Heritage Irish Plants Launch – Opening Remarks by Martyn Rix

On November 22 2016 the Irish Society of Botanical Artists and the Irish Garden Plant Society had the great honour of welcoming Martyn Rix to the National Botanic Gardens. Martyn had generously accepted the invitation to come to launch Heritage Irish Plants – Plandaí Oidhreachta. As the time for speeches approached, the crowd of attentive gardeners, artists and guests crammed into the gallery that held stacks of books and catalogues along with the 62 paintings used to illustrate the latest book to celebrate Irish plants and horticulture. As the large attendance inhibited our ability to take in all that Martyn had to say I asked if he would, in the modern sense, put pen to paper for us. And he did.

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Martyn Rix at the opening of the Heritage Irish Plants/Plandaí Oidhreachta exhibition in November 2016 at which he launched the book.

Martyn began with by remembering that some of his most enjoyable and formative years were spent at Trinity College Dublin and when reading the introduction to the book he remarked that …

I was interested in the story that Charles Nelson tells about the Provost Mahaffy, a great classicist and fancier and collector of snowdrops. On a visit to Athens in 1884, Mahaffy collected an Autumn-flowering snowdrop which Frederick Burbidge, the director of the Trinity College botanic garden in Ballsbridge, named Galanthus rachelae, after Mahaffy’s elder daughter. It was growing on Mount Hymettus, east of Athens, then covered in spiny Euphorbia acanthothamnos (spiny cushion). Even in classical times, Hymettus was famous for its honey, and the spurge is a great source of honey in early spring.

Euphorbia acanthothamnos pm1

Euphorbia acanthothamnos, Peter A. Mansfeld via Wikimedia Commons

A few years later, Mahaffy visited Mount Athos, famous for its monasteries, and collected another snowdrop, which was named after his younger daughter, Elsa.  This was a dwarf, early-flowering Galanthus reginae-olgae.  Both were planted at Glasnevin but by 1948, even Lady Phylis Moore–Irish gardener and wife of the Director of the botanic gardens at Glasnevin, Dublin–could find no trace of either. 

It was then that we see the logic in the Irish Society of Botanical Artists and the Irish Garden Plant Society desire to have Martyn Rix launch the new book. Martyn Rix is the current Editor of Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, the longest running botanical periodical. Through this work and his many other publications he has built an incredible knowledge of the art of plant portraiture. Martyn continued…

Rachel’s snowdrop is, however, preserved as a painting by E.A. Bowles (an early snowdrop enthusiast) in the Royal Horticultural Society’s Lindley Library, and this would be a guide to anyone who might rediscover the original clone surviving in an Irish garden.

Curtis’s Botanical Magazine has been a source of paintings of wild plants in cultivation, since its inception by William Curtis in London in 1789.  Initially most of the flowers illustrated were grown in the Chelsea Physic Garden, or in Curtis’s own botanic garden in South Kensington,  but from an early date, Ireland provided some of the models. Charles Nelson has identified one of the earliest, dating from 1810. This was Leptospermum lanigerum, from the east coast of Australia, grown in the Dublin Society’s garden at Glasnevin, which had been founded in 1795.

In the 1830s William Hooker, then in Glasgow, took over the editorship of the magazine, and again obtained plants from Glasnevin, notably those collected by John Tweedie in the Argentine between 1836 and 1854. Twelve of Tweedie’s introductions are illustrated in the magazine; Tweedie is remembered by Tweedia coerulea, an Asclepiad with flowers of a unique shade of pale greenish blue. It is more correctly known today as Oxypetalum coeruleum.

Oxypetalum caeruleum

Oxypetalum caeruleum By Kurt Stüber via Wikimedia Commons

Tweedie also introduced the wonderfully scented Sinningia tubiflora.

