Suddenly it was spring – but not as we are used to in Ireland, with a gradual warming of days, and the sun getting stronger.
In early April whilst attending a zoo design conference in Wroclaw, Poland, I squeezed in an afternoon trip to the nearby botanic garden with a colleague. Excellent collection, but still end of winter and not much happening, plus of course this is much more central Europe, colder winters, so a different range of plants grown, more conifers. It was an overcast and chilly day, not conducive to taking pictures.
One thing I had noticed immediately, even in the taxi from the airport, was the amount of mistletoe Viscum album in the trees. Large numbers of plants, but also in a different range of trees, I’m more used to seeing it in apples and poplars (and in National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin even on Davidia), here it was in maples and willows too.
Mistletoe Viscum album on Acer saccharum Wroclaw Botanic Garden
Pre and post conference tours had been arranged, and I was looking forward to seeing the Muskauer Park in particular, a park of some 830 hectares described as one of the most beautiful landscaped gardens in the world, with the greater part of the park situated in Poland with a portion running over the border to Germany. It is the largest 19th century English-style park in central Europe with a tropical greenhouse, castle, the River Neise and a canal very carefully integrated into the design. Unfortunately, it was not to be as travel times had been longer than expected. I was surrounded by zoo directors rather than horticulturalists so it’s a case of “next time perhaps!”
Though we missed out on Muskauer Park we spent a few happy hours in Gorlitz Zoo which had a small natural woodland area showing the first hints of spring, a meadow of yellow flowers that at first distant glance I took to be Cowslips, Primula veris, but once nearer the lighter colour and slightly different form said Oxlip Primula elatior, I had not seen so many in one place before, lovely.
The spring appearance at Gorlitz Zoo made me decide to look at Wroclaw Botanic Garden again. It was now 6 days after the first visit and I was filling in time waiting for a flight much later that evening. After the visit to the garden I planned to finish with a walk around the historic cathedral area which was lovingly rebuilt after the city was largely destroyed during World War II.
What a difference those six days had made! The sun was out, the day was warmer but not hot, and the garden had come to life, with flowers popping up everywhere, particularly through the woodland areas, and the rock garden.
The photographs and their captions will give you a flavour of the gardens.
Wroclaw is at the centre of the Silesian Mountain range, with great deposits of coal, minerals – and fossils. One of our conference tours was to a dinosaur exhibit, more a museum, with life size reconstructions around an old clay quarry, masses of fossils. The botanic garden had a display on this too. The round ‘stones’ are in fact fossilised tree or tree fern trunk sections, you can still see the bark impression.
Signage explaining the rock formation behind, and the associated plants, ferns and horsetail Equisetum.
One aspect of the botanic garden that intrigued me was the labelling. A lot of the scientific names were very old – ‘used to be called’ – and many had the Polish name too, I’d imagine they would be the equivalent of our use of a common name, but sometimes the specific name was given a Polish name which was sometimes a combination of a very old name, and a specific common name!
And lastly,, I must double check against the Irish Heritage Plant list for Cryptomeria japonica ‘Kilmacurragh’ which looks very like Cryptomeria japonica ‘Cristata’ below!
Note: Stephen is the Director of Horticulture at the Zoological Gardens, Phoenix Park, Dublin. He has been a long time member of the IGPS, has been Chairperson of the Leinster region, and leads our work on Irish heritage plants.
To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook
Nomenclature in the Genus Libertia – from Stephen Butler
When I first started work in Dublin Zoo there were considerable numbers of various waterfowl, particularly geese, which I soon found ate everything – even the bark from young saplings in winter can be stripped. Trying to get any grass established was virtually impossible, all we ever managed was a thin skin, a veneer of green, on muddy, puddled – and over fertilised – soil.
One plant – at goose height – seemed immune. A large clump of what we then called Libertia grandiflora not only survived, it thrived, and I was soon saving seed and growing on hundreds more. With a small plastic fence to keep geese off for a year or two to let young plants get established, we soon had a green ribbon, looking good when in flower, around our lake, and behind that we could get better grass too as the geese had less access. For a simple planting it worked very well.
I then became involved with Plant Heritage (National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens as it was then) and started thinking ‘which plants could I justify collecting in the zoo’? Libertia came to mind, it seemed a small enough number of species, readily available, shouldn’t be too much work or too hard…Seldom have I been so wrong in an assessment!
The garden books seemed to list only a few species, L. caerulescens, chilensis, formosa, grandiflora, and ixioides. Several more were listed in the Plant Finder. L. chilensis was listed as a synonym of L. formosa. I could see no difference between what I had bought as L. chilensis, formosa, and grandiflora. When I sourced L. caerulescens it did not look like a Libertia at all. I was given seed from a plant labelled L. breunioides, but could find no listing for it; no description either. The same for L. procera, nothing found on where the plant came from, or what it would do, and it looked like what we had as L grandiflora on steroids.
