debbie… thursday garden guest #2


12th February 2010
I got the news today that Debbie has passed away. Shocked, stunned, saddened… apart from all of the many beautiful charachteristics – she was also a fellow gardener :) Funny thing, we spoke last week and were planning on doing garden tours together as a bit of a new business…. She was gonna call back after she did some research….. All that aside, Debbie would smile knowing I’m still trying to figure out if it’s a coffee or a pint she has in that photograph ;) Missed already.

As a by the way she stayed up well into the wee hours of the [next] morning trying to get this garden guest post together….

debbie… thursday garden guest #2

debbie & friends

If you’d like to know more about Thursday Garden Guest time – click here.

For the moment writer number #2 is Debbie Metrustry alias debbiemet. A lover of all things outdoors and botanical. I first met Debbie at Electric Picnic. A common love of horticulture is more professionally shared here. An absolute lady, a pleasure to meet and a great person to be around. For now, Ladies and Gentlemen, may I introduce Debbie.

The Garden – What I Like

There are so many things I like about The Garden that it’s hard to know where to begin. From the personal lessons I have learnt through gardening, through the visceral joy of being connected with the earth, the curiosity and wonder at observing plants grow, the pure aesthetic pleasure of being in gardens of great beauty and intriguing design — through all these and the wonderful opportunities that I’ve been given – from the profound to the frivolous – there is not one aspect of my being that remains untouched.

My first ‘go’ at this blog came out as a chronological list masked as my biography: not so interesting, really. So I ditched it, and decided instead just to give you the things I like, in no particular order.

  • I love the brown earth. I love having my hands in the soil. I mean I really love it. When I look at the rich, chocolate-coloured earth, dormant, but harbouring and nourishing all manner of living things, I feel a deep sense of rootedness, a connection. The smell of it after rain. Or a bright, crisp day with the sun shining and birds singing: well then there’s nothing to beat digging it. And mulching. Spreading well-rotted manure on a just-weeded or newly-planted bed is incredibly satisfying. It’s like Guinness for plants: black gold.

Ploughed Field
A whole field of the earth, just waiting for action

On a more modest scale: garden potential from Heligan

Toadstools at Mount Cuba Center, Delaware, taking advantage

  • Plants: I get excited about all sorts of plants and really have no discrimination. There’s nothing more exciting than going to a garden or nursery and discovering lots of fabulous plants I’d never heard of. Some nurseries are better than others, and this one, Plant Delights in North Carolina, is at the forefront of plant introductions. I spent hours and hours there, and had to be torn away from all the amazing new plants.

Banana and Tetrapanax

OK, so it looks a bit nettley (same family)…
…but it’s actually a really cool foliage plant

called Boehmeria platanifolia, collected by Plant Delights

They take their signage seriously

Beautifully laid out, and just look at all those lovely labels (bottom left)   :)

  • I have a weak spot for herbaceous perennials which I love to grow myself, and I adore gardens that are full of them, especially when mixed with grasses in what is called the American prairie style. I’m a big fan of naturalistic planting, using natives where possible.

Prairie planting at Hunting Brook Gardens, Wicklow

The meadow at Mount Cuba Center, Delaware

A meadow on the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina

Looking out to the meadow at Longwood Gardens, Pennsylvania

  • Trees make me go weak at the knees and I am passionate about looking after them

Back Garden: Landscaping. Killester, Dublin

donegan landscaping garden I have always felt that gardens, the better ones are those where the journey to completion and its creating put simply, appears and far more importantly feels effortless. In this gardens making, it was nothing but a real genuine honour and I literally smiled every day of its making. And though that may sound a little Hugh Grant or some such actor in some pile of pants girlie film [apologies], here's what I noted the day of its completion which maybe words that better. This wee video may give you a better feel of the finished back garden space. Sidetracking back slightly, I don't think you can make someone feel that [about what they do for a living]; And, I honestly believe you either feel that or you don't about that person you held hands with [for example]. And sometimes it just doesn't make sense, but it does and you love every single second of it. Like dancing in puddles at 4am whilst singing 'hey I got my new shoes on....', or tipping the woman you love into the freezer section as she leans over to pick out a pepperoni or lying in the middle of your garden drinking John Jameson and counting stars together. And at the very least I hope you can see something of that when you look at the finished pictures. And now I've got 'Boston, More Than A Feeling' ringing in my head. And I have no idea where that came from. Back to the garden. And the before Peter got there ? In a nutshell, picture a jungle. Of note also, I was pretty much given carte blanche. And what you see is quite different in a sense from most of the other gardens you maybe have seen that I have done. If nothing else definitely from a planting perspective. And it works. And I guess one could lavish me with compliments - there's a joke in there somewhere - but in reality and quite seriously one had to give me the go ahead or say no or yes, on the (albeit sometimes botanical) decisions I made. I guess sometimes I need to remind myself not to equationalise (broadsheet ?) my thinking in the after and just allow it bring a smile to your (or just my) face. We've been here before. See puddles, above. Smiles. Very lovely. Most happy. Thank you so much. Enjoy. ;) [gallery type="rectangular" link="file" ids="21385,21390,21387,21391,21409,21386"] Any thoughts or Q's [?] leave a comment below or drop me a line. Peter Donegan: donegan landscaping

