The words: ‘…and now it is probably extinct’ kindled a tiny fire of excitement when I read them twenty years ago. They referred to Primula ‘Julius Caesar’, in Charles Nelson’s encyclopaedia of Irish garden plants, A Heritage of Beauty. The Juliana primula, with wine flowers and bronze foliage, had been bred by Winifred Wynne sometime in the mid-twentieth century and had disappeared from horticulture.
Except that it hadn’t. ‘Julius Caesar’ was alive and well in my garden. Winifred Wynne, who lived with her sisters at Tigroney House in Avoca, Co Wicklow, was related to my friend, Katie Donovan, the poet. When Katie told me about the primrose in the late 1990s, I was intrigued, as I was going through a primula phase. Katie’s father, Richard Donovan, a second cousin of the Wynne sisters, had been quietly minding the cultivar for decades in Co Wexford. I was delighted to receive a plant, which I gradually distributed to other gardeners.
Later, in 2001, Richard told me that he had no doubt that his ‘Julius Caesar’ was the real thing: ‘We kept it going because Winifred was so proud of it’. He remembered her ‘experimenting with plants’ in the 1930s and 1940s.
I have my own sideways connection with Tigroney House. Long after the Wynnes were gone, my eldest brother lived there for a time.
(As appeared in Newsletter 151, January 2021. Text courtesy of Jane Powers and photos by Paddy Tobin)