Saturday, 1 April 2023

Celebrating creation in Lent - Part 6: 5th Sunday in Lent to Saturday 1st April

 Sunday 26th March

At this time of year the shoots of perennials can be just as exciting as any flowers. I particularly love the scarlet new shoots of paeonies before the leaves turn green. This one, a cultivar of Paeonia lactiflora I think, will also dazzle with its large double carmine blossoms in May and June.

Monday 27th March

This pretty epimedium gives a splash of light in a dark corner of the garden, above its new bronzed heart-shaped leaves. I'm pretty sure it's proper name is Epimedium x versicolor 'Sulphureum'. Among the common names for epimediums are Barrenwort and Bishop's Hat: the former, it is said, because the roots were believed to be a contraceptive, and the latter because the flowers resembled a biretta. I don't buy either explanation myself, but I do love the cheerful, little flowers!

Tuesday 28th March

The first blossoms just opening on the wild Bullace, known locally as damson, with scientific name Prunus insititia. There are big old trees in the hedge along the roadside, planted in the past for fruit I'm sure, which seed everywhere - the garden would become a thicket of Bullace if left to its own devices. These flowers are on a seedling. They promise a plentiful harvest of small, sour, blue plums in autumn, which make a superb jam. Amy picked buckets of them for me last year.

Wednesday 29th March

The first rosettes of one of the 2 species of native orchids we see in our wildflower meadow - Twayblade, Listera ovata. This particular plant always comes up and flowers earlier than the other twayblades. We shan't see the flowers, like little green men, until early May, but I'm delighted to find it just as it emerges from the soil with its two leaves furled up. I must mark it with a stick so I don't mow or trample it.

Thursday 30th March

I have seriously undercounted the flowering stems of the fritillaries in the wildflower meadow. I estimated 60 plus 2 weeks ago. But recounting now I find over 100! They are spreading faster than I realised, and I'm delighted. 

Friday 31st March

This lovely small spring-flowering shrub is Viburnum carlesii, native to Korea and Japan, and named for William Carles, a British diplomat who served in Korea in the 1880s. I gave the young plant to Marty as an Easter present years ago, and it is now about 6ft tall and wide. It is usually highly fragarant, though in todays cool weather I could not smell it.

It is sometimes given the English name 'arrowwood', but I suspect this really belongs to a related American species V. dentata, which native americans used for the shafts of arrows.

Saturday 1st April

Last year's colourful shoots from the pollarded willows have finally been lopped. The pruning looks rather drastic just now, but within a few weeks new green shoots will begin to show. By the end of the autumn they will have grown a good eight foot tall, standing leafless through the winter like glowing yellow, orange and red fireworks in the low sunshine. In the meantime the wildflowers in the bed in front, red and white campion, blue meadow cranesbill and chicory, purple greater knapweed and wild marjoram, will have the light to flourish and flower in succession through the spring and summer. How generous mother nature is to us!

Monday, 27 March 2023

Celebrating creation in Lent - Part 5: 4th Sunday in Lent to Saturday 25th March

 Sunday 19th March, the 4th Sunday in Lent

This is Stachyurus chinensis, a handsome early spring shrub with stiff dangling racemes of yellow bells on dark twigs with fiery young leaves. Marty and I visited Caerhays Castle about 5 years ago to see the famous magnolias. It was a dire day, rainy and drisly, and Marty stayed in the car. The magnolias had been scorched by a late frost and most looked as miserable as I felt. However, this shrub in full bloom caught my eye. I bought a young plant from the sales area, as a memento of the dreadful day, and planted it in Marty's labyrinth garden. It is pretty, colours in autumn, but has no scent. I rather wish I had bought a fragrant Corylopsis instead...

Monday 20th March

The ravishing pink flowers of Magnolia x loebneri 'Leonard Messel' are just beginning to open in our garden. It is a hybrid between M. kobus and M. stellata, both Japanese species, made by Max Löbner in Germany shortly before WWI. It is named for Leonard Messel who inherited the great Nymans garden in Sussex. There is an Irish connection, as his daughter Anne married Michael Parsons, the 6th Earl of Rosse - their son Brendan, the 7th Earl, lives in Birr Castle.

