features, an attraction, something to draw in the paying public and, though I would like to imagine that the adults are visiting purely to amuse their children I fear it is not always the case. At times I despair at the poor taste shown in some gardens and at others for society itself when a belief in these little spirits is becoming so widespread. On the other hand such beliefs in fairies parallel those of many religions, a sort of pseudo religion of sorts and, perhaps, I should not scoff at them – but I am only doing so in fun!

With this connection to religion in mind I still recall, from my school-teacher days, the comment of that child, wise beyond his years, who, when he heard the teacher explaining to those children about to receive the host on the day of their First Communion that they would, in fact, be partaking of the body and blood of Christ, burst out laughing. When questioned by the teacher as to why he had laughed he replied, “Well, that story is right up there with the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus”. He was my kind of child!

Olivia's Fairy Door
My granddaughter’s Fairy Door, a source of magic,  fun and lots of love

So, what is the immediate relevance of all this waffle I am pouring out? The fact is that I am about to make and install a number of these Fairy Doors in my own garden. No, I have not found religion, the Fairy Religion, nor taken complete leave of my senses but I have a granddaughter who loves and adores Fairy Doors! That’s enough reason for me to put aside all previous thoughts and to embrace Fairydom with enthusiasm – this latter is a wild exaggeration!

We went for a walk yesterday along the Anne River Valley which is in Dunhill, Co. Waterford, and my darling granddaughter was thrilled and excited to find 22 fairy doors en route, pinned to trees, slightly hidden, or on rockfaces and tree stumps. She was so excited in her search and discovery that when she said we would have to look for the fairy doors in our garden I realised I would have to oblige.

She has a fairy door in her bedroom and the most wonderful Fairy Godmother who writes the most perfect letters to her, telling her how loved she is, what a wonderful girl she is, praising her for her behaviour on this occasion or that, recommending good behaviour at coming events and being her kindest companion, friend and guide. It is no wonder she loves the fairies!

I am determined that the fairy doors in our garden will be small, home-made, inconspicuous and well hidden and hope that visitors to the garden do not think I have lost the last of my mental faculties, good judgement and good taste but realise that I have a granddaughter who is loved, adored and deserving of all the fairy doors I can make.

Paddy Tobin

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

Forest Bathing

A “friend” on Facebook recently put up a photograph of woodland and added the caption, “Forest Bathing”. A quick “Google” lead to an article in The Irish Examiner where I read:

The Japanese have a word for it: “shinrin-yoku” or forest bathing. It’s the sensory experience of being among trees. It’s a rich form of physically active mindfulness. Forest bathers are encouraged to put away their mobiles and their headphones, and instead activate all their senses to interact with the forest environment.

It has immediate benefits. A study of Japanese office workers showed a 13% drop in their levels of the stress hormone cortisol after a walk in the woods, and the forest also improved the workers ability to focus and reduced their blood pressure.”

All very nice, you might think, but my odd mind lead me to a picture of this friend “forest bathing” and I imagined him wearing a hacking jacket, Dubarry “Galway” boots, the obligatory scarf wrapped casually, yet artistically, round  the neck and the styrofoam cup of latte in his hand. I couldn’t quite decide if his mobile was hand-held or on a selfie-stick but he certainly couldn’t allow such an occasion to pass by without recording his bathing for social media. This apparently now widespread need to dress up the simple pleasure of a walk in a wood with lifestyle and health benefits tires me, annoys me and strikes me as loading a lot of baggage onto a simple experience. Much the same is the regular comment on gardening that it is “therapeutic”, almost implying that all gardeners have mental health issues. A woodland walk or time spent in the garden are best enjoyed without any consideration of therapeutic benefit, measurement of stress levels or blood pressure. My stress levels and blood pressure rise at the mention of these so called benefits. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

Woodland with bluebells, Mary and Jane (1)
A walk in the woods

Obviously, with such a dreadful and unreasonable view of this innocent man and such a negative attitude to those who spout such platitudes, something far more than forest bathing was needed –forest drowning might have been more appropriate – and, fortunately, a friend had invited me to come along for a walk in a woodland local to him where we could see Early Purple Orchids in flower. So, with three friends, I wandered about in a wood in south County Kilkenny yesterday afternoon. Our attire did not match that I had imagined of my friend but the benefits suggested by The Irish Examiner contributor were certainly there in abundance – though not measured!

