The Gardens of Arne Maynard

Arne Maynard’s gardens are those which garden magazine editors dream about and, indeed, they are gardens we could all dream about with the greatest of enjoyment.  They are those gardens which adorn the romantic and historic houses of old England, the quintessentially English gardens of good frameworks, excellent workmanship, rich planting and conscientious maintenance.


That his gardens are such comes as no surprise when one reads of his gardening heroes, those who have inspired him in his likes, passions and style as a very successful garden designer: William Kent, Harold Peto, Lady Salisbury and Lady Arabella Lennox Boyd. Lady Salisbury’s garden, Cranborne Manor, and Rousham House (designed by William Kent) are where he returns again and again for grounding and inspiration.


His introductory chapter to his recently published book, “The Gardens of Arne Maynard”, provides one of the most concise and insightful views into the mind of a garden designer I have read and it is sprinkled with gems of distilled wisdom and experience which could be carved in stone and prominently displayed in horticultural colleges worldwide or inscribed in the notebooks of all enthusiastic gardeners.

Among the gems I especially liked the following: “The structure of the garden has to hold hands with the environment, respecting the architecture of the house and the setting, the climate and the culture” and “The visible love for the art of gardening is what sets really great gardens apart. For a garden to thrive, it requires consistent, dedicated maintenance” and, finally, the concise summary of his approach to his work, “I design gardens that are intended to be gardened”.

Despite this last comment we can also recall that his two gardens designed for the Chelsea Flower Show, with Piet Oudolf in 2000 and his 2012 Laurent Perrier Garden were both awarded Gold Medals and all the gardens shown in this book are of that standard, delights of excellent design, wonderful traditional workmanship and, above all, beauty.


The book presents twelve gardens, two of which are the authors former and present gardens, interspersed with six chapters, entitled “Essentials” on gardening topics: Roses, Kitchen Gardens, Borders, Topiary, Craftsmanship and Pleached, Pollarded and Trained.

The gardens will be unfamiliar to the general reader as they are private gardens so listing them by name would be of no benefit. It is easier and simpler to say that they are each an example of marvellous design, inspired planting and purely a joy to see. And, seeing them is a joy as they are shown so fabulously well to us in this book with photography that is quite extraordinarily good and lavishly presented, often in full page shots but also double page spreads and even two three page (foldout) panoramic views. It really is a wonderfully produced book with illustration and text of the highest standard. All is left to the reader is to enjoy and dream and what dreams these gardens make!


One amusing tale from the book: Rousham House was one of the author’s major influences and inspirations and he recalls being in that garden on many occasions, a garden of strength and simplicity, and realising how magnificently well it was designed. To illustrate he informs the reader that there are no directional signs in the garden, nothing to tell you go this way or that, yet he has watched in admiration and amazement at how the many thousands who visit the garden invariably wander the garden in the same sequence – because it was designed to lead the visitor around in that particular sequence. It truly was a work of genius – read the book to be entertained, inspired and awed by the beauty of Arne Maynard’s gardens, a garden design genius of today.


[The Gardens of Arne Maynard, Arne Maynard with photographs from William Collinson, Merrell Publishers, London, 2015, Hardback, 304 pages, 30.5 X 25cm, 250 colour illustrations, £45, ISBN: 978-1-8589-4626-9]

Paddy Tobin

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


This is The Burren

A beautiful book on a beautiful part of Ireland is simply perfect!

My introduction to The Burren was one of my most enjoyable holidays ever. It was organised by The Old Ground Hotel in Ennis and combined a stay in the hotel with an introductory talk on The Burren by Tony Kirby of Heart of The Burren Walks, followed by a few days of guided walks in his company. It opened up a treasure to me and I still reflect on it with great happiness. We have returned on several occasions since, always staying at The Old Ground because it is nice to sit down for an excellent meal at the end of a long day’s walking. Each visit has been a joy. We go to enjoy the scenery, the completely different and almost crazy environment that is The Burren where flowers which are at home on the Alps, the Mediterranean and the tundra are all found within a stone’s throw. Then, of course, there are the other regular and not to be missed stops – a visit to Carl Wright’s Caher Bridge Garden (Nice photograph of Carl in the book!) and coffee and cake at Catherine O Donoghue’s An Fear Gorta restaurant in Ballyvaughan – though I think I am showing my age somewhat as Catherine has handed over the reins to Jane for quite some time now but, more importantly, the food and the people are wonderful.