The Apple Farm, Tipperary

peter donegan, con traas Pictured above Peter Donegan with Con Traas of The Apple Farm. Located between Clonmel and Cahir just off the N24 lies The Apple Farm of Tipperary, is a 60 plus variety 35 acre apple orchard that also grows some plums, pears and other soft fruits. A little drive down the avenue however and you will find yourself parked outside The Apple Farm Shop that only sells it own on site made produce, made solely from its very on site grown produce. This shed as a by the way also doubles up as the booking office for The Apple Camping and Caravan Park that Con's parents set up in 1982. Last week I took some time away from horticulture [?] and decided to spend 4 nights camping there. And without question and by a very long country mile The Apple Farm is one the top spots I have ever had the honour to pay money to and stay in. Imagine that; going on holidays so you could look at more apple tree varieties than you could shake a stick at and talking about grafting.... But the reality is, it is what and where I love going and doing. And though I know I do it 24/ 7, it is what one has to [?] do, nee does, I feel, in horticulture; in order to be able to take what is college embraced theory and make it merge with a feeling that should naturally by sight, sense or touch feel come so very easily like an almost enchanted seventh sense. Then again, it's no surprise my favourite bedtime stories growing up were James and The Giant Peach, Jack and The Beanstalk and The Principles of Horticulture. The latter being my personal favourite. Con will feature on The Sodshow in the next coming weeks and I'll embed that interview here after it goes to podcast. Of note for my stay here for 4 nights cost euro 74 with no additional charges [ie showers etc]; apart from that that I spent in the farm shop which stays open until 9pm every evening. In the meantime, 10 out of 10 and higher than highly recommended. And for the horticultural outdoor loving fruit heads like me, this is as close as you'll get to finding the promised land. update: And while I was there.... I went to meet Adam and Paul. At Blarney Castle and Gardens ;) [gallery type="rectangular" link="file" ids="21503,21477,21487,21498,21479,21476,21486,21480,21482,21481,21489,21483,21484,21485,21526,21488,21490,21491,21492,21493,21494,21495,21496,21497,21501,21502,21504,21505,21506,21507,21508,21499"]

