Winter Gardens

The winter garden is an opportunity for imagination, surprise and great beauty and Cedric Pollet’s book, Winter Gardens – Reinventing the Season,  will certainly open your eyes to the possibilities, inspire you and move you to no longer think of winter as the closed season but as another vibrant time in the garden.











In the early 19th century the “winter garden” referred to the amazing glass palaces in towns such as Bath, Brighton and Harrogate where people could gather in winter to amuse themselves, dance and listen to music. By the early 20th century these had all but disappeared as they were so expensive to maintain. Gertrude Jekyll’s “Planting for Winter Colour” was published in 1908 but interest in winter gardens only became more widespread some years later. Stanley Whitehead published his “The Winter Garden” in 1948 and Graham Stuart Thomas his “Colour in the Winter Garden” in 1957. In 1951 John Gilmour, Director of the Cambridge University Botanical Garden, devoted an area specifically to a winter garden. Adrian Bloom developed his winter garden, mainly of miniature conifers and heathers, at Foggy Bottom in 1962. Peter Orriss, Director of Gardens at the University of Cambridge developed and expanded on the concept of the winter garden and broadened the range of plants used in such schemes. Other gardens followed suit and winter gardens were developed at Wakehurst Place, Rosemoor, Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, Anglesey Abbey among others. The trend also grew on the continent with Princess Greta Sturdza at Vasterival in the vanguard.

Winter Gardens (20)

The winter garden is often very simple and effective where the use of a limited range of plants seems to work best. Plants with interesting and attractive winter bark are most valued and it can come as no surprise that birch, maple and dogwood are dominant. Winter flowering plants and those which carry berries in winter are also greatly valued. The introduction of a wide range of plants by the plant hunters who went to China and the Far East in the early 20th century was of enormous benefit and provided excellent stock for the developing winter gardens.

Cedric Pollet, whose love of the winter garden has been shown in his previous book, “Bark, An Intimate Look at the Worlds Trees”, has always been fascinated by this form of gardening. He is also an excellent photographer and allows his photographs to carry this book – “an image is often much more effective than long descriptions” – and so this is a book where photographs dominate though it must be acknowledged that the text, though short, is well written, effective and a perfect companion to the illustrations.


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A selection from the photographs in the book. 

There are three main sections in the book: “Four Favourites” gives extended reports on the gardens of L’Etang de Launay, Jardin de Bois Marquis, Sir Harold Hillier Gardens and Bressingham Gardens. “Sources of Inspiration” gives a brief insight into sixteen other gardens while “The Plant Palette” lists plants suitable for the winter garden. All in all this is a visually very appealing book with a pleasant text to link the illustrations tastefully and effectively.

[Winter Gardens – Reinventing the Season, Cedric Pollet, Frances Lincoln, London, 2017, Hardback, £30, ISBN: 978-0-7112-3915-9]

Paddy Tobin



Gardens of the High Line

For many years I walked and enjoyed the wildness of a deserted railway line close to my home. The interaction between the industrial hard landscape and the gradual but persistent encroachment of nature is always fascinating and it was such a scene in New York which inspired the development of the High Line, one of the most interesting and challenging of modern gardens. The team that designed the High Line was led by the landscape architectural firm James Corner Field Operations who invited the architectural firm of Diller Scofidio and Renfro to collaborate in design and Piet Oudolf to bring the project to life with his naturalistic plantings. This book tells the story of this project to date for it is a story which has not finished, as no garden is ever finished but continues to develop and change over time.

High Line (5)

The railway line was built in 1931–’34 and was quite literally a life line for the city and now in its new reinvention might be considered such again. It was an all freight line bringing milk, butter, eggs, meat and cheese from upstate farms into the city until it closed in the 1980s and ‘90s. Nature crept in; wild plants established themselves, annuals and herbaceous perennials, shrubs and even trees and, of course, the fauna which such plants support. The designed garden of the High Line aimed to be in line with how nature was acting though not a natural garden but a naturalistic one. It was designed for change, as change is part of nature, a garden for ecological succession so that while around 400 different plants were introduced there is “a sense of letting wildness come through”, of letting it happen yet managing this change. It was designed and planted with the intention of being perpetually unfinished, allowing growth and change over time. The structure was preserved, the railway line remains intact through lifted and bedded again, and is an essential part of the whole design and experience. It is a very interesting experiment, most certainly a garden, yet quite different and without a doubt a fabulous addition to the city of New York and a pleasure to its citizens.

