Dr. E. Charles Nelson has enriched my gardening for over twenty five years though it has been a disappointment that I have never had a plant from him – he has a special interest in plants of Irish origin or connection and he grows a few that I would give my eye teeth for. Charles was the taxonomist at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin for quite a few years, was a founding member of the Irish Garden Plant Society and was commissioned by that society to write a book on Irish plants – A Heritage of Beauty – which remains the most significant and reliable reference for those who share this enthusiasm.
Charles has also contributed to The Irish Garden magazine for many years, generally historic articles on plants, people, gardens or other matters horticultural with an Irish background. In 2009, The Collins Press published a selection of these articles in a book entitled, An Irishman’s Cuttings: Tales of Irish Gardens and Gardeners, Plants and Plant Hunters, and it is through his writing that he has added so very much to my enjoyment of gardening for every plants is given added value when one has its background story, the story of its origins and of the people connected with it
It was a while since I had read An Irishman’s Cuttings but when I picked it up last week, a quick flick through brought me to an article relating to a plant, Dryas drummondii, I had admired and photographed that morning in the garden and it was interesting to read Charles’ article on Thomas Drummond again.
To quote from Charles’ article: “Who was he? A 32-year old Scot named Thomas Drummond who was born at Inverarity in Forfarshire. His father, also Thomas, was a gardener on the local estate. Thomas had an older brother, James, and both lads were to follow in their father’s footsteps, and then go much further to unheard-of places. They both trained as gardeners… James Drummond became the first and only curator of the short-lived Cork Botanic Garden, and Thomas became the first curator of the Botanic Gardens in Belfast.”
Thomas went on to become an assistant naturalist on Sir John Franklin’s second expedition (1825 – 1827) to the polar regions of North America and, as well as collecting and preparing herbarium specimens, he also collected seed which were distributed to gardeners on his return and many of these plants are still in our gardens to this day.
Mountain Avens, Dryas octopetala, is common on The Burren in Co. Clare, a prostrate, ground-hugging shrub with white flowers. Its North American relative, Dryas drummondii, introduced to this side of the Atlantic by Thomas Drummond and named for him, is very similar in appearance but has soft-yellow flowers. Our plant came from Aberconwy Nursery, in north Wales, over twenty years ago and continues to be healthy and vigorous and to delight us with its flowers and attractive seedheads each year. The plant is beautiful in itself but one’s enjoyment of any plant is augmented greatly when one knows its background story. So, thank you to Thomas Drummond and to Charles Nelson.