For the moment writer #6 is Rick O’Shea. Everyone knows him as the man on 2fm that helps get us through the afternoon slumps. Without Rick’s help I’d have been giving someone a big pink Christmas present, luckily through his call across the airwaves we managed to find it a new home. Nuff said, ladies and gents I give you Rick O’Shea…
It was more than strange when Peter asked me if I’d write a guest post about gardening. To be honest my experience is practically zero, my hatred of the lawnmower practically legendary and I’ve destroyed one garden through incompetence in my time so my initial reaction was “I dunno about that dude….” But my other, contrary, voice in my head (there are many) said “Sure give it a shot, it’ll be a challenge” and when I came to write this it turned out to not be that hard.
I have a genuine love of gardens themselves, you see. I’ve spent more than my fair share of time idling away in summer and winter in places like the National Botanic Gardens out in Glasnevin, the Powerscourt Estate, Avondale and not just for the constitutional walks. When I’m allowed, the garden is one of the first places I nose around in when I’m in someones house for the first time. And by nose I mean just that, I smell, touch, root around in. I don’t have my own however and have had very few to call my own over the years.
I’ve moved around a lot since I left home first, so I was never given the time to grow green fingers. The exception was one time I was living in Killiney and I planted a tree I was given out in the highly manicured, fashionable and low maintenance tiny back garden of a house I was renting, I wonder if they ever noticed it when I was gone? I hope they let it be…
I lived in a house up until a year ago that had the most glorious of gardens to be discovered. When we were shown it first by the landlord the back garden looked small, no bigger than ten feet by thirty and hedged in on all sides. It was only when we walked out through the tiny gap on one side that we realised it swept on to a further garden with a path down the centre easily 5 times the size of the first one. A garden with hedges, bushes, flowers, even a compost heap! It was somewhere where that first summer meals were had in the broad evening sunshine, kids played, footballs roamed free and once or twice blankets were laid down and naps had.
I genuinely loved that garden even with the demands it put on me, ones I eventually fell behind on and had to get a professional in to look at before I destroyed it for good…
Someday I’d like to have somewhere to tend, a little patch I won’t move from where I can spend days getting dirty and on my knees begging things to work that may not first time but will on the tenth, twelfth, twentieth go.
You want to get the garden designed. You have already tried and after spending the entire lottery, it still looks humerous. The sun is shining. The neighbours have just started the barbeque. You own a jungle. Where do you start?
If this is you? then, at €4.50 [not bad value at all!] the winter issue of Self Build Extend & Renovate Ireland, is exactly the read you are looking for. Of course it is written by yours truly – and to pat myself on the back just that little more… it is really good, sound advice on how, when and why you should should consider a garden.
Some of the articles I have written previous are almost specialist in their topic – but this is one I feel is one that everyone can identify with.
The intro may suggest barbeques [what 😉 ] but – this is all about planning. Planning I say not in the sense of a cheap garden look, moreso in that the maximum return is achieved from one’s budget.
Available in all good newsagents, bookstores etc. Or purchase it online.
In The Beginning
Probably one of the most difficult guarantees any horticulturist can give is a definite improbability that any plant is going to live. The reality is that a plant is defined as ‘a living organism that grows in the ground and lacks the power of movement’. This explains so much, and knowing that a living organism must endure not only the delightful elements of our weather, but that a little more hindrance must be catered for by our green friends when we put it in a place it would not prefer to be in the first instance.
I spent some of my spare time looking through an old bookstall recently looking for inspiration from old horticultural books. One gem I did find was “The All Year Garden” by Margery Fish (first published 1958). Whilst thoughts, styles and ideals may have changed in the last fifty years, the truth is plants and their definition has not. The preface of her book says of Mrs Fish that “It is, perhaps, encouraging to know that Mrs Fish has acquired her gardening knowledge by her own practical experience as an amateur, since she went to live in Somerset in 1938.” In her earlier book she was of the opinion that “It is only possible to make a garden with no off-moments by careful selection of flowering plants and the use of foliage and berried plants.” Thus, if you know the type of ground you have, all you need do is match it to your favourite plants.
Is gardening that easy? Fish, an amateur by her own admission, very simply understood plants and understood that for a successful garden, one should prepare and plan very carefully. It is true that soil type (see Summer 2007 where this is discussed in more detail), plays a major factor in successful plant growth, but if this understanding is in place then the soil that you have inherited or somewhat adapted should not pose a problem.
The beauty about horticulture now is that you can read this article and have an understanding of what type of garden you can have, but you don’t have to wait through twenty years of experience to know that you have got it right, eventually. Nowadays there are many qualified horticulturalists to guide you. As their client you just need to decide what style or concept you wish and let them work out the details. You may take over at any time or leave the professional to complete the journey on your behalf.