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As it is a railway line the High Line is narrow in comparison to its length but it is comfortably wide enough to accommodate the track, walkways, seating areas and planting. It was designed as a “choreographed experience” – a linear garden best experienced by beginning at the Gansevoort Street Stairs, the southern end, and walking its 1.45 miles (2.33Km) length. The Ganesvoort Wood  is dominated by Grey Betula populifolia interplanted with Cercis, Cornus, Amelanchier and Viburnum, all able for the dry conditions of the High Line. The move to the Washington Grassland, as with all such transitions along the line, is not marked by any architectural structure but rather with plant architecture – there is sufficient architecture in the High Line itself and in the surrounding city buildings that further additions would have lead to clutter and distraction from the purely garden or plant content. The Hudson River Lookout is unusual in that this section of line is higher than the rest and gives wonderful views to the river and is filled with plants which are typical of the north eastern United States – sumach and tall perennials. There is also a Sundeck and Water Garden on this raised section with the cleverest of water features – no more than the most shallow sheet of water running over the surface of the walkway. It is a place for people to sit, chat and relax.

High Line (1)

The Northern Spur was bricked off when the line was closed and has been left in this state. The soil here is especially shallow and poor and planting here is determined by “survival of the fittest” – economically the cheapest option and ecologically the most sustainable. 10th Avenue Square includes an open air theatre among the planting while The Chelsea Grasslands feature the most common plant of the High Line – grasses, interplanted with suitable herbaceous perennials. There is a move back to woodland planting in the Chelsea Thicket which leads to the 23rd Street Lawn and Seating, one of the most popular areas on the High Line. The visitor then meanders through The Meadow Walk with grasses, Achillea, nepeta, calamint, coreopsis which have proved to be one of the most successful plantings. The Flyover, a raised walkway, brings visitors to canopy level to enjoy redbuds, shadbush, sassafras, sumach and broad-leaved magnolias. The Wildflower Field leads to the final section of the garden, The Rail Yards, an area left nearest to nature in its planting and development.

High Line (2)

The High Line is a public park owned by the City of New York and maintained and operated by the Friends of the High Line in partnership with the New York Department of Parks and Recreation. The Friends raise the funds to operate the gardens and provide the personnel to maintain them. Gardening the High Line is challenging: traditional gardening is about maintaining the status quo while gardening the High Line is more dynamic in nature as it aims to maintain and accommodate change.

High Line (1)

The gardens of The High Line are already an outstanding success and it will be interesting to see how they develop in coming years. In the meantime this book will give you an wonderful insight into the history, development, philosophy and beauty of The High Line. It is well written and the photographs are more than excellent, indeed they dominate the book and prove the old adage of the picture and the thousand words perfectly.

[Gardens of the High Line – Elevating the Nature of Modern Landscapes, Piet Oudolf and Rick Darke, Timber Press, Oregon, 2017, Softback, 320 pages, $40, ISBN: 13:978-1-60469-699-8]

Paddy Tobin



The Making of Three Gardens


Oh, sit back in your most comfortable chair; pour a strong coffee; open a box of the most delicious chocolates; browse this book and you will be in gardener’s heaven. From front cover to back this book is a dream and a delight; we cannot imagine that we will ever have a garden comparable to those shown on its pages but we certainly can appreciate and enjoy them. They are examples of the most wonderful creativity, imagination, architectural dexterity, installation perfection, aesthetic beauty and no shortage of disposable income!

The Making of Three Gardens COVER (1)

Jorge Sánchez is a principle partner of SMI Landscape Architecture in Palm Beach, Florida, an award-winning firm with clients throughout the United States and the Bahamas. The company is best known for its public gardens and street planning as well as large private gardens and this book presents three of these private gardens, two in Florida and one in New York. These gardens, by location and scale, are quite apart from our usual experience of gardens yet, by their art and design and planting, they transcend geographical boundaries and have a universal appeal. They are superb examples of art in gardening.

Though the gardens presented are quite fabulous and the author enjoys an enormously successful career with innumerable highly praised projects his voice, as he writes this book, is one of openness and humility where he generously acknowledges those who influenced and inspired him in his work and lavishly praises those with whom he collaborates and those who implement his designs. His accounts give an open and honest insight into his approach to each garden design – which is one of consultation and collaboration – and he explains the reasons behind his designs and changes in design as work progresses. It was all wonderfully informative and very pleasant reading.

The Making of Three Gardens (5)

The Making of Three Gardens (2)

The photography is by Andre Baranowski and is quite outstanding, a perfect accompaniment to the text and, along with the design plans, gives the reader a perfect insight and understanding of the designs and the gardens.

The Making of Three Gardens (7)

The Making of Three Gardens (6)

I suppose we might describe this as a coffee table book but it is far more than that. Yes, the photographs alone would allow it to be enjoyed without reading a word – as is the case with most coffee table books – but the text is so well written and such a pleasure to read that to relegate it to the coffee table would be a terrible disservice. Instead, read it with that coffee and chocolate for a truly enjoyable experience!

