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debbie… thursday garden guest #2

UPDATE:

12th February 2010
I got the news today that Debbie has passed away. Shocked, stunned, saddened… apart from all of the many beautiful charachteristics – she was also a fellow gardener 🙂 Funny thing, we spoke last week and were planning on doing garden tours together as a bit of a new business…. She was gonna call back after she did some research….. All that aside, Debbie would smile knowing I’m still trying to figure out if it’s a coffee or a pint she has in that photograph 😉 Missed already.

As a by the way she stayed up well into the wee hours of the [next] morning trying to get this garden guest post together….

debbie… thursday garden guest #2

debbie & friends

If you’d like to know more about Thursday Garden Guest time – click here.

For the moment writer number #2 is Debbie Metrustry alias debbiemet. A lover of all things outdoors and botanical. I first met Debbie at Electric Picnic. A common love of horticulture is more professionally shared here. An absolute lady, a pleasure to meet and a great person to be around. For now, Ladies and Gentlemen, may I introduce Debbie.

The Garden – What I Like

There are so many things I like about The Garden that it’s hard to know where to begin. From the personal lessons I have learnt through gardening, through the visceral joy of being connected with the earth, the curiosity and wonder at observing plants grow, the pure aesthetic pleasure of being in gardens of great beauty and intriguing design — through all these and the wonderful opportunities that I’ve been given – from the profound to the frivolous – there is not one aspect of my being that remains untouched.

My first ‘go’ at this blog came out as a chronological list masked as my biography: not so interesting, really. So I ditched it, and decided instead just to give you the things I like, in no particular order.

  • I love the brown earth. I love having my hands in the soil. I mean I really love it. When I look at the rich, chocolate-coloured earth, dormant, but harbouring and nourishing all manner of living things, I feel a deep sense of rootedness, a connection. The smell of it after rain. Or a bright, crisp day with the sun shining and birds singing: well then there’s nothing to beat digging it. And mulching. Spreading well-rotted manure on a just-weeded or newly-planted bed is incredibly satisfying. It’s like Guinness for plants: black gold.

Ploughed Field
A whole field of the earth, just waiting for action


On a more modest scale: garden potential from Heligan

Toadstools at Mount Cuba Center, Delaware, taking advantage

  • Plants: I get excited about all sorts of plants and really have no discrimination. There’s nothing more exciting than going to a garden or nursery and discovering lots of fabulous plants I’d never heard of. Some nurseries are better than others, and this one, Plant Delights in North Carolina, is at the forefront of plant introductions. I spent hours and hours there, and had to be torn away from all the amazing new plants.

Banana and Tetrapanax

OK, so it looks a bit nettley (same family)…
…but it’s actually a really cool foliage plant

called Boehmeria platanifolia, collected by Plant Delights

They take their signage seriously

Beautifully laid out, and just look at all those lovely labels (bottom left)   🙂

  • I have a weak spot for herbaceous perennials which I love to grow myself, and I adore gardens that are full of them, especially when mixed with grasses in what is called the American prairie style. I’m a big fan of naturalistic planting, using natives where possible.

Prairie planting at Hunting Brook Gardens, Wicklow

The meadow at Mount Cuba Center, Delaware

A meadow on the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina

Looking out to the meadow at Longwood Gardens, Pennsylvania

  • Trees make me go weak at the knees and I am passionate about looking after them [blog/rant on the treatment of Dublin trees coming up soon]. But give me a mature beech and I’m as happy as Larry. There is nothing so majestic as the mature or champion beech, and it reminds me, whenever I’m in doubt, of why I went into horticulture in the first place. Trees teach me that we are caretakers of this earth, that we plan and plant for future generations, and that the passing of time is a Good Thing. They also remind me to curb my impatient side, which is rather too well developed at times.

  • Since becoming a gardener of course I’ve always loved Spring; here it starts early, and you feel and smell the excitement in the air from February if you care to look, or if you just go out and sniff. In the US it seemed as if Winter would last for ever, but then one day Spring arrived, and it took me completely by surprise. The flowering trees – which were everywhere and I hadn’t previously noticed – had exploded into fabulous, floriferous, glorious life so abruptly and dramatically that I very nearly crashed the car. Seriously.

The Spring exuberance of Magnolias and Japanese cherries in Longwood Gardens

  • I didn’t quite get the full impact of autumn, because 2005 wasn’t a particularly spectacular one, and this year I was just a week or so too early. However, there was still some good drama going on, and I liked it very much indeed. 🙂

The nursery at Longwood Gardens

  • Woodland plants provide a wonderful and never-ending array of variation. These are plants who display their wares shyly, biding their time waiting for that window between dappled spring sunshine and the shade of full leaf-burst. They have a way of creeping up on you: for example, trilliums! Do you know how gob-smackingly beautiful they are? — albeit in a subtle way. The wonderful Mount Cuba Center in Delaware has a fabulous collection of them, and I was lucky enough to be there in Spring to see them in all their tentative glory.

Trillium stamineum (Twisted trillium) and Trillium discolor

  • The detail and intricacy of flowers, best viewed up-close and personal. What’s not to love about these?

