Peter Donegan, landscaping dublin, garden design

Topiary

topiary

Topiary n 1 the art of trimming trees or bushes into artificial or decorative shapes

Topiary is most probably fondly remembered in most minds for the ye olde grande gardens of the mid 19th Century. But and possibly of surprise to some, the origins of topiary date way back to the times of Julius Caesar. Over the centuries and like all things gardening [or not] there are trends and it did [and does] fall in and out of fashion. Trends aside, there is something ye olde gardener in topiary and/ or by its definition, trimming bushes, that is romantic and very much separates the can do from the cannot.

Gardening skills aside and at a point in modern life where the popularity of cutting a domestic garden hedge may be queried, it is hard to see an en mass revival of this skill. That said, it makes me quite proud that I can take the cutting of a hedge exact, straight and by line of sight to an echelon above.

The images above here are from my own garden, planted to remember my first dog Bobby. Silly as it sounds, maybe, I think he’d be quite pleased knowing that his tree wasn’t just any old shrub.

If you do fancy giving topiary a go remember:

  • practice makes perfect
  • patience is king
  • you cannot sellotape cuts made back on

For the above I used a petrol hedge cutters first, then a shears and finally a secateurs. The stages are, obviously, noted in photograph back to front.

In the above photograph I have used Thuja and in my image below you can see Buxus semprevirens [box] and Laurus nobilis [bay laurel]. If you are thinking of planting hedging or trees now is the perfect time to do so whilst temperatures are still in single figures.

More information ? Leave a comment below – or –

formal hedge

Diverse Gardening

peter donegan

Outside of the window from where I type now there sits a compost heap. I don’t know whether I should call it that as I have never actually taken compost from it. It does its thing, bothers no one and just as it’s getting ready and maybe believes that I might put the wellies on and jump inside, reality kicks in.

I may never actually use my compost heap….

I need to be honest about these things. I know people who like to jump in and turn the decaying material over. If you enjoy that sort of thing, brilliant. But, personally, it’s just not for me. Are either of us wrong ? no. The reality is quite simple, my boundary hedges alone will keep that area of my garden full for the rest of it’s life.

What are my options ?

One could suggest that I get rid of the hedgerow and build a wall or even a fence. And before I even go near that as a topic, the hedgerow looks as [or more] unkempt as the green waste heap.

But In my mind life works really well with a symbiotic sort of relationship. I don’t tidy up the hedge, thus the brambles get to grow as they should and in return I get fruit. Free fruit.

Then again, I’m in competition with the birds for that. But then again I’ve spent ages trying to encourage birds into the surrounding greenery and now they are here…. I guess it’s fair to say we have an understanding in that I and they take as they wish and can. I must admit I really like their singing. It makes me smile. So far so good.

Somewhere along the road someone decided to put a name to this getting on with each other business and [in short] called it biodiversity. For a while I thought someone had set up a new band or dance group, but it turns out they were talking about the birds and the bees. I guess I just didn’t realise I had been doing it for so long.

A pile of logs chucked in the corner…. check.

Bird box…e..s….. yes. check….

I was beginning to wonder if I was at some sort of gardeners pub quiz. It was so easy and much easier than being a grow your own fanatic. No offence an’ all.

From a previous blog post I’d written, the check list suggests you plant a native, in your/ my case Irish, tree. I like to go a stage further with that one and try to plant a native Irish tree every year. If I haven’t got a spot in my garden or simply can’t find one this season, I give one away as a gift, planting included. No excuses – and pretty cost effective I should add. Also the bird boxes are in there which can be easily made at home and painted, another great gift.

Next up, is rain water harvesting. We have been here before. Although recently at a friends house he had very simply made his own from a length of guttering and an old plastic barrel. Miserable so an so I thought for a second. You might say smarter, something I admitted to after, but I bought mine with my bin tags and claimed it back off my year end tax. Either or it’s the thought that counts and great minds think alike.

It’s not until one speaks to someone like young film maker Eoin Delaney [Directing Media] that you realise just what is happening our surroundings. Two days waiting to see if he can capture a fox, on film that is. No sighting. Hares yes. Fox no.