Most people who possess anything like an acre, or half of it, contribute to the support of a gentleman known as the jobbing gardener. Be warned of the danger that he may prove to be Garden Pest No.1.
C.E Lucas-Phillips, The Small Garden 1952
If all this is virgin territory to you then going it alone is likely to end in failure. An hour’s professional consultation is a very worthwhile investment. A good building architect should charge and similarly so should ‘a good’ horticulturist. Do be careful however, not to tell the consultant/ designer, you are paying, the garden design he or she should draw for you and the names of the plants you like. It is better to describe the general feel or concept you have in mind. Their opinion may not be yours but is most probably based on good reason and experience. Even if you do feel yourself to be ‘green fingered’, it’s always helpful to look at other gardens in the area and see what’s doing well there! With every garden, remember that a proportion of plants and plans falter at the starting line so allow for all eventualities before you start.
Most of you reading this article will be in the process of either considering or starting to build soon. If so, you should be planning your garden now as well. When machinery is on site movement of soil is done at no extra cost and, more importantly, soil is not removed and then reintroduced again unnecessarily at considerable expense. Here is where you consultant will pay dividends and almost as important, you may save yourself their fee and more.
What goes Where
As previously mentioned, soil and plant types can be categorised very simply into either ericaceous or acid loving, and non-ericaceous/ alkali or normal plants, when considered by soil type only. It is now other factors that must be taken into consideration. For example, the size and shape of your garden, whether in town or country, what surrounds it and the climatic conditions which affect it directly.
Next up is looking at what your family want. Be it lawn or the (improbable) ‘no maintenance’, from shelter to privacy, planting is something that will ease the mind and soften that symmetrical build that so often stands out from the natural landscape rather than blending in. I urge you to choose your outlay carefully, be a little adventurous, and to choose plants that will have a better chance of living.
There is no magic or mystery about gardening – it is just common sense. The ‘green finger’ theory can be discredited, too, for through the ages there have been men with a special aptitude for certain jobs – whether making a violin or milking a cow; but this comes only after close application, and in this gardening is similar to any other job.
E. R. Janes The Flower Garden 1952
Garden design in Ireland has taken a different move recently. I worked in the trade for ten years before I felt comfortable putting pencil to paper and starting my design practice. Nowadays one can simply go to college, maybe do a garden show and start the business by selling drawings on paper. However, a design on paper does not ensure a well designed garden. A proper, full design service should follow some crucial steps.
The designer should:
Meet with the client and try to understand their personality, their lifestyle and their family way of living through the seasons. How much time they actually want to spend in the garden no matter the size, and whether they wish to spend time maintaining by simply cutting the grass, looking at their picturesque view or becoming heavily involved in a new daily lifestyle.
Designing a garden is a lot more than just drawing a pretty picture. It is a calculated reflection of ones personal lifestyle that the design professional must create. Whether that be an award winning and historical seventeenth century estate, an art-deco style house or a rural farm cottage, creating an inspiring landscape is borne from education, experience and, as important, a little soul.
It would be extremely difficult to describe how to landscape and design every garden within a few paragraphs, but what I can do is provide you with some good guidelines. The primary consideration for most people is the cost of a design service. The service itself is available at many levels and naturally depends on how much you want from your designer, to how much you have to invest in drawings. The cost will be based upon the degree of service you require.
Step 1: choose a garden designer based on reputation like commissioning an art piece and ask for an initial consultation. This part is not a tender process.
I spoke to a colleague friend of mine recently who told me he had done the finest design ever, according to his client. The project? a 10M x 6M garden. The design? all done in grass! The client in question had five children and two dogs. Not adventurous perhaps, but it sure suited their needs. A very different example was a client who worked in the tourism sector. He never had weekends off and always worked during the day. Here it was simply a case that the south facing garden/ sunniest spot rules logic went right off the drawing board. His need was for a garden that looked good early and late in the day.
Step 2: consider your family and lifestyle. Is there need for a play area, barbecue or somewhere to entertain?
One of the most important parts of all is how much of the day do you wish to spend in the garden? And Be honest. If a garden doesn’t cost time then it will cost money and time is what people always forget to allow for. The biggest change in garden design recently is a request for bespoke manufactured outdoor buildings and vegetable patches. Fifty per cent of the vegetable patches are removed within the first two years! Usually I try to replace these with some fruit trees under-planted with herbs that will be used quite regularly.
Step 3: the costs of maintaining the design.
Most important of all are the surroundings. Whether it is a rural setting where you have inherited or maybe purchased a farm cottage, or a two bedroom town house in a ‘newer’ village, all of the rules above still apply. Just as a large area of decking is out of place on an historic house, so is a Leyland hedge in a small urban or city garden. These are very golden, nee ethical rules we should all follow.