Tuesday 21st March

The rain has been quite unremitting today, so I haven't been able to  take photos in the garden, but here is a photo of Marty's labyrinth garden looking decidedly dank, taken from a downstairs window. It is full of colour as you can see - how blessed we are with our garden!

Wednesday 22nd March

The wild primroses are showing really well now on the mossy, north-facing hedge bank at the back of our house. 

But there is so much else to see in this photo if you enlarge it and look closely, which I strongly urge.

I can see Goosegrass, Lords & Ladies, Ivy, Shining Cranesbill (tiny pink flowers), Herb Robert and (I think) Nipplewort, but I'm sure that's not all. 

Thank God for the marvellous diversity of our wildflowers!

Thursday 23rd March

Another glowing jewel - the first cowslip of the year! Cowslip (Primula veris) is a common native plant of unimproved pastures, but changing agricultural practices has made it scarcer. When the wildflower meadow was first seeded, in what was a bare arable field, I used to count the handfull of cowslips that appeared, and leave them to seed before mowing in autumn. They have spread marvellously since, and are now more than can be counted.

It's a different story this year in a part of the lawn with spring bulbs where cowslips also came of there own accord. I failed to mow it last autumn. A thick thatch of vigorous grasses has completely suppressed the cowslips, and I cannot find a single one. A valuable reminder of the importance of consistent management. I will be interested to see if they come back again from the seed bank, now it has been cut.

Friday 24th March

Another wet day with a bitingly cold wind discouraged me from walking in the garden to find something to snap. But my Lenten project has been saved by Marty's colourful pots outside the front door. A pot of daffodils, Tête-à-tête I think, like a beam of sunshine; Tulips growing away, with some flower spikes starting to colour. The last of the crocuses, which are over elsewhere in the garden. Bright hyacinths scenting the air. And a photinia which we have mistreated for years but refuses to die...

Saturday 25th March

These light blue grape hyacinths, basking in today's warm sunshine, have attracted a honey bee. She is foraging pollen to feed her brood - you can see a basket of yellow pollen on her hind legs. It is a cultivar of Muscari armeniacum, probably 'Valerie Finnis'.

The colour is what I was brought up to call Cambridge Blue, in contrast to dark Oxford Blue. What is now called Cambridge Blue is a much greener shade, used by Cambridge University Boat Club, though the Cambridge Rugby Union Club still use the older colour. 

As an alumnus I'm rooting for Cambridge in the University Boat Race on the Thames tomorrow, though I see Oxford are 4/7 favourites this year...

PS. Yay! A double for Cambridge - both the men and the women won their races. Shame for the other place, which insists on punting from the wrong end...

Sunday, 19 March 2023

Celebrating creation in Lent - Part 4: 3rd Sunday in Lent to Saturday 18th March

 Sunday 12th March

I've been watching the furry buds of this Star Magnolia, Magnolia stellata, for some time. It held its delicate white petals back during the frost and snow, but today I found the first flowers fully open on its bare branches - a lovely sight. This small, slow-growing tree was a house-warming present from a good friend more than 20 years ago. We continue to be blessed by it.

Monday 13th March

This pretty narcissus, which came originally from my parents, is just coming into flower on our roadside verge. It doesn't spread by seed with us, but clumps up very generously, which has allowed the gardener Geraldine to spread it in the shelter of the evergreen oak hedge. I think it's either a subspecies or a cultivar of Narcissus tazetta, but it is a bit smaller than the type at about 12 inches. Do let me know if you can give me its proper name...

Tuesday 14th March

The snake's head fritillaries (Fritillaria meleagris) are just coming out in the wildflower meadow, quite unfazed by the recent hail, despite looking so delicate. Their common name is probably due to the snakelike appearance of the unopened flower buds you can just see in the distance. The flower colour is naturally variable - most are this red and white chequerboard pattern, but some are pure white, and others intermediate. 

They are a doubtful native in Britain, though widely naturalised, quite uncommon in the wild in Ireland, but often seen in gardens. I let the seed heads mature for the wind to scatter the seed, and they have been increasing by about 20% year on year, from the 20 or so bulbs I planted, to well over 60 flowering stems this year. What a wonder and a joy they are to me!