Blarney Castle and Gardens, Cork

peter donegan, adam whitbourn, paul osullivan, Pictured above Peter Donegan [Donegan Landscaping] with Adam Whitbourn [Head Gardener] and Paul O'Sullivan [Media and Advertising Manager] at Blarney Castle and Gardens. I had met Adam Whitbourn some time ago at Clare Garden Festival where I was speaking earlier this year and whilst our paths had crossed since, last week I decided to make the journey to Cork and was honoured that Paul and Adam, two real gents I should add, both made themselves available to personally guide me through the estate. We met up last Thursday. I was on my holidays. In Tipperary. Camping. In Con Traas's Apple Farm. Because where else did you expect this horticulturist to go on vocation vacation. I'll get to that later... My passion for plants aside, something really very good has happened at Blarney Castle and Gardens and a day spent there is something that I can not recommend highly enough. The grounds are quite easily nothing short of stunning, majestic, genius, quite brilliant and a fine example of just how it should be done. In the disclaimer department, I didn't have to pay through the gate. That was as it usually is with me and gardens, just a quick phone call. For you who maybe haven't visited since your school trip when you were 12 years old or, to you who are thinking of coming from abroad, you should go. You will thank me for it. And when you do, the following and the images below might just make your time there that little bit sweeter. b Outside of the castle itself, the estate boasts 60 acres of pristine gardens looked after by a team of 8 full-time gardeners. And whilst Paul suggests you allow about 3 hours to see the entire grounds, I will happily recommend you take a lot longer. Also of note Blarney Castle and Gardens had 365,000 visitors pass through its gates for the year 2013 and that number is increasing year on year. Gardens in mind, if you are heading there the very stunning grounds are self guided and Blarney Castle do not do garden tours. Self guides in mind, I asked Head Gardener Adam and Paul who has worked there for almost 10 years, the following which you may find of interest: Adam's top 5 [he gave 6] romantic places to bring the love of your life:
  • the Lake Shore
  • Top of the castle
  • fern garden
  • the druids circle
  • the rock close
  • and the arboretum
Adam also notes:
  • his favourite part of the garden - The Fern Garden
  • Oldest tree - Taxus bacata by the lower rock close around 600 years old
  • Most photographed tree - Thuja plicata, western red cedar
  • Favourite area of newly planted trees - the pinetum with over 200 rare and unusual different conifer species
Paul's top 5 places - excluding the castle:
  • The Rock Close
  • The Fern Garden
  • The caves and the dungeons
  • The Poisonous Garden
  • the walk around the lake
The Sodshow is due to air a 2 part Blarney Castle special in the next weeks which I will embed here after. Ticket prices range from zero [children under 8] to 12 euro, the car park is free and there are family tickets available.   [gallery type="rectangular" link="file" ids="21436,21428,21429,21432,21433,21434,21435,21438,21439,21440,21441,21442,21443,21444,21430,21445,21446,21447,21448,21449,21450,21451,21452,21453,21454,21455,21456,21457,21458,21459,21460,21461,21462,21463,21464,21465,21466,21467,21468,21469,21427"]

Landscaping Dublin: Low Maintenance Garden

peter donegan landscaping There are only two things that matter when making any great garden - What the client [I hate that word...] wants and equally as important the end result. In short, whilst I would love, that every garden is a Peter Donegan memorial, the reality of how happier I have made someone because of their new space outside kicks in in two parts: the minute I finish and handover the picture perfect postcard garden. And secondly in the months and years after I am gone. In the non-cheesiest way of saying, it is a real honour to get to make people smile because of what I do, but that latter happiness factor requires much smart thinking and it is only then that you really notice, horticulturally what you have [I guess] paid for. That aside, I could not have wished for nicer people to create this garden for and that very simply makes my work and this northside Dublin garden just that extra little bit sweeter. Wanna see what it looked like before hand ? [gallery type="rectangular" ids="21333,21332,21331"] And so phase 1 was the removal of what was not required. Which was pretty much everything, that can be summised as an overgrown mass of green with a deck. No offence. What I wanted it become was a bright airy [note: simplistic, in a sense] spacious relaxing room in the great outdoors - the opposite of what it was before hand; and the reason I guess it was being [un/re] done. In the how it would feel department - I wanted it to feel like it had been there for some time, yet extremely well maintained. I wanted people to walk into the home and without even thinking, just wander out doors into the garden and stay there. And then have people ask 'where did Jim get to' or, 'what took you so long', because without even thinking they stayed too long[er] and unwound and relaxed, but yet they didn't entirely know why. Like the time you went out for 'the one' with Mary [or Jim ?] and found yourself strolling out of Bruxelles at 3am and down Grafton Street, trying to type 'Sorry....' into your phone. Sorty. I'm Sozzy. Really Soggy. I'm really Sammy. You had to be there.... It's all good ;) Back to gardens, and as noted in the opening paragraph the main thing to remember here is that the new garden is not owned by a team of horticulturists and that in mind the chosen planting is really quite smart in its thinking and layout. Again, the after Peter is gone factor comes into play here. In my plant selecting Crocosmia lucifer, Primula vialii, Acer palmatum Sango Kaku and Penstemons are just some of them that play a role, but overall my thinking was minimal growth per annum meets a mixture of scent, colour, evergreen and flowering with a little herbaceous thrown in for good measure. And the layout is such that [again] a planted bed separates the patio [sandstone with a granite cobble surround] from the main lawn; just enough to make getting up off that chair a little more of a challenge and your want to stay longer than you had intended that little greater. Happy Client. Happy Peter. Happy. [gallery type="rectangular" ids="21339,21342,21338,21340,21341"] Update - these pics in from Paul. He owns the new garden. And he says:
Hi Peter ! A few pics with the furniture ! The Show house touch ;)
[gallery type="rectangular" link="file" ids="21360,21361,21362"] Any thoughts or Q's [?] leave a comment below or drop me a line. Peter Donegan: donegan landscaping

