Where did the year go , already the end of August but it is a great month in the garden with growth at it’s height if slightly past it’s best and autumn still to look forward to !
I keep coming back to roses which I have said I don’t grow apart from the semi wild rosa rugosa but looking at the photo of Mary O’Donovan from the July piece which mentioned her passing and featured one of her favourite photos that I took in her garden Fairy Hill a few years ago and which I had taken in front of a faourite rose of hers , rosa rubrifolia and I remember it was also a favourite of mine from thirty years ago , a blue leaf with delicate mauve flowers which were just fleeting and the best part of rubrifolia is it is a graceful foliage plant without thorns . Mine have died out since and it is difficult to get it now in garden centres as it has fallen out of fashion and you rarely see it for sale and is one I must look out for next time I am in a specialist garden centre such as Johnsons in Naas who when I went there a few days ago told me they won’t have a limited supply back in stock until next Fbruary
I have been gardening for over forty years starting at a time when there were little or no gardening programmes on TV and certainly no internet , a time when you learned about gardening mainly from gardening books and in the 1970’s and 80’s my two gardening writers to collect and read were Christopher Llyod and Robin Lane Fox . I never managed to visit and meet Christopher Llyod at his famous garden in Great Dixter in East Sussex but his books were a constant inspiration particularly the Well Tempered Garden and it is a constant regret that when on a cycling tour around Southern England , Kent and Sussex in 1981 I visited Sissinghurst but didn’t make it the extra 40 miles or so on to Great Dixter deciding instead to visit the garden of Winston Churchill at Chartwell and that of Rudyard Kipling at Batemans in Surrey, I was heading to London and my thinking was that I would make it back to Sussex within a few years but EU duties in the Balkans took me away for the best part of the next twenty years and Great Dixter is still on my to do list although Christopher Llyod is no longer with us .
I met Robin Lane Fox in 2015 at the Carlow Garden Festival and again I have all his books , they say never meet your heroes but Lane Fox didn’t disappoint and last week I got to meet my last gardening writer legend when we attended a lecture by Dan Pearson at Altamount Gardens . I have been a fan of Dan Pearson’s style of writing from his first book back in 1997 and his style is laid back , non confrontational unlike Christopher Llyod and he comes across in his writing and TV programmes such as a Year at Home Farm as very gentle individual who was ahead of his time in that he has been advocating a wild gardening approach away from the structured lines of typical perennial lovers for the past twenty years long before it became fashionable .
Dan Pearson won a gold medal and Best Show Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2015 and is now the most sought after garden designer in the world , revered in Japan where he is working on a millennium project of over 1000 acres which will take the next twenty years to complete .
I had brought over some of his books for him to sign and got to sit down with him one to one before his talk which centred on his gardening philosophy which is a natural wild approach and which has veered away from the traditional manicured perennial beds so loved by UK and Irish gardeners and of course he is now so in demand that he can pick projects that only suit his personal tastes in garden structure and design .
My list of gardening writers to follow is quite short , Christopher Llyod, Dan Pearson , Stephen Lacey , Monty Don with our own Helen Dillon and Jane Powers adding the female touch followed by Beth Chatto and Rachel de Thame … any article or book by these writers is worth reading as you will be both entertained and learn from them .
Our own patch of wild flower experiment after an initial flush is looking pretty woebegone and tattered bearing out all my misgivings about wild flower meadows looking just a mess most of the time and the new term for describing wild gardening is “ wilding ” , luckily for that reason our patch is sited away from the main pathways so it can die back more or less in private !
Also at the Carlow Garden Festival we attended a talk by Troy Scott Smith who has been Head Gardener at Sissinghurst for the past seven years . Sissinghurst is the most famous garden in England and is generally recognised as one of the most iconic gardens in the world so to be appointed Head Gardener there … well that is something and his lecture dealt with an ongoing project to restore a lot of the planting to what had been laid down originally by Vita Sackville West who with her husband , Harold Nicholson , created Sissinghurst in the 1930’s . Sissinghurst is one of the last English gardens created by the aristocratic class and as such there remains a huge fascination with both it and with Vita Sackville West . I have visited Sissinghurst and have never understood this fascination which I reckon is more to do with the aristocratic backgrounds and life style of Vita who was a great garden writer and who led a bohemian lifestyle , both of them did , but the fascination is always with Vita who had famous affairs with women from her aristocratic literary circle and of course this has always been attractive to the British public .
