The Art of Making Gardens

The show garden designer should not stray too far from the garden, we would imagine; it is the aim of his work but also the source of his inspiration and a detachment from the hands-on experience of working in a garden may leave the designer working in a vacuum with the danger that his creations become less relevant or out of touch with the practicalities and niceties of plants growing in the real world rather than in the contrived vision of the show garden. It is surprising then to read that Luciano Giubbilei has never had his own garden and that his gardens are more noted for their architectural design rather than for their floral content.

His career has been one of outstanding success and acclaim: His 1999 garden in The Boltons, London, was awarded “Best Residential Garden” by the British Association of Landscape Industries. He received the same award for another garden in 2002. His collaboration with artist Stephen Cox in 2003 on a garden in Kensington was a key influence which permeated for his subsequent work. A garden he designed in Addison Road, London, in 2006 earned the “Best Residential Garden Award” from the British Association of Landscape Industries. Work in the USA, in 2007, is highly acclaimed and another “Best Residential Garden Award” came his way in the U.K.

He designed his first Chelsea Flower Show garden for Laurent-Perrier in 2009. It was awarded a Gold Medal and was the first garden where he used flowers extensively – astrantias and paeonias in large numbers. A Moroccan garden he designed that year featured 14,000 grasses and 12,000 roses. Though this Chelsea garden was still architectural in nature and was in collaboration with two artists this move to the use of flowers marked a new direction in his garden designs.

Luciano-Giubbilei-s-2009 The Guardian. com
Chelsea Flower Show garden for Laurent Perrier 2009 – Photo from The Guardian

2010 brought a further “Best Residential Garden award” and the publication of his first book, “The Gardens of Luciano Giubbilei” while his 2011 Chelsea Flower Show garden, again for Laurent-Perrier and a gold medal winner, is regularly listed as one of the best Chelsea Flower Show gardens of all time. He followed this with a self-published book, “Nature and Human Intervention” and, though he continued with his private practice, took a break from show garden design, and took time to reassess his approach to gardens. The return to Chelsea in 2014 brought a Gold Medal and Best in Show Award.

Chelsea 2011
Chelsea Flower Show garden for Laurent Perrier 2011 – photo from The Telegraph
Chelsea 2014
Chelsea Flower Show garden for Laurent Perrier 2014 -photograph from The Telegraph

A conversation with Sir Paul Smith led him to approach Fergus Garrett at Great Dixter and he was given a section in the gardens in which he could experiment with plants and, as Sir Paul Smith had suggested, “get his hands in the soil”. A year working with Fergus Garret, Rachael Dodd and James Horner allowed him the opportunity to gain a greater understanding of plants, how best to grow them, how best to manage them, how best to arrange and combine them and to learn more of the craft of gardening. Fergus Garret, Rachael Dodd and James Horner each contributed a section to this book which relates this period of Luciano Giubbilei’s career.

The border where Luciano Giubbilei experimented and learned for his year at Great Dixter

This period at Great Dixter might best be described as a time or reflection, reconsidering and reconnecting with gardening through the practice of the basics – plant selection, growing, placing and spacing, combining, staking, maintaining interest through the seasons and all in a challenging garden in the company of experienced and supportive gardeners. So, while his description of this time recalls much of the practical, its essence is one of retreat and reflection almost in the sense of a spiritual retreat, a rest from the hustle bustle of everyday life and a time to reconsider what is central to life – in this case the life of the garden and the garden designer. There is a deal of practical lessons to be gleaned but that of reflecting on what we are doing is the most significant. Further sections of the book deal with his love of traditional crafts with following chapters on Water, Colour and Texture, Natural Landscapes and comment on his approach to design.  


Andrew Montgomery’s photographs fill many pages with gentle, pleasant images which, to be accurate, might best be described as accompanying the text rather than illustrating it, running in parallel with the writing and reflecting the tone of gentle reflection perfectly.

Overall, this is a very pleasant book written in a gentle, pleasant and unassuming style. Though an accomplished and hugely successful garden designer, Luciano Giubbilei writes simply of his love of beautiful materials, the joy of beautifully crafted artwork and the enormous pleasure of working with plants. It is the story of a man happy and contented in what he does and makes for an enjoyable read.

