Favourites through the gardening year

by Bríd Kelleher N.A.F.A.S. National JudgeAugus

August 2022 No. 23

Rosa ‘Céleste’

The flowers of this Alba rose are short lived but their delicate form (particularly in bud), scent and lovely grey-green foliage makes them a worthwhile addition to the summer garden.
Both Redouté and Parsons included R. ‘Céleste’ in their illustrations of roses. The great garden designer Gertrude Jekyll commented on its beauty.
In common with most old roses, it does well in almost any situation in the garden. This particular one grows happily in an exposed north-easterly position on a rather dry bank. Alba roses require little pruning.
R. ‘Céleste’ has an RHS Award of Garden Merit.

Melaleuca citrinus ‘Splendens’ (bottle brush)

Many years ago on a visit to Ilnacullin (Garnish Island) I saw a most impressive specimen of this shrub. As a native of Australia it was thriving in that particular microclimate.
The aromatic, evergreen leaves and brilliant crimson flowers make it a most striking shrub. It is sometimes regarded as tender but here, it survived the harsh winter of 2010.
The flowers are a magnet for bees and other pollinating insects. The seed capsules are particularly long lasting and attractive. Propagate by cuttings or seeds.
C. ‘Splendens’ has an RHS Award of Garden Merit.

Francoa sonchifolia (bridal wreath)

This elegant perennial with evergreen foliage and racemes of flowers in shades of pink or white held on slim stems hails from Chile.
Its elegant habit lends itself to use in wedding pedestals and bouquets.
It is very hardy but will not tolerate wet conditions. I grow it at the edge of a border, in sun and also in partial shade.
It tends to self–seed in dry, inhospitable places and thrives there. It can expand rapidly but may be cut back severely when required.
Propagate in spring by division or by seeds. This year I am growing a white variety from seed.

July 2022 No. 22

Philadelphus coronarius ‘Aureus’ (golden mock-orange)

This month I’ve chosen a trio of plants noted for their scent. I feel that summer has truly arrived with the flowering of this lovely shrub. The word philadelphus is a Latinized form of the ancient Greek word philadelphos meaning “brotherly love”. Although situated in the cooler part of the garden, P. ‘Aureus’ with its golden leaves and deliciously scented flowers is the earliest to flower. I chose a site out of full sun to avoid leaf scorch. The flowers are short lived but I cannot resist picking bunches to enjoy indoors. I do not remove the leaves, but use the boil method to condition and then add some flower food. Philadelphus may be pruned after flowering. P. ‘Aureus’ has an RHS Award of Garden Merit.

Rosa ‘Henri Martin’ (old moss)

I favour old roses, as they are less demanding than modern hybrids. This very old moss rose bred in France in 1863 has very eye-catching crimson flowers fading to a deep rose shade.

The double flowers are very fragrant as is the moss on the buds and calyces. It is a sturdy, self - supporting rose and grows well in a sunny spot in my garden.

The dried petals make a lovely addition to pot-pourri. It too has an RHS Award of Garden Merit.

Chrysojasminum parkeri (dwarf jasmine, Parker’s jasmine)

I have yet to see this slow growing, dwarf variety of the Oleaceae family for sale in commercial outlets and I’m pretty certain that I sourced it at a plant sale organised by my local horticultural society. It is native to the foothills of the Himalayas in India and fully hardy if grown in an area with good drainage. Because of the diminutive nature of its evergreen leaves and flowers it could remain unnoticed until warmed by the sun when its powerful perfume invites the gardener to take notice. It is ideal for a rock garden as it rarely grows above 1‘ tall and spreads very slowly. In this garden it grows in full sun and very dry soil, this year I have taken the precaution to root some cuttings.

June 2022 No. 21

Rubus ‘Benenden’ (Tridel berry ‘Benenden’, ornamental bramble)

I value this beautiful shrub, with its large, pure white flowers and attractive peeling stems because I received it as a cutting from an AOIFA Past President and friend Marie Geran. Its arching habit makes it an ideal shrub for a bank, slope or woodland area. The lightly scented, tissue paper-like flowers appear at intervals along the stem and are attractive to pollinating insects.
It is named after the village of Benenden, Kent, where Collingwood ‘Cherry’ Ingram’s renowned garden is located.
It is undemanding as to site or soil and may be pruned annually. Propagate by semi-hardwood cuttings in Aug- Sept.
R. ‘Benenden’ has been awarded an AGM by the RHS.

Aquilegia vulgaris (columbine, granny’s bonnet)

The original double flowered aquilegia often seen in 17c Dutch flower-pieces represented the dove of peace and also symbolized the Holy Spirit in religious paintings.
The common name ‘columbine’ comes from the Latin columba, ‘dove’. Today there are many beautiful, long-spurred hybrids in the family.
Equally at home in a small town garden or in impressive drifts in larger gardens, this easy care perennial with its nodding flowers is a delight in early summer.
Aquilegia also has delicate, attractive foliage but it tends to yellow as the season progresses, so it should be removed to allow fresh foliage to emerge. It tolerates most growing conditions and has a tendency to self-seed.

