The Orchid Hunter

This is book bursting at the binding with enthusiasm and an almost obsessive love of our native orchids. Leif Bersweden, a precocious botanist who fell in love with native wildflowers as a child, was unsuccessful in his initial application for a place at Oxford University and decided to use his gap year to track down and photograph all the native orchids of Great Britain and Ireland in one year (with one forgivable exception, The Ghost Orchid, as it is so very rare) a feat which had not been completed previously.

THE ORCHID HUNTER

The first ticked off his list was the Early Purple Orchid and his last Autumn Lady’s Tresses which, by coincidence, were my own first and last of this past season though I must confess that I didn’t come across the other fifty in between.  Our native orchids are extraordinarily interesting and it is not uncommon for those who take an interest in them to find they are willing to go to some extremes to view one not found previously. With a group of friends I made several such journeys during this past season and one suggested we ought to dub our group the Fellowship Of Orchid Lovers with the appropriate abbreviation of F.O.O.Ls. Leif Bersweden would have been a very welcome member!

Orchis mascula Early Purple Orchid (10)
Orchis mascula, The Early Purple Orchid – the first of his list found by Leif Bersweden

 

His year was certainly a madcap adventure and how wonderful that we have eighteen year olds who have the interest and enthusiasm to do such things. His travels, in a none too reliable car, ranged from the south of England, to Wales and to the north of Scotland, to the Island of Jersey and to Ireland. He has since completed his degree in botany and, with such enthusiasm, I can only imagine and hope he has every success.

As he works his way though his list of orchids and his accounts of finding them we are treated to general historic notes on each species, when it was first recorded, what previous authors and authorities have said about each, the origins of the name and vernacular names applied along with the excitement of the search and the eventual find. We are treated regularly to idyllic bucolic descriptions of the various locations in which he found himself and these read a little a little sweet at times – “Chaffinches were trilling from the hedges and sheep bleated in the fields down in the valley. A barge chugged silently past on the river below cutting a wide “V” shape into the otherwise glass-like water.”

Spiranthes spiralis Autumn Lady's Tresses (40)
Spiranthes spiralis, Autumn Lady’s Tresses – the final orchid of the search. 

The subtitle to the book is “A Young Botanist’s Search for Happiness” might first be assumed to refer to the happiness he would achieve in locating all the orchids but there is a regular parallel narrative through the book where the author expresses his thoughts on personal matters. As a child with an interest in wildflowers he felt apart from his peers and, as a teenager, regrets that his hobby is so often one engaged in alone. He wishes for a friend who might share his interest and had the company of a lady for part of his summer pursuit but, as the saying goes, he blew it. Most will choose this book for what it has to say on orchids – I cannot imagine too many are overly concerned about the author’s happiness though, of course, we would wish him well – and this thread in the book is incongruous. There are also some comments on those who helped and advised him which might kindly be described as juvenile humour where the editor’s red pencil might have been justifiably applied.

This book will be of little use to anybody wishing to learn more about our native orchids; it will certainly not become a book of reference but it will be a light read for those already interested. Indeed, I found the many quotations and references to earlier books especially interesting and enjoyable. Though he mentions taking a very large number of photographs in the course of his adventure, very few are used in the book – one for each species recorded and these gathered as one group in the centre of the book. There is a scattering of line drawing through the book, some illustrating orchids and others various views and vignettes mentioned in the text.

THE ORCHID HUNTER

The author has since completed his degree in botany and considering orchids as a topic for his PhD. It is heartening to see young people taking up botany and Leif Bersweden, with his enthusiasm and single-mindedness, is likely to make significant contributions to the depths of our knowledge in years to come. I wish him the best.

[The Orchid Hunter, A Young Botanist’s Search for Happiness by Leif Bersweden, Short Books, London, 2017, Hardback, 352 pages, £12.99, ISBN: 978-1-78072-334-1]

Paddy Tobin

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

 

 

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The Selection!

Dan Pearson’s book, Natural Selection, draws on ten years of his columns for the Observer newspaper and are arranged in a calendar format, a diary of gardening notes.