The Art of Making Gardens, Luciano Giubbilei, Merrell Publishers, London, 2015, HB, 304 pages, 350 colour illustrations, 30.5 x 25 cm (12.25 x 9.75 in),£45, ISBN: 978-1-8589-4646-7

Paddy Tobin

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


2000AD – A Seminal Year

It was a seminal year, a year of many small but promising beginnings, a time of friendship and hopes and promises for the future.

We have had some wonderful weather recently and, as we eat breakfast, the morning sun lights up our view to the garden beautifully. It is good to sit and gaze and enjoy the garden regularly rather than it being simply a place of pastime and work – and there is a lot of work in gardening!

Robinia pseudoacacia  (1)
Robinia pseudoacacia – its white flowers match those of the white garden.

During the week my eye was especially caught by a ten metre high specimen of Robinia pseudoacacia, the Black Locust, a native of the eastern United States, which is in full flower at the moment. The 20cm long racemes of white flowers are very attractive and resemble those of wisteria in shape and habit. This tree is most popularly seen in its cultivar Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Frisia’ which is a golden-leafed variant of the species but mine is the species itself and was grown from seed received from a friend in 2000 and planted in the garden in 2001.

Robinia pseudoacacia  (4)
Robinia pseudoacacia with its long racemes of white flowers.

It reminded me that at that time I had grown a number of trees from seed. It coincided with the addition of an acre to the garden and there was a need to source plants to fill this new area. Many were purchased but a good number were raised from seed, a far cheaper method to obtain plants for the garden and a way to find plants not generally available. Before Facebook held such powerful sway there were other websites and forums where gardeners met, chatted about gardens and plants, and exchanged seeds. Gardenweb was one such and I made many wonderful contacts there and received seeds of interesting trees which I grew on for the garden. This Robinia was one of them and looking at it the other morning put me to thinking of others which I grew from that time and I took a stroll around the garden to refresh my memory.

Evodia daniellii
Euodia daniellii (syn. Tetradium Daniellii) the Bee Bee Tree – still a young specimen here but it flowers each years and is very attractive.

Euodia daniellii (Tetradium daniellii) is a relatively uncommon tree. There is a large tree in Mount Congreve Gardens and a very impressive specimen in Mount Usher Gardens, in a little lawn of its own to the left just as you reach the millwheel on the approach to the herbaceous borders. Its common name is the Bee Bee Tree, self-explanatory. The foliage is very similar to that of our native ash; it has small white flowers in early summer and red fruit in autumn. Mine is a multi-stemmed plant which suits its position in my garden but it can make a substantial tree as impressive as the common beech.

This same bed has two small specimens, Cladrastis kentukea and Pterostyrax corymbosa, which have been slow-growing here but both have begun to flower despite their small size. The Cladrastis has a restricted range in the southeastern United States and has white wisteria-like flowers while the Pterostyrax hails from eastern Asia, China and Japan, with the common name of epaulette tree for the fringed manner in which the flowers hang. Both have yet to reach their potential but I trust my patience will be rewarded in due course.

Cladrastis kentukea and Pterostyrax corymbosa
Cladrastis kentuckea and Pterostyrax corymbosa have both yet to perform at their best but, I think, will repay my patience in time.

Styrax japonicus, Japanese Snowbell, is related to Pterostyrax and makes a very tidy and floriferous small tree with pendulous white flowers. I have it planted on a raised area so that the flowers can be viewed from below – it saves my old back from bending to see them!

Styrax japonicus  (1)
Styrax japonicus, the Japanese Snowbell Tree, a very attractive and tidy tree which flowers at a very young age.

At the bottom of the garden I planted Crataegus crus-galli, The Cockspur Thorn, in a group of three because I was reading one of Vita Sackville West’s books at the time and she recommended a group of three for best effect and to better enjoy the autumn colour. They produce an excellent display of flowers each year and the crop of large red haws is impressive. There have been many occasions over the years when I have loudly and profanely cursed these same trees for I have often, while weeding under them, stood up and been pierced viciously by the very large thorns which grow to about 5cm. With the passing of the years I have raised the skirts and have fewer accidents nowadays though still the occasional one.  Despite this, I still like the tree very much.

