Ice-cream first, then Weeds and Good Bits and Bad Bits – Ness Botanic Gardens!

As we approached the entrance to Ness Botanic Gardens information notices told us that we could enjoy two locally made varieties of ice-cream inside. I suppose we could have been told of worse things but I had come to see plants and a good garden and ice-cream was not of interest, especially as it was early in the morning. So early, that we had arrived a little before the garden’s opening time and, after browsing the shop for several minutes, we went to the plant sales area  which was open, though not for sales. It only added to our bad first impressions as the plants had, for the most part, dried out and the paving slabs of the footpaths were infested with weeds.

At times I can be quite negative in my view of gardens I visit. I become very annoyed with gardens where there a poor standard of maintenance, where weeds are widespread and where there is a general air of neglect. I don’t feel it unreasonable to visit a garden such as Ness Botanic Gardens and expect high standards of gardening, planting and maintenance and find it a huge disappointment when this is not what I experience.

There were many beautiful vistas in the Ness Botanic Gardens but also many areas which disappointed me. I’ll continue with photographs and captions.

Three very attractive vistas which are met very early in one’s walk around the gardens.

Immediately after the enjoyable views above we stopped at this bed of azaleas which was overrun with weeds. 

dsc_0027There were large areas of wildflower meadow which were pleasant, quiet and gave good views to the surrounding countryside. 


When there is widespread concern over the demise of our pollinating insects it is good to see an installation which provides nesting sites for bees. The one pictured above is for solitary bees – I had to wonder if solitary bees would feel at home in this high rise apartment block. Perhaps, they are not quite as demanding of their solitude as I am.  


This pond did not look well – of course, conditions may get ahead of the gardeners but seeing three ponds in this condition was off putting.  

This did not have the appearance of being left on the day we visited but seemed to have been there for some time.

The Rock Garden area is very attractive with mature specimens and comfortable walking pathways. The presence of Mare’s Tail throughout the area was a disappointment though. 

Is it unreasonable of me, when I spend £7.50 on admission, to expect a well-kept garden?

I realise that this is somewhat of a bearbug with me, this disappointment with gardens which charge admission yet do not maintain reasonable standards,  and that I am inclined to rant on about it but that’s how it is with me. Grumpy old man? Maybe! LOL!

Orchids – A New Enthusiasm!

Although widespread, orchids are not commonplace and to look at them growing in the wild is one of the great pleasures of the plant world. The Burren in Co. Clare, Bull Island in Dublin and The Raven in Wexford are three easily accessible locations where one may find orchids with ease and there are many other lesser-known spots throughout the country where they can be enjoyed.

A group of Common Spotted Orchid – Dactylorhiza fuchsii near Cahir, Co. Tipperary
Pyramidal Orchids, Anacamptis pyramidalis, which were growing company of the Common Spotted Orchids above.

A friend brought me to a population of the Bee Orchid on the sand dunes in Tramore earlier this summer and also to a location in the Comeragh Mountains where Marsh Orchids grew in profusion. Without him I would not have known of these locations and it was a great thrill to see them, a true delight. On a more domestic front, good chance and kind friends expanded the selection of orchids we have growing in the garden and it is wonderful to be able to look at the amazing structures of the flowers and intricate detail of the colours and patterns.

The fabulously beautiful and interesting Bee Orchid, Ophrys apifera, photographed on the sand dunes at Tramore, Co. Waterford 


So, while still very much a novice, I have become enthralled by orchids, our natives and those hardy enough to be grown in the open garden. I must confess that I find many of the tropical orchids just a little too gaudy for my tastes but one is never too old to develop a new interest but I hope my days will pass without my feeling any such inclination.

On several of my outings this year I was very fortunate to be in the company of a friend who was familiar with the populations of the sites we visited so he was good enough to point out the distinguishing features of each orchid we encountered. I have found this a very good way to begin to learn about new plants as it gives you a base number which you can confidently identify and when you next encounter an orchid your immediate question is whether it is one you already know or a new discovery for you. In this way you widen your selection gradually and confidence grows.

Three orchids from the Comeragh Mountains, Co. Waterford. 

My reference book has been Ireland’s Wild Orchids – A Field Guide by Brendan Sayers and Susan Sex which lists and describes, I think, thirty five orchids we might find here in Ireland. This suits me perfectly as it is not too large a number and does not present too wide a selection to the beginner when attempting to identify the latest find. Of course, orchids do not always oblige by remaining true to form and some are inclined to interbreed and present the newcomer with a confusion of features but a new interest and a new enthusiasm propels one onwards.


