A Gardens Balancing Act

This article was written for and published in The Tribesman newpaper Wednesday 6th April 2011.

It’s never a bad week to be a gardener in this country, well, not as far as this happy fellow is concerned. That said I can’t disagree that it has been an odd week, weather wise and one that has just made my working life in the great outdoors just that little bit trickier. But then I’ve always said I knew what I was getting into when I started growing my own plants at five years of age.

My heart breaks for a lot of the ornamental plants in this country that have taken an absolute battering over the last eighteen months. I know clients who are holding off, yet again, just to see if some of their plant population will return to even part of their former glory. Hedges that are usually and logically considered resilient like the Grisilinia litoralis are in the most part entirely leafless but seem to be on their way back. On the other hand trees like the Cordyline australis, the palm tree as we know it, synonymous with 1980’s Irish planting have been absolutely whacked. In my own garden the hedge of choice is the Laurus nobilis, the bay laurel – I like it as it doubles up as a herb as well as a hedge – it is semi brown were it has been burnt to an absolute crisp by the frost but it still retains about ninety per cent of it’s green foliage.

The theory behind the scenes of CSI Plant Life is quite simple. Plant cells contain water and when water freezes or goes below zero Celsius it expands. The effect on the plant is that the plant cell bursts, explodes – is probably a better word to use in this case – and therefore dies. It is in short beyond return. Necrosis may be an inappropriate word to use here regarding a particular plant cell, but as regards the plant itself, maybe not as the adverse weather may only have caused damage to some of the cells or as we see it, it may not have killed it off the plant in its entirety.

It’s good to remember that not all trees are in leaf at this moment. My Tilia cordata Greenspire are still in bud for example and it is this that one should bear in mind when assessing aesthetically. I’m thinking of the common green Grisilinia hedging here as I type just so we are on the same wavelength… the easiest and most  logic scientific experiment to conduct [I jest slightly] is to scratch the bark or stem with a coin and on seeing green below the bark or darker surface of the stem, we know there is life.

What I have done in the past, with examples like historically badly pruned roses were die back has set in is to prune it back until I can see brown no more. Amputation is a tough word to suggest as an analogy here, but quite fitting. Last season I took an absolute beauty of a Japanese maple from almost five feet to a mere twelve inches. Were a cut was made, inch by inch going down each stem as I looked down over that cut I checked to see if there was brown running through the cross section until I could see just healthy life. The plant in the end looked abysmal. Shocking in fact. But it was worth the time investment to see if it would come back. It did as a by the way. But then the sub zero temperatures returned and got it the second time round.

Other gardeners I have spoke to have looked on the double visitation of the sub zero extremes in a brighter light. Some say the garden needed that clear out and a refresh. A fresh coat of new paint and a bit of new carpet in the living room you might say. And it seems, in their eyes the man with the remote control for the great outdoors has just given them an excuse to clear out a decent percentage of their planting.

I have lost a fair amount of my plants. About twenty per cent were recently planted bare root trees. It’s sad for a plant lover to see them never wake up after a winter sleeping but nature does that. it has been doing so for eons.

The bright side of all of this for me, is that it did get me to think about others who use my garden. The birds, bees, insects and the like. I started reading up on biodiversity. It’s a really fashionable word  that I never really understood, for good reason. Mainly, as it seems I had been doing most of it already, I just didn’t realise it was admirable to have parts of my garden looking like it is neglected, intentionally.

I have bird boxes erected, piles of logs sit next to an old Belfast sink submerged in the soil sited in a shaded part of the garden. The green waste heap is constantly occupied by a flurry of young birds rustling for whatever may be of interest and the grass under my fruit trees has never been cut. I chose to let the grass grow around this cluster of trees because I didn’t fancy getting dizzy pushing a lawnmower around thirty fruit trees. ‘My research’ tells me, that it’s great for wildflowers and balancing nature and insects and I’m a little thinking to myself… well there’s a grand excuse for doing a lot less in the garden this week!

From reading last weeks article you probably realise in the very nicest way of saying, I have a life that contains a child, three hens, two dogs and a garden and with only twenty four hours in the day. For that and many more reasons I want my garden beside me.

I like fresh flowers on my kitchen table and my herbs by my back door. I like my fruit trees at the side of the house, my picnic table and two chairs nestled nicely in between. I dislike washing lines and washing clothes, but in this families garden they are very much necessary and logic, when the weather is right of course.

Once again, the balance is what I refer to. A balance for insects and humans and growing my own and shrubs and trees. Where a plant dies and trees falter, biodiversity benefits and new life takes its place. Vegetables and fruit are great to grow and I love it dearly. But when they are out of season the birds and bees so necessary for our fruit trees need a place to visit and hide.

I sometimes need to remind myself that my family need a place to sit, play, enjoy and admire the beauty of what is also their garden and their place in the great outdoors.

Peter Donegan

Garden Gallery

There are many gardens I have created and designed over the last, more than 10 years now. These are just some of the images that may help in giving you an idea of just what kind of possibilities exist with your great outdoors.

Irish Garden Radio – Podcast For The Weekend

sodshow, garden podcast

The Sodshow Garden Podcast – every Friday – in iTunes, all good podcast stores.

The garden podcast in MP3 or as always you can rss the podcasts via iTunes or you subscribe to the blog and listen to them right here. Missed last weeks garden podcast ?

