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15°C
real feel: 11°C
wind speed: 4 m/s NE
sunrise: 5:18 am
sunset: 9:39 pm
 

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Time To Get Back To The Garden

“Gardening is the art that uses flowers and plants as paint, and the soil and sky as canvas.” – Elizabeth Murray.

All of the early blooms, plants, bulb material, trees, bird boxes, rich colour etc., shown in the video hereunder, can be obtained locally here in Thurles, from Seamus O’Driscoll’s Garden Centre, Mill Road, Thurles, Tel: (0504) 21636, where you can acquire also, and at no cost, the benefit of a wealth of gardening knowledge, experience and sound advice, simply for the asking.

Time To Get Back To The Garden from George Willoughby on Vimeo.

After a longer than usual winter just past, which saw unprecedented raw weather conditions; Irish gardens and more importantly the perennial bulbs, plants and shrubs growing therein, managed to survive remarkably well. Perhaps the earlier varieties of Daffodil took a beating, certainly to quote the poet W. Wordsworth, they were “Fluttering and dancing in the breeze”. However, the later varieties showed little sign of having been mugged by the more recent freezing conditions which emanated from “Son of the Beast from the East”.

Still, that is all behind us now and it’s time to return to that great outdoors, latter being for most of us, our beloved gardens. For the past number of days here in Thurles Co.Tipperary the sun has embraced us with a smile. Gone are our thermal vests and our ‘Long John’s’, as nature again resumes her cycle, while also reviving once more, our human souls.

So turn over that clay; feel that mixture of organic matter and minerals crumble between your fingers, and watch as that friendly, cheeky “Roly Robin” gets closer acquainted, as worms are exposed from below the surface.

I believe it was the late, great actor / comedian Robin Williams who once said, “Spring is nature’s way of saying, Let’s party!”

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Davidia involucrata ‘Birr Gold’ – “The Handkerchief Tree”

Seamus O’Driscoll’s Garden Centre on the Mill Road, here in Thurles, Co. Tipperary, is as far as you need to travel over the next week or so, should you be on the lookout for something extremely rare and truly exotic.

By rare and exotic, I refer in particular to “The Handkerchief Tree” (Davidia involucrata ‘Birr Gold’) just one of the many rare trees, shrubs and plants located at this ‘Mecca’ of garden cultivation and management; all specimens which are strikingly unusual and delightfully strange, both in visual effect and in appearance.

Pictures Left to Right: (1) French Lazarist missionary Catholic priest, zoologist, botanist and naturalist, Fr. Armand David, (1826 to 1900); (2) Davidia involucrata (The Handkerchief tree); (3) Kew Garden’s trained gardener, botanist, plant collector / hunter & explorer Ernest Henry Wilson, (“Chinese” Wilson – 1876 to 1930).

The tree Davidia involucrata, was first named after French Lazarist missionary, Roman Catholic priest (Lazarist – A Catholic organization founded in 1625, at the priory of St Lazare in Paris, by St. Vincent de Paul, latter renowned for his compassion, humility and generosity to those found impoverished) and naturalist Fr. Armand David, who first described it, and who coincidently was also the first westerner to describe the Giant Panda Bear, native to south central China.

This deciduous Chinese native ‘Handkerchief Tree’  is also referred to as the ‘Dove Tree’; which can grow up to 20 metres in height (or 66 ft.) and is best acknowledged for its striking display of floral bracts in late spring. Its small, reddish purple flower heads surrounded by a pair of large, white bracts, same up to 30cms (1 ft) in length, said to resemble dangling handkerchiefs or doves perched on its branches. Foliage here is vivid green, heart shaped leaves with serrated edges and with fine points developed at each tip. Here also you will find that the very young leaves are strongly scented.

Henry Veitch (1840 – 1924)

The obituary of Henry Veitch, published in the Gardeners’ Chronicle on 12th July 1924 stated; “Sir Harry Veitch may be regarded as the most outstanding figure in contemporary horticulture, and during the last fifty years no one has exercised so great an influence on all things pertaining to gardening”.

