A “Blooming Marvellous” Book!

Zoë Devlin has never lost that childhood delight in the beauty of nature whether it be the excitement of seeing a flower new to her, being entranced once again by the daintiness of a daisy or the fluttering beauty of a butterfly – “wisps of aerial delight”.

Her childhood love of wildflowers developed into a lifelong pastime and in her “retirement” years it has become an all consuming passion which has her travelling to all corners of the country in search of our natural wildflower beauties.

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What runs through the book is the excitement of it all, of this love of nature, the sense of joy and happiness which is intricately bound up in Zoë’s adventures – “something like a Christmas Eve as a child, the stocking at the end of the bed, hopes high as a house.”  As she says, “It was pure magic!”

The book is arranged by the months of the year with each month introduced by a note on the origin of the month’s name, a spread on the butterflies “on the wing” at the appropriate months and then to her first love, the plants…but not as we might know them. These are all plants with stories, with memories, with recollections and connections, with adventures and misadventures, with people and places; each, especially the first encounter, irrevocably etched in her memory and recounted here with an infectious and entertaining humour.

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“On the Wing in September” 

A visit to the Rock of Cashel was significant only because “there was a beautiful Rue-leaved Saxifrage on top of one of the walls there.” The office staff war game came to a sudden end when she spotted an Early Purple Orchid and left her boss undefended – his demise did not reflect well on her. Picnic entertainment has varied from watching a prancing stoat to a horse being shampooed in a river. Pete, her constant companion, husband and roadie on her treks, was the one who stood to ward off bulls or feed donkeys with Marietta biscuits though his actions shocked her on one occasion. I could not repeat the circumstances of her finding her first Fly Orchid on The Burren but she certainly would not wish to have had the occasion photographed. There are many, many “added value” moments in this book – along with the beautiful descriptions and photographs there are the personal stories that bring such things to life and make them memorable and even more enjoyable.

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The Cowslip – a childhood favourite for Zoë Devlin

She credits and recalls those who inspired her generously: her grand-aunt, the watercolourist, Gladys Wynne; her cousin Dr. Kathleen Lynn and another grand-aunt Winifrede Wynne who introduced Primula ‘Julius Caesar’ which I grow in my garden and now value all the more as I hadn’t realised its connection with Zoë. She also thankfully acknowledges the assistance she has received from many other plant enthusiasts, for she is one of a network of friends who keep each other informed of current flowerings and notes of locations.

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The Marsh Helleborine – one of those plants which send shivers of delight when found

Plants evoke memories and childhood recollections for Zoë and this calendar of anecdotes brings together fond and happy days over her lifetime and, given the interconnectedness of nature, it ranges beyond flowers to birds, insects, history, herbal practices, literature and poetry. Invasive plants are a concern and the children of today are her hope for the future – introduce them to flowers with a hand lens, she recommends, and they will be enthralled by their detail and beauty. Her love of flowers has lead her to make a wildflower meadow at home and also elderflower  cordial, jams, tarts and sloe gin but Pete baulked at her Ramsons pesto – there is only so much a loving husband can endure!

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Blue-eyed Grass – one which delights all wildflower lovers

Though this book is very informative for the plant lover it is above all a collection of light-hearted and humorous tales from Zoë, arranged in a style which allows one to dip in for a short read or to see what might be of interest in any particular month. Above all it is infected with her enthusiasm and love of plants and it is a delight to read.

[Blooming Marvellous – A Wildflower Hunter’s Year, Zoë Devlin, The Collins Press, 2017, Hardback, 295 pages, €16.99, ISBN: 978-1-84889-327-6]

Available online at The Collins Press

Also by Zoë Devlin:

 

Paddy Tobin

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

 

 

 

 

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We Boiled a Frog!

Change, especially when incrementally small and over a long period, is often imperceptible and we occasionally need someone to ring the alarm bells and alert us to dangers. Charles Handy, the business/management guru of the 1980s, in his book The Age of Unreason told the parable of a frog being put in a pot of cold water which was heated so gradually that the frog became accustomed to each increase in temperature until the water reached boiling point and the frog died. He used the story to highlight that people very often do not realise their world is changing and that unless they react and take charge the consequences may be drastic.

Pádraig Fogarty in his recently published book, Whitted Away, Ireland’s Vanishing Nature, is the one ringing the alarm bells on behalf of the Irish natural and environmental heritage: “A growing mountain of scientific research is demonstrating that we are in the midst of an ecological catastrophe, principally from the twin evils of climate change and biodiversity loss” and he contends that our view of Ireland as a green country is misinformed – and as one reads the book one cannot but sadly agree.  

