We Boiled a Frog!

Change, especially when incrementally small and over a long period, is often imperceptible and we occasionally need someone to ring the alarm bells and alert us to dangers. Charles Handy, the business/management guru of the 1980s, in his book The Age of Unreason told the parable of a frog being put in a pot of cold water which was heated so gradually that the frog became accustomed to each increase in temperature until the water reached boiling point and the frog died. He used the story to highlight that people very often do not realise their world is changing and that unless they react and take charge the consequences may be drastic.

Pádraig Fogarty in his recently published book, Whitted Away, Ireland’s Vanishing Nature, is the one ringing the alarm bells on behalf of the Irish natural and environmental heritage: “A growing mountain of scientific research is demonstrating that we are in the midst of an ecological catastrophe, principally from the twin evils of climate change and biodiversity loss” and he contends that our view of Ireland as a green country is misinformed – and as one reads the book one cannot but sadly agree.  

Whittled Away Dev8

Many of our historic traditional fisheries have simply disappeared. Who has even heard of the pilchard fisheries at Baltimore which once employed 2,000 people on a seasonal basis? Herring have all but disappeared from the north Irish Sea and the Donegal cod fisheries are a thing of the past yet regularly we will hear statements about our “sustainable” fish stocks meaning that present fishing levels will not deplete fish stocks further but such statements disguise or ignore the fact that present stocks are only a miniscule fraction of what they were previously. Other countries have managed to revive fish stocks so with good management it is possible that Irish stocks could recover also.

While one might expect our national parks to lead the way in good environmental management this is not the case. Rhododendron ponticum continues to be a major problem in the Killarney National Park. Wicklow Mountains National Park is the largest expanse of ground over 300 metres in the country and while we may admire its beauty we seldom stop and think how unnatural an environment it is. The mountains were once covered in trees and it is unnatural that they have now become a monoculture of heather. Present policies are to maintain it in this manner, preserving a landscape which has already been damaged and continues to be damaged by overstocking of sheep with numbers driven ever upward by per-head state subsidies. Yes, the state pays people to put sheep on the mountains knowing they will ruin it – sheepwrecked! Even in 1928 J. W. Synge wrote of Connemara National Park, “The absence of trees is a sad feature of a Connemara landscape. Seen from a distance the very bareness of mountain slopes makes them look savage and, indeed, almost repellent in a hard light.” However, the author – he really does come up with gems of optimism – describes it as “not a paradise lost but a paradise waiting to happen”.  Glenveagh National Park continues to have difficulties with the reintroduction of the Golden Eagle, has no management plan and illegal turf extraction seems to be allowed to continue unchecked within the park boundaries. On the other hand, The Burren National Park is very much a success story, a wonderful example of farming for conservation and the only one which could be described as well managed.

The decline or loss of some species will always lead to headline news – the red squirrel or the corncrake, for example – but the author says the list of lost plants and animals runs to 115 while, perhaps more alarmingly, there is a general decline in the numbers of all wildlife with the World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society of London reporting that there has been a 58% fall in population of all species between 1970 and 2012. Alongside this unnatural loss of numbers there are several sanctioned culls of wild animals. Badgers are culled to prevent the spread tuberculosis in cattle – approximately 7,000 each year, though 80% – 90% of the culled badgers have subsequently been found to be free of TB. Pike are culled are culled to allow other fish species build up numbers; there is a bounty on foxes; deer are culled and there is a call for a cull of seals.

Ireland’s food products are  promoted as being “green”, that they come from a green land, are produced by “green” farming yet 47% of our rivers, 57% of our lakes ad 55% of our estuaries do not meet the requirements of good ecological status and over half of this pollution is attributed to agriculture. It is interesting that the body which promotes the green image of Ireland, An Bord Bia, received government funding of €32.2 million in 2014 while the body entrusted to actually make the country green, National Parks and Wildlife Service, received €14.3 million that same year. There seems to be a disparity between promoting the message and actually creating the reality of a green Ireland. It would seem that the billions of euro paid to Irish farmers to protect the environment have not been well spent. The blame does not lie with the farmer – certainly, not entirely with them – as many farmers, many passionate environmentalists themselves, view the approach of the Department of Agriculture as poorly thought out and, regularly, detrimental to the environment. They will be required to clear corners of scrub, to drain low-lying wet patches so as to bring all land into production though they see that by so doing they are removing a diversity of habitat which would have accommodated a diversity of wildlife.

