Archive for March, 2013

March 8, 2013

A bulb to be admired, a lady who inspired…. International Women’s Day

by Ciaran Burke

Today is March 8th, International Women’s Day. Women gardeners are amongst the best known in the world, yet on TV programmes, the main garden presenters are usually men. Today I remember An inspirational lady, a real titled lady, Valerie Finnis ho was also known as Lady Scott. I am reminded of her as I see the buds of a flower bulb come rising from the soil each Spring.

Muscari armeniacum 'Valerie Finnis'

Muscari armeniacum ‘Valerie Finnis’

Every Spring is a reunion for gardeners. We get the chance to re-acquaint with old friends and are surprised by the appearances of forgotten ones.  

The tops of their blue heads push through the cold earth. Their neighbours are mostly asleep; dormant woodland flowers that lie below blankets of soil and autumn leaf fall. I rediscovered them as I worked on my hands and knees on a calm and misty January morning, as my trowel uprooted less restful weeds unwilling to take a winter break. Muscari ‘Valerie Finnis’, their flower buds hunched together like rugby players in a scrum, collectively determined to welcome the lengthening days. Too eager to wait for spring on the calendar, their pale blue flowers will opening from the bottom, the first to celebrate.

This relative of the better known, darker blue grape hyacinth, M. armeniacum, is always such a welcome sight in early spring; a well behaved dwarf bulb free of the undesirable invasive characteristics of its relative.

That it should be such a refined bulb is reflected in its name. Valerie Finnis was a great plantswoman, renowned garden photographer and unique character. Sadly no longer with us she passed way in October 2006. Part of her legacy lives on with the Merlin Trust, set up to help finance travel for young horticulturists, to see plants growing in the wild or in gardens. Each year when I see the first flowers of the fine Muscari I have fond memories of the telephone conversations with the great lady.

I was hoping to receive funding for a trip to Namaqualand in South Africa. There I was stirring a pasta sauce, when she first called. I was so shocked and surprised I can hardly remember what was said. All I do remember, “You Irish chaps are always so charming” or words of similar effect, I had a positive feeling of success. After the trip was completed she called to ask how I got on. With genuine interest and enthusiasm she asked about details and of the plants that I saw. Still years later, I received magazine clippings about the area I had visited, which she thought might interest me.

Information on the Merlin Trust and travel grants for gardeners 18-35

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