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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

The Breathing Burren – A Review

The Breathing Burren by Gordon D’Arcy

It is wonderful to pick up a book and have the immediate reaction “Oh, this is beautiful” – comfortable in the hand, attractive in size, print and illustration – and there is an immediate longing to read. This is how it was when Gordon D’Arcy’s “The Breathing Burren” arrived from The Collins Press recently and my subsequent slow and savouring read proved that my first impressions were not only accurate but even understated. The author admits to an infatuation with The Burren and I certainly confess to a deep awe in the area so the book had certainly come to a receptive reader.


Gordon D’Arcy is Belfast born and came to explore The Burren, fell in love with the place and moved there and has been resident for over thirty years. His 1999 The Natural History of The Burren has been an inspiration to many who have come to love this unique environment in Co. Clare. The Burren is a landscape of limestone karst, its clints and grykes housing a summer display of flowers which attract both plant enthusiasts and tourists in great numbers.

The author describes this volume as a “salutation” to The Burren and presents a marvellous miscellany of experiences, recorded in his diaries, from many years of roaming the area so we are presented with a distillation of years of enjoyment and experience. As such, it is a book of highlight, of great experiences and wonderful occasions, a compendium of personal experiences which may not be unique but are certainly memorable – the first flowering of gentian in the spring, the incredible encounters with stoats and otters, the rare migrant seabirds, the dawn chorus of Burren birds and broadened and deepened by his recollections of other enthusiasts with whom he had spent time on The Burren. There are accounts of farming, caving and archaeology, all engaging and informative and all very pleasantly illustrated by the author’s watercolour paintings which are quiet and unobtrusive but a perfect complement to the text.

Beyond the recollection of happy events and encounters there is a final substantial section, “Musings” where the author goes far beyond the simple recollection of happy days poses serious questions which he has considered himself and urges us, the readers, and everybody involved with The Burren – those living there, those responsible for decisions which will affect the area – to think about what the area, its value, its use, its worth, its contribution to our culture and how we might care for it for the future.

It is clear that the author is passionately in love with this wonderful area of our country and this love extends far beyond simply enjoying it – which is about the extent of my interaction with the area – to feeling a responsibility and duty of care for it. When you read this book you will understand why he feels this way and you will find yourself agreeing with him very easily.

This is an outstanding book which goes beyond the usual approach of simple descriptions of the natural phenomena of The Burren and is likely to inspire an even greater appreciation for this treasure which is part of our landscape.

[The Breathing Burren, Gordon D’Arcy, The Collins Press, Cork, 2016, Hardback, 304 pages, ISBN: 9781848892682, €24.99 – €17.49 special offer on The Collins Press website at the moment:]

Paddy Tobin

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

My Favourite Plant

Our local garden club hosted Des Doyle of Lavistown House, near Kilkenny, last evening when he delivered a talk on his favourite plants – a total of forty plants as it turned out! Des showed an admirable reluctance to narrow his selection and I imagine that if time allowed he could have continued to list another forty plants which he loves to grow.

In the course of the talk Des asked us to consider the criteria on which we should select our favourite plant – the most obvious being that it should actually grow for us in the garden! People will have many reasons for their own choices – a favourite colour, a memento of a special day out, a kind gift or a name that coincides with that of a child or grandchild. Immediacy is another influence – what is in flower at the moment is more likely to be favoured that one held in memory or in anticipation.

Some flexibility is called for on occasion: a gardening journalist on a national newspaper once contacted me and asked me to say what my favourite flower was and to write a few lines about it for her. I considered for a day or so and dropped her a line with the information she required. She thanked me but came back the following day and asked if I could make another selection as someone else had also chosen my favourite plant. There is always room for more than one favourite!

Besides the obvious there is one quality which I have found has the greatest influence on my choice of favourites and that is association or connection. Were it an antique or a work of art we might call it provenance – its origins, its history of ownership and how it came into your ownership.

My list of favourites is long; certainly there is a favourite or two for each week of the year but here is a quick selection which has come to mind following Des’ talk last evening.

