The Optimistic Sundial

Waterford, south-east Ireland, Saturday 27th February 2021

I saw this optimistic sundial in a garden in Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow, while visiting with other members of the Irish Garden Plant Society. The garden was Knockmore, that of John and Ruth Isabel Ross, and though Ruth Isabel will be known to an older generation from her many books, several on cooking topics and a range of interest to the gardener, Irish Wild Flowers, Irish Trees and A Year in an Irish Garden, she might be better introduced nowadays as the mother of Shane Ross, independent TD for Dublin South and Minister for Transport in the last government.

This sundial I speak of bore the inscription, “Ní chomhraím ach na huairanta geala” – I only count the bright hours – a statement one might consider superfluous, even trite, on a sundial but it caught my attention that day and has stayed in my memory these past twenty years. The cynic might comment that I am fortunate to have such a carefree (empty?) mind that trivia of this nature can find space there. I feel the memory persisted because the phrase rankled with me.

Unabashed positivity, generally, does not rest well with the Irish and certainly not with me and there was a smugness about the sundial which irritated me. It was in a sense stating the obvious for, of course, a sundial can only show the time when the sun is shining – counting the bright hours – and stating the obvious suggests an assumption of either ignorance or stupidity on the part of the reader. On the other hand, this sundial might have been declaring it had cracked the meaning of life; that the secret of life was to look on the bright side, to ignore the negative and dark times, to only count the bright hours! How simplistic and how wonderful if life could be so easy.

Life is that easy, that simple, for the flowers in our gardens and a few sunny days this week brought a spectacular response, especially from the crocus. It also seemed to bring a change of life to the gardeners and old bodies were, at long last, moved from the armchair, the laptop, the television, the jigsaws, the books, to the fresh air and to gardening once again. Sunday, Monday and Friday were great days, bright and clear and with a promise that the garden may begin to dry out shortly. A number of beds were tidied up and freshened up, garden compost was spread, a small number of special snowdrops were moved to better growing positions and a large number of the double common snowdrop were lifted, split and planted along the edge of a path, something to look forward to next year. It was a beginning and as an old Irish saying goes, “Bíonn gach tosú lag ach bíonn sé áthasach, dóchasach freisin” – Every beginning is weak but it is happy and hopeful also.

So, to this week’s photo-reports:

I have divided the crocus into two groups – Crocus tommasinianus and the rest of them! – and I’ve done this for they are like chalk and cheese, the former slim, elegant and prolific in its self-seeding and increase in numbers while the latter are generally larger, less elegant, though nonetheless certainly worth their place in the garden for the brightness they add at this time of the year. Making two groups of the crocus also allows me to show more photographs and, as I enjoyed taking them I may as well enjoy sharing them:

Crocus tommasinianus:

Other crocus:

Camellia ‘Donation’ is going over but the flowers look well on the ground. Elsewhere, Camellia ‘Debbie'(pink) and ‘Elizabeth Hawkins’ (red) has begun to flower:

Hellebores are in full flower and are making a good contribution to the garden:

A favourite winter aconite, Eranthis ‘Guinea Gold’, is in flower. It is a richer, deeper yellow and an excellent grower:

And, finally for this week, an update on snowdrops which continue to flower well in the garden. The main season is past but the later cultivars are looking well and there is a great number in flower at the moment. There are some others yet to open.

I’m sharing this blog with a group of fellow bloggers who contribute to a “Six on Saturday” theme which is hosted by “The Propagator” on his blog site. To read more contributions to the Six on Saturday theme go to The Propagator’s entry for today, scroll down to the comments and you will find other bloggers have posted links to their Saturday entries there. Lots to read!

30 thoughts on “The Optimistic Sundial

  1. I’m up, fed & watered!
    Your introduction sits well with my mood this week. Very tempted to let anger get the better of me. The answer is very straightforward! Get to the garden.
    The Camellia is go h-álainn ar fad.

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  2. Nice to see the Camellias are out. I’ve seen the odd flower round here, but in general I think we’re a week or two behind you.

    Whatever the situation, I feel that when the sun comes out after a dreary spell of weather it always brings out the optimist in me. The garden’s looking great – enjoy the weather!

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  3. Hello Paddy,
    Wonderful photos and I particularly love your views and photos of C. tommasinianus, A couple of points occur to me – are the white/speckled purple forms a Tobin seed variant or a named form? Do you keep honeybees, or have hives nearby, and do you have a view of rodent/squirrel predation management, which you’re prepared to share – or maybe you have some well trained cats?
    Like you I love C.t, and the way they an lift and complement the white drifts of the early spring garden,
    best wishes
    Julian

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    1. Good Morning, Julian. To the best of our recollection we certainly had ‘Barr’s Purple’ and, perhaps, ‘Albus’ (not sure of that) and, obviously they have crossed over the years giving us the speckled ones. I have never tried to separate them out to plant as their own group – life’s too short! (or I just couldn’t be bothered!) They are nice though! And, no bother with rodents or squirrels – mice are a bother with crocus in pots alright but not in the ground that I have noticed.

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  4. Hi Paddy. The crocus are wonderful and as I said earlier, I think I have a new obsession arising for the southern spring. I also love hellebores and have collected some special cultivars in the last five years. Yours flower so perfectly and thus, I wonder if you can tell me why I have sooo much leaf growth and that the flowers tend to go over. There are H.niger, H. argutifolius, H. lividus and H.orientalis – whites, blacks and greys. Thank you for your pics.

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    1. We cut the foliage off all the H. orientalis before Christmas so that the flowers can be seen clearly. Later, we will remove all the flower stems to allow the plants grow away better.

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  5. I suspect all my crocus are of the ‘… and the rest of them’ variety. Your hellebores have such lovely colours but, after losing one of the two ‘Christmas Carol’s I bought in 2019, I fear they are yet another ‘easy’ plant that will not grow for me. Nice to see the snowdrops are still going strong.

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    1. Ashwood Nurseries is a great source for hellebores. They used supply plug plants which were very good value. Of course, there was the wait for them to reach flowering size.

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  6. I find the constant use of “Glass half full person” in the current times equally annoying. I love your introduction of “cúpla focail” – my Irish is not as classy as yours but I love an opportunity to use it. Seachtain na Gaeilge – its only in Ireland that we have a 17-day week!!!!

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  7. Lovely pictures Paddy. Ours are well out also Daffodils nearly out. We were out yesterday clearing a bed which had been overgrown y a plant thug. Lots of clear space for more planting. I’m going to sort out some seeds today. Ready for planting.

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  8. Yes to getting outside and beginning the digging and compost spreading and transplanting that are the true rites of spring! I appreciate your chaffing at the sundial’s condescending attitude/facile positivity. Somehow the phrase inscribed on the sundial sounded rather melancholy to me, implying countless hours lost in shadow. But I didn’t see the font.

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    1. I recall that it was a rather run-down, worn-out old sundial showing, perhaps, that the lack of sunny hours had taken it toll.

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  9. Just gorgeous, all of them.
    Emphasis is a funny thing in language, and it’s possible to put emphasis on every single word in ‘I only count the bright hours’ to change the meaning of the sentence.

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  10. I love ‘visiting’ your beautiful garden. Mine would look just like it, if I had the space 🤣. In my dreams anyway. I see very few Eranthis in my part of the world, which may be why I haven’t succeeded in growing them. After a few years of not trying, I’ve ordered more, in the green. Maybe this time……

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    1. “In the green” is the way to go with the Eranthis as they can dry our irreparably if out of the soil for too long. Once established, they increase very well both at the rhizome and by seed.

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