Wanted: Helicopter For A Garden

donegan peter This may sound a bit odd.... but I'm looking for a helicopter. For a garden. A show garden that is. As it stands I have no sponsor. Not a concern for the now.  I've been here before. Far more importantly, I've no flying machine and so I can't entirely equation the creative. And so the chicken and the egg story continues. I've been here before. It's all good... In context, I found a very large boat for a show garden in 2008. It now lives in Electric Picnic. You'll have to ask Rick O'Shea that story. pink boat Prior to that, I found a Morris Minor for a show garden. donegan gardens bloom Of note: the better the outside and inside of the copter the better. It doesn't need an engine. That said, beggars and choosers and.... Try me. You may think my wanting a 'copter sounds a little funny. Me and funny, if you wish to call it that, have history. Should you ask why [?]... it's really very simple. You only live once. I don't want to look back and say 'I wish I had done...'. It is always one heck of a journey. There are easier ways of doing things for sure. But where's the fun in that. Also, better to have loved than never loved at all. It's all good. Happy out. Loves you the mostest. X Peter Peter Donegan: donegan landscaping
. But give me a mature beech and I’m as happy as Larry. There is nothing so majestic as the mature or champion beech, and it reminds me, whenever I’m in doubt, of why I went into horticulture in the first place. Trees teach me that we are caretakers of this earth, that we plan and plant for future generations, and that the passing of time is a Good Thing. They also remind me to curb my impatient side, which is rather too well developed at times.

  • Since becoming a gardener of course I’ve always loved Spring; here it starts early, and you feel and smell the excitement in the air from February if you care to look, or if you just go out and sniff. In the US it seemed as if Winter would last for ever, but then one day Spring arrived, and it took me completely by surprise. The flowering trees – which were everywhere and I hadn’t previously noticed – had exploded into fabulous, floriferous, glorious life so abruptly and dramatically that I very nearly crashed the car. Seriously.

The Spring exuberance of Magnolias and Japanese cherries in Longwood Gardens

  • I didn’t quite get the full impact of autumn, because 2005 wasn’t a particularly spectacular one, and this year I was just a week or so too early. However, there was still some good drama going on, and I liked it very much indeed. :)

The nursery at Longwood Gardens

  • Woodland plants provide a wonderful and never-ending array of variation. These are plants who display their wares shyly, biding their time waiting for that window between dappled spring sunshine and the shade of full leaf-burst. They have a way of creeping up on you: for example, trilliums! Do you know how gob-smackingly beautiful they are? — albeit in a subtle way. The wonderful Mount Cuba Center in Delaware has a fabulous collection of them, and I was lucky enough to be there in Spring to see them in all their tentative glory.

Trillium stamineum (Twisted trillium) and Trillium discolor

  • The detail and intricacy of flowers, best viewed up-close and personal. What’s not to love about these?

Iris in Mount Stewart Garden

I forget…  but it’s in the Eden Project

Passiflora incarnata at the JC Raulston Arboretum, North Carolina

Blood smudge-splash of Rhododendron at Mount Stewart

  • I confess I have a soft spot for garden gadgets. It’s not surprising really, I am an aspiring geek, after all. Stainless steel spades are beautiful, good secateurs are a gal’s best friend, my oscillating hoe makes hoeing spectacularly easy and keeps my back pain-free; my Bosch shredder gives me free mulch in the woodland area of my garden while recycling any woody prunings. And my state-of-the-art builder’s gel kneepads are a godsend, and I wouldn’t be without them.

Exciting stuff, I know.

  • Last, but absolutely not least, I have found inspiration and true joy in every garden I’ve worked in, and most I’ve visited. They all have moments of great beauty and creativity to share. There are dozens of gardens that I love, each with its own special atmosphere that lifts the heart and soothes the soul. Here is a very small random selection from the thousands of photos I’ve taken in the last eight years.

The National Botanic Garden, Glasnevin – my alma mater. I spent three years studying here and so it is a place of very special significance. Every week amidst the busy-ness we cherished stealing some time out just to do the walk around. The Palm House was actually closed for the whole three years I was there, so I was thrilled when it finally opened.

