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Garden Ideas: 5 Uses of Features and Focal Points In Garden Design

car garden morris minor

All images and gardens by Peter Donegan/ Donegan Landscaping, Dublin

The better nee best features of any garden I have ever seen work, are those where the client, with the designer or creator almost decides to compel that design feature to commission.

A little Machiavellian by way of word choice maybe – but it is the revelation, the revealing over time and finally the receiving of that something very unique, created one-off and just for you and your garden  – that makes what may possibly seem like a gamble that I note, irrespective of garden size and budget – so very, very, very worthwhile.

That said, there is a difference between a house and a home – and – with gardens, better gardens – the main feature or what some may feel should be the main focus, should also work in tandem with its surrounds. Get that chemistry spot on and you might just have something very special.

The following are five examples of features in gardens that I have created. They are also decisions that made that garden a little different from the rest and for their owners, for the better.

1. Garden Walls with a Difference

donegan gardens dublin

If you can get this one right, you are on to an absolute winner. What I will say is it does require one to be a little bit daring, maybe, at the point of imagining what it will look like. Most tend to choose, as one might in interiors to have one featured colour wall and the rest white, for the sole logic of light purposes. As you can see in this garden, myself in the top corner planting away, the white was actually used on the lower walls the entire way around therefore allowing licence to be a little more sporadic on the upper level.

The backdrop plant of choice to soften is Fargesia, a dwarfed bamboo brought in slightly more mature and that shall only grow to around eight foot tall in its lifetime.

2. Garden Art

gardens dublin

It doesn’t have to be a piece of sculpt type olde art that you choose for your space outside, but do rest assured we have been using art in our gardens for absolute centuries. This piece was used in two of my gardens – one won two awards, one didn’t. Both great gardens. That aside, the decision to use art in our gardens has it seems been on the decline for some time.

That said, pick the right piece for the right space and surround it with choice perfect planting and you might just have that something so very special. In my opinion, we don’t use art outside enough.

3. A Feature Garden Structure

gazebo donegan garden

I’ve made and designed some great structure for some so much the better for it gardens, but this has to be one of my all time favourite garden structures I have ever used. I will admit there is no feeling greater than sitting underneath the stars whilst feeling like you are in a room of your own sipping a gin and tonic with some close friends.

If you can master that feeling ie. including the surrounds, so that the structure just stands out for the very right reasons during the day time, you have managed to achieve something extremely wonderful.

4. The Water Feature

garden water feature

There is nothing worse than a grandé anything in the wrong space and it is at this juncture that some variation of the quality not quantity cliché comes to mind. The key in all garden features is to get it just right and that’s were a good eye comes in for a great overall picture of just what it is you want. A bit like the gazebo, if it can have an additional use ie. during the day and at night-time, you have just got double bargain value for your pound.

5. A Hard Garden Surface

water garden dublin

Decks, cobble and all that is functional does have its place in the great outdoors – but if, once again, one can master so very good-looking with functionality then who am I to argue. I have created many walkable hard-surfaced finishes in my time – one of the simplest ever used in a garden of mine was this timber surface above. Divine perfection. Extreme simplicity.

In summary: the images used are ones I thought might strike a chord with you and personally, I’ll be very surprised if you like all of the images you see here. That said, they are a little unique, a little personal and individually loved by their owners.

More info:

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The Red Exhaust Pipe Bird Feeder

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Building a garden recently I was asked for something unusual as a feature for the garden. My imagination being what it is, the idea coming to mind is never a problem. It is however a problem for some clients [?] when they can’t see what has never existed before and ultimately a level of trust and/ or a pre-requisite of an also zany imagination is necessary. The alternate. Buy something off the shelf.

On this occasion it was a small garden. The red dead tree was referred to and also I was told….

I want something that is different, unique, unusual, practical, not 17th century type symetry, a little bit out there… but it’s got to be a looker…

Like I always said the rollling stones on vinyl may cost a fiver second hand… but will always be better than than the €50 double cd remastered

Of course, as simple as it may sound, there’s actually about 3 days work in this thing. The main issue being that it would hold upright with it being so top heavy and the fact that the pipe supporting was not straight…. that said I think it’s really cool.

