Late April and early May are magical times in a garden , everything is fresh and about to come into full growth while the late flowering spring bulbs are still in bloom .
Christopher Llyod , the best garden writer of the 20th century , used to call certain plants , garden thugs , for their talent for spreading seed everywhere and their sheer ability to survive against all our best efforts as gardeners to contain them . I love garden thugs and how they self seed into every corner and I always take it as a compliment that the plant likes the conditions we have provided so much that they leave us their children !
Lamium Chablis is a fancy form of lamium , the common dead nettle but when it self seeds it reverts to the common type of lamium and it is a plant I love and one which will do well and even thrive in total shade where it is happiest .
No this alpine didn’t self seed but I found a good home for it in an eccentric container that Snezana fell in love with recently at Glenconnor Garden Centre and just had to have !
I attended an auction some weeks ago in Clonmel of vintage farm machinery as in the preview I had seen some items I had been interested in for some years and which would look good in the garden …two antique vegetable pulpers , one Irish from the famous Pierces of Wexford and the other from the north of England and luckily I was the successful bidder for both pieces … for years I have had places in the garden marked out in my mind for one of these antique pieces and both pieces fitted in as if they were always there .
Generally these hand operated machines were used to mash up tough vegetable like mangles and beet for cattle feed and it was a tough job to crank the handles and as they were used in the farm yard they were outside in all weathers and I can only imagine the hard work involved in the life of these machines over perhaps a fifty year period … after the sale I spoke to a gardener friend from a farming background and how lovely the items were … not for me she said , they only remind me as a child of hard labour in the wind and the rain and I think only think servitude when I see one nowadays .
At the same auction I bought an old carved stone with an iron ring attached and this was used up to one hundred years ago along the quays in Clonmel to tether the horses used in the hauling of barges along the Suir river up from Waterford … what a story this could tell and it now looks at home beside the ancient stone quern in the front garden !
Shay Healy visited the garden with his family a few Sundays ago and wrote about his visit in his weekly column in the Irish Daily Mail under the heading “Garden shelter from the storms of life ” . Shay is a legend of Irish show business over the past forty years and wrote the winning song in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1980 with “ What’s another Year ” and his interviews in Nashville with such country stars as Tammy Wynette are available on YouTube . I grew up with Shay Healy on Irish television and in 1990 his TV show , Night Hawks , broke a story about phone tapping of political journalists which provoked a huge political scandal that brought down the Fianna Fail government at the time and precipitated a General Election … so it is fair to say that Shay has been there , done that and it was a real treat to host him here .
Shay now is a voice for parkinson’s disease from which he suffers but he is a fighter and does not let it interfere with his zest for life or his enthusiasm for wild gardening and I was delighted at the way he used his description of the garden in his subsequent column in the national press to weave a personal story … and as someone commented to me on reading the story he really caught the spirit of what we have set out to achieve here in the creation of the garden .
Shay let fly some purple prose in the article “ Michael doesen’t do any physical work . He is like a musical conductor – he raises the baton and the orchestra which is his wild garden comes to life in a symphony of sights and sounds celebrating all living things . Bushes and trees , odd statuary , garden benches and even old rusty bikes deployed in an artful way , adding a layer of carefully placed eccentricity ” …. kind words but would that it were true that I don’t do any physical work Shay !!
During our walk around the garden I had mentioned that I didn’t construct any of the paths or structures in the garden and that being the proverbial Mr. Bean of the DIY world couldn’t hit a nail with a hammer but I maintain the garden , cut the grass of over six acres , design each feature , select and plant every tree and shrub … but would LOVE to have three gardeners at hand to do all this of course and be a gardening guru strolling around with my underlings taking down every command … Snezana are you reading this ?!!
I read an article recently of a study which stated that time seems to move faster the older you become and the theory is that the older person has experienced everything previously so the brain deletes or skips over less important things so that the significant events seem to come around much quicker and that certainly seemed to be the case for me today when I saw that the gunnera is about to unfurl it’s massive leaves when it seems like only last week I was putting them to bed for the winter and yet it was five months ago and here we are again at the start of another season !
