The Fools’ Outing

There is available to us all the most wonderful nature reserve and wildflower preservation area and these are on the verges of our national road network. Many of these roads have wide verge and some have wonderfully steep banks. These latter are especially excellent as their slope makes grass cutting too awkward  and wildflowers are allowed to grow naturally. These areas are, in fact, the closest we have in most areas of the country to the natural meadows of days now long gone. Of course, they do lack grazers and cannot be maintained in the traditional manner of old meadows  – though we still see the occasional horse grazing the long acre!

Roadside - site of Ophrys apifera Bee Orhid (1)
Roadside verges and banks can be rich in wildflowers

Roadside - site of Ophrys apifera Bee Orhid (4)

Many local authorities – perhaps, being clever and adopting a present gardening fashion for wildflower meadows – have stopped cutting the grass on these verges. This certainly must save them a great deal of time and money and clearly fulfills their brief of caring for wildlife, wildflowers etc. I do hope it becomes a widespread practice to leave the verges to nature. I can understand the need to prevent the growth on the verges tumbling on to the roadway and see the sense in maintaining a narrow strip immediately to the side of the road but leaving the remainder to its own devices.

These roadside verges can be home to some of our most scarce and most elusive wildflowers. A few weeks back the telephone and Facebook Messenger was busy with reports of a population of an especially interesting and rare variety of the fabulous Bee Orchid. It began with the information that it had been spotted on a roadside in Co. Tipperary some years back. I mentioned this to an enthusiast who lived in the general area and he began his search and it wasn’t long before he found a plant, and another, and another until he realised he had found a significant population. The word went out and we were off! The Fools’ Outing! Four senior and one junior member – it is such a joy to see a junior member, the future lifeblood of any group!

Ophrys apifera var. chlorantha (25)
Ophrys apifera var. chlorantha – a pale form of the Bee Orchid

Ophrys apifera var. chlorantha (18)

Ophrys apifera var. chlorantha (26)

Sat. nav. coordinates make arriving at an exact location such a doddle these days and we pulled into the road verge within steps of our quarry. I am old, retired, and at times think I am very silly and foolish to be so delighted by the sight of a pretty little flower but I also consider myself very fortunate that such a little thing can make me so very happy. It is a childish feeling, the joy of discovery and the marvelling at the beauty of nature and I hope it remains with me forever. I noted that the other Fools were just as happy and delighted as I was so I was in good company!

Our friend had brought us to a population of Ophrys apifera variety chlorantha – a pale variety of the Bee Orchid. The Bee Orchid delights everybody who sees it – a flower that has developed to resemble a bee so as to attract the bees to come and pollinate it. Such a clever ingenious development, truly amazing! The more common Bee Orchid is quite strongly marked while this variety is much more pale. Sand dunes seems to be an especially good location to see Bee Orchids and steep road verges with good drainage and less than lush grass growth seem to offer the conditions they require also.

Ophrys apifera (6)
This is the Bee Orchid, Aphrys apifera, a wonderfully designed and coloured flower

Ophrys apifera (9)

Ophrys apifera (8)
The daisies give a good indication of the size of the Bee orchid – quite a small thing and it can be difficult to spot but after spotting one your eye seems to easily find another and another.

We ooooed and aaaaaaawwwed these pale Bee Orchids for a considerable time and took photographs of each and every one of them from every possible angle so that we could revisit the occasion later on our laptop screens. Passers-by must have wondered what we were up to – people lying on the grassy verge pointing cameras, seemingly, at the ground.

We explored further along this stretch of road and found a good population of the usual Bee Orchid as well as small numbers of Western Marsh Orchid, Common Spotted and Pyramidal Orchid as well as the uncommon broomrapes. We have had reports – from our intrepid explorer of this area – of a very healthy and numerous population of the Pyramidal Orchid not too far away on the road.

