A “Blooming Marvellous” Book!

Zoë Devlin has never lost that childhood delight in the beauty of nature whether it be the excitement of seeing a flower new to her, being entranced once again by the daintiness of a daisy or the fluttering beauty of a butterfly – “wisps of aerial delight”.

Her childhood love of wildflowers developed into a lifelong pastime and in her “retirement” years it has become an all consuming passion which has her travelling to all corners of the country in search of our natural wildflower beauties.

Blooming Marvellous.indd

What runs through the book is the excitement of it all, of this love of nature, the sense of joy and happiness which is intricately bound up in Zoë’s adventures – “something like a Christmas Eve as a child, the stocking at the end of the bed, hopes high as a house.”  As she says, “It was pure magic!”

The book is arranged by the months of the year with each month introduced by a note on the origin of the month’s name, a spread on the butterflies “on the wing” at the appropriate months and then to her first love, the plants…but not as we might know them. These are all plants with stories, with memories, with recollections and connections, with adventures and misadventures, with people and places; each, especially the first encounter, irrevocably etched in her memory and recounted here with an infectious and entertaining humour.

Blooming Marvellous (3)
“On the Wing in September” 

A visit to the Rock of Cashel was significant only because “there was a beautiful Rue-leaved Saxifrage on top of one of the walls there.” The office staff war game came to a sudden end when she spotted an Early Purple Orchid and left her boss undefended – his demise did not reflect well on her. Picnic entertainment has varied from watching a prancing stoat to a horse being shampooed in a river. Pete, her constant companion, husband and roadie on her treks, was the one who stood to ward off bulls or feed donkeys with Marietta biscuits though his actions shocked her on one occasion. I could not repeat the circumstances of her finding her first Fly Orchid on The Burren but she certainly would not wish to have had the occasion photographed. There are many, many “added value” moments in this book – along with the beautiful descriptions and photographs there are the personal stories that bring such things to life and make them memorable and even more enjoyable.

Blooming Marvellous (9)
The Cowslip – a childhood favourite for Zoë Devlin

She credits and recalls those who inspired her generously: her grand-aunt, the watercolourist, Gladys Wynne; her cousin Dr. Kathleen Lynn and another grand-aunt Winifrede Wynne who introduced Primula ‘Julius Caesar’ which I grow in my garden and now value all the more as I hadn’t realised its connection with Zoë. She also thankfully acknowledges the assistance she has received from many other plant enthusiasts, for she is one of a network of friends who keep each other informed of current flowerings and notes of locations.

Blooming Marvellous (5)
The Marsh Helleborine – one of those plants which send shivers of delight when found

Plants evoke memories and childhood recollections for Zoë and this calendar of anecdotes brings together fond and happy days over her lifetime and, given the interconnectedness of nature, it ranges beyond flowers to birds, insects, history, herbal practices, literature and poetry. Invasive plants are a concern and the children of today are her hope for the future – introduce them to flowers with a hand lens, she recommends, and they will be enthralled by their detail and beauty. Her love of flowers has lead her to make a wildflower meadow at home and also elderflower  cordial, jams, tarts and sloe gin but Pete baulked at her Ramsons pesto – there is only so much a loving husband can endure!

Blooming Marvellous (6)
Blue-eyed Grass – one which delights all wildflower lovers

Though this book is very informative for the plant lover it is above all a collection of light-hearted and humorous tales from Zoë, arranged in a style which allows one to dip in for a short read or to see what might be of interest in any particular month. Above all it is infected with her enthusiasm and love of plants and it is a delight to read.

[Blooming Marvellous – A Wildflower Hunter’s Year, Zoë Devlin, The Collins Press, 2017, Hardback, 295 pages, €16.99, ISBN: 978-1-84889-327-6]

Available online at The Collins Press

Also by Zoë Devlin:


Paddy Tobin

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






The Fools’ Outing

There is available to us all the most wonderful nature reserve and wildflower preservation area and these are on the verges of our national road network. Many of these roads have wide verge and some have wonderfully steep banks. These latter are especially excellent as their slope makes grass cutting too awkward  and wildflowers are allowed to grow naturally. These areas are, in fact, the closest we have in most areas of the country to the natural meadows of days now long gone. Of course, they do lack grazers and cannot be maintained in the traditional manner of old meadows  – though we still see the occasional horse grazing the long acre!

Roadside - site of Ophrys apifera Bee Orhid (1)
Roadside verges and banks can be rich in wildflowers

Roadside - site of Ophrys apifera Bee Orhid (4)

Many local authorities – perhaps, being clever and adopting a present gardening fashion for wildflower meadows – have stopped cutting the grass on these verges. This certainly must save them a great deal of time and money and clearly fulfills their brief of caring for wildlife, wildflowers etc. I do hope it becomes a widespread practice to leave the verges to nature. I can understand the need to prevent the growth on the verges tumbling on to the roadway and see the sense in maintaining a narrow strip immediately to the side of the road but leaving the remainder to its own devices.