Sinningia tubiflora illustration

Sinningia tubiflora illustration by Swallowtail Garden Seeds from Santa Rosa, California via Wikimedia Commons

A less familiar Illustrator’s name is then introduced to us by Martyn…

One Dublin-born artist has, until now, received little recognition. He is A.F. Lyndon (1836-1917),  who travelled widely in Bermuda and New Brunswick in particular,  before settling in Driffield in Yorkshire, to work for the engraver and publisher Benjamin Fawsett.  Lyndon drew the illustrations for Lowe’s Our Native Ferns, and Beautiful-leaved Plants, as well as the Revd. William Houghton’s British Freshwater Fishes.

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One of Lyndon’s illustrations for British Freshwater Fishes by Rev. William Houghton

It is then that the setting of the National Botanic Gardens for the launch and as a ‘home’ for both Societies is broadened…

While the Hookers, father and son, were directors of Kew for the last 70 years of the 19th century, the reign of the Moores at Glasnevin lasted 84 years, from 1838 until 1922. The elder Moore is remembered in Crinum moorei, introduced from Natal, and illustrated in Curtis’s magazine in 1863.  Large clumps of the original plants still thrive at Glasnevin.

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Crinum moorei from Brendan Sayers. 

The last of the Moores was Lady Phylis Moore, much younger than her husband, who died in 1949, and who was still spoken of in hallowed terms by gardeners in Ireland in the 1960s, though, sadly, I never met her.

W.E. Trevithick (1899-1958) contributed around 60 plates to Curtis’s Botanical Magazine. He was born when his father was head gardener to Lord Headfort in his great garden near Kells. The white, scented Rhododendron headfortianum was painted from the garden, as well as Lilium formosanum and Tsuga chinensis. His son, also William Edward, was a gardener at Headfort from the age of 13, then at Glasnevin, and finally at Kew, where he worked in the herbarium.

It is not only the mention of orchids, a particular favourite plant family of mine but also the move to more recent history that made me even more attentive to Martyn’s words…

Orchids were a particular favourite of the younger Sir Frederick Moore, and I remember the wonderful display in the glasshouses at Glasnevin in the 1960s, when I came to Dublin to read botany at Trinity under David Webb. Another speciality were the hanging baskets of Dampiera, formerly Clianthus formosus, with silver leaves and striking red and black flowers.

In these years Lord Talbot de Malahide was building up his collection at Malahide Castle, and was a friendly host for lunch on Sunday, followed by a tour of the garden and tea upstairs in the drawing room, presided over by his sister Rose. Many of his plants came from the Malahide estate in Tasmania, and were the models for paintings by Margaret Stones, the great Australian flower painter, in the Endemic Flora of Tasmania. He also grew plants from other areas, and I collected seeds for him in Turkey and Iran, with Gillie Walsh-Kemmis and Michael Walsh in 1968 and, with Audrey Napper from Loughcrew, in 1969.

Wendy Walsh and her family were also great hosts, as well as being very artistic.  It was when Michael was working in Kiribati, in the South Pacific, in 1970, that Wendy visited him and began painting flowers again.  As well as her paintings for Irish postage stamps, she painted several plants for Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, including Iris lazica, which Michael had collected in Turkey, and Deutzia purpurascens ‘Alpine Magician’, collected by Reginald Farrer in Burma in 1919, and preserved at Glasnevin.

Wendy’s main work was published in a series of beautiful books in co-operation with Charles Nelson, on Irish plants, both native and cultivated. These will be her most lasting legacy.

And to round it all off…

It is great to see this theme being carried on in the present exhibition by young botanical artists at work today.  Deborah Lambkin is now a regular contributor to Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, specialising in exotic orchids, and Susan Sex has recently painted native species for the Magazine.  Lynn Stringer is also a regular contributor, painting new introductions grown by Séamus O’Brien at the National Botanic Garden at Kilmacurragh, Co. Wicklow.

