Since beginning this garden twenty years ago we have had to live with the fact that our area is deer country with a capital D .
They are everywhere , coming down from the hilly terrain where there is plenty of open fields with cover for them to sleep up in during the day . At first of course we thought it was quaint and absolutely lovely to look out the window and see lots of bambi looking in at us but as soon as we started planting trees and shrubs the deer quickly became a pest as they ate their way through a lot of what we planted . Over the years we have lost thousands of euros to the deer who rip out branches , break young trees in half and eat all soft plants such as hostas and it is heart breaking to come out as I did last month to see three pots of hostas eaten to the ground .
We have had hunters in several times who would stake out the land and shoot deer throughout the season but each time we couldn’t go through with it as we agreed this has been THEIR territory for thousands of years and we are the intruders so learn to live with it .
And learn to live with deer we have , locking the front gate each night , installing light sensors around the house and keeping hostas and any maple planting in the front garden and our presence and the lights at night generally keep them away from the immediate front and back gardens . Also we have learned painfully what trees and shrubs the deer go after and generally what they leave alone such as silver birch , oak , mountain ash but anything exotic like maple or parrotia trees are catnip to deer . I say “ generally ” but they sometimes break these rules and I have found newly planted silver birch ravaged and the odd chunk of oak or ash ripped out .
My pride and joy always in May are four large pots of hosta June on the walk way beside the house and last month Snezana looked out from the balcony where directly below there were four young deer up on their hind legs eating the hostas to the base … now it was personal and for a few days after I was determined to bring in the hunters but of course the gene telling me this is THEIR land kicked in and interestingly there have been no deer in the front garden since and let’s hope they have realised that these four rogue deer had crossed a line … some hope as they probably realised there were no hostas left in that area !
It made me realise though that this garden can never be the best it can be , can never be the garden it could be nor reach the potential I had in mind for it as it’s variety and palette of trees , shrubs , perennials , would be hugely different if we didn’t live in deer country . The Lower Field in particular would have lots of japanese maples , parrotia trees , snake bark maples , huge beds of hostas and we would be able to plant with confidence that the tree or shrub would be there the following morning .
Colour in the garden in June
And we have the gunnera !
This week I gave in to that eternal optimism that grips all gardeners and bought a plant I know from experience will not do well even though it is a bog garden perennial that needs dampness and the conditions here suit it . I bought a ligularia dentata one of many such purchase over the year of this particular plant and which never performs as it says on the tin i.e. grows prolifically in wet ground with purple leaves and yellow flowers … I of course forgot that snails love ligularia and having done as I always do with new plants , immerse them in water overnight before planting and the buggers did not even wait until I had planted it as next morning the snails had eaten it totally … some plants need such minding that they are not worth the trouble and while I will take great care of hostas I draw the line at ligularia which is not a real stunner anyway but would be useful in my new waterside planting in the Lower Wood .
Last month I wrote about so called “weeds” in the garden , about not bowing to convention and if you like the shape and structure of a weed then go for it .
Contrast the cossetting that some commercial plants need to your weeds that will pick a spot to pop up in and hang on for dear life regardless and such is the case with the big leafed hogsweed in the photo below which grows every year in this spot beside a hosta Elegans and which has equally good architectural type leaves which to my mind competes favourably with it’s more posh neighbour !
Visitors to the Garden in June
My local garden centre is the Clonmel Garden Centre where the staff are incredibly helpful and knowledgeable so it was a pleasure to welcome a group of the staff for a visit a week ago .
Trip to the Aran Islands June 2021
In June with a good weather forecast we took a three day walking trip to the Aran Islands … to Inismore , the largest and most interesting of the islands which is 30 miles off the Galway coast and a ninety minute ferry trip from Doolin in Co. Clare . There is no car ferry to the Islands so transport around is by foot or bicycle , it is a unique landscape of stone and next stop is America ! It goes without saying that you need good weather as the Atlantic winds and driving rain are pretty constant all year round and luckily we caught a break for our three days .
Hardly anybody farms on Inismore these days and the fields which were once cleared by hand in the old days with blood sweat and tears are now empty , the big industry is from tourism with the famous Aran sweater the best seller although hand knits are now scarce as machine knit has taken over as young “wans ” these days are too busy with their social media to learn or have the patience to knit.
I was given the name of a little shop in Kilmurvey where one might source a hand knit and as we walked in the lady was knitting away and Snezana walked out happy with a beautiful aran sweater just finished a few days previously .
The Aran island experience is the best of Ireland and remains unchanged through the thirty years since my last trip in 1992 when I cycled around Inismore and then as now the main tourist site is Dun Aengus Fort which dates from 1100 BC . Dun Aengus takes your breath away sitting on the highest point on Inismore from where it dominates the whole area for miles around , without doubt a royal residence and built right out to the edge of 500 feet cliffs it is awesome .
I always use my own photos however this drone photo of Dun Aengus I had to borrow as it shows the site of the three thousand year old fort right on the edge of Europe .
I would defy anyone leaving the site not to feel uplifted by the experience and I rate Dun Aengus and Skellig Michael as the two truly iconic world class sites we have in Ireland . The Irish Board of Works have done a terrific job at both sites , conservation is ongoing each winter and supervision is discreet and light , no don’t walk on the grass notices and no modern PC messages on health and safety and you need to have a healthy respect for the danger at both Dun Aengus and especially at Skellig Michael as no one will cocoon you if you step off the path of 1000 steps leading upwards on an almost vertical climb !
I have always regretted from my last visit to Inismore thirty years ago that I didn’t lie on the edge of the cliffs at Dun Aengus and look down at the waves , next stop America … did it this time but the resulting photo was not as heroic as I imagined it should have been and I blame the photographer for not conveying the sense of terror I felt when looking down !
