Irish Mail On Sunday 23rd May 2010

Yesterday, Eugene Higgins of The Irish Mail On Sunday did a great Piece on The Garden Group with the tagline How a Bloom maverick is taking bloggers on tours of our ‘secret’ gardens and titled it A www.walk on the wild side

The main picture is of Dena [@curlydena], Mom Vena [@VenaW] and Dad Andrew Walker. [And to think I spent so long brushing my hair that day 😀 ] The other two images are courtesy Jennifer Farley Photography [@laughing_lion]. I’ve asked Eugene for the main text of the piece and will post it below as soon as I get it. For now…..


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Irish Independent March 3rd 2010


Wednesday 3rd March was a nice day. I’d had a really great chat with Susan Daly over the phone last week and awoke to a clatter of texts and messages all singing Carly Simon on the answering machine 😉 Great to have humorous friends…

I must say it is a great article. Extremely well written by Susan and it was an absolute honour to speak with her. One of life’s really nice people.

For those that didn’t get to do so, one can read the article in full here. Apart from a sexy gardener erm….. 😆 also featured are two more of lifes really nice people kieran Murphy and Pat O’Mahony.

Thanks also to John Mc Williams for the photograph used above.

‘People ask why I don’t charge for my expertise — where’s the fun in that?

Wednesday March 03 2010

“I’m not stupid with the euro in my pocket, but some of the things I most enjoy I do for free. “Recently I took a group of people around the war memorial gardens in Islandbridge. “My wife made country apple pie and we had coffee in flasks, and we have another trip coming up to Ireland’s Eye. “But what people kept bouncing back to me afterwards was: Why didn’t you charge for it?

“I don’t get that. I competed at the Irish Conker Championships last year just for fun. “It’s like I won’t put a shop on my blog (, because that’s not why I do it.

“I’d say 50pc of the phone calls I get are for free gardening advice, and I’ve been on the garden side of things on the Niall Mellon trips. “I’m going to sound like a martyr, but for me, it’s just not the point of life to always have to tie in everything you do to paying the bills.”

Quizical Christmas Times For An Irish Gardener

ní thigim...?

Nollaig Shona...!

It’s a funny situation when as a ‘gardener’ [?] for a living – the Summer Christmas holidays come around…. It’s the one day of the year when I try and rest my brain, horticulturally 😉

I buy the Irish Times. It sits there…. I pick it up… I put it back down and like a child with 20 selection boxes sitting under a tree…. I know I shouldn’t but, I pick up the magazine section again. The reason for my hesitation… one woman. One with simply too many questions…. Jane Powers.

I look puzzled as the guests arrive and start to query my puzzled look. Eventaully, I explain….

It’s Jane. Same thing as last year. But this year it’s worse. ?! Now it’s question 35…….. What do Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’, Geum ‘Mrs Bradshaw’ and Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ have in common….?

...with lilly

...with lily

And this year The Ultimate gardening Quiz returns on December 19th. Mark your calender. This is one that I never miss….

Think you got what it takes…. ? Try the questions [see below] from last years…….. 😉

If you don’t know Jane Powers…. [This is the World Wide Web after all…] She has been writing about gardens and gardening in the Irish Times since 1995, contributing a weekly gardening column since February 1997 amongst many other publications; an Irish inspector for the Good Gardens Guide, and has been a judge for several garden competitions in Ireland.

She is presently working on a book for gardeners (both experienced and new) who wish to manage their spaces in an environmentally-friendly manner, with as gentle as possible an impact on the earth. The book, which she is illustrated with her own photos, will be published by Frances Lincoln in 2010.

