The say you should never meet your heroes as you will be disappointed so with this in mind I headed off today ( July 29th ) with Snezana to hear Robin Lane Fox talk about gardening , as part of the Carlow Garden Trail at Hardimount Garden in Tullow .
Robin Lane Fox is an Oxford Professor of Ancient History and a world authority on Alexander the Great and his books , Alexander the Great in 1973 and The Search for Alexander in 1979 are among the best , he has also written The Greek Classical World , Pagans and Christians ….. and as if this was not enough he is Master of Gardens at New College , Oxford and has written the classic book on gardening … Better Gardening , which has been my go to book on gardening since first published in 1985 and last but not least he writes a weekly gardening column in the Financial Times !!
Robin was also the historical advisor on the Oliver Stone Film , Alexander , starring our own Colin Farrell with Angelina Jolie and even got to take part in the movie as an extra riding in the film enactment of the final Macedonian cavalry charge at Guagamala against the Persians dressed in full Macedonian armour !
In person he was an electrifying speaker , full of mischief and poking fun at the organic brigade and the non interventionist gardener who will not spray etc. who said he loves wild life … in other people’s gardens but runs off badgers , deer and other destructive type bambis from his own patch in the Cotswolds with whatever weapon is available and ignores all the conventional gardening rules such as mixing the proper colours in borders .
Robin Lane Fox stated that he follows just one rule ….. that gardening is the quest to create beauty .
We got to meet with him after the event and as Snezana’s family roots are from the birth place of Alexander in Macedonia and I had a few of his books along for him to sign , we had an interesting chat about Alexander and any interest in gardening he might have had time for after slaughtering half the then population of modern day Iran and Afghanistan !
Interesting quote from Robin which he in turn was told by Arthur Helleyer over forty years ago …. “ plants don’t eat ….. they drink ”
Speaking of garden heroes they never come in ones as the next day we headed to Dublin to see Helen Dillon’s famous garden in Ranelagh which I have been familiar with for the past twenty years through her books but until now have never visited and it did not disappoint .
Helen Dillon’s two books on gardening are ones I return to again and again as they are not only informative but hugely entertaining and if you haven’t got them go straight to Amazon and get “ The Garden Book ” and “ On Gardening ” which is a collection of her weekly articles for the Sunday Tribune .
My favourite garden writers are those who state their personal likes and dislikes and are not politically correct when it comes to gardening and are prepared to go against the trends and say things like that plant is a thug and this one is so tender it won’t survive outside of a hot house in Kew Gardens and my all time three favourite authors are Christopher Llyod , Robin Lane Fox and … Helen Dillon and I refer back to these time after time .
I had read many times about the controversy when in 2000 she ripped out her central lawn which was the focal point of the garden and replaced it with a water rill set in irish granite and indeed some people have never accepted it since …….. my first impression ? …… the most heart stopping first view of any garden I have ever visited , when first glimpsed through the window of her drawing room … a real WOW moment and I was immediately struck by it’s Islamic water garden atmosphere and it lends a tranquillity to the garden which revolves around it …… marvellous .
The Dillon garden is full of rare plants and she moves plants in pots and containers in and out of the garden on a weekly basis as they flower or are at their peak and I have never seen better agapanthus and cosmos and she cleverly adds to their height by growing them in tall tin rubbish bins to accentuate already massively high plants …… the secret of their height is almost daily feeding of foliar plant food although I suspect she has discovered a secret Viagra for plants !
I will certainly use the idea of growing cosmos in large bins for the garden here next spring starting in the autumn by planting up first with tulips for an April flowering then following on with a mixture of cosmos and cannas for Summer .
Legend has it that Helen Dillon can be tetchy and doesen’t mince words or suffer fools gladly if disturbed by visitors when busy in the garden ( which of us isen’t ?!) and that you take her as you find here …… my experience during our visit was of a committed individual who lives and breathes gardening and who after 40 years is still madly in love with this particular garden .
I had long admired the giant exotic foliage plant tetroplanax rex which I had seen only in photographs and suddenly I was looking at a magnificent one in Helen Dillon’s garden which she told me comes through the irish winter if given some protection and which self seeds for her ….. while I was admiring it she handed me a spade and said help yourself to a few … so now thanks to her generosity I am growing on a baby tetroplanax rex !!
While on the subject of garden legends … this week we had a visit here to the garden by Gerry Daly , the face of Irish gardening for the past 30 years through his television programmes , books and weekly newspaper and magazine articles ….. and if that was not enough work for anyone Gerry has been Editor of the Irish Garden magazine for the past 20 years !
Gerry approaches gardening through his agriculture and science background and there is nothing he doesen’t know about gardening so it was a pleasure to meet and speak with him during his visit .