Convallaria majalis (lily of the valley)

Each May I look forward to finding the flawless white flowers of lily of the valley nestling in their shield-like leaves in a shady corner of the garden. The scent is delightfully fresh and green. The French celebrate La Fête du Muguet (Lily of the Valley Day) on the 1st of May and there is a long tradition of presenting a posy of flowers to loved ones on this day. A symbol of good luck and happiness, lily of the valley is often used in bridal bouquets.
It is a woodland plant, here in my garden it grows in both sun and shade but the flowers are longer lasting when grown in shade. Mulch in autumn, propagate by dividing rhizomes from Oct-Mar.

May 2022 No. 20

Tulipa clusiana
(lady tulip)

We tend to associate tulips with the Netherlands rather than their place of origin, Central Asia. Tulips were widely grown in the Ottoman Empire but the Dutch saw the commercial possibilities of this wonderous bulb, so there should be little surprise that from 1634-1637, Tulip Mania dominated commerce in the Netherlands.
The most expensive ‘flamed tulip’, Semper Augustus was at the centre of this frenzy that ended in financial ruin for many.
Despite the disastrous outcome of tulipomania, the world did not fall out of love with the genus. Today, thanks to Dutch bulb growers we have a wide selection tulips to beautify our gardens and homes. My choice is the elegant ‘lady tulip’. Despite its delicate appearance, it is quite sturdy, flowers reliably every year and is beautiful both in containers and in the border.

Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Prostratus Group’ (rosemary)

The name rosmarinus is derived from the latin ros =dew and marinus= of the sea and refers to its habitat. A lovely prostrate shrub with aromatic foliage and deep blue flowers, it is particularly effective growing over a wall or bank where it can cascade gracefully. It has been grown and used since ancient times and has long been associated with the Virgin Mary, hence my choice for the month of May. In the Tudor period gilded sprigs of rosemary were exchanged at weddings. It is very attractive to bees and other pollinating insects, has medicinal properties and is widely used in cooking. It requires a sunny spot and is easily propagated from cuttings in May/June, fortunately, it tends to self seed in my garden.

Enkianthus campanulatus
(pagoda bush)

Originating in Japan, enkianthus was first introduced to England in the late 1800’s. The genus name is Greek in origin. It is a member of the Ericaceae family and the flowers are attractive to bees.
This deciduous shrub has a quiet charm, it is grown for its profusion of small bell-shaped flowers in May and brilliant autumn foliage. It requires acid to neutral soil and prefers light woodland conditions.
Partner with other acid loving shrubs.

April 2022 No. 19

Osmanthus delavayi

The seeds of this lovely shrub were originally collected in Yunnan, China in 1890 by the plant collecting missionary priest, Jean Marie Delavay and sent to French nurseryman, Vilamorin. Although Vilamorin distributed the seeds widely, just one germinated and this lone survivor was later propagated and distributed by the nursery.
A slow growing evergreen with toothed leaves that could easily go unnoticed but for the appearance of the small, white tubular flowers with their delicious jasmine-like scent in March/April.
O. delavayi was awarded an RHS Award of Garden Merit in 1923.

Primula ‘Wanda’

This little primula, a cross between Primula vulgaris and Primula juliae could be described as modest when compared to the rather loud, large flowered hybrids appearing on sales benches today.
It is a very old primula, semi-evergreen and one of the hardiest. It can be grown in sun or partial shade and as it increases rapidly it can be divided anually
. P. ‘Wanda’ was awarded an RHS Award of Garden Merit in 1919.

Narcissus ‘Thalia’

Much as I enjoy the cheery yellows of the early flowering narcissus, I love the elegance and beauty of this old variety. The multi-headed flowers of N. ‘Thalia’ appear in mid-spring and despite their delicate appearance they are long-lasting both in the garden and as a cut flower. In Greek mythology, ‘Thalia’ was one of the Three Graces and the name derives from the Greek, “to flourish”, as indeed it does.

March 2022 No. 18

Ipheion uniflorum ‘Wisley Blue’ (spring starflower)

A late winter/early spring flowering bulbous perennial. The strap-like leaves smell of onion but the delicate flowers have a pleasant scent. To complement the flowers I grow in a blue ceramic container.
I find that ipheions flower intermittently throughout the year. They make a long-lasting cut flower for a tiny posy. I. ‘Wisley Blue has an RHS Award of Garden Merit.

Garrya x issaquahensis ‘Glasnevin Wine’ (silk tassel bush)

This Irish cultivar was first grown at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin. It is an evergreen shrub with rounded leathery mid-green leaves and wine tinted catkins appearing in mid-winter.
It is best grown in a sheltered position and may achieve 4m in height. G ‘Glasnevin Wine’ has an RHS Award of Garden Merit.

Iris reticulata ‘Katherine Hodgkin’

What a delight to see these pale blue flowers with intricately marked falls open in the depth of winter. First introduced in 1958, this bulbous perennial is one of the earliest to flower in my collection of small iris.
To fully appreciate the delicate blooms I grow in clay pots and place them on a garden table. To aid drainage some grit is added to the compost. I. ‘Katherine Hodgkin’ has an RHS Award of Garden Merit.

February 2022 No. 17

Iris unguicularis ‘Kilbroney Marble’

A beautiful, winter flowering gem that first arose in a Co. Down garden and was later introduced by the renowned Slieve Donard Nursery. The rich colouring and veining on the petals make it especially attractive.
It grows well in poorer soil but requires a sunny spot in the garden. The flowers are prone to slug damage so preventative measures should be taken, untidy leaves should also be removed in late autumn.
This Irish cultivar is rarely found in commercial outlets but occasionally appears on sales tables organized by plant societies.