The 2008 Christmas Quiz

  1. Which one of these hedging plants keeps its dead leaves on the branches over winter: beech, hawthorn, blackthorn?
  2. What seasonal, festive plant is a parasite of trees?
  3. Which of these garden creatures is not a vegetarian: aphid, snail, spider?
  4. Which spring flower shares the same name as the young man in Greek mythology who fancied himself so much that he spent his entire time gazing at his reflection in a pool?
  5. Where in Ireland will you find the highest box hedges in the world?
  6. What is the best way of propagating carrots: by division, by seed, or by semi-ripe cuttings?
  7. What is the genus name of the rabbit-eared flower in the photo?
  8. Fresh grass clippings should be added to the compost heap to supply extra carbon. True or false?
  9. On what kind of a plant would you be likely to find an awn?
  10. What is remarkable about the appearance of these potato varieties: Arran Victory, Edzell Blue and Congo?
  11. What shrub is commonly known as “Christmas box”?
  12. This year, 2008, we celebrated which of these occurrences: the United Nation’s Year of the Potato, the Pan-European Parsnip Party, or the All-Ireland Cabbage and Kale Carnival?
  13. What is an “eyecatcher”? Is it: a Himalayan plant with pernicious thorns; an implement for taking the eyes out of potato tubers; or an architectural feature on a distant hill?
  14. The petals of which of these flowers is not edible: viola, nasturtium, buttercup?
  15. Pomes and drupes are both kinds of what particular botanical item?
  16. What is the name of the garden with the Italianate pond in the photo?
  17. The flower of the dragon arum (Dracunculus vulgaris) has a distinctive smell. How would you describe it?
  18. Why does it smell that way?
  19. What characteristic do the following plants share: Sambucus nigra ‘Eva’, Ranunculus ficaria ‘Brazen Hussy’ and Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’?
  20. In A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Ebenezer Scrooge suggests that every idiot who goes about with “Merry Christmas” on his lips, should be “boiled with his own pudding”, and buried with a stake through his heart. Of what plant does he recommend that the stake be made?
  21. Which part of the plant does the larva of the vine weevil consume?
  22. What is a fruit cage? Is it: an enclosure to protect berrying plants from birds; a climbing frame for strawberries; or a device for isolating bad apples?
  23. Verbena bonariensis is one of the most popular garden plants of the last decade. What does “bonariensis” mean?
  24. What do the following plants have in common: Cornus, Nepeta, Equisetum and Arisarum proboscideum?
  25. What is the common name of the spiny flower in the photo?
  26. What two seasonal plants combine to make the anagram “little me, so holy”?
  27. If you were to “harden off” a plant, what would that mean?
  28. Name the designer whose garden won “Best Show Garden” at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show.
  29. What is another name for the pedicel?
  30. Which of these food crops is it customary to propagate asexually: lettuce, potato, parsnip or pea?
  31. What does the Latin epithet “alpina” (or “alpinus”, or “alpinum”) mean in a plant name – as in Celmisia alpina?
  32. Raceme, corymb, panicle and spike refer to what part of a plant?
  33. What is the common name of the presently ubiquitous plant, Euphorbia pulcherrima?
  34. “Poems are made by fools like me,/But only God can make a tree.” These are the last two lines of a famous poem. What are the first two lines?
  35. What do the following plants have in common: Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’, Geum ‘Mrs Bradshaw’ and Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’?
  36. The modern Italianate garden in the photo was designed by Irishman Paul Doyle. What was the name of the garden show this summer in which it won the award for best large garden?
  37. What do the following plants have in common: Alchemilla, Athyrium, Cardamine pratensis and Cypripedium?
  38. What kind of Irish historical plants are to be found in the Lamb-Clarke Collection at University College Dublin?
  39. Sciarid fly, hoverfly, whitefly and carrot fly: which of these is a friend to the gardener?
  40. What South African succulent is know as the “money plant” and is believed in some cultures to bring wealth to a household or business?

UPDATE: 17th December ’09

and as promised the answers to the quiz

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self made

this article was written by freelance writer and really nice girl [ 😉 ]  Jane Ruffino some time ago now. Autumn 2008 to be exact. It was geat fun meeting Jane and kind of funny somewhat seeing anothers view of myself in writing… take a read and see what you think.  


Pink Planter

 Real gardens and virtual friends

Words Jane Ruffino Photos Maura Hickey  


Landscaper and garden designer Peter Donegan is constantly on the remake. His has become the only certified fully-accessible horticultural website in Ireland, and through blogging, live-streaming and Twitter, he’s brought an unlikely online social networking angle to landscape design and gardening. But offline, too, Peter is always looking for ways to make his gardens and his life more fun, more environmentally friendly, or more interesting.

He’d always hoped he’d be running his own business by the age of twenty-five, and he was; he set up Donegan Landscaping in 2001. “Our first award was for a fifty-five-acre 18th-century estate in North Dublin. It’s privately owned. People were saying to me ‘Where’s your father? How long are you working with your dad?’ I was going, ‘No, no, it’s just me.’”

Peter started gardening when he was about six, growing plants under his bed. Yes, we said ‘under his bed’. When his mother discovered what he was up to, she wasn’t pleased, and he became worried. “There was a mentor, an old Marist brother, a gardener-type of guy, so I went across and I said, ‘My mam’s going to throw all my plants out! Could you mind them in your glass house?’ This was the 1980s, so Ireland was pretty shit, and all that Bob Geldof stuff.” Peter talks like that, oblique yet sensible, describing sensations more often than appearances.

The Marist brother taught him about growing plants and gardening, and he did his first garden at around age ten, for a friend of a neighbour who was having guests around. “The neighbours called around and said, ‘Your garden is lovely. Who did it?’ And she said, ‘Oh, Peter Donegan.’ And she said, ‘You must give us his number.’ And she went out and she took me in by the hand. And so that was it.” It wasn’t easy being a kid in Ireland of the 80s, let alone one who was into gardening before television made hedge-trimming sexy.