We started gardening almost forty years ago – marriage, new home and new garden – and our first steps were as often based on best value rather than on best taste. That border which mixed azaleas with dahlias still remains in our minds and we laugh at the incongruity of plants and the clash of colours. However, some memories from those early days are happy ones and are still with us. Two workmates gave us primulas – Primula juliae types – from their mothers’ gardens so we still grow “John Howley’s Mother’s primulas”, all the way from Mooncoin, and “Rosaleen Power’s Mother’s primulas” all the way from Ballyhale. In the great scheme of garden primroses neither of these is special but they have connections to friends, their families and memories of our first steps in gardening. Rosaleen Power’s Mother’s primula, by the way, has crossed with a native primrose, Primula veris, planted nearby to give a pleasant new addition to the garden.

John Howley’s Mother’s primula – a form of Primula juliae
Rosaleen Power’s Mother’s primula with the native Primula veris on the right and a seedling between the two in the middle.

This liking for connection in plants lead to my membership of the Irish Garden Plant Society, a group with a particular interest in plant of Irish connection whether raised or found in Ireland or with a connection with an Irish person. One such, which I grow, is Anemone nemerosa ‘Lucy’s Wood’. It is a light blue variation on our native wood anemone and was found by Evelyn Booth, who wrote a flora of Co. Wexford, in the wood of that name near her home in Bunclody. I also have a pink coloured wood anemone which I found on The Burren that I like very much. For the moment, at least, I refer to it as ‘Burren Pink’.

Anemone nemerosa ‘Lucy’s Wood’ – found by Evelyn Booth near Bunclody, Co. Wexford
A pink-flowered form of Anemone nemerosa found on The Burren.

Orchids had been absent from my garden for many years; I had always been reluctant to grow them as I imagined them to be difficult to please. A friend in east Cork had the native dactylorhiza growing in abundance in her garden and gave me a few some years back. They are now established in grass in our garden and have increased well but have also prompted me to try others and I now have a selection which is thriving. Another was added last evening when local gardening friends, Noreen and Ollie, arrived to the meeting with a pot containing a nice clump of an orchid I had admired in their garden during last summer – another favourite has been added to the garden!

A native orchid now settled in grass in the garden.

What is now a particularly fine and beautiful specimen of Cyclamen hederifolium came from Lindy, a friend in Borris. It has especially good foliage and the clearest of white flowers – good white flowers are especially valued in this species. Planted close to it is a small corm of Cyclamen cilicium, a kind and spontaneous gift from a gardener at the Villa Balbianello on Lake Como last autumn. Plants, memories, connections – favourites!

A particularly fine form of Cyclamen hederifolium
A small plant of Cyclamen cilicium from Villa Balbianello, Lake Como, Italy.

Snowdrops have been a particular interest of mine for several years and snowdrops of Irish origin especially so. Few are as treasured as Galanthus ‘Lady Moore’. It was kindly given to me by Miss Rita Rutherfoord and she, in the company of her mother, had received it from Lady Moore herself during the Second World War as they attended a Sale of Work at the Mansion House in Dublin to support the families of those actively involved in the war. It has a wonderful connection with the original grower and was a very kind gift. Galanthus elwesii ‘Keith Lamb’ is a diminutive snowdrop from the garden of the late Dr. Lamb at Clara in Co. Offaly. Again, it was a kind gift and will be treasured for its connection. Harold McBride is a keen breeder of snowdrops, among other choice plants, and his ‘Waverley Little Egret’ is a little beauty he passed on to me in recent years. Good fortune smiled on me when a friend suggested I visit an old garden as he thought there were some interesting snowdrops there. As it turned out, those he considered interesting were relatively common but I came on a small population of yellow-marked Galanthus plicatus. There were three different forms and one is especially good, quite distinct, and waiting to be named.

Galanthus ‘Lady Moore’, a treasured snowdrop
Galanthus elwesii ‘Keith Lamb’
Harold McBride’s Galanthus ‘Waverley Little Egret’
Found in an old garden, a yellow-marked Galanthus plicatus which is presently under the unflattering name “PT01” Friends have suggested “Pacman” as a possible name because of the shape of the marking but I feel something more Irish or to connect with its origins would be more appropriate.

