Come into the Garden!

Shirley Lanigan must be the greatest garden visitor in Ireland and she has written a book which would entice the reader to emulate her and visit the wonderful and beautiful gardens we have in this country.

Her latest book “The Open Gardens of Ireland” gives us details of 427 gardens we may visit. Some are large public gardens but most are private gardens which are open under the various local garden trails or for occasional charity events and I don’t think it unfair to say that Shirley is the champion of the smaller private gardens open under such schemes. More so that the larger gardens – which are included and well covered – these are gardened by the owners and are displays of individual taste and flair, something which makes them more personal and appealing. They may not have the grandeur of the larger gardens but more than make up for it by being in a size and proportion which has more relevance to most visitors – there is the feeling that “I could do something like this at home” when one visits and that brings the experience into the realm of the visitor which then becomes an encouragement and incentive to do more on the home plot. Irish gardens, Irish gardening and Irish gardeners are the net beneficiaries and that is a wonderful result.

shirley lanigan's book

The guide covers 31 counties of Ireland – there is no entry for Co. Longford – and is arranged by province with the counties listed alphabetically and the gardens likewise. Each entry is headed with the gardener’s name, contact details, opening arrangements and directions though not Sat. Nav. coordinates which would have been a helpful addition. A general description of the garden follows mentioning particular highlights, attractions and features. There are photographs throughout, more as an addition to the text rather than featuring in their own right..

Were I to voice a criticism – and, in a way, what a dreadful criticism – it would be to say that Shirley is too kind. She writes of each garden with great gentleness, always preferring to praise rather than criticise so that the book does not give an assessment of the gardens listed, something which might be of value to the reader. However, she obviously loves gardens, gardeners, their plants and their efforts and prefers to encourage rather than judge and though I might call this a fault, it is the kindest fault.

Occasional a descriptive word does catch the eye. When a garden project was described as a “challenge” I took it to mean the gardeners had taken on more than they could manage and when it was said that a garden had “a relaxed atmosphere” I had a picture of a wild and weedy patch. The state of a significant architectural feature in one of our major historic gardens was described as “not as it should be” because of the invasion of weeds which had been allowed unchecked. I had visited this garden very recently and would have been far more condemning in my comments. It was a shame, a disappointment, a disgrace and certainly “not as it should be”. Shirley condemns much more gently.

SHIRLEY LANIGAN
Shirley with her latest book – photograph courtesy of The Kilkenny People newspaper. 

It was 2001 when Shirley’s “Guide to Irish Gardens” was published and it has been a constant source of information over the intervening years. The advent of this new guide brings the invariable comparisons between listings then and now. Many gardens and gardeners we have visited over the years have gone but, thankfully, many new gardens have been added to the lists for our enjoyment. There is a little sadness in recalling gardening friends and acquaintances who have passed away in these years but it was an occasion to remember them fondly. Some gardens have endured the test of time and continue in the style in which we have known them while others have reinvented themselves to appeal to a new audience. I suppose it is an essential part of opening to the public, to latch on to the latest fashion or fad, make the garden a sort of shop window to attract people and increase revenue. Some open their gardens to share while others do so to gather. It is all part of the gardening scene and all very interesting.

I don’t think those who open their gardens could have a better promotional writer than Shirley and those who wish to visit Irish gardens have the perfect guidebook.

[The Open Gardens of Ireland, Shirley Lanigan, 2017, The Butter Slip Press, Kilkenny, €22.50/£19.99, Soft cover, 399 pages, ISBN: 978-0-9955825-0-7]

Paddy Tobin

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

 

 

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Daring to be Old-fashioned

Colclough Walled Garden (24)

The sight of those regimented, regular and geometric lines of red bedding salvias immediately brought me back to a day in my student life. It was 1970, in a student residence in Dublin, where “chores” were part of the daily routine. These chores included general house work and occasional work on the grounds. The orchard had ornamental beds planted with red salvias and I was given the job of hoeing them on that particular day. I cannot recall why but I know this work was extra to the normal routine and was given by way of a punishment and that I undertook it in bad spirits and in vile humour. It gradually dawned on me that the hoe was an excellent tool for cutting the roots from a plant, a sort of inverse decapitation, and without incriminating myself too much, it seems those salvias went into terminal decline in the heat of the following day – when I was long gone!