Hedera (Ivy)

Hedera is either loved or loathed by the gardener. Loved for its variety, ease of cultivation and ability to camouflage ugly walls but sometimes loathed for its habit of rapid growth, overwhelming trees and structures.
It is frequently used for topiary, container gardening and as groundcover. Because of its versatility and long lasting qualities when cut, it is considered invaluable by floral artists and can be used in period/classic/petite/contemporary designs. All the above are worthy of a place in my garden.

Azara microphylla ‘Variegata’.

Although this tree is evergreen and lovely in all seasons it has special appeal in late winter/early spring, when the diminutive yellow flowers at the leaf axis exude the sweet scent of vanilla.
The species, Azara microphylla is native to Chile and Argentina but this desirable cultivar with variegated, box-like leaves arose in the garden of W.E. Gumbleton, Cobh, Co. Cork.
Because of its elegant habit it makes an ideal specimen tree. It requires some shelter from cold, drying winds. Propagate by semi-hardwood cuttings in summer.

January 2022

Happy New Year to all floral artists and gardeners.
This selection of flowers was photographed in my garden on New Year day 2022, many have appeared among my favourites throughout the year.
Read below from left to right.

Cyclamen coum, Calendula officinalis, Galanthus elwesii ‘Mrs Macnamara’.

Helleborus x hybridus, Daphne bhoula ‘
Jacqueline Postil’, Iris unguicularis.

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘
Ayesha’, Hesperantha coccinea ‘Sunrise’, Jasminum nudiflorum.

Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii, Rosa ‘Albéric Barbier’, Sarcococca confusa.

Helleborus argutifolius, Correa ‘Marian’s Marvel’, Mahonia x media ‘Charity’.

Rosa ‘Bonica‘, Helleborus x hybridus, Antirrhinum majus.

December 2021 No. 15

Malus x robusta ‘Red Sentinel’

This very attractive crab apple has a long season of interest, from its delightful pink tinged white flowers that appear in April/May to masses of glowing red fruits in autumn that persist until well into February. It is self-fertile, disease resistant and ideal for the smaller garden.
Grow in sun or partial shade in well-drained soil and enjoy the lovely cheery fruits until the birds begin to feast on them in early spring.

Stephanandra tanakae

A graceful arching shrub originating in Japan. Stephanandra is lovely in all seasons but especially so in late autumn when leaf colour is bright yellow/orange. Having retained its leaves this specimen in my garden was photographed post Storm Barra, but even after leaf fall the glowing brown stems are attractive.
Because of its arching habit it is much used by floral artists in traditional designs. Grow in any ordinary well-drained soil, in sun or partial shade. Propagate by rooted suckers.
Stephanandra incisa is a smaller species with a similar arching habit more suited to use in contemporary design.

Skimmia japonica

A native of Japan, S. japonica was first described by the Swedish naturalist Carl Thunberg in ‘Flora Japonica’ published in 1784. A hardy, slow growing, evergreen shrub that carries dense panicles of fragrant creamy-white flowers in April-May, followed by brilliant red berries that persist throughout the winter. Skimmias can be dioecious or monoecious and S. japonica requires a male form nearby for production of berries. This beautiful, adaptable shrub can be grown in ordinary well-drained soil and is happiest in partial shade. Propagate by heel cuttings in July-Aug. Skimmia is an invaluable addition to the winter garden.

November 2021 No. 14

Hesperantha coccinea (crimson flag, scarlet river lily)

The somewhat unkempt appearance of hesperantha early in the year offers little charm, but come late autumn, the dazzling star-shaped flowers in reds, pinks and white lifts the dullest border.
This hardy rhizomatous perennial is native to South Africa where it thrives in marshy ground. In our gardens, it requires sun and will grow successfully in moist to well-drained soil. When flowering has finished the spent flower stems should be removed.
Hesperantha has a tendency to spread in the border so propagate by potting up five or six shoots in March-April.
Hesperantha makes an excellent cut flower.

Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’ (ice plant)

A deciduous succulent perennial requiring a sunny well-drained position in the garden. Leaves are glaucous green, followed by flat green broccoli-like flowerheads that gradually turn to pink. The flowers are very attractive to butterflies and bees.
When mature, flowerheads can be picked and dried. Remove old stems before the pristine young leaves appear in spring.
S. spectabile
‘Autumn Joy’ has an RHS Award of Garden Merit.

Senecio cineraria (dusty miller, sea ragworth)

As flowering perennials begin to fade our attention tends to focus on interesting foliage. Although considered a rather common subshrub, Senecio cinerara has very beautiful foliage that is tolerant of drought and wind. Leaves are deeply lobed and covered in silvery hairs giving them a velvety appearance. The yellow flowers are unremarkable but this very tactile plant could be a useful addition to a sensory garden.
It requires a sunny position in well drained soil. The foliage is long-lasting when cut and is frequently used in contemporary bridal bouquets.
In floral art it has many applications, from seascapes to exhibits featuring foliage. In the early part of the 19th century, extracts from the plant were used in homeopathic medicine to treat eye conditions.

