Not as it should be!

It must be comforting to be able to lift one’s head, direct one’s gaze to some beauty in a garden, and ignore the weeds around one’s feet. Some will visit a garden, seek out the good and ignore the bad but I find this difficult to do and can find a garden visit spoiled when I encounter areas of poor gardening.

I visited the gardens at Bantry House last month and felt significant areas of the garden were far below the standard one would hope to find. Mind you, reading the leaflet one receives on admission, the owners do not attempt to hide the fact that there is a huge amount of work yet to be done and my visit certainly not only confirmed that fact but left me feeling very disappointed that some especially significant and integral parts of the garden have been allowed to fall into a state which is very unacceptable.

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A sideways glance to the house before turning to the woodland.
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A pretty bridge over the stream in the woodland.

We began our visit at a pretty red bridge over a small stream which ran into the woodland which the leaflet states “needs to be restored and to be made more accessible” – a reasonable assessment – and followed the walk along the stream to the Walled Garden. This “had been partly sold in the 1950s and then abandoned. Consequently, it fell into disrepair and neglect” and so it remains with little more than some hints that it might once have been a garden –  impressive gates, the remains of two ponds and a few trees, a scene to disappoint and sadden the visitor.

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The entrance to the walled garden
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Some signs of planting in the walled garden

The return walk, the “Old Ladies Walk”, leads to the top of The Hundred Steps, one of the main features of the garden and leads past the West Stable en  route which “is much more visible and its state of dereliction quite obvious. It has been made safe in 2011 with the help of the Heritage Council. To restore it is another hope.”  I had wondered if it might have been better to have excluded visitors from these areas of the garden. They were not attractive and seemed unprepared for visitors.

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The West Stable

The “Old Ladies Walk” brought us to the top of The Hundred Steps and one of the most glorious views in any Irish garden. From here one looks down The Hundred Steps to the fountain and parterre, the house and a magnificent view to Bantry Bay beyond. It is truly impressive and demands that one stop and admire it all. However, the walk down the steps brought terrible disappointment. The ornamental pots to each side had not been attended to this year and many sported weeds while the steps themselves seemed also destined to being overtaken by weeds. The terraces to either side of The Hundred Steps appear as though only recently rescued from wilderness. These were originally designed “to be grassed over” a simple treatment which would have complemented the architectural design but over the years Rhododendron ponticum, seedling willow and myrtles took hold. The information leaflet states that some clearing was carried out in 2016 but it was difficult to notice signs of any work in the current year. This feature, The Hundred Steps, is central to the garden design and it is such a pity that it has not received the attention that it deserves.

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View from the top of The Hundred Steps
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The view from the top of The Hundred Steps

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The Hundred Steps with views to the terraces – greatly in needs of attention

The parterre is impressive, the clean geometric design in box hedging very appealing and fitting against the façade of the house. It is an area which, obviously, receives more care and attention. It is worthwhile to choose a suitable vantage point and sit to take in the intricacy of design here, the framework provided by the balustrades with ornamental pots on plinths. It is no wonder that it is the most frequently seen photograph from Bantry House garden.

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The Parterre and its surrounds

The Sunken Garden at the gable end of the house did not hold our attention – it needed a lot of tidying up – and we moved to the north terrace on the seaward side of the house where the Round Beds, fourteen in all planted with hemerocallis, run across the front lawns in a single line. It is a simple and effective design, sufficient to entertain but not distract from one’s progress to the view to the sea. The views seaward and back to the house are very pleasant.

The northern terraces with the Circular Beds

In fairness, the owners acknowledge that there is a great deal of work yet to be done and, were it done, this would indeed be a magnificent garden. However, at present, there are many very disappointing areas in the garden.

Paddy Tobin

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

Much more than that!

