Volunteers at Morrab Gardens

V for Volunteers: Julia Grigg’s Morrab Miscellany

Reaching V in her miscellany, Julia celebrates the work of Volunteers – in particular the Friends of Morrab Gardens who volunteer their time and skills to assist in the upkeep of the gardens.

VOLUNTEERS – whenever you walk through Morrab Gardens you see them, those folks wearing gardening gloves with secateurs or a trowel in hand, a loaded wheelbarrow close by, concentrating on their jobs of weeding, pruning and carting away of overgrowth, the work that results in the rest of us experiencing the pleasure of a well-tended Garden.

One description of ‘volunteering’ reads Volunteering is important because it creates opportunities for individuals to help others in a selfless way. When individuals volunteer they may choose to help people, support causes or provide services benefiting their local community environment. For organizations, utilizing such unpaid volunteers is often essential in order for them to function.’

Certainly, that rings true for Morrab Gardens where Joe Palmese, Head Gardener, confirms that without the contributions in man and woman-hours by the Friends of Morrab Gardens (FoMG) volunteer workforce there’d be real difficulty in maintaining the upkeep of the grounds and the greenhouses.

One example of the type of assistance he refers to is the preparation necessary before the re-carpeting of the Gardens’ paths and walkways. He says, ‘We welcome all the hands we can get for a big task like this, which involves cutting back masses of greenery and clearing all the paths and verges, so Cormac can get on with the job.’

Raising funds is another vital aspect of Friends’ volunteering, FoMG Chair Alan Jones confirming that the regular Saturday morning volunteer-organised Plant Sales of shrubs, ferns and succulents held throughout the year represent a most important contribution to the Gardens’ revenue.

Celebrating the opening of a new greenhouse in Morrab Gardens, purchased in 2018 with money raised by the Friends. Photo: Paul Brett

You can find out about volunteering opportunities or simply keep up with FoMG news by subscribing to the website www.morrabgardens.org or by following Morrab Gardens on Facebook.

A ‘wandering’ heather!

If you’re lucky on a walk out on to the magical heathland landscape of the Goonhilly Downs of the Lizard Pensinsula you might come across the rare heather Erica VAGANS alba.

Vagans means ‘wandering’ and the varietal alba ‘Cornish Cream’ has bright green foliage and exquisite creamy bell-shaped flowers with delicate beetroot-coloured tips which make it stand out against the more usual pinkish-purple heathers. Flowering from midsummer to mid-autumn and growing uniquely on the acidic soils of this restricted area of Cornwall, it’s also known as Cornish heath.

Since 2002 Erica vagans has had the distinction of being the County Flower of Cornwall following a poll by the wild flora conservation charity Plantlife. It’s often referred to as the Cornish floral emblem.

According to one old story (which will be delved into more deeply in the blog forthcoming for 20 November) the heather is forever a blessed plant.

The tale goes that Joseph of Arimathea, uncle of Jesus Christ, was a trader in tin and had sailed from Palestine to Cornwall in search of the metal. Landing on the shore as it was falling dark and finding himself without lodging, he was obliged to sleep on the ground. The welcome springiness of the heather meant Joseph’s night under the stars was a comfortable one and in thankfulness, he praised and blessed the plant.

Phenomenal plant collectors

V is for VEITCH, a prestigious name in horticulture, annually passed down to posterity via the Royal Horticultural Society’s Veitch Memorial Medal.

Created in 1870 to honour the memory of James Veitch (1815-69), the Medal is awarded to persons of any nationality who have made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of the science and practice of horticulture.

The 2021 Veitch Memorial Medal recipients are: plant collector Junonia Colley, horticulturist Dr John Hughes, Phil Lusby of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, and garden expert Professor Long Yayi.

James Veitch Junior, from 1856-1864 an active member of the Council of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), was the third generation of this family of skilled horticulturists. Under his guidance, the Veitch’s London branch, the Royal Exotic Nursery on the King’s Road in Chelsea, became the largest plant and propagation specialist of its kind in Europe. (Two further generations were to direct the business right up until 1969.)

