Oh, Please, let me be Undisturbed and Unimproved!

It a treat to come on a spot of land where conditions have dictated that nature rather than the work of man will hold sway and then to enjoy the wild flowers which have benefitted from this chance happening, especially those which would otherwise not have survived.

Anacamptis morio Green Veined Orchid (41)
The Green-Veined Orchid, Anacamptis morio
Anacamptis morio Green Veined Orchid (50)
The Green-Veined Orchid, Anacamptis morio, with its regular companion plant, the cowslip, Primula Veris

The Green-Veined Orchid, Anacamptis morio, is particular as to where it will grow. It wants ground which has been left to nature – land which has not been “improved”! It will grow happily in open grassland but should that grassland be “improved” by the addition of fertilizer, which the farmer will do to provide good grazing, it will fail and die out.

Occasionally, the lie of the land will dictate that an area is not suitable for grazing and the farmer will not waste fertilizer on such a spot. With this “neglect” the orchid can thrive. I was directed to such a location recently and visited yesterday.

Val O Neill ,Boytonrath House, New Inn ,Cashel , Co. Tipperary (3)
A stream has made a boggy area on the floor of this valley and it is fenced off to keep animals out. The line at the top of the photograph shows the boundary at the roadside. The steep sides have limestone outcrops and cowslips and Green-Veined Orchids grow here. 
Val O Neill ,Boytonrath House, New Inn ,Cashel , Co. Tipperary (5)
The orchids seem to do best along the tops of the outcrops, right to the edge. 

A small stream ran through a small valley which was flanked by limestone cliffs and outcrops. The bottom of the valley was marshland, with a very healthy population of the flag iris and bogbean, and had been fenced off for the safety of the grazing cattle. One side of the valley was contained by the stream on one side and road on the other so animals had no access to it. The contained, undisturbed and unimproved land was home to a large and thriving population of cowslips, Primula veris, and to the Green-Veined Orchis, Anacamptis morio. To see such a thriving colony of cowslip would be a treat in itself but to find a healthy population of the Green-Veined Orchid made it a very special visit indeed. These two plants are regular growing companions and, from a colour combination point of view, they look wonderful together.

Anacamptis morio Green Veined Orchid (10)
Companion plants: Green-Veined Orchid and Cowslip

At first glance the Green-Veined Orchid might pass for the more commonly seen Early Purple Orchid which is seen in particularly big numbers on The Burren. However, a closer look will show the veining on the hood of each flower. Flower colour can vary from a dark and intense purple, through lighter purple, pink and even to white and the veining really only appears as green on the lighter coloured flowers – green would not stand out at all in the darker coloured forms. The Green-Veined Orchid also lacks the spots one sees on the foliage of the Early Purple. The structure of the flower is also a little different with the upper parts forming a hood or helmet in the Green-Spotted. An examination of these little details is essential to be sure of identification but time taken to look carefully, to enjoy the intricacy of design and colouration, to take in the intrinsic beauty is what makes a day memorable.

A selection of Green-Veined Orchid showing the variation in colour and the veining of the hood.

The lay of the land and the landowner’s concern for the good of his animals have helped preserve this spot of Irish wildflowers. Fortunately, he is conscious of the treasures nature has bestowed and is proud to ensure their future. We could do with many more like him!

Paddy Tobin

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

Primulas – The Plant Lover’s Guide

Our beautiful native pale yellow primroses announce, “Spring is here” more effectively than any other plant. It is no wonder we love them and delight in seeing them each year. They have a simple beauty which endears them to young and old, to gardener and non-gardener alike.

Primula vulgaris (1)
Our native primrose, Primula vulgaris 

Beyond the native species of our own country and others there are innumerable cultivars, bred by enthusiastic individuals and by dedicated nurseries,  which now grace our gardens.  Barnhaven Primroses is one such nursery and it enjoys not only a reputation for excellence but is also held in warm regard by those who love to grow these obliging and beautiful plants.

Lynne Lawson and her daughter, Jodie Mitchell, are the present forces behind Barnhaven Primroses. Twenty years ago Lynne moved from the U.K. to Brittany and, by chance, settled within a mile of the Barnhaven Primroses Nursery which had been established there shortly before.  Some years later she, with her husband, took over the nursery and Jodie later joined her there in running the business.

Barnhaven Nursery was begun in Oregon in the 1930s by an out of work pianist named Florence Bellis. She was the first to engage in the hand pollinating of primulas on a commercial basis and produced new strains, introduced new colours – the first true blues and pinks – and transformed the world of primroses in the process. On her retirement in 1966 she passed her stock plants to customers of hers, the Sinclair family, who lived in the Lake District of England and Barnhaven Primulas were based there before moving to Brittany in 1990 under the care of Angela Bradford. David and Lynne Lawson continued the Barnhaven story from 2000 onwards and their daughter, Jodie Mitchell, and family have now joined them in the work.

Primula 'Kinlough Beauty' (1)
Primula ‘Kinlough Beauty’ which originated in Kinlough, Co. Leitrim, Ireland
Primula 'Guinivere'
Primula ‘Guinevere, a very old Irish variety

Mother and daughter, Lynne and Jodie, have co-written this book. It is one of the “Plant Lover’s Guides” series – an outstanding series – from Timber Press and follows the follows the same layout as the others: “Why We Love Primulas”, “Designing with Primulas”, “Understanding Primulas”, “100 Primulas for the Garden” and “Growing and Propagating”.

Without making a song and dance about it – though the book deserves fanfare, drum roll and wild unbridled dance – this is an excellent book to be commended without reservation. It will appeal to all lovers of primulas from beginner to enthusiast, accessible to the former yet interesting and useful to the latter. If primroses are your interest this book will delight you and, if not, this book will convince you that they should be.

Primula 'Dark Rosaleen' 20100412
Primula ‘Dark Rosaleen’ – from Irish primula breeder, Joe Kennedy. 

As a final word, I was delighted to see some Irish primulas included in the book: ‘Kinlough Beauty’, ‘Lady Greer’, ‘Guinevere’, ‘Dark Rosaleen’ and ‘Innisfree’ among others and to see a photograph of them growing so well in Carl Wright’s Caher Bridge Garden. We have perfect conditions here in Ireland for growing primroses and this would be an excellent handbook to those who wish to grow them.

Primula 'Dawn Ansell'
Primula ‘Dawn Ansell’ a “Jack in the Green” primula – the flower is surrounded by a ruff of green leaves – raised by Cecil Jones in Wales in the 1960s
Primula 'Dawn Ansell' (1)
Typical of many of these primroses, Primula ‘Dawn Ansell’ is a wonderfully easy plant to grow in the garden and can be divided regularly to increase numbers.

[The Plant Lover’s Guide to Primulas, Jodie Mitchell and Lynne Lawson, Timber Press, Oregon, 2016, HB, 246 pages, £17.99, ISBN: 978-1-60469-645-5]

Paddy Tobin

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