Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Happy New Year!

Well tomorrow marks the beginning of another year, the festive period is coming towards its end and soon this years decorations will be coming down.
It's been a great year all in all. The garden has been so so in parts, I want it to be so much better next summer, with plans and schemes afoot to make it a great space.

I gave my first two gardening lectures, the first in Belfast and the second in Dublin at the prestigious National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin.

I admit, when I saw the size of the lecture theater I had to take a very sharp intake of breath!
But I needn't have worried, they were a very friendly, attentive and interactive audience.
Who knows there this all will lead in the future.....

I've also met some new gardening friends, and I hope the four of us manage to do a bit of garden visiting in 2014.

Fingers crossed the incoming year is mild and that we don't get the kind of freak weather experienced in Northern Ireland last March, with excessive amounts of snow that stayed for weeks.

I'm not one for New Years resolutions or any of that nonsense, but here's to a bigger, better and happy 2014, where the days are sunny and warm and ample rain falls, but only at night. 

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Bargain bulbs

Ah crap, I've done it again.

When is a bargain not actually a bargain?
When you buy an excessive amount of anything, including bulbs.

As I said, Crap.
That's pretty much what I'm thinking now that I have to plant this lot. Late, much too late, they should have been in the ground weeks ago.

I'm a sucker for a sale on plants and bulbs are no different, add a 75% off sticker and I'll almost buy anything. I'm an exotic plant nut, so these almost grotesque parrot Tulips kinda fit in.

Dwarf Narcissus can be squeezed in anywhere and die back relatively unobtrusively, so you don't have the same problem that occurs with the rank leaved large hybrids.

A pink Muscari? Hmmmm, we'll see if it's worth the garden space being a nice clean pink, or if it's a dirty murky colour.....

 I get excited just looking at the picture below, the potential explosion of colour that awaits in the spring. :)

Alliums. Can a garden ever have enough Alliums. I'd say NO!!

Weather permitting tomorrow will be spent trying to get a load more of them in the ground as well as a bit of a reshuffle of existing plants in the front garden,

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

Slugs, they're a bit of a problem.
Many gardeners are in a bit of a quandary when it comes to them. They feel slightly guilty about controlling them, especially using poisonous pellets in these environmentally responsible times. But then, they also have a major issue with them eating prized plants.

We're told to use the organic and supposedly harmless (to wildlife, pets and people, not slugs and snails) pellets based on iron phosphate. But after recent reading I'm not so sure if they're anywhere near as safe as we've been led to believe.
The poor, confused gardener then feels that their only hope is to resort to using the deterrent method for dealing with the problem.
Try coffee grounds he's told. So off to Starbucks he goes and grabs a couple of bags to spread liberally around the base of Hosta plants. After a few days the slugs outright ignore the fine mulch and slide right across, presumably having a feeding frenzy while high on caffeine, meaning they can eat twice as much leaf in half the time.
Build up a ring of crushed egg shells around the plant, the books say. I refuse. It might work but I haven't tried it. I've tried composting egg shells but they take an age to break down, then when you spread your compost as mulch there are unsightly flecks of shell all over the surface. I certainly don't want an ugly ring of broken shell that will detract from the plant that its designed to protect.
Nematodes are an option, but such methods of control bring back traumatic memories of Sigourney Weaver in the Alien films. Something I try not to think about, having watched them at a much younger age than I should have been allowed.
Then there is the method of partially sinking a ring of copper in the ground completely encircling the plant, along comes Mr (and Mrs, 'cos they're both at the same time) Mollusc, (s)he approaches the succulent Hosta, thinking that the low wall of copper is a an easily surmounted obstacle. 'Ha, think that will stop me do you? (s)he scoffs, but the gardener has the last laugh as the copper gives the unsuspecting slug a mild electric shock which stops it in its tracks, so off it must go with its slimy tail between its nonexistent legs.
But the now confident gardener has not won yet, those cunning and acrobatic gastropods have another trick up their metaphorical sleeves.

Enter Super Slug.
Super Slug is a wily, nimble, but secretive character, rarely seen and not often spoken of. Like the fabled Loch Ness monster, some photographic evidence does exist but it is often unverified, grainy and poor in quality, much like the snap below taken by yours truly.

Super Slug eschews slithering over the ground like mere mortal molluscs.
Not for him(her) the daily drudge of sliding through mulch, over spiky gravel or across shards of broken egg shell, (s)he will not suffer the pain of electric shocks from your ring of impenetrable copper tape.
(S)he scales a tree and slithers along an overhanging branch, clambers to a porch roof, up your garage wall or some other high vantage point. It then produces a thick and strong slime mix and slowly but surely lowers its leaf munching body down onto the prized plant, bypassing all the high tech security measures that the smug gardener has put in place. I mean, abseiling slugs, really?? What will thy think of next to outwit us poor hapless souls?

