August Altamont

Altamont Gardens in Co. Carlow have always primarily been a spring garden. Mrs. Corona North and her family before her were especially interested in rhododendrons and grew and planted many which they had propagated from the first plant collectors gatherings. However, today is the last Sunday of August and in the spirit of end of summer and back to school we headed off for a day out. Now, let me clarify that our back to school days are well gone though it still gets mention as our two eldest sons are school teachers while our youngest will be back to college shortly.

The main walk at Altamont with its iconic yew arches and box hedges backed by roses. 
The lake always attracts visitors and looks well at all times of the year. 
The quiet walk at the other side of the lake. 

Altamont is still primarily a spring garden and I could see that the gardens had suffered, as our own, from an extended dry spell this summer with many herbaceous plants already gone into end-of-season decline. Nonetheless, a visit to Altamont is always pleasant and, while there is not a great amount of plant interest at the moment it is always relaxing and enjoyable to walk around the gardens, around the lake and through the glen to the banks of the River Barrow.

Roses from the main border

The double herbaceous borders in the walled garden were equally tired except for one section where roses, dahlias and alstromerias gave a wonderful display.

A section of the double herbaceous borders in the walled gardens. 
Roses, dahlias and alstromeria giving great colour at present 

No visit to Altamont would be complete without a visit to Robert Millar’s Altamont Plants where there is always an outstanding selection of treasures available. Fuchsias and hydrangeas particularly caught my eye today with Fuchsia ‘Mrs. Boothby’ and Hydrangea paniculata ‘Phantom’ the most desirable. However, my eye was caught by a bargain and I bought five hollies, Ilex ‘Golden King’, as I wish to remove three now oversized “miniature” conifers and continue a holly hedge which was beside them. The hollies were shoulder high and well branched and at only €8 each I could not pass them by. The hydrangea will have to wait for another day though I will be able to get cuttings from a friend.

A selection from the herbaceous borders in the walled garden

It was wonderful to see how many people were enjoying the garden today and also to see that many more people are being attracted by the various activities being organised in the walled garden – there were talks and demonstrations on apple cultivation on two days recently and another for artists in the garden.

We will be back to Altamont in the spring when it is at its best and especially look forward to the annual Snowdrop Week.

Paddy Tobin

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





Oh, She’s a Colourful Lady

June Blake, and her garden, will feature in the September issue of the Royal Horticultural Society’s magazine, The Garden. And it will feature prominently with a photograph of the garden on the front cover. The magazine hasn’t arrived in the post yet but June’s son, Dara, has shown it on Facebook – advanced copies for those featured, I imagine.


I am delighted, for several reasons, that the garden is featured. I feel it is wonderful that it is an Irish garden which adorns the front cover of such an important and significant publication as it will bring the beauty of Irish gardens to a much wider audience and I am especially pleased that it is June’s garden which features as, quite simply, I believe she deserves it.



June seems to me to be one of the very few who are continuing that wonderful gardening tradition of planting in the garden for colour impact and colour combination. This is something which is completely beyond me. I may as well be colour blind and leave all plant combination decisions in our own garden to Mary. However, when we visit June’s garden her colour choices and combinations strike me immediately and I don’t think there is a better garden to visit to see this practice, especially towards the end of summer and into autumn, though it is wonderful at all seasons.



RHS members will shortly receive their copy of The Garden and we can delight that one of our own has been recognised for her beautiful garden creation. However, we  have the a fabulous advantage over all other readers – we can go and visit the garden in the flesh!

Read more about June’s garden on her website:

Enjoy a few photographs from earlier this  month!

Paddy Tobin

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










What does one say, Mr. Shakespeare?

Over one million people visit Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-on-Avon each year despite the not too often mentioned fact that the house was demolished in the mid-nineteenth century by the then owner as he was tired of the people who called to see it. They continue to come, especially on the 400th anniversary of his death, to visit this hallowed site and to see his garden – which was, until recently, a Victorian garden designed and planted well after Shakespeare had left us and is now being redesigned and replanted in a dramatic style to echo the spirit of the bard.SHAESPEARE'S GARDENS

Similarly, visitors likewise flock to home of his wife, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, the most visited cottage garden in the world, where the gardens date from the 1920s, designed by Ellen Willmott, and so Edwardian in style rather than being original or even true to the original.

