A Róisín Dubh – Dark Rosaleen.

Those who grow and those who see Primula ‘Dark Rosaleen’ are unfailingly cheered to see it come into flower – as I was to see it do so in my own garden today. The dark purple flowers with their yellow stripes match beautifully with the bronze foliage making it a delightful plant.

It was raised by Joe Kennedy, the famed primula breeder who lives in Ballycastle, Co. Antrim, though he does unfailingly point out that he is a native of Co. Carlow. Joe is now more widely known since the release from Fitzgerald Nurseries of “The Kennedy Irish Primulas”, a wonderful series mainly featuring bright flowers against a dark foliage – an aim of Joe’s breeding for many years.

Primula 'Dark Rosaleen'

One primula, which everybody who has seen it thinks is simply beautiful, but which did not fit in with Joe’s aims in his breeding programme was Primula ‘Dark Rosaleen’. It was, in effect, a reject from Joe – one of many hundreds of such rejects each year.

It is now widely available and there have been various comments as to its origin. Barnhaven Primulas, for example, say that it was named for the James Clarence Mangan poem, “Dark Rosaleen”, a poem certainly well known to people of my generation in its English and Irish versions. However, this was not the case. Joe had given the primula to a lady in Limavady and she, in turn, as is so often the way with good garden plants passed a piece on to Gordon Toner. Indeed, Gordon showed it at the Belfast Spring Show on a number of occasions, under the name “Joe Kennedy Hybrid” winning first in its class.

Primula 'Dark Rosaleen' (1)

When Joe visited Gordon’s garden he was surprised and delighted to see how well it was growing and agreed that it deserved to be named and this he did calling it “Dark Rosaleen” for Gordon’s wife, Rosaleen!

Of course, the name will always recall James Clarence Mangan’s poem and I copy it here for you and below it an instrumental rendition of the Irish version, A Róisín Dubh.

Dark Rosaleen

O my dark Rosaleen,
    Do not sigh, do not weep!
The priests are on the ocean green,
    They march along the deep.
There’s wine from the royal Pope,
    Upon the ocean green;
And Spanish ale shall give you hope,
    My Dark Rosaleen!
    My own Rosaleen!
Shall glad your heart, shall give you hope,
Shall give you health, and help, and hope,
    My Dark Rosaleen!
Over hills, and thro’ dales,
    Have I roam’d for your sake;
All yesterday I sail’d with sails
    On river and on lake.
The Erne, at its highest flood,
    I dash’d across unseen,
For there was lightning in my blood,
    My Dark Rosaleen!
    My own Rosaleen!
O, there was lightning in my blood,
Red lighten’d thro’ my blood.
    My Dark Rosaleen!
All day long, in unrest,
    To and fro, do I move.
The very soul within my breast
    Is wasted for you, love!
The heart in my bosom faints
    To think of you, my Queen,
My life of life, my saint of saints,
    My Dark Rosaleen!
    My own Rosaleen!
To hear your sweet and sad complaints,
My life, my love, my saint of saints,
    My Dark Rosaleen!
Woe and pain, pain and woe,
    Are my lot, night and noon,
To see your bright face clouded so,
    Like to the mournful moon.
But yet will I rear your throne
    Again in golden sheen;
‘Tis you shall reign, shall reign alone,
    My Dark Rosaleen!
    My own Rosaleen!
‘Tis you shall have the golden throne,
‘Tis you shall reign, and reign alone,
    My Dark Rosaleen!
Over dews, over sands,
    Will I fly, for your weal:
Your holy delicate white hands
    Shall girdle me with steel.
At home, in your emerald bowers,
    From morning’s dawn till e’en,
You’ll pray for me, my flower of flowers,
    My Dark Rosaleen!
    My fond Rosaleen!
You’ll think of me through daylight hours
My virgin flower, my flower of flowers,
    My Dark Rosaleen!
I could scale the blue air,
    I could plough the high hills,
Oh, I could kneel all night in prayer,
    To heal your many ills!
And one beamy smile from you
    Would float like light between
My toils and me, my own, my true,
    My Dark Rosaleen!
    My fond Rosaleen!
Would give me life and soul anew,
    My Dark Rosaleen!
O, the Erne shall run red,
    With redundance of blood,
The earth shall rock beneath our tread,
    And flames wrap hill and wood,
And gun-peal and slogan-cry
    Wake many a glen serene,
Ere you shall fade, ere you shall die,
    My Dark Rosaleen!
    My own Rosaleen!
The Judgement Hour must first be nigh,
Ere you can fade, ere you can die,
    My Dark Rosaleen!
And I hope this link will bring you to a rendering of A Róisín Dubh



A Moment of Inspiration

I had such a moment today, a moment which moved me to thought and consideration of how we garden and how we live our lives; a moment with a lesson, so to speak. It was something which made a lot of sense, I thought; something we allow to slip by and not take notice of and our lives are the poorer for all that.

