Those were the heart felt words of my gardening worker here earlier in June as she did some pruning in the back garden , yeah I know those deer are pretty bold if they hang around the back garden in the day light but anyway it struck me that twenty four or so odd years ago in Macedonia when we first worked together that if I had promised this city girl that if she stuck with me , some day she would be walking in deer shit I think she would have lit out east and be still running somewhere around Vladivostock today … sometimes you gotta lie !!
When is a plant a weed is the typical gardening question and the usual response is that a weed is just a plant in the wrong place and for us here in this wild garden we value all plants be they considered weeds or invasive pests . Take for example the common nettle which everyone here and in the UK gardens try to eliminate unless you are Gordon Ramsay as nettles make great soup however the nettle if you didn’t know the plant has structure and height to die for as a gardener plus butterflys love it and the nettle is a great source of food for bees . Take the common thistle which also has great structure and absolutely gorgeous flowers , now you don’t want your garden taken over by nettles and thistles as they are vigorous spreaders and self seeders but we allow selected groups of both to flourish in the borders which takes me to Alchemis Mollis also known as Lady’s Mantle which is a huge self seeder in any location even deep shade . We allow alchemis mollis to self seed throughout the garden but it has practically taken over every spare space in the gravel garden , a beautiful plant especially in early morning when the rain water or dew gathers on the leaves and when it flowers it takes the breath away and if it becomes too invasive because it is not deep rooted a belt of a spade will easily lift the entire clump which I never throw away but just move to another area where it will quickly take root even in mid summer .
Those of you who prefer the tame delights of bedding annuals and small perennials look away now as I am going to write about Rodgersia pinnata Elegans , one of the big beasts of the garden and along with euphorbia characais wulfeni and darmera , one of the best garden architectural type plants . Rodgersia does not conform which is why most gardeners shy away from having it in long formal perennial displays as it grows whatever size the soil and location will allow and it romps away in moist shady areas and particularly loves a waterside location and so not a plant for the faint hearted ! Rodgersia comes in various leaf sizes and colour hues ranging from light green to deep red and the long flowers are spectacular and always stop garden visitors in their tracks , one of my favourite plants of the garden ‘this variety is one of the biggest leaf varieties with huge rough oak type leaves that always stop garden visitors in their tracks , one of my favourite plants of the garden .
And while on the subject of big beasts , there is none better than gunnera and this one I planted three years ago and today taking the photo I saw that it has reached three metres in height and I try and plant another big leafed beast , darmera , in groups with rodgersia and gunnera . Darmera is a fabulous perennial that likes waterside conditions and I have bought it in various garden centres where it was called Chinese or Indian nrhubarb but I haven’t seen it for sale for probably the past ten years so if you see it snap it up … I get mine each year from a friend who culls it annually as it is swamping her other border plants .
Another plant not for the faint hearted gardener is bamboo and we have lots of thriving clumps and while most will stay away from the evasive type I love their aggressive nature and plant them in areas where they can colonise as much ground as they like as the evergreen leaves add a touch of exoticism especially in the woodland areas … another plus about bamboo is that it is not too fussy about shade or damp soil although the golden varieties do prefer it on a drier base.
Generally bamboo will not do well in wind although some varieties are classed as wind breakers I have yet to see bamboo doing well in windy sites , basically they are a woodland species where they thrive on leaf mold and we have an area in the wood area that I cleared of brambles a few years , shaded yet lots of filtered light and that is where all our self seeding runners from the various bought in clumps go and gradually it is building up a nice colony of bamboo .
Bamboo is expensive to buy in the garden centres and not a lot of variety on sale either , the specialist type like the black , the variegated and golden bamboo do not throw out runners which is great if you want to contain the plant to a single clump which will just grow in width but not so great if you want to propagate the plant whereas with the runner type you just dig up an off shoot with as much root as possible and it will transfer easily directly into the ground where you want a new bamboo whatever the season .
This month I bought a new bamboo , Fagersia Rufu , in the Glenconnor Garden Centre , the pot is advertised with a photo of a giant panda , a nice advertising touch and apparently Rufu is the favourite bamboo of pandas who eat 20 kgs. of it every day … maybe some lost pandas will come to Petrovska Garden now that their favourite food is here… and dreaming on maybe while here they will eat some of thos f..king deer who are still managing to treat the garden as their private take away !
Helicrysium is a terrific plant for growing in gravel and I bought this one a few years ago at a talk given at Altamount Gardens by Derry Watkins who has a famous garden at Bath in the UK and who also operates a garden nursery … it needs a dry location as it will sulk otherwise and look bedraggled . Watkins was over here as part of the Carlow Garden Festival and was supposed to guide the visitors around Altamount but personally I felt that her only real interest was in selling her own plants that she had brought over and the general feeling was that the guided tour was overly negative of the state Altamont is now in since it’s glory days as part of the Anglo Irish aristocracy , personally I found her abrupt and a bit of a disappointment for someone so well known in the UK garden scene .