It was a great honour to be at the podium alongside Martyn Rix. We, the Irish Garden Plant Society and the Irish Society of Botanical Artists, owe him a great debt of gratitude in his acceptance to launch the book and open the exhibition but also for his generosity while visiting. As often happens, events will go by and in the excitement of it all some details will be forgotten. I am happy to say that this will not happen to Martyn Rix’s words of the day.

Brendan Sayers

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Irish Heritage Plants – A Review

It was a delight to read this review of Irish Heritage Plants – Plandaí Oidhreachta from Fionnuala Fallon in Irish Arts Review

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Irish Arts Review 2

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Irish Arts Review 3

If you haven’t yet purchased a copy of Irish Heritage Plants you can do so on the website of the Irish Society of Botanical Artists

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

Paddy Tobin

Irish Heritage Plants – A Review

A very nice review from Kevin Hutchinson in Irish Forestry.

And I’m cheating on my blogging – as I have not written in a while –  by using somebody else’s material. The holiday season, visitors, illness and computer difficulties have all intervened but I’ll soon get back to it. The break did allow great time for reading though and I enjoyed that! Happy New Year!

 

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Heritage Irish Plants – An Update!

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Promotional material designed by Jane Stark 

Heritage Irish Plants – Plandai Oidhreachta is a collaborative project between the Irish Society of Botanical Artists and the Irish Garden Plant Society which will lead to an exhibition of the works of the artists and the publication of a soft-back book using the paintings to illustrate a collection of articles. The introduction will be by Dr. E. Charles Nelson, formerly the taxonomist at the National Botanical Gardens, Glasnevin, founder of the IGPS and author of A Heritage of Beauty the reference book on plants of Irish origin and connection.  The coming book, which is being published with the financial support of An Bord Bia, will be available to order in late spring/early summer for a pre-publication price of €25.

When there are over seventy artists and near a dozen contributors working on the project and when these are spread not only around the country but also abroad news of progress comes along in dribs and drabs – but it is always far from drab. Each new report, perhaps a photograph sent to show progress on a painting or a draft of an article, brings new excitement as each is another step along the way to what, I believe, will be one of the most beautiful and significant exhibitions in Irish botanical art and Irish horticulture.

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Promotional material designed by Jane Stark 

Jane Stark, a founder member of the Irish Society of Botanical Artists and one of the contributing artists, has had an accomplished career as a graphic designer and, along with preparing the material for the book and designing its layout, has also designed the promotional material for the project which we will circulate to invite pre-publication subscriptions.

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Lathyrus ‘Rowallane’ from botanical artist Susan Sex. Graphic design by Jane Stark 
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Artwork taken from Lathyrus ‘Rowallane’ and ‘Castlewellan’ by Susan Sex and Lathyrus ‘Mount Stewart’ by Grania Langrishe. Graphic design by Jane Stark 

 

By coincidence, The International Rock Gardener (ISSN 2053-7557), the online journal of the Scottish Rock Garden Club has published a description of Galanthus ‘Longraigue’, one of the snowdrops included among the paintings and has used a preliminary study by one of the artists, Shevaun Doherty, as an illustration.

Galanthus 'Longraigue' from Shevaun Doherty
A preparatory study of Galanthus ‘Longraigue’ by Shevaun Doherty

The story of the origins of the snowdrop is told by Alan Briggs and is reproduced here with the kind permission of the Scottish Rock Garden Club.

“Longraigue‟ – a new Irish snowdrop described by Alan Briggs, photographs by Paddy Tobin.

At the end of 2001 my wife and I were invited to spend the New Year with friends at their home in Co. Wexford, Ireland. Our room was decorated with a vase of flowers containing a sprig of witch hazel and some snowdrops. At that time I was just becoming interested in snowdrops and I was impressed to see them already in flower at the end of December. I found a scattering of these early snowdrops growing in a bed by the front of the house. I admired them and my friend, Carol Gibbon, immediately dug up a few bulbs for me. Back in England they did well, although flowering a little later in the first week or two of January. After a few years I had enough to repatriate some to Irish snowdrop enthusiast Paddy Tobin. They prospered for Paddy whilst mine suffered a setback, so he now has far more than I do. We both think this attractive snowdrop is worthy of a name and I have chosen “Longraigue‟, which is the name of the house where they originated.

