Peter Donegan, landscaping dublin, garden design

inspirational thoughts

christopher columbus

christopher columbus

whilst the weather maybe a little rough in North Dublin today; trawling through a mountain of reference books seeking a solution to mindful serenity for a show garden design…. [ie. there is no problem just at the moment it doesn’t sit right, in my imagination] I stubled across this photograph of Christoper Columbus.

On the back I had written a quote by spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno; ‘Only he who attempts the absurd is capable of achieving the impossible.’

Sometimes attempting what can be only by some considered absurd in landscape design is frowned upon and laughed at…. when in fact it may also be considered genius. Will some laugh, nee be critical of my next design? or will it merit applause and acclaim…… ? Does it matter?

absurd adj obviously senseless or illogical; ridiculous [collins dictionary english]

proud of ‘your’ garden?



garden show preparation are in full swing; The trees are in bud, almost trying into leaf; the daffs have sprouted and almost all in flower. The season is literally almost urging itself to burst into full bloom.

Such varied enquiries come into my office. But, even with our website [thanks Patrick] usually it’s what type of work do we do? Landscaping… slightly vague one may say… What type of gardens do ‘we’ take on? potentially, mildly pompous I could say…



The truth is I only employ qualified horticulturists. And in my opinion intelligence in horticultural understanding and planning is everything. For the great people I work with I refer to Freud’s comment of Da Vinci ‘that like most man of genius he needed constantly to occupy his mind’. My point? As long as I can be proud, stand tall and with my hand on my heart say The Donegan Landscaping and Design team created each and every of these gardens, to the highest standard… then we’ve taken on the right project. Is that wrong, pompous, arrogant or suggestive of a noticeable mass increase of circumfrance/ radius of ones cranium? Not at all. The ethos is that I am very proud of the gardens we build, the standards achieved and the clients we work with.

Because we build great gardens does that mean we are expensive? That depends I suppose. Like building a house extension versus a hotel and whether from straw or gold bullion, the choices and cost for a garden build and design also reflect time and materials. Naturally. If the requirements, made of time and materials, do not equal ones budget, then possibly ammendments to choice and the amount of need to be made.

peter donegan


That it may be a costly sum rather than do I want too much is logic. But in saying that some choose to ask what I can get for my budget whilst having their own ideas. Others choose to decide what they want and put a price after each item like a shopping list and decide what they can have based on what they can afford. Either or like anything in life it is all relative.

The question is will you be proud of your garden when it is complete? We always are. Maybe the cliché ‘quality rather than quantity has relevance here’.

All that aside, [as the favourite of Uncles!] I promised my niece Lilly that I put a pic of her in one of my posts. So here she is….. I’ll make a gardener out of you yet!

Slán go foill


before you design – you must be inspired!

are you inspired?

are you inspired?

Half the interest of a garden is the constant exercise of the imagination.-Mrs C.W. Earle, Pot Pourri from a Surrey Garden, 1897

The introduction of possibly ‘younger’ designs or more designs from a new younger generation to our television screens certainly allows those in that domain to cause slight controversy. I shall rephrase. It allows select sectors of society to be more amenable to gardens that are not middle of the road and not liked by vast, large amounts of the population to be built. (That is, they transcend into something a little more than just ‘nice’ gardens.)

Whilst television has allowed a slight licensing law be permitted to the young ‘uns of the gardening world, it certainly has not, in Ireland, encouraged the full acceptance of a new wave of flair, genius and aura-like elegance to be cultured or developed. They maybe fable-like conceptions in some eyes, but the industry of horticultural products and services is worth €2.33 billion annually. Some of this is surely spent on ‘new age’ landscape design. Although I will not like all that I see I know I can take a little from this and make it something that I do like. I simply feel the garden should reflect a little of the soul. How many of you can truly say that you are happy, sincerely, with the piece of ground that surrounds your house? When was the last time you relaxed, unwound and after leaving a hard days struggle from your place of work (or just tough day!) excused yourself and found some serenity in ‘your’ little world outside.

The house is a symmetrical development or construction where all elements serve a purpose, through an equation. A garden should be the opposite. It is a place from the heart that takes you away from a world so functional and correct. Yours may not be a television documentary (nor does it need to be) but the heart should ‘feel’ your place outside is worthwhile. I would not dare suggest that we need to go foolhardy with ill-conceived visions into our gardens tomorrow and perform inappropriate and nonsensical acts upon our plots. I would suggest that in a lot more than the planning and symmetric tribunals that cover so much of our airwaves and newspapers is there inspiration to be found. Maybe it is time that these slight visionaries where embraced (even just slightly) and that our dream was churned from a mere conversational pastime into something real. Inspiration is everywhere. Sometimes we just need to allow a little more of it into our lives, our homes and moreso our gardens. Can we not forget the newest Bentley or BMW for one season? Can we go back to childhood dreams that, possibly, seem so long ago and let loose in a new world outside? In a full season I may create some of the finest gardens in Ireland – but how many rouse or kindle the imagination? What I may like, personally, you may not, naturally. I do not wish to set a new list of rules for garden design. I would suggest that our gardens could be a little more than they are and sometimes it can come so much easier from the heart and mind. We have moved from the ‘80’s where straight edge beds of allysum, lobelia and grisilina hedging coveted our Saturday afternoon and Sunday used to be a day of rest. We skipped through the ‘90’s where cobblelock driveways and patios rocked our world. Now in the new millennium decking is everywhere to be seen. Although these are not unwise additions to the garden or home, they are somewhat commercially driven and an easy choice when deciding to do a little to the, for so long neglected, garden.

