Sunday, January 27, 2013

Irish Primrose Claddagh wins international perennial award

IPM Essen 2013 January 22nd to 25th

FitzGerald Nurseries exhibited at the international plant trade show IPM Essen for the eight year. The company entered its new introduction Primula Claddagh, part of the Kennedy Irish Primrose range, in the perennial category. IPM Essen is the worlds largest commercial ornamental horticulture show.
Primula Claddagh was awarded best new perennial at this years show. Below were the judges comments about Primula Claddagh.

Judges comment

"As IPM novelty 2013 in the perennial category a new Irish bred variety was awarded: The Primula hybrid 'Claddagh' from Fitzgerald Nurseries. The red leaved, fully winterhardy primrose has convinced the jury with its natural appearance. The wild character of the plant with the honey yellow flowers is ideally suited for natural garden designs."

Show visitors feedback
Visitors to the show were very interested in the whole Irish Primrose range exhibited on our stand in Hall 2. Orders from various parts of the world were very strong. Modern Primrose breeding has taken the humble Primrose to dizzy heights of flower colour, size and form. All thisintensive breeding in the direction of more bedding type production brings the Primrose a long way from its original origin in European gardening. Possibly for this reason our collection of Irish hardy perennial Primroses will help to change focus for future consideration of the Primrose and bring it back into the perennial garden with more frequency.
General background to Irish Primroses
Primroses were perhaps the first garden plants deliberately raised selected and named in Ireland. (Charles Nelson) There are records going back to 1735 of auricula and polyanthus types grown and selected in the Earl of Meath’s Garden in Kilruddery Co Wicklow. A list of these Primroses is collated in A Heritage of Beauty by Charles Nelson.
Nelson tells us that later in the 19th Century the image of the old garden tended by a ‘little old lady'. During this period around the late 1800’s these lady gardeners were the custodians of these old old cultivars preserving them by dividing them and passing them around their circle of friends. Who in turn passed them to theirs and this was mainly how cultivars, species crosses and re-crossed the Irish channel between England and Ireland. Around this time and into the early 1900’s saw the rise of small commercial nurseries in many cases attached to the estates of landed gentry. Nurseries like Lisadell, in County Sligo in Yeats country, Newry Nurseries, Daisy Hill, Slieve Donard,Rowallne Nursery Co Down, Ballawally Alpine Nursery Dublin, Ballyrogan Nursery, Annesgrove Nurseries etc .
Visitors to Ireland with the gardening or Primrose bug at this time were spoiled for choice and picked up many of these old fashioned cultivars preserved by what became known as the Little Old Primrose ladies of Ireland. Charles Nelson again in his book A Heritage of Beauty makes the point that modern society and other pastimes gave cause for a decline in these wonderful plant. I am inclined to agree with him in the opinion that this was an unfortunate trend and the gardening world is the poorer for it. However we have what we have and we must learn from this decline and make the best of what we have.
This was my greatest inspiration to embark on my Primrose path and try to conserve the old and develop the new cultivars bred by the stalwart of modern Irish Primrose cultivars Mr Joe Kennedy. Joe is one of the greatest remaining links between our Irish Primrose heritage and todays modern garden. My collaboration and friendship with Joe is deep rooted.

History of the dark leaved Irish Primrose

Mr Whiteside Dane lived just outside Naas in County Kildare in a townland called Garryard at the end of the 1800’s. He is reputed to have produced a Primrose called Garryard Appleblossom. It is assumed that this may have been a mutation this plant resembled the wild primrose in habit, leaf and growing preferences. It had strong dark leaves over which was carried pink and white flowers. Cecil Monson a Primrose breeder from Co Roscommon documented the story of how his grandmother when moving house in 1898 brought all her treasured Primroses with her. He relayed that in this collection was the only Garryard in existence at that time. He recalled that in 1935 he first saw another Garryard variety called Guinevere in the garden of a Mrs Page-Croft and this variety was raised by another important Primrose lady Mrs Johnson of Kinlough he also records the names of another Primrose lady Miss W.F Wynne of Avoca Co Wicklow.

After WW2 when Cecil Monson returned to Ireland from England he records there were many more of these dark leaved Garryard forms about so the Primrose people had been busy breeding. He mentions many varieties but one of most note bred this time by a Mr Champernowne from England called Enchantress which he says was the closest to the original Garryard that he had seen. Since this time these true dark leaved beauties have been crossed with many cultivars of julianas and alticas. Like many stories of plant history this account of the first dark leaved Primrose known as Garryard is contradicted by the very eminent plant historian Dr Charles Nelson who suggests that the first true Garryard did not appear on the scene in Ireland until 1935. Which ever is the true time of origin it is accepted that Ireland was where the first of the dark foliage forms originated. The original Garryard Appleblossom is said to be a cross between P. Juliae and P. vulgaris. Thanks to Joe Kennedy these foliage traits have been preserved and crossed into various hose in hose and polyanthus type Primroses.  This work has given rise to what is a new and exciting future range of Primroses originating from the work of the many amateur gardeners and breeders who took interest in this wonderful simple plant through the last 150 years of Irish gardening history. But for the wonderful book by Dr Charles Nelsons A Heritage of Beauty many of these old varieties and descriptions and stories of where these varieties originated may be long forgotten and was the source of my original interest in the story of the Irish Primrose. Like Joe my first encounter with native flowers was through the wild Irish Primrose. My work as an Irish nurseryman has been to try and bring these gems to the gardening world having been saved for posterity by Joes and previous Irish gardeners good work.



  1. The primrose in itself is an excellent hardy species. The color choices have reached a pinnacle with this new Primula Claddagh! I will definitely be searching for this in catalogues or nurseries! My business is perennials!

  2. I like flower most than other. Thanks a lot for the nice blog and sharing the nice flowers.

  3. Pat I really enjoyed the history behind these plants and congratulations on the win at Essen. I've just been there once ... had very sore feet by the end of the day as it's a huge place to walk around. I'll let you know how my Irish primroses cope with a Perthshire winter.


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