Bloomsbury have recently published a new Pocket Guide to the Orchids of Britain and Ireland written by Simon Harrap, a man experienced in such guides as he has previously written Orchids of Britain and Ireland: A Field and Site Guide (2005 and 2009), Harrap’s Wild Flowers (2013), the RSPB Pocket Guide to British Birds (2007 and 2012) and Where to Watch Birds in Britain and Ireland (2003 and 2010) so I reckoned his new book was a good bet to extend my study of native orchids and I was not wrong.

This guide describes the fifty two species found in Ireland and Britain with excellent notes and guidelines to help with identification, along with notes on habitat, biology and conservation. In fact, the text is of such a standard that it raises this book well beyond that of being purely a field guide that one might use simply for identification. The descriptions are detailed and extensive and the over two hundred photographs illustrating the orchids are of an excellent standard though I have enjoyed the detail of the illustrations produced by Susan Sex in Ireland’s Wild Orchids and would have welcomed some photographs which gave more detail – a very minor quibble given the excellence of the photographs and the quality of the text.

This book will certainly satisfy my present interest in our native orchids and will, I believe, serve me well for many years to come. The flowering season is coming to an end but, with winter reading, I will be well prepared for next year!

[A Pocket Guide to the Orchids of Britain and Ireland, Simon Harrap, Bloomsbury Natural History, 2016, Paperback, 255 pages, £14.99, ISBN: 978-1-4729-2485-8]

Paddy Tobin

To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook



Coming to Terms with Your Plants!

Amicia zygomeris is an uncommon and rather unusual looking plant. The leaves are of a peculiar shape, not unlike those of the tulip tree where what would normally be a pointed end of the leaf is blunt and double-lobed with an almost cut-off appearance leading to the common name of yolk-leaved Amicia and it is this foliage which is most attractive in the plant. On closer approach one sees the purple-veined stipules – which I would have called bracts but now know better – and later in the season yellow pea-like flowers emerge. All in all it is an odd thing, somewhat peculiar and out of the ordinary. Even the name is peculiar. Although “Amicia” is used as a girl’s name and generally explained as “One most loved” this plant is named in honour of John Baptiste Amici, an Italian scientist of the 19th century while the specific name derives from the botanical term “zygomorphic”,  as all parts of the plant display bilateral symmetry.

Amicia zygomeris – a strange plant with an equally strange name

A Botanist’s Vocabulary by Susan K. Pell and Bobbi Angell lists and illustrates 1,300 botanical terms and, while I would not suggest a cover to cover reading, even a quick browse will throw up some nuggets of interest.


As we enter autumn and winter those who delight in the winter colour of their beech hedges should realise that it is because the foliage is “marcesent” – the withered leaves remain attached. Those stickyback seedheads we threw at our friends woolly jumpers as children displayed “epizoochory”, seed dispersal via transportation on the outside of vertebrate animals (mostly mammals). How exactly they also managed to get into our minds and have us throw the seedpods at each other is still beyond me but I certainly recall the fun we had. These seeds could also have been described as “sticktights” – which makes sense!

Some plant parts grow upwards and others downwards: those stems that sprout from the roots of a perennial plant, such as a tree, that has been cut down are called “ratoons” while some bulbs have the ability to reposition themselves at a depth in the soil which is most beneficial to them sending a shoot down from the bulb to develop a new bulb where required and these are called “sinkers” or “droppers”.

During last summer I visited a population of our native Bee Orchid where “sexual deception” was the order of the day – parts of the flower of these orchids mimic a female insect, in this case a bee, tricking the male insect into attempting to mate with it – “pseudocopulation” – which leads to pollination. Clever! Clever as it might be the “perfect” flower is described as one that has functioning female and male reproductive parts!

Ophrys apifera, the Bee Orchid, which uses “sexual deception” for pollination

It is that type of book, in essence a list, a dictionary which one might dip into occasionally as needs be and also come across an interesting term to brighten your day.

Susan K. Pell is the Science and Public Programs Manager at the United States Botanic Garden and, formerly, Director of Science at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Bobbi Angell works at the New York Botanical Garden as an illustrator for botanists there.

[A Botanist’s Vocabulary, Susan K. Pell and Bobbi Angell, Timber Press, Portland Oregon, 2016, Hardback, 226 pages, £17.99, ISBN: 978-1-60469-563-2]

Paddy Tobin

To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook



On Reflecting!