Here are a number of our other finds along this roadside:

Anacamptis pyramidalis Pyramidal orchid (2)
Pyramidal orchid, Anacamptis pyramidalis 
Dactylorhiza fuchsii Common Spotted Orchid (34)
Common Spotted Orchis, Dactylorhiza fuchsii
Dactylorhiza fuchsii Common Spotted Orchid White (2)
A nearly pure white variant of the Common Spotted orchid
Neottia ovata Common Twayblade (10)
Common Twayblade – Neottia ovata
Neottia ovata Common Twayblade (13)
Common Twayblade – Neottia ovata 
Dactylorhiza occidentalis Western Marsh Orchid (2)
Western Marsh Orchid – Dactylorhiza occidentalis. This is a species which grows only in Ireland. Note: We did wonder about the identification of this orchid when we were at the site and I have received a comment that it might be of mixed blood – something common among the Dactylorhizas. It would appear it has some Common Spotted Orchid blood in it.

These road verges are treasure troves of wildflowers and provide some of the last remaining areas of undisturbed land where they may flourish. I don’t imagine it would be a great challenge for local authorities or the national road authority to maintain these verges in a manner necessary for road safety yet suitable for these wonderful wildflowers.

Oooh, “Fools”?  The Fellowship of Old Orchid Lovers!  We may as well laugh at ourselves as we enjoy life!

Paddy Tobin

 

Post Scriptum: By coincidence, I read this article from the Irish News of a great success in Northern   Ireland.

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

 

 

Orchid Spotter on Board!

Orchid spotters are well – though not widely – known as a grave danger on our roads. That ubiquitous “Baby of Board” seen on the back of many cars is really quite ineffective and were it to be replaced by “Orchid Spotter on Board” our roads would be far safer. We see the “Baby of Board” notice and, though it may be an appeal for us to drive carefully for the sake of that car’s young passenger, it doesn’t quite catch other drivers’ attention for, after all, a child on board poses little or no threat to other road users. On the other hand, “Orchid Spotter on Board” suggests that an obsessive nutcase is driving – or, at least, distracting the driver – and that sudden, unexpected, erratic, even dangerous, manoeuvres are quite likely.

Dactylorhiza occidentalis Western Marsh Orchid (1)
Such temptation to the Orchid Spotter – a beautiful clump of Western Marsh Orchid on a  roadside verge

Let me explain, for I have recently gained admission to that group – Orchid Spotters Unleashed. When we travel together during orchid season, May and June of each year, my wife now insists on driving with the kind suggestion that she is so doing that I might be free to scan the roadside verges. We both know that she does this for safety reasons but after nearly forty years of marriage we can both live comfortably with the pretence of kindness – it is less contentious. The sight of an orchid on the road verge – that deliciously rich purple of the Western Marsh Orchid, for example, – can not only take the orchid spotter’s eye off the road but can also, for obvious reasons, take the car off the road also so it really is best if the orchid spotter is not the one holding the steering wheel. Do notice that I didn’t say such person was “in control” of the steering wheel; holding the wheel while scanning the verges is not quite conducive to road safety.

Dactylorhiza occidentalis Western Marsh Orchid (9)
Western Marsh Orchid – who wouldn’t stop for these!

Dactylorhiza occidentalis Western Marsh Orchid (5)

Even with the safety driver in place an outburst of “Look, Western Marsh, pull over” can be a challenge to the most careful of drivers especially when it comes on a narrow winding road with no hard shoulder south of Ennistymon or that clump on the bend outside Pallasgreen. The orchid spotter was anxious to investigate and photograph while the driver was concerned with lesser matters, such as the preservation of life and limb.

I am not the only such Orchid Spotter. A friend sent on a photograph today of a beautiful form of the Bee Orchid – quite uncommon in its usual form but a divine rarity in the pale form he found today – spotted as he drove along the road and he felt “compelled” to swing the car around to have a closer look. He, the car and the orchid survived though I do recommend he bring his safety driver along in future though, thinking of it now, it may be the case – as he is a fully fledged Orchid Spotter, not just a novice as I am – that, perhaps, his safety driver has simply had too many scares, has a strong desire to live a quieter and less dangerous life and is no longer willing to endure the stresses and strains of the position. Good and devoted safety drivers are hard to come by.

bee orchid
I won’t identify my friend but you can see why he might be distracted. Ophrys apifera var. chlorantha

A friend travelling in France at present posted some photographs today of a similar roadside stop to view the roadside orchids. Pyramidal Orchids on the roadside were her distraction but, thankfully, the attraction was navigated and enjoyed safely. However, it does show that this is an international phenomenon and there may be need to translate my suggested “Orchid Spotter on Board”.

pyramidal orchid alice munsey on facebook
The distractions on a French roadside! A magnet to the Orchid Spotter!