I could continue in like vein – it was only at the beginning of this century that it was realised that people visiting Mary Arden’s house – Shakespeare’s mother – were going to the wrong house – but why should we allow facts to spoil a good book! And, contrary to the tone of the above, this is a very good book, a delightful book, informative, well written, beautifully illustrated and a pleasure to read.

We must accept that, even following on Jackie Bennett’s excellent research, a certain amount of conjecture, imagination and supposition must be employed to give us a picture of the gardens associated with William Shakespeare. Absolute historical accuracy is simply impossible. We all know how ephemeral our gardens are and, unless our gardens are of well built hard landscape, it is unlikely they will be recognisable a generation after our deaths. Gardens change continually and rarely persist so we can only look back and inform ourselves as best possible of what went before.

An introductory chapter sets the scene in a very informative manner with a description of gardening in Tudor times opening our eyes to Shakespeare’s World and giving us the background to the garden descriptions which follow. Five gardens are described: Shakespeare’s birthplace; that of his mother-in-law, Mary Arden, which he had visited as a youth; Anne Hathaway’s Cottage; some contemporaneous London gardens which he might have visited; Hall’s Croft, the home of his doctor son-in-law and his final home, New Place.

Throughout there are constant quotations from Shakespeare’s works which compliment the text perfectly, adding a layer of richness to the accounts of the gardens and illustrate that Shakespeare certainly knew his plants and that he most certainly would have enjoyed the gardens which have been constructed in his memory.

Reading this book is quite like visiting the gardens as they are nowadays, I suppose. We must realise that perfect accuracy is impossible and, accepting that, we find that we can still enjoy the experience very much. Jackie Bennett’s work is always most enjoyable – her “The Writer’s Garden” was outstanding – and when it is illustrated with the photographs of Andrew Lawson the reader is sure to be delighted.

‘Shakespeare’s Gardens’, Jackie Bennett with photographs by Andrew Lawson, Frances Lincoln, Hardback, 192 pages, £25, ISBN 978-0-7112-3726-1

Paddy Tobin

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

The Walled Garden at Helen’s Bay – A Venture in Vegetables 

IGPS member and plants woman Lorraine Small has taken on the challenge of restoring the one acre Walled Garden at Helen’s Bay, County Down. Barely one year into the project the garden is already supplying some of Belfast’s top restaurants and selling at local markets.   David Cameron runs an independent market gardening business from the walled garden and brings a wealth of experience having spent two years working at Raymond Blanc’s Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons garden in Oxford.

Walled Garden Group 1
From left to right – Carol Dobson – Northern Committee (and new volunteer), Barbara Kelso –Northern Committee, David Anderson-volunteer, Lorraine Small-owner, Patrick Leonard Head chef Merchant Hotel, David Cameron –independent market gardener and Andy Bingham – head gardener Ulster Folk Museum

Members of the Northern sub-committee were treated to a visit to the garden in July where they sampled some of the organic vegetables including yellow beetroot and heritage black podded peas.

Volunteer, Owner, Gardener
Left to right Volunteer David Anderson, Owner and IGPS member Lorraine Small, Independent Market Gardener David Cameron

Lorraine says “ We are fully organic but I want to go one step further and include Irish Heritage fruit and vegetables. We already have a collection of Irish apple trees and some Irish Heritage vegetables but we are always looking out for more.”

2016-07-26 10.09.11
Owners Lorraine and James Small with Northern sub-committee members
Andy, Lorraine and Maeve
Ulster Folk Museum Head Gardener Andy Bingham , Lorraine Small, owner of the Walled Garden at Helen’s Bay and Maeve Bell, Chairperson of IGPS North.

Although a lot of work remains to be done after years of neglect, Lorraine hopes to open the walled garden and the adjoining house garden for an IGPS garden visit next year.

Pear tree
A surviving pear tree from bygone days
2016-07-26 09.45.28
Tasting some of the Josh Toombs peas. Grown by Lisburn man Josh Toombs for over 50 years and by his father before him, seeds of Carruthers peas were given by Josh to David Cameron when he worked at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.

