A PROFUSION OF FUCHSIA AT VICTORIAN WORKING GARDEN

A PROFUSION OF FUCHSIA AT VICTORIAN WORKING GARDEN

Many of us have childhood memories of sucking the nectar from fuchsia flowers or using them to create figures. Some people considered it unlucky to take it into the house. Even the Irish name for the plant -“Deora Dé”, God’s tears – was fascinating.  These memories come back to us as we work this summer in the “buzzing” glasshouses of Fota Victorian Working Garden. Great, lumbering bumblebees are busy visiting the many varieties of Fuchsia. Magellanica (alba), Riccartonii, Pink Goon, Tom Thumb, Thalia, Mrs Popple, Nellie Nuttall, Sleepy and the wonderfully named, voluptuous Voodoo. Fuchsia was introduced to Ireland for hedging and a walk at this time of year on a country road in West Cork or Kerry bears this out. A constant stream of bees crossing the road from one fuchsia hedge to another is common. It’s like being on a bee highway.

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A Small Blue Goddess

A Small Blue Goddess

In the Frameyard now we see a beautiful tiny flower, with an equally beautiful name. Diana, Greek goddess of the hunt + ella meaning small + native to Tasmania, gives us Dianella tasmanica or Blue Flax Lily.

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New kids on the (Frameyard) block

New kids on the (Frameyard) block

Something smells wonderful in the Frameyard.  It’s not the wallflowers in the glasshouse or the thyme growing on the top of the old walls. It’s the fragrance of our newly acquired Scented Pelargoniums wafting from Glasshouse No. 5. These tactile plants release citrus, rose or woody scents and come to life when touched. 

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What time is it in Fota? It’s rhododendron time!

What time is it in Fota? It’s rhododendron time!

This rather unwieldy title – “The rhododendrons of Sikkim-Himalaya : being an account, botanical and geographical, of the rhododendrons recently discovered in the mountains of eastern Himalaya, from drawings and descriptions made on the spot, during a government botanical mission to that country” – relates to a book of coloured lithograph drawings based on sketches made by Joseph Dalton Hooker on his expedition to the Himalayas (1847 to 1851). No catchy titles in those days. The book, with illustrations by Victorian botanical artist, Walter Fitch, did exactly what it said “on the tin”. The rhododendrons are blooming in Fota now. Walking around the gardens it’s hard not to think of the plantsmen who travelled the world seeking different species of plants and trees, many of which are grown in Fota. This brings to mind Joseph Hooker, who introduced the wonderful Sikkim rhododendrons to the British Isles..

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An Eastern Gem – Other gardens

An Eastern Gem – Other gardens

Leytown by the sea. And nearby, Sonairte, an organic garden which is like a glimpse of another world. A world of ancient apple trees, vibrant rows of organic vegetables, birdsong and the river Nanny flowing slowly by.  Sonairte is an “interactive visitor centre promoting ecological awareness and sustainable living”. This 10 acre project was set up in  1986 by members of the local community. The walled garden has rows of organic (certified) fruit trees and vegetables beds. The woodland walk follows the river along a Salt Marsh and leads to a bird hide with a view of  local wildlife and Ballygarth Castle. Volunteering at Fota makes us curious about other gardens and this curiosity led us to Sonairte in “The Ninch”.

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W is for Wallflower

W is for Wallflower

It’s old-fashioned, a bit quaint but the wallflower produces a wonderful scent at this time of year. The Elizabethans loved this plant and regularly used them in posies to mask the smells of daily, urban life when they ventured outside. The name cheiranthus is thought to come from the Greek for hand (cheir) and flower (anthos), suggesting their use as a fragrant bouquet. They were also a favourite in Victorian borders. In the Frameyard, where they’re now blooming plentifully, their bright colours signal the arrival of Spring.

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A Tale of 2 Trees or a Tree of 2 Halves?

A Tale of 2 Trees or a Tree of 2 Halves?

Celebrating National Tree Week, March 5th – 12th. Part 4

단풍나무   Danpung na mu   Acer palmatum

This  Acer palmatum “Koreanum”, from Korea (planted 1937), seems to be at odds with itself, each half of the tree growing in the opposite direction. The smooth bare trunks look like limbs reaching away from each other. In one way it looks like a giant bonsai tree and one can see why Acer is a popular choice for these Japanese miniatures. 

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Our own BFGs in Fota!

Our own BFGs in Fota!

Celebrating National Tree Week. March 5th – 12th. Part 3

“Deep Roots are not reached by the Frost”   J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

We have our own Big Friendly Giants at Fota. They’re not the Roald Dahl kind, more of the Tolkien, Lord of the Rings, kind. Tall, weathered trees that rise high above Fota House and Gardens. If these trees could talk like Tolkien’s did, who knows what stories they would tell? Read on and meet some of them….

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Chocolate or Vanilla?

Chocolate or Vanilla?

Celebrating National Tree Week , March 5th – 12th. Part 2 

This small tree in the grounds of Fota is called Azara integrifolia var. brownea  but don’t walk past it if you’re hungry, on a diet or have a large, sweet tooth! The smell will stop you dead in your tracks and you’ll find yourself sniffing the air like a dog! Some people say chocolate and some say vanilla. Smell is a personal thing but whatever flavour you chose, it’s hard to believe that such a strong, compelling scent comes from this seemingly uninteresting and rather scraggly little tree. 

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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.

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