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10 Plants for an Irish Garden

mary mcaleese

I did ten plants that would be suitable for a small garden, they also work for large obviously – these 10 – are those that you may, or not, have seen that often that I believe will bring a smile. Not all in flower in the images – but then it is also a case of something for all [or some] of the seasons.

All I have used before in urban and rural Irish gardens, from Galway to Dublin and from Cork to Donegal. Enjoy.

1. Rudbeckia

rudbeckia in flower

The Rudbeckia [asteraceae/ compositae] are a genus of around 20 species originating from North Africa. In short and as the image shows they are big daisy like flowers with a green/ black/ brown centre borne more often singular on long stems from summer to autumn. Brilliant in any garden and a real cheer-me-up when used as a cut flower. I absolutely love it !

2. Rhodanthemum ‘African Eyes’

rhodanthemum african eyes

The Rhodanthemum [asteraceae/ compositae] are a genus of about 10 species that are all clump forming plants. The more famed part of the plant is quite obvious in its daisy like flowers that form in spring – summer. More than that in any variety it won’t grow much taller than 12″. Another great one for the plant swapper.

3. Callistemon rigidus


I always [and usually only ever] see this plant in flower when in ‘the books’. This is what the bottlebrush looks like when it’s not being enetered into Ireland Next Top Model competition.

The Callistemon [myrtaceae] is a genus of about 25 species originating in Austalia. Famed as a cut flower arrangers favourite, the flowers litterally look like a brush you would use for washing a babies bottle. The spikes are more commonly red but are can also be found in green, purple, white, yellow or pink. Worth it just for the flowers, which depending on the variety can flower anytime from Spring to Autumn and can grow anything up to 12′ tall. I wouldn’t let that put you off though.

The rigidus hits about 8′ tall by about 10′ wide. Its flowers in summer get to about 2/3″ long.

4. Tanecetum coccineum ‘Robinsons Red’

tanecetum coccineum robinsons red

A genus of about 70 species, the Tanecetum [asteraceae/ compositae] leaves that are a bit silver and a bit hairy…. Not on this particular type though, of which some say, the foliage can irritate the skin slightly. Commonly known as ‘the painted daisy, the flowers are like like something one should see one could see in a children’s playground, are great for cut flowers and do quite well in just about any space really from pots to borders. It can grow to about 3′ tall and 1.5′ wide and flowers in early summer.

5.Fuchsia magellanica ‘Riccartonii’


fuchsia magellanica riccartonii

The fuchsia [onagraceae] are one where you really need to do a little homework on what exactly you are buying before you take it home. A genus of about 100 species that range from a bedding plant to a tree there are over 8000 known cultivars.

Outside of being a great plant for seasiders [salt air/ wind tolerant], this bad boy, the F. magellanica is the hardiest [frost tolerant in short] of the lot.  The flowers of the Ricartonii are made of scarlet sepals/ tubes and have purple corollas. Be warned it can grow to 10′ tall and 6′ wide. Every Irish garden needs a fuchsia though…. doesn’t it ?

6. Stipa tenuisimma ‘Pony Tails’

stipa tenuisimma pony tails

The Stipa [gramineae/ poaceae] are a great plant, when, en mass in my opinion and remind me personally, of a field of barley. I simply love them. A genus of about 300 species, S. tenuisimma is a brightly green leafed deciduous perennial. It can grow to about 1′ tall whilst it’s panicles [think of the flowers of oats] can grow to about twice that height. It will only get to about 1′ wide so don’t go skimping on the planting…. you’ll thank me for it.

7. Salvia nemerosa ‘East Friesland’

salvia nemerosa east friesland

The Salvia [labiatae/ lamiaceae] are a genus of about 900 species and this is another example of why I am not a professional photographer…. one in ten, you’ll let me away with it ! The East Friesland [ostfriesland] grows to about 1.5′ tall and has deep blue flowers from about summer to autumn. This one is clump forming.

8. Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’

skimmia japonica rubella

The Skimmia [rutaceae] are a genus of just 4 species. They are dioecious meaning the male and female reproductive organs are on seperate plants. This compact Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’ is the male which starts with pink buds opening to white flowers in spring. Surprisingly there were a few on this plant when today [august 8th].

I think its nice that it needs to be planted next to a mate… it always made me smile thinking of that. That aside, a real pretty stalwart that brings me right back to the 1980’s. Love it!

9.Potentilla fruticosa ‘Red Ace’

potentilla fruticosa red ace

Potentilla [roseaceae] are a genus of about 500 species. This the ‘Red Ace’ is one of the better looking of the family, in and out of flower. The rose family member can grow to about 1.5′ tall, about 3′ wide and has bright orange/ red flowers with yellow backs.

10. Helleborus orientalis ‘Lady Series’

helleborus orientalis lady series

A genus of about 15 species, this Hellebores [ranunculaceae] orientalis is commonly known as the Lenten rose. Whilst it only grows to about 1.5′ tall, why I love it…. [?] it saucer shape like flowers, about 3″ in size, slightly arch out from the middle of winter straight through to spring. The foliage doesn’t do it for me, personally, but all the way through winter, it means fresh cut flowers on the table.

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10 Plants for Small Irish Gardens

garden colour plants

There’s a small space in your big garden, you’ve a big space in a small garden ? Or maybe you’d just like a little more interest formed from a little more of a varied range of plants that won’t take over and at the same time will keep maintenance slightly more to the lesser side of things.