Crataegus crus-galli
Crataegus crus-galli – attractive but vicious!

Crataegus prunifolius, when not in flower or fruit, can puzzle many a visitor to identify it as its hawthorn nature is not immediately obvious. Its annual display of flower is excellent while the fruit set is outstanding and a highlight of the autumn garden.

Crataegus prunifolius
Crataegus prunifolius.

Paulownia tomentosa, The Foxglove Tree, is most commonly grown as a coppiced tree so as to produce lush and especially large foliage but I have allowed it grow in its natural habit on raised ground so that it overhangs a patio area and provides shade in summer. Although it flowers well the buds are often lost to strong winds and the flowers are difficult to see against the sky so it is well that we appreciate the foliage so much.

Paulownia tomentosa
Paulownia tomentosa provides shade for sitting area (unseen in this photograph!)

The horse chestnut, Aesculus hippocastanum, has provided conkers for generations of children to play with or to take their first steps in seed growing as they are large, easy to handle, and will germinate reliably. Though I already have a mature horse chestnut tree on the boundary ditch I have grown another from seed and also Aesculus x carnea and Aesculus turbinata. To date they are of modest size at four to five metres in height but they may one day dominate their respective areas of the garden and wouldn’t it be wonderful to live to witness that!

Aesculus red
Aesculus x carnea provides shade for this seat
Aesculus x carnea  (2)
Aesculus x carnea has attractive red flowers

All of these, and others, were grown from seed sown around the year 2000. Other trees were purchased and planted at that time and it is interesting that those from seed are performing as well, if not better than their purchased neighbours. These comparison photographs of Acer negundo may illustrate the point. There are three grown from seed at the back of the garden shed which now provide shelter to the vegetable patch and are nearly 10metres high. At the other side of the garden there is a golden-leafed cultivar of Acer negundo, ‘Kelly’s Gold’ which was planted at the same time and is only of similar size though it was a few years old when I purchased and planted it. It illustrates that growing from seed is not a slow method of growing trees but rather one which allows for a greater selection at far cheaper prices and the satisfaction of having grown it yourself.

Acer negundo  (1)
Acer negundo, considered a weed tree in the eastern states of the USA, but an easy to grow and attractive tree for us. 

Paddy Tobin

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




On the Edge!

The Burren is a plant lover’s paradise, an area of outstanding scenic beauty and so a joy to all who visit. When the opportunity arises we jump at the chance to visit, enjoy the long walks and search out the many wildflowers which we could see nowhere else in the country – indeed, one might more readily expect to see some of the plants here on The Alps or the Arctic tundra rather than in other areas of Ireland.

View Limestone Pavement  (1)
A roadside area of grassland south of Fanone on The Burren, Co. Clare, an area rich in plants
View Limestone Pavement  (4)
A stretch of limestone pavement which may appear an inhospitable place for plants but is actually teeming with interesting species.

After driving from Waterford recently we were walking along the coastline south of Fanore by half past eleven among Sea Thrift, Sea Campion, Thyme, Rock Samphire, Kidney Vetch, Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Hemp Agrimony, Lousewort, Common Dog-Violet, Bloody Crane’s Bill, Mountain Everlasting, Common Milkwort, Heath Spotted-Orchid and many others and all with wonderful views of seaside, cliffs, spreading limestone pavements and in perfect weather. The selection of plants which are literally at one’s feet within a few steps of parking the car is quite astonishing and a perfect treat.

A small selection of plants in this area: Clockwise from top left: Common Milkwort, Spring Gentian, Bloody Cranesbill, Lousewort and Sea Thrift with Bird’s Foot Trefoil 

Dactylorhiza maculata subsp. erictorum Heath Spotted-Orchid is a feature plant of this area

We drove to the car park at Fanore Strand – a fabulous location for Sheep’s Bit Scabious later in the season – and then headed off on The Fanore Loop Walk which quickly takes one off the coast and uphill on a minor road for about two miles where it meets with one of The Burrens “Green Roads” which leads north across the limestone hillside before descending to the Caher River Valley, and the road leads back to Fanore. The walk is estimated to take two and a half to three hours but generally takes us longer as I stop every few steps to photographs flowers. Well, this is understandable when one comes across delicious groups of the Spring Gentian, Mountain Avens, Water Avens and a super abundance of the Early Purple Orchid many of which are pink and we have found the occasional white one.