There have been a number of success stories: Lough Boora Parkland in Co. Offaly was once a Bord na Mona worked bog but has now been allowed to return to nature. A survey in May 2012 by the National Biodiversity Data Centre identified and counted 946 different species – more than were counted on The Burren in a similar exercise in the following year. There are other Bold na Mona bogs which could be similarly allowed to return to nature – it could be the largest habitat restoration ever seen.

The book is well written, well organised and deeply engaging. It is one of those books which certainly gives cause for thought and it would be of great benefit to our political decision makers, and to the environment, if they each read it.

This book provides a reality check for all who are interested in the Irish environment – a very startling reality check – but we should, as the author does, not think of the situation as a paradise lost but as a paradise waiting to happen.

[Whittled Away, Ireland’s Vanishing Nature, Pádraig Fogarty, The Collins Press, Cork, 2017, Hardback, 360 pages, €20, ISBN: 978-1-84889-310-8]

The book’s title, by the way, comes from a Irish Government Report of June 1969: “Ireland’s heritage is being steadily whittle away by human exploitation, pollution and other aspects of modern development. This could represent a serious loss to the nation.

Paddy Tobin

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

 

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

 

 

How Will He Be Remembered?

Will it be as a politician or as a gardener? Michael Heseltine has an established reputation as a long serving politician in the United Kingdom while his significant contribution to English gardening may not be as widely or as popularly known. Hopefully, “Thenford” written by Michael and Anne Heseltine and describing the development of their garden may go a long way to change that balance.

Thenford 2

A simple comment might be that this is a substantial, impressive and significant – and beautiful – book and that such is appropriate given the garden it describes.

The early chapters recall the search for a new home – brought about by the necessity of living close to the political constituency and being in touch with his constituents. When Michael and Anne Heseltine arrived at Thenford it was not in a dreadful condition but the estate had been significantly reduced in size over previous years through land sales and there was general need for a good renovation and a new spark of life and this they brought with enthusiasm and vigour.

Thenford village is part of the estate and the renovation of many of the houses there along with the reconfiguration of other for community/public use demanded early attention. The initial attention to the garden was to the area immediately around the house but was extended quickly to digging out a series of lakes and the start of the arboretum – Yes, Michael and Anne might well be called Mr. and Mr. Whirlwind!

Lanning Roper was engaged to advise on the area around the house and Hillier’s – in the person of Roy Lancaster – for the arboretum and further plantings. It was interesting to note throughout the book, and the various projects described, that those whose advice was sought were all horticulturalist and plant enthusiasts, something which clearly reflects Michael and Anne Heseltine’s love of plants.

Subsequent chapters, with the authors writing on those areas which are their particular interest, describe a range of projects undertaken over the years. The range and the scale of these projects are staggering for this is certainly gardening on a grand scale. We read of the development of the drives, the water gardens, woodland, a sculpture garden, the walled garden, the herbaceous borders, the rill (Wow!), the rose garden etc. and what I found most charming and pleasant throughout was the tone of the writing. Both are obviously very practical people, used to gardening, used to the trials and errors and are perfectly down to earth and honest in their accounts. Mistakes were made – who hasn’t made them! – and these are recounted candidly and honestly and a good sense of humour. The entrance gate with the arch too low so that vans hit it on entering or the lake with several small islands – it was only after flooding the lakes that they realised it would have been cleverer to have planted the trees on the island first rather than trying to bring them out in a small punt. However, it is well that the authors can say, “Looking back, there were mistakes but no regrets.”

When interviewed for the Daily Mail, Michael Heseltine said that none of his political battles or achievements will matter one jot 100 years hence and that his former Deputy Prime Minister days are not what he will be remembered for but his garden. What people will recall, he says proudly, is his garden. ‘Who can recall the name of any 19th-century politician except perhaps Gladstone, Disraeli or Pitt? But people know Westonbirt,’ he says, referring to Britain’s most famous arboretum in Gloucestershire, established in 1829.

Presently, I can only judge the garden by the book – having never visited – but I believe Michael and Anne Heseltine have made a magnificent and beautiful contribution to English gardening. In the meantime I commend this book to you wholeheartedly. You will enjoy it.

Here is a selection of images, taken from the book, to give you a flavour of the book and the garden.

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[Thenford, Michael & Anne Heseltine, Head of Zeus, 2016, Harback, 319 pages, £40, ISBN: 9781784979737]

Paddy Tobin

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

Catching up!