It took some 35 years, following Fr. Armand David’s formal description given back in 1868, before the ‘Handkerchief Tree’ eventually arrived into Britain. While preserved specimens of Davidia involucrata had been sent to Kew Gardens, it was the eminent English horticulturist and nurseryman, Sir Henry Veitch, (Latter instrumental in establishing the now famous Chelsea Flower Show), who insisted on obtaining some seeds from which to propagate the tree.  In 1899 he commissioned a bright young prize-winning botanist, Ernest Wilson, to travel to China to locate the ‘Handkerchief Tree’. This proposed trip presented something of a challenge for the 22-year-old Wilson, who had had never travelled abroad previously and did not speak one solitary word of the Chinese language.

Nevertheless, following some six months stay at Veitch’s Coombe Woods Nursery, Wilson then travelled west towards China, staying for five days at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Massachusetts. Here he studied identified and established techniques involving the shipping of seeds and plants, without causing damage, before continuing to cross the United States by train; eventually sailing from San Francisco, to reach Hong Kong in June of 1899.

With difficulty, he eventually located a specimen of ‘Handkerchief Tree’ in Yichang city, in the western Hubei province of China. It was from this same first trip that Wilson would also introduce to Britain ‘Actinidia deliciosa’, or the Chinese gooseberry, better known today to supermarket shoppers as Kiwifruit.

Irish Botanist and Sinologist, Professor Dr. Augustine Henry (1857 to 1930).

Just a 53 minute drive, travelling north some 55.7 km via the N62, we reach the town of Birr in Co. Offaly. Here in the formal garden at Birr Castle, a “Handkerchief Tree” grew, before its death in 1980. This was propagated by Hillier’s Nursery in Ampfield, Hampshire and young plants were, I believe, planted at Birr Castle.

It is believed that the cultivar that resulted in ‘Birr Gold’ may have been a seedling from one of the original introduced here into Ireland. Certainly, Professor Dr. Augustine Henry; latter an Irish Botanist and Sinologist (Sinologist meaning person with knowledge pertaining to all things Chinese including language, literature, culture and history), further prompted the sending of Ernest Wilson to China with secret instructions to locate the ‘Handkerchief Tree’.

If you are around Thurles in the coming days, why not find your way to O’Driscoll’s Garden Centre, Mill Road, to view “up close and personal”, this rare and unusual tree, and marvel, while recognising the sheer beauty, complexity and equilibrium that is openly displayed to our world, courtesy of Mother Earth.

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A Love For Exotic Bloom?

The sun is “splitting the trees” here in Co. Tipperary today, with temperatures of some 17° at present, and rising.

On the Mill Road in Thurles town, over at O’Driscoll’s Garden Centre, [Tel: (0504) 21636] this welcome warmth has begun to waken the many exotic Daffodils, Narcissi and Tulips; latter all ready and potted to take away for your own personal delectation, or as the perfect gift for someone special.

All these exotic bulbs are guaranteed to bring immediate enchantment to your garden; both this year and for many years into the future.

O’Driscoll’s Garden Centre, Mill Road, Thurles, Co. Tipperary, are open today (Saturday) and from 2.00pm tomorrow afternoon, (Sunday).

Do drop in and say hello!

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Bring Early Spring Colour To Your Garden.

Japanese Pink Pussy Willow (Salix gracilistyla ‘Mt Aso’) [Salix = Willow, – gracilistyla = slender style, – Mt Aso (Aso-san) = largest active volcano in Japan and overall amongst the largest in the world.

The above ‘Mt Aso’ Willow shrub, with its changing pink, to purple, to red coloured catkins was first selected in Japan by a cut-flower developer.

In your garden, this shrub spreads to a maximum size 6ft x 6ft, with handsome bluish-grey leaves that are silky underneath. The twigs are covered with a greyish-tan fuzz and here in Ireland the catkins will begin to swell in late January; opening fully in February and March, depending of course, on the prevailing climate temperature.

The wonderful shrub will grow almost anywhere in full sun and in either sandy, average or moist soil, but will insists on being watered regularly, if residing in an area of low rainfall.

