I first met Angela 9 years ago after I asked my course leader if I could work in an estate garden for my work placement. He suggested a few places that didn’t answer the phone – Angela did. I knew nothing about her apart from a mutual connection through my late great-uncle so there was little reason our paths would ever cross. How glad I am that she answered the phone and took a leap of faith with a young gardener just at the start of a journey into the world of horticulture.
I spent and initial 3 months working in the garden, just at the peak of Snowdrop season and the remainder of that summer was spent there too. Angela was a great teacher and had a brilliant way of questioning all around her, always inquisitive and reading up on one plant or another. She had hundreds of old gardening books and would stay up reading for hours. She didn’t suffer fools either and we many a colourful row in the garden as instructions were misinterpreted or worse still, ignored completely! Despite all that I loved every trip there and enjoyed seeing the garden develop even in the few short years since I first saw it.
My own love of snowdrops was sparked by working with her collection and spotting a rather impressive clump of South Hayes under a large shrub in what she called the North Border. That opened my eyes to the magical and often daft world of snowdrops, but it also started a love affair that, thanks to Angela, would spiral out of control and culminate with me moving to the UK and working for a summer propagating snowdrops exclusively.
She was a collector and hoarder of the highest order, her sheds and barns were full of all sorts of knicknacks and salvage, meaningless items to many but she could tell you where each piece came from and often her intention for it. Plants were collected too and newspaper articles would often trigger a new obsession and hunt for the latest desirable plant. Indeed, one of my last conversations with her was about a deep red Nerine she had seen but not managed to get her hands on yet.
Gardening and plants were just one of her many talents, her initial work life as an Architect and working for the IDA brought her on trips all over the world. She was a founding member of the GLDA and was always keen to support the RHSI and other organisations. Others will know a lot more of her early years, but I have heard stories of an antique shop she ran in Dublin city that had the most magnificent Wisteria mural painted on the façade. She truly was a multi-talented woman and a driving force behind whatever she got involved in.
The 90’s, I believe, saw her move to Tipperary to take on Fancroft gardens which she spent some years developing before taking the plunge in the early 2000’s (when most people would think of slowing down) with Bellefield. She transformed a neglected garden and farmyard into a magical space, packed with all of the plants she was so passionate about. I recall her telling me the first day she arrived in the garden you had to crawl on your knees through the brambles and willow to get to the first clearing in the mess that would be transformed into a non-traditional walled garden, with her distinctive flair
Her early plant fairs were legendary too, attracting huge crowds before they became a commonplace fixture in the Irish horticultural calendar which they are today.
Her passion as a gardener was where our paths crossed best and on many a trip to Bellefield we would walk around the garden until our feet were numb and noses dripping, often at snowdrop time. But, like all plant enthusiast’s, snowdrops just heralded the start of the gardening year with the magnificent collections of old French roses, often sourced from trips to France, together with Nerines, Iris and Peonies extending the garden and the interest long into the season.
Indeed, it was on one of these plant sourcing trips to Devon for the Iris ensata that line her rill, that I had one of my most memorable road trips with her as we reversed up a dual-carriage way in search of wildflowers and she gave some unannounced lessons on tailgating in a way only Angela would dare!
Car trips were always memorable when Angela was involved, whether it was staying up all night and day to traverse the UK for Myddelton snowdrop sale or simply a trip into the depths of murky Tipperary on a damp February morning to trawl old gardens for snowdrops and other long forgotten garden goodies, lots of which now grow in Bellefield.
For as long as I’ve known her Angela had Poppy by her side, and other predecessors before her. She was devastated when Poppy died last year, but Boris brought her a new lease of life and was full of mischief on my few visits since his arrival.
On a personal level Angela was a great mentor and guide, always offering advice in the background and looking out for my decisions and giving her opinion, which she always expressed freely! I’ll miss her 2am emails updating me about her latest antics and also miss our road trips to see plants and gardens with or without permission.
She was a great friend, teacher, mentor and most importantly gardener whose loss will be felt by all those who knew her.
May she rest in peace
Paul Smyth, May 2021.