Ornamental plants with a proud Irish heritage

By Andrew Collyer - Practical Gardening

Published 26/03/2016 | 00:00

Andrew Collyer.
Andrew Collyer.

Plant some first early potatoes, just for tradition

Hedera 'Paddy's Pride' large leafed variegated ivy

With St Patrick's day just gone and the 1916 rising commemorations on the horizon I thought I would take a look at some ornamental plants with a proud Irish heritage.

Two of the most interesting that come to mind are the Irish yew [Taxus baccata 'Fastigiata'] a favourite graveyard tree and the weeping Monterey cypress [Cupressus macrocarpa 'Pendula']. Both naturally occured as variants from the species in Ireland.

The Irish yew goes back to 1780 when two young yew plants were found growing on a moor in County Fermanagh that were distinctly upright in habit. Legend has it that the two plants were found by a gardener who transplanted one in his garden and one in the landowners. The landowners died but the gardeners survived.

And it is not legend that every Irish yew plant in the world can trace its ancestry back to this one plant, they are genetically the same. This is also the case with the weeping cypress that originated as a sport-in simple terms an odd growth form on a normal plant-on a Monterey cypress in Glencormac near Bray in County Wicklow.

This weeping sport was propagated and a whole new plant created,the weeping Monterey Cypress. Again all plants of this type in the world trace back to the Glencormac plant. These two mutations have never naturally occured again although plant breeders have worked on creating more upright and more weeping forms of the plants over the year.

Probably the most well known 'Irish' plant is Solanum crispum 'Glasnevin' [ Chilean potato tree]. The common name has nothing to do with the potato/ Irish connection but is because Solanum is the Latin for the potato as well. Both plants are from the same genus. This plant can trace its roots to the botanic gardens in Glasnevin, Dublin. Its a great plant flowering over a long period from spring to summer especially against a sunny wall with blooms like those of a potato, purple with a bright yellow centre. It does needs some space though as it can make up to three metre in all directions.

Lesser known but also from Glasnevin but taken from a private garden is the lovely Zauschneria californica 'Dublin' [ Californian fuchsia]. Dublin is a selected form that flowers for longer than the type, from August to October, with tubular red flowers on a eighteen inch sub shrub bush. Still in Dublin the world famous Cytisus 'Killiney Red' broom was bred as you might imagine in Killiney and the well known Bergenia 'Ballawley Hybrid' was bred in Dundrum.

Back to Wicklow, not called the garden of Ireland for nothing, and to two of my favourite gardens, Mount Usher and Kilmacurragh botanic garden. Both have given their names to two outstanding choice small trees. Eucryphia x nymansensis 'Mount Usher' is an upright evergreen to twenty feet high with masses of white flowers in late summer. This plant is the result of a cross, creating a hybrid. between two other Eucryphia species [ glutinosa and cordifolia] that dates appropriately back to 1916.

In Kilmacurragh the equally beautiful Cornus capitata ' Kilmacurragh Rose' is an evergreen flowering dogwood that produces creamy bract/flowers that turn rose as they age followed by red fruits in autumn. A narrow upright conifer Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Kilmacurragh' also calls this garden home with a large specimen at the entrance gates considered to be the original of the type.

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