Jane Powers some weeks ago on the SodShow told a similar story with regard to the bees. Bees that are needed for us to have, at the very minimum fruit and vegetables.

Is it all that bad. Is it really, enough for me to give a sh….

No maybe not. At the the very least not in the very rural surrounds where I live. That said in my own garden it took three years for me to find birds nesting. Three years after first planting approximately one hundred and twenty trees. The big flip side is that it’s your garden and not mine and I guess all I can do is say how it works for me and hope you may like a little of what you hear.

Garden Design

Last week I vented some of my frustrations out on the keyboard of my computerised typewriter. In short I think my piece can be easily summised as follows:

I’d rather get a hug from my one year old daughter than watch some big old political laundry pile churn around in the washing machine on every radio and television show, all pretty much asking which state departments whites come out whitest in the hot whites wash.

To this I know two things: I can pick up snippets of todays news on twitter in around two minutes and then I’m back in the real world. Two: the evolution of my daughters mumbles mean much more to me that of any politician.

And back to gardening…..

Hello…. My name is Peter Donegan and I am a gardener. A garden designer. A horticulturist. A landscaper….. I am the Johannes factotum of the gardening world.

And for those of you who figure out what that means, do note:

The earliest recorded versions of the phrase do not contain the second part. Indeed they are broadly positive in tone.

Thank God for wikipedia and moving swiftly on.

As always there is relevance in both of the aforementioned quotes. Because whether I am considered a gardener or a garden designer the question I am asked, most probably the most, apart from the usual about my dashing good looks…. yes Mister Potato head, I hear the panto crowd shout back, is:

I was thinking about getting something done with the garden…. how much would you charge for…. when is the best time to….?

There are a few ways of making your garden pretty-er. But to put logic to my previous writings, no matter how great a garden design may appear on paper, in order for it to be actually made a reality, it has to be realistically possible to build it. In every possible way.

Two examples: I have known of gardens were the trees, paid for and delivered, could not actually fit into the back garden. I have also met homeowners who, after paying for a garden to be designed have asked for it to be priced and realised it could never be afforded. But as The Family Fortunes buzzer resonates between my ears, I know of those gardens that I have made and been involved in that have started and finished on time, fitted the clients budget and the image they had in their head and look absolutely stunning.

In saying this I would like to note: I love a challenge. More than that, when I get to work with a client as versus for, from a behind the scenes perspective, we both end up smiling as versus the Da Vinci type benefactor and me possibly hoping she or he likes it.

As regards the best time to get the garden done. It is the time that suits you best. The calender for my planting, is quite simply done in autumn and winter. Why only as for me it means I don’t have to water the plants. Don’t  get me wrong I’ve no problem tending to my own garden it’s just for me, I feel that the plant is under less stress when temperatures are lower and it’s on the verge of going asleep for a few months. Think of it like going to Torremolinos [?] or some such holiday resort, in November as versus June.

If you are of the belief that time is money and you believe you can save yourself a few bob by doing a bit yourself. Do yourself, me and your family a favour – play to your strengths and do only what you are very good at.

I personally don’t mind if your brothers, cousins, sister in laws, dog minder is great at doing decking and is willing to do it at the weekend, but you may well be better off in the greater scheme of things saving yourself the money it might cost and not install it in the first place.

If you are looking to make something of your garden and you wish to have a go even in part by yourself. Here’s were you start.

Step 1 : Measure up the garden.

Step 2: garner some idea of the theme you want in your garden. Ensure that everything you fit into the theme after that fits it. To analagise, would you put antique furniture in a room with linoleum ? It may work, but it probably won’t.

Step 3: consider the practical wish list:

  • shed – what size and type? Brick or timber
  • washing/ clothes line – Rotary/ retractable
  • barbecue – built in or movable. Gas or coal.
  • Kids play area – Swings, slides and pits. Sand or bark mulch. Movable or resident
  • Lighting – Security or decorative. Sunken or above ground level.
  • Outdoor electricity points – where
  • water source – water butts or outdoor tap
  • Table and chairs area – Just for two or the entire Partridge family
  • Raised timber structure or Patio
  • Green waste area

I am The El Guapo

After that you are now hopefully at a point were ergonomics and some creativity is required. This is were you can choose to call somebody very talented like myself. Simple as it may sound, but as I referred to in last weeks article, it is perfectly allowed to pay for a rough ‘outline overview sketch’ and some paint by numbers type instructions of how to put the garden together. That is unless you will need to use it to apply for planning permission. Assuming that is not the case, the only suggestion I will make is that you let the gardener know how much time and what gardening tasks you are willing to spend/ do in the garden. And please be honest and realistic.

