Irish Garden Odyssey: Hunting Brook Gardens
Jimi Blake is one of those passionate plants people whose enthusiasm is infectious. You can’t help but smile as he almost bounces along telling you about his unusual ferns or his new fascination with bergenias. Hunting Brook was the reason I booked myself on the trip last week. I had seen it in magazines and followed Jimi on Facebook for the last year. The vibrant colours and his ‘ignore the rule book’ approach fascinated me, just as Christopher Lloyd had some years back.
The garden is not far from his sister’s garden; they are both situated on the former family farm. Unlike June, Jimi has been gardening from an early age, helping his mother in the garden as a small boy and again there were faint overtures of Lloyd’s childhood.
You approach the property up a long curving driveway with sloping borders on either side. These are richly and densely planted and are full of interesting plants. This year Jimi is particularly fascinated with the vibrant colours he saw on his winter trip to Bali and is trying to replicate them in the garden.
To the front of the house the predominant plants are the Aralia echinocaulis, which Jimi had collected in the wild and which I have already shown you in his sister’s garden. These have recently had their branches thinned to bring in more light and I think Jimi said they were 12 years old. They are indeed very striking and I like the way they add height and structure whilst allowing you to see through them. The geraniums on the bank are Geranium psilostemon ‘Mt.Venus’ from the nursery of the same name, also outside Dublin, which we visited later in the week. I enjoyed the exuberance of the geraniums but some of our party found it too much of the same and I can see looking back through my photographs that there were a lot, maybe some oranges or a dark purple amongst the pink would lift it and add some zing.
I particularly liked the planting at the top of the driveway with the various red, rusts and oranges. Again, like at June’s, grasses are used extensively in this garden and I found myself beginning to rethink their use in my own garden. There were also a lot of lupins which I found challenging as I went off lupins some years ago due to their messy way of dying and the amount of space they take up when out of flower but I am wondering whether I might revisit them, particularly if I can source some orangey and red ones.
This is the view from the far side of the garden looking back at the house and you can see the wealth of texture from foliage throughout the garden and again the Aralias. I have to admit that I didn’t take as many photographs as I thought I had at this garden, I think I was so preoccupied listening to Jimi and taking it all in. We also spent some time having a lovely lunch, courtesy of Jimi, in the garden.
After lunch we headed off for a tour of the woodland and meadow. The path was quite steep, you can see from the photograph above how much it sloped if you look at the height of the heads behind the ferns. Jimi led us down one side of the valley and up the other side showing us his collection of woodland plants, and in particular ferns, on the way.
Here is our motley crew around the ‘party table’ at the bottom of the valley – the photo is courtesy of Jimi Blake.
I got the impression that the woodland is his real passion at the moment and he is looking to start removing some of the trees to bring in more light but also because some of them are in danger of coming down of their own accord and damaging the planting. There is a stream which runs through the bottom of the valley which you cross over a small bridge before starting the climb up the other side. From here you emerge into a sun filled meadow where orchids are starting to grow.
The meadow is very managed with Jimi and his helpers spending one day a year adding perennials in the form of plug plants. Looking out across the rolling Irish countryside, listening to the insects buzzing and watching the butterflies flit amongst the ox-eyed daisies was very special.
Returning to the garden I was particularly drawn to the bed above which I found intriguing. You can just about make out the allium seed heads throughout the border and these will be followed by cannas and fennel; there were also astibles and grasses. I found I had a really mixed response to this space; initially it went against my natural need for order looking chaotic but the more I looked at it the more I felt drawn to it. There is a sort of tapestry feel to it with all the plants merging together but again, like the geraniums, I wonder if when the fennel flowers there will be too much lime green.
But this is what is so interesting about the way Jimi Blake approaches his garden. He loves to experiment not only with trying new plants but how to combine them. His garden is his play ground and I think that it a wonderful approach to have.