Just in time!

Hurricane and storm delayed our annual autumn visit to Mount Usher Garden in Co. Wicklow and we feared we had left it too late this year and that the recent violent winds would have left the trees stripped of their foliage and deny us the pleasure of the display of autumn colour we have come to love.

Mount Usher (10)

Spring at Mount Usher has the magic of fabulous drifts of spring bulbs – Scilla biflora, erythroniums, wood anemones, crocus and little pockets of snowdrops but fiery autumn colour reflected on the surface of the River Dartry which flows through the garden creates one of the most magical of pictures.

Fortune smiled on us; the gales had obviously spared the foliage and, although some trees had been brought down by the storms, there was a display to delight us.

Enjoy the photographs!

Paddy Tobin

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

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Sincerity in the Garden!

A feature of many gardens which open to the public is that of constant change, perpetual renewal, ceaseless novelty and chronic frivolity, all in an effort to remain interesting and to attract paying visitors. Last year’s “height-of-fashion” and “must-have” plants have been discarded and the “latest thing” has been installed to be, in turn, discarded for next year’s extravaganza. This can be interesting and entertaining – and it seems to work well for those gardens – but I feel that it leads to a garden which lacks foundation, good bones or any sense of permanence or substance and these are essential elements of good garden design. The resulting garden may not have the smash, wallop, bang of the shop window style but it does have a quality which allows one to visit with great enjoyment again and again for there is depth there, depth of design and plant choice and combination, and depth of time and development. While one is a Banksy; the other is a Botticelli. One is beautiful and passing; the other beautiful and lasting.

This is the feeling I get when I visit Mildred Stokes’ garden in south County Tipperary. It is a garden which has been developed in sympathy with its surroundings; which is perfectly suited to its environment; a complimentary front to the house and comfortable in its countryside. It is of its place – that old chestnut of the genius loci; it matches and compliments the spirit of its setting. Everything feels at home there and the garden visitor feels comfortable because here everything fits together without clash, flash or pretence. Here the gardener has developed a garden for herself, in a manner which she likes and which suits her situation. It is authentic and honest and has integrity. It is a sincere garden rather than a show garden.

Enjoy the slideshow!

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Mildred opens her garden to groups and as part of the local Tipperary Open Gardens. She is in Killurney, Ballypatrick, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary. See Shirley Lanigan’s book for details.

Paddy Tobin

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

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.

Bantry House Garden (1)
A sideways glance to the house before turning to the woodland.
Bantry House Garden (2)
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.

Bantry House Garden (5)
The entrance to the walled garden
Bantry House Garden (8)
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.

Bantry House Garden (30)
View from the top of The Hundred Steps
Bantry House Garden (31)
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

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

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.

Mildred Stoke's Garden (1)

Mildred Stoke's Garden (49)

Mildred Stoke's Garden (37)

Mildred Stoke's Garden (39)

Mildred Stoke's Garden (12)

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