Growing on the Edge – Dhu Varren Gardens. Mark & Laura Collins

The Oriental Tea House at Dhu Varren Gardens with Koi carp pond in foreground
The Oriental Tea House at Dhu Varren Gardens with Koi carp pond in foreground

We moved to Milltown, Co Kerry in June 2000 where we both took up employment in a local hospital.  We purchased an old farmhouse dating back to 1850 which sat on a 2.5 acre site containing the remnants of a farmyard.  The only area under cultivation was a lawn to the front of the house.  The south-facing site with a gradual slope away from the house was surrounded by mature trees and hedgerows offering shelter.  Having worked on the interior of the house for a couple of years we turned our attention to the garden.

The Palm and Succulent Bed
The Palm and Succulent Bed


As we are located on the western seaboard we have a very mild winter climate and consistent rainfall throughout the year, which means it is possible to grow – or at least attempt to grow – plants from around the world that would not succeed in other colder parts of Ireland.  This is the ongoing ethos of the garden.

Acer palmatum 'Shania'
Acer palmatum ‘Shania’

It quickly became apparent that the site was very damp in places and some areas were exposed to South Westerly winds (which are not the worst) despite the existing shelter.  Consequently, shelter belts were planted or enhanced and an extensive drainage system with ponds was constructed.  This was all done by hand.

Echinopsis eyriesii
Echinopsis eyriesii

One of the first projects was the construction of a large Koi carp pond with an Oriental Tea House adjacent to it.  Around this we developed an Oriental-themed garden of acers, pines, bamboo, ferns, etc.  Subsequent to this, using hundreds of tonnes of boulders and rocks from nearby quarries, we constructed a palm and succulent bed and also a rock garden.  These now contain many rare and unusual plants.

This highlights an underlying theme in the garden, which is that we initially have to create the correct conditions for the plants in a suitable location within the garden before planting can begin.  An on-going project has been the planting of a mixed woodland which displays many rare and hard to find trees and shrubs mixed with bamboos, herbaceous and woodland plants.  This is really gaining maturity in a short period of time.

An unidentified rhododendron
An unidentified rhododendron


Other outdoor areas of the garden include a Mediterranean bed, a shade garden, a wetland for wildlife, a herb and nectar garden, a southern hemisphere garden and a sunken garden where we grow plants requiring wind shelter.

Of course, our climate is not mild enough to grow all the plants we would like to grow, so two large glasshouses have been constructed.   One displays cacti and succulents and other xeric plants while the other creates a steamy, humid atmosphere to display sub-tropical foliage and flowering plants from around the world.

Kalopanax pictue
Kalopanax pictus

We plan to continue sourcing and growing plants that we discover on our various botanical field trips (aka holidays) around the world.

Telopia species
Telopia species

Mark’s “Growing on the Edge” talk features the development of our garden over the past 14 years, the concept of what growing on the edge means in terms of climate and cultivation and an overview of some of the rare and unusual plants growing in the garden with their associated trials, tribulations and successes.

Mark & Laura Collins


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