Saturday, 18 January 2014

Dhu Varren Garden

Back in July 2013 a few of us intrepid Irish exotic gardeners arranged a meet with our friends Mark and Laura at their garden, Dhu Varren outside Milltown, Co. Kerry.
Mark is originally from Northern Ireland and Laura from County Tipperary, but they chose to live in the mild south west of the island so that they could cultivate the extensive range of exotic and unusual plants that Mark covets.
Since 2001 they have built their garden on this wet two and a half acre site which was originally a farm small holding in a previous life.
It has come a bit of a way since then......
The area to the front of the house is very naturalistic in appearance, there's a pond surrounded by Gunnera and reeds and a stonking big four meter high triple headed Dicksonia antartica.
This behemoth has been through quite a lot, during a cold snap Mark and Laura arrived home from a trip to find that it had fallen into the pond and was trapped under a thick layer of ice. When the thaw eventually came they had to enlist the help of a local farmer who managed to haul it back into an upright position with his tractor. It looks none the worse for wear despite its ordeal.

To the side of the house is a sign of things to come, an extensive 'rockery' has been created. Christened Red Rock Canyon after the colour of the enormous sandstone boulders that it has been built from, this area is a more Mediterranean than Milltown.
There are no dwarf conifers and Heathers in this rockery, spikies are the order of the day.

These Trachycarpus fortunei will add an exotic canopy as they mature.

Cistus line the path that snakes along the 'valley' floor.

Beschoneria albiflora.

 Multi trunked Yucca, looking really good with the old foliage removed.

A Furcrea, probably parmentieri

One of the best looking groups of Kniphofia northiae I've seen. The secret to avoiding brown withered tips is copious water but the ground must be extremely free draining at the same time.

Spikey and arid, yet still manages a lushness that I really enjoy seeing.

At the rear of the house things take another direction completely with a stunning Japanese tea house and Koi pond. Some of the fish here were absolute monsters but due to reflections I didn't manage to get a photo of them.

Some exotic enthusiasts

The detail was amazing, imagine the water flowing through each of these on its way down during a rain shower.

 Phyllostachys growing through a carpet of Mind Your Own Business, Soleirolia soleirolii.

Schefflera delavayi, who couldn't love this plant?! Mine has some way to go being only six inches high...

A new addition since my last visit, perhaps a more traditional looking rockery but the plants used are anything but ordinary.

Next there's an area where Mark grows many trees and Bamboos either side of a raised wooden boardwalk. What with discussing and discovering so many amazing woody plants I was too distracted to remember to take any pictures. DOH!!

 Ligularia veitchana

Petasites japonicus var. giganteus, I keep mine in a huge pot with a saucer of water beneath, there's no way I'm letting this free in the ground in my tiny garden.

 A tall Tetrapanax papyrifera 'Rex'

 Gunnera leaf, phone for scale.

The new silvery finger like fronds emerging on Cycas revoluta, looks like alien tentacles? Just me? OK.

Schefflera taiwaniana, rock hard in most coastal areas of Ireland and unbeatable in shade.

Cyathea medullaris, The Mamaku or black Tree Fern from the north island of New Zealand.
This is another lust worthy plant, and I'm now on my third attempt with it. They're hard to track down but I've managed to find another and had it shipped over from the Netherlands to be tortured cosseted in Ireland. It's not very hardy so needs overwintering under cover or extensive wrapping and insulation to keep out the cold.
I'm determined that this time I will finally succeed!!!!!!!

A potentially rampant spreader, but Tropaeolum ciliatum is a lovely herbaceous climber and one that I'd consider introducing to my own garden. I do grow invasive plants but something about this one scares me a bit.

 But then look at it here twining up a Bamboo culm, so innocent looking.

Look at the spines on the leaf surface of this un! Seriously cool plant! Zanthoxylum laetum

Schefflera macrophylla, outdoors!! Mine will not, sadly, ever get to experience such a thing. The last one I grew carked it during its first mild winter outdoors, I don't want that to happen its replacement.

Can a garden ever have enough varieties of Schefflera, nope.
I think I'd chop them like I did with mine, though I know their natural tendency is to rocket straight up.

 The unheated arid greenhouse is full of cool succulents that seem to be enjoying life.

You have to feel the felted leaves of Sinningia leucotricha, the closest thing I can liken them to is a Labrador puppies ear. You gotta love this plant, growing from an enormous swollen caudex. Coming from a seasonally dry climate, the leaves and stems are discarded over winter leaving the woody swollen tuber in view.
I'll get my hands on one of these some day, when I have appropriate overwintering facilities.

The 'Tropical' house is jam packed with all sorts of cool stuff.

So much that you really need Mark on hand to point out the 50% of plants that you've missed.

Hedychium wardii, some day my little baby will produce a big fat club of flowers just like these.....

Finally, a view of the herb and butterfly garden, one of Laura's spaces, believe it or not the giant Miscanthus are growing in soil the depth of the railway sleepers. The whole area is covered with a layer of concrete, a remnant from its previous life as a farmyard, so the plants are growing in very shallow soil, yet they thrive.
Mark is eyeing it up as a potential space for yet another glasshouse......

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Book learnin'

It's winter, I'm not a fan of winter. I actively dislike it.
That's not entirely true, I like the first sniff of coldness in the run up to Christmas with frost in the air, when it's chilly but dry. Then the holidays come and go the decorations are taken down. The cold light dawns on new years day and and then it's back to work and many of us feel that post festivities slump. Winter drags on, and on and the proper cold weather hasn't even hit yet.
Late January and February are when the worst weather normally arrives and if we're going to get snow it tends to be around then.
Now's the time to retreat indoors with a roaring fire in the grate and get to reading, I've been collecting books for a few months and am looking forward to gettin' to readin'

An eclectic selection, eh? Food, Whiskey and gardening, my great obsessions.

A bit of plant hunting, old school with Frank Kingdon-Ward and more modern day with Roy Lancaster.

I've already read Plant Breeding last spring, but I want to have another go, I enjoyed it so much.
As yet I'm reserving judgement on 'What A Plant Knows', it's not my sort of book usually, but it's good to try new things...

I've more plans for the front garden, I carried out a bit of an overhaul last spring but wasn't happy with the result, it was much too softly and herbaceously floral. More spikes and architectural plants are the way forward methinks, hopefully it will actually come together this time.

Dan Pearson writes well, I enjoy reading his words and he makes me think more holistically about what I'm doing and how I need to plant and plan for my conditions. 

The most difficult decision facing me now is deciding which book I'm going to make a start with....

Friday, 10 January 2014

This is gonna be epic

Pepperoni pizza, currently in the oven and fluffing up nicely.