All Posts Plants

Trees: Betula – Utilis versus Pendula

betula utilis jacquemontii bark

The Betula or more commonly known Birch are a genus of around 60 species of deciduous [their leaves fall off in winter, in short] trees that grow extremely well in our Irish climate. By its soft leaved foliage I find it quite feminine in feel and appearance which works really well in softening any landscape or building exterior.

All of our photosynthetic friends have in them at least one outstanding trait for which we want to grow them. In this case, it is without question the birch’s bark. But, like all things great, you get what you pay for and there is always a reason why one is cheaper than the other as I will discuss shortly.

Asking for a Birch, just like any plant, needs to be a lot more definitive. It’s got more than 60 relations of the same second name remember. To these two fellows: The difference between Betula utilis and Betula pendula – couldn’t be that much ? You might be surprised.

Betula utilis

The Himalayan birch is an absolute stunner. As it matures from a young main stem to a tree like trunk its skin peels and develops from a rusty orange tinged brown to a soft pinkish white, then further maturing to a bright smooth as you like, white paper skin.

Although it will do so anyway, I always love the fact that you can peel it off like a bad roll of sellotape. The utilis types are upright [ ie. go against gravity] by their appearance and habit and can grow to about 60′ tall. I have 5 in my garden – worth every single cent and centimetre .

  • recommended: Betula utilis ‘Jacquemontii’

Betula pendula

The main trait of the Betual Pendula types is that they are all [think about it… pendula, pendulum ~ ie. swing ~ ie. must hang ~ as versus upright] weeping trees by their nature. That said they can still grow up to 80′ tall.

Far more important than that however is that they have a glitch, a flaw in their character. Like the way I’ve never not met a Jack Russell without a dodgy back leg; as the tree matures it’s bark cracks and the newly maturing and indented creases of the bark then turn to black.

In the not so pretty department, it’s not only the bark that’s a bit brutish in appearance and touch as you’ll find the stems of its foliage suffer a similar effect.In comparison, it can be a little scraggy, depending, and just doesn’t cut the mustard in the same way the Betula utilis ‘jacquemontii’ does.

  • recommended: Betula pendula ‘youngii’


The key to developing that white bark all over is the crown raising. Strip the lower branches bare, like a telegraph pole and try as best as possible to retain only one leader. this I should add and double underline, is something that is so very important and really should be considered when first selecting and choosing the trees for purchase. The wounds will heal over and what may [possibly] seem a little unfair will pay its dividends.

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betula utilis jacquemontii bark

All Posts Plants

10 Plants for an Irish Hedge

Hedges can be used to create intrigue in the garden, for biodiversity, a wind break or noise filter, or simply just for aesthetic and design purposes.

Whether you consider the more uniform route is best for making your great outdoors greater or maybe, you simply prefer the planting a living photosynthetic softer approach between you and next doors; brought in instant or planted as youngsters, here are 10 hedge choices you may or not, have considered.

Hedge n 1 a fence or boundary formed by closely growing bushes or shrubs

1. Berberis – Barberry

There are more reasons to dislike the Berberis than to love it. All of those reasons seem to be it’s quite compact and thorny nature Nothing a pair of welding gloves won’t solve I should add. But thorns aside, it is a beautiful plant that is great for nature and should you be looking for a spot to block off or stop traffic passing through then this is the plant you want. A genus of around 450 species, I can only be a little vague in my specifics. I’ve bad memories of this plant and my resulting shredded legs as a child and pierced hands in my early days of the horticultural trade.

  • Peter recommends: Berberis darwinii

2. Forsythia

Possibly better for the more informal type hedge, but I absolutely love this plant for its Spring time yellow flowers on bare stems. A little like the more vigorous Fuchsia’s, you can cut this shrub back to about half it height every year, which may appear a little harsh, but worth it in order to get flower growth covering the stems. After flower it goes to green leaf and shortly after that happens I tend to cut mine back. My recommended type grows to about 10′ fall. Fresh flowers on my kitchen table in Spring.

  • Peter recommends: Forsythia lynnwood Gold

3. Cypress – Lawson & Leyland

Chaemaecyparis lawsoniana [Lawson cypress] and x Cupressocyparis Leylandii [Leyland cypress]. I remember years ago asking a friend his thoughts on the Cypress as a hedge and whilst I find it really hard to say anything good about these fellows, his answer contained the words petrol and box of matches. The Lawson can grow to about 125′ tall – The Leyland can to about 120′ tall – unless you own acres hectares [plural] of land – it is recommended you don’t plant these. People like to tell me they’ll keep them controlled, they usually don’t.

