Native orchids have captured my heart – and addled my brain – and days out have been full of fabulous finds, good company, beautiful plants and one outstanding highlight.
Co. Tipperary has featured very strongly in this year’s itineraries as a friend with local knowledge has brought us to some very special sites and plants. In late April we visited an area with Green Veined Orchid, an uncommon native orchid and a very pretty one. We went, on the same day, to a wood where Bird’s Nest Orchid was simply magical.
An early visit to The Burren lead to innumerable Early Purple Orchids, spectacular Western Marsh Orchids on a busy roadside and the almost impossible to see Fly Orchid.
The Bee Orchid is a delight to everybody who sees it with its smiling face and unusual and attractive colouring and, of course, the ingenious design of the flower which mimics a bee so well that bees flock to assist with pollination. There is a much rarer white (some say, yellow) form which flowered in abundance on one roadside verge this year and more than bees were attracted by its beauty.
An outing to a bog brought us to two exceptionally beautiful orchids, The Marsh Helleborine and the Lesser Butterfly orchids. This was a special day, one of several this year, and the Marsh Helleborine, it was agreed, was one of the most beautiful flowers one could enjoy. The enjoyment was added to by the presence of innumerable Common Spotted and Heath Spotted Orchids while a short spin in the car afterwards brought us to a huge population of Pyramidal Orchid and Common Twayblade.
The more regularly seen Common Spotted Orchid, Heath Spotted Orchid, Pyramidal Orchid and Common Twayblade remain beautiful and charming each time they are seen but one becomes drawn to the rare, the unusual and novel. The next new one is always more interesting than the previously admired and beloved.
A recent visit to sand dunes in Co. Wexford brought two exceptional finds. My companion on these outings – I refer to him as “Hawkeye” for his skill at spotting those uncommon plants which make a day out special – came on a white form of the Pyramidal Orchid, a beautiful thing which made our day.
Shortly afterwards I came on a Bee Orchid with what I thought was an odd shape and colour but, because of my inexperience and lack of knowledge and that it resembled something quite rare, I was reluctant to put a name to it. However, I was writing to Brendan Sayers at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, on another matter and attached a photograph for his attention. Brendan is the author of “Ireland’s Wild Orchids – A Field Guide”. Brendan replied, wondered if I had found a Wasp Orchid, Ophrys apifera var. trollii, and asked for more photographs for clarification. Photographs have since been sent to other experts and the identification has been confirmed – the narrow tip on the lip of the orchid is a distinguishing feature.
Just another orchid? It seems that this is the first time this orchid has been found in Ireland, a new record and a cause of excitement for orchid enthusiasts some of whom will travel over the weekend in hopes of seeing it in flower. Of course, I’m chuffed to have found it and it certainly is my highlight of the year.
To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook
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.
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, 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 By Kurt Stüber via Wikimedia Commons
Tweedie also introduced the wonderfully scented Sinningia tubiflora.
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.
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.
Thelast 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook
A very nice review from Kevin Hutchinson in Irish Forestry.
And I’m cheating on my blogging – as I have not written in a while – by using somebody else’s material. The holiday season, visitors, illness and computer difficulties have all intervened but I’ll soon get back to it. The break did allow great time for reading though and I enjoyed that! Happy New Year!
The beauty of the work of the members of the Irish Society of Botanical Artists was the inspiration for this project which features heritage Irish garden plants. The ISBA is quite a new society but has already made a fabulous contribution to Irish art and to our heritage of Irish plants with its initial exhibition, “Aibitir” which was an alphabet of native Irish plants. Indeed, the alphabet was twice covered and I had the delight of viewing the exhibition at its launch in the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin and again when it came to Waterford.
The Irish Garden Plant Society was founded in 1981 when a group of gardening enthusiasts noticed that many of the old and treasured Irish garden plants were becoming more and more scarce. Dr. E. Charles Nelson, who was the taxonomist at the National Botanic Gardens at the time, gathered a group of like-minded people and set out to redress this situation through the IGPS. Charles’ book, A Heritage of Beauty, one of several he has written on Irish plants, continues to be our standard reference.
We are at present checking on the availability of all the plants listed in A Heritage of Beauty so that those which seem to be slipping from being commonly available can be sourced, propagated and placed in safe-keeping with our members who act as Plant Guardians and also with various large gardens around the country which have shown a particular interest in our Irish Heritage Plants – Blarney Castle Gardens is a good example and their garden trail of Irish heritage plants will be of interest to visitors.