Finally, for this list could go on and on, I have a beautiful form of Trillium chloropetalum which grows especially well and looks quite fabulous in flower each year. It came from a great and most generous friend, Bob Gordon, in Northern Ireland whom many in Irish gardening circles will know well. This is only one of Bob’s many gifts in our garden for I “blame” him for the large number of snowdrop varieties which we grow.

Trillium chloropetalum from Bob Gordon
Trillium chloropetalum from Bob Gordon, an outstanding plant

Plants have a value far beyond their oftentimes fleeting beauty. They recall the kindness and generosity of friends; they connect us with other times and people long gone. This makes them especially treasured and certainly among our favourites.

Paddy Tobin

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

Just for interest – those other two yellow-marked snowdrop finds.








The Saving Grace

Is it better to enter a garden, be immediately bowled over by the experience but be disappointed with the garden as the visit progresses or to begin on a low note, feel a little disappointed, but end with an experience of garden beauty that demands you simply sit, look and attempt, even if this is a vain effort, to take in the magnificence and beauty that is presented to you?

Perhaps, it is better to learn from experience to be patient and to be forgiving, to be less demanding and less critical and to give every garden time to tell its story. I must confess to being quick to judgement, to being influenced by the initial impact of a garden and to being slow, reluctant, stubborn even to ameliorate my opinions. It has been suggested in this household that the Victor Meldrew character in the television programme, “One Foot in the Grave” was undoubtedly based on me or certainly presents a reasonably accurate reflection of my behaviour.

I genuinely do not intend nor wish to be harsh or unreasonably judgmental of gardens I visit but can easily feel disappointed, annoyed and even angry when I have paid for admission and find the garden visited is of a poor standard. My friends should be reassured that I do not carry such demands when I visit their gardens – such occasions are for the pleasure of their company and the sharing of gardening chat and the enjoyment of plants and garden.

The impressive approach to Arley Hall through an avenue of pleached lime trees.


A recent visit to Arley Hall (Cheshire, England) was a mixed experience when some areas delighted me and others disappointed. Given that it is an eight acre garden it is not surprising, I suppose, that some areas will appeal while others will not. The entrance is hugely impressive as one walks through a fabulous avenue of pleached lime trees with a view to the clock tower above the Cruck Barn, dating from 1470. It speaks of  a place well established, well settled and comfortable in itself, of generations who have lived, worked and gardened here and promises that the visit will be enjoyed.

A glimpse of the house and the simple and impressive planting of mophead hydrangeas
The Cruck Barn which dates from 1470

The entrance is via what was once the farmyard and the impressive outbuildings still stand proud and in excellent condition. This yard now has three garden areas wrapped around it – The Flag Garden, The Kitchen Garden and The Walled Garden. Each area in turn disappointed; each had the promise and the facility to be excellent but none reached that standard. The Flag Garden was tired and past its best though a Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Roseum’ grown on the wall was very attractive. The Kitchen Garden was well organised  but also weedy in places – something which irritates me very much! The Walled Garden was in need of rejuvenation with many plants, mainly shrubs and small trees, in need of replacement – the borders were gappy.

The Flag  Garden, a small garden space planted mainly with roses and lavender 
Schizophragma hydrangeoides on the wall of the Flag Garden
The Kitchen Garden
The glasshouse in the kitchen garden 
The Walled Garden
The Walled Garden

The impressive gates of the walled garden led us to an area which at once surprised, delighted and took one’s breath away. Here was one of those rare gardening experiences where one saw genius and beauty combined to perfect effect. It is without doubt the jewel of the gardens at Arley Hall and would a jewel in any garden in the world. It was quite simply outstanding, a combination of structure provided by the yew hedges and the colour of the herbaceous planting. It was a situation where the overall effect far outweighed the sum of the parts and I reflect now that I did not walk the borders to pick out the various plants included in the planting because the individual plants were only  of significance in that they contributed to an overall picture. The gardens were very quiet – only two others that we say – and we sat for a long time in The Alcove to enjoy this marvel of gardening.