It is disappointing to see a good garden receive scant and silly coverage on a television gardening programme. Recently, BBC’s Gardener’s World visited Jimi Blake’s garden, Huntingbrook, and gave more time to Jimi on a trampoline than to the garden and plants. With any television programme there will be editing and selection of material but one would surely expect the resulting material to be reasonably reflective and representative of the garden. Perhaps, any publicity is good publicity but I am certain the programme was not a fair return for the amount of preparation and work Jimi did in anticipation. I have since visited Jimi’s garden and realise – confirmed my belief – that the programme reflected the poor standards of presenting gardening on television and failed to capture the delights of this garden. (Oh, bring back Charles Nelson and “A Growing Obsession”)

 

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The areas around the house, full of colour and interesting plants 

Every garden lies along a continuum between an emphasis on design and an emphasis on plants and Jimi Blake’s garden is somewhere off the scale on the plant side. He has an exuberant love of plants and it perpetually searching for something new and interesting for his garden so that each year brings new delights for the visitor to see. There have been years where sanguisorbas dominated; a year with salvias; dahlias, many grown from seed, took over for a while and this year it seems that the best of many years have been kept, a culmination of some years of trial, testing and selection so that the main beds around the house are now jewel boxes of delight. One plant which caught my eye and which I thought was used particularly well was a red-leaved banana. It grew to only about a metre in height so that the foliage was within the bed, among the flowers, and not the ragged tower of tattered leaves we are so often urged to admire in someone’s garden. This banana actually looked well while I believe it is generally difficult for a banana to look well in an Irish garden.

 

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A selection of blooms from the area near the house

An enormous amount of work has been done in the woodland area of the garden with new paths laid out, surfaced and with handrails on the steeper sections. There has been some clearing which has allowed in wonderful light and there has been extensive new planting which is still very young but is certainly interesting and will be beautiful as the years progress. The banks of the stream in the basin of the valley has also been extensively planted with suitable additions and, as they settle and spread, these will be particularly beautiful in spring.

 

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The woodland area where an enormous amount of work has been done with new path and planting

Well constructed flights of steps make walking the particularly steep areas much more easy and makes the route to the meadow all the more inviting. The transition from woodland to meadow is dramatically one of those darkness to light experiences as one moves from the shadows of the trees to the openness of the Co. Wicklow countryside with beautiful views to the hills beyond the garden.

 

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The Meadow

Although Jimi’s garden would generally be described as a plantsman’s garden it is much more than that with the woodland area being developed very significantly and interestingly and the meadow becoming progressively better with each passing year. It is a delight to visit the garden at present and the future is even more promising.

Paddy Tobin

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

She has it looking lovely!

 

So my visiting companion said as we were driving out of June Blake’s garden this afternoon and, of course, the conversation continued as we drove: “I loved that lipstick pink phlox…and that new dahlia in the lower part of the garden…and that blue geranium near the house – what was its name? That monkshood was a great blue and that double blue delphinium with it was fabulous. There was great colour in the red and orange border and great use of the crocosmias; they can be a blasted nuisance but when you see them used to well you’d be inclined to use them a bit more. It’s better with those trees gone – leaves in a lot more light and that corner looks a lot better now. Imagine Primula florindae still looking so well; they’re well gone at home! I love the outer parts of the garden – a great contrast and a great rest from the intensity of colour in the main garden; it’s lovely to sit and look down on the garden from the top” And on and on it went!

This is the way it usually is after any garden visit, comments and comparisons, highlights mentioned, disappointments aired (none today!) and plans made to search out such a plant or to try an idea in the home garden.

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Approaching the garden entrance 
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A thriving border bursting with energy and colour 

The central area of June’s garden, the herbaceous beds near to the house, simply continue to get better and better with each passing year – a tweaking of colour combinations and plant selections – and I doubt we will see a better example of colour combination and planting in the country.  Other areas of the garden have developed wonderfully – the grass area at the entrance, previously an area of wildflowers, is now an undulating lawn with a winding path which slows the visitor down and prepares one to be leisurely in the walk around the garden and encourages one to admire the border leading to the entrance where the heartiest of rodgersias thrive in the rich soil that only farmyard manure can provide.

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An iconic tree and view. 

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Fabulous colour in the borders.