This work is being lead by Stephen Butler, Chairperson of the Leinster Branch of the IGPS and Chief Horticulturalist at the National Zoological Gardens, and there is group of others working with him to source these threatened plants, propagate and distribute them. This work is at the centre of the hopes and aspirations of our society and raising awareness of the richness of our plant heritage runs alongside.
We could not previously have hoped for nor imagined a more marvellous way to show people the beauty of our Irish plants than this joint project with the ISBA. It has thrilled and delighted me to be involved and I feel the exhibition and book will appeal to a great many people and will highlight the rich heritage of Irish gardening and Irish plants.
It is significant and noteworthy that both of our societies, the ISBA and the IGPS, had their origins in the National Botanic Gardens. The IGPS has always had very active members from the Botanic Gardens and, to this day, there is still practical support, advice, exchange of information and plants without which the society would be all the poorer. It was Brendan Sayers, an IGPS member of many years, who mooted the idea of a society of botanical artists and he is central to this project, coordinating the various branches very effectively and he is assisted in this work by another of the Glasnevin personnel, Alexandra Caccoma of the National Botanic Garden’s library.
The project has grown a little since its inception and approximately seventy Irish heritage plants have been selected for the artists to paint. Many of the paintings have been completed while others – those to flower this spring, primulas and snowdrops for example – are being done at present. The selection will include a number of daffodils, iris, dahlias, sweet peas and snowdrops with a bias towards plants which have been introduced since 2001 when A Heritage of Beauty was published.
Of course the paintings will all be beautiful but there are some which I look forward to especially. The snowdrops are a particular interest of mine and a number growing in my own garden have been sent to artists – Galanthus ‘Lady Moore’ which remembers that great Irish gardener, wife of Sir Frederick Moore, Keeper of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Glasnevin; Galanthus ‘Ruby Baker’ remembering a wonderful galanthophile in the U.K. ; Galanthus ‘Cicely Hall’, perhaps our most beautiful Irish snowdrop and Galanthus ‘Longraigue’, a recent foundling from Co. Wexford. It is a delight to see Agapanthus ‘Kilmurry Blue’ and ‘Kilmurry White’ included as Paul and Orla Woods have always been such enthusiastic supporters of Irish plants.
Pat Fitzgerald of Fitzgerald Nurseries in Stonyford, Co. Kilkenny, has raised the profile of Irish plants internationally with his launch of the Kennedy Irish primulas a few years back and these will feature. Seamus O’Brien’s Cornus ‘Kilmacurragh Rose’ – a fabulous plant – and his Iris Chrysographes ‘Thomas O’Brien’, named for his brother will both be included. A wonderful birch, Betula ‘White Light’ will be there and will always remind me of the generosity of John Buckley of Birdhill Nursery in Co. Tipperary who bred it and who very kindly gave me a plant. I am delighted that Rhododendron ‘President Michael D. Higgins’ will be included for several reasons: it is a beautiful plant, it honours an outstanding Irishman and it was bred in Mount Congreve Gardens by Michael White, the garden curator, so it is very local to me and very special for that reason.
I could go on and on. The list of beautiful plants which will be included in this book is simply fabulous and especially so because they are our plants; they are Irish raised plants, part of our heritage and to be treasured for that and “heritage” is not a nebulous term when we talk of plants because these plants bring Lady Moore, Cicely Hall, Ruby Baker, President Higgins, Seamus O’Brien, Kilmacurragh, Pat Fitzgerald, John Buckley and all those others into my garden where I can enjoy them year after year.
I believe the work of the artists of the ISBA – and I have seen some of the early work for this project – will be a delight to all who see it and that the accompanying book will allow people to bring this beauty into their own homes. The book will feature a collection of articles related to the plant groups and will be illustrated by the work of the artists. Jane Stark who was a founding member of the ISBA and who has had a career in publishing is designing the layout of the book and organising all ready for printing.
While we have been working away on this project in relative privacy, Fionnuala Fallon’s article in the Irish Times Magazine, 16th January, has put it out in the public eye and her comment that further information was available on the IGPS and ISBA websites has rather pushed me to write this article but it is a pleasure to share it with you as I believe it is a wonderful project and that you will enjoy it later in the year when the book is available and the exhibition is launched.
To find out more about the Irish Society of Botanical Artists visit their website: ISBA
To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook