Dancing Dieramas!

Dierama (4)
The view to the dieramas from the house.

Each year the dieramas give a display that I love. They is immediately outside the window of our living room and I can watch the flower heads swing and sway with each puff of breeze. They are planted around a garden pond which is all but hidden when the dieramas are in full flower. They have been in this spot for nearly twenty years and have crossed and self-seeded over that time so that their colours are now very diverse, ranging from almost pure white though mauve, pink, red and purple to burgundy.

Dierama (3)
View to dieramas

Years ago we had a selection of named varieties; those of Irish origin were particularly of interest to us and were treasured but it would now be impossible to separate out these named varieties. The fault lies with me for while I enjoy the swaying flowers I also enjoy the swinging stems bearing the seedpods and over the years they have seeded into themselves and around the area of gravel in which they are planted so that any clump may now have flowers of various colours. It does not bother me; I enjoy them in all their colours whether named varieties or not.

Enjoy the range of colours which results from self- seeding:


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In the last couple of years we have been more diligent in removing the seed-bearing stems. When in seed some stems are weighed to the ground and can be a tripping hazard as my unfortunate wife found to her cost when she tripped and was badly bruised by the fall. As the year progresses the older foliage becomes brown and it can be a nuisance of a job to remove it as it has to be pulled or cut one blade at a time. Impatience and annoyance has lead to the entire clumps being simply cut to the ground with a petrol-driven hedge trimmer. It may seem harsh but they send up new foliage very quickly and it seems to do no damage at all to the health of the plants. Timing is important – it is best done when the seed pods have filled well as this is the final work of the current year’s corms and the new corms will begin to grow immediately following this. So, I believe at any rate and it is a practice which has worked here.

Dierama 'Kilmurry White' (1)
Dierama ‘Kilmurry White’

We have one dierama, a kind gift last year, which we have kept well separate from the others in hope of keeping it true to name. It is the recently introduced Dierama ‘Kilmurry White’, one with pure white flowers from Paul and Orla Woods’ Kilmurry Nursery near Gorey in Co. Wexford. It appears to be a seedling from Dierama dracomontanum, one of the smaller dierama species which generally has brick red flowers. It is an excellent plant, well worth growing, and may lead you to try others in the dierama tribe.

Dierama 'Kilmurry White' (2)
Dierama ‘Kilmurry White’
Dierama 'Kilmurry White' (1)
Dierama ‘Kimurry White’
Dierama 'Kilmurry White' (3)
Dierama ‘Kilmurry White’

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
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.


Rhododendron 'President Michael D. Higgins' (12)
Rhododendron  ‘Michael D. Higgins’ bred my Michael White, Garden Curator at Mount Congreve Gardens in Waterford.
Primula 'Moneygall'
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.


Agapanthus 'Kilmurry Blue'  (1)
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 
Iris chrysographes 'Kilmurry Black'  (2)
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.


Galanthus 'Lady Moore' (2)
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. 
Betula 'White Light' (1)
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





Asters are the Stars!

Asters are the highlight plants of the garden at this moment. They are the ones which shine out and provide outstanding colour as the season is otherwise drawing to a close. They lengthen our season of colour and interest in the garden and are again being appreciated as the wonderful plants they are, easy to grow and maintain, trouble free, a wide selection of excellent cultivars available and keeping the show on the road when most others are fading away.

Aster frikartii 'Monch'
Aster frikartii ‘Monch’

We are unlikely to see displays as were once shown by the Honorary Vicary Gibbs at Aldenham, Hertfordshire, where he had a border of asters which measured 150 metres in length and 15 metres in depth. It must have been a magical display and certainly must have been a late-season border beyond compare.

Their heyday is gone but asters are certainly making a comeback as popular garden plants with the great benefit that the cultivars now available have been developed to be far more disease resistant and, generally, chosen to be more carefree for the gardener with most not requiring staking, for example. Their use by Piet Oudolf in his grass plantings has, perhaps, brought them to attention in recent years and they do combine wonderfully with grasses, especially the taller cultivars such as ‘Little Carlow’.

