The Dilemma of Respecting the Elderly!

Some gardens, by reason of their history and previous owners, will have plants which are of great historic and horticultural significance. Their loss might be a great tragedy but their continued presence can be both a great burden of responsibility and an impediment to the development of the area as a garden.

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The National Botanic Gardens at Kilmacurragh are home to many magnificent plants

 

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Gardeners of my generation will recall the “miniature” conifer and heather fashion trend in gardening in the 1970s and will, probably, have also found, like me, that those “miniature” conifers did not always behave to their description. The day comes when the mind is finally steeled and the decision is taken to remove them. They leave a gap and are a loss to some degree, yet they open opportunities for the gardener to plan anew, to introduce new plants and for the garden to remain vibrant and interesting.

However, when the plants in question are historically significant the gardener is faced with a dilemma. It was a visit in the last few days to the National Botanic Gardens at Kilmacurragh, Co. Wicklow, which brought these thoughts to mind. The gardens have an outstanding and historically significant collection of plants. Here we can see plants such as the weeping cedar of Goa, Cupressus lusitanica ‘Glauca Pendula’, planted between 1820 and 1840 and the peculiar ash, Fraxinus excelsior ‘Monstrosa’, a tree which was noted as being 1 foot tall in 1840!

When Thomas and Janet Acton took on Kilmacurragh in 1854 they planted with enthusiasm and with the advice of David Moore of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Glasnevin furnished the garden with the choicest plants. The association with Glasnevin continued with Sir Frederick Moore and the planting riches of Kilmacurragh continued to expand, especially  to give a home to those plants which the alkaline soil in Glasnevin did not suit. Sir Joseph Hooker’s 1849 collection of rhododendron seed in the Sikkim Himalaya, after germination at Glasnevin, were grown on in the suitably acidic soil of Kilmacurragh, and developed into Europe’s most comprehensive collection of rhododendrons from Sikkim, Bhutan and Nepal. Many of these original rhododendrons are still in the garden – the original plants, not subsequent propagated generations, the original plants and so of extreme value for their historical significance and association with such wonderful past generations of Irish gardeners and I wonder if they are a blessing or an impediment to Kilmacurragh’s present day gardeners.

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The Broad Walk might serve to consider this thought. It was laid out to the rear of the house by Thomas and Janet Acton in the early 1870s. At the time it was planted with alternate Irish yews, Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata’, the tall and bright red Rhododendron ‘Altaclerense’ and Rhododendron ‘Cunningham’s White’ which is lower growing. Given the passage of time the plants, especially those of Rhododendron ‘Altaclerense’, are now quite enormous both in height and in width so that The Broad Walk is now not as broad as it once was and here is the quandary: Should the garden plants or the garden design take precedence?

At present, Kilmacurragh has a significant collection of plants but the garden layout has become somewhat overshadowed and overcrowded. We see the same problem with those who are more plant collectors than garden makers; it can be challenging to accommodate a plant collection within a satisfactory garden design.

What will happen at Kilmacurragh? I really don’t know but suspect that, as the present curator is an enthusiastic plantsman, these venerable old plants will continue to be treasured for as long as their good health allows and we may enjoy the garden with them for it would not be the same without them.

Paddy Tobin

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

Going Home to Cork – Brownea x crawfordii

William H.  Crawford (1812 – 1888) was one of a set of enthusiastic gardeners in Cork in the 19th century. William Edward Gumbleton and Richard Beamish were two others of this group.  Crawford inherited ‘Lakelands’ on the shore of Lough Mahon and, as with Gumbleton’s ‘Belgrove’ and nearby ‘Fota’, the garden was situated in an area which allowed the owners to grow many tender plants outdoors. To this day, Cork gardeners enjoy the facility of growing many plants outdoors which simply will not survive outside elsewhere in Ireland

The names of the Crawford and Beamish families will be familiar to many through their brewing business – Beamish & Crawford and the Crawford name continues in the Crawford Municipal College of Art and the Crawford Municipal Technical Institute as he was a generous benefactor to many good causes in Cork.

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Brownea x crawfordii – photograph from Carlos Magdalena

Crawford’s arboretum contained Himalayan and Andean plants, including Rhododendron falconeri, R. thomsonii and R. dalhousiana along with Berberidopsis corallina, Dacrydium franklinii, Podocarpus andinus, Cordyline indivisa all growing out of doors when, at the time, they were generally considered conservatory plants. The Himalayan Magnolia campbellii also grew there and flowered there for the first time in the British Isles. It was also grown in Gumbleton’s ‘Belgrove’ where the original tree still exists.

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Brownea x crawfordii – photograph from Carlos Magdalena

Crawford was best known for his collection of Brownea species which are native to Central America and the West Indies and are too tender for outdoor cultivation in Ireland. The species are trees or shrubs which produce very showy red inflorescenses. He grew his collection in a glasshouse and in 1876 he reported that they threatened to outgrow the greenhouse and rather than cutting the plants back he had an addition of several feet in height made over the whole house, later removing the lower roof.

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Brownea x crawfordii – photograph from Carlos Magdalena

Numerous reports of his collection were published in The Gardener’s Chronicle and in The Garden between 1873 and 1888. Among the collection was Brownea macrophylla which was painted by M. Hill and this illustration appeared in The Gardener’s Chronicle. In 1878 this plant was in flower over a two month period and bore over 100 inflorescenses.

One of Crawford’s preoccupations was the hybridisation of Brownea species and succeeded in raising several hybrids. One of these,  Brownea grandiceps x Brownea macrophylla, was named Brownea x crawfordii. He sent a plant of this hybrid to Kew in 1888 very shortly before his death and it flowered in 1891. Another plant sent the Botanic Gardens at Glasnevin flowered in 1890.