The Alcove situated at one end of the herbaceous borders is the perfect place to sit and enjoy the experience. 
The double herbaceous borders 
Truly, fabulously beautiful! 
The Saving Grace – the double herbaceous borders. 

With my spirits raised I moved along to enjoy the Tea Cottage and its garden, built for the children of a previous generation of the family, and the Fish Garden, a small sunken garden and The Ilex Avenue, an impressive planting of clipped hollies. The Rootree was rather a wilderness and I did not dally  before making my way back to the house along the Furlong Walk, a pleasant straight walk with garden to one side and farmland to the other.

The Tea Cottage and its garden
The Ilex Avenue
The Fish Garden

We made a quick visit to the Plant Nursery – closing time was quickly approaching – and found a few nice plants to bring home. Our final impression of Arley Hall was that of the man  who served us in the Plant Nursery who went to generous lengths to ensure our plants were well packaged so as to travel safely on our return journey to Ireland.

Paddy Tobin

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

Members’ Garden Visit: Victor and Roz

Normally, when I am sent photographs of a garden visit by society members I post a small selection on the “Latest News” section of our website  with a short comment to report on the occasion, generally no more than a few sentences as this is what fits best in that location. However, Maeve Bell, Chairperson of the Northern Region of the IGPS, has sent a particularly nice selection of photographs from a recent visit to the garden of Victor and Roz Henry in Belfast. Victor and Roz are IGPS members and also contribute as committee members in the North so I feel I can do more justice to Maeve’s work and to Victor’s and Roz’s garden by showing the material here.

This is Meave’s note to me following the visit:

Hi Paddy, 

We had a very enjoyable visit to Victor and Roz Henry’s garden in Newtownards yesterday despite the most unseasonable weather – heavy downpours, gusts of wind which caused the gazebo for the plant sale to lift off, and a temperature of about 12*C. But IGPS members and their friends are a hardy lot and made the most of the fleeting sunny periods to explore a garden packed with plants, both well known and exotic, and well-chosen interesting detail. Some highlights were the pergola festooned with Rosa ‘Francis E. Lester’, a fabulous cardiocrinum with blooms soaring to about three metres, and a stand of mouth-watering delphiniums in glorious shades of blue. There was a seriously well-stocked plant stall which included a decent selection of Irish cultivars including Dahlia ‘Matt Armour’, Cytissus ‘Donard Gem’, and Primula ‘Rowallane Rose’. And a final touch was the beautiful music played by their ten year old grand-daughter Josie on her harp.

Maeve’s photographs and captions will tell the story far more eloquently than I ever could so, read on and enjoy – and many thanks and a most sincere “Well done!” to Victor and Roz and a big “Thank You” to Maeve, our Roving Reporter in the North!

Victor Roz Henry July 2016  (15)
Victor Henry greeting the visitors as all admire the wonderful delphiniums before the downpour arrived
Victor Roz Henry July 2016  (12)
Adrian Walsh and Carol Dobson ready to check visitors in
Victor Roz Henry July 2016  (2)
IGPS Chairperson, Billy McCone, putting the final touches to a display of Irish plants
Victor Roz Henry July 2016  (5)
Lots of seats on which to pause and enjoy the day
Victor Roz Henry July 2016  (11)
A view from the entrance towards the pool and the summer house. Unfortunately, the parasol was needed more to shelter from the rain than the sun!
Victor Roz Henry July 2016  (16)
Star of the show on the day was this Cardiocrinum giganteum 
Victor Roz Henry July 2016  (8)
The afternoon was enhanced by the lovely harp music played by the Henry’s grand daughter.
Victor Roz Henry July 2016  (6)
Lush plating around the pool, including Zantedeschia aethopica 
Victor Roz Henry July 2016  (7)
This sums up why we all go out whatever the weather to visit interesting gardens.
Victor Roz Henry July 2016  (1)
The mask, representing The Green Man, was a recent introduction to the garden.
Victor Roz Henry July 2016  (4)
At times, the bigger the umbrella the better!
Victor Roz Henry July 2016  (13)
Some visitors: Adrian Walsh from the Northern Committee, Ali Rochford-O’Connor, the newly elected Hon. Sec. with her son,  and Billy McCone, the newly elected Chairperon of the IGPS.
Victor Roz Henry July 2016  (14)
Rosa ‘Francis E. Lester’ in full bloom on the pergola
Victor Roz Henry July 2016  (9)
Exotic planting: A tree fern with a lush under-planting of hostas and Myosotidium hortensia, the Chatham Island Forget-Me-Not.

Many thanks to Victor and Roz for inviting IGPS members to their garden and many thanks to Maeve for her excellent report on the event.

Paddy Tobin

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

Memories in the Trees

Kennedy Park had been a place for us to bring the children when they were young; it had plenty of room for them to walk freely, the pathways suited prams and buggies; it had ducks; there was no traffic and it was very safe.  However, as they grew, our visits became more and more infrequent so a suggestion that we should go there for a walk last Sunday came out of the blue and brought us back the years.

A central vista looking back to the Visitors’ Centre

The arboretum was established as a memorial for President John F. Kennedy and was financed by contributions from Irish Americans and by the Irish government.  The ancestral home of the Kennedys is in Dunganstown, outside New Ross, and the site selected for the park was on the slopes of Slieve Coillte only a few miles away, so a fitting location. The park was established with three objectives: 1. To establish an arboretum – a comprehensive and scientifically laid out collection of trees; 2. To establish a series of forest plots to research the suitability of trees for use in forestry and 3. To establish an amenity park where people could enjoy the outdoors and appreciate the beauty of trees.

The Eucalypts are now fine specimens
The main circuit of the park, well surfaced and easy for walking. There are smaller pathways all along the route. 

The park – I am inclined to refer to it as “Kennedy Park” though I notice it is now signposted as “The JFK Arboretum” – extends to about 620 acres and is laid out with surfaced walkways and pathways with adequate carpark, a reception area, picnic area, coffee shop, children’s play area, large pond and a miniature railway. The viewing point at Slieve Coillte which is 630 feet above sea level is conveniently accessed by road and gives views over Counties Wexford and Waterford, to the Saltee Islands, to the confluence to the Rivers Suir, Nore and Barrow and to the Comeragh Mountains. The arboretum has a collection of approximately 4,500 trees and shrubs and there are about 200 forestry plots. The reception area has informative displays though, I must be honest, I have only ever viewed them when caught by inclement weather as I always preferred to walk the park.

The lake has always been a great attraction for visitors, especially children, who have enjoyed   the ducks where are present in large numbers and are quite tame – anything for an easy meal. 
A peaceful place for family walks. 

It was interesting to return to Kennedy Park after an interval of many years and my reactions to the experience varied. Much was as it had always been – trees are long-lived plants so the general shape of the park was as I had remembered it. It was obvious that renewal and renovation work was being undertaken – groups of trees which when small were planted in big numbers to make an impression were now being thinned out to  allow the better specimens to grow with more space to show their natural shape better.  By contrast, there are display beds of shrubs through the garden and many of these could do with some rejuvenation. Those with berberis and chaenomeles, for example, are very overgrown and the labelling has been lost. There was a delightful large planting of the old Narcissus ‘Van Sion’ or N. telemonius plenus as it was also called and similar large plantings of daffodils would add greatly to the amenity value of the park at this time of year. It would seem that work is in hand to rejuvenate the arboretum and I hope it continues apace as the park is a very popular location for visitors.

The very popular planting companions of slow-growing conifers and heathers of the seventies still look well here. 
A beautiful planting of the old Narcissus ‘Van Sion’ (syn. N. telemonius plenus)

Last Sunday’s visit brought back one important family memory. When visiting the garden in March 1982, Mary took our eldest son out of the car, put him standing on the ground and he took his first steps. It is time to bring the grandchildren to visit, I think.

David's first steps 3
Those first steps! 
David's first steps 2
He’s excited! Don’t the cars look so old-fashioned!  And the quality of the photographs has improved also. 

Paddy Tobin

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