Wednesday 15th March

These pine cones, a gigantic 18in long, belong to a Holford Pine, Pinus x holfordiana. I bought it as a young plant at Westonbirt Arboretum, Gloucestershire, as a memento of our visit there. It is a hybrid between the Mexican White Pine, Pinus ayacahuite, and the Blue Pine, Pinus wallichiana, which was first made around 1904 at Westonbirt, then owned by the Holford family, after whom it is named.

I love it for its long, greyish needles in bunches of 5, as well as for its spectacular mature cones, which are covered with a very sticky, white resin, as you can see in this photo.

Thursday 16th March

Two types of daffodil came as volunteers with topsoil after the extension to the house was built. The 1st is double, flowers earlier, and does not set seed. The 2nd is now in full flower - a cultivar of the wild daffodil Narcissus pseudonarcissus, I think, somewhat taller than the true wild daffodil. It is fertile, and for many years I have collected the ripe seed, and scattered it to fill gaps along the drive. It is said to take 5-7 years from germination for a seedling to flower, which I believe, because only over the last couple of years have the first seedlings started to bloom. They have shorter stalks than the original volunteers, and I suspect they are reverting to the true wild species, which pleases me. On the left of the photo is a clump of the original volunteers, and on the right are one open and one closed flower on seedlings.

Friday 17th March, St Patrick's Day

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh!
My Grandmother always used to post some shamrock over to England when I was a child, so that the family could wear it on St Patrick's Day. And I still like to pick shamrock and wear it to church to celebrate my irishness on his feast day.
I looked for some this morning where I usually find it in the drive, but Geraldine the gardener has done such a good job hoeing the weeds that there was none to be found this morning. But when I got to the service in St Flannan's Cathedral, Killaloe a kind lady gave me some of hers, so that I could wear the green and later drown the shamrock!
The top photo is of the shamrock she gave me, and the bottom one is of shamrock growing in our drive last year. They are both Black Medic (Medicago lupulina), as you can tell from the little spike on the end of each of the three leaflets - one of several different trefoil species claimed to be the true shamrock...

Saturday 18th March

I've only just noticed this lovely foliose lichen, growing on the trunk of a birch tree in Marty's labyrinth garden. I'm not good at identifying lichens, but I think this one may be Punctelia subrudecta, which the Irish Lichens website ( says is common on trees throughout Ireland. 
Lichens are fascinating composite organisms, in which a fungus and a blue-green alga live together in a mutually beneficial relationship.
Top centre you can also see a 22-spot Ladybird (Psyllobora vigintiduopunctata), yellow with black spots. 
Nature is so wonderfully diverse when you look at it closely, isn't it!

Saturday, 11 March 2023

Celebrating creation in Lent - Part 3: 2nd Sunday in Lent to Saturday 4th March

 Sunday 5th March

Our winter flowering cherry has been blooming for a few weeks now, only now reaching its peak close to our front door. It is Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis Rosea’ - another Japanese cherry, with shocking pink blossom on bare twigs. It is frequented by early bees, and regularly visited by Bull finches, which peck at its buds, but that doesn't seem to diminsh its display with us. 

When I planted it in 2001, I had really intended to get the straight P. 'Autumnalis', which grows in many old gardens locally and flowers sporadically with white flowers from November through winter to spring, but the nursery trade seems to have delisted that in favour of 'Atumnalis Rosea', which starts to bloom in February, and is much showier.

Monday 6th March

So often, I fear, we overlook common wildflowers in our gardens, or even root them out. These lovely golden shuttlecocks are the flowers of the wild native Lesser Celandine, growing at the base of a lime tree in our wildflower meadow. I also like the marbling on the glossy leaves, more marked on some plants than others. The scientific name is Ficaria verna. It is the first of the many wild native buttercups to flower.
A ruder common name for this lovely plant is Pilewort. Herbalists following the doctrine of signatures used it to treat piles, as the knobbly roots reminded them of haemerrhoids.

Tuesday 7th March

My wife Marty likes hellebores, and she bought several different plants years ago. Now they are spreading by seed, producing even more different kinds, providing plenty of interest at this time of year. Most are 'Lenten Roses', not roses at all of course, but cultivars of Helleborus x hybridus in shades running through dark maroon, almost black, through pink and yellow to green and white. But even prettier to my eye are plants of Stinking Hellebore, H. foetidus, with its tall sprays of drooping green bells tipped with maroon, set off by  lovely palmate dark leaves.