Along the Green Road on the Fanore Loop Walk with limestone pavement to either side, clint and gryke, and views to the sea and the Arran Islands. 

With, clockwise from top left:  Early Purple Orchids – three different colour forms shown here – Water Avens, Mountain Avens and Spring Gentians and all in great numbers and easy to find 

Back on the Caher Valley road we made our way back towards Fanore but, as the road passes Carl Wright’s Caher Bridge Garden, we dropped if for a visit. It was not part of our plan as we were to be back in Limerick for dinner but when we saw Carl we couldn’t miss the opportunity for a chat and walk around. As ever, it was a delight to visit with many interesting plants and the whole garden a fabulous creation made on The Burren limestone pavement.  We eventually got to that dinner, well over an hour late, and were the last to leave the restaurant late that night. A lovely end to a wonderful day!

Caher Bridge Gardens, Carl Wright’s creation on The Burren.

On the following day we drove to Doolin and parked the car there – I recommend parking on Fisher Street as it is very convenient to the Cliffs of Moher walkway and also to the bus stop for, The Paddy Wagon, to take us to the Visitors’ Centre at the Cliffs of Moher. This is a twenty minute or so drive at 6 Euro per person which I thought was good value for the convenience it provided – linear walks can be a nuisance as there is always the difficulty of returning to the car. The Cliffs of Moher hardly need my recommendation as they are so well known and so justifiably highly regarded and live up to the hype and praise they receive as they are jaw-droppingly impressive and beautiful.

As a cliff-top walk it was no surprise to see Sea Thrift and Sea Campion in profusion but it was spectacular to see them in such number and making such a pretty addition to the views.  Along the way there were also generous patches of orchids and even an early Sheep’s Bit Scabious.  It is quite a competition for one’s senses on this walk with the challenge of fabulous views and interesting flowers. The stretch of the walk nearer to Fanore featured Sea Mayweed, Common Scurvy Grass, Tormentil and the ever attractive Ragged Robin. It is an easy, interesting and very pleasant walk.

Armeria maritima Sea Thrift and Silene uniflora Sea Campion with cliff views  (2)
Sea Thrift providing a beautiful foreground to the view of the Cliffs of Moher

Along the Cliffs of Moher

If you haven’t been to The Burren and wonder where to start you could do as we did on our first visit and join Tony Kirby of Heart of The Burren Walks for a guided walk. Our first visit to The Burren was a weekend special organised by The Old Ground Hotel in Ennis – a fabulous hotel, by the way – when Tony came and gave an introductory talk on the Friday evening and collected us in a minibus on Saturday morning, with packed lunch provided by the hotel. We had our walks, a picnic, and were brought back to the hotel for dinner. This was repeated on the Sunday.  We have repeated this arrangement several times since with The Old Ground Hotel for accommodation but making our own arrangements for the walks. Tony has a very helpful handbook guide to The Burren with information on a range of walks which is an excellent resource.

So, put on your walking boots and enjoy the experience.

Paddy Tobin

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

Bloom in the Park 2016

Bloom in the Park is the most successful and best attended horticultural event in the Irish gardening calendar. Tens of thousands come each year and this, its tenth year, has been blessed with good weather and I expect attendances are likely to set a new record.

The range of attractions is extraordinarily wide in order, no doubt, to appeal to as wide an audience as possible and to attract as great an attendance as possible. This means that there will be something to please everybody but everybody will also find much which is not of interest. How one views this selection may taint how one evaluates the experience. Following previous visits I have decried the amount of space given to areas which were not of interest to me, artisan food products, crafts etc, and what I felt was the proportionately lesser amount of space given to the show gardens. However, on this occasion I simply spent my time with the Floral Pavilion(plant sales!) and the show gardens and merely dipped into the other area for lunch. This left me more pleased with the day.

