Fota House Plant & Garden Fair offers botanical treasure hunt

Fota’s plant fair is one of the highlights of the gardening calendar, according to Peter Dowdall.

I HAVE Anemone ‘Wild Swan’ growing in my garden and I love it as, unlike so many of the herbaceous anemones, it’s not a thug. What I mean by that is it doesn’t take over the entire garden like some of its more aggressive relations.

It grows to only about 45cm in height, is slow to clump up and produces the most beautiful, simple, white flowers with a distinctive blue streak on the back of each petal.

Now that I have fallen in love with this plant I am looking for a couple of other swans, namely Anemone ‘Dainty Swan’ which grows to about 60cm and has pink colouring and not blue on the back of the petals and A. ‘Ruffled Swan’ which as the name suggests has ruffled petals and also has the advantage of growing that bit taller at 60cm high. To date they have eluded my gardening grasp but I am hopeful that I will find them at Fota this year.

For it is at the annual Fota House Plant & Garden Fair which will takes place on Sunday, April 14, from 11am to 4pm, that you are likely to source those botanical treasures which you may not find elsewhere.

The Fota Plant Fair is one of the highlights of the gardening calendar and is the largest plant and garden fair outside the Dublin area. I will also be on the lookout for others on my “wishlist”, including the really, only, true pink Allium ‘Pink Jewel’ which produces flowers on top of sturdy stems reaching 90cm in height. I’m also looking for another anemone, a nemerosa or wood anemone type called A. ’Blue Eyes’. This is a really pretty double form with white flowers and an azure blue centre which, when given the correct conditions, dappled shade and a humus-rich soil, will thrive.

Lobelia ‘Compton Pink’ flowers later than the allium and anemones, producing beautiful pale pink flowers with a darker underside throughout the summer.

Perennial lobelias such as this one are under-valued by gardeners in my opinion as they offer great colour and are virtually trouble free and return each year no matter what the Irish climate throws at them.

Numerous specialist nurseries will be present, showing off their wares and offering advice on how to care for their plants. Visitors to this fair not only have the opportunity to purchase unusual and special plants, including rare trees, shrubs, alpine, herbaceous and water plants but also the chance to speak to the growers themselves about what each specific plant needs in terms of care and positioning.

This advice from the plant specialists comes at no extra charge! That’s what makes these plant sales a bit special. You will get plants that aren’t readily available in most garden centres.

I’m often reminded of my father when I think of these growers — not that he was a gardener (he was the furthest thing from it) but he would often tell the story of when we went to collect a puppy from some home and the owners would be sussing us up and down to make sure that we were suitable people to take one of their loved baby canines.

So it is with many of these growers, they want to be sure that you can offer their horticultural offspring suitable plots for them to thrive.

“This year we are delighted to also focus on sustainability, biodiversity and education,” said Victoria Tammadge, general manager, Fota House, Arboretum & Gardens. “We will be joined by some third-level researchers who use the gardens for field work and who will be sharing information on their findings on ladybirds and bird ringing. We will have stalls on composting and educational courses and visitors can enjoy our award-winning Victorian Working Garden.”

Retailers will also be on site providing garden furniture, pots, sculptures, ornaments and tools, as well as food stalls.

I know I’ll be making a beeline for the house itself as the renowned Bakestone Café are now in situ there and will be offering their selection of mouth-watering treats inside the house.

A competition for the most attractive stand will be held which was won in previous years by Hillside Nurseries, Rare Plants Ireland and Future Forests.

For all those with an interest in gardening, this is an event not to be missed. Volunteers from Fota House and Friends of Marymount Hospice will assist with the running of the Fair, sincere thanks for all their efforts!

Admission is €8 including parking and this, along with a donation to Marymount Hospice, helps directly with the continued conservation and restoration of Fota House, Arboretum & Gardens.

Focus on forsythia

Spring-flowering plants such as forsythia will produce flowers on last year’s growth. Thus, prune them immediately after flowering so that they can produce plenty of growth this year for flowers next year. Cut back flowered stems to healthy new shoots lower down the plant.

Each year remove 20-30% of older, weaker stems to ground level. Maintaining the plant in this way will ensure it doesn’t grow out of hand and that you are assured good quality lush growth which will result in masses of flowers each spring. Feed with a good quality generalpurpose granular plant tonic such as the totally organic Nature Safe plant food which is made up of 100% composted plant material.

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