I have given up!

I try to be diligent with my books – read one and write a review – but my routine was broken and I have failed to recover. Earlier in the year  my laptop went on the blink for about a week so there was reading time but no facility to write the reviews.

Of course, in the meantime, more and more books have arrived and the temptation to read the new is always greater than the duty to review the old. Who has not been tempted by the latest arrival, the latest divinely smelling, fresh off the press and still crispy book?

To make amends, to some degree, I have put those books, enjoyed over the week of laptop absence, into one review and hope you will find one which will tempt you to enjoy the pleasure of a good book. (pssst….I have put them in order of my enjoyment of them!)

You should have been here last week

This was the perfect book for the Christmas stocking  – small, compact and a little treasure. It is a collection of Tim Richardson’s columns, articles, essays and reviews and they are, first and foremost, entertaining but also informative and thought provoking. Tim Richardon’s style is witty, insightful, provocative and, above all, enjoyable and fun to read. I loved it! Loved it! [You Should Have Been Here Last Week, Tim Richardson, Pimpernel Press, 2016, Hardback, 208pp, £16.99, ISBN: 9781910258354]

All the Presidents' Gardens

Michelle Obama brought media attention to the gardens of the White House with her vegetable garden but she was not the first resident to make an impact on the eighteen acres around the President’s residence. Martha McDowell recounts the contributions – or lack of them – of the many residents over the past centuries. The beautiful Rose Garden of the Kennedys will be well known but there are many, many more interesting stories: Eisenhower’s putting green, Lincoln’s goats, Amy Carter’s tree house, Gerald Ford’s swimming pool, George H. W. Bush’s horseshoe pit and Bill Clinton’s jogging track among them. Kings and Queens walked these grounds but Presidents and their families shaped them – in most interesting ways. A very well researched, well written and well presented book – very enjoyable! [All the Presidents’ Gardens, Marta McDowell, Timber Press, 2016, Hardback, 336pp, £20, ISBN: 9781604695892]

Lives of the great gardeners

Stephen Anderton presents essays on 40 gardeners over a time spread of 500 years though with a strong leaning to those of the 20th century. Rather than a chronological sequence the gardeners are organised thematically: “Gardens of Ideas/Straight Lines /Curves/Plantsmanship” and includes Sir Roy Strong, Lancelot Brown, Russell Page, Graham Stuart Thomas, Christopher Lloyd, Beth Chatto and Piet Oudolf  among others – something for everybody! The essays are biographical rather than critical and, given Stephen Anderton’s pleasant style, are light, enjoyable and informative. I found this a very informative and enjoyable read; an easy-going read, pleasant and unchallenging, sure to appeal to all. [Lives of the Great Gardeners, Stephen Anderton, Thames & Hudson, 2016, Hb, 304pp, £24.95 ISBN: 9780500518564]

The Quest for Shakespeare's Garden

Did Shakespeare ever garden at New Place? Probably not, but that small fact has not stopped generations celebrating his garden at Stratford on Avon – and it has recently been completely renovated with the installation of an Elizabethan style box parterre! There are no plans which show that such a garden existed at New Place but it is supposed that it is the style of garden he would have had if he had a garden! (Truth and accuracy, obviously, will never get in the way of a good money-generating tourist attraction!) Despite my attitude to this fallacy of garden recreation I enjoyed this book enormously for Sir Roy Strong explores all these matters in a wonderfully insightful and informed manner and considers them of great gardening significance for, as he writes, “this recreated Elizabethan garden is not just sentimental curiosity but a milestone in the emergence of garden history and recreation,”and he describes the garden as “the first major public attempt in England to accurately recreate a garden of another age.” An excellent read! Truly enjoyable!   [The Quest for Shakespeare’s Garden, Sir Roy Strong, Thames &Hudson, Hb, 112pp, £14.95, ISBN: 9780500252246]

CARNATION

This book is not about growing carnations but about the social and cultural history of a plant which has delighted people for centuries. The carnation challenged the tulip as the florist’s favourite and was as popular a hobby plant in its era as the auricula. Time after time the author presents fascinating associations and facts about the carnation that makes this book a most enjoyable read. Very enjoyable! This is one of a series of such books, each on a different genus, and each dealing with the social and cultural aspects of the plant rather than its role in the garden. A nice series! [Carnation, Twigs Way, Reaktion Books, 2016, Hb,  224pp, £16, ISBN:  9781780236346]

There are five delicious books waiting for me to read. I can now go ahead and read these without the nagging in the back of my mind that I should first have reviewed those read previously! It has been a spring cleaning of sorts!