We seem to spend quite an amount of time in our gardens yet little time simply looking and reflecting on it. It’s somewhat like the number of seats we have in our garden – we seldom sit on them. It’s a pity we don’t sit more and reflect more as both the garden and ourselves would most likely benefit from it.

Fallen leaves announce the change of season

My morning was spent painting our bedroom and the afternoon clearing up the many branches an unthinking contractor had shredded from any trees and shrubs which had grown through the fence into the farmland surrounding our garden. He had been hired to cut the field boundary ditches and, obviously, failed to distinguish between those and our garden planting. It was upsetting to see trees and shrubs which we had grown and tended for fifteen or so years broken so roughly – this cutting back of ditches is not a precision job but more of a flailing where branches are broken rather than cut. I spent yesterday morning pruning back to undamaged wood over a fifty metre stretch of boundary and today began the cleaning up. It will continue tomorrow and the following day.

Before finishing for the day I took out my camera and went for a stroll around the garden. I find this a wonderful way to make one look at the garden. When you walk around seeking shots for the camera you are more inclined to look in greater detail at the garden that you normally would when working in it – when one’s mind is occupied with the job in hand.

So, what was there to see? Most of all that we are in a time of transition; that the garden is moving from summer to autumn, that the summer display is in its last hooray, that dahlias have performed fabulously this year but are showing signs of the colder nights; that asters are wonderful late-season plants providing excellent colour as are nerines and some of the monkshoods; that hydrangeas are outstanding shrubs and that I will get more of them, particularly  Hydrangea paniculata cultivars; that the first of the trees are changing colour and the leaves are beginning to fall and I shall have to begin collecting them shortly; that Crataegus prunifolius is an outstanding tree which provides beautiful blossom in spring and excellent berries and foliage colour in autumn; that a certain rhododendron has put out the Christmas decorations already; that medlars and quince are almost ready to be made into jelly; that though it seems the year is coming to an end the first snowdrops of the season are already in flower and before this season has ended the next has begun so, really, there is no time to be sitting on those garden seats nor for reflecting on the garden. There is work to be done! There is always work to be done and I enjoy doing it.

Some late season performers in the garden: 

Showing autumn colour:

Paddy Tobin

To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook


My Favourite Plant

Our local garden club hosted Des Doyle of Lavistown House, near Kilkenny, last evening when he delivered a talk on his favourite plants – a total of forty plants as it turned out! Des showed an admirable reluctance to narrow his selection and I imagine that if time allowed he could have continued to list another forty plants which he loves to grow.

In the course of the talk Des asked us to consider the criteria on which we should select our favourite plant – the most obvious being that it should actually grow for us in the garden! People will have many reasons for their own choices – a favourite colour, a memento of a special day out, a kind gift or a name that coincides with that of a child or grandchild. Immediacy is another influence – what is in flower at the moment is more likely to be favoured that one held in memory or in anticipation.

Some flexibility is called for on occasion: a gardening journalist on a national newspaper once contacted me and asked me to say what my favourite flower was and to write a few lines about it for her. I considered for a day or so and dropped her a line with the information she required. She thanked me but came back the following day and asked if I could make another selection as someone else had also chosen my favourite plant. There is always room for more than one favourite!

Besides the obvious there is one quality which I have found has the greatest influence on my choice of favourites and that is association or connection. Were it an antique or a work of art we might call it provenance – its origins, its history of ownership and how it came into your ownership.

My list of favourites is long; certainly there is a favourite or two for each week of the year but here is a quick selection which has come to mind following Des’ talk last evening.

We started gardening almost forty years ago – marriage, new home and new garden – and our first steps were as often based on best value rather than on best taste. That border which mixed azaleas with dahlias still remains in our minds and we laugh at the incongruity of plants and the clash of colours. However, some memories from those early days are happy ones and are still with us. Two workmates gave us primulas – Primula juliae types – from their mothers’ gardens so we still grow “John Howley’s Mother’s primulas”, all the way from Mooncoin, and “Rosaleen Power’s Mother’s primulas” all the way from Ballyhale. In the great scheme of garden primroses neither of these is special but they have connections to friends, their families and memories of our first steps in gardening. Rosaleen Power’s Mother’s primula, by the way, has crossed with a native primrose, Primula veris, planted nearby to give a pleasant new addition to the garden.

John Howley’s Mother’s primula – a form of Primula juliae
Rosaleen Power’s Mother’s primula with the native Primula veris on the right and a seedling between the two in the middle.