At sixteen, Peter went off to study horticulture, and worked and studied both in the UK and around Ireland before he set up on his own back home in Dublin. In a way, he’s always been on his own, or at least a breed apart. “You know the way some people are just really good with children?” he says, and then adds, “But I don’t mean to compare humans with things that photosynthesise.” He may not grow plants under his bed now, but he certainly has a connection with them.

He hasn’t lost his boyish, obsessive love, or his child-like wonder, and rather than a Man trying to conquer Nature, he talks about his role as if he were something other than a creator, more like an editor of landscapes. He speaks with zeal for leaving things to grow wild, and even in front of his own house, he’s created a hedge-flanked boreen with a little strip of grass in the middle instead of the conventional paved driveway. “I get free fruit on the way to work.” I picture him arriving at his desk with berry-stained hands and cheeks

– if only everyone were as happy as this guy is.

Of course he wants and needs to make money, but making ends meet is the means to an end, a way of being able to keep at what he does best, which is also what he loves most. “The biggest problem I have is that because of what I love I tend to sacrifice the business bit of it.”

More than once during our conversation, he compares what he does to buying the Beatles on vinyl: it’s not just about having the recording, it’s about having it in a particular way that is special to you, even if it’s rarer or more expensive. “I’m not saying I don’t know how to make a couple of quid, but in the scheme of things if we’re doing a garden, and I go, ‘That tree will be better but it costs a hundred quid more,’ I’ll buy the better tree and I won’t change the quote. That’s the bit where I fall down,” he says. “Feck it – I’m getting paid a wage. That will do me.”

He’ll do your garden whatever way you like, but decking and cobble-locking seem to make him cringe. He’d probably try to talk you out of them, not out of snobbery, but because choking the ground is not particularly sympathetic to the environment, and it lacks imagination.

He recently built an extension on his house. “I felt like I’d increased the concrete space, so I planted 120 trees to kind of balance that in my own brain. You can’t eliminate the square metre-age of a house – multiply it by 75,000 units per year and turn around and go, ‘I don’t know why the water has nowhere to go.” To Peter, a garden is an aesthetic space, but must be done with the same sense of responsibility that he seems to apply to everything; he’s the type of guy who hates the thought of people being or feeling excluded.

That’s why he didn’t just need just a decent website, he needed a place online where he could interact with people and share his love for gardening. It was in the middle of last year that his friend Adrian McMahon, Head of Operations at Segala, helped him remake his online presence. He and Adrian first met at a trad session in their local pub. “Peter landscaped my gardens, and we got chatting over a cup of coffee,” says Adrian, whose company audits and certifies websites for compliance and accessibility. “Peter asked what I did. And when I explained and demonstrated the benefits of having an accessible website, that cup of coffee turned into a positive longer project.”

Peter had a website, but Adrian told him “If you’re good at what you do, which you are, it’s no good having it if nobody can see it. And I just said, ‘But I have a website.’ It was very archaic thinking.”

He went off and thought about it for a while, and then they got some not-so-positive feedback to the site. “We got a complaint from a lady who was hard of sight and she said she couldn’t read my website and she thought it was unfair. So I rang Aido, and he said to me, ‘You need your website fully accessible,’ and I said, ‘Fine.’”

“He listens and takes things on board. If he doesn’t understand it, he asks questions until he does,” says Adrian. “Once he realised simple changes controlled by him could benefit so many others, he embraced it.”

This is where Paddy O’Hanlon came in. “I met Peter through Adrian McMahon. I came on board as Peter’s web designer.”

Paddy is a designer first and foremost, but he puts a special focus on start-up companies, and on those with a real environmental conscience; he also builds accessibility into his sites as a standard practice, not an optional extra. “I undertook an overhaul of the previous site, including a redesign of the visuals and information layout with a strong focus on web accessibility and web standards.” They left a lot of the original design, but rebuilt the site from scratch (although it’s now being redesigned again).

When this was done, they got Segala to certify it as accessible, so that those with difficulty reading the screen could see it or listen to it through headphones. “The certification cost a few quid, but from what I’m told, we are the first to have horticultural-related anything – definitely in Ireland,” Peter says.

It didn’t stop there. “We got a complaint from a lady who lives in a Gaeltacht region – by phone. And she said, ‘I am hard-of-sight, but I’m also a Gaelgoir and I can’t read your website.’” Most people would dismiss such a call as an isolated incident. Not Peter. “I take it seriously. It’s not so much a complaint. So we made our website bilingual and then ended up as one of the top 50 companies in Ireland for the use of the Irish language.” Peter doesn’t chase awards; when he wins them, it’s the result of having done something that seemed to make sense anyway. His innate sense of fairness has never steered him wrong.