The Palm House was actually closed for the whole three years I was there, so
I was thrilled when it finally opened.

Victoria cruziana, an important and beautiful plant in the garden’s history.

The bandstand in the arboretum

Apart from beech, this is my favourite tree in the garden,
entirely because of its wonderful bark.
Betula albosinensis var. septentrionalis

A superb Japanese maple near the rockery.
It’s also near the plant in the rockery that was planted in memory of a dear friend
and classmate who died in 2006.

Altamont Gardens, Co. Carlow was where I did my first placement. The lake there is full of life and a very beautiful setting. When I started working there I found it impossible not to stop and stare all the time – I couldn’t believe my luck.

Altamont house from the lake.

Fast forward now to the USA and Longwood Gardens where I interned for a year. Longwood is defined by its water and its spectacular colour.

The daily fountain shows are set to music

About twenty thousand tulips are planted each year

Not far from where I fell – actually I walked – in. I still like it, in spite of that.

Longwood’s hybrid Victorias – originally bred from one at Glasnevin.

Chanticleer is just as impressive as Longwood, but has a more contemporary design. It’s my favourite garden and is full of mystery and fun.

The Teacup garden

A spot of stainless steel

The pool where we had my farewell party. Nice!

I wanted to include more places but you’d be reading this forever if I did, so this will have to do for now. Once I started, I realised that actually there’s very little I don’t like about The Garden.

I’ll leave you with a sample of Longwood’s spectacular firework display. Yes, they were that glad to be rid of me. :)

Thanks for reading!

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By |November 6th, 2008|All Posts, Reading|11 Comments


  1. Sara November 6, 2008 at 4:18 pm

    Hi Debbie,

    Great post and I love the photos, especially the Victoria cruziana!

    All the best

  2. Julian November 6, 2008 at 4:38 pm

    Thank you, Debbie, for a bright spell on a dull day. It’s hard not to think of doing a runner back to Annes Grove, where some passionate gardeners of independent means could find plenty to keep them busy. I know how I’ll answer the clichéd question if I ever win the lotto.

  3. [...] But at least I’ve not been completely idle:  Peter Donegan very kindly asked me to do a guest blog spot on his landscaping site, and that has just gone live. [...]

  4. Debbie November 6, 2008 at 6:30 pm

    Thanks for the nice comments, Sara and Julian. :)

    BTW take note of the coloured fountains in the background, underneath the fireworks. It really is an all-round-spectacular show!

  5. Bohoe November 6, 2008 at 7:44 pm

    Im truly envious about those 3 years at the Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin. I hope I can do that meself soon! And the victoria cruciana brought some nice memories, thanks!

  6. Debbie November 6, 2008 at 10:48 pm

    @bohoe and I’m truly envious of your photographic talents. :) If you’re thinking of doing Hort full-time do get in touch for a chat.

    Re the Victoria, my ex-boss in Longwood, the curator Tomasz Anisko, is writing a book on Victorias. He’s looking for other specimens to come and visit. It has an amazing story! Here’s another shot for you – (sadly not in bloom).

  7. Deborah November 7, 2008 at 10:16 am

    What a cheerful post Debbie. How lucky you are to be able to do something you obviously love so much.

  8. [...] garden guest #5 4: Damien… Thursday garden guest #4 3: marie… thursday garden guest #3 2: debbie… thursday garden guest #2 1: bohoe… thursday garden guest #1 This entry was posted on Thursday, January 15th, 2009 at [...]

  9. Garden Landscaping Ideas May 18, 2009 at 5:32 am

    Oh my! Those gardens are magnificent. Looking at these pictures, I just came up with another batch of garden landscaping ideas. I hope I can do justice to my own humble garden.

    I love the landscape garden design of Altamont Gardens. The place has indeed rightfully earned the title of “the jewel of Ireland’s gardening crown.” When I visited Altamont a few years ago, I was enchanted by the plethora of beautiful plants and lush landscapes. Strolling through the garden’s walks, I imagined I was traveling in some magical fairy tale paradise, especially when I reached and saw the magnificent Altamont’s artificial lake. I must salute the landscape architects and the people who built that place.

    I haven’t been to Ireland for some time but I would sure like to visit the Altamont Gardens again.

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  11. False dawn of the city — GAME FOR ALL February 25, 2010 at 12:07 pm

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