IGPS chairperson Billy McCone writes “ This is a great opportunity to explore an area of Irish Heritage plants that has largely been overlooked. I particularly welcome the interest from the Folk Museum who have already done much to help develop the Lismacloskey Rectory garden. I believe there is tremendous potential in this project and I wish Lorraine every success.”

Photographs and text from Billy McCone, IGPS Chairperson. 

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Abbeywood? Absolutely!

Those gardens which please one far beyond expectations always make for an especially enjoyable day. This is how it was with Abbeywood Gardens near Chester in England. It is not the biggest of gardens one might visit; it is not as well known as other gardens in the area but I enjoyed it far more than the others in that area.

It is a garden of several areas, each with its distinct character, flavour and planting palette. Some of the areas are a redevelopment and revival of parts of the old garden while the owners are showing ambition and vision as they extend the gardens with flair and great planting.



The house is off centre to one’s visit as the entrance is via a relatively newly constructed area which houses what is obviously a very popular restaurant – a restaurant which is uncommon among garden restaurants in that it also serves beer etc. and this was most welcome on the scorching hot day on which we visited. The owners have diversified further as they have a licence as wedding venue and a wedding was planned for the afternoon of the day of our visit – we didn’t wait to witness it.

I’m beginning to feel I am writing in Tripadvisor with such comments on the restaurant heading up my comments – I was amazed when researching gardens for this holiday, and visiting Tripadvisor, at how often the first comments on a garden were on the quality of the cakes available. Oftentimes,  the gardens were only incidental to the afternoon teas. However, this garden happens to be an excellent garden with an excellent restaurant – a winning combination! Everybody happy!

The Exotic Garden is immediately after the restaurant garden/outdoor eating area and is very much in the mode of the modern fashion for lush, large-foliage plantings to give a jungle effect. To emphasise the jungle atmosphere, the planting was dense and with great height so as to give one the feeling of being enclosed and surrounded by plants. Though it is a style which doesn’t appeal greatly to me I felt it was well done.

The Exotic Garden
The Exotic Garden   

The Chapel Garden was a contrast to this with more openness , more sparse planting, a feeling of calm, quiet and gentle formality. It was an excellent introduction to The Pool Garden which enclosed by tall, well clipped yew hedges, herbaceous borders enclosed in box hedges and all around a long rectangular pond with herbaceous. It was a classically simply design, well implemented, well planted and well maintained. A wooden bridge had been placed across the centre of the pool in line with an axis from the entrance to the newly developed herbaceous borders and I felt it was a pity it was put there as it interrupted the view and reflections of the pool. It may have provided visitors with a short-cut through the garden but the intention of the original design was to enclose the visitor and bring them around the garden around the garden rather than passing through it.

The Chapel Garden – and following two images 


The Pool Garden
The Pool Garden with the bridge which I felt was intrusive 

Twin red brick piers framed a view from The Pool Gardens to the new herbaceous borders and onwards to open countryside but it was only on  passing through this gateway that one realised a beautifully planted pergola ran to left and right behind the yew hedge of The Pool Garden and that it had a fabulously planted herbaceous border running parallel along its length also.

The view from The Pool Garden promising much more for the visitor 
The double herbaceous borders immediately outside The Pool Garden 
The Herbaceous Border with The Pergola behind. 
A view along The Pergola 

Immediately in front there was a new double herbaceous border leading to The Prairie Garden, an area of large scale planting mixing herbaceous plants with grasses. It has been an excellent success with impressive size, bold planting and a wonderful feeling of openness and integration with the surrounding countryside.

The Prairie Garden – and following images. 


The area around the house is of a very pleasing domestic scale and wonderfully blended and integrated with the architecture of the house itself. There is an area of woodland to one side of the house which is being cleared of rough undergrowth and this promises to be an interesting garden in coming years. All in all this is a garden where a huge amount of work has been done in recent years and there is every sign that this work is going to continue and that the garden will continue to improve in quality and interest for the visitor.

The house with its tastefully planted surrounding areas. 

The final stop in the garden was to the restaurant and that most welcome glass of beer – a perfect ending to a most enjoyable visit.

Paddy Tobin

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

Behaving Pheasantly!

