The Mystery of Crocosmia ‘Malahide’ – Nicola and Peter Milligan

The Mystery of Crocosmia ‘Malahide’


Nicola and Peter Milligan


In the September issue of the IGPS Newsletter we wrote :-


“One Irish cultivar has created an air of ‘mystery’ – perhaps ‘mystery’ is too strong a term but read on and see what you think. It appears that the well known Irish horticulturist Frederick James Nutty, generally known as Fred to his friends, introduced this cultivar from his nursery at Malahide. Initially mis-identified as C. ‘Comet’ this name has been retained by some.  However we obtained our first specimen from Alan Bloom while staying with Alan in the 1990’s. Alan had this labelled as C. ‘Malahide’ and we were given to understand that he had obtained it from Milo Talbot of Malahide Castle during one of Alan’s tours of Ireland. Subsequently we obtained a second specimen labelled as C. ‘Malahide Castle’ from Michael Wickenden of Cally Gardens. It appears that this cultivar is in circulation under a variety of names – C. ‘Comet’, C. ‘Malahide’, C. ‘Malahide Castle’, C. ‘Fred Knutty’s’ (note the misspelling of Nutty), and C. ‘Jim Reynold’s’. Hunting for this cultivar (listed as C. ‘Comet’ Knutty) will be problematic. The RHS Plant Finder lists seven suppliers but only three offer mail order and of these none have the plant listed in their current catalogues.”


Who could have expected the degree of interest and comment this paragraph created. The purpose of this note is to present the work undertaken to try to clarify if C. ‘Malahide’ is a ‘true’ name for this cultivar and the source of this cultivar.


The problem starts with the fact that two crocosmia are listed with the name ‘Comet’ – one bred by Davison in Norfolk in 1909 and one obtained by Fred Nutty as C. masoniorum and subsequently named ‘Comet’ by Gary Dunlop pre-1980. The second of these cultivars has several names attached as mentioned in our original article.


At this point it is useful if we can eliminate one of these cultivars. The first cultivar, which we will refer to as ‘Davison’s ‘Comet’, has two sources listed – the first appears in Goldblatt, Manning, and Dunlop (2004) [1] and attributes the cultivar to Davison a well-known breeder of crocosmia in Norfolk. The second source (the RHS [2]) attributes the cultivar to Phillipa Browne who they record as the hybridiser (The Garden, RHS, August 1999). The RHS do acknowledge the source listed in Goldblatt et al and indicate that this is a topic that they will seek to resolve at some stage in the future.


For the moment it is clear that Davison’s ‘Comet’ is a distinct cultivar that is not related to the second ‘Comet’ – for the moment we will refer to this second cultivar as Dunlop’s Comet.


Anne James (Executive Park Superintendent) has supplied information based on the excellent records that were maintained at Malahide which indicates that no cultivar with the name ‘Malahide’ was grown there. Further information from Anne confirms that three corms of C. ‘Comet’ were bought from Forbes Nursery (John Forbes (Hawick) Ltd. – the Buccleuch Nurseries, Scotland) in 1967 and given that date of purchase it can be argued that this was Davison’s ‘Comet’.


Finally a number of nurseries still list C. ‘Comet’ for sale. Speaking with Jason Bloom of Bressingham Gardens [3] it is clear that the cultivar they offer is Davison’s ‘Comet’. Bali-Hai nursery are listed as supplying both ‘Comet’s – more on this later.


At this point we have the second cultivar – Dunlop’s Comet which has several names linked to it namely: ‘Comet’, ‘Malahide’, ‘Malahide Castle’, ‘Fred Knutty’s’, and  ‘Jim Reynold’s’. Again we have sought to eliminate some of these names.


Dr Charles Nelson [4] was kind enough to comment on this matter and gave, as his opinion, the view that the name ‘Comet’ should not have been reused. So we argue that the simple use of ‘Comet’ should be removed from association with the second cultivar.


Jim Reynolds was kind enough to say that his name should not have been associated with the cultivar at any time. Apparently Mr Reynolds obtained the cultivar from Malahide Nursery and some was sent to David Shackleton at Beech Park. At a later date the cultivar was sold from Beech Park with the name ‘Jim Reynold’s’ attached. As Mr Reynolds has stated this was an error and hence we eliminate that name. [5]


A search of nursery lists shows that no source exists at the moment for ‘Malahide Castle’ – the RHS records that the cultivar has not been listed in the RHS Plant Finder for some time. We have found a reference to a C. ‘Malahide Castle Red’ which would suggest that a crocosmia known as ‘Malahide Castle’ was available at some stage and that a ‘sport’ appeared – hence the ‘Malahide Castle Red’ – but neither of these cultivars can be traced today. At this point we must pay special thanks to Stephen Butler who spent a huge amount of time tracking through lists to track the appearance and disappearance of these cultivars. The information Stephen provided would need an article on its own to give a true picture of the cultivars’ histories.


