Irish Garden Odyssey: The Bay Garden

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As with any tour of this type towards the end we found ourselves discussing which garden we had liked best.  I think for all of us it was hard to identify one garden that stood out above the others but different gardens had different elements that appealed to us.  For me the stand out planting was The Barn Garden at The Bay Garden in Co. Wexford.

The Bay Garden belongs to Iain and Frances MacDonald.  They are both qualified horticulturists and met whilst working at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.  These days Frances is the Garden Tours Manager for Travel Department, the company that organised our top, and Iain also leads tours as well as giving talks and designing and landscaping private gardens.

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The majority of the garden is laid out in large mixed borders with themed areas.  As you can see from the photograph above the MacDonalds are very good at combining plants. The quality of the plants and the standard of the upkeep of the garden show the MacDonalds’ passion and horticultural background.  However, walking through a gap in a hedge you enter the Barn Garden and I have to say my heart really sang at this point.

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The garden is surrounded by hedges on three sides with the fourth looking out towards the surrounding fields.  The path serpentine through the space allowing you to feel completely surrounded in the grasses which, given it was  a windy day, positively billowed backwards and forwards.

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You can see the extent of the movement in the photograph above.  It was one of those days where the air seems still and then there is a sudden period of gusty window; all adding to the atmosphere of the space.

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What I found particularly fascinating was the combination of plants in the garden.  My enthusiasm for adding grasses to my garden has come and gone.  I have  seen many a poor grass border or garden where the focus is purely on the grasses with little to lift them.  I also don’t like borders which are huge blocks of one grass as I find them quite dense and dull.  So to see a range of grasses mixed with an interesting range of perennials was great. IMG_1413

I think this photograph, albeit slightly out of focus, shows the MacDonald’s skill with combining plants.  You can see that the magenta flower centres of the verbascum picks up on the magenta sanguisorba buttons behind.  It allows the planting to have a more cohesive feel.

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As with the other gardens I enjoyed during my time in Ireland the garden was planted densely.  Of course this is something that takes time to achieve and I forgot to find out how long ago the garden had been planted.  I think it had been in for a couple of years as I remember Frances saying they had to wait for it to bulk up and that last year the amount of rain and warmer temperatures had led to the grasses being so tall that you were dwarfed by them.

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Look how the dark burgundy of the scabious picks up on the helenium flower centres and then on the grass behind which I think might be Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’. The finer small grass in the foreground, unknown, blurs the divisions between the different plants. And who knew Lychnis could looks so lovely with grasses.

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Persicaria was also a key plant in the garden and I think the broader leaves add a good contrast to the grass as well as adding some green substance to the planting.

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I also like the way the colours pick up on the rusty roof behind the hedge; a very simple effect but it really ties the garden to its space.

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I loved this garden and it re-ignited my view that I should use grasses in my front garden.  It’s interesting how they work against the hedge which I think is beech. My front garden is bordered by a beech hedge and a laurel hedge.  The beech would work well especially as the grasses fade against the rusty autumn beech leaves but as for the laurel hedge – well I think if I am going to take this approach it will have to go.  The thinking hat is well and truly on.

My Garden This Weekend – 26/7/15

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I haven’t posted about my garden for  a few weeks due to my travels but despite the rain over the last few days I have managed to spend a few hours outside, weeding and tidying.  It is always amazing how much the weeds grow when you turn your back for a week. In my absence the Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’ has flowered; flowers which are welcome in the shady woodland area.  This plant is especially popular with my cat as I have discovered that she likes to sleep under its leaves on a sunny day.

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Another surprise was the discovering that the Cautleya spicata robusta is flowering as is the Abutilon ‘Kentish Belle’ behind it.  I did plan this combination so I am pleased that it is working well. The Melianthus major does seem to be swamping the Cautleya and I would have previously thought about moving one of them. However having seen Hester Forde and Carmel Duigan’s gardens in Ireland last week I have realised that I can plant more densely, although of course it will mean more management.

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I decided last week that I need to add more grasses to my garden, particularly after visiting The Bay Garden. I have used grasses before but I think now I understand better how they can lift a planting, adding movement, and light.  I have started with adding a Stipa tenuissima to the edge of the Big Border so it softens the edge of the border alongside the steps.  Here it catches the late afternoon light and yesterday looked magical, although today it looks rather sodden.  Also in this border I have added a Chocolate Cosmos whose flowers I am hoping will bob around amongst the Stipa, and a Campanula lactiflora.  The Campanula is only a couple of feet tall as the nursery woman I bought it from had been experimenting with doing the Chelsea Chop on Campanulas to see how they responded.  It seems a good idea as the plant is flowering well and isn’t flopping everywhere or in need of staking.  I will have to remember to do the same thing next year.  I have pulled up most of the spent opium poppies and Ammi majus but I have left one ammi as I would like to collect the seed – hence the messy plant draped across the plants.

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I have also added a Anemabthele lessoniana to the corner of the Rowan Border.  I think the bronze tones pick up on the Digitalis ferruginea, and there is a bronzey flowered day lily here which has just finished flowering.  Yesterday I planted out some Oenothera ‘Sunset Boulevard’. The only problem is linking this combination with the purple phlox which I am loath to move as it does well in this position and is the start of a group of phloxes which have taken a while to establish.  However, I would also like to add a Rose ‘Hot Chocolate’ to this space and this may bridge the gap between the two groups.  It is a sumptuous red rose with a touch of bronze in it; I discovered it on the last day of my trip and it is definitely on the ‘get’ list – ‘get’ you note, not ‘want’!!