If colour is the answer and you’d like a little of it throughout the year, take a look at the list below and see if something takes your fancy.

Whichever way you might see fit, the following are 10 plants that may just get the taste buds tingling and make your space outside a little more exciting.

1. Agapanthus Africanus

agapanthus africanus

The Agapanthus/ Liliaceae [african blue lily] are a genus of around 10 species originating in Southern Africa.  The clump forming lilly is a deciduous perennial with leaves around 12″ long and produces a 1.5″ long trumpet shaped flower in a cluster that can measure about 2′ by 1′ in size in late summer. Some note them as vigorous, but I say well worth it and a great one for the plant swapper.

2. Choisya Aztec Pearl

choisya aztec pearl

The Choisya [Rutaceae] are an evergreen genus of around 8 species more commonly known as the Mexican orange blossom. Funnily enough, the flowers are white and some say perfumed – although I personally find it a bit hard to get the scent more often. The Aztec Pearl bears 1″ in size pink-ish white flowers in spring/ summer that form in cymes of around 5 blooms. It can grow to around 8′ tall, but I’d never allow it go to that height and it will therefore need a good cut back every season once established.

3. Convolvus cneorum

convolvus cneorum

The Convolvus [convolvulaceae] are a very varied genus of about 250 species. In Ireland the most famed is the cousin you don’t really want to have call by at Christmas time, but does and more often over stays its welcome. This fellow however, the Convolvus cneorum, is a low growing rounded clump former and only grows to about 2′ high x 3′ wide producing an almost trumpet like white flower with a yellow dotted centre from its pink buds at the start of the summer.

4. Crocosmia lucifer

Crocosmia lucifer

The Crocosmia or Montbretia [Iridaceae] is a clump forming genus of about 7 species also originally from South Africa and another great one for the plant swappers of the world. This particular chap grows to about 4′ tall and produces burning red flowers mid summer that slightly jumps out of the grass like clump. Personally, don’t like the name, but it’s an absolute stunner and looks great on the kitchen table.

5. Dianthus ‘Shooting Star’

dianthus shooting star

The Dianthus or Carnation [caryophyllaceae] are a genus of over 300 species from Europe, Asia and Southern Africa. Personally, I hate carnations as bouquet of cut flowers, but I love them in this format. Pretty, low growing and relatively easy to maintain.

6. Matteuccia  streuthiopteris

matteuccia  streuthiopteris

The Matteuccia [dryopteridaceae/ woodsiaceae] are a genus of about 4 species originating from the woodlands of Europe, N. America and E. Asia. This particular beauty is more commonly known as the shuttlecock or ostrich fern. It can produce fronds of up to 4′ long and the plant itself can grow to around 5′ tall. Once again it grows by spreading and will need some attention, as all plants do.

7. Osteospernum Cannington Roy

osteospernum cannington roy

This evergreen clump former [astreaceae/ compositae] is from a genus of about 70 species mainly hailing from Southern Africa. It’s daisy-ish flowers are purple tipped white that change to mauve pink/ purple on the underside with purple florets and it can flower from the end of spring to autumn [depending]. A great ground cover plant and another one for the plant swapper.

8. Papaver orientale ‘Prinzessin Victoria Louise’

papaver orientale prinzessin victoria louise

The poppy family [Papaveraceae] are a genus of about 70 species. This, the oriental poppy is a clump forming perennial that grows about 3′ x 2′. Its short lived flowers are produced in late summer and are apricot in colour and are followed by a quite striking seed head. A little different from your usual, but definitely one to try out.

9. Polemonium caeruleum

polemonium caeruleum

I haven’t done this fellow any favours in the photography department, but the commonly called Jacobs ladder [polemoniaceae] is a clump forming genus of about 25 species. It can grow up to 3′ tall by approximate 1′ wide and produces blue flowers on axillary cymes. The image above may not make you want to rush out the door to pick one up, but I’d definitely rate it in the small garden department.

10. Polystichum setiferum

polystichum setiferum

The Holly or Shield fern  [dryopteridaceae] is a genus of about 200 species. This evergreen is better commonly know as the Soft shield fern and produces fronds of up to 4′ in length. The description is short and sweet, but ferns just that and the image tells it like it is. Personally, I love it.

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In a garden recently and I spotted this little beauty growing in a widow box….

It brought me way back to my childhood days. Dad used to have these old cavity concrete blocks running along side the oil tank. Every summer we’d go down to the library to get our free seeds and plant them direct into the hole. Well… I’d plant the seeds that I didn’t eat… 😆 It sounds a little silly in hindsight going out every morning to see if they had sprouted… 😉 The innocence of it all…..

Anyhow… the sunflower or helianthus of the asteraceae [compositae] family are a genus of about 70 species of annuals and perennials. The flowers can rage from 3″ approx in diameter to 12″ in the annual varieties. And surprisingly [possibly] not all flowers are yellow/ yellow brown.

The annuals are generally grown by seed sown in spring but the perennials may propagated by division and base cuttings.  

Prepare for it now and mark it on the 2010 calender. You can start growing them indoors around the end of February or outdoors at the ned of March. These little beauties will flower for you all the way from June to October.  Remember: plant only twice the depth of the seed.


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