He asked about the unusual name of the garden ( as a lot of people do ) and I thought I detected a hint of a smile …. as well he should as it was his magazine’s computer that picked out the name when we couldn’t agree on one and left the space empty … actually it was a smirk I detected ….. only for that computer it could have been O’Riordanski Garden !
Quote from Gerry Daly talking about the application of slug pellets to protect hostas , dahlias etc. “ there is no evidence that birds eat dead slugs ” .
At this time of year late July / early August the crocosima is making a great show with its flowers in scarlet red depending on the variety you have planted … Lucifer is the best red but I am not fond of it as it grows too high , needs staking as it topples over too easily but I am probably not being fair to this variety as I grow it in an area that is in shade for part of the day which is probably why it grows leggy and I have seen it in other people’s gardens in full sun and it does really well but for me I prefer crocosima varieties which grow knee high at most which is why I prefer to grow the varieties George Davidson and Babylon and these thicken up nicely after a year or two into substantial clumps .
I grow crocosima mainly for its sword like green foliage and the flowers are just a bonus but this year I have to admit the flowers are magnificently eye catching as can be seen from this photo from the lower garden . Crosima is easy peasy to grow in most locations except water logged ground and every year increases in size …… every 3/ 4 years it keeps the clump healthy if you dig it up and divide into two or three smaller clumps .
Any plant such as the crocosima that is easy to grow should be embraced as firstly what the TV make over and instant gardening programmes never tell you is that not all plants will grow for you and sometimes it is not just a case of sticking it in the ground and hoping for the best !
Secondly there is no such thing as green fingers as in Oh he /she has green fingers … gardening is not easy and to be successful requires quite a bit of knowledge … right plant right place … soil /sun / shade / dry / wet are all factors you need to know about and this type of detail is not acquired overnight and you need to work at it either through reading books and articles or picking the brains of an experienced gardener ….. and hopefully along the way you will get to love it and it is at this stage you will realise that you will never know it all but that it is a life long learning curve .
That is not to say that beginning in gardening is an impossible task or is the property of elitist gardening groups ( more of them around than you might think !) but it is not as easy as those gardening make over TV programmes would have you believe … you will make a hames (i.e. a mess for those of you not Irish !) of your first efforts of planting out a border , you will put plants in the wrong place , shady loving plants in full sun and vice versa , dry loving plants in wet boggy areas …. I still do all those expensive mistakes …. but it does get better and you will come out the other side ….. A GARDENER !
Of course if you are rich enough to have a permanent staff of gardeners like in Victorian times then of course gardening is easy when you just pass on your requests as I imagine in these times Prince Charles with his 20/30 full time gardeners does at Highgrove on his irregular visits … I want 800 Empress Wu hostas over there and 300 late flowering chinese rhododendrons there…. but but your Highness … chop chop theres a good chap just make it happen.. something like Snezana says here at Petrovska Towers …… !
Here in the garden in early August growth is at its best and it won’t get any better for the rest of the year so now is the time to sit back and enjoy the lushness !
In previous blogs I have discussed the construction of two new beds in the lower field which I begun last October and the problems I had with the planting over the wet winter where I lost a lot of plants through not knowing the type of ground I was planting in to or just how wet it would become ….. well the planting is now thickening up nicely and the beds are beginning to take shape so I started on phase two of the design last week which was to build three separate pergolas along the length of the new grass walk between the beds .
It has taken a year for the planned grass walkway flanked by two long perennial and shrub borders to take shape and the pergolas was the final touch and I am delighted with the finished result as it adds the structure I wanted in the final design when they are covered in climbing plants …….. Peter Cullen of Longfield Landscapes built the pergolas and did his usual high quality work as can be seen from the photos .
I went for a safe mixture of climbers as the site can be a bit exposed in the winter and perhaps later down the line when there is good growth in the borders to provide more shelter I will think about adding a more exotic climber such as solanum ,the chilean potato and some kiwi and clematis , all of which are doing very well on the pergola in the front garden which is well sheltered .
I planted climbing roses ( one each of New Dawn , Alfred De Carriere and Bell’s Whiskey ) on each pergola plus Virginia creeper , honey suckle for scent plus a wisteria to provide both leaf colour and blooms throughout the summer . I planted climbing roses rather than ramblers which would be more vigorous but the rambling varieties only flower once while the true climbers flush throughout the summer and are easier to prune and control .
Now that the new borders have been formally edged and the hard landscaping installed with the new pergolas I have been adding some dark and blue colour shrubs for contrast and the black elder ,sambucus nigra , is thickening up nicely and so far has proved deer and rabbit free so perhaps my bugger off patented pellets are working !