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

 

 

What were they thinking?

How often have you looked at a designed landscape and wondered what had inspired the creator to develop the area in this particular way! This book has been both a revelation and a comfort as there are times when the source of inspiration may be clear and obvious – for example, when the garden is an obvious reflection of its surroundings – while at others it can be quite obtuse as when the designer, in search of inspiration, delves into childhood experiences of which, of course, we could have no knowledge and, so, are unable to be in a position to interpret their design.

The Inspired Landscape

The designs, twenty one in total, discussed in this book are outside the experience of the vast majority of gardeners and while I have referred to them as “gardens” above it would be more accurate to call them “landscape designs”. They are far from the domestic in their dimensions, scale and impact and are truly impressive, awe-inspiring and works of art in themselves. The gardener of domestic experience could well be puzzled by them but Susan Cohan’s book provides a wonderful, insightful and very interesting insight into what lay behind these landscapes; what it was that inspired each designer.

Some were pleasantly obvious and, to me, comfortable: Shlomo Aronson’s design at the Ben-Gurion University of the Neger, Beersheba, Israel is directly inspired by the surrounding desert landscape, for example, while Charles Jencks’ design for the Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centre, Inverness, based on dividing human cells is not immediately obvious. Likewise, without being informed, it is not obvious that Tom Stuart-Smith’s box parterres in the walled garden at Broughton Grange are based on a microscopic picture of the cells of leaves. Some designers carry on in the style of local gardening traditions, others look to other garden designers for inspiration (is this copying?) while sculpture, plant form, even clothing patterns have inspired others. Some look to the past, – history, myths and legends – while others can impressively embrace the past and bring in along into the present and into the future, such as Peter Latz’s Landscape Park in Duisboury Nord, Germany, where he took a derelict industrial area of vast scale and, rather than clearing the area to begin on a blank canvas, kept as much as possible or ore bunkers, railway tracks and immense walls and made garden spaces within them which have served the community splendidly.

Each project is well illustrated with initial sketches and plans, design drawings and photographs with an outline of the journey from inspiration to completion. The author’s interviews with the various designers have provided an insight into an area with which I would be otherwise unfamiliar and have made the reading of these landscapes very enjoyable indeed. This is an excellent book to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace and includes work by:

  • Shlomo Aronson, Sheila Brady, and James Burnett
  • Gilles Clément, Gary Hilderbrand, and Charles Jencks
  • Mary Margaret Jones, Mikyoung Kim, and Peter Latz
  • Shunmyo Masuno, Signe Nielsen, and Cornelia Hahn Oberlander
  • Laurie Olin, Ken Smith, and Stephen Stimson
  • Tom Stuart-Smith, Christine Ten Eyck, and Ryoko Ueyama
  • Kim Wilkie, Thomas Woltz, and Kongjian Yu

 

 [The Inspired Landscape, Susan Cohan,Timber Press, 2016, Hardback, 272pp, £35, ISBN: 9781604694390]

Paddy Tobin

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

 

Roy Lancaster: My Life with Plants

Roy Lancaster

Roy Lancaster’s first interest in flowers was in the wild flower of the countryside around Bolton where he was born in 1937. He began work with the Bolton Parks Department, spent two years in Malaya as a national serviceman, two years at the Cambridge Botanic Gardens as a gardening student and 18 years with the Hillier Nurseries before going on to a successful freelance career which included radio and TV work, journalism, two of the greatest books on plant-hunting, international consultancy work and innumerable awards and honours yet, through this lengthy career it was plants, and particularly plants growing in the wild, which held his heart and fired this enthusiasm. He was and is the ultimate plantsman.

roy-lancaster - from RHS
Roy Lancaster – photo courtesy of the Royal Horticultural Society

He comments that he had the “good fortune in having spent my life in the company of plants” and that he was “a plantsman who loves storytelling” – and here is the essence of this book. As he recalls his life from childhood to the present day the overlaying theme is that of plants, his joy in encountering them for the first time, particularly so if this was in the wild, the associations and memories they hold for him of so many treasured friends, many now gone, and, above all, the sheer delight and wonder he saw in each encounter. He writes with enthusiasm, unbounded knowledge, and undiminishing sheer delight.

