‘Barnes’ is the first!

The first snowdrop of the year is always awaited with excitement and anticipation. Yes, I have already had snowdrops in flower in the glasshouse, as early  this year as the end of September, but those in the garden are the ones most valued and appreciated for they show the wonder of the snowdrop – a little flower which can deft the weather and the season and thrive at what is a most inclement time of the years for flowers and for gardeners.

Galanthus elwesii monostictus 'Barnes' (14)
The first of the snowdrops to flower in the open garden.

Galanthus elwesii monostictus 'Barnes' (13)

Galanthus elwesii generally has two green marks on each of the three inner segments but there is group within the genus which has a single mark only which is why they are known as Galanthus elwesii  monostictus, literally one mark. There are several cultivars within this group and the one which does best in my garden is this one, called ‘Barnes’.

Galanthus elwesii monostictus 'Barnes' (12)
Galanthus elwesii monostictus ‘Barnes’
Galanthus elwesii monostictus 'Barnes' (6)
Galanthus elwesii monostictus ‘Barnes’

I have a special fondness for Galanthus elwesii monostictus as it was the first snowdrop I grew from seed and this at a time when the only snowdrops I had in the garden were the common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, and its double form Galanthus nivalis flore pleno. Those snowdrops grown from seed are still growing well in the garden nearly thirty years after being sown and the number of varieties of snowdrops in the garden has increased to, I imagine, about 250.

Galanthus elwesii monostictus 'Barnes' (2)
Galanthus elwesii monostictus ‘Barnes’

Yet, it is always the first to open which brings the special excitement. More will follow shortly as there are several groups showing their snouts above the ground and, perhaps, a dozen varieties will have opened before Christmas, all quite early as the main snowdrop season does not arrive until February. After that the later varieties will keep the show going until March so there are snowdrops in the garden over six months of the year. Is there a plant to match such a range of flowering times or which provides interest through the dark winter months? Not that I know of and it is one reason I like them so much.

Galanthus 'Faringdon Double' through leaf
Another snowdrop just appearing is Galanthus ‘Faringdon Double’ and I like the way one has pierced the leaf as it grew reflecting the French name given to snowdrop – Perce Niege.

Paddy Tobin


Three Wishes

Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish’ was a chance seedling in the garden of Wendy Smith in Victoria, Australia. As she is an enthusiastic salvia grower there were several candidates which might have been the parents but a Salvia buchananii x Salvia splendens cross seems the most likely, the first contributing the deep magenta colour and the latter the dramatic calyxes.

Salvia 'Wendy's Wishes'2
Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish’ 


Salvia specialist Sue Templeton recognised that it was an outstanding plant and suggested to Wendy that she have the plant patented, a process which was handled for her by Plants Management Australia, a licensing and marketing company which manages the protection and introduction of new plant varieties across the globe. This arrangement ensured that a portion of the proceeds of each sale returned to Wendy Smith and she arranged that it be donated to the Australian Make-a-Wish Foundation, an organisation which makes wishes come true for children with life-threatening, chronic illnesses.

Gardeners worldwide fell in love with Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish’ and the reaction to its philanthropic aspect inspired Plants Management Australia to repeat it with two subsequent cultivars.

A sport with bright coral-coloured flowers arose on a plant of Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish’ in one of Plant Grower’s Australia’s nurseries. They wished to continue the contributions to Make-a-Wish Australia but also added to the publicity – and very significantly to the income – by auctioning the rights to name this new plant. Paul and Lyn Shegog, from Tasmania, won the auction and named the plant in memory of their teenage children Emma and Brett who had died from an incurable genetic condition – Salvia ‘Ember’s Wish’.


Salvia 'Ember Wishes'
Salvia ‘Ember’s Wish’ 

The third in the series came as a result of the deliberate breeding efforts of John Fisher who lives in Orange, New South Wales, Australia. He sought to produce salvias in new colours and used ‘Wendy’s Wish’ as one of his parent plants. He was also enthusiastic about the support which Plants Management Australia gave to the Make-a-Wish Foundation; named the plant Salvia ‘Love and Wishes’ and contributed a portion of the proceeds from sales to the foundation also.