Magnolia 'Raspberry Ice' (3)
Blue skies and pink flowers combine wonderfully – Magnolia ‘Raspberry Ice’
Magnolia 'Heaven Scent' (1)
Another pink against the blue sky and living up to its name: Magnolia ‘Heaven Scent’

It would make a nice blog, I thought, and as I worked away – cutting the grass this afternoon – I worded it in my mind and began to feel it might sound interesting, even insightful, but a niggle in the back of my mind grew as the afternoon progressed, as I tired and as my enthusiasm waned. This, I thought, was only one step away from posting inspirational pictures and quotations on Facebook. My blog might soon even become “instructional”, telling people what to do, when to do it and how to do it – of course, with a certain air of authority as befits such a style of posting.

Magnolia soulangeana (3)
Magnolia soulangeana

Facebook, for it is the most used social medium, is chock a block with such drivel, the minutiae and mundane of people’s lives which are often of no interest or, at least, tiresome over time. I thank Facebook for the facility they provide to block some of this and, especially, for my recently discovered ability to “snooze” people. It is a kind way to take a rest from some people – you know those people who are better in small doses! – and it is less harsh than “unfollowing” or (Oh, how could you!) “unfriending” them. A break is as good as a rest!

Anemone nemorosa 'Leed's Variety'
Anemone nemorosa ‘Leed’s Variety’
Anemone nemorosa 'Buckland Blue' (3)
Anemone nemorosa ‘Buckland Blue’

As for that moment of inspiration – you have been spared. Perspiration is as important as inspiration in the garden – so I continued to work but did take a few minutes to take some photographs.

Trillium chloropetalum
Trillium chloropetalum
Trillium albidum (2)
Trillium albidum

Magnolia ‘Anne Rosse’

We have many interesting and beautiful plants associated with the famous Nymans garden in West Sussex in England – Eucryphia ‘Nymansay’ and Magnolia x loebneri ‘Leonard Messel’ are probably the two best known and most widely grown. There is also a Camellia ‘Maud Messel’ and a Forsythia suspensa ‘Nymans’ but a particularly beautiful Nymans plant with an Irish connection, and in flower at the moment, is Magnolia ‘Anne Rosse.’

Magnolia 'Anne Rosse' (4)
Magnolia   ‘Anne Rosse’

Ludwig Messel bought the Nymans estate in the late 19th century. The property came to his son Leonard Messell in 1915 and he continued to develop the garden as one of the foremost in England. The Messels contributed to the plant collecting expeditions of Ernest Wilson and were among the first to grow and flower the magnificent magnolias he introduced as seed from China.

Magnolia 'Anne Rosse' (1)
Magnolia ‘Anne Rosse’
Magnolia 'Anne Rosse' (5)
Magnolia ‘Anne Rosse’

Over the years there have been many beautiful accidental and deliberate crosses made at Nymans and Magnolia ‘Anne Rosse’ was one of these latter, a cross between Magnolia denudate and Magnolia sargentiana var robusta (one of the original Ernest Wilson introductions) and was named for Leonard Messel’s daughter, Anne.

Anne Messell married Laurence Parsons, 6th Earl of Rosse, and is mother of Brendan Parsons, the present 7th Earl of Rosse, of Birr Castle. Magnolia ‘Anne Rosse’ is in full flower at present in Mount Congreve gardens and is a sight worth seeing with its large pink bowl-shaped flowers.

Magnolia 'Anne Rosse' (3)
Magnolia ‘Anne Rosse’
Magnolia 'Anne Rosse' (2)
Magnolia ‘Anne Rosse’

The Chequered Lawn

Nature can, at times, benevolently redirect our gardening plans and it is as well to go with it rather than fight against it – going with the flow, so to speak.