Above, beyond and around the garden, the sweeping areas of grass have developed to become the perfect balance to the intensity of colour nearer the house. There is a peace there, quiet green and distance from the hub. The view over the garden from the perfectly placed seat encompasses not only the garden but allows views to the farmland and hills beyond. We sat there for a considerable and enjoyable time, the time to take it in, to savour the experience and to watch the gardener busy at her work.

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It doesn’t all happen by accident – there’s a lot of hard work involved and the end result shows this so well. 

Enjoy the slideshow of images from the garden today but better to visit and enjoy it yourself.

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Paddy Tobin

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

Daring to be Old-fashioned

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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

A Special Garden, Very special!

There are a few gardens you walk into and feel all is perfectly comfortable. Is that an old age description, I wonder? However, I’m sure you know what I mean – not a matter of comfortable armchairs and slippers – but that feeling in a garden when everything fits together in an apparent effortless manner, the perfect fit.

I recall the first occasion we walked into Beth Chatto’s garden and feeling it so very clearly – this was a garden perfectly in tune with its location and setting. There was no artifice, no pretence, nothing gaudy nor vulgar, no gimmicks. Instead, a garden of good, simple design filled with well-chosen plants and a blend of house and garden which felt as though they had both been together for many years.

Mildred Stoke’s garden at Killurney, near Kilsheelin, Co. Tipperary is another example of such a garden. We have visited many times, have always enjoyed the occasion, and have done so again today.

I’m not going to waffle on – have a look at my photos from today and you will understand.

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And an album of views within the garden…

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Paddy Tobin

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

Rocking on!

We have just returned from a few days on The Burren, that fabulous area of limestone pavement, in County Clare where we enjoyed excellent weather, some wonderful walks, some very special wildflowers and, not to be missed, a visit to Caher Bridge Garden – the garden of Carl Wright.

Carl shouldn’t have made a garden here; any sensible evaluation of the site and the conditions would have told him to move elsewhere but he fell in love with the area and has poured his heart and soul into this garden and the garden has responded in kind. Now, a visit to The Burren would be incomplete without a visit to Caher Bridge Garden.

Oliver Cromwell’s appointee, Edmund Ludlow, is regularly quoted: “It is a country where there is not enough water to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him.” He might have added that it would be a crazy place to make a garden!

Carl’s garden is situated on north western corner of The Burren, close to Fanore, an area with extensive stretches of bare limestone pavement so that one is, first of all, amazed that anything will grow there and then amazed at what a fabulous selection of wildflowers not only grow but thrive in the conditions. However, to develop a garden on this extremely shallow soil – as little as a few centimetres in places – and with drainage like a colander was a brave undertaking indeed.

Carl cleared the scrub hazel, built raised beds which he filled with imported soil and also grows a lot of plants in large pots – especially his impressive collection of hostas – and he has made a garden which astonishes me every time I visit for the achievement of making any sort of garden at all, for the fabulous stonework, the ingenious use of the natural layout of the ground and for the selection of choice forms of the plants he grows.

I visit The Burren for the walking and the wildflowers but a visit without calling to Carl’s garden would leave me feeling I had missed the jewel in the crown.

If you are in the area do drop in to see the gardens but, in the meantime, I hope you enjoy this slideshow.

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Paddy Tobin

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

Wroclaw Botanic Garden, April 2017

Suddenly it was spring – but not as we are used to in Ireland, with a gradual warming of days, and the sun getting stronger.

In early April whilst attending a zoo design conference in Wroclaw, Poland, I squeezed in an afternoon trip to the nearby botanic garden with a colleague. Excellent collection, but still end of winter and not much happening, plus of course this is much more central Europe, colder winters, so a different range of plants grown, more conifers. It was an overcast and chilly day, not conducive to taking pictures.

One thing I had noticed immediately, even in the taxi from the airport, was the amount of mistletoe Viscum album in the trees. Large numbers of plants, but also in a different range of trees, I’m more used to seeing it in apples and poplars (and in National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin even on Davidia), here it was in maples and willows too.