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Galanthus ‘Longraigue’ 

“Longraigue‟ is an early-flowering example of Galanthus plicatus. The inner petals have a mark which I feel, fancifully, resembles an oil lamp. This comprises a green u-shaped mark at the apex joined to an oval shape in the basal half of the petal which has a lighter part at the centre. The receptacle (“ovary‟) is olive green and slightly elongated; the pedicel is short. The plicate leaves are glaucous green and around 12cm long at the time of flowering, when the scapes are about 16cm. This snowdrop is already gaining admirers in Ireland and would be a welcome addition to any collection.

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Galanthus ‘Longraigue’

A previous report on this project can be read here: Heritage Irish Plants – Plandaí Oidhreachta

Paddy Tobin

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

 

 

Just Give Them Away!

I have been taught a lesson, a hard and harsh gardening lesson, but I have survived it and all will be well.

Some years back a friend from Yorkshire, Alan Briggs, was staying with friends of his in Co. Wexford for the New Year and was intrigued to see snowdrops included in various posies around the house. He is an enthusiastic collector of snowdrops and was given some bulbs to bring home to grow in his own garden. I heard of them when he posted photographs on the Scottish Rock Garden Club website forum and he later sent some bulbs to me because I have a special interest in Irish snowdrops.

Alan had also passed them around to friends in England but they failed to thrive in each garden where they were planted. However, it simply romped away when planted in my garden and went from strength to strength year after year until I, surely, had a clump of 100 or more flowers but reports from Alan suggested that I might be the only person with a thriving planting.

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Galanthus ‘Longraigue’ as it was thriving in the garden

Was I proud to have it so do well in my hands? Yes, I was and delighted but the whisper of the voice of Phylis Lady Moore rustled through my mind regularly and I knew that I had to follow her advice that “the best way to keep a plant is to give it away”.  I knew that it was not a good idea to have all my eggs in the one basket, so to speak, and that the best way to ensure this Irish snowdrop – Galanthus ‘Longraigue’ after the house where is was found – continued to be grown was to give it to other gardeners.

Galanthus ex Longraigue.  (2)

Giving away snowdrops does not mean they are lost; they are simply being grown by friends and it is always possible to ask for a bulb from them should disaster strike. Paul Cutler, who is the Head Gardener at Altamont Gardens in Co. Carlow, and Robert Millar, who has his garden centre in the walled garden at Altamont, are both not only snowdrop enthusiasts but also have a special interest in Irish snowdrops so I gave each a few bulbs last summer.

Galanthus ex Longraigue.  (1)

Surely enough, disaster struck and it struck in the most dramatic and upsetting manner. This snowdrop, Galanthus ‘Longraigue’, was selected for inclusion in the “Heritage Irish Plants  – Plandai Oidhreachta” project of the Irish Garden Plant Society and the Irish Society of Botanical Artists. Shevaun Doherty was to illustrate Galanthus ‘Longraigue’ and when I went to lift bulbs in mid winter to send on to her I came on a sight which sends dread into those who grow snowdrops – the orange and brown streaking of the foliage which shows that the dreadful Stagonospora curtisii was present. This is a fungal infection which can wipe out a planting of snowdrops in a single season. It is particularly insidious as it enters the clump at the time the foliage is dying down and is not discovered until the foliage begins to grow again by which time most bulbs will have been destroyed. Present restrictions on the chemicals we use means there is no effective treatment.

