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herbaceous plants

herbaceous adj designating plants that are soft stemmed rather than woody
herbaceous border n a flower bed that contains perennials rather than annuals
[source collins paperback dictionary]

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In ordinary lingo, a herbaceous plant is one that although is more like a shrub rather than a bedding plant; it will come up year after year [ie. it is a perennial/ completes its life cycle over several seasons] and it does not need to be replaced as your ‘summer bedding plants would. [if you don’t understand still, thats ok – leave a comment and i’ll go into more detail]

A garden without herbaceous plants is generally quite dull. People tend to have their reasons as to why they should not have them. The main one is that they usually look like a lump of pulp come their off season. That said they do look spectacular when in flower.

The problem in my opinion is that times have changed. On one hand market seems to suggest a lot more ‘low maintenance’ style planting is in order – on the other – people are going back to living ‘the good life’ and the days of plant division and sharing/ swapping with your neighbours may not be so far away again. Thank God!

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The reason in my opinion, I even turned off them for a little, is because the ‘ye olde’ days of gardening was and still is considered for those only of stately home type and sized grounds – it is also the audience to whom most of our writers still preach. The ‘I’m-excited-about-this-plant-you’ll-never-be-able-to-pronounce-the-name-of-but-i’m-ecstatic-about-it-so-so-should-you-be’ type. This I still find can generally come across as extremely boring – and generally speaking it is. No offence. But the fact that those who write so botanically speaking eloquently are still employed; the fact that they speak only of a fashion that appeals to a select demograph – is not the fault of the plant. I have four sisters and three brothers and not one of get turned on by the mention of ligustrum ovalifolium aurea variegata [variegated golden privot by the way].So I dont mention it – like that.

I generally compare this to a boring english teacher, in the case of this analagy, poetry. It is not poetry’s fault. It is not the authors fault. I love poetry. But – sometimes the person giving the sermon is more the destructor than the pupil who is not paying attention. It is why I always do not assume that everyone has the same passion or qualifications as I do. But also that they may wish to – even a little. It is also to eliminate any arrogance that may be sounding.

That aside ‘herbaceous considered’ plants are cool. I like to plant them in clusters and also to hide them behind other clusters of evergreen so that when they do die down, something else is hiding the gap. It may require a good planting plan but – no ‘garden’ is complete without them.

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Damien… Thursday garden guest #4

If you’d like to know more about Thursday garden guest time – click here

peter and damien

peter and damien

For the moment writer #4 is Damien Mulley. When I first suggested that I do a garden guest slot… suprisingly, possibly, the first person to contact me on twitter was Damien.

He owns Mulley Communications runs the Irish Blog Awards; the Irish Web Awards; writes; speaks; teaches; does tv/ radio on the subject – the list is endless. One might say he is to computers what I am to horticulture. hmmmm….? 😉 That wry wit of mine aside and when with a minute to spare one pretty quickly realises outside of a passion for ‘techie things’ – Damien is, genuinely, a really cool gentleman.

Ladies & Gentlemen please be upstanding and enjoy:

The Garden – what I like about…

Actually, let’s call this My Mum, Mr. Roycroft and my Nana.
Oh and hello. I’m actually going to talk about three people who encouraged me to like plants and gardening and getting things to grow. My mother was always and still is into gardening and when we lived up in the Northside we had a small garden front and back with really crappy soil. She had roses and lillies and bulbs and all the usuals. She used to then get “slips” off my Nana, her mother-in-law amongst other people and grow loads of shrubs as well as buying the odd few plants when we could afford those luxuries which only happened much later in life.

My grandmother was still very much in the background at this stage when it came to her influence. I used to like helping my mother out in the garden and eventually when I was 6-7 she gave me a little patch of the garden to call my own and I didn’t do too much except rake the tonnes of stones that were in it.

