A new exhibition has opened in the Victorian Working Garden at Fota House, on the life of William Beswick, Head Gardener, 1901-1915. Gathering information for the exhibition has been a fascinating journey and Catherine and I have enjoyed every minute of the research. We have discovered some very interesting and relevant information that we thought we would share with you to compliment the opening of this exhibition.
“How sweet a preparation of the medium of life is a kind friend’s letter” Ellen Hutchins
Ellen Hutchins family recently found a bundle of 50 letters written by her to other members of her family. These letters and the many hundreds of others written by her to her mentors and fellow plant enthusiasts, bring to life her passion for all things natural. Letters were important to Ellen Hutchins, as her own ill-health and the duties of caring for her elderly mother and disabled brother meant that she rarely travelled outside of Bantry Bay. Despite this confinement, it could be said that she took “the road less travelled” because she was a pioneer and Ireland’s first female botanist.
Today’s blog is written by Hazel, one of our volunteers, who, like many of the other volunteers, brings a rich, personal heritage of gardening experience to her work in the Fota Victorian Working Garden.
With apologies to Ian Dury…
Astrantia major has many common names – Hattie’s pincushion, great masterwort and even melancholy gentleman. One of our volunteers, Sally, remembers it being called “Granny’s Brooch”, due to its resemblance to a piece of old-fashioned jewellery, the kind that an elderly relative might have worn on the lapel of a ‘good coat’ on special occasions. Astrantia, which have been cultivated since the C16th, was described by William Robinson as having ‘a quaint beauty of their own’.
This week at Fota House a group of staff and volunteers led by Herbalist, John Vaughan, covered a short area of ground to dip into a vast area of herbal knowledge. John led us on this expedition to find “common plants for common problems” and to help us “re-discover old knowledge and learn anew”. The dictionary defines foraging as “food for animals especially when taken by browsing or grazing; the act of foraging : search for provisions”. Animal or human, foraging has become popular among chefs and health enthusiasts. Whether or not you’re interested in homeopathy, foraging is also a great way to learn about plants that we see everyday but know little about.
On these wet and windy days, as we wait for promised sunshine, it’s nice to think about exotic and colourful plants. And as volunteers at the Fota Frameyard we’re always eager to explore other gardens and glasshouses. This one is in Pittsburgh, quite a distance away. Pittsburgh’s nickname used to be “hell with the lid off”, a reference to the profusion of steel-mills that operated in the city. By 1911 it was producing half of the nation’s steel. Now the mills are gone and the air is cleaner. But even when the steel-mill chimneys were spewing out poisonous smoke (or perhaps because of that), the city built these Victorian glasshouses and set up the Phipps Conservatory and Botanic Gardens. A vibrant and colourful oasis in the middle of a dark, industrial landscape.