October 2021 No. 13

Nerine bowdenii

N. bowdenii is a shimmering, pink star in the autumn garden. Nerines are bulbous plants native to South Africa and come in many shades of pink, also red and white.
They should be planted in spring, late summer or early autumn in well-drained soil with a sunny, sheltered aspect. When planting, ensure that the top of the bulb is visible above the soil. Non-hardy varieties can be grown successfully in pots with added grit. They dislike disturbance but can be divided when clumps become congested.
They symbolize freedom and good fortune and are very beautiful, long lasting cut flowers.

Cercidiphyllum japonicum (Katsura tree)

This multi-stemmed, deciduous tree originating in Japan is grown for its glorious heart shaped leaves, coppery as they emerge in spring, rich green through summer, yellow, orange and red in autumn. The fallen leaves smell of candyfloss, a clear signal that autumn has arrived.
C. japonicum is perfectly hardy although the young leaves may be damaged by wind. Grow in moisture retentive soil in sun or partial shade, autumn colour is best when grown in acidic soil. This is probably my favourite tree in the garden, it has an RHS Award of Garden Merit.

Cyclamen hederifolium

An autumn flowering cyclamen originating in the Mediterranean region. Flowers may be pink or white and are carried in profusion before the leaves unfold. The leaves are heart-shaped, patterned and very attractive. This cyclamen is quite hardy and grows happily in sun or shade. After flowering, it produces copious amounts of seed with a sugary coating attracting insects and birds that transport the seeds around the garden, thus propagating the plant without any effort from the gardener. A pretty cyclamen that is very useful for small scale exhibits.

September 2021 No. 12

Lilium lancifolium
(Tiger lily)

I enjoy the wonderful burst of colour from this stem-rooting Asian species lily. The vivid orange turkscap shaped flowers have contrasting blackish purple spots. L. lancifolium is a prolific flowerer and not demanding with regard to soil or site although some shelter and sun is preferred. It is easily propagated from the many bulbils that appear above the leaf axils in autumn.

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Ayesha’

Hydrangeas have never been more fashionable and there are a great number to choose from. This month, I have selected H. ‘Ayesha’ because it came to me as a cutting from my good friend Florence Campbell. The large dense flowerheads are beautiful and have unusual cup shaped bracts with a light fragrance. The colour can be pink or blue depending on the pH of the soil. I grow in semi-shade in moisture retentive soil. Hydrangeas are easily propagated from soft wood cuttings in summer.

Anemone x hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’

This low-maintenance perennial arose in a garden in Verdun, France in 1858. The slightly cupped pure white flowers with yellow stamens surrounding a chartreuse centre appear on fine stems in early autumn and continue to flower for a number of weeks. It appears to be a less aggressive spreader than its pink relation A. x hybridus. Plant in full sun or part shade in ordinary garden soil, A. ‘Honorine Jobert’ was awarded the Perennial Plant Association‘s ‘Perennial of The Year 2016’ and has an RHS Award of Garden Merit.

August 2021 No. 11

Dahlia ‘ Matt Armour’

Originating in Mexico, the dahlia was named as the country’s national flower in 1963. The tubers were thought to be a source of food and medicine for the Aztecs. Dahlias come in an array of types and colours and there are many thousands of cultivars.
My chosen dahlia is an Irish cultivar originating at Glenveigh Castle, Co. Donegal and named for the gardener Matt Armour who grew it from seed in the 1930s. Its rich crimson petals are striking and its single form makes it very attractive to bees and other pollinating insects.
Grow in full sun and to maintain a long flowering season feed weekly and deadhead frequently. Dahlias are not reliably hardy in Irish gardens so I take the precaution of lifting the tubers in autumn, storing in a frost free area of the greenhouse and replanting outdoors in May.

Zantedeschia aethiopica ‘Green Goddess’
(Arum lily ‘Green Goddess’)

Floral artists are very familiar with a wide variety of colourful zantedeschia supplied by florists and wholesalers, but Z. ‘Green Goddess’ is more frequently seen in gardens. It is a statuesque plant with large arrow- shaped leaves and striking green/white bracts with a yellow spadix.
This tuberous perennial may grow to 1 metre in height. Originating in South Africa, it prefers to grow in semi-shade, in moisture retentive soil and may also be grown as a marginal pond plant. The leaves are a magnet for slugs so preventative measures should be taken early in the season.

Helenium ‘Waltraut’ (Sneezeweed)

The genus name Helenium is derived from the Greek word ‘helios’ meaning sun. Because of its sunny disposition and long flowering habit it is an invaluable herbaceous perennial for the late summer border.
Flowers are upright, copper-orange in colour with brown disc-like centres. Grow in full sun, in moist but well- drained soil. Propagate by division in spring or autumn.
Heleniums are very attractive to bees and associate well with Alstromeria ‘ Indian Summer’. H. ‘Waltraut’ has an RHS Award of Garden Merit.

July 2021 No. 10

Rosa ‘William Lobb’

This moss rose dates back to 1855 and is sometimes described as ‘Old Velvet Moss’. It has beautiful colouring of dark crimson, semi-double flowers fading to lavender grey and is deliciously scented. The petals with their long lasting scent may be dried for use in pot-pourri.
In cultivation it is undemanding and vigorous and usually needs support as the stems may extend 2-3 metres in length.

