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Kennedy influence lives on – at home and abroad

The hard work and dedication one of Ireland’s leading amateur primrose breeders, Joe Kennedy, has been acknowledged with the help of FitzGerald Nurseries.

FitzGerald’s, Ireland’s leading young plant nursery, based in Co. Kilkenny, will release several new varieties of “Kennedy Irish Primroses” over the coming three years starting  in Spring 2011. Here, Pat FitzGerald, Managing Director, recounts the story of Kennedy’s Irish Primroses and pays tribute to a devoted breeder.

Our ancestors believed that the primrose deterred evil fairies and a scatter of primroses outside the door would keep witches away. My own first contact with primroses came from seeing drifts of them growing in the Rath (Celtic Ringfort) on our farm here in County Kilkenny.

At FitzGerald’s, we have a soft spot for the primrose and another reason for this is the work of Joe Kennedy, who hails from Carlow but now lives up near Ballycastle, County Antrim. A modest man with exceptional ability as an amateur breeder, his professional training as a dentist has given him a precision and attention-to-detail perfectly suited to the finer points of breeding.

I first met Joe in 2006 having contacted him after reading an article he wrote in an Irish Garden Plant Society (IGPS) Newsletter.  We got in touch over the phone and he was soon educating me on the history and breeding of this beautiful plant.

A new creation from good stock

With this launch, we hope we can do right by Joe and bring to a much wider audience these wonderful old-style “Kennedy Irish Primroses”. After 35 dedicated years of breeding, we hope it’s a proud moment for Joe because it certainly is for us.

The first plant launch to start the program happens to coincide with the 50th Anniversary of the inauguration of John F Kennedy as President of USA in January 1961.  New additional varieties will be released through to the 50th Anniversary of his visit to Ireland and death in 1963. This collaboration between a FitzGerald and a Kennedy – to bring old Irish Primroses, all the way from County Wexford, near the old Kennedy homestead, is a typically Irish coincidence.

Thirty five different selections are now being worked on from Joe’s recent breeding at FitzGerald Plant Technology laboratory in County Wexford, creating local employment at the same time for up to five new staff members. Exhibiting unique foliage characteristics, I hope gardeners will agree a new direction in the beauty of the primrose has been born out of old Irish robust selections. Many of the later varieties will also introduce some of the old “Hose-in-Hose”, “Jack-in-the-Greens” and various matt-forming stoloniferous types.

Unique characteristics – just like Joe himself.