So I started collecting, deliberately sourcing several accessions of the same named species to see what different nurseries were selling, and also getting seed in where I could from the countries of origin – mainly Chile and New Zealand. But after asking for L. tricocca and receiving a packet with L. chilensis crossed out, and L. tricocca written in instead, I did not have much faith in that batch or that seller!! After several years I applied for and received National Collection status from Plant Heritage, and I started going on about the names being a mess, and a review would be in order.
In the meantime, with reviews published in New Zealand covering their native species – and naming several more – I reckoned I had sorted out some of the names, but was still thoroughly confused with the grandiflora/chilensis/formosa/procera accessions. Plants sold as L. caerulescens were always either L. sessiliflora (the only blue Libertia), or, more often, Orthrosanthus laxus a different genus entirely. L. breunioides turned out to be L. cranwelliae, which I had grown from seed supplied from New Zealand. L. procera had turned out to be a most vigorous plant (procera means tall), with larger flowers, flower stems to 6ft, and it seemed hardier in very cold winters. The 2 severe winters of 2009/10 and 2010/11 hit most of the Libertia hard, especially L. sessiliflora, but they all came back, though we needed to spend ages removing dead leaves.
In 2013 the Royal Horticultural Society contacted me with a request to assist with a review of the genus, and I happily supplied pictures and herbarium specimens of all those I had. Preparing the specimens, with some initial assistance from the National Botanic Gardens at Glasnevin – I had not done this since a student at Kew – was a very time consuming task, but it was instrumental in getting the review successfully completed. Each pressed specimen was not only mounted, but had pictures, and a detailed sheet attached, with colour and dimensions of leaves, roots, flowers, even pollen colour can be useful.
The review was published in The Plantsman (RHS) in June 2015, Volume 14 Part 2, with detailed botanical descriptions as needed. I’ll give a less detailed account here, but generally follow the order in that review, leaving out the more obscure species that are unlikely to be found in our gardens, with a brief list of confused names first:
L. breunioides – see L. cranwelliae
L. elegans – see L. chilensis
L. formosa – see L. chilensis
L. grandiflora as commonly grown in gardens – see L. chilensis
L.procera – see L.chilensis
L. caerulescens – see L. sessiliflora
Libertia cranwelliae – found under the name L. breunioides, a name not recognised and no one seems to know how, when, or where it was named. I sorted this out by the simple expedient of ordering seed from New Zealand, and when L. cranwelliae grew it was identical to L. breunioides. The leaves are a brownish colour unless in shade, the plants spread by orange coloured stolons, readily forming a dense colony. Large white flowers produced after at least 2 years from seed, are held at half the leaf height, and the large round seed pods are held tight shut until the following spring (with us anyway).
Libertia chilensis – this is the complicated one, a very variable species, widespread in Chile, and the commonest species in cultivation. It is usually grown under the names L. grandiflora, or L. formosa, and sometimes L. elegans and all are technically incorrect. The confusion stems from a description in 1856 by Philippi, who was unaware that the specific epithet grandiflora had been already used in New Zealand in 1810 for a different species (but under the genus name Renealmia). The formosa and elegans epithets come from a description in 1833. The chilensis epithet was published first in 1810, but under the name Strumaria chilensis. L.procera is a name not recognised – it means tall and it is – and again the origin of this name is not known. You can see why I was confused, and had to have botanical taxonomy assistance! All flowers are white; green leaves vary from 35cm to 75 cm depending on group below. No stolons produced.
With so much variability this species has been split into 3 groups as below.
chilensis Elegans Group. A shorter plant than usual, with a more open umbellate inflorescence. It is not that often found in cultivation, but has been found as an escapee in the UK.
chilensis Formosa Group. This is the commonest form, very widely grown and very variable in flower size, bud colour, and stem colour. If propagated vegetatively you get a clone that is distinctive and there are a few listed. I have seen plants grown from seed collected in Chile that, within 6 seedlings, had 6 slightly different plants, proving the variability was inherent in the natural population.
chilensis Procera Group. The tallest most vigorous grower, with larger flowers that look me in the eye and I’m 6ft 2in. We regard this at Dublin Zoo as L. chilensis on steroids, and if we want more plants we use this as seed source now.
Libertia grandiflora – the true species – is very seldom seen in cultivation, but I do have some at Dublin Zoo, kindly donated by Pine Lodge Gardens in Cornwall as L. paniculata, and very kindly transported here by an Irish family returning from holiday as the nursery did not do mail order, which key out to the true L. grandiflora. This is a much shorter plant, green leaves to only 25cm at most, 1 – 6 white flowers per panicle, more open than the usual L. chilensis above. It is self-infertile, so it is harder to get seeds for increase. The flowers are white but it is shy to flower.