Campanula persifolia (Bellflower)

Blue flowers are a lovely addition to the summer garden and we have many to choose from in the campanula family.
C. persifolia is a particular favourite because of its clear blue colour and perfect bell shaped flowers poised on delicate wiry stems. The white variety is also desirable.
This easy care perennial likes a sunny spot where the soil doesn’t dry out. Partner with white
Matthiola incana.

Rosa ‘Sweet Juliet’

Although the garden is brimming with colour from various perennials and shrubs, roses are in their prime in July, hence my second rose choice this month. This modern repeat flowering rose from David Austin is a delight, with its apricot colouring and tea-like scent.
R. ’Sweet Juliet’ has good disease resistance and should be grown in humus rich soil in full sun, prune and fertilize in early spring. It won the Belfast Fragrance Award in 1992.

June 2021 No. 9

Rhododendron yakushimanum

This beautiful dome-shaped rhododendron was discovered in the early 1900’s on the Japanese island of Yakushima. In 2013 it was shortlisted for the Chelsea Show Plant of the Centenary 1943-1952. This slow growing species has dark green leathery leaves with tan coloured indumentum on the underside. The bell shaped flowers are pink in bud later fading to white.
Grow in acidic soil in sun or partial shade. Propagate by layering or by semi-ripe cuttings in late summer.

Iris confusa (Bamboo iris)

This rhizomatous iris has its origins in Western China. The term confusa from the Latin ‘confusus’ is applied to plants that could be confused with another and the exotic flowers of I. confusa could sometimes be mistaken for an orchid. It prefers neutral to acid soil and a position in sun or partial shade. This particular plant has flowered really well in an easterly position. It is easily propagated by division.

Deutzia purpurascens ‘Alpine Magician’

A deciduous branching shrub with masses of plum centred white flowers. This Irish cultivar was raised at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin from seeds collected in Burma by Reginald Farrer.
It is hardy, undemanding with regard to site and easily propagated by semi–ripe cuttings in late summer.

May 2021 No.8

Camellia ‘Inspiration’

Camellias are valued not just for their beautiful flowers but also for their handsome, evergreen foliage. The camellia flower is very symbolic in many cultures, in Japan it represents divinity and depending on the colour can represent love (red) someone who is missed (pink) and adoration (white) They grow best in acid to neutral soil in a shady area of the garden where flower buds cannot be damaged by the early morning sun. They can also be grown in containers for a number of years but really do best planted in the garden. To ensure lots of blooms, feed when flowering has finished and water during dry spells. Camellias will tolerate hard pruning. C. ‘Inspiration’ has an RHS Award of Garden Merit.

Primula auricula

Each May I look forward to my auriculas in a variety of colours come into flower. These evergreen perennials with their origins in the mountains of Central Europe require sharp drainage, airy conditions, some protection from wet and shade from the midday sun. There is a wide variety of types and cultivars, doubles, edges, fancies, borders & alpines, some display farinose foliage. They should be fed during the growing season but take care to avoid splashing on leaves. Auriculas are easily propagated from offsets, ideally in late summer. From the Georgian period onwards, auricula theatres with dramatic dark backgrounds were used to display show auriculas to best effect.

Viburnum x burkwoodii.

There is a viburnum for every season and all are worthwhile garden shrubs. I chose this particular one because of its lovely fragrant, white flowers and autumn leaf colour. It is planted in semi-shade beside a flight of steps and every time I pass, I pause to enjoy the scent. Most viburnums are undemanding in cultivation and this variety is easily propagated from softwood cuttings in summer.

April 2021 No. 7

Primula vulgaris (Primrose)

The renowned Monaghan poet Patrick Kavanagh refers to this lovely spring flower in a number of his poems. Indeed, my earliest memory and appreciation for this member of the primulaceae family goes back to a winding country lane and a mossy bank covered in primroses during the month of April. The flowering of the primrose often coincides with Easter and gives us an additional reason to celebrate its quiet beauty. When clumps increase in the garden I propagate by division and replant in a shady area, fortunately, they have a tendency to self seed in nooks and crannies in walls and steps.

Muscari armeniacum. (Grape Hyacinth)

Without the muscari family our spring gardens would be all the poorer. The profusion of yellow narcissus, forsythia etc. at this time of year is tempered by the cooling influence of blue muscari. Many years ago I planted Muscari armeniacum, but when my tolerance for its untidy, long-lived foliage was tested I decided that that it was much more suited to a semi-wild area of the garden, where, combined with the common primrose it is a delight. I now choose M. latifolium with its blackish-blue flower spikes and well formed leaves for the front of border. Muscari are also perfect for pot culture and I grow several varieties M. aucheri from palest blues to white. These bulbous plants are undemanding, they too tend to self seed and pop up in surprising places.

Tulipa praestans

My third small scale flower this month is a species tulip, possibly praestans originating in Tajikistan, it has brilliant red flowers and blue green foliage. It is one of the treasures in my spring garden as the bulbs originally came from my parents garden and it has been flowering here for forty years. I grow it in a sunny border and take great care to ensure its continuance, so when flowering has finished I mark its position in the border with labels. Every couple of years when clumps increase, I divide and replant with a handful of grit to aid drainage.