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Aside from rushing around planting plants ahead of the rain I have finally sorted out the path behind the former Bog Garden.  This path is a real problem in the winter and during wet periods at other times of the year.  There seems to be a spring which runs down the slope just by the bench causing the start of the path to be sodden.  The other problem is that this path is important during the winter as I try to avoid the grass path as it is very slippery.  The solution has been to buy some paving slabs which almost look like cut off logs and then I surrounded them with wood chip.  It looks so much neater and is far more practical now.

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I leave you with a new acquisition – Gladiolus flanaganii.  I couldn’t resist the flowers and it is meant to be hardy so we shall see; with my grass head on, I think it might look good with some Anemanthele lessoniana.

Oh and this is my 1500th blog post!!!!

 

Irish Garden Odyssey: June Blake

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

My Garden this Weekend – 12th July 2015

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Thankfully today and over night we have had a good deluge of rain, topping up the water butts.  Sadly, whilst it appears a lot of rain the actual total for the last 24 hours is only 1.6mm which will only really impact on the top inch of the soil but its something I suppose. My love of strong colours is slowly becoming more apparent in the garden, at the moment I am loving the heliotropiums that I have flowering in a pot.  They were planted with vibrant orange calibrachoa but the plants never did well producing one stem at a time whilst the other stems withered.  I wonder if I planted them out too early given the coolness of the spring and early summer.

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I am particularly pleased with the flowers on the Aloe striatula.  This is growing in the front garden under the window by the succulent trough and was a bit of an experiment.  It has come through the winter fine and I think I would like to add more although I know that I might lose them if we have a particularly hard winter.

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The species Petunia exserta have started to flower.  As with many species the flowers are much smaller than the hybrids that we are used to seeing.  I like the purpleness of the buds before the flowers open but I’m not really a fan of petunias so I will see how these do over the summer.  I’ve also planted out lobelia spicata and some agastache to fill the gaps where the early perennials have been cut back so hopefully there will be a second burst of colour.

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I’m also enjoying this flower whose label has disappeared.  Its small plant and I know the seeds were from the Alpine Garden Society but that’s as far as it goes, but it is a lovely colour.

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A new bench has also appeared by the shed.  Hewn by hand from a tree by my eldest during his week on a Ray Mears Woodsman course this week.  Its made from Sweet Chestnut which they felled with axe and hand-made saws. It is extra special to my son as the great man sat on the bench with him the other evening when he dropped into the course.  I asked if he had asked Mr Mears to sign it but my son scoffed at this suggestion, although I suspect he wishes he had thought of this.

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I haven’t shown you the patio border since it was full of snowdrops in early spring.  This time of year is it’s next prime moment of interest with the Kirengshoma being the star of the show.  I am not one to boost but I have to say that to date I haven’t encountered a Kirengshoma better than my specimen, of which I am every proud.  In this combination I like the link between the hosta flowers and the actea behind.  I am hoping that the actea may flower this year.  It has been blind for a few years now and I’m not quite sure why.  In the spring I moved it slightly sideways so it wasn’t competing with Kirengshoma so much and hopefully this will help.

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The other end of the border is beginning to fill out and continues the green/yellow/purple theme.  I don’t think I will plant the two peony plants you can see in the border as they will quickly out grow the space. Whilst I like the bright colours I also really enjoy the textures of foliage and this seems to interest me more and more.

I’m off to visit gardens on the east coast of Ireland tomorrow so who knows what inspiration I will gain over the coming week.

 

 

 

Stocktonbury – A Campanula Cacophony

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I haven’t been to Stockton Bury for a month and the borders seem to have exploded with campanulas. For the first time I took my mother to the garden. She has been having a rough time with sciatica so I thought a trip out to a garden and some cake was just the thing.  I don’t think I have been to Stockton Bury at this time of year before, I certainly don’t remember seeing the mass of campanulas before.

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We particularly liked the way they were used in contrast with bright coloured flowers – I think contrasting colours work so well. Pastels and subtle colour combinations are all very nice but there is nothing like the zingyness of bright yellow against the cooling blue.

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Or the blue of the campanulas against this Lychnis chalcedonica.

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but I especially like the blues against the chartreuse green of the euphorbia and the emerging flowers of the soldiago.

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But it’s not all campanulas.  Mum really fell for the eringiums, especially eringium alpinum superbum which were smothered in bees. IMG_0744A seemingly bland statement but my mother has always been a gardener who likes neat and short plants, never anything tall or leggy so the fact that she was smitten by the eringiums is quite fascinating.  In fact since Dad died her approach to the garden has completely changed.  She has a small garden which was predominately shrubs with some small perennials but over this year some of the shrubs have been removed and the whole garden is starting to feel more cottagey and is suddenly quite feminine.  I find it fascinating as Dad was never really that bothered by the garden although he did the lawn and pruned the shrubs but I was never aware of him really influencing the planting.  She is really getting a sense of enjoyment and achievement from the garden and every time I visit there are new plans, plants to move and replace  and she is thrilled with learning about new plants – not bad for a 76 year old.

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What about this for an electric combination? I really like it and must make a note to try it next year although I have never done very well with Monardas in the past but its worth a go.

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This is one plant I will never convince Mum to consider growing as she thinks they are really creepy!! I, on the other hand, love them.

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I leave you with one of the many paths at Stockton Bury which lead you in gentle curves around the garden.

Mum loved the garden and how she was constantly surprised going round a corner to come across another bank of flowers.  The outing was a complete success, including the delicious coffee and walnut cake, so much so that she picked up a leaflet with a map on it so she could find her way back with her friend.