The Warren Gardens by Frank Mason

This article was first published in Issue 104, April 2007, of The Newsletter of The Irish Garden Plant Society. Bishopstown Library, Wilton, Cork presently has an exhibition on the Hartlands who had several nurseries and shops in Mallow and Cork and were especially famous for their collection of daffodils. They had collected old varieties of daffodils from around Ireland and some of this work was carried out by the Curry sisters of Lismore. The exhibition brought Frank Mason’s article to mind – I had been the newsletter editor at the time and thought is worth sharing again. 

The Warren Gardens By Frank Mason

Doing some research recently into my maternal Grandfather, Thomas O Connor, I awakened some distant memories and found out some very interesting things about him and my home town. As a youngster, I had a very good teacher who taught

‘outside’ the curriculum and we all benefited from it. I distinctly remember him telling us, one day, that there was a most interesting daffodil cultivated in our hometown – Lismore, Co. Waterford. I was impressed but thought little about it at the time. I may have been ten years old then and that was the time in a boy’s life when to be an engine driver was top of the list of things to be. Another interest that I had then was stamp collecting and one day I was searching in a drawer at home and found a small sheet of stamps, unused. These stamps were from the Netherlands and I wondered how they got into our house. I asked my Grandmother and she told me that my late Grandfather ‘had business’ in the Netherlands. I let that sink in but did not question Granny further.

 

About forty years later, my last surviving aunt showed me an old photograph that had been reproduced in a local newspaper. It was of a group in a garden. She identified my Grandfather, her Father, in the group. He is the man with the white hat and the bow tie in the photograph below. The lady with the elaborate hat, seated in front of Grandfather is Miss Frances Wilmot Currey. I don’t know the date of this photograph but would guess that it was around 1912.

 

Photography was in its infancy then and few had the facility to take photographs. Miss Currey’s Father was a ‘pioneer’ amateur photographer and it is very likely that it was he who took the photograph. The location of the photograph was The Warren Gardens and the occasion must have been special.

 

Fanny Currey, as she was known, was an amazing woman and had travelled widely and was an accomplished water colourist. She exhibited paintings in Ireland, England and on the Continent and was highly acclaimed. She was a founder member of the Irish Watercolour Society and was also a published writer. Her last known painting was done in 1895 and was of a rhododendron. Landscapes were her main interest but she seems to have taken an interest in painting flowers towards the end of her painting career. She was a contemporary of Claude Monet, 1840 – 1926 and may have been somewhat influenced by him. She is reputed to have planted Rhodedendron ponticum at the ‘Mountain Barracks’, a few miles up the mountain road towards the ‘Vee’ from Lismore and where she spent some time painting in the Knockmealdowns. These rhododendrons are still thriving while the ruins of the old barracks can barely be seen in the foliage.

 

If she wasn’t influenced by Monet in starting her commercial garden, she certainly was influenced and helped by William Baylor Hartland, 1836 – 1912. He was a seedsman and had a premises at 24 St. Patrick’s Street in Cork City. Fitzgerald’s Gentlemans Outfitters now trade from this address. While Fitzgerald’s now have a Gentleman’s Outfitters Hartland had an ‘Old Established Garden Seed Ware-House’. Originally from Mallow, although the family were English, his Grandfather worked in Kew

Botanic Gardens, he had extensive gardens, about ten acres, at Ard Cairn in

Ballintemple near Cork City. He moved there from Temple Hill in Mallow in 1890. He and Fanny Currey became collectors of daffodils many of which had been found selfpropagating in old gardens in Ireland having been planted there perhaps over a hundred years previously. These were not native to Ireland. One find, described by Hartland, was of ‘Bishop Mann’. This was found in an old garden of the Dioceses of St. Fin Barr’s where Bishop Mann has been the last resident. This was in Bishopstown, now a suburb of Cork City and the bulbs had been planted there, as far as could be deduced, about one hundred and fifty years previously. He also located an old species of late keeping apple in 1890, now known as ‘Ard Cairn Russet’ and sent samples to the Royal Horticultural Society. He is remembered in Cork by the naming of Hartland’s Avenue and Hartland’s Road in the Lough area where he had one of his nurseries.

