Peter Dowdall: All roads lead to Fota for plant fans this weekend

Fota House, Arboretum & Gardens at Fota Island, Carrigtwohill, Co Cork, hosts the Rare & Special Plant Fair this Sunday, May 8
Peter Dowdall: All roads lead to Fota for plant fans this weekend

The magnificent gardens at Fota will play host to this year's Rare and Special Plant Fair.

Who dares utter the “C” word? Those five letters that seemed to hold the world to ransom for two years are now, if not forgotten, certainly not dictating our lives and movements and it is so great to see shows and events back up and running again.

One that I am really looking forward to is The Rare and Special Plant Fair which takes place annually at various historic homes and gardens throughout Ireland.

The Rare & Special Plant Fair was established in 2001 to ensure that the gardening public has an opportunity to purchase rare, unusual and special plants at reasonable prices, and to ensure that nurseries and breeders of these plants in Ireland have an opportunity to present them for sale.

At the same time, the fair aims to provide an opportunity for visitors to visit a private garden that they might not otherwise visit.

Over the years this event has grown in stature and reputation with the fair being hosted in some of Ireland’s most notable and beautiful private gardens, and more recently in public and state gardens of note, including, Castleforbes, Co Longford; Farmleigh, Phoenix Park; St Anne’s Park, Raheny; Russborough House, Co Wicklow; and Glin Castle, Co Limerick, to name just a few.

This year, the historic Fota House, Arboretum & Gardens at Fota Island, Carrigtwohill, Co Cork, will play host to the rare and special event tomorrow, May 8. The one-day event opens at 11am and runs until 4pm and will be conveniently located next to the Fota House car park. Entry to the event will be €5 per person.

Get it in your diary immediately — not “in a while” but right now — and mark yourself as “busy”. You know that plant that you have been looking for, scouring garden centres and plant sale tables in your search? You haven’t found it yet, but it is at the Rare and Special Plant Fair that these treasures will turn up.

What to expect

Up to 40 specialist nurseries from all over Ireland will be on-site to offer and showcase beautiful, unusual and hard-to-find varieties of plants for sale, as well as giving expert advice on care and growing. Us gardeners are a friendly bunch you see, and once you engage the nurseryman or woman in conversation you will get more info on growing a particular plant than any amount of books or internet could ever give you. You must understand that these plants are like babies for the nursery people who have been growing them — often all the way from seed or a small cutting.

Irish Examiner gardening columnist Peter Dowdall. Picture: John Allen
Irish Examiner gardening columnist Peter Dowdall. Picture: John Allen

Whether it is the cactus man, raving about his prickly friends or the perennial person espousing the virtues of paeonies, or maybe you want to chat with the expert on plants for shady areas, whatever it is you are looking for – help in the garden or a plant you are after – it is here that you will meet those that know.

The fair will also host a small number of non-plant but garden-related/craft stands.

Fota’s internationally recognised arboretum and gardens is an apt host for this year’s Rare & Special Plant Fair. “Fota” is derived from the Irish “fód te” meaning warm soil – perfect for the growing and cultivation of rare trees and exotic plants.

The important and magical gardens at Fota were laid out by James Hugh Smith-Barry in the first half of the 19th century and are a must-see when visiting Fota including the palm walk, orangery, and the atmospheric Victorian fernery where you can get lost in a little universe all of its own.

The arboretum has a world-renowned collection of rare tender and exotic trees and shrubs from the southern hemisphere. It is a garden of merit internationally and on our doorstep, all too often overlooked by the wildlife park or golf course and hotel.

Dating to the late Victorian period, the Victorian Working Garden comprises three stand-alone glasshouses, pit houses and bothy buildings which were all fully restored since the Irish Heritage Trust took responsibility for Fota in 2007. This is a beautifully restored space, lying to the back of the property.

Geranium rosetta is one plant that Peter Dowdall has been seeking.
Geranium rosetta is one plant that Peter Dowdall has been seeking.

Since its restoration in 2012, the team of gardeners and Fota volunteers have been sharing the beauty of the Victorian glasshouses, bothy buildings and a wide variety of interesting and unusual planting with visitors.

Visitors are welcome to walk around the arboretum and this reclaimed space and explore the working glasshouses and pit houses free of charge.

To enhance the visitor experience guided tours of Fota House will be available at a reduced fee of €6.50 per adult and children’s admission is free.

For tour bookings, please visit and enter the code RSP2022 which will provide a discount on available tours. Food options will also be available at plant pair site and in Bakestone Café at Fota House.

For further information see or

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