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As with all such compilations, the individual parts, while all excellent in themselves, do not add up to a unified book. The organisation of the selected articles into a diary layout is no more than a book format and does not ring true as a genuine recording of events or thoughts. We are then presented with a book which is uncomfortable to read, without a strong thread of thought or theme running through it, with a great deal of repetition and with little of great import to hold the reader. However, it might be said that this reflects the nature of gardening which is series of minor events, often repetitious and humdrum, and joys are generally small but, nonetheless, treasured and enjoyed.

Dan Pearson is enjoying a very successful career as a landscape and garden designer with commissions around the world while he has also been successful as an author and contributor to several national newspapers and magazines. His interest in gardening stems from childhood, the home garden, two parents who were keen gardeners and a neighbour who was an inspiration.  While professionally successful he continues to find time and enjoyment in his own gardens, one a city garden and the other rural, and many of the entries report on plans, progress and plants in these.

What might be considered significant is that while Dan Pearson is a very successful professional gardener, he still gets great pleasure from what we might consider the more mundane aspects of gardening. He delights in developing his new garden in Somerset, in the discovery of the features of his new plot, in the clearing of ground, the selection of plants, their first appearance and flowering, the planning, dreaming, digging, successes and failures that are all part of the making of a garden. So, it is perhaps the insight the book gives us into Dan Pearson, the person, which is significant here rather than the book’s contents for gardening is a simple pastime, with small pleasures, and it can be enjoyed by amateur and professional alike.

As with our gardening this is a book to be read a little at a time – to attempt to read it cover to cover will ruin it for the reader. And, as with your gardening, be patient and take it bit by bit, section by section and in a relaxed manner.

[Natural Selection, A Year in the Garden, Dan Pearson, Guardian Book/Faber and Faber, 2017, Hardback, 421 pages, £20, ISBN: 978-1-78335-117-6]

Paddy Tobin

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

 

Gardening for Wildlife

The countryside is no longer the haven for wildlife that it once was. Changes in how land is used and managed along with other factors have lead to an alarming fall in the population of all wildlife species. Accommodating the needs of wildlife into how we manage our gardens may smack of desperation and futility but not to do so will have far reaching consequences not alone for wildlife but also for the planet and for us.

The enthusiastic gardener will be immediately reassured by the author’s introductory chapter which dispels several commonly held misconceptions or “myths” as he calls them about adapting our gardens to suit wildlife. All need not go to nettles, brambles and of rotting log piles and every garden, of whatever gardening approach or style, has something to offer and every gardener can add to their garden in many simple ways so that the space around the house is even more beneficial to wildlife. This book will show you how to do this.

Gardening for Wildlife

The author recalls the experience of one person who gardened with wildlife in mind. Jennifer Owen has an average suburban garden in Leicester and set out to identify and record every species she encountered in the garden. Over the course of thirty years she met with 2,673 species, among these were 94 species of hoverfly, 375 species of moths and 442 species of beetles. She even came on one little wasp which was a species new to science – a first record and that was in a small garden. We really don’t know what lives all around us!

There are four sections in the book. The first deals with various wildlife groups – birds, butterflies, bees, moths and mammals – and outlines their habitat, food needs and how we might provide such in our gardens. Not surprisingly, greater attention is given to birds as they are the  most popular of our wildlife groups, being more visible, generally pretty and often entertaining – and useful to the gardener when they remove another range of wildlife – garden pests!

Another section gives guidelines for creating different habitats – woodland, shrubland, wildflower meadows, wetland and ponds along with recommendations for compost making and keeping compost heaps and all this in a manner which seeks to accommodate wildlife within existing garden areas. In other words, the author does not call for a demolition of our existing garden but rather some tweaks within this framework which would be of benefit to wildlife – and to the gardener, I think.

We are given a listing, with illustration and description along with benefits for wildlife, of the top 500 plants we might use in our garden to benefit wildlife and also a calendar of gardening for wildlife.