I have said this many times before, remember:

  • Know your budget limit but be realistic.
  • don’t end up with a very expensive piece of paper that will never become a creation
  • Agree all prices before your contract starts.
  • Stonework requires dry weather and plants/ lawns need water.
  • Don’t pay for contractors tools to sit in their shed on ‘down time’ and don’t end up paying a contractor to water you plants
  • You don’t have to do it all at once.
  • Gardens can be phased in over a period of time. It may take a little longer but you will get that dream.
  • Don’t be afraid to do something different
  • Quality products cost more and cheap can be often tearful rather than cheerful.

And finally – a garden is more than just some pieces of furniture or a new feature. It needs plants. Plants to suit, your soil, your space – your garden. It joins the dots, it makes intrigue in winter and spring. It is flowers on your table and a road side pollinating café for fruit trees. It can be the defining factor as to whether you will have the sound of birds chirp in your garden. It is what makes sitting in the shade reading poetry looking at the sun, cast shadows on your lawn. It is what makes the difference between a house and a home. It will be what defines you and your garden and makes it something beautiful and creative.

Honestly, I can tell you that the gardens I remember making and further to hold dear in my heart, were not those that had the power to buy a medal nor any amount of awards – money, size, and style aside – but those within the journey of which I and the person who would live with the garden after, smiled.

Create Your Family Garden

If I hear the word….

…in these recessionary times….

…one more effing time, I may just spontaneously combust. I’ve had it. I’ve had it the media, with RTE, RTE Prime Time, RTE Frontline, The Week in Politics, RTE news and you can throw your man Vincent Browne right in the middle as he joins the conga party bus just as sure as one more government gaff hits the headlines. This all before I don’t pick up a newspaper.

donegan landscapingI watched the youtube clip of Shane Hegarty on BBC news – yes folks, BBC news – as he spoke about the Great Things About Ireland campaign. He yapped about red lemonade and how a wake may turn into a party, our sports and our language…. I began to smile as my mind wondered, child like, as if I was in accounting class on a warm summers day, starring at a single cow in a field…..

I don’t watch the news. I don’t watch much television. I definitely don’t watch anything that may devalue my happy head. On the one hand I spend too much time outside. But I’m happy there. I love camping in the rain. I love climbing trees, still. I love good news. I admire people who smile. I call it the great outdoors for good reason and as I type this weeks piece I’m taking my caffeine in a mug that says Happy Christmas on it. That’s the kind of happy level I like to be and am at.

I’ve realised just how much time I spend outside though. A lot of that is in other peoples gardens I admit. Towards the point, I’ve got a baby girl now and she’s one and a little bit years young. When I was camping in Lough Ennell we sat on the grass together were I played the ukelele for her while Mom was off doing stuff us adults may consider important. I know I like to keep my mind occupied, which can sometimes lead to moments of ponder. The technical term is daydreaming I believe, but Ella held tight to the sleeve of my t-shirt and sang her own or at the very least the unreleased version of whatever choon I was diddling away with. And for a moment I paused…. I wondered why this didn’t or hadn’t happened at home more often, or at all. I’m hesitant to admit some of the other pre-mentioned options.

What the flip is the gardener talking about this week Mary….?

I’ve taken at a look at my great outdoors you see. I’ve been growing vegetables. I have my fruit trees. I have had pieces in my garden like my red satellite bird bath – a satellite, painted red and turned into a bird bath – but these were or are mine. Not hers or ours. And as I delve further into my thoughts, I realise I am  now potentially reticent of the old, to me, at the time, gardeners I knew back in the 1980’s. I need to change that, in a way.

I need to plant more pretty flowers. Make the garden a place of intrigue and mystery. With hidden places. Not the stereotypical ‘childrens’ garden ie. a slide in a specific space. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. There’s not. But I’d like to have that and so much more. And it’s so easy to do. To design, nee map out the garden in my head.