Then in school we got this great teacher called Mr Roycroft who was older than old and I can’t even remember what he first thought us but it was all to do with flowers and plants and so forth. Mr. Roycroft popped up again when I went into 4th class in primary or rather 5th class. I was deemed very bright so as an experiment in the school they took the brightest from those going into 4th year and the brightest of those going into 5th year and they created a new class and Mr. Roycroft would foster all those kids. Best year ever. We learned so much stuff from maths to Geography to Irish (lots of Irish) to nature to botany. Ahhh flowers and plants and things. Roycroft not also thought us the green agenda way before consultants ripped people off wholesale to teach them about it but he also taught us latin by tellng us the latin names of the plants and the families they came from. He then explained what each one meant in English so we had a good grasp of the basics when we finished with him. That year was a very happy year for me in school and was also the last year that I ever applied myself in the schooling system.

We moved house into the country and I lost touch with all my non-schoolfriends. Me and myself and sometimes I. Only kid in the family, big feckoff gardens and instead of a small patch I had the whole wall outside our house and a kind of a rockery which over a few years I expanded and expanded so much so that I started to become the “consultant” about plants at home. I don’t think I was yet 9 at this stage.

Around the same time I became the “chosen one” of my grandmother and grandfather and every Sunday I would be brought along to Skibereen with them, driving down one route and taking the back route home through Iniskeen and Ballineen where we’d stop off at my Nana’s sister’s place. On the way down and back I would basically help my grandmother to vandalise gardens by taking “slips” from shrubs, which if you don’t know what slips are, are small cuttings, though we used to just yank them off. Spring time was worse. That was trowel and bucket time as we dug up West Cork to get Bluebells and Primroses AND very special and rare “wild dafodils”. No idea were they wild or just went native but they had a scent and were big and leafy.

One Christmas I got the very sad (perhaps) present of a propogator and holy crap but it became the best value for money present ever. So I started growing things from seed. Lots and lots and lots of seed. Eventually the parents got a glasshouse which pretty much was for me. Our garden had some fantastic stuff grown for it then. Annuals to start with and then I just didn’t think they were worth all the effort if they were dead at the end of the season so it became perennials and shrubs and that ilk.

There’s not been a lot of calm for me in the past few years but I could literally spend 5 hours in the glass house with a break for lunch and plant seed after seed. I didn’t just feck the seed down in rows, no, I placed each individual seed down and spaced them. A huge amount of work but I enjoyed it.

We moved house again then and at this stage I was in my teens, listening to heavy metal, spotty as fuck but I still grew things, still went out for a bit of peace (no Internet then helped). In the new old house the garden was a heap, the front garden was grass and hedging and nothing more so we got rid of the hedging and threw in a few borders but it was boring. I then started thinking up of proper designs for the Garden and what was needed. The before and after for the front and back are stunning but that’s for another time and another blog post.

I wouldn’t have been able to achieve what I did and learn so much about nature, life and science if it wasn’t for those three main people educating me but more importantly encouraging me to explore. Exploration is mostly not the physical. I don’t do much gardening anymore but I know I’ll go back to it eventually, it’s a strong part of my psyche and always will be. That’s my gardening story, tell us yours.

debbie… thursday garden guest #2

UPDATE:

12th February 2010
I got the news today that Debbie has passed away. Shocked, stunned, saddened… apart from all of the many beautiful charachteristics – she was also a fellow gardener 🙂 Funny thing, we spoke last week and were planning on doing garden tours together as a bit of a new business…. She was gonna call back after she did some research….. All that aside, Debbie would smile knowing I’m still trying to figure out if it’s a coffee or a pint she has in that photograph 😉 Missed already.

As a by the way she stayed up well into the wee hours of the [next] morning trying to get this garden guest post together….

debbie… thursday garden guest #2

debbie & friends

If you’d like to know more about Thursday Garden Guest time – click here.

For the moment writer number #2 is Debbie Metrustry alias debbiemet. A lover of all things outdoors and botanical. I first met Debbie at Electric Picnic. A common love of horticulture is more professionally shared here. An absolute lady, a pleasure to meet and a great person to be around. For now, Ladies and Gentlemen, may I introduce Debbie.