  • Peter recommends – none

4. Laurel – Prunus and Laurus

bay laurel

Asking for laurel as a hedge is like asking for a vehicle. It is that vague. The more common or usually used however is most probably the Prunus laurocerasus [cherry laurel] which can grow up to 30′ tall; make the mistake if you wish and choose the Prunus lusitanica [portugal laurel] which grows up to 70′ tall – or the Prunus otto luyken if you like it a lot smaller. Personally, I prefer the Laurus nobilis [bay laurel] which grows up to 40′ tall – but is very easdily controlled, produces a beautiful flower and berry and doubles up as a herb. I have about 20 of theses in my own back garden.

  • Peter recommends – Laurus nobilis

5. BambooFargesia and Phyllostachys


Knowing your plants, botanically, once again really does pay off. Take the simple example of the 2 bamboo types. The last Fargesia I planted will only ever grow to about 12′ tall – whereas the Phyllostachys aurea to about 30′ tall. Buy them in a little more mature and it is now growth per annum that is the only consideration one should have.

Either or I love the rustle, the more feminine flow and the less vigorous overall feel of the Fargesia. A little different as a hedge but, works extremely well for the less formal gardener.

  • Peter recommends – Fargesia nitida

6. Griselinia

griselinia hedge

Variegated or not, the evergreen Griselinia is without question the darling of the Irish hedge family. Although it did suffer a bad low temperature beating in the last seasons, it is pretty much indestructible. It’s glossy green foliage forms a beautiful back drop for any garden or divide, grows really well in the Irish climate and is a dream with which show off ones ability to cut hedges perfectly level. It can grow to around 24′ tall and get a little woody internally but that’s nothing a good hard cut back won’t solve. On a side note, I’m not overly keen on the variegated variety.

  • recommended variety: Griselinia littoralis

7. Ligustrum – Privot

ligustrum ovalifolium aurea variegata

Variegated or, gold or green, next to the Griselinia [nooted above] the Privot hedge was the Irish gardening must have of the late 1960’s and may never fully become dated. Works extremely well as a hedge as the internodal distance is quite short. Better than that, if it ever gets there, it does flower and produces a fruit. I’ve seen it grow up to about 12 foot tall and become quite woody beneath. A good hard cut back does this stalwart no harm.

  • recommended variety: Ligustrum ovalifolium aurea variegata

8. Fagus – Beech


A great hedge that for some estranged meaning and reason is labelled evergreen, which doesn’t really make sense when referring to copper beech. Humour aside [?], do consider that the same plant used for hedging has a bit of a split peronality and also thinks it will become a tree. In that context I tend to trim its centres with a lopping shears first and then a light trim with a petrol cutters. A haven for biodiversity, it’s nuts are edible and the new growth when it appears is just stunning. It can grow to about 75 foot tall. Best planted bare root or root balled.

  • Peter recommends – Fagus sylvatica

9. Crataegus – Hawthorn

Of the same family as the Rose [rosaceae], if you ever wanted to do something for the environment, I highly recommend planting some of these beauties. Thorned, flower producing, edible berries as a fruit and a real beauty when you think just what the Irish climate has thrown at it over the centuries. This fellow can also grow to become a tree about 24′ tall, is steeped in Irish mythology and is almost guaranteed to grow just about anywhere. I’ve about 20 or so of these in my garden.

  • Peter recommends: Crataegus monogyna

10. Buxus – Box

box hedge

Low and slow growing, when the box hedge is trained and grown properly, it’s new growth is a beautiful and stunning lush dark green. Very reticent of the ye olde type gardens, surprising maybe it can grow to around 14′ tall which may come as a surprise for some to hear. Then again do considers it is of a genus of about 70 species – once again pick the right Buxus. Family members aside, it can get a little woody and one whilst one may get away with the ill pruning of other hedge types, errors here may not grow back within one season. I love it dearly. One should have no problems at all if managed correctly.

  • Peter recommends: buxus sempervirens

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All Posts Plants

10 Plants for an Irish Garden

mary mcaleese

I did ten plants that would be suitable for a small garden, they also work for large obviously – these 10 – are those that you may, or not, have seen that often that I believe will bring a smile. Not all in flower in the images – but then it is also a case of something for all [or some] of the seasons.

All I have used before in urban and rural Irish gardens, from Galway to Dublin and from Cork to Donegal. Enjoy.

1. Rudbeckia

rudbeckia in flower

The Rudbeckia [asteraceae/ compositae] are a genus of around 20 species originating from North Africa. In short and as the image shows they are big daisy like flowers with a green/ black/ brown centre borne more often singular on long stems from summer to autumn. Brilliant in any garden and a real cheer-me-up when used as a cut flower. I absolutely love it !