She will start to walk soon and ask questions and wonder why and explore and…..well that’s what the Haynes Manual on all things Children says and in my mind as I start to doodle I can see that I just need to be impractical. Forget about the manual. Pretend I’m four… easy before you giggle there.

I need to not say I can’t. I need wild flowers growing. Not out of a packet. Just wilderness growing, wild, so I can run through it, even though I might lose things in there. But then I may also find them, which will make me smile. I know she won’t always need to hold on to me to be able to stand you see and then I’ll need a little more than that patch of grass we sat on.

For me, as I see it, the en vogue gig for the general populas may well be growing your own vegetables and it really does have a great role to play in the lives and future of this nations nippers. Very happy I am to see it somewhat take the place of the microwave. But I remember the girls I knew growing up making perfume in a jam jar, with rose petals. I remember making daisy chains. Climbing trees, taking geranium cuttings, picking some flowers for a school teacher…. such simple things, all playing such a huge part in the ever increasing big picture of my time and life not indoors.

As I delve back into my adult head, my horticulturist hat back on I realise that last seasons snow meant that I couldn’t do certain things so that they might be in flower come this year. More than that it meant I lost a season. That means I must now wait until this coming October to plant my trees.  It also means the new hedge that doesn’t exist has a valid excuse. But more, even more than that, this time next year Ella will be two going three. A big difference. And if I don’t do the things I should to my garden now, this season…. well, as her Godfather explained to me, she’ll never be that age again.

I was chatting about this with a gardener friend of mine. I was explaining that my chicken coop is painted pink and white. I will of course openly admit I had a lot of that colour left over from a previous garden endeavour. I explained my thinking, my hands almost directing  traffic as they flapped about in the air etching the garden into nothing-ness. In jesting, we came to the conclusion that if I had had a baby boy I may simply have needed a set of goal posts.

But the horticultural minds considering poetry as versus trigonometry, both agreed that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the imagination is something that should be applauded and enccouraged, maybe even nurtured. We thought of the seasons, the seasons of nature one needs to pre-empt in order to be able to attract it to your garden so it is there when that time arrives.

Now that I have told myself my story and what I would like that road ahead to have in stock for me…. I think it’s about time I designed a garden for the future and for my family.

I remember some time ago being asked by a Client, who was also a Dad to visit his daughter. She had just bought her first home and had, as he described it an extreme case of the independance streak.

She inherits it off her Mother. Who inherited it from hers…..

He told me.

After a consultation with her and partner a list was drawn up. A wish list, that would make a garden. On the other page, a great big garden doodle. With numbers, arrows and outlines. But, after each item on the list was the ingredients to make that particular piece or space.

The benches, for example, were new railway sleepers, six inch nails, paint and some cement. The planting was seperated into trees, bulbs and then the lower growing plants, bed by bed. The sketch and the itinary were given to the Father. He then framed it and paid me for my time. It was her house warming present and it was hung in the kitchen, by the patio doors.

For each birthday, anniversary or celebration some items, ingredients or were it maybe got a little technical, my time was purchased by the various relations.

Better than the salt and pepper shaker she always wanted. Anyways the garden will be a nice home for that swing I’m gonna make her….

For the weekend that has just passed, Happy Fathers day. And before anyone asks why I didn’t mention Dads day last week….? I of course had to be reminded 🙂 There are reassons why I never buy myself socks.

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An Alternate Hard Garden Surface ?

If you were thinking of putting a new surface into your garden that wasn’t decking, cobble paving or the usual, this one may just be for you.

It’s done very simply mainly using cross sections of felled trees.

Like a patch work quilt of sorts, the in between bits are covered with a semi permeable plastic membrane – which can take a little time to get right.

When that’s done it is then infilled with pebble. Depending on the how the tree sections are cut it can be a little tricky to get the surface entirely level.

Conditions weren’t exactly right from a photography perspective when I was digging, but the photograph below will give you a better idea of how deep these stumps go. I personally found that because the soil was wet it also moved a heck of a lot easier.

There’s not much too it really after that. The final image [below] isn’t the greatest quality – but the first image above does look pretty darned good as an end result.