Salvia 'Love 'n' Wishes' (5)
Salvia ‘Love and Wishes’ 


While we can enjoy these salvias in our gardens it adds to the pleasure that they also support a very worthy cause.

Paddy Tobin

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


Dancing Dieramas!

Dierama (4)
The view to the dieramas from the house.

Each year the dieramas give a display that I love. They is immediately outside the window of our living room and I can watch the flower heads swing and sway with each puff of breeze. They are planted around a garden pond which is all but hidden when the dieramas are in full flower. They have been in this spot for nearly twenty years and have crossed and self-seeded over that time so that their colours are now very diverse, ranging from almost pure white though mauve, pink, red and purple to burgundy.

Dierama (3)
View to dieramas

Years ago we had a selection of named varieties; those of Irish origin were particularly of interest to us and were treasured but it would now be impossible to separate out these named varieties. The fault lies with me for while I enjoy the swaying flowers I also enjoy the swinging stems bearing the seedpods and over the years they have seeded into themselves and around the area of gravel in which they are planted so that any clump may now have flowers of various colours. It does not bother me; I enjoy them in all their colours whether named varieties or not.

Enjoy the range of colours which results from self- seeding:


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In the last couple of years we have been more diligent in removing the seed-bearing stems. When in seed some stems are weighed to the ground and can be a tripping hazard as my unfortunate wife found to her cost when she tripped and was badly bruised by the fall. As the year progresses the older foliage becomes brown and it can be a nuisance of a job to remove it as it has to be pulled or cut one blade at a time. Impatience and annoyance has lead to the entire clumps being simply cut to the ground with a petrol-driven hedge trimmer. It may seem harsh but they send up new foliage very quickly and it seems to do no damage at all to the health of the plants. Timing is important – it is best done when the seed pods have filled well as this is the final work of the current year’s corms and the new corms will begin to grow immediately following this. So, I believe at any rate and it is a practice which has worked here.

Dierama 'Kilmurry White' (1)
Dierama ‘Kilmurry White’

We have one dierama, a kind gift last year, which we have kept well separate from the others in hope of keeping it true to name. It is the recently introduced Dierama ‘Kilmurry White’, one with pure white flowers from Paul and Orla Woods’ Kilmurry Nursery near Gorey in Co. Wexford. It appears to be a seedling from Dierama dracomontanum, one of the smaller dierama species which generally has brick red flowers. It is an excellent plant, well worth growing, and may lead you to try others in the dierama tribe.

Dierama 'Kilmurry White' (2)
Dierama ‘Kilmurry White’
Dierama 'Kilmurry White' (1)
Dierama ‘Kimurry White’
Dierama 'Kilmurry White' (3)
Dierama ‘Kilmurry White’

Paddy Tobin

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


Oh, Please, let me be Undisturbed and Unimproved!

It a treat to come on a spot of land where conditions have dictated that nature rather than the work of man will hold sway and then to enjoy the wild flowers which have benefitted from this chance happening, especially those which would otherwise not have survived.

Anacamptis morio Green Veined Orchid (41)
The Green-Veined Orchid, Anacamptis morio
Anacamptis morio Green Veined Orchid (50)
The Green-Veined Orchid, Anacamptis morio, with its regular companion plant, the cowslip, Primula Veris

The Green-Veined Orchid, Anacamptis morio, is particular as to where it will grow. It wants ground which has been left to nature – land which has not been “improved”! It will grow happily in open grassland but should that grassland be “improved” by the addition of fertilizer, which the farmer will do to provide good grazing, it will fail and die out.

Occasionally, the lie of the land will dictate that an area is not suitable for grazing and the farmer will not waste fertilizer on such a spot. With this “neglect” the orchid can thrive. I was directed to such a location recently and visited yesterday.

