Dublin Gardens: Lawn To Pebble

There are gardens I have done that I like and there are gardens I have done that the client simply loves. This, in that context, is up there with the best of them.

No lawn and low maintenance was the top request and considering there is no side access to the house, it was one that I felt was quite logic. With that in mind, front gardens have two choices: they can stand in or stand out. The home being situated in a quiet enough block in Ranelagh, Co. Dublin, I wanted the end result to fit and look like it had been there for some time, though still fresh well maintained.

The Escallonia macranthas and the Grisilinia littoralis were cut back and the dogged old roses, the overgrown Crocosmia and the thorned mass that was a Chaenomeles in some previous life form were removed. In its place went some newer and established Hydrangea’s, Buxus semprevirens, Laurus nobilis and some Vinca minor of the non variegated variety ~ Still old school, just fresher and with brighter surroundings. Of note: it’s almost December and the plants are young. Also of note, my qualifications are horticultural, this clients are definitely not. No offence. None taken.

If I’m honest here, the mild dilemma’s (wrong choice of word, i know) were less photosynthetic and more organisational and planning. A one car width street with metered parking either side did not allow anything more than a small commercial vehicle, therefore no trailers or large delivery trucks to gain access. More than that the one story house came with low-lying overhead cables.

The big squeeze was that I needed to shift 3-4 tonne of decorative pebble from the road, over a path, underneath cables, over railings and into a garden. By hand was an option not up for grabs ~ mainly as it would have added one extra day to the costs and also individually bagged costs more than loose pebble. By far, far better was the alternate of knowing my suppliers [and their vehicles] extremely well, my asking very politely for a wee favour and a few 5am starts. That and as much time spent off site as on.

To the end result, I will admit, it is not a Peter Donegan memorial garden. That said, it was not a place to be making a very large statement. Also not since Bloom have I had so many passers-by take the time to stop and pay compliment[s] for the work that was done. In short: it fits, it works, it looks good and it looks one heck of a lot better than it did last week. Far more important than that, the client loves it.

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Composters And The Like, In Garden Design

peter donegan, gardens

I’m sometimes hesitant to recommend composters in gardens. Partly when it comes to those spaces a little more dimensionally challenged, but more often it becomes a dilemma [or not] when it comes to gardens that are set to become a little more eloquent in their [after works are complete] appearance.

Where do you put that thing that should not be seen or just does not fit in ?

I get the point where biodiversity, wild flower meadows and potato peels not heading to landfill is the route we should all be travelling. But equally, there is a lot to be said for damn good-looking sexy gardens and I’m not too sure that hedgehogs and piles of leaves fit in with the latest Brown Thomas collection, if you get where I’m coming from.

donegan gardens

When we think back on the eloquence of 17th and 18th Century garden design the thought process was quite different from todays. The messy fellows namely the herbaceous, the vegetables and fruit gardens, were to an extent hidden. It may have been within a walled garden, behind rows of Buxus semprevirens or quite simply to the far left of the sunken garden; And though the layout did vary hither dither, the immediate view from the home was one of grandiose stately and proportionate beauty with consideration for each season in it’s very evident pre-planning.

With that in mind why, would I wish to place a grey plastic cube or other so visible within my space outdoors ?

Sometimes, the space simply just does not exist for one to fit into the great wish list. Equally there is a case where practical straight lined paths to the shed, bypassing the washing line as you go is not in any way the greatest way to showcase the prettiest in the room.

My composting area is constructed a bit like above, from pallets bolted together. I have chosen to surround the outer with a wall of Bay Laurel [Laurus nobilis] hedging – it also means masses of the herb free gratis – the dark glossy green foliage now forming the back drop for what is a bright coloured red bench. Minimal it maybe, but my garden is set on about 1 acre, allowing me a little more freedom and space to play with.

And play with it I do. It is a constant tesing ground for designs and concepts that may pop into my head…. just, to be sure, to be sure 😉

red garden furniture

Irrespective of budget and garden size, I’ve always felt the better gardens completed are those where the client divulges the full want list. This may or may not include a composting bin or other. But the trouble aesthetically, is always when one tries to squeeze something into a space after the garden has already been designed to suit.

Food for thought ?

Donegan Gardens: A Dublin City Garden

Wider rather than longer, this garden may appear quite simplistic, maybe at first glance. For me however, it is one of the nicest small/ city gardens I have ever created.

Don’t get me wrong there are other gardens, more show off pieces so to speak that maybe and of course can come quicker to my mind. The one offs aside and to this case I will note that there is a big difference between the warm home and nice house feel outside and my ticket always, unless otherwise directed by you, is on your behalf to create your garden.