The Garden – What I Like

There are so many things I like about The Garden that it’s hard to know where to begin. From the personal lessons I have learnt through gardening, through the visceral joy of being connected with the earth, the curiosity and wonder at observing plants grow, the pure aesthetic pleasure of being in gardens of great beauty and intriguing design — through all these and the wonderful opportunities that I’ve been given – from the profound to the frivolous – there is not one aspect of my being that remains untouched.

My first ‘go’ at this blog came out as a chronological list masked as my biography: not so interesting, really. So I ditched it, and decided instead just to give you the things I like, in no particular order.

  • I love the brown earth. I love having my hands in the soil. I mean I really love it. When I look at the rich, chocolate-coloured earth, dormant, but harbouring and nourishing all manner of living things, I feel a deep sense of rootedness, a connection. The smell of it after rain. Or a bright, crisp day with the sun shining and birds singing: well then there’s nothing to beat digging it. And mulching. Spreading well-rotted manure on a just-weeded or newly-planted bed is incredibly satisfying. It’s like Guinness for plants: black gold.

Ploughed Field
A whole field of the earth, just waiting for action


On a more modest scale: garden potential from Heligan

Toadstools at Mount Cuba Center, Delaware, taking advantage

  • Plants: I get excited about all sorts of plants and really have no discrimination. There’s nothing more exciting than going to a garden or nursery and discovering lots of fabulous plants I’d never heard of. Some nurseries are better than others, and this one, Plant Delights in North Carolina, is at the forefront of plant introductions. I spent hours and hours there, and had to be torn away from all the amazing new plants.

Banana and Tetrapanax

OK, so it looks a bit nettley (same family)…
…but it’s actually a really cool foliage plant

called Boehmeria platanifolia, collected by Plant Delights

They take their signage seriously

Beautifully laid out, and just look at all those lovely labels (bottom left)   🙂

  • I have a weak spot for herbaceous perennials which I love to grow myself, and I adore gardens that are full of them, especially when mixed with grasses in what is called the American prairie style. I’m a big fan of naturalistic planting, using natives where possible.

Prairie planting at Hunting Brook Gardens, Wicklow

The meadow at Mount Cuba Center, Delaware

A meadow on the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina

Looking out to the meadow at Longwood Gardens, Pennsylvania

  • Trees make me go weak at the knees and I am passionate about looking after them [blog/rant on the treatment of Dublin trees coming up soon]. But give me a mature beech and I’m as happy as Larry. There is nothing so majestic as the mature or champion beech, and it reminds me, whenever I’m in doubt, of why I went into horticulture in the first place. Trees teach me that we are caretakers of this earth, that we plan and plant for future generations, and that the passing of time is a Good Thing. They also remind me to curb my impatient side, which is rather too well developed at times.

  • Since becoming a gardener of course I’ve always loved Spring; here it starts early, and you feel and smell the excitement in the air from February if you care to look, or if you just go out and sniff. In the US it seemed as if Winter would last for ever, but then one day Spring arrived, and it took me completely by surprise. The flowering trees – which were everywhere and I hadn’t previously noticed – had exploded into fabulous, floriferous, glorious life so abruptly and dramatically that I very nearly crashed the car. Seriously.

The Spring exuberance of Magnolias and Japanese cherries in Longwood Gardens

  • I didn’t quite get the full impact of autumn, because 2005 wasn’t a particularly spectacular one, and this year I was just a week or so too early. However, there was still some good drama going on, and I liked it very much indeed. 🙂

The nursery at Longwood Gardens

  • Woodland plants provide a wonderful and never-ending array of variation. These are plants who display their wares shyly, biding their time waiting for that window between dappled spring sunshine and the shade of full leaf-burst. They have a way of creeping up on you: for example, trilliums! Do you know how gob-smackingly beautiful they are? — albeit in a subtle way. The wonderful Mount Cuba Center in Delaware has a fabulous collection of them, and I was lucky enough to be there in Spring to see them in all their tentative glory.

Trillium stamineum (Twisted trillium) and Trillium discolor

  • The detail and intricacy of flowers, best viewed up-close and personal. What’s not to love about these?