Dahlias, chrysanthemums, laburnum and privet were the plants of his childhood home but he soon began exploring the local countryside. He began work at 15 in Bolton Parks Department and, with national service, spent two years in Malaya where he recorded, collected and corresponded on his new plant encounters. Two years as an apprentice gardener followed at Cambridge Botanic Gardens before going on to the Hillier Nurseries where, to mark their centenary, he expanded their plant catalogue to the Hillier Manual, first published in 1971, and became curator of the Hillier Arboretum. The arboretum was passed to the County Council and shortly afterwards he left to begin his freelance career, a daring move which proved hugely successful.

There had been a three month expedition to Nepal in 1981  – this, and his further plant hunting expeditions in China (11 in total) are given only mention in this volume as they are covered “A Plantsman in Nepal” and “A Plantsman’s Paradise: Travels in China”, two magnificent volumes which enthused gardeners worldwide.

These publications lead to demands for him to lecture worldwide and he was particularly popular in the United States and each trip provided further opportunity to see plants in their native environment – and it seems that this was nearly as important to him as the basics of earning a living! There are many amusing stories from these lecture tours and recollections of meeting many interesting people.

roy lancaster - from Country Gardener
Roy Lancaster – photo courtesy of Country Gardener

There were eight years of appearances on the BBC’s Gardener’s World and other programmes followed with Channel 4: “In Search of Wild Asparagus”, “The Great Plant Collections”, “Garden Club” and, of course, many years on “Gardeners’ Question Time”. He has contributed to a long list of magazines and journals, including forty years contributing to the RHS “The Garden”.

It was a long and interesting career and his recollections in this autobiography will delight all gardeners and plant lovers. The book ends with a tour of his own garden, a selection of the plants he grows there and the friends, colleagues and associations they each recall. Finally, another group of students – regulars from Kew and Wisley – come on a visit and it brings him back to where he started himself as an enthusiastic student. His secret and success is that he has held this enthusiasm through his entire life and, while accolades, honours and awards were plentiful, it was the love of plants which fired his soul.

Roy Lancaster

[Roy Lancaster: My Life with Plants, Roy Lancaster, Filbert Press in association with the Royal Horticultural Society, 2017, Hardback, 312 pages,£25, ISBN: 978-0-9933892-5-2]

Paddy Tobin

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

Planting Design for Dry Gardens – Olivier Filippi

Though it might not seem immediately relevant for Irish gardens, the more I read this book the more I enjoyed it, for the philosophy of its approach, the beauty of the book itself and, believe it or not, for the many ways in which this approach to gardening might be applied in an Irish garden situation. Most of all, I enjoyed reading this book because it was obviously based on years and years of observation, trial and error, so the comments and advice contained there come with a gentle but assured authority. It is a gardening book written by a gardener with dirty fingers and broken nails, a man of great experience and great love of plants and gardens.

Planting Design for Dry Gardens (1)

The book is written specifically as a handbook for those who garden in dry climates, especially for those who garden in the areas around the Mediterranean. I heard Beth Chatto’s old comment the other day – “Right plant – right place” – that we should choose the plants that suit our garden conditions as these are the plants which will do best for us. Olivier Filippi is saying exactly the same thing with an particular emphasis on the Mediterranean lawn and how to replace it.

Planting Design for Dry Gardens (3)
The natural vegetation of the Mediterranean area which was an inspiration for Olivier Filippi
Planting Design for Dry Gardens (4)
Allowing the natural dynamics of the landscape free expression!

Quite simple, he states, the lush green lawns we see in British or Irish gardens are not suitable for gardens around the Mediterranean and are only an “invasion in the last decades”. These lawns suit our climates where we have abundant rainfall to maintain them in the summer but to do so near the Mediterranean requires – in the south of France, in Marseilles or Montpellier – 1,000 litres of water per square metre per year! Yes, 1,000 litres per square metre! An incredible amount! A lawn in Andalucía would require 2,000 litres per square metre! The author insists that this is simply unsustainable and unsuitable to the climate in which he lives. While the first gardens of the Mediterranean area always had an abundance of water in rills, pools and fountains, it was never used on grass. This has been a recent trend only.

Planting Design for Dry Gardens (5)
Requiring neither watering nor pesticides, the groundcover garden requires less maintenance than the traditional lawn.