It is no wonder that Karsten Krieger decided to make his home there. He had visited several times – to see what had inspired J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth – and eventually settled there. Landscape photography is Karsten’s passion and he has previously published two books which have featured his work: “The West of Ireland” and “Ireland – A Luminous Beauty” (with others). In this, his latest book, “This is The Burren” he has captured the essence and beauty of this area with wonderful landscape photographs and intimate portraits of plants, animals, insects and people, all of the beauty of The Burren.

The photography is excellent, something which hardly needs to be said given Karsten’s previous volumes of work, and the text is, as one would say, short and sweet, sufficient to weave it all together, fill in the background and give us a brief overview of this wonderful area. It is a quick read but a slow book as the photographs will hold your attention and demand you gaze at them with longing to be there.

The subject matter is wonderful and Karsten has presented it magnificently! You will enjoy it and, if you haven’t been to The Burren, you will be making plans to do so.

[This is The Burren, Karsten Krieger, The Collins Press, Cork, 2015, Hardback, 175 pages, €19.99, ISBN: 978-1748892514] – available by mail order. 

Paddy Tobin

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

A Room with a View

A room with a view … and a story.

Villa Giulia is on the outskirts of the town of Bellagio on Lake Como. It was built in 1624 by Eudemio Camutio and then called Villa Camuzia.

Villa Giulia, Bellagio, Lake Como, Italy
Villa Giulia, Bellagio, Lake Como, Italy

At the end of the 18th century it was renovated by Conte Pietro Venini, a native of Bellagio, and called Villa Giulia in honour of his wife. The area to the front of the villa is kept open, without planting, so as not to obstruct the view. He purchased a long strip of land across the road from the villa, which he again kept free of planting, so as to continue his uninterrupted view from the villa to the lake and across to the other side. This long strip of grass is called the “Vialone” and is open to the public for pedestrian access to the church of S. Maria, the small fishing village of Pescallo and one of the entrances to Villa Melzi.

Across the road from the Villa Giulia is the "Vialone", a long stretch of grass which gives an uninterrupted view to the lake.
Across the road from the Villa Giulia is the “Vialone”, a long stretch of grass which gives an uninterrupted view to the lake.
The Vialone is open to the public and is a pleasant walk
The Vialone is open to the public and is a pleasant walk
The Vialone continues with a number of flights of steps
The Vialone continues with a number of flights of steps
And brings the stroller to the small fishing village of Pescallo.
And brings the stroller to the small fishing village of Pescallo.

There is a story that while he named the villa in his wife’s honour he maintained the view to the other side of the lake so he could enjoy the view to his mistress’ house!

Paddy Tobin.

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

To be honest…

To be honest, honesty is not all it’s cracked up to be.  We certainly avoid honesty in many areas of our lives. How many of us use the “white lie”, an untruth used to avoid hurting somebody? Blunt honesty could make social intercourse quite uncomfortable.

On the other hand there are occasions and situations where we wish for and hope for honesty. An article in The Sunday Times of the 11th of October outlined an investigative experiment conducted by The Sunday Times. They had a book “Everything Bonsai” ghostwritten in Bangladore, India, for less than €100. The book “was riddled with inaccuracies, grammatical errors and spelling mistakes”.  False positive reviews were purchased for another small sum and the book rocketed to the top of the Amazon bestseller’s list. (When alerted, Amazon withdrew the book).

A Google search will return the following:

Everything Bonsai!:Amazon:Kindle Store –…/dp/B015Y1SG50

While most Bonsai books will only give you the basics of how to care for one of these amazing plants, this thorough and comprehensive guide also includes:

However, when you click on the link it will bring you to:

Looking for something? 
We’re sorry. The Web address you entered is not a functioning page on our site

Go to’s Home Page

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I post book reviews on this blog and try to be as fair and honest as possible. Then again, I only select books which strike me as interesting so most reviews will be positive. Books from reputable publishers are also very unlikely to fall foul of the reviewer as the publishers are quite demanding of high standards and apply critical editing. There have been a few occasions when I have come on books which I thought were not to be recommended and I have said this in the review. Three come to mind immediately. With two of these the authors took grave offense and on the other the publishers commented that, indeed, they would have been wiser not to publish it at all.