Our location was a small woodland, maintained by Coillte (a state sponsored forestry company), with marked walks and little else done other than what is considered essential from a safety viewpoint – some small simple bridges over streams. I imagine this wood was a planted, rather than a natural, woodland given the predominance of beech trees though there was a small area where birch was the main tree. The ground was beautifully covered in bluebells which made the perfect woodland picture. When I encounter such scenes I often think of how poor our gardening efforts really are. We juggle with design and planting combinations, with maintenance and control, and never create such simple beauty. The enjoyment of our garden can be tempered by the work we have put into its creation while the enjoyment of such a woodland scene comes labour free, a pure gift to us.

Although the bluebells dominated there were also other wildflowers: two kinds of wild garlic – ramsons and the three-cornered leek – along with garlic mustard, wood sorrel and – the main reason for our visit – Early Purple Orchids. My friend had introduced me to a number of good local sites to see native orchids last year and this was the first of our outings this year. It is still early in the orchid season and both the range and number of orchids will increase as the weeks go by but it is always a treat to see the first of the season so early.

Other trips are planned as the season moves on and we look forward to enjoying the flowers, lowering our stress levels and blood pressure, gaining all the therapeutic benefits available but we will do so without the selfies and the styrofoam coffee and hope to remain steadfastly grumpy old men enjoying the very simple pleasures of life.

Paddy Tobin

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

Galanthically Annoyed!!!

There’s always one; and there’s probably more than one! There are always those who think they are not bound by the practices of normal politeness; those who feel free to demand without any right to do so, to complain and grumble without any justification.


Snowdrops have been an interest for over twenty years with a few new varieties collected each year; a few received from friends and a few exchanged with fellow enthusiasts. Newspaper articles regularly comment snidely on the blinkered enthusiasm of galanthophiles – a term which has become one of derision, departing from its simple and what was its original use to describe people who are lovers of snowdrops. Of course, these comments and such attitudes come generally not from snowdrop enthusiasts but from newspaper/magazine contributors in need of something to fill a page or two and material with a little frisson always reads more entertainingly and they consider it better not to allow the truth to impede.


My own experience in snowdrop circles has been overwhelmingly positive. Our dabble into snowdrops started modestly with purchased dry bulbs of the common snowdrop; I grew G. caucasicus from a society seed list and then Mary began ordering three different snowdrops each year from Avon Bulbs or Beth Chatto’s. A few years later, a great gardening friend in Northern Ireland, Bob Gordon, heard of Mary’s interest in snowdrops and sent on a box of snowdrops and followed up with further boxes in subsequent years. Margaret Glynn and Harold McBride were also generous donors – and so it developed until Mary put me in charge of our snowdrops as they came in such number that she felt no longer able to keep track of them all. Over the years more and more wonderful friendships developed and snowdrops flowed into and out of our garden with no thoughts of who owed whom what or whatever. Most snowdrops here are now treasured because of their connection with some generous gardening friend.

Various online forums allow enthusiasts to view the gardens and prize snowdrops of other enthusiasts and to show one’s own.  Contacts are also made and offers of special snowdrops received regularly. It is all in a generous and friendly manner – well, mostly so!


Recently, someone wishing to start a snowdrop collection asked if I would sell some snowdrops. I explained that this was my hobby and that I felt selling them would change the nature of my pastime and I didn’t wish to do so. This was followed by a request for swaps though this person at present has nothing to swap other than taking bulbs from wild populations, something I could not encourage. There followed a request, which might more accurately be described as a demand, that I simply give bulbs to help start their collection. Now, if this were a person I knew, someone who lived close enough to drop in, then I could easily lift a few bulbs and pass them on but, for this person, I would have to lift them, package them and post them to the continent and I thought this a little unreasonable. This person was “very disappointed” with my lack of generosity and very taken aback that I would not oblige.

Perhaps, I shouldn’t find this upsetting but my experience with gardeners has so often been so very positive that this incident came as quite a shock. I suppose this is just a fly in the ointment and I should dismiss it and enjoy the snowdrops and the snowdrop people who have always been a joy and a pleasure!


Post Scriptum: The Christmas period did not allow time for writing – seasonal celebrations, visiting family, the christening of a beautiful grandson and laptop trouble – so it is good to get back to the keyboard again.

Though belated, a Very Happy New Year to you all.

Paddy Tobin.

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

Behaving Pheasantly!

Pheasants are a pleasure of our garden but not without their drawbacks. We have had them for several years and they have become relatively tame, appearing on time each morning, when I go to leave out the hens, and give them some rolled barley. They are always within reach in the garden during the day and come to a low wall outside the kitchen window if I have failed to leave enough food for them. One feeds from my hand – pheasants will do anything for peanuts! They are not pets and are not tamed but are very much our pheasants and they add an extra interest to our gardening lives.