Podcast links:


  • Trim haymaking festival takes place Friday 18th to Sunday 20th June. I’ll probably pop by on Sunday. I like the look of the thatch cottage village and the scythe cutting competition. Its €10 entry but free for kids. I don’t know if there is a charge on car parking ?
  • Richard Berney course on rain harvesting techniques @ Sonairte cost is €80 and it runs 10am-4pm
  • Sonairte also have a gardening and wildlife club for children aged 8 -12 starting this Saturday cost €15
  • Howth Peninsula Heritage Society Present: The Centenary of the Irish Countrywomen’s Association, a talk by Marie O’Toole, in the Howth Angling Centre, West Pier, Howth on Tuesday June 22nd, at 8 p.m. There is a €4 charge for non members
  • Rathbeggan Allotments, Saturday 26th June, is  a taste of the good life day. Special guest is Victoria Mary Clarke and she’ll be doing a demo on yoga for gardening from 2pm. Adults €12 children €8.50


  • an organic weedkiller via @greensideupveg
  • they took all the trees and put them in a tree museum via @treehugger
  • amazing trees from around the world – via @suzebert @planetd @andrewghayes
  • this from @elliebellie1986 and I asked…. it is real 😉


  • I meant to put this up ages ago…. I’m so sorry Laura and I hope the parents Mimosa tree gets better…. 😉 Anyhow, Repak recently partnered with the 2nd year Marketing Students in Dublin Business School on an online communications project to promote Repak and recycling. Pretty cool idea and I not your average corporate video…. While you are there check out the repak blog. One of my favorites is the coffee powered car.

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Garden Group Tour: Battle Of The Boyne Site

Date: Sunday 27th June

Time: 11.30 am on location.

Details: Aisling Mc Mahon of the OPW & Site Manager for The Battle of the Boyne site [Drogheda] will give a personal guided tour to the group.

Numbers: limited to 18

Also: [update] this post on the boyne site

New To The Garden Group:

I recommend you read the garden group guide. The two previous trips were to Irelands Eye and the war memorial park. Dena Williams and her family The Garden Group was also featured in the Mail On Sunday recently.

Our Tour will include:

The Walled Garden and Tea Room 2008, this part is the only part that is fully open to the public at the moment. The layout of which is as per the 1808 and later OS maps.

However, by special arrangement, we have permission from the contractors who are currently on site restoring the outer walls, to access their site, subject to certain limits as there are health and safety concerns. We will also see the Octgaon which the group will be able to see pre- restoration.

And… On the day they visit we will also have living history displays taking place for free on the front lawn with people in period costumes firing muskets with gunpowder and doing cavlary displays.

Please Note:

  • There will be no charge for the tour of the gardens.
  • Anyone planning on bringing children should know that they must be supervised by a parent/ guardian at all times.
  • We are not booked into the centre for a tour but can go in afterwards by buying a ticket and self guide. There are also numerous walks throughout the battle site and Oldbridge Estate that are self guiding and there are directional panels at various locations or one can pick up a free map from reception.
  • There is also a Tea Room located in the Walled Garden.
  • See website for further info

Garden Group-ees

  • Booking: via comment here only
  • Contact me: see below. not a problem 😉
  • Other: the train/ nor bus stops here. My suggestion is car pooling from Dublin City or Swords meeting point. Most of you know each other. Most people drive anyway. If you are stuck leave a comment it will be easily solved. 
  • Dress Code: advised to wear suitable footwear as all the walks are on grass, except the Boyne Canal towpath which adjoins the site and is surfaced with gravel.
  • Duration: I conferred Aisling and 2.5 hours should see you well
  • Weather: the weather…. your guess is as good as mine.
  • Lunch: I had suggested bringing a picnic. That’s what I will be doing anyway. All things going good it’ll be a flask of coffee and some nice sambos!
  • Anything else: leave a comment below or gimme a call. 
  • Directions: The Battle of the Boyne Visitor Centre is located on the South bank of the River Boyne, 3km north of Donore Village.  The site is sign-posted from the  M1 (Dublin/Belfast), Exit 9, off N51 (Slane/Drogheda), Not Suitable for Coaches, and off N2 (Slane/Ashbourne). Also see google maps

Contact Me:

Note of thanks: to Nic Reilly for putting me in touch and to Aisling McMahon for taking my call and arranging this for us.

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Bloom 2010

As always you can rss the podcasts via iTunes or direct via audioboo

To all things Bloom, once again, I quote myself from last year:

To only mention the gardens is, maybe, what I should be doing…. but, as a garden builder and designer at Bloom – they are all [seriously] amazing and I simply can’t be pushed to just pick one. Anyone who designs and/ or builds a garden here is a genius in my eyes ;) I will however give an over view of the  entire Bloom experience & some of the interesting people I met on my sabbatical :lol:

My Recommended Bits And Bobs:

As per the podcast…. here are the links to those I mentioned

  • Shawna Coronado – she’s @shawnacoronado on twitter and will be in the garden expert area. A must see.
  • entertainment tent [#20 on the map]- ice creams!
  • imaginosity – loved it last year. Even better this year.
  • Craft demonstration area. Remember the blacksmith Michael Budd and Kathleen from the basket makers association – even more crafts this year.
  • Agriaware area – see the pics below
  • Chefs Kitchen. Nevin will be mobbed 😉
  • Go say hi to Dawn Ashton [she helped on my Niall Mellon gardeners day out] in her garden. All plants there were supplied by my good friend Pat Fitzgerald – remember him from last year…
  • Show times dates and how to get there are below the pics other than that see the bloom website
  • And finally – don’t forget to upload your pictures to the Bloom Group – where you can see the rest of my bloom images

How to get there:

Show times and dates:

  • friday 4th June 10am – 6pm
  • saturday 5th June 10am – 6pm
  • sunday 6th June 10am – 6pm
  • monday 7th June 10am – 6pm
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