Space is a big commodity and as my Father would say, they don’t make land in Ireland anymore. It does not however mean that the typical garden of your old family home must be crammed into your new, small suburban garden. As John Brooks said in The Small Garden:
‘Gardens first and foremost are for people, not plants’, and continues, ‘The key to realising the potential of your small space, in both visual and practical terms, is design – this involves planning and styling your space so that it suits your way of life, as well as the character of your home and its surroundings.
I wrote an article some time ago for Diarmuids magazine. It went in under the rant and rave section and was titled knowledge versus experience’. Of course if you want to see what the rave was about I suppose you’ll have to buy the magazine [april/ may 2008 issue] from the good guys at harmonia.ie
It opened with, ‘In a new series ‘rant and rave’, two professionals present two sides of an arguement. Horticulturist Peter Donegan wonders – or rants – why so many people walk straight out of college into the ‘self-promoted title of garden designer’.’
GRADUATE: N 1 A PERSON WHO HOLDS A UNIVERSITY OR COLLEGE DEGREE. DESIGN: VB 1 TO WORK OUT THE STRUCTURE OR FORM OF (SOMETHING). BY MAKING A SKETCH OR PLANS. 2 TO PLAN AND MAKE (SOMETHING) ARTISTICALLY.
HORTICULTURE: N THE ART OR SCIENCE OF CULTIVATING GARDENS
COLLINS DICTIONARV FOURTH EDITION
And there holds the problem. If one reads this definition, after qualifying it may be perceived or even believed that one has the ability to walk straight into any garden and begin designing. That is true, theoretically. But is it true in reality?
Horticulture — the art cultivating garden — and its use as a design platform is something far more than an art form. It ultimately requires a necessary experience. From this a person can decide if he or she likes a style, or believes there is a better alternative or preference more genuine to their taste and in order to be true to their artistic individuality.
This experience and love as an artist however requires much more. It necessitates a biblical knowledge of horticulture and botany in so many more forms and these hierarchal stripes cannot be earned in any college. One must dirty their hands, experience nature and almost understand plant life by touch, feel and sense intuitively.
Akin to the factors required for the growth of any plant, if one is missing, living becomes defunct and for a designer it is similar. Because unless the essential landscape experiences have been courted, made love to and then married — that is if the designed landscape fails to become a reality — then it is nothing short of paper with etchings upon it to possibly be admired.
As a business venture or whether working in the business, it is here that the pitfalls are made because business and associated time costs money. If a ‘designer’ cannot exactly calculate the time, timing schedules and the process of events unequivocally that must occur, or understand a client’s circumstances, including lifestyle and budget; in most cases, then, there is definite potential that the design maybe relegated to the nonchalant paper upon which rests one’s coffee cup.
It is wise to appreciate that your reputation starts again and again, every day of your business life. So why do so many walk straight front the doors of a college into the self-promoted title of garden designer? Is it an impossibility based upon inexperience and possibly an ill conceited dream that gardening is great? The trouble is, maybe, that some forget or don’t admit to where they should start. That is if one wishes to work with the ground, one should start at that level and work up. It is not all theory. It is nature, a subject that comes with a constant learning, and to understand that requires more than a fine education.
‘It is natural that the newcomer, perhaps accustomed to the fixed routine of other pursuits, may expect rules which, if followed, will give certain definite results, but these I cannot give, for climate, soil, aspect, shelter, and many other connected factors vary widely, so that an exact formula would be useless.’
from The Flower Garden by E.R. Jane, 1952
This magazine is really good. I like writing for them. In fact I’d have to say my editor Gillian is really cool too! Is that unusual? That said I enjoyed writing this article. Check out the exclamation marks and you’ll understand why!!
Working from a blank canvass is not alway the best approach to a site. Don’t rip up what could be a valuable asset and learn how to invest in antiques for the future
Just pop into any good bookstore if you want a free read to grab yourself a copy. Enjoy!
Considering the hours, effort and mental anguish that go into the design of your new home, it is extraordinary that the exact opposite is true of the garden and wider surroundings. Most of us give it a passing thought, amounting to not much more than remembering to ask the digger driver to cut a swathe through the mud up to the front door, to be lined with concrete edging and covered with tar later.
Whilst the main thrust of environmental legislation is concerned with energy conservation, there is an increasing requirement to pay attention to the surroundings in two ways. Firstly, to do as little damage as possible to intrinsic features and wildlife and secondly, to create a setting that enhances what is there and helps to blend the new house in with the landscape.
Investing a minimum of 3% of the value of your house on your garden should add approximately 10% – 13% to the value of your home, so read on!
The logical suggestion is to allow for the garden within the entire building budget, and like your house, it can be priced and scheduled prior to work beginning on site. The trouble is, that rarely happens. The ‘oirish’ way, outside of the building budget, used to be to build the house and ‘throw down a bit of seed’. But this is changing. We as a nation now spend over €2.33 billion annually on horticultural products and services. So, is it not rational that the garden receives the same attention as the house itself?