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Many of our historic traditional fisheries have simply disappeared. Who has even heard of the pilchard fisheries at Baltimore which once employed 2,000 people on a seasonal basis? Herring have all but disappeared from the north Irish Sea and the Donegal cod fisheries are a thing of the past yet regularly we will hear statements about our “sustainable” fish stocks meaning that present fishing levels will not deplete fish stocks further but such statements disguise or ignore the fact that present stocks are only a miniscule fraction of what they were previously. Other countries have managed to revive fish stocks so with good management it is possible that Irish stocks could recover also.

While one might expect our national parks to lead the way in good environmental management this is not the case. Rhododendron ponticum continues to be a major problem in the Killarney National Park. Wicklow Mountains National Park is the largest expanse of ground over 300 metres in the country and while we may admire its beauty we seldom stop and think how unnatural an environment it is. The mountains were once covered in trees and it is unnatural that they have now become a monoculture of heather. Present policies are to maintain it in this manner, preserving a landscape which has already been damaged and continues to be damaged by overstocking of sheep with numbers driven ever upward by per-head state subsidies. Yes, the state pays people to put sheep on the mountains knowing they will ruin it – sheepwrecked! Even in 1928 J. W. Synge wrote of Connemara National Park, “The absence of trees is a sad feature of a Connemara landscape. Seen from a distance the very bareness of mountain slopes makes them look savage and, indeed, almost repellent in a hard light.” However, the author – he really does come up with gems of optimism – describes it as “not a paradise lost but a paradise waiting to happen”.  Glenveagh National Park continues to have difficulties with the reintroduction of the Golden Eagle, has no management plan and illegal turf extraction seems to be allowed to continue unchecked within the park boundaries. On the other hand, The Burren National Park is very much a success story, a wonderful example of farming for conservation and the only one which could be described as well managed.

The decline or loss of some species will always lead to headline news – the red squirrel or the corncrake, for example – but the author says the list of lost plants and animals runs to 115 while, perhaps more alarmingly, there is a general decline in the numbers of all wildlife with the World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society of London reporting that there has been a 58% fall in population of all species between 1970 and 2012. Alongside this unnatural loss of numbers there are several sanctioned culls of wild animals. Badgers are culled to prevent the spread tuberculosis in cattle – approximately 7,000 each year, though 80% – 90% of the culled badgers have subsequently been found to be free of TB. Pike are culled are culled to allow other fish species build up numbers; there is a bounty on foxes; deer are culled and there is a call for a cull of seals.

Ireland’s food products are  promoted as being “green”, that they come from a green land, are produced by “green” farming yet 47% of our rivers, 57% of our lakes ad 55% of our estuaries do not meet the requirements of good ecological status and over half of this pollution is attributed to agriculture. It is interesting that the body which promotes the green image of Ireland, An Bord Bia, received government funding of €32.2 million in 2014 while the body entrusted to actually make the country green, National Parks and Wildlife Service, received €14.3 million that same year. There seems to be a disparity between promoting the message and actually creating the reality of a green Ireland. It would seem that the billions of euro paid to Irish farmers to protect the environment have not been well spent. The blame does not lie with the farmer – certainly, not entirely with them – as many farmers, many passionate environmentalists themselves, view the approach of the Department of Agriculture as poorly thought out and, regularly, detrimental to the environment. They will be required to clear corners of scrub, to drain low-lying wet patches so as to bring all land into production though they see that by so doing they are removing a diversity of habitat which would have accommodated a diversity of wildlife.

There have been a number of success stories: Lough Boora Parkland in Co. Offaly was once a Bord na Mona worked bog but has now been allowed to return to nature. A survey in May 2012 by the National Biodiversity Data Centre identified and counted 946 different species – more than were counted on The Burren in a similar exercise in the following year. There are other Bold na Mona bogs which could be similarly allowed to return to nature – it could be the largest habitat restoration ever seen.

The book is well written, well organised and deeply engaging. It is one of those books which certainly gives cause for thought and it would be of great benefit to our political decision makers, and to the environment, if they each read it.

This book provides a reality check for all who are interested in the Irish environment – a very startling reality check – but we should, as the author does, not think of the situation as a paradise lost but as a paradise waiting to happen.

[Whittled Away, Ireland’s Vanishing Nature, Pádraig Fogarty, The Collins Press, Cork, 2017, Hardback, 360 pages, €20, ISBN: 978-1-84889-310-8]

The book’s title, by the way, comes from a Irish Government Report of June 1969: “Ireland’s heritage is being steadily whittle away by human exploitation, pollution and other aspects of modern development. This could represent a serious loss to the nation.