Val O Neill ,Boytonrath House, New Inn ,Cashel , Co. Tipperary (3)
A stream has made a boggy area on the floor of this valley and it is fenced off to keep animals out. The line at the top of the photograph shows the boundary at the roadside. The steep sides have limestone outcrops and cowslips and Green-Veined Orchids grow here. 
Val O Neill ,Boytonrath House, New Inn ,Cashel , Co. Tipperary (5)
The orchids seem to do best along the tops of the outcrops, right to the edge. 

A small stream ran through a small valley which was flanked by limestone cliffs and outcrops. The bottom of the valley was marshland, with a very healthy population of the flag iris and bogbean, and had been fenced off for the safety of the grazing cattle. One side of the valley was contained by the stream on one side and road on the other so animals had no access to it. The contained, undisturbed and unimproved land was home to a large and thriving population of cowslips, Primula veris, and to the Green-Veined Orchis, Anacamptis morio. To see such a thriving colony of cowslip would be a treat in itself but to find a healthy population of the Green-Veined Orchid made it a very special visit indeed. These two plants are regular growing companions and, from a colour combination point of view, they look wonderful together.

Anacamptis morio Green Veined Orchid (10)
Companion plants: Green-Veined Orchid and Cowslip

At first glance the Green-Veined Orchid might pass for the more commonly seen Early Purple Orchid which is seen in particularly big numbers on The Burren. However, a closer look will show the veining on the hood of each flower. Flower colour can vary from a dark and intense purple, through lighter purple, pink and even to white and the veining really only appears as green on the lighter coloured flowers – green would not stand out at all in the darker coloured forms. The Green-Veined Orchid also lacks the spots one sees on the foliage of the Early Purple. The structure of the flower is also a little different with the upper parts forming a hood or helmet in the Green-Spotted. An examination of these little details is essential to be sure of identification but time taken to look carefully, to enjoy the intricacy of design and colouration, to take in the intrinsic beauty is what makes a day memorable.

A selection of Green-Veined Orchid showing the variation in colour and the veining of the hood.

The lay of the land and the landowner’s concern for the good of his animals have helped preserve this spot of Irish wildflowers. Fortunately, he is conscious of the treasures nature has bestowed and is proud to ensure their future. We could do with many more like him!

Paddy Tobin

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

A Most Peculiar Plant – or is it a plant at all?

There are some plants which when we encounter them in gardens we kindly describe as “interesting”. This immediately dispels any thoughts that they might be considered pretty or beautiful but yet we have to admit that there is something about them which is intriguing, beguiling and even wonderful. It must be the case or why otherwise would we give them garden space?

Today I had an encounter with such a plant in the wild and it was a wonderful, fascinating and completely endearing encounter. The Bird’s Nest Orchid (Neottia nidusavis)  is one of our more rare orchids so it was a huge thrill to have been directed today to a large colony.

Neottia nidus-avis Bird's Nest Orchid (29)
With no leaves, the bird’s nest orchid is incapable of producing chlorophyll
Neottia nidus-avis Bird's Nest Orchid (32)
The flowering stems emerge from the underground plant


Brendan Sayers, in his “Ireland’s Wild Orchids – A Field Guide” describes it thus: “The bird’s nest orchid is the only Irish orchid which does not possess chlorophyll and therefore has not green parts. The plant relies for all of its life on an association with a microscopic fungus which feeds the plant.” With no leaves, it is a strange-looking thing indeed and we might well wonder if it is a plant at all but rather more fungus. Underground fungus have an association with nearby trees – in today’s case it was an oak – which supply it with sugars while using the fungus to supply minerals. The bird’s nest orchid’s life is, in the main, underground where it also benefits from an association with this same fungus. What we see above ground is simply the flowering spike while the body of the plant is below – and, apparently, the roots are in the shape of a bird’s nest, hence the name! I haven’t been digging other than in books to find this nugget of information.