Do drive carefully and be aware of this special group of people on our roads at the moment!

Paddy Tobin

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

Heritage Irish Plants Launch – Opening Remarks by Martyn Rix

On November 22 2016 the Irish Society of Botanical Artists and the Irish Garden Plant Society had the great honour of welcoming Martyn Rix to the National Botanic Gardens. Martyn had generously accepted the invitation to come to launch Heritage Irish Plants – Plandaí Oidhreachta. As the time for speeches approached, the crowd of attentive gardeners, artists and guests crammed into the gallery that held stacks of books and catalogues along with the 62 paintings used to illustrate the latest book to celebrate Irish plants and horticulture. As the large attendance inhibited our ability to take in all that Martyn had to say I asked if he would, in the modern sense, put pen to paper for us. And he did.

rix_opens
Martyn Rix at the opening of the Heritage Irish Plants/Plandaí Oidhreachta exhibition in November 2016 at which he launched the book.

Martyn began with by remembering that some of his most enjoyable and formative years were spent at Trinity College Dublin and when reading the introduction to the book he remarked that …

I was interested in the story that Charles Nelson tells about the Provost Mahaffy, a great classicist and fancier and collector of snowdrops. On a visit to Athens in 1884, Mahaffy collected an Autumn-flowering snowdrop which Frederick Burbidge, the director of the Trinity College botanic garden in Ballsbridge, named Galanthus rachelae, after Mahaffy’s elder daughter. It was growing on Mount Hymettus, east of Athens, then covered in spiny Euphorbia acanthothamnos (spiny cushion). Even in classical times, Hymettus was famous for its honey, and the spurge is a great source of honey in early spring.

Euphorbia acanthothamnos pm1

Euphorbia acanthothamnos, Peter A. Mansfeld via Wikimedia Commons

A few years later, Mahaffy visited Mount Athos, famous for its monasteries, and collected another snowdrop, which was named after his younger daughter, Elsa.  This was a dwarf, early-flowering Galanthus reginae-olgae.  Both were planted at Glasnevin but by 1948, even Lady Phylis Moore–Irish gardener and wife of the Director of the botanic gardens at Glasnevin, Dublin–could find no trace of either. 

It was then that we see the logic in the Irish Society of Botanical Artists and the Irish Garden Plant Society desire to have Martyn Rix launch the new book. Martyn Rix is the current Editor of Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, the longest running botanical periodical. Through this work and his many other publications he has built an incredible knowledge of the art of plant portraiture. Martyn continued…

Rachel’s snowdrop is, however, preserved as a painting by E.A. Bowles (an early snowdrop enthusiast) in the Royal Horticultural Society’s Lindley Library, and this would be a guide to anyone who might rediscover the original clone surviving in an Irish garden.

Curtis’s Botanical Magazine has been a source of paintings of wild plants in cultivation, since its inception by William Curtis in London in 1789.  Initially most of the flowers illustrated were grown in the Chelsea Physic Garden, or in Curtis’s own botanic garden in South Kensington,  but from an early date, Ireland provided some of the models. Charles Nelson has identified one of the earliest, dating from 1810. This was Leptospermum lanigerum, from the east coast of Australia, grown in the Dublin Society’s garden at Glasnevin, which had been founded in 1795.

In the 1830s William Hooker, then in Glasgow, took over the editorship of the magazine, and again obtained plants from Glasnevin, notably those collected by John Tweedie in the Argentine between 1836 and 1854. Twelve of Tweedie’s introductions are illustrated in the magazine; Tweedie is remembered by Tweedia coerulea, an Asclepiad with flowers of a unique shade of pale greenish blue. It is more correctly known today as Oxypetalum coeruleum.

Oxypetalum caeruleum

Oxypetalum caeruleum By Kurt Stüber via Wikimedia Commons

Tweedie also introduced the wonderfully scented Sinningia tubiflora.