All in all this is a book which is well organised, well presented, and very attractive. The information is presented in a very easily accessible manner which makes the book a very convenient source of information and the illustrations are perfectly clear which is a wonderful help to recognising and identifying many of the species we may encounter on our patches. Perhaps this was not the immediate aim of the author but one could quickly become proficient at identifying quite a wide range of birds, insects etc from reading this book and that is may be the start of a lifelong interest.

This is a good book with the important message that we can, through many small ways, have a very positive effect on our environment and the creatures which inhabit it with us.

[Gardening for Wildlife, Adrian Thomas, Bloomsbury Publishers, London, 2017, Hardback, 288 pages, £25, ISBN: 978-1-4729-3857-2]

Paddy Tobin

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

 

Three Wishes

Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wishes’ was a chance seedling in the garden of Wendy Smith in Victoria, Australia. As she is an enthusiastic salvia grower there were several candidates which might have been the parents but a Salvia buchananii x Salvia splendens cross seems the most likely, the first contributing the deep magenta colour and the latter the dramatic calyxes.

Salvia 'Wendy's Wishes'2
Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wishes’ 

 

Salvia specialist Sue Templeton recognised that it was an outstanding plant and suggested to Wendy that she have the plant patented, a process which was handled for her by Plants Management Australia, a licensing and marketing company which manages the protection and introduction of new plant varieties across the globe. This arrangement ensured that a portion of the proceeds of each sale returned to Wendy Smith and she arranged that it be donated to the Australian Make-a-Wish Foundation, an organisation which makes wishes come true for children with life-threatening, chronic illnesses.

Gardeners worldwide fell in love with Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wishes’ and the reaction to its philanthropic aspect inspired Plants Management Australia to repeat it with two subsequent cultivars.

A sport with bright coral-coloured flowers arose on a plant of Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wishes’ in one of Plant Grower’s Australia’s nurseries. They wished to continue the contributions to Make-a-Wish Australia but also added to the publicity – and very significantly to the income – by auctioning the rights to name this new plant. Paul and Lyn Shegog, from Tasmania, won the auction and named the plant in memory of their teenage children Emma and Brett who had died from an incurable genetic condition – Salvia ‘Ember’s Wish’.

 

Salvia 'Ember Wishes'
Salvia ‘Ember’s Wish’ 

The third in the series came as a result of the deliberate breeding efforts of John Fisher who lives in Orange, New South Wales, Australia. He sought to produce salvias in new colours and used ‘Wendy’s Wishes’ as one of his parent plants. He was also enthusiastic about the support which Plants Management Australia gave to the Make-a-Wish Foundation; named the plant Salvia ‘Love and Wishes’ and contributed a portion of the proceeds from sales to the foundation also.

Salvia 'Love 'n' Wishes' (5)
Salvia ‘Love and Wishes’ 

 

While we can enjoy these salvias in our gardens it adds to the pleasure that they also support a very worthy cause.

Paddy Tobin

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

 

Much More than Sketches!

There is so much more than botanical sketchbooks in this volume that the title does it an injustice. This is one of those treasure troves of a book where every page brings a new delight, new fascination and new interest – Botanical Sketchbooks by Helen and William Bynum

Botanical Sketchbooks 2
Image courtesy of Thames & Hudson

Quite simply, the book is a collection of pages from the botanical sketchbooks of a myriad of botanical artists showing, in the main, those early drawings, early recordings which all artists do in preparation for a complete work later on in the better conditions of their studio. Even at this level it is fascinating to see how the various artists worked with pencil or ink sketches and added notes for colour and reminders of where and when a plant was seen and, with some, entries more akin to diary notes and all are fascinating.

Botanical Sketchbooks 4
Image courtesy of Thames & Hudson

It is the range of artists, the breadth of plants from those local to us to the most exotic imaginable, the worldwide countries included from South Africa to South America, Australia to China and, it seems, everywhere any anywhere in between. The collection is truly eclectic and each entry seems to open a window into a person, a plant, a time and a place all fascinating and beautiful. This book went far, far, far beyond my expectations and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I am not an artist and one need not be to enjoy this book as its contents range so well beyond botanical art that it will have a general appeal to anybody with an interest in gardening. I recommend it highly.