Little troubled by disease; the soft and silky catkins grow from 1 inch, expanding as they mature to around 2 inches in length. If coppiced (cut back annually) firmly; this truly ornamental shrub will maintain a steady annual supply of young stems, producing maximum flowering.  The cut stems can be brought indoors from late January onwards and placed in 3-4 inches of water until the flowers expand. Then remove the water and the dried stems will hold the pussy catkins, literally for months.

Currently, while stocks last, this rare and unusual shrub is available at O’Driscolls Garden Centre, Mill Road, Thurles, Co. Tipperary [Tel: (0504) 21636] and is categorised under our ‘Good Deals‘ section, retailing for the amazing price of just €8.50.

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Time For Primrose Power

English Country Garden

“How many kinds of sweet flowers grow
In an English country garden?
We’ll tell you now of some that we know,
Those we miss you’ll surely pardon.”

Lyrics extricated from the song “English Country Garden”, by James Frederick “Jimmie” Rodgers.

Following on from the snows which arrived courtesy of Storm Emma last week, looking out through our kitchen windows we must admit that our gardens, with the exceptions of those few daffodils growing in one corner, are looking just a bit deadbeat and colourless.

However, this would not have been the case if we had planted some of the earliest of spring bloomers those delightful primroses, (Primula polyantha), which with today’s variations, offer such a multiplicity of form, size, and colour. Primroses, which range in colours from white, traditional creamy-yellow, cream, purple and blue, yellow to orange, and red to pink, have easily shrugged off the severe cold of Storm Emma, and will continue to bloom right into the summer, adding magnificent colour well after spring bedding plants have come into maturity.

Take Note: Right now, while stocks last, these colourful plants can be found right here in Thurles, in the O’Driscoll Garden Centre, Mill Road, Thurles, Co. Tipperary (Telephone: (0504) 21636).

Ten assorted, mature primrose plants will cost you a mere €12.50 (inclusive) for all 10 plants, thus offering spectacular value for truly extravagant colour.

This garden centre is renowned countrywide for all manner of garden lovelies, such as trees, shrubs, perennials, alpines, climbing plants, ferns and herbs and is an oasis for those anxious to locate that extremely rare and unusual plant.

Primrose
The name primrose, of course, comes from the Latin ‘prima rosa’ meaning “first rose”.  These perennials (Perennial … meaning plants that remain leafy from year to year or evergreen), should be planted in a lightly shaded area with well-drained soil, preferably amended with organic matter. Set the plants about 6 to 12 inches apart with roots set 4 to 6 inches deep. Do water thoroughly after planting, trying not pour over the plants themselves. Good idea also to add a layer of mulch around each plant to assist in retaining moisture.

Suitable for planting almost anywhere in garden flower beds and borders, as well as in window boxes and other larger flower containers; once given proper growing conditions, these vigorous plants will multiply each year, adding stunning colours to your garden space.  Remember, primroses do appreciate a light application of organic fertilizer, throughout the growing season.

Like most other garden plants, the primrose will come under attack from slugs, snails and aphids, but these can be easily controlled using non-toxic slug bait in the case of the slugs and snails, together with soapy water in the case of aphids.
Of course, if these delightful flowers are simply left in the ground, when they have finished flowering this spring, they will sit happily throughout the late summer and winter, to once again burst into flower next spring.

Try Crystallize Your Primrose Blossoms
Primrose flowers are edible and while they do not exactly taste delicious on their own; when coated with sugar they can be transformed into rather a tasty decoration, with which to beautify your baking, e.g. cakes and even desserts.

  • Lightly beat the white of one egg with a teaspoon of cold water to make up an egg wash.
  • Make sure the flower blossoms are clean and if you have to wash them, allow them to dry on kitchen paper towelling, before continuing.
  • Dip or use a clean previously unused artists brush or a pastry brush to paint the egg wash unto the entire surface of each flower blossom, both back and front.
  • Pour approximately 1/4 cup of white or brown granulated sugar into a bowl, (Note: Icing sugar is not fit for purpose in this case). With the flower bloom now coated in egg wash, place it in with the sugar; coating as much of the flower’s surface as you can, before placing it face-down on a surface lined with greaseproof paper. Leave your blooms to dry for 1-2 days; until they stiffen up.

Once hardened, these decorations will decorate delightfully, your cakes, buns, and desserts.

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