Wednesday 8th March
The native yellow primroses (Primula vulgaris ssp vulgaris) are starting to bloom at last, on the hedge bank behind our house. They are quite a bit later than their purple cousin the Sibthorp primrose, with which they hybridise. They were here when we bought the house, almost new and un-gardened in 2000, so they are truly wild, and spreading from seed, well away from their purple cousins.  As you can see, someone has been eating petals - I don't know if it is slugs, or insects, or birds pecking. How generous nature is to bless us with such beautiful wildflowers!

Thursday 9th March
Today has not been conducive to wandering about the garden taking photos! This is what greeted us through the windows when we got up in the morning - a winter wonderland. Sleet and snow alternated throughout the day, and I fear tomorrow will be no better. Take care everybody...
How grateful we were this evening for our little Morsø Squirrel woodburning stove, as we watched Adam Dalgleish and the lights flickered!

Friday 10th March
I learned the name of this pretty plant as 'Soldiers & Sailors' as a child, and we still grow it in our garden. The red flowers turn blue as they age. Army officers' full dress uniforms are red, while sailors' are blue - hence the name.
Another common name is Lungwort, and its scientific name is Pulmonaria officianalis. It is not a native plant in Britain and Ireland, but is widely naturalised in Britain, much less so in Ireland, as you can see from the recently published Plant Atlas 2020 (

Saturday 11th March
A very drisly, dank and overcast day, but that hasn't stopped these hyacinths from opening their glorious blue bells, as if to shame the heavens. These look ready to shake themselves like wet dogs!
After hyacinths in pots have bloomed, they are always planted out in Marty's Labyrinth garden. Over the years the bulbs tend to produce more stems with fewer flowers, which we can pick and bring into the house to enjoy their heady perfume.

Sunday, 5 March 2023

Celebrating creation in Lent - Part 2: 1st Sunday in Lent to Saturday 4th March

 1st Sunday in Lent, 26th February

We have been blessed with a beautiful sunset this evening - we get so many here, and every one is different!

Monday 27th February

These pollarded willows give us great winter colour, ranging from bright yellow through orange to burgandy, as well as providing useful rods. They will be cut down to the stumps in early March, allowing the wildflowers in the bed in front to flower in the sun. Over the summer they will grow again a full eight foot to provide us with flames of colour over the winter. They would also be good for living willow sculptures and play houses. If anyone would like cuttings, just ask!

Tuesday 28th February

Daffodils for St David's Day, tomorrow the 1st of March, for all my Welsh family and friends!

They are volunteers, which came with top soil after our extension had been completed almost 20 years ago, so many that I mowed them down where they were not wanted. They come in two kinds:

# The earliest are these old-fashioned double daffodils. I'm not perfectly certain of their identity, but I think they may be 'Van Sion', first recorded 400 years ago. They can be found in a lot of old and abandoned gardens. They do not produce any seed, but clump up well as you can see.

# A little later comes a daffodil with pale yellow tepals and a darker trumpet, a cultivar of the wild species Narcissus pseudonarcissus, but somewhat larger. They aren't properly out yet, so I'll post about them another time.

Wednesday 1st March

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Sant hapus!

Some more daffodils for St David's day proper. Marty had these front of the house in pots years ago, but they ended up on the compost heap, where they flourish still. Every year I mean to move them somewhere more fitting...

Thursday 2nd March

Bergenias, cultivars of B. crassifolia in the Saxifrage family, sometimes called 'elephant's ears', are a marvellous spring-flowering groundcover plant. They come in many different shades of pink, shading to purple and red, as well as white. They are tough as old boots, strike easily from segments of rhizomes, and clump up well.

Ours, which came from my aunt Sally's house, are a delicate pink. They have been flowering for weeks and are now at their best.

Friday 3rd March

Some years ago my brother and sister-in-law gave me a present of this charming Japanese cherry, Prunus incisa "Kojo-no-mai", which is just coming into bloom. It is really a shrub, growing to little more than 2 metres, and needs no pruning or other maintenance. It looks rather dull for most of the year, but for a few weeks in Spring it is a stunner, covered with delicate white blossoms emerging from pink buds. The Japanese name means 'flight of butterflies'.