Iris in Mount Stewart Garden

I forget…  but it’s in the Eden Project

Passiflora incarnata at the JC Raulston Arboretum, North Carolina

Blood smudge-splash of Rhododendron at Mount Stewart

  • I confess I have a soft spot for garden gadgets. It’s not surprising really, I am an aspiring geek, after all. Stainless steel spades are beautiful, good secateurs are a gal’s best friend, my oscillating hoe makes hoeing spectacularly easy and keeps my back pain-free; my Bosch shredder gives me free mulch in the woodland area of my garden while recycling any woody prunings. And my state-of-the-art builder’s gel kneepads are a godsend, and I wouldn’t be without them.

Exciting stuff, I know.

  • Last, but absolutely not least, I have found inspiration and true joy in every garden I’ve worked in, and most I’ve visited. They all have moments of great beauty and creativity to share. There are dozens of gardens that I love, each with its own special atmosphere that lifts the heart and soothes the soul. Here is a very small random selection from the thousands of photos I’ve taken in the last eight years.

The National Botanic Garden, Glasnevin – my alma mater. I spent three years studying here and so it is a place of very special significance. Every week amidst the busy-ness we cherished stealing some time out just to do the walk around. The Palm House was actually closed for the whole three years I was there, so I was thrilled when it finally opened.

The Palm House was actually closed for the whole three years I was there, so
I was thrilled when it finally opened.

Victoria cruziana, an important and beautiful plant in the garden’s history.

The bandstand in the arboretum

Apart from beech, this is my favourite tree in the garden,
entirely because of its wonderful bark.
Betula albosinensis var. septentrionalis

A superb Japanese maple near the rockery.
It’s also near the plant in the rockery that was planted in memory of a dear friend
and classmate who died in 2006.

Altamont Gardens, Co. Carlow was where I did my first placement. The lake there is full of life and a very beautiful setting. When I started working there I found it impossible not to stop and stare all the time – I couldn’t believe my luck.

Altamont house from the lake.

Fast forward now to the USA and Longwood Gardens where I interned for a year. Longwood is defined by its water and its spectacular colour.

The daily fountain shows are set to music

About twenty thousand tulips are planted each year

Not far from where I fell – actually I walked – in. I still like it, in spite of that.

Longwood’s hybrid Victorias – originally bred from one at Glasnevin.

Chanticleer is just as impressive as Longwood, but has a more contemporary design. It’s my favourite garden and is full of mystery and fun.

The Teacup garden

A spot of stainless steel

The pool where we had my farewell party. Nice!

I wanted to include more places but you’d be reading this forever if I did, so this will have to do for now. Once I started, I realised that actually there’s very little I don’t like about The Garden.

I’ll leave you with a sample of Longwood’s spectacular firework display. Yes, they were that glad to be rid of me. 🙂

Thanks for reading!

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plan[t] a herb garden

herb garden layout...

herb garden layout...

a herb is defined as both an aromatic plant that is used for flavouring in cookery & medicine and a seed-bearing plant whose parts above the ground die back a the end of the growing season.

What I have here is parsley [petroselinum crispum], mint [curley], oregano [origanum vulgaris], sorrel [broadleaf], thyme [thymus faustinii], lavender [lavandula munstead], rosemary [rosmarinus officinalis], chives, garlic [allium sativum], blackcurrant [var ‘ben nevis’], redcurrent [var ‘jonkheer van tets], gooseberry [var ‘whitesmith’] and olives [olea europea]; looking quite good against a a hedge of bay leaves [laurus nobilis].

A wise investment for a carbon conscious chap like myself.Thanks Mother Nature for delightful frightful Irish weather I don’t even have to use my harvested rainwater! have a great weekend – and as always enjoy!

slán ags beannacht – peter

sponsor a show garden… ?

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This was Bloom 2007 and my show garden [and design] ‘No Rubber – Soul’. A roaring success one could say but… built without any sponsorship – madness most some could say!

The question is would you sponsor a garden….. ?