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Of the 100 or so bulbs which had been so very beautiful last spring I now had a mere half dozen and these were very miserable. I lifted them with hope rather than confidence and sent them to Shevaun but it was immediately obvious to her that she couldn’t use them and all seemed lost. Robert Millar came to the rescue for the bulbs I had passed on to him had done wonderfully well, are now with Shevaun and will appear in the exhibition in autumn and it will be a special delight for me to see them. The wisdom on Lady Moore’s words had been borne out once again: “The best way to keep a plant is to give it away”

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Galanthus ‘Longraigue’ – it will thrive again!

Don’t forget Snowdrop Week at Altamont Gardens between the 8th and the 15th of February and that Robert Millar will have a new and exciting selection of snowdrops for sale in the walled garden.

Paddy Tobin

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

 

 

Brushing up the New Year.

 

Yes, it is practically imperative that we move forward in a positive and buoyant manner. It is demanded of us to be happy and upbeat but I find all such carry-on just too energetic. However, I am happy and delighted with news of progress in a project in which I am involved.

Galanthus 'Longraigue' from Shevaun Doherty
Galanthus ‘Longraigue’ – a preparatory study by Shevaun Doherty 

The Irish Garden Plant Society and the Irish Society of Botanical Artists are collaborating in a project on Irish garden plants under the working title, Plandaí Oidhreachta: Heritage Plants. Over sixty such plants, garden plants which originated in Ireland, have been selected and will be painted by the members of the ISBA. The resulting paintings will be shown in an exhibition at the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin in autumn of this year while a book with contributions from a number of authors on various groups or aspects of Irish garden plants, illustrated by the work of the artists, will be launched at the same time. I have seen a number of the completed works as well as preparatory work for others and know that this will be a wonderful exhibition and a most beautiful promotion for Irish plants.

Snowdrops are a particular interest of mine and I was delighted that a number will be included in the work – and I have sent bulbs to a number of artists and am especially looking forward to seeing these completed works. I have been able to peep over the shoulder, so to speak, of Shevaun Doherty who is painting two snowdrops from my garden and what has surprised me hugely – apart from the amazing beauty of her work -is the amount of preparatory work which is done long before the painting itself is even started. There are sketches of the flower and foliage from every angle, painting studies to pinpoint the best mixture of colours to achieve a faithful representation of the flower and, especially so with snowdrops, the challenge of painting a mainly white flower on white paper. I have no doubt that I have not adequately described the process but I have been so very impressed by the time and preparation which is put into capturing the character of the plant and then planning a composition which will best show that. While Shevaun is painting Galanthus ‘Longraigue’ and Galanthus ‘Lady Moore ‘while  Galanthus ‘Kildare’, ‘The Whopper’, ‘Cicely Hall, and ‘Ruby Baker’ have travelled to other hands.

Galanthus 'Cicely Hall'  (10)
Galanthus ‘Cicely Hall’, perhaps the  most beautiful of all Irish snowdrops and named to remember Mrs. Cicely Hall of Primrose Hill in Lucan, Co. Dublin by her son Robin who continues their flair and enthusiasm for growing snowdrops 

 

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Galanthus ‘Ruby Baker’ which originate at Primrose Hill in Lucan, Co. Dublin, the garden of Robin Hall and named by him for the English snowdrop enthusiast, Ruby Baker. 
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Galanthus ‘Kildare’ which was found by Ruby Baker, mentioned above,  in Co. Kildare
Galanthus 'The Whopper'  (1)
Galanthus ‘The Whopper’, another snowdrop from Robin Hall’s garden at Primrose Hill. one of several excellent snowdrops of this style which they grew from seed. 
Galanthus 'Lady Moore' (2)
Galanthus ‘Lady Moore’ remembers one of Ireland’s great gardeners, Phylis Lady Moore wife of Sir Frederick Moore, Keeper of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Glasnevin

There will be an opportunity to place a pre-publication order for the book in late spring/early summer and I will post a notice of this at the time. In the meantime I will leave you with photographs of the snowdrops which will feature and recommend you watch out for this book and exhibition.

Paddy Tobin

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