the garden polls…

so many times i hear the varying views of garden lovers versus those of ‘but sure then i’ll have to look after it..’, I hear those of [some] house builders who believe that gardens are just wasted money… the list goes on.

This should sort the home-makers from the house builders, the affectionate from the stringent and the angular from the poetic… the question is, which one are you?

I’ll compile the results later on and post them later.
In the meantime – go raibh míle maith agaibh

ranting and raving… ?

(c) diarmuid gavin designs magazine

(c) dgd magazine

I wrote an article some time ago for Diarmuids magazine. It went in under the rant and rave section and was titled knowledge versus experience’. Of course if you want to see what the rave was about I suppose you’ll have to buy the magazine [april/ may 2008 issue] from the good guys at

It opened with, ‘In a new series ‘rant and rave’, two professionals present two sides of an arguement. Horticulturist Peter Donegan wonders – or rants – why so many people walk straight out of college into the ‘self-promoted title of garden designer’.’




And there holds the problem. If one reads this definition, after qualifying it may be perceived or even believed that one has the ability to walk straight into any garden and begin designing. That is true, theoretically.  But is it true in reality?

Horticulture — the art cultivating garden — and its use as a design platform is something far more than an art form. It ultimately requires a necessary experience. From this a person can decide if he or she likes a style, or believes there is a better alternative or preference more genuine to their taste and in order to be true to their artistic individuality.

This experience and love as an artist however requires much more. It necessitates a biblical knowledge of horticulture and botany in so many more forms and these hierarchal stripes cannot be earned in any college. One must dirty their hands, experience nature and almost understand plant life by touch, feel and sense intuitively.

Akin to the factors required for the growth of any plant, if one is missing, living becomes defunct and for a designer it is similar. Because unless the essential landscape experiences have been courted, made love to and then married — that is if the designed landscape fails to become a reality — then it is nothing short of paper with etchings upon it to possibly be admired.

As a business venture or whether working in the business, it is here that the pitfalls are made because business and associated time costs money. If a ‘designer’ cannot exactly calculate the time, timing schedules and the process of events unequivocally that must occur, or understand a client’s circumstances, including lifestyle and budget; in most cases, then, there is definite potential that the design maybe relegated to the nonchalant paper upon which rests one’s coffee cup.

It is wise to appreciate that your reputation starts again and again, every day of your business life. So why do so many walk straight front the doors of a college into the self-promoted title of garden designer? Is it an impossibility based upon inexperience and possibly an ill conceited dream that gardening is great? The trouble is, maybe, that some forget or don’t admit to where they should start. That is if one wishes to work with the ground, one should start at that level and work up. It is not all theory. It is nature, a subject that comes with a constant learning, and to understand that requires more than a fine education.

‘It is natural that the newcomer, perhaps accustomed to the fixed routine of other pursuits, may expect rules which, if followed, will give certain definite results, but these I cannot give, for climate, soil, aspect, shelter, and many other connected factors vary widely, so that an exact formula would be useless.’
from The Flower Garden by E.R. Jane, 1952

For more information on Peter Donegan’s work go to

[courtesy diarmuid gavin designs magazine]

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mustard – seed, grow, crop, eat

peter donegan garden advice growing mustard seeds


I found it really hard to find information of any substance or at all in any books on this plant.

But, if ever you wished to go green really quickly this is the plant for you. I chose white mustard. Instructions say it can be grown on tissue paper! it is that easy. I planted the seeds a different way [no particular reason, partly why there are so many books on gardening I suppose…] then planted outside.

Some say crop the plant just before flowering, the instructions say when its 2″ tall? I say whatever makes you happy. Why? Because, again, the varying schools of thought suggest that the taller the plant the stronger the taste…

Now it is all cropped? Chop it. Eat it. Next time I can grow it to my own specific taste. My tip. Sow a little [about ten seeds] every two weeks and keep the crop turning over.

mustard white seed plant crop peter donegan


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selfbuild magazine, garden time…

selfbuild ireland magazine - peter doneganThis magazine is really good. I like writing for them. In fact I’d have to say my editor Gillian is really cool too! Is that unusual? That said I enjoyed writing this article. Check out the exclamation marks and you’ll understand why!!

This article for Selfbuild is in summary:

Trees are your best antiques

Working from a blank canvass is not alway the best approach to a site. Don’t rip up what could be a valuable asset and learn how to invest in antiques for the future

Just pop into any good bookstore if you want a free read to grab yourself a copy. Enjoy!

Considering the hours, effort and mental anguish that go into the design of your new home, it is extraordinary that the exact opposite is true of the garden and wider surroundings. Most of us give it a passing thought, amounting to not much more than remembering to ask the digger driver to cut a swathe through the mud up to the front door, to be lined with concrete edging and covered with tar later.