This liking for connection in plants lead to my membership of the Irish Garden Plant Society, a group with a particular interest in plant of Irish connection whether raised or found in Ireland or with a connection with an Irish person. One such, which I grow, is Anemone nemerosa ‘Lucy’s Wood’. It is a light blue variation on our native wood anemone and was found by Evelyn Booth, who wrote a flora of Co. Wexford, in the wood of that name near her home in Bunclody. I also have a pink coloured wood anemone which I found on The Burren that I like very much. For the moment, at least, I refer to it as ‘Burren Pink’.

Anemone nemerosa ‘Lucy’s Wood’ – found by Evelyn Booth near Bunclody, Co. Wexford
A pink-flowered form of Anemone nemerosa found on The Burren.

Orchids had been absent from my garden for many years; I had always been reluctant to grow them as I imagined them to be difficult to please. A friend in east Cork had the native dactylorhiza growing in abundance in her garden and gave me a few some years back. They are now established in grass in our garden and have increased well but have also prompted me to try others and I now have a selection which is thriving. Another was added last evening when local gardening friends, Noreen and Ollie, arrived to the meeting with a pot containing a nice clump of an orchid I had admired in their garden during last summer – another favourite has been added to the garden!

A native orchid now settled in grass in the garden.

What is now a particularly fine and beautiful specimen of Cyclamen hederifolium came from Lindy, a friend in Borris. It has especially good foliage and the clearest of white flowers – good white flowers are especially valued in this species. Planted close to it is a small corm of Cyclamen cilicium, a kind and spontaneous gift from a gardener at the Villa Balbianello on Lake Como last autumn. Plants, memories, connections – favourites!

A particularly fine form of Cyclamen hederifolium
A small plant of Cyclamen cilicium from Villa Balbianello, Lake Como, Italy.

Snowdrops have been a particular interest of mine for several years and snowdrops of Irish origin especially so. Few are as treasured as Galanthus ‘Lady Moore’. It was kindly given to me by Miss Rita Rutherfoord and she, in the company of her mother, had received it from Lady Moore herself during the Second World War as they attended a Sale of Work at the Mansion House in Dublin to support the families of those actively involved in the war. It has a wonderful connection with the original grower and was a very kind gift. Galanthus elwesii ‘Keith Lamb’ is a diminutive snowdrop from the garden of the late Dr. Lamb at Clara in Co. Offaly. Again, it was a kind gift and will be treasured for its connection. Harold McBride is a keen breeder of snowdrops, among other choice plants, and his ‘Waverley Little Egret’ is a little beauty he passed on to me in recent years. Good fortune smiled on me when a friend suggested I visit an old garden as he thought there were some interesting snowdrops there. As it turned out, those he considered interesting were relatively common but I came on a small population of yellow-marked Galanthus plicatus. There were three different forms and one is especially good, quite distinct, and waiting to be named.

Galanthus ‘Lady Moore’, a treasured snowdrop
Galanthus elwesii ‘Keith Lamb’
Harold McBride’s Galanthus ‘Waverley Little Egret’
Found in an old garden, a yellow-marked Galanthus plicatus which is presently under the unflattering name “PT01” Friends have suggested “Pacman” as a possible name because of the shape of the marking but I feel something more Irish or to connect with its origins would be more appropriate.

Finally, for this list could go on and on, I have a beautiful form of Trillium chloropetalum which grows especially well and looks quite fabulous in flower each year. It came from a great and most generous friend, Bob Gordon, in Northern Ireland whom many in Irish gardening circles will know well. This is only one of Bob’s many gifts in our garden for I “blame” him for the large number of snowdrop varieties which we grow.

Trillium chloropetalum from Bob Gordon
Trillium chloropetalum from Bob Gordon, an outstanding plant

Plants have a value far beyond their oftentimes fleeting beauty. They recall the kindness and generosity of friends; they connect us with other times and people long gone. This makes them especially treasured and certainly among our favourites.

Paddy Tobin

To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook

Just for interest – those other two yellow-marked snowdrop finds.








Gardening with Good Intentions

The Garden Awakening

The essence of what Mary Reynolds has to say in The Garden Awakening is not only good and worthwhile but essential for our health and the health of our planet. We must take care of this earth and garden in a manner which respects the land rather than do harm to it. However, as I read the book I felt that Mary and I are not on the same wavelength in many ways and that the manner in which she expresses this message imbues it with such a baggage of mumble jumble that people may well disregard it as a result. The message is clouded by its presentation.