Libertia ixioides is distinguished by stiff leaves that are not green but quite brightly coloured, with yellow, orange and reddish brown shades, and therefore popular with nurseries as they sell well on looks alone. No stolons are produced. Several cultivars are in the L. ixioides Tricolor Group, produced in New Zealand. The specific epithet tricolor comes from a specimen named first as Sisyrinchium versicolore in 1863 and renamed L. tricolor, also in 1863. The flowers are white.
Libertia peregrinans is commonly grown, and easily recognised by vigorous stolons, quickly forming an open colony of fans of leaves. The leaves are green in shade, but a distinct copper colour in sun. There are cultivars with slight differences in leaf colour.
Libertia sessiliflora is easy to distinguish as it is the only blue flowered species! As the name says the flowers are sessile, no stalks, and form a very tight bunch and are less, to my eye, ornamental for that. There are different shades of blue available and the darker one look better as the pale ones can look washed out. We find they suffer more in a really cold winter, with almost all leaves going black. Plants have been sold as L.caerulescens for many years but any I have bought have been either L. sessiliflora or, worse, actually Orthrosanthus laxus! This has 6 petals, rather than the usual 3 for Libertia, of a most exquisite blue but we find the plants are short lived after flowering well for a year or two.
Libertia umbellata is again easy to distinguish, as it is the only white flowered species with only green leaves (with a slight pale sheen) that produces stolons, gently forming a dense stand. The flowers are to my eye more decorative, held slightly more loosely than L. chilensis in any form. Julian Shaw sent me a scan of a herbarium sheet from 1871, from a Chilean collection, asking if I had this one. In the scan the stolons were very visible; it had a delicate flower head and was very easy to recognise, but it was labelled as the New Zealand species L. ixioides, and was assumed at that time to be a cultivated introduced plant there!
Libertia x butleri – I suppose I have to include this! If you cross L. chilensis and L.ixioides you get variable hybrids – one in the trade is named ‘Amazing Grace’. These arise spontaneously and we have several at Dublin Zoo now which we have noticed are a little bit different. They had come from seed collected either by ourselves or a plant producer we know and grown on for us, about 2000 or so, so there is no sure way of tracing back the crossing. Julian Shaw needed to put a name to this garden hybrid, and mine was handy, and I’m told recognises the amount of work I’ve put into the collection.
To conclude, if I had not decided to gather enough Libertia to form a National Collection I would never have seen the range available and certainly would never have realised the naming issues. Like many others I bought plants under the wrong name many times. I’m told this is the general chorus from all National Collection holders. If you have an interest in a particular genus, why not start collecting; it can become addictive, be warned, but ultimately worthwhile and, dare I say, rewarding!
Stephen Butler is the Curator of Horticulture at Dublin Zoo, Phoenix Park, Dublin 8, Ireland and you may correspond with him on this topic via that address should you wish to do so.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
– A name recently applied to mark the contribution of Stephen Butler to the study of this genus.
This name has been applied to acknowledge the contribution Stephen Butler has made to the study of the taxonomy of the various libertia species and cultivars.
Stephen Butler has maintained a collection of Libertia at the Zoo for many years. As well as collecting a wide range of these plants he has prepared herbarium specimens and pictures and identified naming issues which all proved a significant help to Julian Shaw, the Royal Horticultural Society’s Registrar, who has been conducting a review of the genus Libertia over the past number of years.
When Libertia chilensis and L. ixioides are grown in gardens hybrids regularly occur between them – distinguished by wider leave than ixioides and a much more open inflorescence than chilensis – and it is botanically useful to have a name for these hybrids and Julian Shaw has named such hybrids “Libertia x butleri” in recognition of Stephen’s work.
Stephen is Curator of Horticulture at Dublin Zoo, Chairperson of the Leinster Branch and a member of the Executive Committee of the IGPS and the person who has organised the IGPS members’ Seed Distribution over many years.
Well done, Stephen!
To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook
We learnt to recognise the signs, visitors stopped, looked around, walkedback, looked again, and then saw someone obviously gardening and out comes the question – ‘where is that lovely scent coming from’?
This winter, especially on calm days, and after planting probably hundreds of plants over the years, the scent has gently wafted around as people pass, and what pray is the cause? An overlooked humble shrub, with small white flowers, usually half hidden in the shade of other shrubs.