Some years back we had the idea of having a patch of grass in the garden where we would plant bulbs – a bulb lawn, as we fancifully called it. We began with crocus, the cheaper selections bought as dry bulbs, and gradually added those crocuses which we used for spring display in pots with daffodils and tulips. When the display was over we planted the crocus in this grass patch. We added a pinch of the Snake’s Head Fritillary around the same time and some common snowdrops and when given access to an old abandoned garden, planted several thousand snowdrops and imagined snowdrops would be our feature bulb.

Snowdrops in grass view (2)
The grass area between these two beds was where we started our “bulb lawn”. I run the lawnmower down the inside of the beds to allow access and the run of the lawnmower also defines the top and bottom of the patch as I simply run straight from the top of one bed to the top of the other so a straight line top and bottom. 
Snowdrops in grass
Snowdrop time

That old garden also supplied two old daffodil varieties which have traditionally been planted in grass – ‘Van Sion’ and ‘Butter and Eggs’ while a few stray muscari and scilla gave some spots of blue and a sprinkle of orchids gave late season interest. We allow the grass to grow until mid-August when all the bulbs have died down and use the saved hay as bedding for our hens and ducks.

Crocus in grass with snowdrops (1)
Crocus were the first bulbs added to this area
Snowdrops in grass (2)
Snowdrops have done well – several thousand planted one by one! 
Narcissus 'Butter and Eggs' in grass
One of the old daffodils planted in the grass: ‘Butter and Eggs’ which has been grown for over 200 years
Fritillaria meleagris in grass (7)
Narcissus ‘Van Sion’ an old daffodil which has been grown from the 1600s.

The snowdrops have done well, which was what we had hoped for, but that original pinch of fritillaries soon began so self-seed and has increased beyond our expectations. It seems the conditions in the garden suits them very well; our wet conditions echoing their natural growing locations of riverside flood meadows. In the last few years we have begun collecting the seed so as to spread it about a little more and this has been a success with flowers and seedlings appearing further away from the original planting. We may have had hopes and visions of drifts of snowdrops – and they will be there – but, I think, the fritillaries will be the more successful as that is what nature has dictated and we will be happy with that.

Fritillaria meleagris in grass (3)
It is the fritillaries which have thrived in the wet conditions of this area. 

It is wonderful to see the increase in numbers in the fritillaries but also very interesting to see the variations in depth of colour which occurs with crosses between the darker and the white forms. 

Bulb lawn grass cut
At season’s end, mid-August, the grass has been cut though I can see that one orchid (Common Spotted Orchid) has been spared to allow for seed to drop – and live in hopes that they may increase in numbers also. Although never planted there is a good selection of wild flowers growing in this patch also. Creeping buttercup and daisies are to be expected but there have been years with a beautiful blue mist on the area from the wild Forget-me-not and last year there was a complete covering of Hawkweed. It all adds interest to our gardening. 

My Ever So Healthy Lungs…

The lungworts (Pulmonarias) are in season with their attractive foliage and pretty flowers. Lungwort” is rather an odd name for plant – the lung herb – and it dates back to the 1600s when the Doctrine of Signatures was in vogue – a plant was used to treat ailments in those parts of the body which it resembled and as the pulmonaria resembles the lungs it became the “lungwort”. This approach to medicine is long discarded yet there are some who suggest that lungwort may well be of benefit as an antioxidant. Its common name in French and German also reflects it former medicinal use.

Pulmonaria 'Glebe Cottage Pink' (2)
Pulmonaria ‘Glebe Cottage Pink’ 

Nowadays pulmonaria is valued for its ornamental contribution to the garden and its ease of cultivation. It is no wonder that it has long been in our gardens and is regarded as one of essential cottage garden plants. When the flowers are over we cut the plants back completely to the ground, removing all flowers and foliage, and the plants recover quickly with new fresh foliage to give interest for the rest of the season. We have found it benefits from damp soil and some shade and is inclined to struggle in a dry hot position. Given suitable conditions plants will bulk up quickly and can be divided very easily to increase numbers.

