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 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




Label that Memory

While cutting down a now large clump of crocosmias I came on a label in the centre which read, “Crocosmia Bristol/Severn Sunrise/Sunset.” Check the name. From Anna Nolan. Sept. 02″ .

Crocosmia'Severn Sunrise'
Crocosmia’Severn Sunrise’

I know now that this is Crocosmia ‘Severn Sunrise’ and I have enjoyed it in the garden for the years since I received it as a gift from Anna when we visited her garden in September 2002. It is odd the memories which we attach to gardens but most engrained in my mind are the directions we used to get to her. We travelled up the N11 – long before the new layout there at present – and, after passing St. Brendan’s Hospital in Loughlinstown, would keep our eyes peeled for a pair of service stations, one at either side of the road. When we passed the one on the left we knew it was time to move to the right hand lane and do a U-turn to move to the opposite carriageway. Such a move nowadays would probably bring Dublin traffic to a standstill for hours. We then passed the other service station and took the next left and though we knew the address, 12 Shanganagh Vale, it was always the planting which guided us to the house. There was no doubt but that you were arriving at the home of an enthusiastic gardener as Anna’s plantings extended out on to the pathway outside her home

Front garden - you knew straight away that this was the garden of a plant enthusiast.
Front garden – you knew straight away that this was the garden of a plant enthusiast.

Anna always had what we might call tasty plants, something different, new and interesting. She created a beautiful garden but was first and foremost a lady with a passion of plants. She was very active in local gardening societies and had been especially involved in the Dublin branch of the Alpine Garden Society from its very beginnings. Shirley Lanigan in her “Irish Gardens” wrote, “This is a perfect, tiny town garden that earns its keep all year round” and it was Carmel Duignan who recalled a French journalist commenting when he visited that the garden was “Tres chic”.

At the back of the house, a beautiful garden
At the back of the house, a beautiful garden
Anna showing the garden
Anna showing the garden
I recall these steps had only recently been built when we visited in September 2002 and Anna was so delighted with them
Tea, cakes, chat and plenty of beautiful plants

It was always a pleasure to visit and her gardening friends remember her with great fondness as, unfortunately, Anna passed away in 2009. So, it is good to have a well inscribed label and a plant in the garden which preserve her memory for us.

As an aside, Anna came to visit our garden with the Irish Garden Plant Society on one occasion. Her husband, Seán, was one of the party but Seán was not particularly interested in gardening, certainly not an enthusiast at any rate and, soon after arriving, someone commented that he was a bit grumpy because he was missing a football game on the television. Seán and I slipped away from the group and I set him up with television, bottle of whiskey and glass and I believe no visitor has ever enjoyed our garden so much.

Some of the plants from Anna’s garden photographed in September, 2002:


And rain never deterred the enthusiastic gardener.
And rain never deterred the enthusiastic gardener.

Paddy Tobin

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