Here my first step was to clad the walls and piers with white-painted timber, allowing the join lines to show and running left to right [or right to left], something that really gave the impression of a far greater and brighter space as it moved out of the seating room to the lawned and planted areas. Vertical lines would have done very much the opposite in working with the existing layout.

Partly down to plant choice, I really like the dappled shade as it flickers against the walls on the bright sunny days. I like the fact that the seating area, a room within itself comes with a view of the entire garden; there is a lovely feel from within of separation from the rest of the garden.

In making the space look greater, timber clad aside, the idea was to stretch the eye to the furthest points; the lawn runs longest from the bottom right hand corner to the top left and the steppings walk from the bottom left to the room now created in the top right hand corner.

Over many other alternates the brighter and smaller in size sandstone cobbles were chosen, again the lean was to creating the feel of a greater space. Though I’m sometimes hesitant to recommend it, the built-in seating and table area was a smart move. I find it helped the finished garden look of existing for some time yet very well maintained.

The planting wasn’t over complexed and was kept to a quite short palette. The choice was to a quite natural flow of foliage and silhouette, allowing for some specifically chosen to have their day on the horticultural podium through the seasons. Outlandish only through the photosynthetic maybe. Of note the tall and thin [note: bright, airy feel of space] dwarfed fruit trees were used to the back wall and for want of a better description by category, the tall shrubs brought in semi mature also helped create that instant existing feel to the new space.

Whether it be the steppings that lead out from only one set of doors though both of course can be used, the seating to the side wall or the fact that there is via the plant choice colour for all seasons and intrigue when maybe there shouldn’t be, or very simply a decent sized lawn, this garden for me, works.

My personal test as to whether I like or love a garden always comes down to the question of whether I would happily sit within A specific space outdoors and allow time pass me by. This garden passes with flying colours.

Thoughts, comments or queries:

  • leave a comment below or
  • have a chat with/ contact Peter Donegan

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Hand Made: Garden Planters

garden planters, dublin

Measuring 100 x 50 x 50 centimetres, I made these garden planters last week. Long story short I had someone in mind who, I guess I wanted them to have something just a slight bit different/ unique to them. In the context of quality first, not off the shelf and made to measure, these proved quite a smart choice.

I like the fact that the timber is a little raw [?] and soft looking in appearance. They’ll need to be repainted/ treated in time to come and with that and as the garden evolves so too the colour can change as they age.

They were dropped in situ ready for a garden party over the weekend and that being the case I felt a fine collection of summer bedding/ instant colour would be the correct choice. Investment now made, the intention is that they will be used as kitchen garden planters after the summer season.

There were some questions about putting castors, handles and the like on them. a bit like the colour choice, in this case, it was felt for now, the plants would do the job just nicely. I’m inclined to agree.

Instant gardening, as far as the client is concerned. 😉

More information:

Patio Choices: Sandstone Paving

sandstone patio

Laid well and chosen correctly sandstone can make one of the nicest outdoor spaces you’ve ever seen. There are however a few things that I chose to do on this project to make the finished garden look and the creating of just that little bit smarter.

Of note, you will find in sandstone that there are ruffles in its surface which do add character to its finish. Also you will find no matter which way you lay them, you will get some puddling of water within the slabs because of that; note again: no matter which way you lay them it will retain some water. That said it should also freely drain by the levels you set.

Aco Drain Channels – In reality I’d rather not have any drains but entirely necessary in this case I chose not to use the silver steel version but instead the matt black plastic just to fade it, as versus highlight. That said it does look quite smart.

The Sandstone Circle – was going to be 3 metre in diameter. A really smart call was made on this part way through to change to the 2 metre diameter. It comes as a set, so the only thing I really had to do was remove the outer third tier of the circle. We also made a smarter call to put it off centre ~ when it’s not a ye olde type formal garden, central rarely works out. Gardens for the long-term, good calls are very necessary. Great clients [I’d have preferred a friendlier word] really do help when it comes to things like this.

sandstone circle

Fuge – was also used in between the joints of the paving. In the context of time cost/ man hour units versus a more expensive product [?] it was for more reasons a far better choice than the old days of filling mortar into the joints by hand. The video explains that a little bit more.

The mix of slab colour was also a good choice as versus going with the one colour theme and I personally find it almost changes colour as the light descends upon it. I also used an old timber edge as the surround. From a logic perspective, this will allow the pebble to be retained on the peripheral beds and from a design point of view the colours tie in quite well with the stone colours.

note: the garden was created 2nd week in April and in the paving images, the sand/ grit had literally just been brushed in.

 * all pics courtesy Donegan Landscaping