Mary Reynold’s show garden at the Chelsea Flower Show, 2002, for which she was awarded a gold medal.

Mary came to prominence after she won a gold medal at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2002 with a garden which presented an essence of natural, semi-wild rural Ireland, an Ireland of myths and symbols, an Ireland of simpler times, of simpler farming methods, of times past. A successful career in garden design followed but she reached a stage when she felt unhappy about  the gardens she was designing – this realisation and the way forward was revealed to her by crows in a dream – and she has now returned to an earlier approach.

A medium garden landscaped
A medium garden planted

She sees garden design as a process which “invites nature to express her true self” but comments that “people garden to be in touch with nature but gardens and nature have little in common” and involve “a lot of hard work and vast quantities of chemicals.” I felt this was an unfortunate statement. It was inaccurate, did not reflect my gardening nor that of many others, I imagine, and undermines the central message of the book. There is certainly work in my garden while nature is accommodated and encouraged and there are certainly not vast quantities of chemicals used. A statement early in a book which belittles and derides the efforts and good intentions of others is alienating. Design is a matter of intention, she states, and, while she is against designed gardens, she designs gardens herself but, it seems, sees her intentions as justifying her actions and one must presume that she believes the good intentions of others do not give such justification to their work though it is of a similar nature. She decries the damage done to the earth by ploughing and by machinery; advocates no-dig methods in gardening and farming yet suggests swales, berms and fire pits for her designed gardens which struck me as contradictory. All of her gardens which are illustrated in the book show that each involved considerable earth moving, reshaping and landscaping. I felt there were several such contradictory stances through the book – my intentions are pure and justify what I do while yours are not and what you do is bad for the earth. There seems to be a touch of “do what I say but not what I do”.

A medium garden landscaped
A medium garden planted

The pre-design stage for the gardener involves exercises in connecting with the energetic, emotional and physical body of the land, communicating with it as the land is alive, also conscious and capable of feeling. While I look at and consider my garden space I cannot ever see myself engaging in the exercises she suggests not see any great value in them. Various processes are suggested to heal the land before proceeding. We are encouraged to seek the core truth of the land, its distinctive personality – the genius loci as traditionally called – and each location must be treated separately and allowed to express its own truth so that garden design is a co-creation in partnership with nature – no training is necessary; one should follow no style nor fashion but one’s own intuition.

Perspective detail of a large garden

Each design begins by deciding one’s intentions for the area – “a place alive with the energy of nature”, “a protected place where you and the land can heal and grow”, “a magical place filled with child-like energy and fun” or “a strong flow of creative energy”. Areas of special intentions are selected, patterns and natural shapes are incorporated, symbols and imagery are included and the design is put on paper. Several designs are illustrated by line drawings and I was disappointed that there are no photographs of any of the gardens; in fact, there are no photographs in the book at all which is unusual for a book on gardening.

The second half of the book is concerned with developing a forest garden and alternative management practices. The forest garden is a method of producing food by replicating a woodland system through the seven layers from canopy to ground cover. It is probably not the most practical but would make an interesting gardening area if space allowed. It surprised and disappointed me that many of the trees suggested were non-native species given her comments elsewhere in the book that native plants were best suited to a natural garden. The alternative management approach suggests a more natural approach, less desire for the manicured lawn perhaps, less chemicals and a more natural approach to pest and disease control. The development of a forest garden is probably not practical, because of space constraints, for most people while all could learn and adopt something from the comments on management. However, suggesting that the rooting of pigs to clear the ground is in anyway less damaging than digging the same ground does not make much sense nor the recommendation of a particular breed of goats, especially suited to Californian conditions, to clear unwanted undergrowth.

Planning the layers for the forest garden
A Hugelhultur Raised Bed – tree trunks, branches, twigs, leaves etc covered with soil.

Overall, I found the book awkward to read and have read it three times to fully come to grips with it. So often I was distracted by sections about the spirit of the land, connecting with mother earth, listening and talking to the land, meditating in the garden, of spirituality and old beliefs, allowing my intuition to guide me etc.  Science, horticulture, biology and the needs of the common gardener were, I feel, neglected in this book.

“The land was very different when I was young. The methods of farming were gentler then as industrial farming hadn’t yet been completely embraced and the earth was still teeming with life.” Mary Reynold’s outlook seems to continue to be inspired by the sadness of William Butler Yeat’s poem, The Stolen Child, a favourite in her youth but, truly, the earth is not more full of weeping than we can understand.