These roadside verges can be home to some of our most scarce and most elusive wildflowers. A few weeks back the telephone and Facebook Messenger was busy with reports of a population of an especially interesting and rare variety of the fabulous Bee Orchid. It began with the information that it had been spotted on a roadside in Co. Tipperary some years back. I mentioned this to an enthusiast who lived in the general area and he began his search and it wasn’t long before he found a plant, and another, and another until he realised he had found a significant population. The word went out and we were off! The Fools’ Outing! Four senior and one junior member – it is such a joy to see a junior member, the future lifeblood of any group!

Ophrys apifera var. chlorantha (25)
Ophrys apifera var. chlorantha – a pale form of the Bee Orchid

Ophrys apifera var. chlorantha (18)

Ophrys apifera var. chlorantha (26)

Sat. nav. coordinates make arriving at an exact location such a doddle these days and we pulled into the road verge within steps of our quarry. I am old, retired, and at times think I am very silly and foolish to be so delighted by the sight of a pretty little flower but I also consider myself very fortunate that such a little thing can make me so very happy. It is a childish feeling, the joy of discovery and the marvelling at the beauty of nature and I hope it remains with me forever. I noted that the other Fools were just as happy and delighted as I was so I was in good company!

Our friend had brought us to a population of Ophrys apifera variety chlorantha – a pale variety of the Bee Orchid. The Bee Orchid delights everybody who sees it – a flower that has developed to resemble a bee so as to attract the bees to come and pollinate it. Such a clever ingenious development, truly amazing! The more common Bee Orchid is quite strongly marked while this variety is much more pale. Sand dunes seems to be an especially good location to see Bee Orchids and steep road verges with good drainage and less than lush grass growth seem to offer the conditions they require also.

Ophrys apifera (6)
This is the Bee Orchid, Aphrys apifera, a wonderfully designed and coloured flower

Ophrys apifera (9)

Ophrys apifera (8)
The daisies give a good indication of the size of the Bee orchid – quite a small thing and it can be difficult to spot but after spotting one your eye seems to easily find another and another.

We ooooed and aaaaaaawwwed these pale Bee Orchids for a considerable time and took photographs of each and every one of them from every possible angle so that we could revisit the occasion later on our laptop screens. Passers-by must have wondered what we were up to – people lying on the grassy verge pointing cameras, seemingly, at the ground.

We explored further along this stretch of road and found a good population of the usual Bee Orchid as well as small numbers of Western Marsh Orchid, Common Spotted and Pyramidal Orchid as well as the uncommon broomrapes. We have had reports – from our intrepid explorer of this area – of a very healthy and numerous population of the Pyramidal Orchid not too far away on the road.

Here are a number of our other finds along this roadside:

Anacamptis pyramidalis Pyramidal orchid (2)
Pyramidal orchid, Anacamptis pyramidalis 
Dactylorhiza fuchsii Common Spotted Orchid (34)
Common Spotted Orchis, Dactylorhiza fuchsii
Dactylorhiza fuchsii Common Spotted Orchid White (2)
A nearly pure white variant of the Common Spotted orchid
Neottia ovata Common Twayblade (10)
Common Twayblade – Neottia ovata
Neottia ovata Common Twayblade (13)
Common Twayblade – Neottia ovata 
Dactylorhiza occidentalis Western Marsh Orchid (2)
Western Marsh Orchid – Dactylorhiza occidentalis. This is a species which grows only in Ireland. Note: We did wonder about the identification of this orchid when we were at the site and I have received a comment that it might be of mixed blood – something common among the Dactylorhizas. It would appear it has some Common Spotted Orchid blood in it.

These road verges are treasure troves of wildflowers and provide some of the last remaining areas of undisturbed land where they may flourish. I don’t imagine it would be a great challenge for local authorities or the national road authority to maintain these verges in a manner necessary for road safety yet suitable for these wonderful wildflowers.

Oooh, “Fools”?  The Fellowship of Old Orchid Lovers!  We may as well laugh at ourselves as we enjoy life!

Paddy Tobin


Post Scriptum: By coincidence, I read this article from the Irish News of a great success in Northern   Ireland.

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On the Edge!

The Burren is a plant lover’s paradise, an area of outstanding scenic beauty and so a joy to all who visit. When the opportunity arises we jump at the chance to visit, enjoy the long walks and search out the many wildflowers which we could see nowhere else in the country – indeed, one might more readily expect to see some of the plants here on The Alps or the Arctic tundra rather than in other areas of Ireland.