Mistletoe Viscum album on Acer saccharum Wroclaw Botanic Garden

 

Pre and post conference tours had been arranged, and I was looking forward to seeing the Muskauer Park in particular, a park of some 830 hectares described as one of the most beautiful landscaped gardens in the world, with the greater part of the park situated in Poland with a portion running over the border to Germany. It is the largest 19th century English-style park in central Europe with a tropical greenhouse, castle, the River Neise and a canal very carefully integrated into the design. Unfortunately, it was not to be as travel times had been longer than expected. I was surrounded by zoo directors rather than horticulturalists so it’s a case of “next time perhaps!”

Though we missed out on Muskauer Park we spent a few happy hours in Gorlitz Zoo which had a small natural woodland area showing the first hints of spring, a meadow of yellow flowers that at first distant glance I took to be Cowslips, Primula veris, but once nearer the lighter colour and slightly different form said Oxlip Primula elatior, I had not seen so many in one place before, lovely.

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Primula elatior at Gorlitz Zoo

The spring appearance at Gorlitz Zoo made me decide to look at Wroclaw Botanic Garden again. It was now 6 days after the first visit and I was filling in time waiting for a flight much later that evening. After the visit to the garden I planned to finish with a walk around the historic cathedral area which was lovingly rebuilt after the city was largely destroyed during World War II.

What a difference those six days had made! The sun was out, the day was warmer but not hot, and the garden had come to life, with flowers popping up everywhere, particularly through the woodland areas, and the rock garden.

The photographs and their captions will give you a flavour of the gardens.

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Walsteinia geoides in large masses with other woodland plants. 

 

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Corydalis solida, Anemone nemerosa with leaves bulbs gone out of flower
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In the centre of the pond a curious bundle of bubble wrap protected something precious perhap?     It turned out to be Gunnera manicata, not hardy in Wroclaw without protection! We do not appreciate our temperate climate in Ireland!
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Ribes aureum which has a sweetly clove scented fragrance. I could not see the difference between this and R. odoratum
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This I could not figure out – and with no English speaking staff I was at a loss – a padlocked frame cover for Sempervivum and Sedum.
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Jeffersonia dubia (here still labelled Plagioreghma dubium)

Wroclaw is at the centre of the Silesian Mountain range, with great deposits of coal, minerals – and fossils. One of our conference tours was to a dinosaur exhibit, more a museum, with life size reconstructions around an old clay quarry, masses of fossils. The botanic garden had a display on this too. The round ‘stones’ are in fact fossilised tree or tree fern trunk sections, you can still see the bark impression.

Signage explaining the rock formation behind, and the associated plants, ferns and horsetail Equisetum.

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The carefully constructed rockwork showing the folding visible today, and all used for alpine plants

 

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Pulsatilla vulgaris ‘Rode Klokke’ – dare I assume ‘Red Cloak’?
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Too early to see this beauty in flower – Rosa pendulina, the alpine rose, native to central European mountains.
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Maples may not be regarded as flowering trees by some, but this Acer negundo var. californicum was looking great. This was obviously a male tree, maybe deliberately, as Acer negundo is invasive, and poisonous – I’ve seen it in Hungary as rampant as Sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus in Ireland, and no animal will eat it, so be careful!
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The most unusual display, for me, was this greenhouse devoted entirely to cultivars of ivy Hedera helix.

One aspect of the botanic garden that intrigued me was the labelling. A lot of the scientific names were very old – ‘used to be called’ – and many had the Polish name too, I’d imagine they would be the equivalent of our use of a common name, but sometimes the specific name was given a Polish name which was sometimes a combination of a very old name, and a specific common name!

 

And lastly,, I must double check against the Irish Heritage Plant list for Cryptomeria japonica ‘Kilmacurragh’ which looks very like Cryptomeria japonica ‘Cristata’ below!

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Stephen Butler

Note: Stephen is the Director of Horticulture at the Zoological Gardens, Phoenix Park, Dublin. He has been a long time member of the IGPS, has been Chairperson of the Leinster region, and leads our work on Irish heritage plants.

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