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.
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.
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.
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..
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”.