Neottia nidus-avis Bird's Nest Orchid (66)
The flowers develop

Neottia nidus-avis Bird's Nest Orchid (13)

Given the plant’s very particular needs and dependence on other organisms for life it is no surprise that it is uncommon. When it is found it is always in woodland – well, the trees are essential! – and I was in such a location we encountered it today. There is a different response to seeing a very beautiful plant and to seeing one such as the bird’s nest orchid. Our reaction to beauty is simple, well rehearsed and well practiced while our reaction to the bird’s nest orchid is one of wonder, puzzlement, amazement, fascination and, indeed, admiration.

Neottia nidus-avis Bird's Nest Orchid (66)
It was wonderful to see such large clumps
Neottia nidus-avis Bird's Nest Orchid (57)
The flower spikes of the previous year have persisted while the new shoots are emerging. The old flower spikes can persist for two or more years, it seems.

The ways of plants and the natural world will, no doubt, continue to surprise and delight us and today was one of those special days of delight and wonder.

Mark Roper
These treasures of our countryside do deserve close examination and my companion today was very attentive!

Paddy Tobin

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




Just Perfect!

During the week Harold McBride, a gardening friend in Northern Ireland, forwarded a photograph taken at the recent Alpine Garden Society show at Cabinteely, Dublin. The photograph was taken by Paddy Smith of the A.G.S. and was of a plant displayed by Billy Moore, a long time AGS member and perennial exhibitor at the Cabinteely show.

Trillium chloropetalum ‘Bob Gordon’ at the Alpine Garden Society’s show in Cabinteely, 2017. Exhibited by Billy Moore. Photographed by Paddy Smith

Billy’s plant this year was of one of those plants which would stop you in your tracks if you encountered it in a garden or on the show bench. It is, quite simply, both outstandingly beautiful and perfectly grown. Beyond that, it has connection and provenance which all who have seen it and know of it appreciate so very much.

This is Trillium chloropetalum ‘Bob Gordon’, named for Bob, who gardens in Northern Ireland, because it was among some self-sown seedlings in his garden that he gave to Billy. Bob has a form of Trillium chloropetalum in his garden which grows with unbounded vigour and which seeds with abundance in his garden. I have had such seedlings from Bob and they have continued to thrive here with me but I have not been as fortunate as Billy to have one which produced yellow flowers.

Naturally, as we all would be, Billy was thrilled with his new plant and gave it Bob’s name to remember Bob’s kindness and to attach Bob’s name to a truly special plant and that is what is so pleasing – the plant and the man are so well matched. Harold McBride commented, “This yellow form of T. Chloropetalum  is probably the best plant of Irish origin  to emerge for many years .  It also fittingly bears the name of one of Ireland’s most generous and talented  gardeners who was, of course, the raiser” while Margaret Young, of the Scottish Rock Garden Club, added:  “I could not agree more – a truly lovely plant, and it’s “friends and associates” are some of Ireland’s nicest and best- gardeners!”

Trillium 'Bob Gordon' photo Anne Repnow
Trillium chloropetalum ‘Bob Gordon’, photographed by Beryl McNaughton at the joint AGS/SCRC Northumberland Show at Hexham. 

I saw this plant at the 2016 Cabinteely Show and thought it was magnificent but, with Billy’s care, it looks even better this year. He exhibited it at the A.G.S./S.R.G.C Northumberland Show at Hexham where the plant was awarded a Certificate of Merit – a dress rehearsal for Dublin, Billy commented. When exhibited at Cabinteely it was awarded the Farrer Medal, the highest award from the Alpine Garden Society recognising an excellent plant, well grown!

Well done to Billy and to Bob!


Paddy Tobin

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

Get Your Snowdrops Now!

Fashion and promotion guide what we grow in our gardens and few plants are more fashion driven or more strongly promoted than snowdrops so it is no wonder that the snowdrops we choose can be more strongly influenced by those who wish to sell them than by considerations of good value and good performance in the garden.