This doesn’t seem to surprise Paddy. “From what I know of Peter, I’d say new and different ways of doing things are appealing to him,” he says. “So if the opportunity to try something presents itself, why not try it out?”

So it wasn’t long before Peter was blogging, Twittering, and live-streaming. “It might inspire people to develop an understanding rather than pay for an education,” he says.

“The technologies were all new to Peter,” says Adrian. “You could say I went from being a friend to support and tech trainer.” Before he met Adrian, to Peter, Twitter was the sound of a bird in a Leinster hedgerow.

“Landscape design isn’t something you would quickly associate with the web, but I think it’s working out for Peter,” Paddy says. “The web is a powerful tool for networking as well as promotion. A case example is Peter’s Pink Boat heading down to Electric Picnic. It’s not something you can plan, or that happens all the time.”

The Pink Boat: an unlikely garden feature, and a good example of how online social networking can help bring unlikely people together with unlikely gardens. The centrepiece of Peter’s 2008 Bloom in the Park show garden was a 33-foot pleasure cruiser built in 1957, that had been due to be condemned. “It was used in the original Casino Royale, or so I’m told, and we have proof that it is,” Peter says. “That said, we didn’t use that to our advantage. I didn’t want it to take away from the garden. We painted it pink and black-tinted all the windows. I wanted to make recycling and gardening and eco-friendly environments – I wanted to make it very child-like.” And that he did. To some, the Pink Boat was a White Elephant. It even got a few noses out of joint, but Peter didn’t mind at all.



“We had a decision to make: do we want a medal, do we want the work, or do we want to have fun? So that’s exactly what we did

– we had fun, and we upset people because we had a pink boat in a show garden.” It was his second year in a row that he entered the Bloom in the Park without a main sponsor for his garden. Last year, it was an old Morris Minor in which he placed an entertainment system, and then set in a rather wild-looking garden. It was called “No Rubber – Soul”, and was a tribute to those good intentions that result in the half-finished projects in sheds and gardens around the country. He did win an award for that one. But this year, it was his online presence that brought appreciation for Peter’s passion.

“After the show, we needed to save it from being re-condemned because I couldn’t afford to hold onto [it],” Peter explains. “Adrian and I put up a blog post saying ‘We need a home for a pink boat.’ Adrian put out a Tweet saying ‘help needed’, and a link to my blog.

[2FM DJ and blogger] Rick [O’Shea] brought me on air. The response was unbelievable.” By the evening, they had found a home for the boat.

“We were offered money, but we turned it down. We didn’t want money, we wanted a good home for it. Electric Picnic said they would take the boat and they’d leave it there forever and ever, and in wintertime they’d wrap it up in a nice, warm, dry shed, and they’d restore it and keep it pink and keep the windows black.” So the boat was brought to the Electric Picnic, to an audience perhaps more willing to appreciate the joyous spirit in which it was created than the snooty folks who thought pink was for princess bedrooms and Elvis impersonators.

“You end up like the struggling artist. They say there are three types of show garden: one is ‘I will get work with this,’” he says. “And it’s a bit twee and crap, and Daniel O’Donnell, but it’s gonna sell.” The second type that has backing, and it wins medals. You know: neat rows of flowers like hospital corners, plagues of hanging baskets, gravel paths and wrought iron benches from which glassy-eyed people in designer wellies stare at half-starved koi flapping about in a plastic pond. Yawn.

“And then there’s me.” Peter, who enjoys communicating with the world both through about his gardening. This is nothing new. When he was in his early twenties, he planted daffodil bulbs in his front garden for his girlfriend, in the shape of a love heart, spelled out, “Sarah Loves Peter,” and waited for them to grow. “I brought her back, and I stood her up on the wall, and I went, ‘Look!’ She went, ‘Ye feckin’ eejit, ye! Drop me home!’ Because everybody would see. It’s child-like.” And this is a good thing.

The use of new technologies has helped him to share his knowledge and his enthusiasm, even with those who might not appreciate floral declarations of love. “I’ve got a good friend who is a civil engineer, who grew lettuce seeds for the first time last week,” he says with great pride. “And he followed the instructions on my blog.” So it is here that we’ll leave the seed-planting metaphors to you.

the original article can be read here

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small gardens, ideas, designs & what to do

got a wish list...?

got a wish list...?

there has been a massive wave in search for ideas all to do with small gardens.

here are the top 10 or so that you have read in the last 12 months. You chose them.Just click on the highlighted word in each line to go to that article.

If it’s not on this list. You can leave a comment and ask or take a browse through the categories list [over there on your right].

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