2. Rhodanthemum ‘African Eyes’

rhodanthemum african eyes

The Rhodanthemum [asteraceae/ compositae] are a genus of about 10 species that are all clump forming plants. The more famed part of the plant is quite obvious in its daisy like flowers that form in spring – summer. More than that in any variety it won’t grow much taller than 12″. Another great one for the plant swapper.

3. Callistemon rigidus


I always [and usually only ever] see this plant in flower when in ‘the books’. This is what the bottlebrush looks like when it’s not being enetered into Ireland Next Top Model competition.

The Callistemon [myrtaceae] is a genus of about 25 species originating in Austalia. Famed as a cut flower arrangers favourite, the flowers litterally look like a brush you would use for washing a babies bottle. The spikes are more commonly red but are can also be found in green, purple, white, yellow or pink. Worth it just for the flowers, which depending on the variety can flower anytime from Spring to Autumn and can grow anything up to 12′ tall. I wouldn’t let that put you off though.

The rigidus hits about 8′ tall by about 10′ wide. Its flowers in summer get to about 2/3″ long.

4. Tanecetum coccineum ‘Robinsons Red’

tanecetum coccineum robinsons red

A genus of about 70 species, the Tanecetum [asteraceae/ compositae] leaves that are a bit silver and a bit hairy…. Not on this particular type though, of which some say, the foliage can irritate the skin slightly. Commonly known as ‘the painted daisy, the flowers are like like something one should see one could see in a children’s playground, are great for cut flowers and do quite well in just about any space really from pots to borders. It can grow to about 3′ tall and 1.5′ wide and flowers in early summer.

5.Fuchsia magellanica ‘Riccartonii’


fuchsia magellanica riccartonii

The fuchsia [onagraceae] are one where you really need to do a little homework on what exactly you are buying before you take it home. A genus of about 100 species that range from a bedding plant to a tree there are over 8000 known cultivars.

Outside of being a great plant for seasiders [salt air/ wind tolerant], this bad boy, the F. magellanica is the hardiest [frost tolerant in short] of the lot.  The flowers of the Ricartonii are made of scarlet sepals/ tubes and have purple corollas. Be warned it can grow to 10′ tall and 6′ wide. Every Irish garden needs a fuchsia though…. doesn’t it ?

6. Stipa tenuisimma ‘Pony Tails’

stipa tenuisimma pony tails

The Stipa [gramineae/ poaceae] are a great plant, when, en mass in my opinion and remind me personally, of a field of barley. I simply love them. A genus of about 300 species, S. tenuisimma is a brightly green leafed deciduous perennial. It can grow to about 1′ tall whilst it’s panicles [think of the flowers of oats] can grow to about twice that height. It will only get to about 1′ wide so don’t go skimping on the planting…. you’ll thank me for it.

7. Salvia nemerosa ‘East Friesland’

salvia nemerosa east friesland

The Salvia [labiatae/ lamiaceae] are a genus of about 900 species and this is another example of why I am not a professional photographer…. one in ten, you’ll let me away with it ! The East Friesland [ostfriesland] grows to about 1.5′ tall and has deep blue flowers from about summer to autumn. This one is clump forming.

8. Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’

skimmia japonica rubella

The Skimmia [rutaceae] are a genus of just 4 species. They are dioecious meaning the male and female reproductive organs are on seperate plants. This compact Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’ is the male which starts with pink buds opening to white flowers in spring. Surprisingly there were a few on this plant when today [august 8th].

I think its nice that it needs to be planted next to a mate… it always made me smile thinking of that. That aside, a real pretty stalwart that brings me right back to the 1980’s. Love it!

9.Potentilla fruticosa ‘Red Ace’

potentilla fruticosa red ace

Potentilla [roseaceae] are a genus of about 500 species. This the ‘Red Ace’ is one of the better looking of the family, in and out of flower. The rose family member can grow to about 1.5′ tall, about 3′ wide and has bright orange/ red flowers with yellow backs.

10. Helleborus orientalis ‘Lady Series’

helleborus orientalis lady series

A genus of about 15 species, this Hellebores [ranunculaceae] orientalis is commonly known as the Lenten rose. Whilst it only grows to about 1.5′ tall, why I love it…. [?] it saucer shape like flowers, about 3″ in size, slightly arch out from the middle of winter straight through to spring. The foliage doesn’t do it for me, personally, but all the way through winter, it means fresh cut flowers on the table.

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All Posts Plants

10 Plants for Small Irish Gardens

garden colour plants

There’s a small space in your big garden, you’ve a big space in a small garden ? Or maybe you’d just like a little more interest formed from a little more of a varied range of plants that won’t take over and at the same time will keep maintenance slightly more to the lesser side of things.

If colour is the answer and you’d like a little of it throughout the year, take a look at the list below and see if something takes your fancy.