Botanical Sketchbooks 3
Image courtesy of Thames & Hudson

The authors, Helen and William Bynum, historians of science and medicine, present over 80 artists from around the world from the 15th to the 20th century organised into four main sections, each with its own set of sub-sections, which serve to group the artists in a manner more accessible to the reader. Each entry is relatively short with copious space given to the illustrations which are the heart of the book and these are the raw, immediate and spontaneous notes and sketches of the artists which, of course, are all material we would never see but that the authors sourced them from various repositories and libraries – the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew being a major source of their material.

Botanical Sketchbooks 1
Image courtesy of Thames  Hudson

There is an endless stream of interesting people, places and plants which will fascinate the reader and open the door to other times and ways. Pierre Joseph Redoute left his home in Belgium at the age of thirteen and spent the next ten years of his life as an itinerant artist! John Doody was transported to Australia following his conviction for forgery but was immediately taken on by Captain William Paterson to record the natural history of the Norfolk Islands. Ferdinand Bauer seems to have been the first to “paint by numbers” as he developed a colour chart which he brought with him and used it to record the colour of plants in the field and could then refer to it on return to his studio where he had notes on how to recreate that colour accurately. Francis Bauer was the first resident botanical artist at Kew Gardens with a salary of £300 per annum and had the title “Botanick painter to His Majesty”. William Hood Fitch was brought to Kew by William Hooker and, along with his work at Kew, contributed almost 3,000 illustrations to Curtis’s Botanical Magazine and has a total of 12,000 of his images published.

Albrect Durer’s “The Great Piece of Turf” is one of the few final paintings included in the book and it is truly both beautiful and captivating and is an example of the present day approach in botanical art to present faithfully accurate depictions of plants in a beautiful manner, “finding a balance between the realistic depiction of plants and the artist’s aesthetic vision”.

[Botanical Sketchbooks, Helen and William Bynum, Thames & Hudson, London, 2017, Hardback, 296 pages, £29.95, ISBN: 978-0-500-51881-6]

Available to purchase online at Thames & Hudson  

Paddy Tobin

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

Dream Gardens

They dream of finding an abandoned house in a wild garden and then plan in great detail what they will do with it. They are Isabel and Julian Bannerman. I have visited one of their gardens, Hanham Court near Bath, which was their home for many years and can say that they made that reality a dream. We visited this year when the garden was open under the National Garden Scheme, our first visit after settling into our hotel in Cirencester for a week of English gardens and could not have asked for a better start to our holiday nor a more wonderful garden in which to spend an afternoon.

Hanham Court (26)
Hanham Court

After reading their book, Landscape of Dreams, I can see that they repeated their dreams very successfully and beautifully in many other locations. Not all were abandoned houses in wild gardens but the gardens certainly benefited from the Bannerman attention. Yes, they dream and they dream big so that some may say their treatment of gardens may be over the top but I can only say that I found them imaginative, flamboyant, exuberant and places of great beauty.

Hanham Court (17)
Hanham Court
Hanham Court (10)
Hanham Court

They dream on a big scale, they plan on a big scale, they build on a big scale and garden on a big scale but they work on houses and grounds which accommodate such grandness and all seems in scale and appropriate. It is a dream world; it can appear crazy at times but it is beautiful.

Most will have heard of their contribution to the Prince of Wales garden at Highgrove, the stumpery being most publicised. We visited Highgrove during our week in England and felt it was one garden which confined their creativity, cramped their style and left their creations rather claustrophobically jammed too close together. However, a commission for the Prince of Wales does open many doors and, while it was not their best work, it may well have been most to their advantage.