Iris in Mount Stewart Garden

I forget…  but it’s in the Eden Project

Passiflora incarnata at the JC Raulston Arboretum, North Carolina

Blood smudge-splash of Rhododendron at Mount Stewart

  • I confess I have a soft spot for garden gadgets. It’s not surprising really, I am an aspiring geek, after all. Stainless steel spades are beautiful, good secateurs are a gal’s best friend, my oscillating hoe makes hoeing spectacularly easy and keeps my back pain-free; my Bosch shredder gives me free mulch in the woodland area of my garden while recycling any woody prunings. And my state-of-the-art builder’s gel kneepads are a godsend, and I wouldn’t be without them.

Exciting stuff, I know.

  • Last, but absolutely not least, I have found inspiration and true joy in every garden I’ve worked in, and most I’ve visited. They all have moments of great beauty and creativity to share. There are dozens of gardens that I love, each with its own special atmosphere that lifts the heart and soothes the soul. Here is a very small random selection from the thousands of photos I’ve taken in the last eight years.

The National Botanic Garden, Glasnevin – my alma mater. I spent three years studying here and so it is a place of very special significance. Every week amidst the busy-ness we cherished stealing some time out just to do the walk around. The Palm House was actually closed for the whole three years I was there, so I was thrilled when it finally opened.

The Palm House was actually closed for the whole three years I was there, so
I was thrilled when it finally opened.

Victoria cruziana, an important and beautiful plant in the garden’s history.

The bandstand in the arboretum

Apart from beech, this is my favourite tree in the garden,
entirely because of its wonderful bark.
Betula albosinensis var. septentrionalis

A superb Japanese maple near the rockery.
It’s also near the plant in the rockery that was planted in memory of a dear friend
and classmate who died in 2006.

Altamont Gardens, Co. Carlow was where I did my first placement. The lake there is full of life and a very beautiful setting. When I started working there I found it impossible not to stop and stare all the time – I couldn’t believe my luck.

Altamont house from the lake.

Fast forward now to the USA and Longwood Gardens where I interned for a year. Longwood is defined by its water and its spectacular colour.

The daily fountain shows are set to music

About twenty thousand tulips are planted each year

Not far from where I fell – actually I walked – in. I still like it, in spite of that.

Longwood’s hybrid Victorias – originally bred from one at Glasnevin.

Chanticleer is just as impressive as Longwood, but has a more contemporary design. It’s my favourite garden and is full of mystery and fun.

The Teacup garden

A spot of stainless steel

The pool where we had my farewell party. Nice!

I wanted to include more places but you’d be reading this forever if I did, so this will have to do for now. Once I started, I realised that actually there’s very little I don’t like about The Garden.

I’ll leave you with a sample of Longwood’s spectacular firework display. Yes, they were that glad to be rid of me. 🙂

Thanks for reading!

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self build magazine – winter ’08 issue

You want to get the garden designed. You have already tried and after spending the entire lottery, it still looks humerous. The sun is shining. The neighbours have just started the barbeque. You own a jungle. Where do you start?

investing in a garden....

investing in a garden... ?

If this is you? then, at €4.50 [not bad value at all!] the winter issue of Self Build Extend & Renovate Ireland, is exactly the read you are looking for. Of course it is written by yours truly – and to pat myself on the back just that little more… it is really good, sound advice on how, when and why you should should consider a garden.

Some of the articles I have written previous are almost specialist in their topic – but this is one I feel is one that everyone can identify with.

The intro may suggest barbeques [what 😉 ] but – this is all about planning. Planning I say not in the sense of a cheap garden look, moreso in that the maximum return is achieved from one’s budget.

Available in all good newsagents, bookstores etc. Or purchase it online.

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In The Beginning

Probably one of the most difficult guarantees any horticulturist can give is a definite improbability that any plant is going to live. The reality is that a plant is defined as ‘a living organism that grows in the ground and lacks the power of movement’. This explains so much, and knowing that a living organism must endure not only the delightful elements of our weather, but that a little more hindrance must be catered for by our green friends when we put it in a place it would not prefer to be in the first instance.

I spent some of my spare time looking through an old bookstall recently looking for inspiration from old horticultural books. One gem I did find was “The All Year Garden” by Margery Fish (first published 1958). Whilst thoughts, styles and ideals may have changed in the last fifty years, the truth is plants and their definition has not. The preface of her book says of Mrs Fish that “It is, perhaps, encouraging to know that Mrs Fish has acquired her gardening knowledge by her own practical experience as an amateur, since she went to live in Somerset in 1938.” In her earlier book she was of the opinion that “It is only possible to make a garden with no off-moments by careful selection of flowering plants and the use of foliage and berried plants.” Thus, if you know the type of ground you have, all you need do is match it to your favourite plants.

Is gardening that easy? Fish, an amateur by her own admission, very simply understood plants and understood that for a successful garden, one should prepare and plan very carefully. It is true that soil type (see Summer 2007 where this is discussed in more detail), plays a major factor in successful plant growth, but if this understanding is in place then the soil that you have inherited or somewhat adapted should not pose a problem.