Whilst the main thrust of environmental legislation is concerned with energy conservation, there is an increasing requirement to pay attention to the surroundings in two ways. Firstly, to do as little damage as possible to intrinsic features and wildlife and secondly, to create a setting that enhances what is there and helps to blend the new house in with the landscape.

Investing a minimum of 3% of the value of your house on your garden should add approximately 10% – 13% to the value of your home, so read on!

The logical suggestion is to allow for the garden within the entire building budget, and like your house, it can be priced and scheduled prior to work beginning on site. The trouble is, that rarely happens. The ‘oirish’ way, outside of the building budget, used to be to build the house and ‘throw down a bit of seed’. But this is changing. We as a nation now spend over €2.33 billion annually on horticultural products and services. So, is it not rational that the garden receives the same attention as the house itself?

The Landscape Designer

A landscape designer will charge for their design, and also a percentage fee to oversee. Designs will be detailed and will come with a planting plan, complete with a visual impression of what you can expect to see. It is important to let your landscape designer know how much time you wish to devote to it and what gardening tasks you are willing to undertake. No less important is ensuring that your requirements are met, in order to avoid the planting of your designer’s very own memorial. The first step is to get a cost estimate for the landscaping of this wonderful design before you pay for the actual drawings; otherwise you might end up with a very expensive piece of paper that will never become a reality.

The Landscape Contractor

Landscape contractors provide a design and landscaping service. A reputable firm is likely to charge for a consultation, but this is a wise investment, you are paying for a professional service to help you to design the garden. Given the importance of this element to the success of the whole project, the design, build and budget should all be as agreed with you. “Approximate” and “estimate” are not words you want to hear being used. If, on the other hand, you know of work done by the contractor and feel comfortable that they will produce a suitable final scheme, you could start with a rough ‘outline overview sketch’ of what the garden will look like, on headed paper, saving you the cost of the full design service. This should suffice, with a little vision and trust on your part.

Remember! Only use a contractor from a registered list! The association has a rigorous vetting procedure and ensures that all members meet strict guidelines. This also eliminates the rogue trader, the cheaper quotation and the tears that might result from a possible ‘rogue-contractor’. Ensure that your landscape consultant has a qualification in horticulture.


The site assessment with your Planning Application is a look at how your house will affect its natural surroundings and what you intend to do to ensure that it does not look out of place within its habitat, by planning additional planting. Whilst this is something that is a requirement more often for sites in rural areas, the site map will possibly require you to show what you intend to do with the existing hedges, stone walls, trees and shrubs. Certain species of plants and wildlife are protected, whilst trees are a particularly emotive issue to which we will return later. Very often, as a condition of Outline Approval, the natural features must be maintained. Additionally, building materials should not be stored on the root crown area of the tree and you are likely to be asked to re-plant if shrubs and trees are removed in order to build.

The extent to which you will be required to do the above very much depends upon the attitude of your local council and the area in which you are building. It is however an aspect that should be covered by your architect, preferably working with a landscape architect, before your Planning application is submitted.

Tree preservation orders are increasingly being issued as trees are rightly seen as being central to the character of the landscape, at the same time there is a desire to maintain indigenous species. Taking a tree survey as an example demonstrates the range and depth of information that can be obtained; it can sometimes read more like a medical chart! A tree survey should only be compiled, via your architect, by a suitably qualified arborist [in theory a registered tree doctor] or horticulturist. It’s an outlay that you probably haven’t thought to budget for, but it is an investment in your house in exactly the same way that you are paying your architect. The cost will depend on the complexity of the site but will not include a landscaping schedule; that is a separate piece of work. Remember that this is a professional service and one that will pay dividends in the final look of both house and setting.

Below is an outline of what a tree survey covers:


To include brief details of all other significant vegetation, for example hedgerows, a general commentary on tree related problems, tree measurements (which because of their shape will be approximate) and the suitability of trees for retention, but not their history.

The time of year will have a bearing on the above as some signs symptomatic of ill health within a tree may not be obvious in certain seasons any conditions Ivy can also obscure defects and ill health.

The Survey

This will cover the age, from established through to senile, the condition, from good to dead, height and spread including the canopy separately. It accompanies a description of the site based on a scale drawing.

Trees are sorted into categories ranging from A being a tree of outstanding merit to C, one which is dead, dying or dangerous and which should be removed.

The action to be taken covers:

Clean out – removing anything detrimental to the tree’s health, including dead and broken branches.

Crown thin – removing living branches to reduce the weight of the crown and thus resistance to wind, admit more light and improve air circulation.