Another gardening area where I feel there is a certain lack of honesty is in descriptions of gardens.  However, to be fair, it is generally dishonesty by omission rather than any attempt to deceive or mislead. When we write about a garden we generally seek to highlight the successes of the garden and the attractions for the visitor and, then again, most magazine articles written about gardens are done so to entertain rather than inform. This selective honesty is very apparent to anybody who takes photographs of the gardens they visit. Who seeks out the weedy patch, the dead flowers, the poorly mown lawn, the untidy or the unswept patio? These are not attractive to us and we avoid photographing them and so present a misrepresentative selection of photographs of the garden.

Though I understand the attitude of the writer and the photographer, at times I do wish to see more accurate and honest appraisals of gardens open to the public.

When we read book reviews or garden descriptions we need to be aware that they are not always as honest as they may at first appear.

Mount Usher Gardens in Co. Wicklow – an example of how we choose photographs to illustrate our writing. We always choose the best, prettiest and most eye-catching image and exclude those which are not quite so good.

Paddy Tobin

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

Now’s the time!

Carpe diem!

Beauty and perfection can be fleeting in the garden and it is well to make the most of that occasion when it comes.

Mount Usher Gardens in Co. Wicklow has just started that period of intense beauty and it is time to get in the car and go visit. The annual display of autumn colour, reflected in the river to give double effect, has just begun and will continue to improve for the next few weeks.

A soft and misty start to the day
A soft and misty start to the day

The first of the trees to put on its autumn display is Nyssa Sylvatica and this is quickly followed by, Cercis canadensis, Parrotia persica, Liquidamber styraciflua and a range of butter yellow maples. Together these put on a fireworks display in yellows, oranges and reds while an interplanting of Japanese maples in maroons and burgandies bind the whole display together.

Gradually, the day brightened
Gradually, the day brightened
And the sun broke through gently
And the sun broke through gently

This annual display must surely be one of the best designed plantings in the country. It is one of those garden designs that I look at and marvel at the vision, creativity, intelligence and foresight of the people who made it. How could they envision how their planting would look fifty to one hundred years after their work was begun?

The sun catches the maples and is reflected on the river
The sun catches the maples and is reflected on the river
Even the common hydrangea looks magical when reflected in the water of the river.

Now, year after year, we can go and enjoy this beauty so get your boots on and make the journey to enjoy this garden which looks so wonderful at this moment.

Nyssa sylvatica is the first tree of the season to blaze into colour
Nyssa sylvatica is the first tree of the season to blaze into colour
And what genius it was to place it in this spot!
And what genius it was to place it in this spot!

Paddy Tobin

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

Asters are the Stars!

Asters are the highlight plants of the garden at this moment. They are the ones which shine out and provide outstanding colour as the season is otherwise drawing to a close. They lengthen our season of colour and interest in the garden and are again being appreciated as the wonderful plants they are, easy to grow and maintain, trouble free, a wide selection of excellent cultivars available and keeping the show on the road when most others are fading away.

Aster frikartii 'Monch'
Aster frikartii ‘Monch’

We are unlikely to see displays as were once shown by the Honorary Vicary Gibbs at Aldenham, Hertfordshire, where he had a border of asters which measured 150 metres in length and 15 metres in depth. It must have been a magical display and certainly must have been a late-season border beyond compare.

Their heyday is gone but asters are certainly making a comeback as popular garden plants with the great benefit that the cultivars now available have been developed to be far more disease resistant and, generally, chosen to be more carefree for the gardener with most not requiring staking, for example. Their use by Piet Oudolf in his grass plantings has, perhaps, brought them to attention in recent years and they do combine wonderfully with grasses, especially the taller cultivars such as ‘Little Carlow’.

