From China to Fota – The Handkerchief Tree

From China to Fota – The Handkerchief Tree

Celebrating National Tree Week, March 5th – 12th. Part 1 

“A forest is the finest thing in the world: it is the expression of nature in the highest form”  Augustine Henry

It’s a long way from China to Fota but the story of how these two seed pods came to drop on the Fota lawn brings us from one continent to another. These pods may look like large acorns or small apples but they contain the seeds for Davidia involucrata, otherwise known as the Handkerchief Tree. At the moment they hang from Fota’s impressive old specimen, delicately suspended and ready to fall. On the ground, small creatures have been feeding on these soft fruits, leaving behind a scattering of oval seeds like the ones collected by Ernest Wilson in China in 1901. Wilson, who was only 22 and didn’t speak Chinese, had to contend with local bandits, a near drowning and severe illness before he fulfilled his task of sending the seeds back to the UK. But the story doesn’t just begin there and along the way we meet an Irishman.

Continue reading
Can you throw your hat through the tree? Pruning in Fota orchard…

Can you throw your hat through the tree? Pruning in Fota orchard…

At a recent pruning workshop for volunteers, Ian stressed that we should  “prune weak branches strongly and strong branches weakly”. It’s a good maxim when it comes to deciding what to cut, when to cut, where to cut. He also said that apprentice gardeners were told they should be able to throw their hat through the tree, as a sign that the branches were not too crowded.   But he began by looking at why to prune.

Continue reading
A gardener’s work is never done

A gardener’s work is never done

Even in the middle of Winter, a gardener has work to do. Even when it’s dark and wet and many of us are sitting by the fire, gardeners are working – cutting back, potting, replanting, tidying, painting… Even though the doors of the Fota Frameyard are closed until March, Bernard and Ian are busy, along with the volunteers, tending the gardens and getting ready for the new season of visitors.

Continue reading
A Woman’s Place is in the Garden – Meet Gertrude Jekyll

A Woman’s Place is in the Garden – Meet Gertrude Jekyll

“And a garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift;  above all, it teaches entire trust.” Gertrude Jekyll, 1899 (Wood and Garden)

In the Fota Frameyard, among the many women volunteers, there are some excellent gardeners. These women gardeners can relate easily to one Victorian woman whose vision, creativity and experience shaped much of how we garden today.  Gertrude Jekyll was an extraordinary woman. (And if you’re wondering about the name, yes, there might be a connection with the famous book by Robert Louis Stephenson.)* Born in 1843, in the 6th year of Queen Victoria’s reign, she defied convention and achieved things most of the women of her generation could only dream of. She was an artist, horticulturist, garden designer and a wonderful writer.

Continue reading
Building the walls

Building the walls

Walls are in the news at the moment. Walls to keep people out or to keep people in. In the Fota Frameyard and Throughout the gardens, our benign stone walls give shelter and support to many of the beautiful and sometimes delicate plants and shrubs growing there.

The Frameyard itself is surrounded by walls, old walls in red brick and grey limestone. Recently one of our volunteers, Anna, went to a workshop on the conservation of historic masonry walls, run by Cork County Council. She learned some interesting things there. 

Continue reading
The art of the garden

The art of the garden

This delicate watercolour of the geranium Henry Joignot was painted by one of our Frameyard volunteers, Vivienne Johansson. Vivienne is a talented botanical artist and a Friend of the Society of Botanical Artists, London. She is also a keen gardener and her art work has allowed her to combine both passions with beautiful results. She “looks at flowers with a view to painting them”.

Continue reading
From Free Soil to Warm Earth – New York to Cork

From Free Soil to Warm Earth – New York to Cork

It’s election time in the USA and while a  battle rages between the Democratic and Republican Parties our thoughts turn to things American. Perhaps this is a good time to look at the connection between a big house in County Cork and a big house in Geneseo, New York.

We can begin this story in another big house in London, where James Samuel Wadsworth and Mary Craig Wharton went on honeymoon in May, 1834.

Continue reading
Behind the scenes at Fota – the Volunteers

Behind the scenes at Fota – the Volunteers

According to the 1911 census, 73 people, excluding Lord and Lady Barrymore, are listed as residents at Fota House. This number of servants gives some idea of how many people it took to keep the house, garden and farm running. Nowadays, a team of volunteers, working with the Irish Heritage Trust Staff at Fota maintain the house and the frameyard.

The term “volunteer” comes from the French noun voluntaire, which means “one who offers himself for military service”. But while there isn’t an army of servants any more, our dedicated platoon of  volunteers work as house-guides, on the cleaning and care of the house and contents, in the Frameyard and generally answering the call to duty to help when various events take place. All seems quiet now that the house is closed for winter, but behind the scenes…

Continue reading
October Glory – Acer rubrum

October Glory – Acer rubrum

The common name for this beautiful maple is apt. Acer rubrum is one of the most widespread trees in eastern North America but this particular young specimen, planted in 2011, is growing at the entrance to FOTA House. It’s living up to its name “October Glory” and stands out among the other trees there, showing off at this time of year.

Continue reading