Aster 'Little Carlow'
Aster ‘Little Carlow’

Alan Bloom, of the famous “Foggy Bottom” in Bressingham, was hugely enthusiastic about asters and used them prolifically in his borders and beds. He will always be associated with the “island bed” which was seen as innovative and daring at the time but also for the extensive range of perennial plants which he bred, introduced and championed and among these asters had a significant presence.  They were favourites also of Gertrude Jekyll and William Robinson in their day.

Aster 'Alma Potschke'
Aster ‘Alma Potschke’

Percy Picton was another great champion of asters and despite a lifetime in horticulture it is, perhaps, his appearance, with Valerie Finnis, on the first gardening programmes to be produced in colour in the early 1970s – oh, my god, but that does date us! – that brought him to a wider audience and national attention. Percy Picton began his career in Sir Thomas Barlow’s garden near Wendover, went on to work for fifteen years with William Robinson at Grevetye Manor when Ernest Markham was head gardener there, worked with the great alpine plant grower, W.E.Th.Ingwersen, when he set up a nursery on land provided by William Robinson, moved to Hagley Court, the garden of Miss Daisy Hopton, and became head gardener there in 1934. On Miss Hopton’s death and the sale of the property he was sought – we would say “headhunted” nowadays – to assist the aging Ernest Ballard in his Old Court Nursery in 1947. Ernest Ballard was an accomplished breeder of asters who had established the Old Court Nurseries in 1906 and Percy reinvigorated the nurseries, propagating the promising aster cultivars in big numbers and also diversifying the range of plants stocked and services offered. Ernest Ballard died in 1952 and his widow kept the nursery until 1956 when she sold it to Percy. The enthusiasm for asters continues at Old Court Nurseries where Percy’s son, Paul, and Paul’s daughter, Helen, produce a wonderful selection of autumn-flowering asters. Such is the pedigree of these two aster enthusiasts and it is no wonder that Timber Press asked them to write “The Plant Lover’s Guide to Asters”.


This is one of a series of such books, “The Plant Lover’s Guide to…” and I have written about others previously. None in the series has failed to impress me but this one has enthused me and I certainly feel a very strong urge to include more asters in the garden. The layout is as in the others of this series, some introductory chapters on “Designing with Asters” and “Understanding Asters” leading to the main body of the book, “101 Asters for the Garden”,  where a selection of the very best is illustrated and described in detail and followed by notes on Growing and Propagation. Everything about the book is excellent but what struck me as outstanding was the introductory descriptive note on each of the selected asters in the main body of the book. Rarely have I seen such succinct, precise and clear descriptions of plants. In a matter of four or five lines, in most cases, the reader knows the outstanding features of the plant in question and will know if it is one which would suit his/her purpose. It is a rare example of perfect descriptive writing. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am deeply in love with asters!

Aster 'Lye End Beauty'
Aster ‘Lye End Beauty’

Two points of interest: We all know Aster frikartii ‘Monch’, possibly the aster which has been most popular in recent years. It was named after a famous peak in Switzerland which I have visited. It was bred by a Carl Ludwig Frikart in 1918 but I hadn’t realised that there were two companion plants named at the same time, the others being ‘Eiger’ and ‘Jungfrau’ and together they are the three famous peaks which form a massive wall overlooking the Bernese Oberland in Switzerland. I have been to the area and have walked (not “climbed” I can assure you) around these peaks and now feel I must seek out all three asters so as to have a memento in the garden of good times spent there. Plants are always better than fridge magnets!

Aster 'Pink Star'
Aster ‘Pink Star’

While reading the book I looked at the availability list for Kilmurry Nursery, near Gorey in Co. Wexford, and found they listed about a dozen asters and all but one were included in the recommended list in this book. So, it is good that they are available to us so conveniently.

So, you have a wonderful book to inform and guide you and a convenient source of these gorgeous plants. Over to you!

The Plant Lover’s Guide to Asters, Paul Picton & Helen Picton, Timber Press, 2015, Hardback, 246 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60469-518-2, £20

Aster - deep purple

Aster - small pink 20120914 (2)

Paddy Tobin

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