Having witnessed this event last summer the gardener feels that he now has only one option left in his arsenal, garlic spray. But it seems that the resourceful slug is always one step ahead, so it's likely that they will develop a taste for Hosta and Canna leaf salad with a nice dressing of homemade garlic spray.
The only hope, if they do chew the treated plants, is that any potential mates will be put off any thoughts of amore as their breath will smell so bad, thus ultimately decreasing their numbers.

Well, that's the plan anyway.....

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Lilies of summer

I've just been looking at pictures taken in the summer, in some ways it seems like I was snapping them only a few weeks ago. Yet, being outdoors today with a cold cutting wind blowing it was very obvious that summer was some time ago.

The optimist in me knows that spring isn't so far away, the shortest day of the year is this Saturday 21st December so it won't be really long at all until the warmer days and longer daylight hours work their way around again.

Lilies are one of the most stunning groups of flowers that can be grown for summer colour. New to me this year were these two. The first, 'Tiger Babies' is an American Hybrid created by Judith Freeman, a famous Lily breeder. Apparently its parents were lancifolium and regale so it gets a slight scent from the second parent, but it's not strong. However it is a very vigorous grower and the colour is a soft peachy orange so is easy to place in the garden, here growing through the almost black foliaged Sambucus 'Black Lace'.

Next is 'Karen North', one of the North Hybrids or Mylnefield Lilies created in Scotland by Dr Chris North, a stunning and subtle hybrid group.
They're hard to track down and I'd love to be able to grow more of them in the garden, they have an elegance and grace that many Lily hybrids lack, and most are delicately scented as well.
Plentiful reddish orange spotted flowers with dark maroon dashes and gorgeous red speckling are produced in summer and it also has a stoloniferous habit, meaning it will wander about a bit below ground but without becoming invasive. It's one I'm really looking forward to bulking up in the garden.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

The Dillon Garden, Dublin. July 2013

There are some gardens that you visit that you just can't wait to see again, The Dillon Garden is one of them.

The garden is the creation of Scottish born Helen Dillon and her husband Val, located in Ranelagh, south Dublin.
Helen is famous among plants people as a connoisseur of amazing, stunning plants. The thing is, although she grows so many unusual things its not your usual plants nut's garden, so often we fall into the trap of creating a collection of plants rather than a thing of beauty. Rather, Helen has an artistic eye and combines colours and different forms beautifully.
Sadly the battery on my camera died so I had to resort to taking pictures on my phone.....

The front garden is quite restrained, a breathing space, cool and sophisticated.
However in my eagerness to see the back garden I rushed through without taking proper pictures.

Before, when visiting the route to the back garden was down the side of the house but on this occasion I went straight to the front door. 
The sight that greets you when looking out the long windows of the drawing room at the rear of the house is stunning, and probably one of the most photographed views of the garden.

Entry to the garden from the rear of the house is via a raised deck which has been attached to the house below which is nestled a lush sheltered seating space.

I was amazed at the sheer number of flowers on the Nicotiana mutablis, simply amazing:
The secret, I have been informed by Helen, is to overwinter cuttings taken from the base of first year plants and overwintered frost free, then when planted out in year two you get an avalanche of candyfloss pink like this.

Along the base of the house wall various potted succulents spend the summer months basking in the Irish sunshine. (Irony alert!)

Looking across the end of the canal

The green firework explosions that are the heads of Cyperus papyrus

Sonchus fruticosus growing in one of Helen's famous containers.

I have intense greenhouse envy, and Dasylirion envy

Begonia luxurians and Fuchsia boliviana 'Alba' 

I've been informed by Helen that the sultry dark Pelargonium below 'Lord Bute', 

A particularly dark Pelargonium which looks like sidoides, (and I've been told that for those of you growing sidoides in the British Isles, what you have probably isn't sidoides at all but a hybrid!)


Canna 'Durban' and Pelargonium 'Ardens'

Canna 'Erebus' one of the glauca hybrids created at Longwood gardens.

A nice unnamed red which Helen got in India (at least I think that's what she said)

Looking back towards the glasshouse.

Dianthus 'Chomley Farran', it's amazing, I'm not one to lust after Dianthus but this one I've got the hots for!
I couldn't detect a scent but you can't have everything, eh?


Succulents growing perfectly in a raised bed, looking impeccable despite the high rainfall we get in Ireland.

Aloe polyphylla

Agave bracteosa

The stark but beautiful canal set in Irish limestone, exuberant colour bordering each side.

The rear of the garden is planted lushly with cool greens of ferns, grasses, Astelia and numerous Aralia.

Cautleya spicata

Look at the Woodwardia unigemmata, freakin' amazing!!!!!

Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle'

Leycesteria formosa 'golden lanterns' and the stunningly foliaged Rosa glauca. Why has this rose not been used to create hybrids with better leaves?

A cloche keeping the wet off Mandragora officinarum

So that's it, a brief tour of the Dillon Graden. I could have taken pictures of hundreds of plants and vistas so perhaps my lack of camera was a good thing!