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Hanham Court
Hanham Court (1)
Hanham Court
Hanham Court (4)
Hanham Court

There is an account of their work at Highgrove, along with fourteen other gardens, and their garden at the Chelsea Flower Show in 1994 each well illustrated with photographs and details of the site, their proposed plans, subsequent discussions, the progress of the work and the completed projects. We are introduced to the clients, made privy to the interaction between client and designers and given details of the ups and downs of the projects. Indeed, the book might be described as the designers’ notebook or diary and it is a very enjoyable read.

Hanham Court (63)
The Meadow at Hanham Court
Hanham Court (76)
The Meadow at Hanham Court

The Bannermans do the British garden perfectly with follies of architectural salvage, faux-stone garden features recreated in green English oak, rose-clad buildings and lavish plantings. They create the dream English garden wonderfully and we can enjoy the dream in this dream of a book.

And their dream goes on since they moved to Trematon Castle in Cornwall and this garden is also described in the book: Landscape of Dreams, The Gardens of Isabel and Julia Bannerman, Pimpernel Press 2016, Large-format Hardback, 297 pages, ,£5, ISBN: 978-1-910258-60-6

Paddy Tobin

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

 

 

What were they thinking?

How often have you looked at a designed landscape and wondered what had inspired the creator to develop the area in this particular way! This book has been both a revelation and a comfort as there are times when the source of inspiration may be clear and obvious – for example, when the garden is an obvious reflection of its surroundings – while at others it can be quite obtuse as when the designer, in search of inspiration, delves into childhood experiences of which, of course, we could have no knowledge and, so, are unable to be in a position to interpret their design.

The Inspired Landscape

The designs, twenty one in total, discussed in this book are outside the experience of the vast majority of gardeners and while I have referred to them as “gardens” above it would be more accurate to call them “landscape designs”. They are far from the domestic in their dimensions, scale and impact and are truly impressive, awe-inspiring and works of art in themselves. The gardener of domestic experience could well be puzzled by them but Susan Cohan’s book provides a wonderful, insightful and very interesting insight into what lay behind these landscapes; what it was that inspired each designer.

Some were pleasantly obvious and, to me, comfortable: Shlomo Aronson’s design at the Ben-Gurion University of the Neger, Beersheba, Israel is directly inspired by the surrounding desert landscape, for example, while Charles Jencks’ design for the Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centre, Inverness, based on dividing human cells is not immediately obvious. Likewise, without being informed, it is not obvious that Tom Stuart-Smith’s box parterres in the walled garden at Broughton Grange are based on a microscopic picture of the cells of leaves. Some designers carry on in the style of local gardening traditions, others look to other garden designers for inspiration (is this copying?) while sculpture, plant form, even clothing patterns have inspired others. Some look to the past, – history, myths and legends – while others can impressively embrace the past and bring in along into the present and into the future, such as Peter Latz’s Landscape Park in Duisboury Nord, Germany, where he took a derelict industrial area of vast scale and, rather than clearing the area to begin on a blank canvas, kept as much as possible or ore bunkers, railway tracks and immense walls and made garden spaces within them which have served the community splendidly.

Each project is well illustrated with initial sketches and plans, design drawings and photographs with an outline of the journey from inspiration to completion. The author’s interviews with the various designers have provided an insight into an area with which I would be otherwise unfamiliar and have made the reading of these landscapes very enjoyable indeed. This is an excellent book to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace and includes work by:

  • Shlomo Aronson, Sheila Brady, and James Burnett
  • Gilles Clément, Gary Hilderbrand, and Charles Jencks
  • Mary Margaret Jones, Mikyoung Kim, and Peter Latz
  • Shunmyo Masuno, Signe Nielsen, and Cornelia Hahn Oberlander
  • Laurie Olin, Ken Smith, and Stephen Stimson
  • Tom Stuart-Smith, Christine Ten Eyck, and Ryoko Ueyama
  • Kim Wilkie, Thomas Woltz, and Kongjian Yu

 

 [The Inspired Landscape, Susan Cohan,Timber Press, 2016, Hardback, 272pp, £35, ISBN: 9781604694390]

Paddy Tobin

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