Plant hunting at Fota

fota sale

At the weekend I made a long overdue visit to Fota House Arboretum and Gardens (more of that soon). My reason for visiting on the 17th was that there was a plant fair on Sunday and I thought it would be the perfect time to go.

fota sale3

I got there for dead on 11am when it opened and it was reassuring that the Garda were there controlling traffic – there was a good crowd. Admision was €8 which raised money for the garden which is run by the OPW.

fota sale2

There were dozens of stands and I bought a few plants, two of which will come back to the UK with me.

They are an unlikely pairing! From New Zealand comes Clianthus puniceus, sometimes called the lobster plant.


The name clianthus is a compound of ‘kleios’ meaning glory and ‘anthos’ flower, and ‘puniceus’ means blood red. Mauri names include Kakabeak and kowhai ngutu kaka. It is critically endangered in the wild, and has been found only in the North Island where it is thought that all the ‘wild’ populations are relics of Mauri cultivation. In 2005 there was only one naturally occurring plant known in the wild, at a single site near  Kaipara Harbour. In cultivation plants are not longlived – five years being a good average – but luckily it is fairly easy to grow from seeds and cuttings and it is well established in cultivation – without that it might well become extinct.


I bought it for the magnificent flowers that are so large and heavy they weigh down the ends of the stems. It is not something I will be able to grow outdoors, even against a sunny wall – the winters are just a bit too cold in Cambridgeshire. But it will be happy enough in a pot.

My other acquisition is from China. It was not described until the early 1980s and is Asarum magnificum. The asarums are sometimes called hardy gingers because the leaves are scented of spice.  There are American and European species but they have strange, small, brown flowers with three petals extended into tails. They are pretty in a very macabre sort of way but the plants are creeping and cover the soil and the flowers are hidden under the leaves. The brown flowers may be pollinated by beetles, midges or even ants.

asarum magnificum

The Asian species are much more showy and Asarum magnificum is a different plant altogether and very well named. It has large, evergreen, slightly mottled leaves that can make mounds 15cm or more in height and, nestling under them on short stems are the most extraordinary flowers.


It is going to be a challenge for me because it likes moist, humus-rich soil although it is more or less hardy. It will have to be planted in a special place so I can keep an eye on it. It is sometimes called the panda flower. I think the flowers are probably pollinated by midges or beetles because they smell pretty unpleasant.







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11 Comments on “Plant hunting at Fota”

  1. derrickjknight
    April 21, 2016 at 8:59 am #

    So you are moving back. When?

  2. Luce
    April 21, 2016 at 2:22 pm #

    I shall look out for that Asarum, the flowers look magnificent! I have A europaeum which I love for the shiny leaves and A caudatum with larger and stranger brown flowers.

    • thebikinggardener
      April 21, 2016 at 5:15 pm #

      I am not sure where you are but my plant was from Mount Vernon – they will be showing at Bloom I should think

  3. Luce
    April 21, 2016 at 7:56 pm #

    Usually in London or Devon. Anyway I’m sure I’ll come across it sooner or later

    • thebikinggardener
      April 21, 2016 at 9:09 pm #

      Ah – I was not sure if you were in ireland. I am sure you will find it – good luck with the hunting

  4. joy
    April 22, 2016 at 7:32 am #

    they look exciting plants Geoff love the one like a panda.

    • thebikinggardener
      April 22, 2016 at 7:53 am #

      yes – it is cute. A shame it looks like a panda face and smells like the other end!

  5. joy
    April 22, 2016 at 11:57 am #

    oooooooooo not so cute lol

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