A garden should evolve and gardening today is much different to Vita’s day in the 1930’s and 40’s but Sissinghurst is now very much a business run by the National Trust with over half a million visitors a year who as Troy Scott Smith said all want to take home a souvenir from their visit be it a tea towel or a trowel and to keep the crowds coming you need a selling point so a back to Vita theme is now the vibe and following the theme all six Head Gardeners from Vita’s time to Scott Smith’s appointment have been female . I had a long chat with TSM before his lecture , a nice man who never lost his Yorkshire accent which must have jarred in the rarefied atmosphere of the home counties of Kent and Sussex !
I am a great believer in the right plant right place but sometimes the right place is just too right and the plant just zooms off into the stratosphere completely out of control and such was the case this month where I eventually had to tackle rampant iris in the pond and a hebe that grew and grew . With the iris , pseudocorus variegate , I managed to fish it all out of the front garden pond where it had outgrown it’s original aquatic pot as this pool is artificial and has a butyl rubber liner and dumped it all into the natural pool in the lower field where it will root directly into the soil and the water area is big enough to take it but with the hebe I have to cut it back dramatically and hope I don’t lose it , fingers crossed .
I have the same problem with another water plant … and it is always the water plants that once they like a spot go off like rockets however although the statoides or water soldiers as they are known do multiply they are never a real problem as they don’t have roots and can be fished out easily and in this case under the water feature they have edged the entire feature and framed it in a very pleasing unplanned effect which softens the limestone edges .
I always tell visitors to the garden who admire all the wild astilbe and iris’s that not one of these were planted and that like the meadow sweet and purple losestrife nature flooded them in when we exposed and opened up the pathways through the water areas and within two years had covered the entire area of the Lower Garden .
Ours is a wild garden but one which we try and keep just at the edge of wildness and this of course takes a huge amount of work and there is hardly a day when we don’t each put in a few hours work , weeding , cutting back , mowing grass but to us it is something we enjoy and is not a chore otherwise you couldn’t possibly maintain a garden this size and this wild … as Dolly Parton said about her hair “ to keep it looking this trashy takes a lot of work ” !!
And of course being in the garden in all weathers and at all times of the day you get to see a lot of the wild life which otherwise is quite elusive to see and just this morning I was taking two visitors around and in the Lower Wood a red hawk flew in and landed on a branch about twenty metres away and regarded us quite unafraid until it gracefully unfurled beautifu golden hued wings and flew slowly away towards it’s nest in an oak tree where a pair are raising a chick … they mate for life and have been around the garden for the past ten years and it is always a heart stopping moment to see them … I always call them golden hawks when actually they are golden kites and the young usually one chick are squawkingly loud demanding food all the time and you hear it constantly all around the garden.
I always use my own photos in the blog but this one is from Google and shows a red kite as has nested in the garden for the past few years .
We love sharing the garden with it’s wild life who have been there longer than our twenty years but we are not obsessive about them in that we don’t use binoculars or build hides or try to sneak up on the foxes or herons but when we meet them by surprise it is a great … even the deer who for twenty years have eaten bits of every shrub and tree !
August is a month that hydrangeas are looking their best and while I have never been great with them unlike my Mother and Grandmother who with minimum effort were able to have marvellous mop heads and while I aspire to their expertise it has never quite worked for me with hydrangeas . We have a lovely paniculate variety in the Secret Garden that every year with little attention flowers it’s ass off and romps away into the bamboo behind it and I am also for the past year developing a stream walk in a shaded dampish less visited area of the Lower Wood and here I am planting small hydrangeas of no particular variety that I buy in twiggy form in the garden centres on the for sale benches … cheaply being the operative word as with my record with hydrangeas I don’t want to risk it with full price expensive plants … so far the area is thriving as are the hydrangeas planted so far .
Visitors to the Garden in August