As mentioned above, the RHS list both ‘Comet’s but distinguishes between them by adding ‘Knutty’ to what we have called Dunlop’s Comet. Furthermore the RHS, for ‘Comet’ Knutty, give the introducer as Fred Knutty, Malahide Nurseries, Dublin. In addition they list the synonyms for the plant as ‘Malahide’ and ‘Malahide Castle’.


In an effort to obtain corms of the cultivars we have contacted some of the listed suppliers. Tim Fuller (of The Plantsman’s Preference Nursery in Norfolk) sometimes has the C. ‘Comet’ Knutty for sale and offers it under the name C. ‘Malahide’ – Tim points out he does not know which name (‘Comet’ Knutty or ‘Malahide’) was the first to be used. [6]. Ian Scroggy of Bali-Hai Nursery [7] says he may have both Davison’s ‘Comet’ and ‘Comet’ Knutty in the nursery and will check back with us later in the year.


We have C. ‘Malahide’ obtained from Michael Wickenden and a number of years ago we received C. ‘Comet’ from Alan Bloom. Alan’s plant matches the description of Davison’s ‘Comet’ which is described as “Combining the rich colouring of ‘Westwick’ with the great size of ‘Prometheus’ and the rest of the crimson stained varieties. ‘Comet’ may be descended from ‘Prometheus’ and has all the fine qualities of that glorious montbretia. Its colour is a little deeper and the dark centre gives this flower as aspect of its own. The blooms are large and well formed” [1].


So at this stage we would argue that C. ‘Comet’ Knutty, C. ‘Malahide’ and C. ‘Malahide Castle’ are the same plant and that all are valid names recognized by the RHS and listed and offered by nurseries  at some time.


The final step in our work is to obtain corms of C. ‘Comet’ Knutty, C. ‘Malahide’ and C. ‘Malahide Castle’ and grow them as part of a flowering ‘trial’ which will identify if  these three cultivars are identical and distinct from Davison’s ‘Comet’. Sadly, we have not been able to find a supplier of C. ‘Malahide Castle’ so our trial has to focus on the two plants that are available – C. ‘Comet’ Knutty and C. ‘Malahide’.


As mentioned above we have C. ‘Malahide’ in our garden and by late spring / early summer should have plants from Norfolk and Bali-Hai for comparison.


Once these have grown and the foliage and flowers (from bud to maturity) have been compared  we should be able to issue a final statement on the mysterious C. ‘Malahide’.


Sadly, at this point, we do not know how the names ‘Malahide’ and ‘Malahide Castle’ were attached to the cultivar. It may be a case of the plant being purchased from Fred Nutty’s nursery and the label lost. In many cases when the grower is asked the name of the plant the answer will be “Oh, we bought that from Malahide” or “We bought that from Fred Nutty” and so an incorrect name enters circulation.







[1]        Crocosmia and Chasmanthe, Goldblatt, Manning and Dunlop,

RHS Plant Collector Guide, Timber Press, 2004


[2]       Pers. Comms., RHS Library and Plant Identification teams,

Email, Tuesday 26th January 2021


[3]        Pers. Comms., Jason Bloom, Bressingham,

Telephone Friday, 29th January 2021


[4]        Pers. Comms., Dr Charles Nelson,

Email, Friday, 22nd January 2021


[5]       Pers. Comms., Brendan Sayers,

Email, Thursday, 14th January 2021


[6]       Pers. Comms., Tim Fuller, The Plantsman’s Preference, Norfolk,

Emails, Tuesday 26th January 2021 and Wednesday 27th January 2021


[7]        Pers. Comms., Ian Scroggy, Bali-Hai Nursery,

Email, Monday, 25th January 2021


Acknowledgement: We are grateful to the following people who gave of their time and guidance by reading and commenting on draft material, providing references to nurseries, providing historical information, or commented on crocosmia cultivars they grew all of which assisted us in researching C. ‘Malahide’. They are in alphabetical order – Jason Bloom, Stephen Butler, Tim Fuller, Anne James, Dr Charles Nelson, Brendan Sayers, Ian Scroggy, and the staff of the RHS Library and Plant Identification team.





Drs Nicola and Peter Milligan, now retired, garden at Mount Stewart on the shores of Strangford Lough in Co. Down. Both are past members of the IGPS Northern Committee and are members of the IGPS, the RHSI, the Alpine Garden Society, the Hardy Plant Society, and the Nerine and Amaryllid Society.


Please note that the featured image is not of Crocosmia ‘Malahide’ – the web editor didn’t have an image to hand. My apologies, Paddy