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View more images of the Red Exhaust Pipe Bird Feeder here

What I had done, with my good friend and welder genius George was to take the replacement exhaust pipe for my Daewoo Musso jeep [a 2.5 merc engine btw], give it a labotomy in an attempt to reduce the weight of the combustion chamber; weld some re-bar and other bits to the base so that concrete-less it would still stand upright; paint it burning red and rivet some refelective metal to it allowing us to hook in a bird feeder… then we dropped it into a new look and rebuilt garden…. of course there was a lot more to it than that…. but you get my gist 😉

Bloom 2008 – Pour L’amour de Jeux

This was the bio given to my show garden entry before it was built…

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Without a main sponsor….. Peter Donegan’s design, titled ‘Pour L’amour de Jeux’ is a garden whose title and theme was chosen on the basis of a Designers desire to build and design ‘dream’ gardens because of a love of the game.

With modern pressures and taken for granted hectic lifestyles this garden is a micro-haven paradise designed and built with pure passion to show that dreamers do exist and that those dreams however illogic can become reality. If life is what you enjoy, then this garden is what you will love, our entry for Bloom 2008

When asked so many times throughout Bloom 2007, why one would design a show garden as was ‘No Rubber – Soul’; it seemed incomprehensible to some, yet to others put simply it was for ‘a love of the game’ the only reason why Peter Donegan and his team built such a garden. It seemed therefore quite an appropriate name for this garden.

A garden that is fully recycled or recyclable the main feature… comprises a 33ft 1957, pink, three story pleasure cruise boat named ‘Mo Chailín Cáitlín’. The garden is surrounded by water, a slightly raised recycled timber and lawn combined marina, and natures finest planting. The finshing touch is a hand sculpted piece by Patrick Campbell.

And so the question still remains… would you sponsor a show garden?

With thanks to:

gentlemen? time to stand up & be counted

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I took the DART into Dublin City recently. Been a while since I have. On the BUS home I took this picture and thought it would be a great poster to be put on all DART trains.

Reared with 4 sisters [& 3 brothers] I don’t wish to suggest a ‘National Peter Day’ of celebration but I feel compelled to say something.

I must have been one of very [very] few to stand and let a lady sit [age irrelevant] on a morning journey. The coach was full. One girl fainted a few seats down and still ended sat [slightly squashed] beside two ‘gentlemen’ who hunched hesitantly a little tighter on their seat whilst other people sat and read their newspaper. Two ladies did assist with water and such – agus bualadh bos – I applaud you.

More carriages – for sure. But it does not change the manner[ism]s of some who push and shove impolitely through their life. Is chivalry a characteristic of Irish history? Do we not perform random act of kindness at all? Or should we still blame Iarnród Éireann.

Maybe I just love going to work [incorrect by definition possibly hobby?!] and I’m slightly disillusioned believing it’s always great to see a smile….?

going green – is it a waste?

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I made a conscious decision some time ago that if the earth, landscaping to be precise, was my work then I as best as possible and the donegan landscaping team should work to a little more for the earth. It sounds like a fair deal and it is. It wasn’t that I/we did nothing green from the outset, but more a company strategy of sorts needed to be put into practice to create an ethos that could be improved upon.

When selecting trees out of season we try [it’s not always possible] to use trees from ‘air grown pots’ [like the ones above] as they’re reusable.

The green waste from garden is, naturally, recycled. The large wood heats the office and the softer, smaller wood goes to mulch.

When we buy compost and bark that we cannot generate ourselves it comes from recycled materials – rather than from bogs.

When we do, we also only use mulching mowers – a big carbon saver!

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One would assume it stops there…. ? There is the usual recycling of cloth material, electric appliances, glass, cans and also when shopping giving back all packaging; energy saving bulbs and a very well insulated building; we also located ourselves within a four mile radius of four main suppliers – more than that? the coffee grinds, tea bags and fruit peels etc. go to the green waste heap.

To reduce paper we recycle envelopes; we’re decommissioning our facsimile machine and moving to emailing company documents; waste paper is also turned over & used for note paper and then made into a máche type fire log to heat the office via our wood stove.

We buy Irish products, locally when possible – I know that’s got something to do with carbon footprints somewhere.

Is there more I/ we do? Is there more we can do? Since starting almost eight years ago now we kind of figured through our monthly meetings ourselves to this point – surely we can do a little more?! can we?