Most people who possess anything like an acre, or half of it, contribute weekly to the support of a gentleman known as Jobbing Gardener. You are warned of the danger that he may prove to be Garden Pest no 1. – C.E. Lucas-Phillips, The New Small Garden

I may be reiterating a point that is not believed by all by suggesting that you consult with a horticulturist, on not all, but at some point of a garden development. For those of you about to embark on a truly amazing journey, if you do not wish to employ the services of somebody qualified in the trade; visit your local garden centre; visit your neighbours gardens; join your local garden groups, seek as much advice as you can.. even read a blog. You only have to choose not to listen to it if you wish. We as a nation are growing. The figure of €431 million spent annually, by the public, on flowers and garden products will obviously grow too. With good advice and some direction you might not have to spend like my some distraught callers tell me – that is, a new plant every week, increasing this figure further, without need. Why? Because the last one usually dies. Before you begin to design you must be inspired. It’s your garden and it should tell your story, from the heart.

Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans

John Lennon

estimates & quotes or the cost of a garden

on tv for the right reasons

on tv for the right reasons

You want your garden and your contractor to be on television for the right reason.

Before you start anything, develop a very general idea of what you want and how much you wish to spend. Select your company carefully and do please ensure with your choice of company that their staff/ horticulturist is qualified and experienced. A good standing in the industry is very important so please, please [that’s twice!] ensure the company is registered, fully insured and is a member of a recognised repuatable association [eg. the landscape contractors association of Ireland]. You do not want an estimate or a prediction and you certainly need some assurance of standards.

Similar to most horticultural tasks, there is no golden rule that suits all when it comes to doing a garden because no plant, garden or lawn [for the purpose of this analagy/ example] will ever be the same in height, age or appearance. Pricing and the calculation of that time will therefore follow a similar route.

If you were to cut your lawn, how long would it take you? Now muliply this by a rate per hour and you should have a cost. The second point is that anybody can cut grass, the question is how well do you want it done and do you want to supervise or will you have confidence in walking away knowing respect for your property and a quality finish will be given at all times.

With regard to landscaping another famous analagy is required. Assume you’re in a supemarket, you have fifty euro and you wish to cook a meal for ten people. Is it possible? and what standard of meal do you want to serve? If you buy two sausages [at 50 cent each] and it takes one hour [at 5 euro per hour] to purchase and cook them – then thats your equation and your garden will cost 6 euro – simple. For your garden, if you choose to get fifty plants and the labour will take two days then the only variance should be the standard of labour and the plants selected. One should understand that plants are sold by pot size, height and how difficult they are to propagate, therefore there is always a ‘cheaper’ price possible when you wish ‘to get some plants’. You must decide the standard you want at more than one level and with that if it suits your budget.

My article, the three quotes rule will also prove very useful here. Whatever you decide, as always, remember you only want to do this once and cheaper can more often be more tearful than cheerful. My advice, if you don’t [and be honest] know what you’re looking for and/ or how it works, then employ a horticultural consultant and pay for the advice. It might be sixty five euro – but it could save you a lot more.

Whatever you decide love your garden and as always – enjoy!

the three quotes rule – [how] does it work?

it's no laughing matter

it's no laughing matter

If I asked three people to price for the supply of a motor vehicle or to be more specific, three people to price for the supply of a citroen car would I get the same price?

It cannot be until I say I want a ’03 Citroen C5 HDi, Diesel, Red in colour, 78,235 km with full service history, including exact tyre, upholstery, electrical specifications etc will the pricing system be truly fair to the three tenders and most importantly, to you the client. It is ONLY in this situation will a three quotes rule work. The same theory applies to gardens.

As with everything, there is always a lesser quality product/ service available and therefore naturally a cheaper price. The less time one plant must spend in one place whilst being maintained – the less it should cost, the smaller it is and naturally the cheaper it is. But ‘the’ plant is still being supplied?

So many times people ask me ‘to quote for doing the garden’. That is partly why I [peter donegan] charge for a call out, nee consultation with domestic clients of new. Because unless, as analagised earlier, one can tell me over the by email, phone or any other means exactly what is to be costed – only a cost to landscaping of your grounds should exist, NOT an estimate or quote.

I can price but, again to be fair to you the customer, exactly for what should be preferrable. Are the three prices for your garden singing from the same hymn sheet for exactly the same amount,quality and standard of product and finish? To ensure there is equality within pricing it is important to ensure some form of works specification is in place or/ and at least a design concept or drawing. From logic, most good practices will advise their clients to accept the better contractor whilst considering the ‘costs’ submitted.

You do get what you pay for and if you are unsure of what exactly you want don’t be afraid to pay for a professional consultation. As I’ve always said cheaper can often be more tearful than cheerful and be it garden or not, if the time is put into the preparation of your project, it will work out to be no laughing matter.



ps. my article, never had your garden designed before may prove of benefit here.