Irish Garden Odyssey: June Blake


I have just returned from a week visiting gardens around Dublin and Cork with a group of 22 led by Noel Kingsbury.  I was apprehensive at first as I went not knowing anyone but our small multinational group was incredibly friendly and fun and I would love to do another trip.  The main driver for booking the trip was to visit the gardens of June and her brother Jimi Blake and also Helen Dillon June’s garden was the first garden of the tour and with the sun shining we were off to a good start.  The beauty of this trip is that each owner/gardener introduced us to their garden and was available to answer questions or indeed take us on a tour.


In June’s case she was very particular that she showed us around before we were allowed to wander at leisure.  The garden is carved out of  sloping field by the house and June is very keen on the relationship between the garden and the house with the lines of the raised borders relating to the lines of the house, its brickwork and its associated out buildings.  The main garden area is made up of 9 raised beds each with its own loose theme. IMG_0811I rather liked the bed nearest the house, I think due to the vibrant colours, something which appears to be lacking in my own garden at the moment.  I liked the contrast of the achillea with, I think, the purple salvia or it may be veronicastrum.  Not only do the colours contrast but also the spires contrast with the flat heads of the achillea.  Through the border are actea simplex whose foliage adds some depth to the planting.


However, I really didn’t like this border at all.  The poppies had come up unexpectedly and June had decided to leave them but I found them too dense in their planting, giving something of a stationary feel to the border which for me jarred with other planting in the garden especially the stipas.  I also find the bare stems distracting.


From the central path you are led up to the slope above.  As you can see the border nearest the wilder slope has a significant amount of grasses planted in it, stipa tenuissima featured heavily, and this provided a blurred move from the formal garden to the wilder area.  You can also see a few of my fellow travellers who will no doubt appear on a regular basis in this and future posts.  On the slope is Thekla, who gardens in Germany and Italy.  Then we have Noel and Vasily and his wife, Nadezhda, from Russia, and in the hat Ines from Argentina. Both Ines and Nadezhda are garden designers.


June leads you up to this point at the perimeter of the garden so you can see how the formal planting fits into the whole scheme.  The trees in the borders are Aralia echinocaulis, collected by June’s plant hunting brother Jimi Blake. The Aralia reminded me of data palms which added to the feeling that the formal area of the garden was an oasis of colour nestling at the foot of the slope.

The sleepers added  structure  and a sense of purpose to the wide path and I particularly liked the way they curved at the ends.  June had acquired the sleepers with the curve and had used them in this way to discourage visitors from walking in the long grass.



You descend down the slope to see the far end of the borders and also a formal pool (just in the lower left corner). It was clear that the pool is meant to be a surprise to the visitor and it was interesting that June had given a lot of thought to have the garden was viewed by the visitor particularly from outside of the formal area. This was an approach we encountered a couple of times during our trip.


The border you can see to the left of the photo above was my favourite.  There was more substance to the planting with interesting contrasting foliage.  We also liked the way the lower foliage had been stripped from the bamboo stems allowing a view through the plant to planting beyond.

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Here is the pool I mentioned above and I can now introduce you to Ginette, a garden designer from Montreal in Canada – adding French to the many languages being spoken.  Personally I struggled to engage with the pool; for me it doesn’t sit well in the space but I have felt the same with other similar pools in gardens so maybe its just a landscape style that doesn’t appeal to me at all. I suspect the idea is to provide an area of calm in contrast to the floriferous borders.  The ‘tree’ on the slope at the end of the pool is a dead elm which has been planted upside down to create a sculpture accent.

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You can see from the photographs above how densely planted the borders are and this was a common theme throughout the gardens we visited.  Of course these are gardens of real enthusiasts who put in significant time in their gardens often with little help.  In June’s case there were a couple of helpers who attend maybe one day a week with June doing the majority of the work.

From June’s garden I started to think about the denseness of planting – good and bad, and how grasses can add a sense of movement and softness to the border. I also liked the vibrancy of the colour palette and I want to look at improving this in my garden.