Paul and Orla Wood’s, Kilmurry Nursery, Gold Medal winner at Bloom 2016

Making a judgement on the success or not of such a show has to go beyond one’s own personal expectations. I go to Bloom in the Park because I want to view interesting gardens, see and purchase new and beautiful plants, have a relaxed and enjoyable day out and, hopefully, meet some friends for a chat and a natter. My judgement of the show – purely taking those areas into consideration – was that I had a most enjoyable day out and that the show was a success for me. Were I to include an assessment of the other areas the success of the day would decline in my opinion – however, such areas will have appealed to others and made their day enjoyable. The organisers, on the other hand, have a different agenda. While they, of course, wish to attract and please the public their primary is to promote the business end of Irish horticulture – the nurseries, garden designers and suppliers of the many accessories which supply our gardening needs. After a long winter and a miserable spring those depending on this business certainly needed a boost and an opportunity to engage with a large volume of the gardening public  and Bloom undoubtedlyly does this for them and so must be considered a success.

Santa Rita Living La Vida 120 Garden by Alan Rudden  (12)
Gold Medal winner in the Large Garden category: Santa Rita Living La Vida 120 Garden designed by Alan Rudden.

As one of the visiting public, one purely interested in the gardening aspects of the show, I could make a few observations. The Floral Pavilion struck me as being a little quieter than in previous years – that there seemed to be just a few less nurseries there. However, this had the advantage – helped by the fact that we arrived very early – of making it easier to browse at leisure, view the plants at ease and make selections and purchases in comfort. As we had driven in – and we did so without bother and the carparks were well organised – we had the convenience of dropping our plants to the car which was far better than lugging them back to the train station in the evening. Overall, though there were some outstanding exceptions – which were recognised by the awards given – the displays in the Floral Pavilion were not outstanding. Perhaps, I am being unreasonable but in the biggest gardening event in the country I expect the best standards to be commonplace. As regards plant selection, this was certainly the year of the pink Ragged Robin, outstanding lupins, foxgloves and delphiniums. Actually, that pink Ragged Robin, Lychnis flos-cuculi ‘Jenny’, seemed to be omnipresent in the show gardens also. Friends who visited on subsequent days reported that the plant selection appeared to be diminishing – good news for the vendors but disappointing for the visitors.

Podscape Garden by James Purdy  (5)
Gold Medal winner in the Medium Garde category: Podscape Garden designed by James Purdy

The show gardens were enjoyable. I felt there was the lack of excellence that Paul Martin and Jane McCorkell have brought in previous years but, thankfully, there was also the lack of garish poor taste seen on some recent occasions so that I felt the overall standard was even and very good and I certainly enjoyed them all. The weather has been especially and unexpectedly hot and the plants in several gardens were showing the strain from lack of watering. It must have been a considerable challenge for the garden designers, builders and those maintaining them. One gripe – something which always irritates me – is when  garden personnel remain in the gardens, walking about or sitting to take a snack or drink as I find it intrudes on the ability of visitors to view the garden and certainly makes photographing the gardens very awkward. It’s a thoughtlessness which is widespread and a distraction.

The Designer's Back Garden by Oliver and Liat Schurmann (3)
Gold Medal winner in the Small Garden category: The Designer’s Back Garden designed by Liat and Oliver Schurmann

And then we had a peep at the floral arrangements and the work of the botanical artists as we waited to hear Gerry Daly speak at 1.30p.m. in the Floral Pavilion. However, the lady speaking before him was onstage and we found it so difficult to hear her that we decided to leave before Gerry appeared. That was a disappointment. However, lunch and a sit down revived us and we headed home – with a stop at Johnstown Garden Centre in search for an elusive hydrangea, which continues to elude us!

Across Boundaries by Barry Kavanagh  (5)
Across Boundaries designed by Barry Kavanagh attracted great attention and admiration as it reproduced a seemingly perfectly natural gardenscape in this showgarden.
Peter Hennessy with Barry Kavanagh  (1)
And, finally: Yes, we did meet some good friends there. Here is Peter Hennessy chatting with Barry Kavanagh, designer of the Across Boundaries shown above.

Paddy Tobin

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