The Landscape Designer
A landscape designer will charge for their design, and also a percentage fee to oversee. Designs will be detailed and will come with a planting plan, complete with a visual impression of what you can expect to see. It is important to let your landscape designer know how much time you wish to devote to it and what gardening tasks you are willing to undertake. No less important is ensuring that your requirements are met, in order to avoid the planting of your designer’s very own memorial. The first step is to get a cost estimate for the landscaping of this wonderful design before you pay for the actual drawings; otherwise you might end up with a very expensive piece of paper that will never become a reality.
The Landscape Contractor
Landscape contractors provide a design and landscaping service. A reputable firm is likely to charge for a consultation, but this is a wise investment, you are paying for a professional service to help you to design the garden. Given the importance of this element to the success of the whole project, the design, build and budget should all be as agreed with you. “Approximate” and “estimate” are not words you want to hear being used. If, on the other hand, you know of work done by the contractor and feel comfortable that they will produce a suitable final scheme, you could start with a rough ‘outline overview sketch’ of what the garden will look like, on headed paper, saving you the cost of the full design service. This should suffice, with a little vision and trust on your part.
Remember! Only use a contractor from a registered list! The association has a rigorous vetting procedure and ensures that all members meet strict guidelines. This also eliminates the rogue trader, the cheaper quotation and the tears that might result from a possible ‘rogue-contractor’. Ensure that your landscape consultant has a qualification in horticulture.
The site assessment with your Planning Application is a look at how your house will affect its natural surroundings and what you intend to do to ensure that it does not look out of place within its habitat, by planning additional planting. Whilst this is something that is a requirement more often for sites in rural areas, the site map will possibly require you to show what you intend to do with the existing hedges, stone walls, trees and shrubs. Certain species of plants and wildlife are protected, whilst trees are a particularly emotive issue to which we will return later. Very often, as a condition of Outline Approval, the natural features must be maintained. Additionally, building materials should not be stored on the root crown area of the tree and you are likely to be asked to re-plant if shrubs and trees are removed in order to build.
The extent to which you will be required to do the above very much depends upon the attitude of your local council and the area in which you are building. It is however an aspect that should be covered by your architect, preferably working with a landscape architect, before your Planning application is submitted.
Tree preservation orders are increasingly being issued as trees are rightly seen as being central to the character of the landscape, at the same time there is a desire to maintain indigenous species. Taking a tree survey as an example demonstrates the range and depth of information that can be obtained; it can sometimes read more like a medical chart! A tree survey should only be compiled, via your architect, by a suitably qualified arborist [in theory a registered tree doctor] or horticulturist. It’s an outlay that you probably haven’t thought to budget for, but it is an investment in your house in exactly the same way that you are paying your architect. The cost will depend on the complexity of the site but will not include a landscaping schedule; that is a separate piece of work. Remember that this is a professional service and one that will pay dividends in the final look of both house and setting.
Below is an outline of what a tree survey covers:
To include brief details of all other significant vegetation, for example hedgerows, a general commentary on tree related problems, tree measurements (which because of their shape will be approximate) and the suitability of trees for retention, but not their history.
The time of year will have a bearing on the above as some signs symptomatic of ill health within a tree may not be obvious in certain seasons any conditions Ivy can also obscure defects and ill health.
This will cover the age, from established through to senile, the condition, from good to dead, height and spread including the canopy separately. It accompanies a description of the site based on a scale drawing.
Trees are sorted into categories ranging from A being a tree of outstanding merit to C, one which is dead, dying or dangerous and which should be removed.
The action to be taken covers:
Clean out – removing anything detrimental to the tree’s health, including dead and broken branches.
Crown thin – removing living branches to reduce the weight of the crown and thus resistance to wind, admit more light and improve air circulation.
Crown reduction – shortening the canopy limbs.
Remove dead wood – pruning all dead and diseased branches.
Address imbalance – as the result of deformed growth trees develop an imbalanced crown system. This may not be important except where the imbalance lies towards the house, road or pathway.
The report finishes with a section covering the overall and general future management of the trees and site factors influencing this.
The above is a very detailed survey, but it does demonstrate the extent of the information you can obtain. It’s an informed approach providing the best possible outcome for your trees, which could result in saving the tree – and the expense of removing and replanting.
As always when employing anyone, it’s best to contact a recognised and reputable trade association and choose a registered company with a track record in this sector. Whilst a local gardener or college graduate may be knowledgeable, this is not something for the faint hearted and a legal document is really what is required.
Prepared in association with Peter Donegan Landscaping Ltd., Co Dublin 01-807-8712 Mobile: 087-659-4688 www.doneganlandscaping.com
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