Pheasant chicks in veg patch  (6)
These chicks hatched earlier this summer and have made themselves perfectly at home in our garden – I was standing about two metres away when taking this photograph and they are perfectly comfortable with that. 
Pheasant chicks in veg patch  (7)
This chick is obviously a cock, beginning to show the red colour around his eyes
Pheasant chicks in veg patch  (2)
Just a little nibble at the lettuce –  in fact,they eat very little of the vegetables
Pheasant chicks in veg patch  (5)
This is “Ditzy”, our  most amusing pheasant. Instinct seems to tell her that she should run away when I come too close but her brain seems to engage and tell her there is no need to do so. As a result, she flits left and right, flapping her wings in a panic, as though changing her mind and undecided what to do. 

However, there are some little disadvantages – very little, and really just part of the amusement of having them in the garden. When the weather is hot and the soil becomes dry pheasants, like the hens, like nothing better than a dust bath. This is all very well but it has become obvious that the perfect place for this dust bath is the latest prepared seed bed in the vegetable garden. Obviously, this disturbs the seeds, germination is lost, time is lost and the work has to be done all over again – while the pheasants look on and wait for a newly raked and prepared bath.

Pheasant dust bath
A dust bath between the courgettes. 

This has called for drastic measures and the latest seedbeds have had added security added to frustrate their beauty treatments. I’m sure they will find another location!

Netted veg bed  (1)
A seed bed with added security. 
Netted veg bed  (2)
Protection for the seedbed.
Pheasant cock  (1)
The Daddy of them all – waiting to be fed! 

Paddy Tobin

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


A Pointed Reminder

My garden fork grew legs the other day, took off and vanished on me. Several frustrating walks around the garden failed to locate it so I went to the shed to find a replacement – perhaps, Mary’s short-handled one or even the sprong which I will occasionally use for light digging when the fork goes missing. The tools all stand in a half barrel and I did another check to find my fork in case I had missed it on the first visit. It wasn’t there but I came on another full-sized one that I had forgotten about. It took me a while to place it but the blackening on the handle near the prongs told me of its origins.

Here was the fork of my old, now deceased, friend, John. In his mid-eighties he had moved back to England to a retirement home and died about ten days later. I imagine the stress of selling his home here in Ireland, packing up his things, disposing of those things he didn’t want and the move to England were all simply too much for him. It was especially sad for me as we had become close friends in the last four years of his life. I visited each Monday and when called and he came for lunch every Thursday – after doing his shopping and he always brought the most luscious chocolate cake.

John Riley's Garden Fork  (2)
John’s fork – a reminder of a dear friend.
John Riley's Garden Fork  (1)
John’s garden fork on the left and mine, which eventually turned up!

As is the habit of older people his stories were often repeated so I heard many times of his childhood in the East End of London, his years on a farm in Wales during the Second World War, his summers spent in the hop fields of Kent where his mother went to work each year, the bicycle accident when the brake perforated his eardrum and left him with a lifelong nuisance, his memories of his father, a craftsman with wood, and of his days in national service in the British Army. His days of golf and fishing were past but he recalled those days with happiness except for his last sea-fishing outing on a boat out of Youghal, Co. Cork, which sank slowly and all on board waited anxiously for another boat to arrive and take them off – obviously, it arrived in time for John!

Old age brought declining health and he was no longer able to maintain his garden – the knees would not allow it but he continued to grow a small amount of vegetables and fruit up to the last season. Before leaving for England he gave me some of his garden tools and other bits and pieces and I feel they are to be kept in the manner my wife tells me she recalls from her childhood – that the hat or topcoat of a dead man would be given to a family member, friend or neighbour and they were expected to wear them to keep the memory of the dead person alive.

I will turn the soil now and again with my friend’s fork and remember him fondly.

John Riley's Garden Fork  (3)
The telltale blackening on the fork which reminded me of its origins – John used it to stir material on the garden bonfire.

Paddy Tobin

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

Members’ Garden Visit: Victor and Roz

Normally, when I am sent photographs of a garden visit by society members I post a small selection on the “Latest News” section of our website  with a short comment to report on the occasion, generally no more than a few sentences as this is what fits best in that location. However, Maeve Bell, Chairperson of the Northern Region of the IGPS, has sent a particularly nice selection of photographs from a recent visit to the garden of Victor and Roz Henry in Belfast. Victor and Roz are IGPS members and also contribute as committee members in the North so I feel I can do more justice to Maeve’s work and to Victor’s and Roz’s garden by showing the material here.