Saturday 4th February

These scrumptious white double primroses came originally from my brother Tom. They multiple easily from division, and seem to be more vigorous than other doubles - I used to collect them, but all the other kinds have been lost.
One of the lovely things about private gardens is the memories they invoke, of people who gave you plants, or places where you bought them, or collected seeds. How we are blessed by the memories!

Thursday, 2 March 2023

Celebrating creation in Lent - Part 1: Ash Wednesday to Saturday 25th February

 Ash Wednesday, 22nd February

These primroses are giving me pleasure today. 

The rich purple one is Sibthorp's primrose (Primula vulgaris ssp. sibthorpii), from the Balkans and Turkey, an earlier flowering cousin of our native yellow primrose (P. vulgaris ssp vulgaris). 

They hybridise in the garden I share - the pinky primrose is a hybrid between the two.

Thursday February 23rd

These miniature daffodils, barely 8 inches tall, have charmed me today. I call them my Clonteem daffodils, as the family legend is that they came from my Grandmother's childhood home of that name in Co Roscommon. She passed them on to my mother, who in turn passed them on to me. 

I now believe they are actually a true wild species, Narcissus asturiensis, from the mountains of North Portugal and Spain. I would love to know how they ended up here in Ireland.

Friday February 24th

Two more dainty spring flowers spotted in the garden today:
  • Blue Siberian Squill (Scilla siberica). It is starting to multiply in the wildflower meadow (now more a woodland glade as the trees in the lime alley form a canopy).
  • Spring Snowflake (Leucojum vernum), growing in the wilderness. It was naturalised at my aunt's house, from whence this plant came.

Saturday February 25th

Lynda Christian is a talented artist living in Ballina, the other side of the Shannon from Killaloe. She recently posted a photo of the 'rag tree' she created some years ago for St Flannan's Cathedral, climbing up an inside wall for folk to attach ribbons in memory of loved ones. 

The photo is of some of Lynda's work in our garden: roses made from metal clipped from tins, bent into shape and painted, and attached to wire. I gave them as a present to Marty, who complained of the lack of colour in her labyrinth garden during the winter. We also have some holyhocks she made in the same way. Lynda has since moved on to other media, so sadly I cannot acquire any more.

Thursday, 30 June 2022

The Garden at the end of June

Today, on the last day of June, the roses are beginning to go over. They've been lovely this month, but the recent wind and rain has left them bedraggled. Their beauty is fleeting, as human beauty is, and we must enjoy it while we may, and look forward to beauty yet to come...

A full blown David Austen rose
- but who can tell me which one?

Another blousy yellow rose fading to pink

Rambling roses bedecking the espallier pear trees
- Belvedere, Veilchenblau, American Pillar

Belvedere is rather too vigorous, but what a show!

There is so much else in the garden too. Marty's labyrinth garden is particularly good this year, thanks to Geraldine the gardener who manages it for her.

Daylilies and Penstemon 'Purple Bedder' burning brightly
as the blue Lupins fade out

Philadelphus 'Belle Etoile'

The whole garden is delightfully scented by Philadelphus 'Belle Etoile'. And since we had the sceptic tank pumped out it no longer has to compete with other fragrances!

Perennial Foxgloves

We have two forms of perenial foxgloves, a larger one and a smaller one. The bees love them both, but the smaller ones frustrate the large bumble bees which can't fit their bodies inside the finger. But something does manage to polinate them, because they are spreading all about.

Blue Delphinium spires

The Delphiniums are just going over. Which reminds me I must ask Geraldine to leave some heads so that I can save the seed.

Anthemis 'Grallagh Gold' with Salvia 'Hot Lips'

Marty also has raised beds in the back for a cutting garden, and it too is splendid this year. Here we can see a real local which should be much more widely known and grown - 'Grallagh Gold'. It originated as a chance seedling in the garden at Grallagh, just outside Nenagh, where Mrs McCutcheon propogated it from cuttings. I was generously given some by one of her descendents.

And finally we come to my part of the garden which I fear is terribly overgrown this year. I might claim to have been a good eco-warrior following a no-mow-May policy, but in truth I have just been unable to keep up with rampant growth. My age is telling on me, and I am becoming over-blown and blousy like the roses! But I am pleased at the way the wild flowers continue to do their thing in the Willow Border. Here you can see white Yarrow, purple Greater Knapweed, blue Meadow Cranesbill, and pink Red Campion.
Wildflowers in the Willow Border