No trees on Inismore as you can imagine with the Atlantic gales they get coupled with the complete lack of any depth of top soil over the fields of stone but plenty of stone walls and I only saw one garden which was half way decent , no beds of perennials or tender japanese maples on the Aran Islands and the only trees I saw were a few scraggy sycamores .
The Aran Islands are remote now but one hundred years ago in December 1920 they were even more remote however that did not spare them from the Black & Tan atrocities when a British naval boat put a platoon of them on the island to search for IRA volunteers … this poor man , Laurence McDonagh, was shot dead as he tried to escape on foot across the fields.
Dun Aengus is world famous and the place everyone heads to on Inismore and rightly so but there are two other stone forts on the island which are also impressive in their own right and which I had not been to on my last visit , Dun Duchathair, known as the Black Fort and Dun Eochla … and we walked to both of them on this trip .
Every local I spoke to described the Black Fort as their own favourite because it is hardly ever visited and you have the place to yourself and again it sits right on the edge of huge cliffs where for some reason you hear the thump thump of the waves long before you arrive at the cliff’s edge , a lonely place but unforgettable .
Dun Eochla is not on the sea but inland a few miles on the highest part of the island , a thousand years younger than the other two forts , built in 600 AD . Our guest house owner has land up there and told me to take the “ rock road ” to Dun Eochla … we walked 10K on yes a “ rock road ” , the road less travelled to borrow a phrase , where we met no one not even a solitary sheep on a route that took us through the heart of the stone fields of Inismore and was the most unusual track I have ever been on and a reminder of what most of Ireland looked like in medieval times .
I know now that a visit to Dun Aengus alone is not enough you also should experience the Black Fort and Dun Eochla and not wait thirty years like I did since my first visit to the Aran Islands .
I came across a diary from twenty years ago detailing our beginnings in the garden in 2001and it brought me right back to the joy and excitement of planning a new garden and looking back to twenty years ago … the naievity and hopeless expectation !
The new garden is far bigger than my old garden in Rosslare and comprises about seven and a half acres with a front lawn and the back untouched . Over the winter I laid out a plan of the initial ideas and started work during our trip back in early May 2001 .
The first idea was to cut a shape into the front lawns and get away from the stereotype grass , cut out patterns and plant the back bone or spine of the new garden which would be growing away hopefully while we are still abroad and then dig out the beds at a later stage as beds can be difficult to maintain weed free and demand constant attention . The second idea was to deal with the wet conditions in the lower garden area by not fighting against nature and instead capitalise on the wet conditions by creating large water ponds and planting with wet loving plants such as gunnera, willows and cornus for winter colour — my plan is to fill these areas with large group mass plantings of different colour willows and dogwoods in white, red and then increase the stock by planting the cuttings taken every year when these plants are cut back hard to promote new growth .
To this end I got a Drainage Contractor in to look at the land on our last evening in May 2001 who will at the end of June ,when the ground is firmer , scoop out the well that was covered over by the previous owner and make it into a small pool , next he will widen , deepen the existing pool at the end of the area , clean and deepen the two streams so that I can make a feature of them i.e. put in a small bridge etc. – they will then install drainage pipes at intervals to drain out the top field and in September will rotovate and replant this field with grass – I next have to think of how to keep this grass cut and one idea until we are living at home permanently is to put some sheep on the land .
I got our first order at the Clonmel Garden Centre where I bought some beautifull trees — weeping beech , weeping birch , weeping copper beech etc. It was a great feeling to be back in a garden centre and to see all my old favourites and indeed some plants that I would not have a hope of growing successfully in the awful soil I had in Rosslare while here I have the added bonus also of plenty of space to let the tree / shrub grow without being cramped into a small border – space is the last problem in this garden and I won’t be able to fill it if I live to be 100 which I sincerely hope I will anyway ! .
Hone for Christmas from Bosnia and an ambitious planting programme which made the holiday period almost frantic with work . I had ordered 300 various couloured willows from Clonmel Garden Centre in November to be supplied as bare root specimens and collected them on 23/12/01 – I had underestimated what time these would take to plant and I had to work 4/5 hours most days starting just after day light each day approx. 8 am .
I planted the various bark colours in batches of 5 , 7, 14 all across the rear garden in the wet areas and by the lower pond , then after planting I pruned them right down and planted up the slips which hopefully will take although not the best time for slips as they need the warmish soil of early Autumn to take root but still there is hope that at least some will “ strike ” .
The immediate back garden design is shaping up well , over 200 tons of top soil and about 5000 euros worth of blocks have built up a nice area which hopefully will be ready for final design and planting in 2003 but already it looks great and brings the garden close to the rear of the house .
The builder has finished the back raised area which is now level and will take a lot of design and planting and I am leaving it for this year and just cutting the grass on it as I am still unsure of its eventual design – I quite like the idea of a rectangular formal garden with surrounding beds and perhaps the overall shape like a Russian doll i.e. each inside shape mimicking the next largest and ending in a small rectangular stone edged pool in the centre on the scale with the outside dimension or I could go for a less formal shape with kidney shaped lawn edged with large expanse of growth but the lead in is dodgy and needs to be carefully thought out as the garden cannot cut off the view down to the lower treeline but ideally should complement it and lead the eye through to it not just stop it dead – again the same problem in looking into it from the rear of the house as I feel the best solution at that front side might be to carpet it in winter flowering heathers with height provided by silver birch . The problem is I am not long enough at home to get “ inside” the garden’s soul and think out what will improve it as I am anxious to preserve the naturalness of it and not over design it and unless a design actually shouts out then I need to think it out very well.
And in June 2019
What do they say about little acorns and tall oak trees ?!