Recently I got a present of a black iris siberica from Polly Savage who ran her own specialist alpine nursery in Scotland and who was a judge at the Chelsea Flower Show for eleven years , she gardens now with husband , Mike , on a fabulous three acre site near Dungarvan which they have laid out as a display case for a unique collection of rare azaleas , rhododendroms and small trees . We exchanged garden visits in early June and for us it was a personal introduction to the specialist world of trees and shrubs and what drives such an interest while our garden with it’s wildness was a shock to their preferred orderly scheme … Snezana gave them a pot of our own Christophe pampas ricardii which we love but may be a challenge for Polly and Mike to accommodate in their garden ! I have divided the black iris into three and am looking forward to seeing it grow on to flower next year .
You enjoy iris flowers for a brief ten days each year in the garden in June which is not a great return for quite an expensive perennial although the sword like green leaves stay for the entire summer and have an architectural effect so I concentrate on the variegated leaf specimens such as here where they grow in pots sunk into the pond . Granted the type called bearded iris’ look amazing but are hugely expensive but the so called “common” flag iris which has a yellow flower self seeds wherever there is water and they have colonised our water areas here with literally hundreds of plants .
A tree I love in June is the black elder , sambucus nigra , which romps away here but in locations which generally have shade and dampness and although I have planted it throughout the garden , it decides it’s preferred location to thrive in and despite my best efforts it is not a shrub that I can say does well in this garden as where it grows well it does but if it doesen’t agree with it’s location sambucus nigra sulks and just stays barely alive never moving to bigger and better . It gets it’s name elder not from English as in old but from the Anglo Saxon aeid where in winter it’s hollow branch stems were used as a kind of bellows to blow air into and under an open fire .
There is a golden colour version of the black elder , sambucus aurea , slightly less hardy in my experience but does well in a sheltered shady position where it adds impact within a shrubbery rather than as a stand alone shrub where it’s slightly brassy look makes it look a bit bedraggled … again a personal opinion as I always think golden versions of trees and shrubs look better surrounded by other specimens to mute down the colour .
Colour in the June Garden
While taking the iris photo the blue dragon flies were out in droves cruising , mating , showing off , whatever it is dragon flies do in June over water and we feel very lucky to have them return every year at this time , they don’t sting or bite and just add beauty to the pond areas .
The new pond which I started in early April has started to get filled in with planting , hover flies have moved in and it is beginning to become part of the landscape , early days yet after only two months but already I feel it has achieved the design I had for it .
The new pond is settling into it’s location
We were in Croatia in June and while there saw the final completion of the wall in the Olive Garden in Podgora , Dalmatia . The stone masons did their usual fabulous job to complete the project which began two years ago , Lucca ,Branco and Milan are part of a stone mason company from Immotski , a small croatian hill top town on the border with Bosnia that has been famous for producing generations of fine stone masons for over two hundred years , these guys take their time and won’t be hurried into selecting the wrong shape of rock and each rock is pondered over , chipped at and teased into the overall design like the very best London hair dressers , the ultimate stone craftsmen and it was both a pleasure and an instruction to watch them at work .
We have been visiting Hvar Island off the Dalmatian coast for the past 22 years and it is in my opinion the nicest and most scenic Croatian Island , Hvar Town is steeped in Venetian history since the 13th century and the island has been famous as the producer of lavender oil since the 1960’s … a bit of a con job now in my view as I cannot find any evidence of the amount of domestic commercial lavender growing needed to produce the amount of lavender oil sold under the Hvar label throughout Croatia and I suspect that just like Italian Olive Oil , another con job , most of the raw liquid is imported nowadays however there are many fields on Hvar , now abandoned and wild , which show you just how lavender should be grown , not like we grow lavender n the UK and Ireland , in well tended lush beds where the plant is fed too richly , watered too much and as a result dies out within three years .
Although I love Hvar and consider it to be the best of the Croatian islands both for scenery and history there is lately an element of stuffiness about Hvar that I don’t like in that while delighted with the publicity that Prince Harry brought when he visited in August 2011 and was photographed in the usual Brit Essex type of behaviour jumping fully clothed into swimming pools while boozed up with his entourage of privileged sloane ranger types , the good burghers of Hvar were less pleased in the past few years with the type of lager lout tourists that followed the Harry media hype and the local press are full of stories of their excess calling it Magaluf on Hvar when they peed in the streets and walked around half naked and openly drunk off their heads . But now Hvar which has always considered itself upmarket from the rest of the Croatian coast , wants to become more exclusive and I suspect would prefer we all stay away and just send them the money instead and have instigated a series of fines for eating on the streets ( 700 euros) , drinking on the street ( 700 euros ) wearing swim gear when walking around ( 600 euros ) and probably next will fine anybody listening to pop music on their I Phones rather than a Brahms string quartet !!
Finally a legend of the Old Spa Road neighbourhood passed away this week . Toby was owned by Margaret our next door neighbour but in reality he belonged to the entire road as he visited us all regularly . Both Snezana and I will miss him terribly as he took up residence at our front door every morning , accompanied each visitor through the garden and could give a guided tour on his own . Toby was a wonderful dog , gentle and loving , there will never be another one like him and as I said to Margaret the entire neighbourhood loved him but more importantly , Toby KNEW he was loved by the entire neighbourhood.