Not all our visitors arrive on foot. On Monday last, just as we were finishing up for the day, an unusual visitor arrived. Our volunteers, Mary and Harriet and Bernard the gardener, watched in amazement as it darted about and hovered, its wings flapping rapidly. Then it latched onto a Dianthus plant and fed on the pollen. We were puzzled, having never seen anything like it before. Was it a bird, a butterfly, a bee or a moth? In fact, it was a Hummingbird Hawk-moth, Macroglossum stellatarum (Linnaeus, 1758)
Cork is known as a city of “Steps and Steeples”. Some were designed by famous architects like William Burgess and George Pain. Nearby at Cobh Cathedral, the work of Edward Pugin and George Ashlin towers over the sea. Summer brings a different kind of steeple to the Frameyard and gardens of Fota House, this time designed by Nature. It’s called Echium pininana or Giant Viper’s Bugloss. This beautifully structured plant even has its own bell-like flowers. They don’t ring out like carillon bells but on a sunny day they sing with the sound of bees.
In the Frameyard now we see a beautiful tiny flower, with an equally beautiful name. Diana, Greek goddess of the hunt + ella meaning small + native to Tasmania, gives us Dianella tasmanica or Blue Flax Lily.
Something smells wonderful in the Frameyard. It’s not the wallflowers in the glasshouse or the thyme growing on the top of the old walls. It’s the fragrance of our newly acquired Scented Pelargoniums wafting from Glasshouse No. 5. These tactile plants release citrus, rose or woody scents and come to life when touched.
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”.
Crows get a bad rap. Is it deserved? They can be noisy as they gather in large, sociable groups for the evening roost. Farmers justifiably hate them because Ravens can kill lambs or eat seeds and root vegetables. We often attribute human characteristics to birds and animals and in the case of crows we use words like – raucous, aggressive, cheeky, quarrelsome, devious or even call them vermin. To this list we can add more positive adjectives like – intelligent and playful, with the ability to learn how to use tools. Whatever we think of them, they feature large in our lives, whether we live in the city or the country. And Fota is no exception, where they live in the high trees and feed on the expansive lawns.