View Limestone Pavement  (1)
A roadside area of grassland south of Fanone on The Burren, Co. Clare, an area rich in plants
View Limestone Pavement  (4)
A stretch of limestone pavement which may appear an inhospitable place for plants but is actually teeming with interesting species.

After driving from Waterford recently we were walking along the coastline south of Fanore by half past eleven among Sea Thrift, Sea Campion, Thyme, Rock Samphire, Kidney Vetch, Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Hemp Agrimony, Lousewort, Common Dog-Violet, Bloody Crane’s Bill, Mountain Everlasting, Common Milkwort, Heath Spotted-Orchid and many others and all with wonderful views of seaside, cliffs, spreading limestone pavements and in perfect weather. The selection of plants which are literally at one’s feet within a few steps of parking the car is quite astonishing and a perfect treat.

A small selection of plants in this area: Clockwise from top left: Common Milkwort, Spring Gentian, Bloody Cranesbill, Lousewort and Sea Thrift with Bird’s Foot Trefoil 

Dactylorhiza maculata subsp. erictorum Heath Spotted-Orchid is a feature plant of this area

We drove to the car park at Fanore Strand – a fabulous location for Sheep’s Bit Scabious later in the season – and then headed off on The Fanore Loop Walk which quickly takes one off the coast and uphill on a minor road for about two miles where it meets with one of The Burrens “Green Roads” which leads north across the limestone hillside before descending to the Caher River Valley, and the road leads back to Fanore. The walk is estimated to take two and a half to three hours but generally takes us longer as I stop every few steps to photographs flowers. Well, this is understandable when one comes across delicious groups of the Spring Gentian, Mountain Avens, Water Avens and a super abundance of the Early Purple Orchid many of which are pink and we have found the occasional white one.

Along the Green Road on the Fanore Loop Walk with limestone pavement to either side, clint and gryke, and views to the sea and the Arran Islands. 

With, clockwise from top left:  Early Purple Orchids – three different colour forms shown here – Water Avens, Mountain Avens and Spring Gentians and all in great numbers and easy to find 

Back on the Caher Valley road we made our way back towards Fanore but, as the road passes Carl Wright’s Caher Bridge Garden, we dropped if for a visit. It was not part of our plan as we were to be back in Limerick for dinner but when we saw Carl we couldn’t miss the opportunity for a chat and walk around. As ever, it was a delight to visit with many interesting plants and the whole garden a fabulous creation made on The Burren limestone pavement.  We eventually got to that dinner, well over an hour late, and were the last to leave the restaurant late that night. A lovely end to a wonderful day!

Caher Bridge Gardens, Carl Wright’s creation on The Burren.

On the following day we drove to Doolin and parked the car there – I recommend parking on Fisher Street as it is very convenient to the Cliffs of Moher walkway and also to the bus stop for, The Paddy Wagon, to take us to the Visitors’ Centre at the Cliffs of Moher. This is a twenty minute or so drive at 6 Euro per person which I thought was good value for the convenience it provided – linear walks can be a nuisance as there is always the difficulty of returning to the car. The Cliffs of Moher hardly need my recommendation as they are so well known and so justifiably highly regarded and live up to the hype and praise they receive as they are jaw-droppingly impressive and beautiful.

As a cliff-top walk it was no surprise to see Sea Thrift and Sea Campion in profusion but it was spectacular to see them in such number and making such a pretty addition to the views.  Along the way there were also generous patches of orchids and even an early Sheep’s Bit Scabious.  It is quite a competition for one’s senses on this walk with the challenge of fabulous views and interesting flowers. The stretch of the walk nearer to Fanore featured Sea Mayweed, Common Scurvy Grass, Tormentil and the ever attractive Ragged Robin. It is an easy, interesting and very pleasant walk.

Armeria maritima Sea Thrift and Silene uniflora Sea Campion with cliff views  (2)
Sea Thrift providing a beautiful foreground to the view of the Cliffs of Moher

Along the Cliffs of Moher

If you haven’t been to The Burren and wonder where to start you could do as we did on our first visit and join Tony Kirby of Heart of The Burren Walks for a guided walk. Our first visit to The Burren was a weekend special organised by The Old Ground Hotel in Ennis – a fabulous hotel, by the way – when Tony came and gave an introductory talk on the Friday evening and collected us in a minibus on Saturday morning, with packed lunch provided by the hotel. We had our walks, a picnic, and were brought back to the hotel for dinner. This was repeated on the Sunday.  We have repeated this arrangement several times since with The Old Ground Hotel for accommodation but making our own arrangements for the walks. Tony has a very helpful handbook guide to The Burren with information on a range of walks which is an excellent resource.

So, put on your walking boots and enjoy the experience.

Paddy Tobin

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