Colclough Walled Garden (28)

The practice of bedding plant displays has all but vanished from our gardens. It may still be seen occasionally in park plantings but, by and large, it has gone out of fashion and is now generally looked on as somewhat fuddy duddy, something of a bygone era and now considered an affront to the eye, an irritant to the retina.

Colclough Walled Garden (1)

However, once in a while, such a planting makes sense, and though it may come as an initial shock it can be appreciated when it is explained its background revealed. Colclough Walled Garden, near Tintern Abbey in the south western corner of Co. Wexford, is presently laid out in a geometric design of bedding plants with large diamonds in Ageratum, marigolds and salvias giving a striking display. My first reaction on entering the walled garden was of surprise, shock and amazement that such an old-fashioned style should be used in what is a very recently restored garden.

Colclough Walled Garden (18)

We were very fortunate to have timed our visit to coincide with a guided tour of the garden and the outstandingly excellent talk from one of the gardeners gave a wonderful insight into the history of the garden, the story of the restoration and the reason for this year’s planting design. Research has shown the layout and design of the garden beds in the late 19th century and the gardeners have recreated this design. The guided walk of the garden added hugely to our enjoyment of our visit and I highly recommend you check on the timing of talks so you can also enjoy them.

For a restoration project which began only seven years ago the rate of progress is hugely impressive and has been done with the involvement and support of the local community – fruit trees bear the names of contributors and even individual timbers of the fabulously restored glasshouse were sponsored by local people and businesses. It struck me as a wonderful way to involve the local community

Our guide said that the present geometric display is unlikely to be repeated next year – it was a time-consuming and expensive project – so it might be worthwhile visiting while it is there.

Some other views of the garden:

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And there are very pleasant and beautiful walks around the area:

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Paddy Tobin

Dancing Dieramas!

Dierama (4)
The view to the dieramas from the house.

Each year the dieramas give a display that I love. They is immediately outside the window of our living room and I can watch the flower heads swing and sway with each puff of breeze. They are planted around a garden pond which is all but hidden when the dieramas are in full flower. They have been in this spot for nearly twenty years and have crossed and self-seeded over that time so that their colours are now very diverse, ranging from almost pure white though mauve, pink, red and purple to burgundy.

Dierama (3)
View to dieramas

Years ago we had a selection of named varieties; those of Irish origin were particularly of interest to us and were treasured but it would now be impossible to separate out these named varieties. The fault lies with me for while I enjoy the swaying flowers I also enjoy the swinging stems bearing the seedpods and over the years they have seeded into themselves and around the area of gravel in which they are planted so that any clump may now have flowers of various colours. It does not bother me; I enjoy them in all their colours whether named varieties or not.

Enjoy the range of colours which results from self- seeding:

 

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In the last couple of years we have been more diligent in removing the seed-bearing stems. When in seed some stems are weighed to the ground and can be a tripping hazard as my unfortunate wife found to her cost when she tripped and was badly bruised by the fall. As the year progresses the older foliage becomes brown and it can be a nuisance of a job to remove it as it has to be pulled or cut one blade at a time. Impatience and annoyance has lead to the entire clumps being simply cut to the ground with a petrol-driven hedge trimmer. It may seem harsh but they send up new foliage very quickly and it seems to do no damage at all to the health of the plants. Timing is important – it is best done when the seed pods have filled well as this is the final work of the current year’s corms and the new corms will begin to grow immediately following this. So, I believe at any rate and it is a practice which has worked here.

Dierama 'Kilmurry White' (1)
Dierama ‘Kilmurry White’

We have one dierama, a kind gift last year, which we have kept well separate from the others in hope of keeping it true to name. It is the recently introduced Dierama ‘Kilmurry White’, one with pure white flowers from Paul and Orla Woods’ Kilmurry Nursery near Gorey in Co. Wexford. It appears to be a seedling from Dierama dracomontanum, one of the smaller dierama species which generally has brick red flowers. It is an excellent plant, well worth growing, and may lead you to try others in the dierama tribe.

Dierama 'Kilmurry White' (2)
Dierama ‘Kilmurry White’
Dierama 'Kilmurry White' (1)
Dierama ‘Kimurry White’
Dierama 'Kilmurry White' (3)
Dierama ‘Kilmurry White’

Paddy Tobin

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