March 2021 No. 6

Helleborus x hybridus. "Lenten Rose"

One of the joys of the spring garden is the emergence of hellebores in a myriad of tints, tones and shades. Hellebores come in a variety of forms, singles, anemone centred, picotees and doubles. They are mostly woodland plants and do best in semi–shade. Remove the old leaves in late winter to prevent the spread of blackspot. Hellebores are prolific self–seeders so it is best to remove seedlings from around the parent plant and give an annual mulch to ensure healthy plants and good blooms. Flowers are difficult to condition until the seed pod has formed and are best enjoyed floating in a shallow container of water.

Skimmia x confusa
‘Kew Green’

Skimmias originated in Japan, China and Himalaya, they are noted for their attractive evergreen foliage, flowers and brilliant red berries. This male cultivar does not bear fruit but its heavily scented creamy–white flowers more than compensates for the lack of berries. It does best in humus-rich, moist but well- drained, acidic soil in a partially shaded position. Skimmia japonica ‘Fragrant Cloud’ is a good alternative if ‘Kew Green ‘ is unavailable. All skimmias are easily propagated by semi-ripe cuttings in late summer. S. ‘Kew Green’ has an RHS Award of Garden Merit.

Arum italicum ‘Monksilver’
(Cuckoo-pint, Lords-and- Ladies)

I make no apology for including two plants noted for their foliage in my list of favourites this month. Floral artists will be very familiar with Arum italicum subs. italicum ‘Marmoratum’ (AGM), a tuberous perennial, grown for its attractive leaves, spathes and orange berries. During the 17century, arum tubers were used for starching elaborate ruffs seen in portraits of the period. All parts of the plant are toxic. This particular variety with its beautiful grey-green markings on the leaves has an almost luminous quality in the early spring garden The striking orange berries appear on bare stalks in early autumn. The distinctive leaves are much favoured by floral artists for use in spring designs. They are conditioned by floating in a bowl of water for a number of hours before arranging.

February 2021 No. 5

Christmas Cheer'

This compact evergreen shrub brings cheer to the winter garden. In the past it was grown under glass for the Christmas market, hence the name. It requires moist but well-drained, acidic soil and grows best in dappled shade. Flowers are pink in bud fading to white and begin to appear in December. R. ‘Christmas Cheer’ was awarded an AGM by the RHS.

Sarcococca confusa
(Christmas box, Sweet box)

For most of the year this ordinary looking shrub will not even be noticed but come winter its scent will cause the gardener or visitor to pause. The source of this delightful fragrance, tiny white flowers along the stem. Originating in China, this slow growing evergreen, prefers moist but well-drained soil in a shady area of the garden. Ideally, plant near a path or door and combine with white hellebores for a pleasing late winter scene.

Iris unguicularis
(Algerian iris)

This winter beauty has its origins in warmer climes so it prefers poor soil and a sunny position. It has a long flowering period beginning in November and ending in March. The flowers are prone to slug damage so preventative measures should be taken, untidy leaves should also be removed in late autumn. There are a number of Irish cultivars available, among them the lovely I. unguicularis ‘Kilbroney Marble’, introduced by the renowned Slieve Donard Nursery in Co. Down. This iris should be picked when in tight bud and brought indoors where the flowers quickly unfurl to reveal their lovely jewel-like colours.

January 2021 No. 4

Galanthus elwesii
Mrs Macnamara’

G. elwesii ‘Mrs Macnamara’ is one of the earliest snowdrops, usually making an appearance in mid December. It has an elegant, upright form with glaucous leaves. It is said to be named for the mother-in-law of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. Grow in humus rich, moist but well-drained soil in a semi-shaded position. In the language of flowers the snowdrop represents hope.

Helleborus x hybridus ‘Molly’s White’

A lovely single hellebore from the Rodney Davey Marbled Group. The pure white, single flowers that later fade to green appear at the end of December. The leathery marbled leaves remain attractive at the end of the flowering season. Grow in rich, moist but well-drained soil in partial shade. Partner with snowdrops in the garden.

Jasminum nudiflorum (Winter jasmine)

Is so called because its flowers are borne on the bare winter branches. J. nudiflorum was introduced from China in 1844 by Robert Fortune. In the mid 1800’s it was regarded as the Flower of Epiphany. This medium sized, scrambling shrub with arching branches and cheery yellow flowers is a lovely addition to the winter garden. Unlike summer jasmine the flowers of J. nudiflorum are unscented but it makes an excellent cut flower. The RHS has given it the Award of Garden Merit. Grow against a wall or through a suitable shrub. This specimen complements the creamy edged leaves of its host Rhododendron ponticum ‘Variegatum’.

December 2020 No. 3

Daphne bhoula ‘Jacqueline Postill’

By late November the first flowers of Daphne bhoula ‘Jacqueline Postill’ begin to appear. This beautiful daphne defies cold, harsh, weather and flowers from November until early spring. Although described as semi-evergreen it retains its leaves in milder gardens. It will grow in sun or partial shade in humus-rich soil. Plant near a pathway or door to enjoy its intense fragrance. Daphnes resent disturbance and should only be pruned when absolutely necessary. To add further interest underplant with winter flowering Cyclamen coum.

