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.
The delicate blue flowers of Forget-Me-Not are holding their own among the strong, wiry stalks of Sweet William in Glasshouse No. 5. Both species (Myosotis scorpiodes and Dianthus barbatus) fit well into our Victorian setting. Much has been written about the symbolism of Forget-Me-Not, stretching back to Medieval times. It is associated with King Henry IV who is said to have adopted the flower as his symbol while in exile from England in 1398.
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.
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.
This year’s Young Scientist Award was won by a young man from Cork called Simon Meehan whose work looked at the benefits of using plant extracts (particularly blackberry leaves) to treat bacterial infections.. At his display stand he had a photograph of his herbalist grandfather who had inspired him. At Fota House, as part of a Volunteer Appreciation Day recently, we were treated to a talk by herbalist John Vaughan. Here is a sample of what he said on the day.
The beech takes its time coming into leaf in late Spring and puts on a great show in Autumn when other deciduous trees have shed their leaves. Among the dark evergreens of Fota, the orange, brown, red and gold leaves seem to glow. Rounding a bend on any given path around the Gardens, they provide a welcome relief from the approaching Winter. Continue reading