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.
Unassuming, low-growing and evergreen but I can only describe this plant as enchanting. Cocooned in its spiders’ webs, it looks like a magic carpet of ancient, neglected rosettes. The plant that time forgot in Ms Havisham’s glasshouse. Now it has produced a delicate pink flower, bringing a dash of colour that seems to say “Don’t be fooled, I’m still growing” and living up to its name which means “always alive”.
Not all our visitors arrive on foot. On Monday last, just as we were finishing up for the day, an unusual visitor arrived. Our volunteers, Mary and Harriet and Bernard the gardener, watched in amazement as it darted about and hovered, its wings flapping rapidly. Then it latched onto a Dianthus plant and fed on the pollen. We were puzzled, having never seen anything like it before. Was it a bird, a butterfly, a bee or a moth? In fact, it was a Hummingbird Hawk-moth, Macroglossum stellatarum (Linnaeus, 1758)
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.
When you enter the green door into the Frameyard, you are immediately met with a wonderful smell of vanilla. Straight in front of you is a fabulous shrub/small tree and it’s called Azara Microphylla ‘Variegata’.