George Washington was ever so proud of his lawn at Mount Vernon, grazed by goats, and he lead the way in it becoming a fashion in the United States. The invention of the lawnmower meant the lawn became a practical addition, and obsession, for the smaller household and this became a boom after the Second World War with the development of chemical fertilizers and selective herbicides. Nowadays, 60% of the water consumption in southern California is for the irrigation of lawns and automatic irrigation systems have become a basic garden installation in Mediterranean gardens – again to support the fashion for lush green lawns. Scott and Monsanto have even developed a lawn grass variety named “Roundup Ready” which is resistant to the indiscriminate herbicide ‘Roundup’.

Planting Design for Dry Gardens (6)
A mixed groundcover, consisting of Thymus hirsutus, Thymus ciliatus and Phyla canescans

However, with growing awareness of how our gardening impacts on our environment, there has been a movement away from the traditional lawn. We have seen the increasing popularity of the use of meadows of grass and wild flowers, the complete replacement of lawns with groundcover plants as seen at the Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens, the increased use of xeriscape plantings in Arizona and New Mexico which use no water at all and the use of ornamental grasses with herbaceous perennials as lead by Piet Oudolf. We have all read of the wonderful meadows at Great Dixter, the gravel beds developed on the former car park at The Beth Chatto Garden and this movement is spreading and nowadays modern landscape designers in Greece and the south of France are developing gardens which require little water or maintenance and no lawn. Rather than lawns there are natural meadows which are dry in summer and which revive in autumn or there are a variety of groundcover approaches to planting which will give year round interest – all outlined in this book.

Planting Design for Dry Gardens (7)
In abandoning the goal of the perfect lawn, gardeners find that more natural lawns bring unexpected pleasures.

Gardeners are becoming more aware of their ecological impact and of their duty of care to the environment: “The model of a garden covered by a perfect lawn which is made possible only by a massive use of water, fertilizers and pesticides is reaching the end of its sway” and gardeners are “turning towards a kind of garden that better respects local soil and climatic conditions.”

Planting Design for Dry Gardens (8)
A steppic landscape. The stony soil is dotted with widely spaced patches of vegetation, including thyme, germander, bird’s foot trefoil, cinquefoil and Stipa

This book was originally published in 2011 in French, Alternatives au gazon, and the core of the book, a most perfect practical handbook, sets out Olivier Filippi’s suggestions and guidelines for his lawn alternatives. The various approaches suggested are guided by the proposed use of each area: whether or not it is an area which will be walked on regularly or not, for example. There are plant suggestions and general how-to advice on developing flowering carpets, flowering steppes, gravel gardens, the greening of stony surfaces, perennial shrub and ground covering of large areas, wild gardens and flowering meadows.

Planting Design for Dry Gardens (9)
A thick layer of gravel covers the ground between plants in a gravel garden

The section on planning and maintenance is simply stated and perfectly practical with sections on soil preparation, drainage, planting, watering (first year only), maintenance and weeding. The A – Z of plants lists 200 groundcover plants for dry gardens and many of the suggestions will be familiar to Irish gardeners and  made me think that this approach to gardening might not be as foreign as I might have first imagined and the likes of Achillea, Ajuga, Ceratostigma, Crocus, Cyclamen, Erica, Erigeron, Euphorbia, Geranium, to mention a few, certainly find suitable homes in our gardens and, I imagine, there are areas in many of our gardens which could be developed in the manner outlined in this book.

Planting Design for Dry Gardens (10)
The successive levels of large limestone slabs are enhanced by edgings of vegetation.

Although written for gardeners in Mediterranean areas I think, more fundamentally, this is a book which calls on all gardeners to be open to new suggestions and approaches in our gardening; to think about how we garden and to be willing to amend our methods to suit more than our present considerations and fashion trends. Do we need to water so much? Do we use chemicals unnecessarily? Do we consider the needs of wildlife? Do we give space to native plants? Do we choose plants which are part of our national horticultural heritage and do we make an effort to conserve them? While this book is a rethinking of the Mediterranean lawn it is also a call to us to rethink our approach to our own garden.

Planting Design for Dry Gardens (11)
Flowering meadows enable us to cover large areas while reducing maintenance

[Planting Design for Dry Gardens, Olivier Filippi, translated by Caroline Harbouri, Filbert Press, 2016, HB, Large format, 239pp, £35, ISBN: 978-0-99338-920-7]

Paddy Tobin

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