One of the favourite virescent snowdrops: Galanthus ‘Rosemary Burnham’

The present fashion wave in snowdrops is for those which have green markings not alone on the inner segments but also on the outer – virescent snowdrops – and the nearer a cultivar approaches being an all-green snowdrop the more it is valued. It might seem odd that a green snowdrop should be so sought after but it has always been the case that the snowdrop which deviated most from the norm was the curiosity which was most valued. In days gone by, the double snowdrop outshone the single; the one with the larger or different markings outstripped the normal markings; those with yellow markings outdid those with green and on it went in the pursuit of the rare and the unusual or “RUE”s as an old gardening friend used call such plants: Rare, Unusual and Expensive!


It is very appropriate that green is the present favourite as it echoes the colour of money – and “Greenback” will surely be used shortly as a snowdrop name! Commerce is a major driving force in the snowdrop world. Fashion creates demand and demand leads to high prices. I am a very regular user of a Facebook page, “Snowdrops and Galanthophiles” where people post photographs of their snowdrops – no worse than photographs of cats, I suppose – and there is general chat about days out, visits to snowdrop gardens, snowdrop talks, sales etc. The participants are enthusiastic and the chat is light and friendly with regular happy posts of the most recent acquisitions. There will also be posts of the most recent snowdrop introductions – which may not even be available for sale yet – but the enthusiasts love to see what might next grace the sales benches and, possibly, their gardens.


It has struck me on a number of occasions, when somebody obviously relatively new to growing and collecting snowdrops and without any great number of varieties posts photographs of their latest purchases that these are regularly of the latest introductions, those currently the “talk of the town”, so to speak, and, of course, the most expensive. It puzzles me that beginners seem to often start with the most rare and expensive snowdrops and yet may not be growing the tried, tested and reliable varieties which have graced gardens for years and which, more importantly, are more likely to be good performers in the garden.

The latest snowdrop introductions are likely to have been propagated by a method known as “twin-scaling” – the cutting of a bulb into very small segments each of which has a part of the basal plate which will then go on to form bulbils which are grown on until big enough for the process to be repeated until a sufficient number are available for sale and this is often before the bulbs have been trialled as a  garden plant so the purchaser is taking a risk that they may be buying what appears to them an attractive snowdrop but which may not do well in their garden. One regularly reads comments on internet forums along the lines of “I bought that last year but it never appeared this year” and even hear experienced growers comment that a much praised snowdrop simply does not do well, does not grow strongly and is generally a weakling in the garden.  When such comments are commonplace one has to imagine that not all these gardeners are careless or incompetent and that fault lies elsewhere. The constant hype over new introductions entices enthusiasts to purchase and the novice galanthophile is most vulnerable.  Never could the phrase “Caveat emptor” be better employed.

So, here are a few suggestions for good easy-to-grow snowdrops which are not ridiculously priced and which have shown themselves to be good garden plants. I’ll keep it to a very short list because lists have a tendency to grow and grow.

is the common snowdrop and, while “common” might sound a disparaging description, in fact it signifies that this snowdrop grows so well for us that it has become common. For the cost of a cultivar in the mid-price range one could purchase 100 common snowdrops and instead of a spot of white one could have a planting of good garden impact. It has the largest natural distribution of all the snowdrops and is the most widely grown in cultivation and has an Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society – recognition of its value, amenity and reliability as a garden plant. It has been in cultivation in England since the 16th century and has become widely naturalised there.

The common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, is quick to multiply and give a good effect in the garden. 
The bulbs of Galanthus nivalis will multiply over the years and it will also seed about and, because it is a species, the seedlings will be like the parents. 
Everybody admires the common snowdrop – even our friendly pheasants!

Another snowdrop with the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Merit is the double form of the common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis ‘Flore Pleno’ which has double flower – rather than the three small inner segments and three larger outer it has a multiplicity of segments so that it is a bigger, chunkier flower which gives greater impact in the garden. As with many of the double-flowered snowdrops it does not produce seeds but it is a very vigorous grower and will multiply quickly in the garden. While its origins are not clear it certainly dates to the early 1700s and has been a treasured garden plant for these past three centuries.

