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

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.

SONY DSC
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

Catching up!

I have given up!

I try to be diligent with my books – read one and write a review – but my routine was broken and I have failed to recover. Earlier in the year  my laptop went on the blink for about a week so there was reading time but no facility to write the reviews.

Of course, in the meantime, more and more books have arrived and the temptation to read the new is always greater than the duty to review the old. Who has not been tempted by the latest arrival, the latest divinely smelling, fresh off the press and still crispy book?

To make amends, to some degree, I have put those books, enjoyed over the week of laptop absence, into one review and hope you will find one which will tempt you to enjoy the pleasure of a good book. (pssst….I have put them in order of my enjoyment of them!)

You should have been here last week

This was the perfect book for the Christmas stocking  – small, compact and a little treasure. It is a collection of Tim Richardson’s columns, articles, essays and reviews and they are, first and foremost, entertaining but also informative and thought provoking. Tim Richardon’s style is witty, insightful, provocative and, above all, enjoyable and fun to read. I loved it! Loved it! [You Should Have Been Here Last Week, Tim Richardson, Pimpernel Press, 2016, Hardback, 208pp, £16.99, ISBN: 9781910258354]

All the Presidents' Gardens

Michelle Obama brought media attention to the gardens of the White House with her vegetable garden but she was not the first resident to make an impact on the eighteen acres around the President’s residence. Martha McDowell recounts the contributions – or lack of them – of the many residents over the past centuries. The beautiful Rose Garden of the Kennedys will be well known but there are many, many more interesting stories: Eisenhower’s putting green, Lincoln’s goats, Amy Carter’s tree house, Gerald Ford’s swimming pool, George H. W. Bush’s horseshoe pit and Bill Clinton’s jogging track among them. Kings and Queens walked these grounds but Presidents and their families shaped them – in most interesting ways. A very well researched, well written and well presented book – very enjoyable! [All the Presidents’ Gardens, Marta McDowell, Timber Press, 2016, Hardback, 336pp, £20, ISBN: 9781604695892]

Lives of the great gardeners

Stephen Anderton presents essays on 40 gardeners over a time spread of 500 years though with a strong leaning to those of the 20th century. Rather than a chronological sequence the gardeners are organised thematically: “Gardens of Ideas/Straight Lines /Curves/Plantsmanship” and includes Sir Roy Strong, Lancelot Brown, Russell Page, Graham Stuart Thomas, Christopher Lloyd, Beth Chatto and Piet Oudolf  among others – something for everybody! The essays are biographical rather than critical and, given Stephen Anderton’s pleasant style, are light, enjoyable and informative. I found this a very informative and enjoyable read; an easy-going read, pleasant and unchallenging, sure to appeal to all. [Lives of the Great Gardeners, Stephen Anderton, Thames & Hudson, 2016, Hb, 304pp, £24.95 ISBN: 9780500518564]

The Quest for Shakespeare's Garden

Did Shakespeare ever garden at New Place? Probably not, but that small fact has not stopped generations celebrating his garden at Stratford on Avon – and it has recently been completely renovated with the installation of an Elizabethan style box parterre! There are no plans which show that such a garden existed at New Place but it is supposed that it is the style of garden he would have had if he had a garden! (Truth and accuracy, obviously, will never get in the way of a good money-generating tourist attraction!) Despite my attitude to this fallacy of garden recreation I enjoyed this book enormously for Sir Roy Strong explores all these matters in a wonderfully insightful and informed manner and considers them of great gardening significance for, as he writes, “this recreated Elizabethan garden is not just sentimental curiosity but a milestone in the emergence of garden history and recreation,”and he describes the garden as “the first major public attempt in England to accurately recreate a garden of another age.” An excellent read! Truly enjoyable!   [The Quest for Shakespeare’s Garden, Sir Roy Strong, Thames &Hudson, Hb, 112pp, £14.95, ISBN: 9780500252246]

CARNATION

This book is not about growing carnations but about the social and cultural history of a plant which has delighted people for centuries. The carnation challenged the tulip as the florist’s favourite and was as popular a hobby plant in its era as the auricula. Time after time the author presents fascinating associations and facts about the carnation that makes this book a most enjoyable read. Very enjoyable! This is one of a series of such books, each on a different genus, and each dealing with the social and cultural aspects of the plant rather than its role in the garden. A nice series! [Carnation, Twigs Way, Reaktion Books, 2016, Hb,  224pp, £16, ISBN:  9781780236346]

There are five delicious books waiting for me to read. I can now go ahead and read these without the nagging in the back of my mind that I should first have reviewed those read previously! It has been a spring cleaning of sorts!

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

 

 

Mount Congreve’s Magnificent Magnolias

IGPS Blog

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

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

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

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What were they thinking?

How often have you looked at a designed landscape and wondered what had inspired the creator to develop the area in this particular way! This book has been both a revelation and a comfort as there are times when the source of inspiration may be clear and obvious – for example, when the garden is an obvious reflection of its surroundings – while at others it can be quite obtuse as when the designer, in search of inspiration, delves into childhood experiences of which, of course, we could have no knowledge and, so, are unable to be in a position to interpret their design.

The Inspired Landscape

The designs, twenty one in total, discussed in this book are outside the experience of the vast majority of gardeners and while I have referred to them as “gardens” above it would be more accurate to call them “landscape designs”. They are far from the domestic in their dimensions, scale and impact and are truly impressive, awe-inspiring and works of art in themselves. The gardener of domestic experience could well be puzzled by them but Susan Cohan’s book provides a wonderful, insightful and very interesting insight into what lay behind these landscapes; what it was that inspired each designer.