Primula 'June Blake' and Pulmonaria 'Blue Ensign' (1)
Pulmonaria ‘Blue Ensign’ 

Of the pulmonarias in our garden ‘Blake’s Silver’ is a seedling which arose in June Blake’s garden in Blessington, Co. Wicklow, selected for its very attractive foliage. ‘David Ward’ is the Garden Director at the Beth Chatto gardens and spotted the attractive plant, silver foliage with a white edge and blue flowers, which bears his name. ‘Diane Clare’, somewhat similar and always a little earlier to flower here, was found by Bob Brown of Cotswold Plants and named for his wife. It is one of the aristocrats of the pulmonaria world. ‘Blue Ensign’ is an outstanding blue, admired by all who see it. The origins of ‘Polar Splash’ and ‘Blue Mist’, the latter a gorgeously delicate light blue, are a mystery to me but liked nonetheless. ‘Glebe Cottage Blue’ is an equally delicate and attractive light blue while ‘Glebe Cottage Pink’ veers to the reddish side of pink. Both originated in Carol Klein’s garden and came to us via Helen Dillon. ‘Sissinghurst White’ has obvious origins while it is less obvious that ‘Blue Ensign’ originated at Wisley Gardens. There are others not yet open here and, of course, many others available which we might try some day.

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As with many an old plant a whole range of other names have been applied to the lungwort and it has an equally wide range of stories to go with it but those are for another day. For today we will be happy to simply enjoy the pulmonarias we have in flower today.



Primula Bounty!

Primulas are ever-reliable and obliging plants in our gardens. Variants and cultivars of the common primrose, Primula vulgaris, and the Juliana primroses, Primula juliae, grow exceptionally well for us and lend themselves to easy propagation so we can multiply their numbers with ease to give greater impact in the garden.

Primula 'Kinlough Beauty' with daffodils

Primula 'Kinlough Beauty' (1)

They have always been treasured in Irish gardens and one I have come to like especially is Primula ‘Kinlough Beauty’. Barnhaven Primulas stock it and describe it, “A very dainty salmon pink polyanthus type juliana. They usually have a cream stripe down the middle of each petal that make it easy to recognize. It is a very old Irish cultivar. Very easy to multiply from its creeping rootstock, which will happily spread in the garden.” 

Dr. E. Charles Nelson, in A Heritage of Beauty, quotes Cecil Monson: “I do know that when the late Mrs. Johnston came back to her house in Kinlough in Co. Leitrim she found several seedlings had appeared from her [Primula juliae]. Among them was the lovely pink polyanthus type ‘Kinlough Beauty’, while another was the creamy yellow ‘Lady Greer’. ‘Kinlough Beauty’ was a chance seedling, “neat and small and covered with blooms.” 

Primula 'Kinlough Beauty' (3)

I find it best to divide primulas immediately after they have flowered so there is still moisture in the soil and they quickly make roots before the heat of summer puts them into a semi dormancy. However, the primula is an amenable plant and I divided a clump of ‘Kinlough Beauty’ today, a clump, about 20 – 25 cm in diameter, which I split and then planted the resulting 50 small plants as a border to a small pathway – quite a return from one clump! It is no wonder gardeners love these primulas.

Primula 'Kinlough Beauty' beside path


Breaking the 6p.m. Barrier!

It is a milestone of the gardening year, a significant move from one gardening season to another, that first evening when you work in the garden past six o’ clock. There certainly is that stretch in the evening and it a pleasure to take advantage of it.

Unfortunately, this year’s weather means that the ground is still quite wet; we haven’t managed to run the lawnmower yet but we have made a good start to the gardening year with weeding, freshening up the soil, pruning the hydrangeas and general tidying up.

Despite the dreadful season the garden is awake and the flowers are putting on a very pleasant display which is an encouragement at the end of this unusually long winter and miserable spring.

We’ll take encouragement from the flowers, enjoy those we have now and look forward to better weather and a good summer ahead.

I hope you enjoy some photographs taken today in the garden.

The magnolias have come into flower:



Daffodils and fritillarias are doing well in the bulb lawn:



Trilliums are fully into flower. These were plants I had struggle with in the garden, finding that bought tubers almost always failed to thrive in the garden but those I received from the gardens of friends have done very well with some seeding about generously.



Finally, a selection of the bits and pieces which caught my eye as I wandered about with the camera today – I find taking photographs changes my interaction with the garden. I am no longer working in the garden but enjoying it, something I think gardeners don’t do often enough.


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