This is Meave’s note to me following the visit:

Hi Paddy, 

We had a very enjoyable visit to Victor and Roz Henry’s garden in Newtownards yesterday despite the most unseasonable weather – heavy downpours, gusts of wind which caused the gazebo for the plant sale to lift off, and a temperature of about 12*C. But IGPS members and their friends are a hardy lot and made the most of the fleeting sunny periods to explore a garden packed with plants, both well known and exotic, and well-chosen interesting detail. Some highlights were the pergola festooned with Rosa ‘Francis E. Lester’, a fabulous cardiocrinum with blooms soaring to about three metres, and a stand of mouth-watering delphiniums in glorious shades of blue. There was a seriously well-stocked plant stall which included a decent selection of Irish cultivars including Dahlia ‘Matt Armour’, Cytissus ‘Donard Gem’, and Primula ‘Rowallane Rose’. And a final touch was the beautiful music played by their ten year old grand-daughter Josie on her harp.

Maeve’s photographs and captions will tell the story far more eloquently than I ever could so, read on and enjoy – and many thanks and a most sincere “Well done!” to Victor and Roz and a big “Thank You” to Maeve, our Roving Reporter in the North!

Victor Roz Henry July 2016  (15)
Victor Henry greeting the visitors as all admire the wonderful delphiniums before the downpour arrived
Victor Roz Henry July 2016  (12)
Adrian Walsh and Carol Dobson ready to check visitors in
Victor Roz Henry July 2016  (2)
IGPS Chairperson, Billy McCone, putting the final touches to a display of Irish plants
Victor Roz Henry July 2016  (5)
Lots of seats on which to pause and enjoy the day
Victor Roz Henry July 2016  (11)
A view from the entrance towards the pool and the summer house. Unfortunately, the parasol was needed more to shelter from the rain than the sun!
Victor Roz Henry July 2016  (16)
Star of the show on the day was this Cardiocrinum giganteum 
Victor Roz Henry July 2016  (8)
The afternoon was enhanced by the lovely harp music played by the Henry’s grand daughter.
Victor Roz Henry July 2016  (6)
Lush plating around the pool, including Zantedeschia aethopica 
Victor Roz Henry July 2016  (7)
This sums up why we all go out whatever the weather to visit interesting gardens.
Victor Roz Henry July 2016  (1)
The mask, representing The Green Man, was a recent introduction to the garden.
Victor Roz Henry July 2016  (4)
At times, the bigger the umbrella the better!
Victor Roz Henry July 2016  (13)
Some visitors: Adrian Walsh from the Northern Committee, Ali Rochford-O’Connor, the newly elected Hon. Sec. with her son,  and Billy McCone, the newly elected Chairperon of the IGPS.
Victor Roz Henry July 2016  (14)
Rosa ‘Francis E. Lester’ in full bloom on the pergola
Victor Roz Henry July 2016  (9)
Exotic planting: A tree fern with a lush under-planting of hostas and Myosotidium hortensia, the Chatham Island Forget-Me-Not.

Many thanks to Victor and Roz for inviting IGPS members to their garden and many thanks to Maeve for her excellent report on the event.

Paddy Tobin

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

2000AD – A Seminal Year

It was a seminal year, a year of many small but promising beginnings, a time of friendship and hopes and promises for the future.

We have had some wonderful weather recently and, as we eat breakfast, the morning sun lights up our view to the garden beautifully. It is good to sit and gaze and enjoy the garden regularly rather than it being simply a place of pastime and work – and there is a lot of work in gardening!

Robinia pseudoacacia  (1)
Robinia pseudoacacia – its white flowers match those of the white garden.

During the week my eye was especially caught by a ten metre high specimen of Robinia pseudoacacia, the Black Locust, a native of the eastern United States, which is in full flower at the moment. The 20cm long racemes of white flowers are very attractive and resemble those of wisteria in shape and habit. This tree is most popularly seen in its cultivar Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Frisia’ which is a golden-leafed variant of the species but mine is the species itself and was grown from seed received from a friend in 2000 and planted in the garden in 2001.

Robinia pseudoacacia  (4)
Robinia pseudoacacia with its long racemes of white flowers.

It reminded me that at that time I had grown a number of trees from seed. It coincided with the addition of an acre to the garden and there was a need to source plants to fill this new area. Many were purchased but a good number were raised from seed, a far cheaper method to obtain plants for the garden and a way to find plants not generally available. Before Facebook held such powerful sway there were other websites and forums where gardeners met, chatted about gardens and plants, and exchanged seeds. Gardenweb was one such and I made many wonderful contacts there and received seeds of interesting trees which I grew on for the garden. This Robinia was one of them and looking at it the other morning put me to thinking of others which I grew from that time and I took a stroll around the garden to refresh my memory.

