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”.
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.
Celebrating National Tree Week, March 5th – 12th. Part 4
단풍나무 Danpung na mu Acer palmatum
This Acer palmatum “Koreanum”, from Korea (planted 1937), seems to be at odds with itself, each half of the tree growing in the opposite direction. The smooth bare trunks look like limbs reaching away from each other. In one way it looks like a giant bonsai tree and one can see why Acer is a popular choice for these Japanese miniatures.
Celebrating National Tree Week. March 5th – 12th. Part 3
“Deep Roots are not reached by the Frost” J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
We have our own Big Friendly Giants at Fota. They’re not the Roald Dahl kind, more of the Tolkien, Lord of the Rings, kind. Tall, weathered trees that rise high above Fota House and Gardens. If these trees could talk like Tolkien’s did, who knows what stories they would tell? Read on and meet some of them….
Celebrating National Tree Week , March 5th – 12th. Part 2
This small tree in the grounds of Fota is called Azara integrifolia var. brownea but don’t walk past it if you’re hungry, on a diet or have a large, sweet tooth! The smell will stop you dead in your tracks and you’ll find yourself sniffing the air like a dog! Some people say chocolate and some say vanilla. Smell is a personal thing but whatever flavour you chose, it’s hard to believe that such a strong, compelling scent comes from this seemingly uninteresting and rather scraggly little tree.
Celebrating National Tree Week, March 5th – 12th. Part 1
“A forest is the finest thing in the world: it is the expression of nature in the highest form” Augustine Henry
It’s a long way from China to Fota but the story of how these two seed pods came to drop on the Fota lawn brings us from one continent to another. These pods may look like large acorns or small apples but they contain the seeds for Davidia involucrata, otherwise known as the Handkerchief Tree. At the moment they hang from Fota’s impressive old specimen, delicately suspended and ready to fall. On the ground, small creatures have been feeding on these soft fruits, leaving behind a scattering of oval seeds like the ones collected by Ernest Wilson in China in 1901. Wilson, who was only 22 and didn’t speak Chinese, had to contend with local bandits, a near drowning and severe illness before he fulfilled his task of sending the seeds back to the UK. But the story doesn’t just begin there and along the way we meet an Irishman.