The double form of the common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis ‘Flore Pleno’ is wonderful to multiply in the garden 
The segments are generally somewhat disorganised in the double common snowdrop but the flowers are large and make a good impact.
I split clumps of the double common snowdrops and spread them about. 

Galanthus ‘Atkinsii’ originated, around 1860, in the Gloucestershire garden of James Atkins, one of the great snowdrop enthusiasts of the time and still remains one of the most elegant, beautiful  and excellent garden plants we could grow. In earlier descriptions it was regularly compared in elegance to the drop pearl earrings of Elizabeth 1 and this, indeed, does capture its beauty. It flowers reliably in January and so will provide interest ahead of the main snowdrop season.

Galanthus ‘Atkinsii’ is an easy and obliging garden plant which is healthy and vigorous and quickly makes good sized clumps. 
Before the flowers open in Galanthus ‘Atkinsii’ you can see  why they were compared to the drop pearl earrings of Elizabethan times. 
Galanthus ‘Atkinsii’ – a beautifully marked and elegant flower

Those snowdrops which are still grown and admired over a century after their first introduction certainly have a good track record and have earned their place in our gardens.  Galanthus ‘Magnet’ dates to the garden of James Allen in the late 19th century, was described glowingly by the enthusiasts of the day, and still remains a darling garden snowdrop. Besides growing with ease, a good healthy plant, it also has attractive features which are very pleasing to the eye bring joy to the garden and gardener. The flower is large, certainly twice that of the common snowdrop, and it is held on a long pedicle – that small “stem” holding the flower – so that the flowers swing and sway in the breeze.

Galanthus ‘Magnet’ quickly builds up to a good number and, with the long pedicles, the flowers wave about in the breeze in a very attractive manner. 
Galanthus ‘Magnet’ showing the flowers swinging on the long pedicle 

A relatively more recent introduction – compared to those above – is Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’. Very little is known of its origins other than Samuel Arnott, a provost in Dumfriesshire, Scotland, sent bulbs to Henry J. Elwes at Colesbourne Park who distributed it as “Arnott’s Seedling”. It was exhibited by The Giant Snowdrop Company in 1951 and the name ‘S. Arnott’ was applied shortly afterwards. It is a tall, strong growing and elegant plant with a large flower which has a faint fragrance of honey – best enjoyed in the warmth of the house.

Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’, a strong, large and elegant plant for the garden. 
Along with its flower display, Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’ also has a beautiful fragrance

This selection will bring interest and colour to your garden in late winter and early spring and will, most likely, begin you on a search for more of these delightful plants. However, I advise that you pursue those plants which have been tried and tested and not rush to the most recently introduced and as yet untested.

A final word of advice: Snowdrops bought as dry bulbs are not the best. They regularly fail to thrive in the garden. It is better to purchase growing bulbs or those offered “in the green” (lifted from the garden while the foliage is still green and quickly replanted). Two good sources near to me are Robert Millar’s Altamont Plant Sales at Altamont Gardens in Co. Carlow and Guy de Shriver’s “Field of Blooms” for mail order sales.

Have fun!

Post Scriptum: If you really must have a snowdrop with green markings on the outer segments –  well, we all like to be, at least, in touch with modern trends and fashions – I will recommend Galanthus ‘Viridapice’ to you for it has proven itself to be long-lived, healthy and a good garden plant – and it is, like the others above, not expensive. It was found near an old farmhouse in northern Holland by Mr. J. M. C. Hoog of the Dutch bulb family.

Galanthus ‘Viridapice’ makes an excellent and attractive garden plant 
Galanthus ‘Viridapice’ showing the attractive green tips to the outer segments and the large spathe above the flower. 
The danger with snowdrops is that there is always another one which catches the eye and which one  simply must have! 

Paddy Tobin

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