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Brownea x crawfordii – photographs from Carlos Magdalena

Carlos Magdalena who is the chief propagator at Kew Gardens in London is presently propagating plants of Brownea x crawfordii and asked me recently if I thought some Irish gardens might like to grow it again and, already, we have made arrangements that one will go to the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin and another to Blarney Castle Garden in Cork. It will be good to have William H. Crawford’s plant back in Ireland again and, especially so, to have it back in Cork.

Isn’t it wonderful that the plant – for this is a direct descendant and a vegetative propagant from the original – that William H. Crawford raised, grew and sent to Kew will be returning to Ireland. Many, many thanks to Carlos for his kindness and generosity and for the thoughtfulness that this plant would be appreciated in its home place.

The background and historic material for this article was taken from “Irish Horticulturists. I: W. H. Crawford” by T. Crawford and E. C. Nelson in Garden History, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Summer, 1979), pp. 23-26. Published by The Garden History Society.

All photographs are courtesy of Carlos Magdalena.

Paddy Tobin

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

Heritage Irish Plants – Plandaí Oidhreachta

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.

Galanthus 'Longraigue' from Shevaun Doherty
Galanthus ‘Longraigue’ – a preliminary study by Shevaun Doherty of this pretty snowdrop found in a garden in Co. Wexford
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Betula ‘White Light’ – a preliminary study by Fionnuala Broughan of this beautiful birch bred by John Buckley of Birdhill, Co. Tipperary
Dahlia 'John Markham' painting by Elaine Moore Mackey  2
Dahlia ‘John Markham’ – a preliminary study by Elaine Moore-Mackey

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.

 

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Rhododendron  ‘Michael D. Higgins’ bred my Michael White, Garden Curator at Mount Congreve Gardens in Waterford.
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Primula ‘Moneygall’ one of the range of Kennedy Irish Primulas bred by Joe Kennedy and propagated and distributed by Pat Fitzgerald of Fitzgerald Nurseries in Stonyford, Co. Kilkenny

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.

 

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Agapanthus ‘Kilmurry Blue’ from Paul and Orla Woods’ Kilmurry Nursery in Gorey, Co. Wexford which has small flowers produced in abundance and makes a perfect plant for a large pot 
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Iris unguicularis ‘Kilmurry Black’ from Paul and Orla Woods’ Kilmurry Nursery in Gorey, Co. Wexford which has a striking dark colour

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.

 

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Galanthus ‘Lady Moore’ which was Phylis Lady Moore’s special snowdrop and has come down to us today and keeps the memory of this wonderful Irish gardener in our minds. 
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Betula ‘White Light’ showing its autumn foliage colour and exquisite bark  in my garden, a kind gift from John Buckley of Birdhill, Co. Tipperary, who bred it. 

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

Read Fionnuala Fallon’s article: “Masters of the Floral Art” in The Irish Times.

Paddy Tobin

 

 

 

 

Julius Caesar, where did you come from?

Primulas do very well for us in our Irish climate and it is no wonder that we have a long list of cultivars which have arisen  and been named here. These are passed around from friend to friend but, unfortunately, can be lost over the years so it is well to take care of them and to give them to friends whenever they come your way.

Primula 'Julius Caesar'
Primula ‘Julius Caesar’

This little darling, Primula ‘Julius Caesar’ was very kindly given to me during this past summer, a small plant in a 10cm pot and, as the saying goes, the best gifts come in small boxes and it has lived up to that saying. When I went to plant it in the garden I managed to get three very small growths and these have bulked up very well in the last months and are now, unseasonably, in flower at the moment tricked by the wet and warm conditions of our unusually mild autumn. It promises to be ready for splitting again after flowering in the spring and, hopefully, I will be able to pass on a piece to somebody else who will grow it, pass it on in time and so preserve a little of our Irish gardening heritage.

Primula 'Julius Caesar'

The best source of information on heritage Irish plants is to be found in Dr. E. Charles Nelson’s book, “A Heritage of Beauty” which was commissioned by the Irish Garden Plant Society in 2000. Charles was the founding member of the IGPS and taxonomist at the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, Dublin, and has always had a passionate interest in Irish plants, Irish gardens and Irish gardeners, indeed all things horticulturally Irish. The book is out of print but a small number of copies are still available through the IGPS website.

In his description of Primula ‘Julius Caesar’, Charles writes:

This primula dates from before 1954 and is described as “One of the first to bloom and one of the best… large red-leaved, claret coloured flowers.”
The flowers are single, deep claret on bronzy-green foliage. It was raised by Miss Winifred Wynne, Tigroney, Avoca, Co. Wicklow. This very fine cultivar was said to have been a seedling of ‘Miss Massey’. In 1967 Cecil Monson reported that “although ‘Julius Caesar’ was ‘a strong grower with me it seems to be very rare”.

Primula 'Julius Caesar'  (1)

Charles does not give any note of explanation as to why the name, “Julius Caesar” was applied to this plant, a name which has amused and puzzled me. There is a long list of primula cultivars in A Heritage of Beauty and, for the most part, the names are understandable. There are those which are descriptive: “Old Irish Blue”,  “Cloth of Gold” or “Dark Beauty”; those whose name recall their location of origin: “Kinlough Beauty”, “Rowallane Rose” or “Tipperary Purple”; those which recall a person: “Lady Greer”, “Dark Rosaleen” or “Doctor Molly” but where or why the “Julius Caesar” attached to this primula arose is a mystery to me. Nonetheless, it promises to be a fine garden plant and one which I look forward to multiplying and passing on to other gardens where it will be equally treasured.

Primula 'Julius Caesar'  (4)

Paddy Tobin

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