Aster 'Little Carlow'
Aster ‘Little Carlow’

Alan Bloom, of the famous “Foggy Bottom” in Bressingham, was hugely enthusiastic about asters and used them prolifically in his borders and beds. He will always be associated with the “island bed” which was seen as innovative and daring at the time but also for the extensive range of perennial plants which he bred, introduced and championed and among these asters had a significant presence.  They were favourites also of Gertrude Jekyll and William Robinson in their day.

Aster 'Alma Potschke'
Aster ‘Alma Potschke’

Percy Picton was another great champion of asters and despite a lifetime in horticulture it is, perhaps, his appearance, with Valerie Finnis, on the first gardening programmes to be produced in colour in the early 1970s – oh, my god, but that does date us! – that brought him to a wider audience and national attention. Percy Picton began his career in Sir Thomas Barlow’s garden near Wendover, went on to work for fifteen years with William Robinson at Grevetye Manor when Ernest Markham was head gardener there, worked with the great alpine plant grower, W.E.Th.Ingwersen, when he set up a nursery on land provided by William Robinson, moved to Hagley Court, the garden of Miss Daisy Hopton, and became head gardener there in 1934. On Miss Hopton’s death and the sale of the property he was sought – we would say “headhunted” nowadays – to assist the aging Ernest Ballard in his Old Court Nursery in 1947. Ernest Ballard was an accomplished breeder of asters who had established the Old Court Nurseries in 1906 and Percy reinvigorated the nurseries, propagating the promising aster cultivars in big numbers and also diversifying the range of plants stocked and services offered. Ernest Ballard died in 1952 and his widow kept the nursery until 1956 when she sold it to Percy. The enthusiasm for asters continues at Old Court Nurseries where Percy’s son, Paul, and Paul’s daughter, Helen, produce a wonderful selection of autumn-flowering asters. Such is the pedigree of these two aster enthusiasts and it is no wonder that Timber Press asked them to write “The Plant Lover’s Guide to Asters”.


This is one of a series of such books, “The Plant Lover’s Guide to…” and I have written about others previously. None in the series has failed to impress me but this one has enthused me and I certainly feel a very strong urge to include more asters in the garden. The layout is as in the others of this series, some introductory chapters on “Designing with Asters” and “Understanding Asters” leading to the main body of the book, “101 Asters for the Garden”,  where a selection of the very best is illustrated and described in detail and followed by notes on Growing and Propagation. Everything about the book is excellent but what struck me as outstanding was the introductory descriptive note on each of the selected asters in the main body of the book. Rarely have I seen such succinct, precise and clear descriptions of plants. In a matter of four or five lines, in most cases, the reader knows the outstanding features of the plant in question and will know if it is one which would suit his/her purpose. It is a rare example of perfect descriptive writing. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am deeply in love with asters!

Aster 'Lye End Beauty'
Aster ‘Lye End Beauty’

Two points of interest: We all know Aster frikartii ‘Monch’, possibly the aster which has been most popular in recent years. It was named after a famous peak in Switzerland which I have visited. It was bred by a Carl Ludwig Frikart in 1918 but I hadn’t realised that there were two companion plants named at the same time, the others being ‘Eiger’ and ‘Jungfrau’ and together they are the three famous peaks which form a massive wall overlooking the Bernese Oberland in Switzerland. I have been to the area and have walked (not “climbed” I can assure you) around these peaks and now feel I must seek out all three asters so as to have a memento in the garden of good times spent there. Plants are always better than fridge magnets!

Aster 'Pink Star'
Aster ‘Pink Star’

While reading the book I looked at the availability list for Kilmurry Nursery, near Gorey in Co. Wexford, and found they listed about a dozen asters and all but one were included in the recommended list in this book. So, it is good that they are available to us so conveniently.

So, you have a wonderful book to inform and guide you and a convenient source of these gorgeous plants. Over to you!

The Plant Lover’s Guide to Asters, Paul Picton & Helen Picton, Timber Press, 2015, Hardback, 246 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60469-518-2, £20

Aster - deep purple

Aster - small pink 20120914 (2)

Paddy Tobin

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