Phenomenal plant collectors, by the First World War the Veitch dynasty had introduced 1281 previously unknown plants to Britain.

An RHS article explains, ‘Among these were 498 greenhouse plants, 232 orchids and 253 deciduous trees, shrubs and climbers. All of these are documented in Veitch publications including the Hortus Veitchii (1906), a history and list of their most remarkable introductions, and Veitch’s Manual of the Coniferae (1881).

Upholding the family tradition of employing their own plant collectors, James Veitch Jr hand-picked the Cornish brothers William (1809-64) and Thomas (1817-1894) Lobb and engaged them for the arduous overseas travels necessitated by the search for seeds and seedlings.

Growing up on the estate of Pencarrow House, Washaway, North Cornwall where their father worked, the Lobb brothers had both been keen botanists when young, William studying wild flowers, especially ferns, and Thomas with a love of orchids.

Between them the Lobbs spent almost 30 years travelling in Asia, Latin and North America,covering many thousands of miles over land and by sea, often through dangerous and uncharted territories.

It was William who, to the delight of VICTORIAN Britain, brought 3000 seeds of the araucaria araucana ‘monkey puzzle’ tree from the high-altitude regions of Chile as well as embothrium coccineum, the ‘firebush,’ with its gorgeous, spidery bright orange-red flowers, along with gigantic redwood trees from California and the maritime hedging favourite escallonia rubra.

Meanwhile Thomas devoted years to making four hazardous South East Asia journeys focussing on collecting rare orchids and rhododendrons.

Much less well known than other C19th plant hunters, the Lobbs are scarcely commemorated today (excepting a plaque in a small garden at Devoran near Truro where Thomas lived out his later years.)

The memorial plaque to Thomas and William Lobb in Devoran, Cornwall (photographed 2009) Photo: Mark Norris, Newquay Zoo, UK User:NewquayZooArchive1969, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Some restitution is surely due, to the extent that the RHS article asks, ‘Is it not time the brothers’ contribution to the beauty of our gardens is fully recognised?’

Going some way towards VALUING the Lobbs’ memory has been the book Blue Orchid and Big Tree: Plant Hunters William and Thomas Lobb and the Victorian Mania for the Exotic by Sue Shephard  and Toby Musgrave (Redcliffe Press 2014.)

Finally, V is for VAN MORRISON, Sir Van Morrison OBE (1945- ) who’s been performing solo since 1967, and still goes on, VICTORIOUSLY strong.

For many years Van has been for me the VOICE, his 1968 Astral Weeks album one I know almost by heart. I’d walk down Cyprus Avenue any day to hear him sing. And it’d be the lyrics of Sweet Thing, one of Van the man’s serenades to Belfast’s gardens, to which I’d be rocking myself asleep in my hammock were I to be cast away on a desert island shore:

And you shall take me strongly
In your arms again
And I will not remember
That I ever, ever felt the pain
We shall walk and talk
In gardens all misty wet with rain
And I will never, never, never
Grow so old again


Pangloss said that when man was put into the garden of Eden, he was put there…so that he should work it. This proves man was not born to take his ease…That is very well said,’ Candide replied, ‘we must go and cultivate our garden.’’

Voltaire (1694 – 1778), was the pen name of François-Marie Arouet, a French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher famous for his wit, his criticism of Christianity — especially the Roman Catholic Church — and his advocacy of freedom of speechfreedom of religion, and separation of church and state. Voltaire wrote more than 20,000 letters and 2,000 books and pamphlets, his best known probably being the satiric novel Candide, quoted above. One of the first authors to become commercially successful internationally, Voltaire was versatile and prolific, producing works in almost every literary form, including plays, poems, novels, essays, histories, and scientific expositions. An outspoken advocate of civil liberties, he lived out his life under the perpetual threat of the Catholic French monarchy’s strict censorship laws.

Read more of Julia Grigg’s Morrab Miscellany

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