Pheasants are a pleasure of our garden but not without their drawbacks. We have had them for several years and they have become relatively tame, appearing on time each morning, when I go to leave out the hens, and give them some rolled barley. They are always within reach in the garden during the day and come to a low wall outside the kitchen window if I have failed to leave enough food for them. One feeds from my hand – pheasants will do anything for peanuts! They are not pets and are not tamed but are very much our pheasants and they add an extra interest to our gardening lives.

Pheasant chicks in veg patch  (6)
These chicks hatched earlier this summer and have made themselves perfectly at home in our garden – I was standing about two metres away when taking this photograph and they are perfectly comfortable with that. 
Pheasant chicks in veg patch  (7)
This chick is obviously a cock, beginning to show the red colour around his eyes
Pheasant chicks in veg patch  (2)
Just a little nibble at the lettuce –  in fact,they eat very little of the vegetables
Pheasant chicks in veg patch  (5)
This is “Ditzy”, our  most amusing pheasant. Instinct seems to tell her that she should run away when I come too close but her brain seems to engage and tell her there is no need to do so. As a result, she flits left and right, flapping her wings in a panic, as though changing her mind and undecided what to do. 

However, there are some little disadvantages – very little, and really just part of the amusement of having them in the garden. When the weather is hot and the soil becomes dry pheasants, like the hens, like nothing better than a dust bath. This is all very well but it has become obvious that the perfect place for this dust bath is the latest prepared seed bed in the vegetable garden. Obviously, this disturbs the seeds, germination is lost, time is lost and the work has to be done all over again – while the pheasants look on and wait for a newly raked and prepared bath.

Pheasant dust bath
A dust bath between the courgettes. 

This has called for drastic measures and the latest seedbeds have had added security added to frustrate their beauty treatments. I’m sure they will find another location!

Netted veg bed  (1)
A seed bed with added security. 
Netted veg bed  (2)
Protection for the seedbed.
Pheasant cock  (1)
The Daddy of them all – waiting to be fed! 

Paddy Tobin

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


A Pointed Reminder

My garden fork grew legs the other day, took off and vanished on me. Several frustrating walks around the garden failed to locate it so I went to the shed to find a replacement – perhaps, Mary’s short-handled one or even the sprong which I will occasionally use for light digging when the fork goes missing. The tools all stand in a half barrel and I did another check to find my fork in case I had missed it on the first visit. It wasn’t there but I came on another full-sized one that I had forgotten about. It took me a while to place it but the blackening on the handle near the prongs told me of its origins.

Here was the fork of my old, now deceased, friend, John. In his mid-eighties he had moved back to England to a retirement home and died about ten days later. I imagine the stress of selling his home here in Ireland, packing up his things, disposing of those things he didn’t want and the move to England were all simply too much for him. It was especially sad for me as we had become close friends in the last four years of his life. I visited each Monday and when called and he came for lunch every Thursday – after doing his shopping and he always brought the most luscious chocolate cake.

John Riley's Garden Fork  (2)
John’s fork – a reminder of a dear friend.
John Riley's Garden Fork  (1)
John’s garden fork on the left and mine, which eventually turned up!

As is the habit of older people his stories were often repeated so I heard many times of his childhood in the East End of London, his years on a farm in Wales during the Second World War, his summers spent in the hop fields of Kent where his mother went to work each year, the bicycle accident when the brake perforated his eardrum and left him with a lifelong nuisance, his memories of his father, a craftsman with wood, and of his days in national service in the British Army. His days of golf and fishing were past but he recalled those days with happiness except for his last sea-fishing outing on a boat out of Youghal, Co. Cork, which sank slowly and all on board waited anxiously for another boat to arrive and take them off – obviously, it arrived in time for John!

Old age brought declining health and he was no longer able to maintain his garden – the knees would not allow it but he continued to grow a small amount of vegetables and fruit up to the last season. Before leaving for England he gave me some of his garden tools and other bits and pieces and I feel they are to be kept in the manner my wife tells me she recalls from her childhood – that the hat or topcoat of a dead man would be given to a family member, friend or neighbour and they were expected to wear them to keep the memory of the dead person alive.

I will turn the soil now and again with my friend’s fork and remember him fondly.

John Riley's Garden Fork  (3)
The telltale blackening on the fork which reminded me of its origins – John used it to stir material on the garden bonfire.

Paddy Tobin

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