Sarcococca, often called Christmas Box or Sweet Box, is indeed in the box family, Buxaceae, but it is very different. Not shrubby, it forms dense low mounds of always green stems and leaves. New shoots arise from the ground each year, and the ‘bush’ slowly gets wider, and maybe a little taller. Happier in partial, even deep shade, it suffers in bright sun, with the leaves becoming yellowish. Tolerant of dry conditions, it grows well even under birch, though struggles to do well. Given good conditions, shade, moisture, and a good mulch occasionally, it will always be green and verdant. We never seem to do anything to it! No dead shoots to remove, no pruning back, mulching maybe, but not often, no watering, literally no effort!
There are several species commonly found. S. confusa – well named as no one is quite sure where in west China it probably came from – is one of the commonest. The oldest single clump we have, planted about 50 years ago, is now about 1.6ms tall, and 2ms across. It self seeds regularly if there is bare ground next to it – birds may take some of the fleshy black berries, but enough are left.
A dwarfer one is S. humilis, which is not my favourite as it is too dwarf, only getting to about half a metre high. Only after a few years does it seem to start doing well, spreading slowly by restrained suckers, moving a mere 25cms or so at most.
Very similar to S. confusa is S. ruscifolia, though once you get used to them it is obvious the leaves are more pointed, though the giveaway at the right time of year is that the berries are red. Possibly a more open form of growth too, though that depends on where it is growing.
S. hookeriana is also about a metre high, has narrower leaves, reddish coloured stems in some cvs, and a more adventurous suckering habit, spreading maybe 250mm per year when happy and established.
S. orientalis is a more recent introduction, and not so easy to find, from Roy Lancasters travels in China, with a bigger more noticeable flower, and an equally delightful scent. The anthers are a good dark red on emergence, giving a reddish tint to the flowers, while the leaves are narrower than the commoner species.
Text and photographs from Stephen Butler(who gardens at Dublin Zoo)
To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook.
Mention “Daphne” and gardeners will think of the popular Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postil’ or other sweetly and beautifully scented species and cultivars. There are two daphne species which are possibly native to England, one of which is sometimes seen in Ireland but seldom in large numbers.
Many years ago on a country walk in an old demesne I saw a dwarf evergreen bush and wondered if it was Daphne laureola, the spurge laurel. It had some broken branches which yielded a few cuttings, which was lucky, as going back a year later the whole bush was gone. All of the cuttings rooted and subsequent flowering has yielded good crops of berries. This is the usual method by which this plant travels around and pops up where least expected, within a well fed thrush or blackbird.
Daphne laureola is a very shade tolerant plant, growing towards light in really dark positions, but forming a naturally shaped low bush under normal tree cover. It is one of the few plants I have found that is even happy under dense bamboo where it will grow well and provide a good bushy ground cover if needed. The green flowers are unscented, and as they flower in January/February seed set is dependent on good weather for pollinating insects. The berries are poisonous to humans, but popular with birds, and because of this it was planted for pheasants years ago, which probably accounts for its widespread distribution
Text and photographs by Stephen Butler, Director of Horticulture at Dublin Zoo and Chairperson of the Leinster branch of the IGPS
To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook.
Lismore Castle Gardens – Past and Potential: A Talk by Darren Topps at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin Thursday 13th November
Lismore Castle and gardens are steeped in history with an initial design by Sir Joseph Paxton dating to the 1840s with some elements of the gardens almost certainly older. In his talk to the members and visitors at our recent meeting Darren Topps, Head Gardener at Lismore, guided us through the various areas of the garden. The lower garden has a champion specimen of Magnolia delavayi and a yew avenue which is over three hundred years old but after a good spring display from Rhododendrons and Magnolias it has little in flower for the rest of the year though the Eucryphia are excellent in late summer. The upper garden has long been used for fruit and vegetables and still is with an emphasis on cut flower production for display in the castle. A mix of herbaceous borders and shrubs gives a very colourful summer display.
Times change though and with very few planting records there is a very free hand in replanting. Overgrown hedges, essential for the framework, are being reduced back to a correct width and height. Weed infested borders are being stripped, dug over, cleaned, and replanted. Box blight has badly affected the garden but an edge to the borders is essential so, instead of box, chestnut hurdles or step over apple cordons have been used. The grass in the orchard was previously kept mown but this year it was developed as a meadow giving much more floral interest, a great increase in insect life and far less work. The garden enjoys a remarkable microclimate and this has facilitated new plantings of unusual plants.
A ridge and furrow greenhouse range, a very rare style seldom found now, is due for renovation and an area termed the relic garden which has an interesting collection of trees, especially conifers, is also due to be reopened shortly. The Devonshire’s interest in art is evident too from the various sculptures displayed around the gardens.
Forty people braved the wind and rain for the lecture and their interest was very evident by the number of questions Darren fielded afterwards.