Evodia daniellii
Euodia daniellii (syn. Tetradium Daniellii) the Bee Bee Tree – still a young specimen here but it flowers each years and is very attractive.

Euodia daniellii (Tetradium daniellii) is a relatively uncommon tree. There is a large tree in Mount Congreve Gardens and a very impressive specimen in Mount Usher Gardens, in a little lawn of its own to the left just as you reach the millwheel on the approach to the herbaceous borders. Its common name is the Bee Bee Tree, self-explanatory. The foliage is very similar to that of our native ash; it has small white flowers in early summer and red fruit in autumn. Mine is a multi-stemmed plant which suits its position in my garden but it can make a substantial tree as impressive as the common beech.

This same bed has two small specimens, Cladrastis kentukea and Pterostyrax corymbosa, which have been slow-growing here but both have begun to flower despite their small size. The Cladrastis has a restricted range in the southeastern United States and has white wisteria-like flowers while the Pterostyrax hails from eastern Asia, China and Japan, with the common name of epaulette tree for the fringed manner in which the flowers hang. Both have yet to reach their potential but I trust my patience will be rewarded in due course.

Cladrastis kentukea and Pterostyrax corymbosa
Cladrastis kentuckea and Pterostyrax corymbosa have both yet to perform at their best but, I think, will repay my patience in time.

Styrax japonicus, Japanese Snowbell, is related to Pterostyrax and makes a very tidy and floriferous small tree with pendulous white flowers. I have it planted on a raised area so that the flowers can be viewed from below – it saves my old back from bending to see them!

Styrax japonicus  (1)
Styrax japonicus, the Japanese Snowbell Tree, a very attractive and tidy tree which flowers at a very young age.

At the bottom of the garden I planted Crataegus crus-galli, The Cockspur Thorn, in a group of three because I was reading one of Vita Sackville West’s books at the time and she recommended a group of three for best effect and to better enjoy the autumn colour. They produce an excellent display of flowers each year and the crop of large red haws is impressive. There have been many occasions over the years when I have loudly and profanely cursed these same trees for I have often, while weeding under them, stood up and been pierced viciously by the very large thorns which grow to about 5cm. With the passing of the years I have raised the skirts and have fewer accidents nowadays though still the occasional one.  Despite this, I still like the tree very much.

Crataegus crus-galli
Crataegus crus-galli – attractive but vicious!

Crataegus prunifolius, when not in flower or fruit, can puzzle many a visitor to identify it as its hawthorn nature is not immediately obvious. Its annual display of flower is excellent while the fruit set is outstanding and a highlight of the autumn garden.

Crataegus prunifolius
Crataegus prunifolius.

Paulownia tomentosa, The Foxglove Tree, is most commonly grown as a coppiced tree so as to produce lush and especially large foliage but I have allowed it grow in its natural habit on raised ground so that it overhangs a patio area and provides shade in summer. Although it flowers well the buds are often lost to strong winds and the flowers are difficult to see against the sky so it is well that we appreciate the foliage so much.

Paulownia tomentosa
Paulownia tomentosa provides shade for sitting area (unseen in this photograph!)

The horse chestnut, Aesculus hippocastanum, has provided conkers for generations of children to play with or to take their first steps in seed growing as they are large, easy to handle, and will germinate reliably. Though I already have a mature horse chestnut tree on the boundary ditch I have grown another from seed and also Aesculus x carnea and Aesculus turbinata. To date they are of modest size at four to five metres in height but they may one day dominate their respective areas of the garden and wouldn’t it be wonderful to live to witness that!

Aesculus red
Aesculus x carnea provides shade for this seat
Aesculus x carnea  (2)
Aesculus x carnea has attractive red flowers

All of these, and others, were grown from seed sown around the year 2000. Other trees were purchased and planted at that time and it is interesting that those from seed are performing as well, if not better than their purchased neighbours. These comparison photographs of Acer negundo may illustrate the point. There are three grown from seed at the back of the garden shed which now provide shelter to the vegetable patch and are nearly 10metres high. At the other side of the garden there is a golden-leafed cultivar of Acer negundo, ‘Kelly’s Gold’ which was planted at the same time and is only of similar size though it was a few years old when I purchased and planted it. It illustrates that growing from seed is not a slow method of growing trees but rather one which allows for a greater selection at far cheaper prices and the satisfaction of having grown it yourself.

Acer negundo  (1)
Acer negundo, considered a weed tree in the eastern states of the USA, but an easy to grow and attractive tree for us. 

Paddy Tobin

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