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. I 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.
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.
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.