Some were pleasantly obvious and, to me, comfortable: Shlomo Aronson’s design at the Ben-Gurion University of the Neger, Beersheba, Israel is directly inspired by the surrounding desert landscape, for example, while Charles Jencks’ design for the Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centre, Inverness, based on dividing human cells is not immediately obvious. Likewise, without being informed, it is not obvious that Tom Stuart-Smith’s box parterres in the walled garden at Broughton Grange are based on a microscopic picture of the cells of leaves. Some designers carry on in the style of local gardening traditions, others look to other garden designers for inspiration (is this copying?) while sculpture, plant form, even clothing patterns have inspired others. Some look to the past, – history, myths and legends – while others can impressively embrace the past and bring in along into the present and into the future, such as Peter Latz’s Landscape Park in Duisboury Nord, Germany, where he took a derelict industrial area of vast scale and, rather than clearing the area to begin on a blank canvas, kept as much as possible or ore bunkers, railway tracks and immense walls and made garden spaces within them which have served the community splendidly.

Each project is well illustrated with initial sketches and plans, design drawings and photographs with an outline of the journey from inspiration to completion. The author’s interviews with the various designers have provided an insight into an area with which I would be otherwise unfamiliar and have made the reading of these landscapes very enjoyable indeed. This is an excellent book to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace and includes work by:

  • Shlomo Aronson, Sheila Brady, and James Burnett
  • Gilles Clément, Gary Hilderbrand, and Charles Jencks
  • Mary Margaret Jones, Mikyoung Kim, and Peter Latz
  • Shunmyo Masuno, Signe Nielsen, and Cornelia Hahn Oberlander
  • Laurie Olin, Ken Smith, and Stephen Stimson
  • Tom Stuart-Smith, Christine Ten Eyck, and Ryoko Ueyama
  • Kim Wilkie, Thomas Woltz, and Kongjian Yu

 

 [The Inspired Landscape, Susan Cohan,Timber Press, 2016, Hardback, 272pp, £35, ISBN: 9781604694390]

Paddy Tobin

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

 

Roy Lancaster: My Life with Plants

Roy Lancaster

Roy Lancaster’s first interest in flowers was in the wild flower of the countryside around Bolton where he was born in 1937. He began work with the Bolton Parks Department, spent two years in Malaya as a national serviceman, two years at the Cambridge Botanic Gardens as a gardening student and 18 years with the Hillier Nurseries before going on to a successful freelance career which included radio and TV work, journalism, two of the greatest books on plant-hunting, international consultancy work and innumerable awards and honours yet, through this lengthy career it was plants, and particularly plants growing in the wild, which held his heart and fired this enthusiasm. He was and is the ultimate plantsman.

roy-lancaster - from RHS
Roy Lancaster – photo courtesy of the Royal Horticultural Society

He comments that he had the “good fortune in having spent my life in the company of plants” and that he was “a plantsman who loves storytelling” – and here is the essence of this book. As he recalls his life from childhood to the present day the overlaying theme is that of plants, his joy in encountering them for the first time, particularly so if this was in the wild, the associations and memories they hold for him of so many treasured friends, many now gone, and, above all, the sheer delight and wonder he saw in each encounter. He writes with enthusiasm, unbounded knowledge, and undiminishing sheer delight.

Dahlias, chrysanthemums, laburnum and privet were the plants of his childhood home but he soon began exploring the local countryside. He began work at 15 in Bolton Parks Department and, with national service, spent two years in Malaya where he recorded, collected and corresponded on his new plant encounters. Two years as an apprentice gardener followed at Cambridge Botanic Gardens before going on to the Hillier Nurseries where, to mark their centenary, he expanded their plant catalogue to the Hillier Manual, first published in 1971, and became curator of the Hillier Arboretum. The arboretum was passed to the County Council and shortly afterwards he left to begin his freelance career, a daring move which proved hugely successful.

There had been a three month expedition to Nepal in 1981  – this, and his further plant hunting expeditions in China (11 in total) are given only mention in this volume as they are covered “A Plantsman in Nepal” and “A Plantsman’s Paradise: Travels in China”, two magnificent volumes which enthused gardeners worldwide.

These publications lead to demands for him to lecture worldwide and he was particularly popular in the United States and each trip provided further opportunity to see plants in their native environment – and it seems that this was nearly as important to him as the basics of earning a living! There are many amusing stories from these lecture tours and recollections of meeting many interesting people.

roy lancaster - from Country Gardener
Roy Lancaster – photo courtesy of Country Gardener

There were eight years of appearances on the BBC’s Gardener’s World and other programmes followed with Channel 4: “In Search of Wild Asparagus”, “The Great Plant Collections”, “Garden Club” and, of course, many years on “Gardeners’ Question Time”. He has contributed to a long list of magazines and journals, including forty years contributing to the RHS “The Garden”.

It was a long and interesting career and his recollections in this autobiography will delight all gardeners and plant lovers. The book ends with a tour of his own garden, a selection of the plants he grows there and the friends, colleagues and associations they each recall. Finally, another group of students – regulars from Kew and Wisley – come on a visit and it brings him back to where he started himself as an enthusiastic student. His secret and success is that he has held this enthusiasm through his entire life and, while accolades, honours and awards were plentiful, it was the love of plants which fired his soul.

Roy Lancaster

[Roy Lancaster: My Life with Plants, Roy Lancaster, Filbert Press in association with the Royal Horticultural Society, 2017, Hardback, 312 pages,£25, ISBN: 978-0-9933892-5-2]

Paddy Tobin

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