Crown reduction – shortening the canopy limbs.

Remove dead wood – pruning all dead and diseased branches.

Address imbalance – as the result of deformed growth trees develop an imbalanced crown system. This may not be important except where the imbalance lies towards the house, road or pathway.


The report finishes with a section covering the overall and general future management of the trees and site factors influencing this.

The above is a very detailed survey, but it does demonstrate the extent of the information you can obtain. It’s an informed approach providing the best possible outcome for your trees, which could result in saving the tree – and the expense of removing and replanting.

As always when employing anyone, it’s best to contact a recognised and reputable trade association and choose a registered company with a track record in this sector. Whilst a local gardener or college graduate may be knowledgeable, this is not something for the faint hearted and a legal document is really what is required.

Prepared in association with Peter Donegan Landscaping Ltd., Co Dublin 01-807-8712 Mobile: 087-659-4688

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Gardening…. a different side to life

Its well known [to most] that I used to grow plants under my bed when I was 4 or 5 years old; my first seeds I grew out my back garden with my Pop – radishes; lettuce sets with my Dad; my first bulb [singular] was a hyacinth – one weeks pocket money at the time and she let me off a penny [total bill 11p]! Rhubarb, cooking apples the lot.

The front garden was nothing exciting, now [hindsight]! A skimmia, grisilina hedging and the usual alyssum & lobelia in summertime; not forgetting sunflower seeds of course. Newlands Garden Centre was in the Devitts family back garden then. I’m amazed when I see it now. After all the years of cycling there on my grifter bicycle.

I’m one of 8 children. My Father is a wine merchant all his life – my mother, reared us and worked. Times were tough, at times; but good. I worked hard. We all did. One had to. Friends of mine over the road grew & sold lettuce door to door. It wouldn’t have been possible in my house I suppose.

When eventually the plants were found under my bed, tears were shed, they had to go! That was tough at the time. I found a [Marist] Brother Coleman, who had a glasshouse. I offered my elder in exchange for housing my green friends, assistance in tending the college grounds & some teachings if possible. Deal! He came and collected. I had a mentor. I was 9 years old. He thought me so much & for the love of horticulture that he gave me I will never forget him.

Repairing football pitches, geranium cuttings, interior landscaping, rockeries, tractors et cetera. later then a summer job! 20 pounds a week! I was still working on a sasturday doing my garden round. I think I didn’t have to do the washing up that summer because I was earning a wage/ handing up [some] money. Talk about living the life! I’d sit with my Dad and ask him how business was… how cool! Then I went to that school [sound = screech in the old vinyl].

Gardening was no rock and roll, believe me. Gardening and plants were ‘gay’. It warranted a hiding. The slagging from teachers didn’t help and that usually received a good class chuckle. They bought football stickers. I bought seeds and went to the library. A regular hiding was duly received. Flowers. Pansy. Gay. Donegan. I was so to speak a misfit! When that happens, I suppose the answer is to give it up. I couldn’t. I didn’t want to. I loved what I was doing. I fell out with Bro Coleman for a little. Grades were faltering. The stick was getting greater. But time did heal all wounds.

Back home from College for a weekend with my sister lizAnd so at 17 years old with no grass cutting money saved and no landscaping money in my pocket. I went to college…. [this is me & my sis liz – i’m about 19 here] the only Jackeen [Dubliner] in Kilkenny! Jesus Christ! give me a break for Gods sake. Dustin the Turkey only had a slot on Dempseys Den at the time – A turkey with a Dublin voice?!! But I was in a horticultral college, so the ‘gay’ tag had gone at least. Dustin was so much easier. It didn’t get me down. I think it probably made me stronger. I had had worse. A lot worse.

But when one is passionate about anything in life, like a first girlfriend or a hobby… a passion; it excites you and it feels almost electric. I still feel that about what I do. I am still that passionate. Sometimes I feel like I’m on top of the world. Sometimes I feel a little down. It makes me sad. But loving something, pretty much all you have know since you were a child, can do that. Its allowed. The reason you were isolated. The reason people thanked you. The reason they often cried. It is part of life.

It’s taken me sometime to allow myself publish this – but I was inspired by another blogger and his story. I think some people see a business now, not the man [or the big child]. My wife of one and a half years says I should marry a tree. She came in last night and I had the entire table covered with my crop of parsley! It was 11pm. I still had the rhubarb to go…. I have a bed now thats about one foot high and touches the floor. No plants under ‘this’ bed.

Will I ever grow up? Regarding what I love? Who wants to? Whats fun in that? Is that why I started this journey? When the plants need water and rain on my tongue ceases to excite me …. maybe.

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