The Making of Three Gardens, Jorge Sánchez, Photography by Andre Baranowski, Merrell, London, 2017, Hardback, 208 pages, £45, ISBN: 978-1-8589-4665-8

Paddy Tobin

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

Every Plant has a Story!

Every plant has a story and these add to the interest and enjoyment gardeners get from them. Noel Kingsbury, in his Flora, The Natural and Cultural History of the Plants in Your Garden, has taken a selection of 133 plants, not an encyclopaedic collection but enough to enthuse and encourage the readers to, perhaps, search out such delightful snippets on other plants which interest them.

Garden Flora

I found the introductory chapter somewhat tedious with its explanations of terms used in the book, an outline of the various plant types along with evolutionary history and ecological survival strategies of plants. There were notes on plant longevity, whether annual, biennial or perennial, whether plants were clonal or not, spreading or not, bla, bla, bla, whether they were pioneers or competitors, notes on biodiversity, lists of topics/headings used in the book bla, bla, bla. Why so much time and space was given to such topics when they did not compliment the rest of the book puzzled me. Perhaps it was to give a certain gravitas to what otherwise is a light – and very interesting and entertaining – collection of short essays on garden plants, somewhat in the style of a collection of magazine articles.

The collection of essays explores, though not in a regimented formulaic manner, various interesting areas of each plant: the meaning of the botanical name, the origin of the name, uses of the plant whether culinary or medicinal; its uses in herbalism and its place in superstitions; history of its use in gardens; natural geographical distribution; history of its introduction and notes of cultivars raised and grown in our gardens. Many of these entries are illustrated with historic photographs and paintings which are both especially attractive and interesting in themselves and add greatly to the enjoyment of the book.

Leaving the introduction aside – and one is unlikely to return to it – the remainder of the book is very enjoyable and the reader is likely to dip into it again and again.

[Garden Flora – The Natural and  Cultural History of the Plants in Your Garden, Noel Kingsbury, Timber Press, London, 2016, Hardback, 368 pages, £29.99, ISBN: 13:978-1-60469-565-6]

Paddy Tobin

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

The Breathing Burren – A Review

The Breathing Burren by Gordon D’Arcy

It is wonderful to pick up a book and have the immediate reaction “Oh, this is beautiful” – comfortable in the hand, attractive in size, print and illustration – and there is an immediate longing to read. This is how it was when Gordon D’Arcy’s “The Breathing Burren” arrived from The Collins Press recently and my subsequent slow and savouring read proved that my first impressions were not only accurate but even understated. The author admits to an infatuation with The Burren and I certainly confess to a deep awe in the area so the book had certainly come to a receptive reader.


Gordon D’Arcy is Belfast born and came to explore The Burren, fell in love with the place and moved there and has been resident for over thirty years. His 1999 The Natural History of The Burren has been an inspiration to many who have come to love this unique environment in Co. Clare. The Burren is a landscape of limestone karst, its clints and grykes housing a summer display of flowers which attract both plant enthusiasts and tourists in great numbers.

The author describes this volume as a “salutation” to The Burren and presents a marvellous miscellany of experiences, recorded in his diaries, from many years of roaming the area so we are presented with a distillation of years of enjoyment and experience. As such, it is a book of highlight, of great experiences and wonderful occasions, a compendium of personal experiences which may not be unique but are certainly memorable – the first flowering of gentian in the spring, the incredible encounters with stoats and otters, the rare migrant seabirds, the dawn chorus of Burren birds and broadened and deepened by his recollections of other enthusiasts with whom he had spent time on The Burren. There are accounts of farming, caving and archaeology, all engaging and informative and all very pleasantly illustrated by the author’s watercolour paintings which are quiet and unobtrusive but a perfect complement to the text.

Beyond the recollection of happy events and encounters there is a final substantial section, “Musings” where the author goes far beyond the simple recollection of happy days poses serious questions which he has considered himself and urges us, the readers, and everybody involved with The Burren – those living there, those responsible for decisions which will affect the area – to think about what the area, its value, its use, its worth, its contribution to our culture and how we might care for it for the future.

It is clear that the author is passionately in love with this wonderful area of our country and this love extends far beyond simply enjoying it – which is about the extent of my interaction with the area – to feeling a responsibility and duty of care for it. When you read this book you will understand why he feels this way and you will find yourself agreeing with him very easily.

This is an outstanding book which goes beyond the usual approach of simple descriptions of the natural phenomena of The Burren and is likely to inspire an even greater appreciation for this treasure which is part of our landscape.

[The Breathing Burren, Gordon D’Arcy, The Collins Press, Cork, 2016, Hardback, 304 pages, ISBN: 9781848892682, €24.99 – €17.49 special offer on The Collins Press website at the moment:]

Paddy Tobin

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