Fair days to lift gloom

IMPATIENS TINCTORIA: This herbaceous perennial will reach up to two metres, producing beautifully scented white flowers with a deep pink throat.

Boosted with the hope of finer weather, Peter Dowdall can’t wait to go in search of a particular impatiens.

We have experienced a seemingly endless winter and perhaps, now that mother nature has gotten all that rain and wind out of her system, we can be certain of many weeks and months of fine weather.

Blue skies, high temperatures and balmy days during which to enjoy our gardens and gardening, must be on our horizon. Of course, the Irish weather is a stranger to logic so I live in hope.

With spring well and truly here and summer approaching, our thoughts most definitely do move away from the armchair gardening to the real thing and to that loveliest of pursuits, a trip to the plant fair.

The Irish Specialist Nursery Association has already dusted down the cobwebs and several plant sales have taken place around the country so far, but for me, the serious business begins when it is time for the annual “Fota House Plant and Garden Fair”.

Organised by the Irish Heritage Trust, it takes place at Fota House and Gardens, Carrigtwohill, Cork, on Sunday, April 22, from 11am to 4pm and it is an horticultural treat.

The Fota Plant Fair is recognised as the largest plant and garden fair outside of the Dublin area and will be held in the new car park of Fota House.

While you’re there, do take the opportunity to visit the magnificent Fota House and enjoy the café there which is now being run by the fabulous Bakestone, who also run the café in the nearby Botanic Garden Centre (formerly Ballyseedy).

Do not even think of leaving without taking the time to visit the glasshouses in the walled garden or farmyard which have been recently restored to their former glory. Each year, I go and each year I get so excited at what’s on offer — I give one piece of advice to any intending visitor — go early and get the best of the worms, so to speak.

This year I am going in search of a particular impatiens. Not a busy lizzie but a hardy species, Impatiens tinctoria. Native to parts of Africa, this herbaceous perennial will reach up to two metres in height each year, producing beautifully scented white flowers with a deep pink throat.

I was speaking to Susan Harford of The Potting Shed nursery in Camolin and she told me she had it. Susan raves about it: “I first saw this fabulous impatiens on a late summer visit to the National Botanics at Kilmacurragh in Co Wicklow and was stopped in my tracks.”

While working in Ransomes Garden Centre in Jersey in the 1990s I remember a sign up over the rare and unusual plant table and it stated that: “The price of plants on this table is directly related to the number of hen’s teeth we had to part with to acquire them.”

Now I’m not sure how many hen’s teeth Susan had to part with but she did tell me: “This is a fabulous impatiens said to be totally hardy — and it was with some difficulty that I was able to get some for sale.”

This isn’t a show exclusive to members of the ISNA however, as approximately 80 specialist nurseries are expected to attend and provide an opportunity for visitors to purchase unusual and special plants, including rare trees, shrubs, alpines, herbaceous and water plants. Retailers will also be on site providing garden furniture, pots, sculptures, ornaments and tools, as well as food stalls.

A competition for the most attractive stand will be held, and which was won in previous years by Hillside Nurseries, Deelish Garden Centre, Rare Plants Ireland and Future Forests, to name a few.

“We are excited to add some new elements to this year’s plant fair, offering an expanded programme to our visitors,” says Helene Wall-Horan of Fota House.

“We are planning foraging walks with herbalist John Vaughan, guided tours by our volunteer team of our award-winning Victorian Working Garden, which have been brought back to life, as well as demonstrations and educational talks on various topics.

“We also welcome everyone to visit and enjoy the beautiful historic Fota House and see the collection of paintings which represents the third most significant public collection of Irish art in the State,” she continued.

For all those with an interest in gardening, this is an event not to be missed. Volunteers from Fota House and from the Friends of Marymount Hospice will assist with the running of the fair.

A substantial donation will be given to this very worthy charity as well as towards the conservation of Fota House for future generations. Admission: €8.00.

Peter's design tips


The repetition of one plant through a garden is a great way to tie the space together and to create a sense of continuity.

Our brains, which are fed visual information through our eyes, crave balance, and the repeated use of a plant gives us that sense of balance.

Be it repetition throughout a plant scheme, where it may not even be noticed except subconsciously, or repetition of just one plant on its own, it is also a great way to draw you into an area.


On Saturday, April 21, Bleddyn and Sue Wynn-Jones from Crug Hill Farm will visit Kell’s Bay Gardens to give a brief lecture entitled “Collecting seed and plants among the hill tribes of northern Vietnam”. There will also be the opportunity to purchase plants from the Crug Farm website which they will happily bring along to Kell’s Bay for you to collect. www.crug-farm.co.uk. Tickets, to include a buffet lunch and a garden walk, are priced at €30.To book, contact billy@kellsbay.ie or by phone on 087-777-6666.

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