The spidery, yellow ribbons of the witch hazel unfurl with a spicy fragrance in the Fota Frameyard. This is the Hamamelis × intermedia ‘Arnold’s Promise’, that came under attack from the Fota rabbits when it was first planted. Now it has recovered and is thriving in the herbaceous border. E.A. Bowles, the British horticulturist, called witch hazel the ‘Epiphany Tree’ because some of these shrubs start to flower around the 6th of January and smell like frankincense. ‘Arnold Promise’ flowers somewhat later than others, in February and March.
Ophelia raged through Cork on a day when we usually work in the Frameyard. So we did what we were told and stayed home, hoping that none of the big trees would fall on the glasshouses or that panes of glass wouldn’t blow out. Returning this week, it’s good to see that the Frameyard is unscathed, as peaceful and orderly a place as ever. The orchard was not so lucky, with apple trees that were more than a hundred years old, succumbing to the hurricane. Ian the gardener was philosophical. It’s nature at work.
In fact, it was more than a fair day. It was a beautiful, pet September day for the 2017 Irish Specialist Nursery Association Plant Fair at Fota House and Gardens.
Even on a misty, early-Autumn day, the Orangery is a bright, light-filled space. Growing happily in one corner is a species of Brugmansia, its orange “Angel’s Trumpets” and large foliage bright against the whitewashed walls. And then there’s the fragrance – released at night to attract moths and lingering throughout the day…
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 Frameyard. 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.
“Between my finger and my thumb / The squat pen rests / I’ll dig with it.” Seamus Heaney, Death of a Naturalist, 1966
The next best thing to gardening is reading about it. And some gardeners write very eloquently about their craft. This blog is a tiny sample from a few of those who sometimes exchanged the spade for the pen, planting seeds for thought.
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”.