Ugni molinae (Chilean guava)

Native to Chile, this evergreen shrub was introduced to the UK in 1844 by William Lobb, who worked for the Veitch Nursery. Ugni molinae produces sweetly scented, pink, waxy flowers in spring followed by delicious fruits tasting of alpine strawberries in Nov-Dec. The fruits were reputed to be a favourite of Queen Victoria. Although originating in S. America, it grows really well in Ireland and has survived several harsh winters in my garden. The fruits are known for their antioxidant, health giving qualities. They are now grown commercially in Tasmania and marketed as ‘Tazzieberry’. Grow in sun or partial shade in a location where the lovely scented flowers can be enjoyed and fruits easily harvested.

Mahonia oiwakensis subsp. lomarifolia

The genus Mahonia is named for an Irish American nursery man, Bernard McMahon 1775-1815. McMahon produced the first seed catalogue in the United States and was a gardening mentor to President Thomas Jefferson. As a specimen shrub M. oiwakensis subsp. lomarifolia is highly valued for its architectural qualities. This lovely evergreen brings winter cheer with crowns of bright yellow flowers with a scent reminiscent of lily of the valley, followed by berries that are much prized by birds.

November 2020 No. 2

Parthenocissus henryana

A beautiful deciduous, self clinging climbing plant. P. henryana was discovered in central China by the Irish botanist and plant hunter Augustine Henry c. 1885 and introduced to the west by Ernest Wilson c. 1900. The leaves are green/ bronze/marbled in summer and in autumn provide wonderful red tints. Leaf colour is best in a north or east aspect.

Symphyotrichum (Michaelmas daisy)

Symphyotrichum is an invaluable addition to the late autumn garden and comes in a range of colours, blues, purples, pinks and white. It grows best in well-drained soil with adequate moisture during summer, in sun or partial shade. Tall species and cultivars require staking. These lovely autumn flowers associate well with ornamental grasses and are a very useful cut flower.

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’
(Siberian bugloss)

A rhizomatous, herbaceous perennial with large heart shaped leaves, sprays of small blue flowers similar to forget-me-not appear in spring. The leaves disappear in winter and re-emerge in spring. It is a very useful ground cover or front of border plant for a shady area. Once established, brunnera is not demanding and will grow happily in most situations.

October 2020 No. 1

Clematis ‘Etoile Violette’

Clematis (Virgin’s bower, Traveller’s joy) named by Linnaeus from the Greek klema, “a twig” are mostly climbing plants although a number have a herbaceous habit of growth. C. ‘Etoile Violette”, a viticella, is a firm favourite, both for its wonderful violet-purple colour and its long, prolific flowering season July – Oct and for the floral artist as a reliable cut flower. The secret to growing clematis successfully is planting deeply to avoid clematis wilt, ideally roots should be in shade and head in the sun, they are best trained on a host shrub or garden structure and are often grown in association with roses.

Dierama pulcherrimum

Dierama (Angel’s fishing rod, Wand-flower, Hairbell) is native to South Africa. The name Dierama is derived from the ancient Greek meaning funnel. These evergreen cormous plants display great beauty and grace. When flowering has finished the lovely, dew or cobweb enhanced seed heads continue to delight. Dieramas grow best in loamy soil, in full sun and can be propagated by division after flowering or by seed and are prone to self seeding.

Rosa ‘Cécile Brunner’

A delightful Poly-pom, thornless, rose named in 1881 for the daughter of the renowned Swiss rose grower. It is sometimes known as the Sweetheart Rose with dark green shiny leaves and pale silvery pink blooms. It rarely exceeds 2’ in height and carries sweetly scented, miniature flowers from early summer until late autumn. It enjoys a sunny aspect, is generally disease free and is easily propagated by cuttings. Roses have been used in floral art from the Greek Roman period through to the present day. This is the perfect rose for petite and miniature designs.

September 2020 Pilot

Lunaria annua ‘Corfu Blue’

Lunaria (Honesty, Silver Dollar, Money Plant) is a biennial plant, flowers range in colour from deep purple to white. The name Lunaria comes from the Latin “luna” meaning moon, because the shape of seedheads bear a resemblance to the moon. The flowers are edible and a vital nectar plant for bees and other pollinating insects. Lunaria or “Honesty” plants are undemanding which may explain why they were often seen in old gardens. The silver seed discs hold much appeal for children, who take great delight in separating them to release the seeds. Dried seedheads are often used in floral art. Athough all lunaria are charming the variety ‘Corfu Blue’ with its dramatic colouring is really enchanting. It can be grown in sun or semi-shade and does equally well in either position. For added drama consider partnering with Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’ and/or Tulipa ‘Queen of the Night’ .

Digitalis purpurea

(and photo op for red fox)

Digitalis (Foxglove, Fairy-thimbles, Fairy-bells) is a biennial plant, flowers range in colour from purple to white and there are many beautiful named varieties.

The genus name digitalis means finger-like and was first recorded in 1542 by Leonard Fuchs. Digitalis was often cultivated in old cottage gardens as it was thought to aid growth and increase disease resistance in other plants. If arranged with other flowers digitalis can prolong their vase life. Digitalis needs little help by way of cultivation as it grows in the driest, poorest soil and is a prolific self seeder. Very useful for pollinating insects. The drug digitalis is extracted fom the plant for use as a cardiac stimulant.