Paddy Tobin

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

 

The Breathing Burren – A Review

The Breathing Burren by Gordon D’Arcy

It is wonderful to pick up a book and have the immediate reaction “Oh, this is beautiful” – comfortable in the hand, attractive in size, print and illustration – and there is an immediate longing to read. This is how it was when Gordon D’Arcy’s “The Breathing Burren” arrived from The Collins Press recently and my subsequent slow and savouring read proved that my first impressions were not only accurate but even understated. The author admits to an infatuation with The Burren and I certainly confess to a deep awe in the area so the book had certainly come to a receptive reader.

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Gordon D’Arcy is Belfast born and came to explore The Burren, fell in love with the place and moved there and has been resident for over thirty years. His 1999 The Natural History of The Burren has been an inspiration to many who have come to love this unique environment in Co. Clare. The Burren is a landscape of limestone karst, its clints and grykes housing a summer display of flowers which attract both plant enthusiasts and tourists in great numbers.

The author describes this volume as a “salutation” to The Burren and presents a marvellous miscellany of experiences, recorded in his diaries, from many years of roaming the area so we are presented with a distillation of years of enjoyment and experience. As such, it is a book of highlight, of great experiences and wonderful occasions, a compendium of personal experiences which may not be unique but are certainly memorable – the first flowering of gentian in the spring, the incredible encounters with stoats and otters, the rare migrant seabirds, the dawn chorus of Burren birds and broadened and deepened by his recollections of other enthusiasts with whom he had spent time on The Burren. There are accounts of farming, caving and archaeology, all engaging and informative and all very pleasantly illustrated by the author’s watercolour paintings which are quiet and unobtrusive but a perfect complement to the text.

Beyond the recollection of happy events and encounters there is a final substantial section, “Musings” where the author goes far beyond the simple recollection of happy days poses serious questions which he has considered himself and urges us, the readers, and everybody involved with The Burren – those living there, those responsible for decisions which will affect the area – to think about what the area, its value, its use, its worth, its contribution to our culture and how we might care for it for the future.

It is clear that the author is passionately in love with this wonderful area of our country and this love extends far beyond simply enjoying it – which is about the extent of my interaction with the area – to feeling a responsibility and duty of care for it. When you read this book you will understand why he feels this way and you will find yourself agreeing with him very easily.

This is an outstanding book which goes beyond the usual approach of simple descriptions of the natural phenomena of The Burren and is likely to inspire an even greater appreciation for this treasure which is part of our landscape.

[The Breathing Burren, Gordon D’Arcy, The Collins Press, Cork, 2016, Hardback, 304 pages, ISBN: 9781848892682, €24.99 – €17.49 special offer on The Collins Press website at the moment: http://www.collinspress.ie/the-breathing-burren.html]

Paddy Tobin

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

This is The Burren

A beautiful book on a beautiful part of Ireland is simply perfect!

My introduction to The Burren was one of my most enjoyable holidays ever. It was organised by The Old Ground Hotel in Ennis and combined a stay in the hotel with an introductory talk on The Burren by Tony Kirby of Heart of The Burren Walks, followed by a few days of guided walks in his company. It opened up a treasure to me and I still reflect on it with great happiness. We have returned on several occasions since, always staying at The Old Ground because it is nice to sit down for an excellent meal at the end of a long day’s walking. Each visit has been a joy. We go to enjoy the scenery, the completely different and almost crazy environment that is The Burren where flowers which are at home on the Alps, the Mediterranean and the tundra are all found within a stone’s throw. Then, of course, there are the other regular and not to be missed stops – a visit to Carl Wright’s Caher Bridge Garden (Nice photograph of Carl in the book!) and coffee and cake at Catherine O Donoghue’s An Fear Gorta restaurant in Ballyvaughan – though I think I am showing my age somewhat as Catherine has handed over the reins to Jane for quite some time now but, more importantly, the food and the people are wonderful.

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It is no wonder that Karsten Krieger decided to make his home there. He had visited several times – to see what had inspired J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth – and eventually settled there. Landscape photography is Karsten’s passion and he has previously published two books which have featured his work: “The West of Ireland” and “Ireland – A Luminous Beauty” (with others). In this, his latest book, “This is The Burren” he has captured the essence and beauty of this area with wonderful landscape photographs and intimate portraits of plants, animals, insects and people, all of the beauty of The Burren.

The photography is excellent, something which hardly needs to be said given Karsten’s previous volumes of work, and the text is, as one would say, short and sweet, sufficient to weave it all together, fill in the background and give us a brief overview of this wonderful area. It is a quick read but a slow book as the photographs will hold your attention and demand you gaze at them with longing to be there.

The subject matter is wonderful and Karsten has presented it magnificently! You will enjoy it and, if you haven’t been to The Burren, you will be making plans to do so.

[This is The Burren, Karsten Krieger, The Collins Press, Cork, 2015, Hardback, 175 pages, €19.99, ISBN: 978-1748892514] http://www.collinspress.ie/ – available by mail order. 

Paddy Tobin

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