Whichever way you might see fit, the following are 10 plants that may just get the taste buds tingling and make your space outside a little more exciting.

1. Agapanthus Africanus

agapanthus africanus

The Agapanthus/ Liliaceae [african blue lily] are a genus of around 10 species originating in Southern Africa.  The clump forming lilly is a deciduous perennial with leaves around 12″ long and produces a 1.5″ long trumpet shaped flower in a cluster that can measure about 2′ by 1′ in size in late summer. Some note them as vigorous, but I say well worth it and a great one for the plant swapper.

2. Choisya Aztec Pearl

choisya aztec pearl

The Choisya [Rutaceae] are an evergreen genus of around 8 species more commonly known as the Mexican orange blossom. Funnily enough, the flowers are white and some say perfumed – although I personally find it a bit hard to get the scent more often. The Aztec Pearl bears 1″ in size pink-ish white flowers in spring/ summer that form in cymes of around 5 blooms. It can grow to around 8′ tall, but I’d never allow it go to that height and it will therefore need a good cut back every season once established.

3. Convolvus cneorum

convolvus cneorum

The Convolvus [convolvulaceae] are a very varied genus of about 250 species. In Ireland the most famed is the cousin you don’t really want to have call by at Christmas time, but does and more often over stays its welcome. This fellow however, the Convolvus cneorum, is a low growing rounded clump former and only grows to about 2′ high x 3′ wide producing an almost trumpet like white flower with a yellow dotted centre from its pink buds at the start of the summer.

4. Crocosmia lucifer

Crocosmia lucifer

The Crocosmia or Montbretia [Iridaceae] is a clump forming genus of about 7 species also originally from South Africa and another great one for the plant swappers of the world. This particular chap grows to about 4′ tall and produces burning red flowers mid summer that slightly jumps out of the grass like clump. Personally, don’t like the name, but it’s an absolute stunner and looks great on the kitchen table.

5. Dianthus ‘Shooting Star’

dianthus shooting star

The Dianthus or Carnation [caryophyllaceae] are a genus of over 300 species from Europe, Asia and Southern Africa. Personally, I hate carnations as bouquet of cut flowers, but I love them in this format. Pretty, low growing and relatively easy to maintain.

6. Matteuccia  streuthiopteris

matteuccia  streuthiopteris

The Matteuccia [dryopteridaceae/ woodsiaceae] are a genus of about 4 species originating from the woodlands of Europe, N. America and E. Asia. This particular beauty is more commonly known as the shuttlecock or ostrich fern. It can produce fronds of up to 4′ long and the plant itself can grow to around 5′ tall. Once again it grows by spreading and will need some attention, as all plants do.

7. Osteospernum Cannington Roy

osteospernum cannington roy

This evergreen clump former [astreaceae/ compositae] is from a genus of about 70 species mainly hailing from Southern Africa. It’s daisy-ish flowers are purple tipped white that change to mauve pink/ purple on the underside with purple florets and it can flower from the end of spring to autumn [depending]. A great ground cover plant and another one for the plant swapper.

8. Papaver orientale ‘Prinzessin Victoria Louise’

papaver orientale prinzessin victoria louise

The poppy family [Papaveraceae] are a genus of about 70 species. This, the oriental poppy is a clump forming perennial that grows about 3′ x 2′. Its short lived flowers are produced in late summer and are apricot in colour and are followed by a quite striking seed head. A little different from your usual, but definitely one to try out.

9. Polemonium caeruleum

polemonium caeruleum

I haven’t done this fellow any favours in the photography department, but the commonly called Jacobs ladder [polemoniaceae] is a clump forming genus of about 25 species. It can grow up to 3′ tall by approximate 1′ wide and produces blue flowers on axillary cymes. The image above may not make you want to rush out the door to pick one up, but I’d definitely rate it in the small garden department.

10. Polystichum setiferum

polystichum setiferum

The Holly or Shield fern  [dryopteridaceae] is a genus of about 200 species. This evergreen is better commonly know as the Soft shield fern and produces fronds of up to 4′ in length. The description is short and sweet, but ferns just that and the image tells it like it is. Personally, I love it.

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Rapeseed – Brassica napus

If you are driving around Ireland over the bank holiday weekend[s] you may pass a field of gold that looks a bit like this….

The plant in question is the Brassicae napus better know as rapeseed and a member of the cabbage family. I spotted this glorius sight on the N2 road from Asbourne going forward with Swords at your back. On my way back there were at least three others pulled in taking photographs.

It should not be confused with the weed known as Charlock, the Sinapis arvensis, a plant that looks similar and although also a member of the cabbage family, it is more commonly found growing in ditches and waste soil.

I still think it’s amazing that a field can make me smile. I just love how the sun hits it…

and also this picture of the same field…