With the arrival of the next group of visitors we bordered our coach and headed off to Jimi Blakes’ up the garden for lunch and a tour of his garden – a post will follow soon.





20 Comments on “Irish Garden Odyssey: June Blake

  1. That sounds like a wonderful trip, fabulous pictures thank you for sharing looking forward to more

    • hi Ann
      It was a great trip, I think the mix of people on it added to the fun

  2. Thanks for taking us along with you. What a unique experience to travel with an expert like Noel and an international group. Hope you will talk a little more about this. Really looking forward to these posts as Helen Dillon’s garden is the only one I am familiar with (from her books etc.). I am adding more summer color to my flower garden at the moment and trying to decide how densely to plant. I go back and forth with wanting breathing space around the plants. So this garden really has me thinking.

  3. What a wonderful time you must have had, a magnificent opportunity! I do really love the path with the curved railroad ties (what I grew up hearing them called). Looking forward to more posts from the trip!

    • Hi Loree
      Not many spiky plants were seen I’m afraid. It was a fab trip though and I hope to do more in the future, possibly Germany next

    • Hi Karen
      It was a special garden although not my favourite on the trip

  4. It must have been an inspirational trip Helen and I imagine that you must have returned with your head buzzing with all sorts of ideas and a full notebook. The colour combination in the top photo is most striking. The same question struck me – salvia or veronicastrum? As you suggest the various shapes enhance the whole effect. Did June say who if anybody had influenced her style of planting? I’m looking forward to hearing about the rest of your trip.

    • Hi Anna
      No June didn’t say but she has a background as a jewellery designer and then trained in horticulture. She has done some design work but I got the impression she doesn’t do that much now.

  5. It seems like a lovely garden, at least in most parts (depending on your taste in gardens!). Certainly full of ideas!

    I thought of you when we were rambling around the gardens and grounds at Powis Castle at the weekend.

  6. Hi Helen – Thank’s so much for sharing your meandering around Ireland – great grandparents on Mum’s side Irish – so as a NZer sure to have Irish blood in me. Would love to go of course but probably have to be grateful for lovely trips like yours to drool over! Looking forward to the next installment!

  7. Oh what a great trip this must have been – I look forward to hearing about Helen Dillon’s garden which I have read about over the years but it was intriguing to see this one too as I don’t know June Blake or her brother. As much as I like the idea of having a bigger garden I am not sure whether I could successfully come up with a cohesive scheme so I shall have to be satisfied with the space I have got (but perhaps that is why people go off and ‘learn’ garden design…)

  8. Lovely trip. I like the first border and the picture of the house. The pool is nice but too formal for that garden.

  9. That garden is beautiful! I love how it looks so wild and yet it all comes together in a fantastic display of colour 😉

  10. What a lovely trip. (I’m with you on the poppies and the pool.)

  11. What a wonderful trip. I would love to have seen this garden and Helen Dillon’ s. Thank you for a great post which gives such a good idea of the garden. I look forward to the next one.

  12. I Visited this garden (and Jim and Helen’s) a few years ago. I agree with you about the pool – it doesn’t merge with the garden at all and just sits off to the side. I think the blue would be a salvia – veronicastrums are much taller and don’t come in blue!

  13. I’ve read these posts the wrong way round..
    The third photo here is stunning.. I’m thinking of my bank again. What I struggle with is trying to get that intensity and range of colour in the peak of the season and yet still have something of interest the rest of the year. As the bank is right beside the house I don’t want to have to be looking at bare soil (mud!) all winter. I think I will be juggling with this conflict forever. Unless Noel has the answer!

  14. So much colour, and with all that sun, it’s hard to believe it’s Ireland.I know what you mean about these types of pools. I know they are designed to make you stop/be calm, but I tend to find it too contrived and prefer to sit amongst the flowers and grasses, which is what I find calm. Interesting read and some great photographs.

Please feel free to leave comments as its always lovely to get feedback. I try to respond to comments as much as possible but sometimes life and work get in the way but I will do my best to respond especially if your comment is a question.

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