Calendula officinalis

Calendula (Marigold, Mary’s gold, pot marigold) is associated with the sun as the flowers open and close with the sun. The name calendula is derived from the Latin calendae, the first day of the month, as it bloomed every month and was much used to decorate church altars, especially those dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The flowers of calendula are edible and the petals make a colourful addition to a summer salad, in the past they were used as a cheap substitute for saffron. In floral art, calendula is often seen in Dutch, Georgian, Victorian, Art Nouveau, 1920’s & 1930’s 1950’s periods.

August 2020

"The Beautiful Lady Elder"

By Mary Frahill, Cobh Flower & Horticulture Club.

Mary Frahill, is a qualified nurse, licenced Homeopath and Acupuncturist. Mary has many years experience running her own practice in alternative medicine.

“The beautiful Lady Elder is considered a queen among herbs – she is believed to watch over her fellow plants and the spirits which reside on the property that sits under her charge.”

As seen from the quote above by T.Elder Sachs recommends planting an Elder Tree on your property before you begin to establish a home there and of course if you have already settled into your property it is never too late to make a space from which Lady Elder can reign.

Few plants are as steeped in folklore, legend and superstition as the elder.

Snippets of Lore

Here are the nuggets tweeted by @cybercrofter on 13 December 2011.

Elder is the 13th letter in the Gaelic tree alphabet, the last of the consonants - Ruis in old Gaelic, Droman in modern Gaelic

In latin, elder is Sambucus nigra. Sambuca is a kind of harp.

Elder is used to make many musical instruments, including whistles, flutes, pipes and bagpipe chanters.

Elder may have got its English name from Hylde, the Norse goddess.

Elder has so many healing powers it is called Queen of Herbs

Elder is also called ‘Stinking Tree’ because of its smelly leaves.

There is a wise old woman, The Elder Mother, who lives in the elder tree.

See Hans Christian Anderson's story, the little Elder-Tree Mother

Burning elder wood might bring a death in the family. It sometimes screams if you put it on a fire.

Elder pith (from inside twigs) is good tinder. After extracting, use stems as bellows or pipe for fires.

Elder produces big dinner-plate blossoms made of masses of tiny 5-petaled flowers on stems in clusters of 5.

Drink elderflower tea to stop a head cold or cough.

Elderflower fritters fried in batter are delicious.

A bunch of elderberries is called a drupe.

Elderberries cure flu, headaches, syphilis, snake bites, maybe even madness! Elderberry tea is good for a sore throat.

Elder leaves repel mice and soothe insect bites.

Elder twigs used to make ‘dromanach’ – pegs to hold thatch down on a roof.

Elder pith is used commercially for microscope slides.

Elder wood is good for bowls, spoons and forks.

Elder wood can be used for fishing rods and the pith for floats.

Elder leaves give green dye, berries give purple and bark gives black.

The Elder Tree – a poem by Jay Howard

Some believe Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus, was hung from an elder tree. Elders often have a fungus called Judas' ears.

An elder tree by your house puts off flies (and evil spirits). Elders mostly grow near houses in the Highlands.

Elder leaves outside your front door stop witches coming into the house.

Elder leaves on stable door stops the goblins riding your horses at night.

Leave milk or a cake under the elder tree for the fairies for good luck.

Wear elder leaves in your hair for good luck.

Elder twigs make good-luck beads.

Dab your eyes with elder to see into people’s secrets.

Elder protects against lightning and thunder.

If you sleep under an elder tree you might wake up in fairyland.

At midsummer, stand under an elder and the King of the Fairies might bewitch you, unless you have iron on you.

To cut elder wood you must say, three times, ‘Elder Mother, please give me some wood, and I’ll give you some of mine when I grow into a tree’.

When elder flowers, it’s time to sow grain seeds in the fields.

Wash your face in dew from an elder tree to become beautiful.

Scatter a few elderberries for a blessing.

The spirit of the elder tree knows if you have done something bad and makes you red-faced with shame.

The spirit of the elder tree also knows if you have done something good and makes you blush with pride.

Pick elderflowers at full moon to make a drink to sing like a bird.

Drinking elderflower wine will keep you young.

Plant Rant

Dr James Duke, world renowned award winning botanist and highly respected research scientist waxes poetic on the lovely elderberry in the ditty below. The poem and lyrics are set to the well known melody, Bobby McGee;

Elders for the Elders

Elderberry, like black cherry, it’s extraordinary, very good for you, and tastes good too.

My elders kinda think, that an elderberry drink, might even help to stop the avian flu

Can an elderberry tune, strengthen your immune, if you sing as you sip that brew divine

Good medicine for sure, the elderberry cure, as a jam or juice or wine, it works out fine.

Elderberry’s best, for the herbal med’cine chest, and might frighten the avian flu to flight.

It has a killer factor for Helicobacter, untweaks your twisted tummy ‘til it’s right

Like an elderberry pill, I really think it will, cool the tummy and tame an ulcer down

And elder flower brew, is a good cosmetic too, and whitens skin that’s turning brown.

I remember from my scouthood, the flowers taste real good, when baked into pancakes, round and brown.

Elder syrup from last year, beats that elder beer, to top off that precious pancake, best around

What a breakfast, what a treat, kinda hard to beat, and you don’t really have to have no meat.

Elder syrup tops the cake, best cake that you can make, almost too beautiful to eat.