The earth still teems with life, all is not lost, all is not doom and gloom, and the vast majority of gardeners work in tandem with nature, enjoy their gardens and care for the land.

[The Garden Awakening, Mary Reynolds, Green Books, Dublin, 2016, Hardback, 272 pages, ISBN 9780857843135, £19.99]


To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook

The Saving Grace

Is it better to enter a garden, be immediately bowled over by the experience but be disappointed with the garden as the visit progresses or to begin on a low note, feel a little disappointed, but end with an experience of garden beauty that demands you simply sit, look and attempt, even if this is a vain effort, to take in the magnificence and beauty that is presented to you?

Perhaps, it is better to learn from experience to be patient and to be forgiving, to be less demanding and less critical and to give every garden time to tell its story. I must confess to being quick to judgement, to being influenced by the initial impact of a garden and to being slow, reluctant, stubborn even to ameliorate my opinions. It has been suggested in this household that the Victor Meldrew character in the television programme, “One Foot in the Grave” was undoubtedly based on me or certainly presents a reasonably accurate reflection of my behaviour.

I genuinely do not intend nor wish to be harsh or unreasonably judgmental of gardens I visit but can easily feel disappointed, annoyed and even angry when I have paid for admission and find the garden visited is of a poor standard. My friends should be reassured that I do not carry such demands when I visit their gardens – such occasions are for the pleasure of their company and the sharing of gardening chat and the enjoyment of plants and garden.

The impressive approach to Arley Hall through an avenue of pleached lime trees.


A recent visit to Arley Hall (Cheshire, England) was a mixed experience when some areas delighted me and others disappointed. Given that it is an eight acre garden it is not surprising, I suppose, that some areas will appeal while others will not. The entrance is hugely impressive as one walks through a fabulous avenue of pleached lime trees with a view to the clock tower above the Cruck Barn, dating from 1470. It speaks of  a place well established, well settled and comfortable in itself, of generations who have lived, worked and gardened here and promises that the visit will be enjoyed.

A glimpse of the house and the simple and impressive planting of mophead hydrangeas
The Cruck Barn which dates from 1470

The entrance is via what was once the farmyard and the impressive outbuildings still stand proud and in excellent condition. This yard now has three garden areas wrapped around it – The Flag Garden, The Kitchen Garden and The Walled Garden. Each area in turn disappointed; each had the promise and the facility to be excellent but none reached that standard. The Flag Garden was tired and past its best though a Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Roseum’ grown on the wall was very attractive. The Kitchen Garden was well organised  but also weedy in places – something which irritates me very much! The Walled Garden was in need of rejuvenation with many plants, mainly shrubs and small trees, in need of replacement – the borders were gappy.

The Flag  Garden, a small garden space planted mainly with roses and lavender 
Schizophragma hydrangeoides on the wall of the Flag Garden
The Kitchen Garden
The glasshouse in the kitchen garden 
The Walled Garden
The Walled Garden

The impressive gates of the walled garden led us to an area which at once surprised, delighted and took one’s breath away. Here was one of those rare gardening experiences where one saw genius and beauty combined to perfect effect. It is without doubt the jewel of the gardens at Arley Hall and would a jewel in any garden in the world. It was quite simply outstanding, a combination of structure provided by the yew hedges and the colour of the herbaceous planting. It was a situation where the overall effect far outweighed the sum of the parts and I reflect now that I did not walk the borders to pick out the various plants included in the planting because the individual plants were only  of significance in that they contributed to an overall picture. The gardens were very quiet – only two others that we say – and we sat for a long time in The Alcove to enjoy this marvel of gardening.

The Alcove situated at one end of the herbaceous borders is the perfect place to sit and enjoy the experience. 
The double herbaceous borders 
Truly, fabulously beautiful! 
The Saving Grace – the double herbaceous borders. 

With my spirits raised I moved along to enjoy the Tea Cottage and its garden, built for the children of a previous generation of the family, and the Fish Garden, a small sunken garden and The Ilex Avenue, an impressive planting of clipped hollies. The Rootree was rather a wilderness and I did not dally  before making my way back to the house along the Furlong Walk, a pleasant straight walk with garden to one side and farmland to the other.

The Tea Cottage and its garden
The Ilex Avenue
The Fish Garden

We made a quick visit to the Plant Nursery – closing time was quickly approaching – and found a few nice plants to bring home. Our final impression of Arley Hall was that of the man  who served us in the Plant Nursery who went to generous lengths to ensure our plants were well packaged so as to travel safely on our return journey to Ireland.

Paddy Tobin

To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook