Visitors to the garden often ask why there are no roses and there are two reasons , one that I am not a big fan of flowering shrubs in general unless they have outstanding foliage or bark as usually flowers last only a short time and the plant has little to offer for the remaining 49 weeks of the year and secondly roses are full of diseases such as black spot and white fly which disfigure the plant and I forgot there is a third reason which is that I have enough work to be doing without the added chore of dead heading roses on a daily basis !
Of course there are exceptions to every rule and I do grow one specific rose and that is the common semi wild rosa rugosa which can have white or pink flowers and the beauty of rugosa is that it has beautiful lime green crinkly foliage which is gorgeous and it is a rose that never gets either black spot or white fly . Pruning of rosa rugosa could not be more simple as you can hack it to ground level in the Spring with a chain saw and it will love you all the more for it !
Gardeners love getting plants for free and all of us have a small circle of fellow garden enthusiasts that swap favourite plants or grow on cuttings as gifts when a particular plant is admired or lusted after . I have long admired the monster echiums a friend grows in her garden where once established they self seed like mad and this week she arrived in with three beautiful baby echiums that have been grown on for me .
This is the third set of echiums she has supplied over the past few years as the deer ate the first lot after which I got disheartened and decided not to attempt to grow echiums in our garden but I fell in love with them again after a visit to her garden last Summer … a second set of echiums were duly handed over last October which I placed near the house where the deer might not reach … they flourished and by January this year they were three feet tall when a really hard frost got them … third time lucky this month hopefully so I will replant these little beauties and wrap them in fleece from January during the really hard frosts .
As you can see in the photo I took from a visit to Margaret’s garden a few years ago these echiums grow into monsters and prehistoric monsters at that , like something out of Jurassic Park and I will deal with both their size and self seeding habit if they grow this time for me .
Last month I wrote about our trip to the Aran Islands and mentioned it was one of two iconic sights in Ireland , the second being climbing to the top of Skellig Michael Island to see the 6th century beehive huts . First off this trip is dangerous and you need to have a head for heights as you climb up 1000 very steep uneven steps and there is no guard rail so coming down is especially dangerous as the steps are not uniform … I would recommend ski sticks or at the very least a good walking stick .
Second thing to mention is the sea trip of 90 minutes each way can be rough and a lot of the time conditions are so rough that the boat cannot land .
The Skelligs have become world famous since they featured in the Star War series in 2014 so visitors are pouring in from abroad . The Irish Board of Works look after the conservation of Skellig Michael and they do a fabulous job with a very light touch and have refused to put in hand rails or anything that might take away from the uniqueness of the location even though there have been several deaths after people fell from the path and I can imagine if it was anywhere else there might be a funicular rail or cable car to the top .
We were there a few years ago in September 2009 and it is a bucket list experience and one that you never forget but the price of the boat trip plus admission has shot up to a mouth watering 110 euros per person in the past three years .
In July I concentrated on stocking the new water area in the Lower Wood with marginal aquatic plants as this is the time the garden centres get in their water plants . I am OK for water lilies and iris’s as I split some existing groups in March and placed them in three locations anchoring them to the bottom with bricks and in April I planted up over a hundred cuttings of houtounia chameleon . This time I bought some Caltha palustris , the marsh marigold and three pots of an aquatic plant from Mexico, new to me , called Apache Beads , love the name and look forward to see how it grows.
I was away for part of July and in my absence the weeds in the newly dug over water area took over . In any new planted area I always hand weed for the first year as this way you can get the ground really clean and it is easier to keep afterwards by hoeing and July is the time when weeds really jump out of the ground if you haven’t them under control so a huge job of hands and knees stuff ahead of me when I got back .
I added to our collection of garden pots with three beauties recently bought in by the Clonmel Garden Centre , in my book you can never have enough pots and these went into the walkway in the new water garden area . As they are sited quite far from the house watering is something they will have to look after for themselves so I planted all three with the same combination of plants that can tolerate dry conditions , a central fern with three geraniums then topped with gravel to preserve the moisture and they have settled in well .
I have had an unusual willow tree for years that I have lost the name for , never saw it for sale since either , beautiful big strong paddle leaves which has grown five metres high but the effect of the leaves was rather lost but last year I saw it in a friends garden and they had kept it cut back as a large shrub and consequently the leaves were at eye level and really dramatic … I thought long and hard about cutting in two an established tree but willows generally are tolerant of hard pruning so this spring I went for it and pollarded our tree to four foot high , took cuttings and hoped that the tree would come back … it did and I am delighted with it and the cuttings also thrived and I have a further eight specimens coming along nicely !
Croatia’s summer is hard on plants and we spent a few weeks in July on the Adriatic coast in Dalmatia trying to bring the garden back to life as everything had hunkered down in almost three months of 35 deg daily and even the lavender had died back . After many years I have come to the conclusion that it is a waste of time planting a garden in the Mediterranean if there is not someone there to regularly water and the only reliables I have found are olive trees , rosemary , aquaves … and rosemary in particular has been a revelation as it has thrived and doubled in size in the garden and OK it is not a pretty shrub but it does provide a nice structure and doesen’t mind been chopped back .
Olive trees are unique and I love them but my absolute favourite plant in Croatia is the aquave which is dramatic and over the years I have built up a collection as the plant throws out plantlets that I grow on in pots for a year or two and then plant in their permanent positions .
Gardening is a journey where you learn constantly from your particular patch what will do well and more importantly what will survive neglect and what will thrive no matter what is thrown at it .
We grow a beautiful creeping plant , trandescantia , in Croatia which I first saw and marvelled at twenty years ago in Ivo Andric’s house in Herceg Novi on the Montenegrin coast , now a museum to the famous Nobel Prize winning author . It is not the dull grey coloured trandescantia we know in Ireland and the UK which is grown here as an indoor plant with the non politically correct local name of wandering jew but this Adriatic version is an outdoor vibrant blue perennial which in less exposed places can remain through the winter but which normally dies back a bit but comes back in spring . It is easy to slip and does particularly well in some shade , it flowers but you really grow it for the fabulous blue leaf and it is with the aquave my favourite Adriatic / Mediterranean plant .
Most of my plants in pots came through the heat in Croatia probably because I have always sited the pots in shade and this has made the difference .
Ironically while we were away on the Adriatic a heat wave hit Ireland for almost two weeks and temperatures were 30 deg for several days and this did quite a bit of damage to our pots here and I was glad to come back to our usual diet of regular rain !
I am often asked do I prefer to garden in the hot climate of Croatia and the answer is no as although it is great to have predictable dry weather day in day out , the extreme heat does limit the variety of plants you can grow unless you are there full time to water and I have never acclimatised to the local custom of siesta where from 11 am to 5 pm you stay indoors so yes rainy as we are here in Ireland I do prefer it !
Favourite plants in the Old Spa Road garden in July