Sinningia tubiflora illustration

Sinningia tubiflora illustration by Swallowtail Garden Seeds from Santa Rosa, California via Wikimedia Commons

A less familiar Illustrator’s name is then introduced to us by Martyn…

One Dublin-born artist has, until now, received little recognition. He is A.F. Lyndon (1836-1917),  who travelled widely in Bermuda and New Brunswick in particular,  before settling in Driffield in Yorkshire, to work for the engraver and publisher Benjamin Fawsett.  Lyndon drew the illustrations for Lowe’s Our Native Ferns, and Beautiful-leaved Plants, as well as the Revd. William Houghton’s British Freshwater Fishes.

freshwaterfish_lydon
One of Lyndon’s illustrations for British Freshwater Fishes by Rev. William Houghton

It is then that the setting of the National Botanic Gardens for the launch and as a ‘home’ for both Societies is broadened…

While the Hookers, father and son, were directors of Kew for the last 70 years of the 19th century, the reign of the Moores at Glasnevin lasted 84 years, from 1838 until 1922. The elder Moore is remembered in Crinum moorei, introduced from Natal, and illustrated in Curtis’s magazine in 1863.  Large clumps of the original plants still thrive at Glasnevin.

crinum_moorei
Crinum moorei from Brendan Sayers. 

The last of the Moores was Lady Phylis Moore, much younger than her husband, who died in 1949, and who was still spoken of in hallowed terms by gardeners in Ireland in the 1960s, though, sadly, I never met her.

W.E. Trevithick (1899-1958) contributed around 60 plates to Curtis’s Botanical Magazine. He was born when his father was head gardener to Lord Headfort in his great garden near Kells. The white, scented Rhododendron headfortianum was painted from the garden, as well as Lilium formosanum and Tsuga chinensis. His son, also William Edward, was a gardener at Headfort from the age of 13, then at Glasnevin, and finally at Kew, where he worked in the herbarium.

It is not only the mention of orchids, a particular favourite plant family of mine but also the move to more recent history that made me even more attentive to Martyn’s words…

Orchids were a particular favourite of the younger Sir Frederick Moore, and I remember the wonderful display in the glasshouses at Glasnevin in the 1960s, when I came to Dublin to read botany at Trinity under David Webb. Another speciality were the hanging baskets of Dampiera, formerly Clianthus formosus, with silver leaves and striking red and black flowers.

In these years Lord Talbot de Malahide was building up his collection at Malahide Castle, and was a friendly host for lunch on Sunday, followed by a tour of the garden and tea upstairs in the drawing room, presided over by his sister Rose. Many of his plants came from the Malahide estate in Tasmania, and were the models for paintings by Margaret Stones, the great Australian flower painter, in the Endemic Flora of Tasmania. He also grew plants from other areas, and I collected seeds for him in Turkey and Iran, with Gillie Walsh-Kemmis and Michael Walsh in 1968 and, with Audrey Napper from Loughcrew, in 1969.

Wendy Walsh and her family were also great hosts, as well as being very artistic.  It was when Michael was working in Kiribati, in the South Pacific, in 1970, that Wendy visited him and began painting flowers again.  As well as her paintings for Irish postage stamps, she painted several plants for Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, including Iris lazica, which Michael had collected in Turkey, and Deutzia purpurascens ‘Alpine Magician’, collected by Reginald Farrer in Burma in 1919, and preserved at Glasnevin.

Wendy’s main work was published in a series of beautiful books in co-operation with Charles Nelson, on Irish plants, both native and cultivated. These will be her most lasting legacy.

And to round it all off…

It is great to see this theme being carried on in the present exhibition by young botanical artists at work today.  Deborah Lambkin is now a regular contributor to Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, specialising in exotic orchids, and Susan Sex has recently painted native species for the Magazine.  Lynn Stringer is also a regular contributor, painting new introductions grown by Séamus O’Brien at the National Botanic Garden at Kilmacurragh, Co. Wicklow.

It was a great honour to be at the podium alongside Martyn Rix. We, the Irish Garden Plant Society and the Irish Society of Botanical Artists, owe him a great debt of gratitude in his acceptance to launch the book and open the exhibition but also for his generosity while visiting. As often happens, events will go by and in the excitement of it all some details will be forgotten. I am happy to say that this will not happen to Martyn Rix’s words of the day.

Brendan Sayers

F.F.F.F.F.F.F.F.F………..Fairies!

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.

galanthus-hans-guck-en-die-luft-4

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.

galanthus-lapwing-3

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!

galanthus-ivy-cottage-corporal-5

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!

galanthus-lavinia-7

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

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