 

It seems that Fanny concentrated on setting up her garden after her last painting in 1895 and by 1900 she was sending out ‘Lists’ of Daffodils. Fortunately, the Lindley Library of the Royal Horticultural Society in London has copies of these Lists from 1900 to 1911 and they make very interesting reading. The cover of the list from 1900 is below. Interestingly it was printed in Belfast even though our next door neighbour and lifelong family friend had a printing business at the time. Over the next eleven years the numbers of different named varieties that were produced. A daffodil named ‘Lismore’ is among the ‘Trumpet Daffodils’. This daffodil was cultivated before 1899 and may be the ‘unique’ daffodil that my teacher, all those years ago, mentioned. The clarity of the picture of the page may not reveal the name or the price but she was charging 21s. for a single bulb. I can’t imagine what a week’s wage would have been in 1900 but would guess that 21s would pay the wages of a gardener for a month or more.

 

Business seemed to have advancing her gardens and her produce. Societies and Shows who gave awards and medals were the Midland Daffodil Society, Royal Horticultural Society, Dublin, Royal Horticultural Society, London, Royal Botanic Society, London, Colchester Spring Show and Shrewsbury Spring Show to mention just some. There is no mention of the Banksian Medal that was awarded in 1907 which is surprising as this was called after Sir Joseph Banks, 1743 – 1820, who was a noted plant collector and botanist and who sailed with Captain Cook to the South Seas in 1766. This was a prestigious award.

 

Such was the abbreviation for 10s. 6d. or ten shillings and six pence). An explanation as to how to use this tool is as follows – ‘Method of Working – at each insertion of the tool into the grass a round sod is clean cut out, which is released from the tool at the making of the second insertion, when it lies beside the hole ready to cover it up after the bulb has been put in place’.

 

In the same list there was a paragraph headed ‘Colonial and Foreign Orders’. Underneath this heading is the stern ‘request’, ‘As it is expensive and difficult to collect Accounts due on above, (refers to all orders) prepayment is requested, and where Bulbs are to be sent by post an additional sum should be sent to cover cost of same’. A hard-nosed business woman I have no doubt. A single bulb of this cultivar was £32 10s. 0d. – and that was 1911! I wonder if this cultivar is still available. The page with that information is shown below. Such are the vagaries of ‘market forces’ that by 1911 ‘Lismore’ was selling at 8d. each. This list from 1911 is the latest that the Royal Horticultural Society has in their archives in the Lindley Library in London. It may very well be the last sent out from The Warren Gardens. Miss Currey died in 1917 and the strain of producing such lists and running the commercial side of the garden may have been too much for her failing health.

Lismore Castle and the vast lands attached were once owned by Sir Walter Raleigh and we all know about his potato and tobacco growing! Maybe the first potatoes and tobacco were grown in the fertile Blackwater valley. The castle and estates passed from Sir Walter to the Boyle family and a son of that family inherited the family wealth. He was Robert Boyle and contributed to science and chemistry. He is probably best knows for ‘Boyle’s Law’ but he also did experiments with plants and flowers. Lismore was a place of learning and science from long before the 17th century but it was not until Boyle’s time that the transformation from cookery to science really began. He experimented with colour indicators and other constituents of plants; did exhaustive and repetitive experiments and had the approach of what we now would call a research scientist. Maybe it is a coincidence that nearly three centuries later there was a ‘Nicotine Factory’ in Lismore. This factory processed tobacco plants and extracted various chemicals from it. These were used as insecticides and disinfectants. This was a thriving commercial enterprise for many years.

My research into my grandfather has led me in many directions and one of them now has me looking for cultivars from The Warren Gardens where he was the gardener. First on my list are the following daffodils –  ‘Lismore’; ‘Sir Walter Raleigh’; ‘Robert Boyle’ and ‘Helen’. Helen?, you may ask. I haven’t mentioned Helen. She was Helen O’Hara and lived in Lismore. She was a painter and illustrated a childrens’ book that Fanny Currey wrote. This was called ‘Prince Ritto’. As well as daffodils there were two woodland anemones cultivated in The Warren Gardens by Fanny Currey. These are ‘Lismore Pink’ and ‘Lismore Blue’; these are also known by some as ‘Currey’s Pink’ and ‘Currey’s Blue’. Fortunately these are currently available and I plan to have some flowering in my garden by 2008.

I regret that I am not now living in Lismore but I would like to think that the spirit of this Heritage town may eventually develop a Physic Garden to reflect the introduction of the Potato and Tobacco plants by Sir Walter Raleigh and the experimental work done on plants by Sir Robert Boyle. As well as that I think that the daffodil should be adopted as the flower of Lismore and that as many as possible of the old cultivars from The Warren Gardens should be sourced and grown and what better place than Lismore to have profuse carpets of the woodland anemones ‘Lismore Blue’ and ‘Lismore Pink’.

Many thanks to Frank for his research and his memories!

Paddy

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