Most mornings , winter and summer , I like to start my day with an early 7.30 walk around the lower garden and on sunny mornings I take the camera with me as early morning light gives different photo opportunities and on these walks my neighbour , Margaret’s dog , Toby , comes with me and seems to effortlessly pose in each photo ! Toby is a good natured dog who has been our neighbour for over fourteen years and everybody in the neighbourhood loves him and he lives a charmed life as Toby reckons he can sleep I the middle of the lane and every passing car has to drive around him and it is not unusual to see two or three cars queuing to drive up onto the grass margin so as not to disturb his sleep !
Now is the time just as the growing season begins that new gardener’s thoughts turn to buying trees and shrubs and of course in the garden centres this is a critical time as they want their potted up specimens to look beguiling and walk off the shelves !
None look more enticing than the various acers in their soft leaves and lovely colours but buyer beware ( or caveat emptor as we say here locally ! ) as these trees , maples japonicum and palmatum , although frost hardy are notoriously difficult unless planted in semi shade and as far away from wind and wet soil as possible otherwise they will sulk for years … this week I gave the following advice to a friend by e mail on buying maples …
There is one maple I can recommend for you and that is Crimson King … if conditions suit it will eventually grow into a large tree up to 10 metres high so stake it well . Less is more where maples are concerned so I would use silver birch still as the key tree to plant in groups as the maple’ individuality is taken away by over use and at most I would only use one on either side of the garden and allow plenty of space as they will grow into big eight metre high trees with a good spread . Don’t touch the variegated maples as they grow into brassy trees and also with time will lose the variegation and revert back to common green unless cut back hard almost annually.
There are absolutely beautiful small maples called palmatum which are very slow growing and need shelter … pricey for a specimen about a metre high ( 25 -30 euros ) they are a variety of maple that fit into a category of trees and plants called umbellifiers in that they do best within the shade of taller mature trees … I would try one in front of 3 / 5 silver birch but not facing north as they like sun but not full sun as the leaves have a tendency to scorch in constant bright sunlight. Maples would not be considered too hardy so keep them out of windy situations and they can be temperamental about heavy soil and cold etc.
Good luck !
Good luck being the operative word as with the heavy soil we have here there are not too many maples apart from the variety Crimson King which is a substantial tree if it likes you and I also have a few acer palmatum hidden away in sheltered locations which have taken five years to put on any real growth but which are now looking good .
Now is a good time to check what grew well and where throughout the winter and spring months and to plant up any spaces so that next years display is even better . These past few years I have grown fond of hellebores never having grown them previously as I associated them with blowsy type brassy flowers but three years ago I discovered the corsicus variety which has striking silver foliage and soft green flowers and it does really well in shade where you can forget about it until January when it really catches the eye … some gardeners actually strip the leaves off hellbores before Christmas so as to show off the flowers better whereas for me it is the foliage that I love and the flowers are just a bonus .
Sir Edwin Luytens who died in 1944 was probably the most important British architect of the 1900’s who in his spare time dabbled in garden design in collaboration with Gertrude Jekyll , the renowned gardener and together they built many of the finest gardens of the 1920’s … their style a blend of the formal and informal became known as the Arts & Crafts movement which influenced a generation of garden designers right through to today .
The Luytens Wikepedia entry states “ The “Lutyens-Jekyll” garden overflowed with hardy shrubbery and herbaceous plantings within a firm classicising architecture of stairs and balustraded terraces. This combined style, of the formal with the informal, exemplified by brick paths, softened by billowing herbaceous borders, full of lilies, lupins, delphiniums and lavender, was in direct contrast to the very formal bedding schemes favoured by the previous generation in the 19th century. This new “natural” style was to define the “English garden” until modern times.”
Wikepedia goes on to state “Less well known is that Lutyens has also designed furniture. Some of his designs are still on the market today ” .
Luytens most famous piece of garden furniture became known as the Luytens Bench and I have always wanted one … well a one off Luytens bench has been displayed in the Clonmel Garden Centre for the past two years and earlier this year I got it for a knock down price in the January Sales !
This is not it’s permanent position in the garden as it is best seen at the end of a long view and I have a place in mind in the new orchard which will be perfect when built … watch this space !
Family visitors to the Garden on May 1st 2016
My Montenegro In Laws , the Vukcevic Family from Podgorica visit !