Occasional gardener: The Irish Garden Plant Society celebrates Irish horticultural history


IRELAND has brought a lot to the gardening world over the years, but sometimes it feels like the nation’s contribution is not fully recognized. However, the recent granting of national plant collection status to a variety of plants with links to Ireland helps to remedy this historical oversight to some extent.

The award was presented by the Plant Heritage horticultural conservation charity and covers over a thousand plants which have been selected, collected or named after Irish horticulturalists and / or historic plant explorers.

The recently accredited Irish Heritage Plants National Plant Collection, which can be found in 75 different private and public places north and south, aims to conserve all garden plants with a connection to Ireland.

Some of the plants saved through the collection are very common, such as Irish yew, while others, such as iris ‘Kilbroney Marble’, are extremely rare, with only one supplier listed.

Many more are now only found in member gardens and are sometimes the only registered ones of their kind.

The collection is based on extensive research conducted by Belfast-born Dr Charles Nelson, the horticultural taxonomist who helped form the Irish Garden Plant Society in 1981.

His book A Heritage of Beauty – The Garden Plants of Ireland, based on 20 years of fieldwork, was published by the company in 2000. The encyclopedia lists more than 5,300 plants with a connection to Ireland, and although some of them have since become extinct, those kept alive by dedicated members of the Irish Garden Plant Society now form this newly accredited national collection of plants.

Locally, over a hundred Irish heritage plants are cultivated at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, where the collection is curated by volunteers from the Irish Garden Plant Society.

Among the prized plants of the North Down garden are Crocosmia ‘Rowallane Yellow’, a sport (a spontaneous change of the plant) first found at Rowalane Gardens in Saintfield, and Pieris japonica ‘Daisy Hill’, found as a lucky seedling at Presently – the now defunct Daisy Hill nursery in Newry.

Glasnevin National Botanic Gardens in Dublin also have many rarities, including Osteospermum ‘Lady Leitrim’ and Olearia ‘Henry Travers’, grown in Ireland from seeds collected on Chatham Island, New Zealand.

Likewise, the Co Wicklow National Botanic Garden in Kilmacurragh also has a large collection which includes two escallonia, ‘CF Ball’ and ‘Alice’, the former named after the Glasnevin staff member who raised the seedlings , only to be killed in the First World War, the latter in honor of his wife.

Plant Heritage Conservation Officer Vicki Cooke compared national plant collections to ‘living libraries’ which are key to preventing plants that are no longer in fashion and are no longer commercially available. be lost forever.

“The Irish Garden Plant Society’s huge collection is a phenomenal celebration of Irish horticultural history and demonstrates how important it is that our garden plants are researched, hunted and cared for by passionate and knowledgeable collection holders.” , she said.

Irish Garden Plant Society President Dr Mary Forrest said the society has been committed to conserving Ireland’s horticultural heritage for over 40 years.

“The company is very honored to have now been granted National Plant Collection status by Plant Heritage,” she said.

“It is a recognition of the value of the company’s work, the original research of Dr. Charles Nelson, and the hard work past – and ongoing – of all members of our society.”


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