The beauty about horticulture now is that you can read this article and have an understanding of what type of garden you can have, but you don’t have to wait through twenty years of experience to know that you have got it right, eventually. Nowadays there are many qualified horticulturalists to guide you. As their client you just need to decide what style or concept you wish and let them work out the details. You may take over at any time or leave the professional to complete the journey on your behalf.

Most people who possess anything like an acre, or half of it, contribute to the support of a gentleman known as the jobbing gardener. Be warned of the danger that he may prove to be Garden Pest No.1.

C.E Lucas-Phillips, The Small Garden 1952

If all this is virgin territory to you then going it alone is likely to end in failure. An hour’s professional consultation is a very worthwhile investment. A good building architect should charge and similarly so should ‘a good’ horticulturist. Do be careful however, not to tell the consultant/ designer, you are paying, the garden design he or she should draw for you and the names of the plants you like. It is better to describe the general feel or concept you have in mind. Their opinion may not be yours but is most probably based on good reason and experience. Even if you do feel yourself to be ‘green fingered’, it’s always helpful to look at other gardens in the area and see what’s doing well there! With every garden, remember that a proportion of plants and plans falter at the starting line so allow for all eventualities before you start.

Most of you reading this article will be in the process of either considering or starting to build soon. If so, you should be planning your garden now as well. When machinery is on site movement of soil is done at no extra cost and, more importantly, soil is not removed and then reintroduced again unnecessarily at considerable expense. Here is where you consultant will pay dividends and almost as important, you may save yourself their fee and more.

What goes Where

As previously mentioned, soil and plant types can be categorised very simply into either ericaceous or acid loving, and non-ericaceous/ alkali or normal plants, when considered by soil type only. It is now other factors that must be taken into consideration. For example, the size and shape of your garden, whether in town or country, what surrounds it and the climatic conditions which affect it directly.

Next up is looking at what your family want. Be it lawn or the (improbable) ‘no maintenance’, from shelter to privacy, planting is something that will ease the mind and soften that symmetrical build that so often stands out from the natural landscape rather than blending in. I urge you to choose your outlay carefully, be a little adventurous, and to choose plants that will have a better chance of living.

There is no magic or mystery about gardening – it is just common sense. The ‘green finger’ theory can be discredited, too, for through the ages there have been men with a special aptitude for certain jobs – whether making a violin or milking a cow; but this comes only after close application, and in this gardening is similar to any other job.

E. R. Janes The Flower Garden 1952

Garden design in Ireland has taken a different move recently. I worked in the trade for ten years before I felt comfortable putting pencil to paper and starting my design practice. Nowadays one can simply go to college, maybe do a garden show and start the business by selling drawings on paper. However, a design on paper does not ensure a well designed garden. A proper, full design service should follow some crucial steps.

The designer should:

Meet with the client and try to understand their personality, their lifestyle and their family way of living through the seasons. How much time they actually want to spend in the garden no matter the size, and whether they wish to spend time maintaining by simply cutting the grass, looking at their picturesque view or becoming heavily involved in a new daily lifestyle.

Designing a garden is a lot more than just drawing a pretty picture. It is a calculated reflection of ones personal lifestyle that the design professional must create. Whether that be an award winning and historical seventeenth century estate, an art-deco style house or a rural farm cottage, creating an inspiring landscape is borne from education, experience and, as important, a little soul.

It would be extremely difficult to describe how to landscape and design every garden within a few paragraphs, but what I can do is provide you with some good guidelines. The primary consideration for most people is the cost of a design service. The service itself is available at many levels and naturally depends on how much you want from your designer, to how much you have to invest in drawings. The cost will be based upon the degree of service you require.

Step 1: choose a garden designer based on reputation like commissioning an art piece and ask for an initial consultation. This part is not a tender process.

I spoke to a colleague friend of mine recently who told me he had done the finest design ever, according to his client. The project? a 10M x 6M garden. The design? all done in grass! The client in question had five children and two dogs. Not adventurous perhaps, but it sure suited their needs. A very different example was a client who worked in the tourism sector. He never had weekends off and always worked during the day. Here it was simply a case that the south facing garden/ sunniest spot rules logic went right off the drawing board. His need was for a garden that looked good early and late in the day.

Step 2: consider your family and lifestyle. Is there need for a play area, barbecue or somewhere to entertain?

One of the most important parts of all is how much of the day do you wish to spend in the garden? And Be honest. If a garden doesn’t cost time then it will cost money and time is what people always forget to allow for. The biggest change in garden design recently is a request for bespoke manufactured outdoor buildings and vegetable patches. Fifty per cent of the vegetable patches are removed within the first two years! Usually I try to replace these with some fruit trees under-planted with herbs that will be used quite regularly.

Step 3: the costs of maintaining the design.

Most important of all are the surroundings. Whether it is a rural setting where you have inherited or maybe purchased a farm cottage, or a two bedroom town house in a ‘newer’ village, all of the rules above still apply. Just as a large area of decking is out of place on an historic house, so is a Leyland hedge in a small urban or city garden. These are very golden, nee ethical rules we should all follow.

Space is a big commodity and as my Father would say, they don’t make land in Ireland anymore. It does not however mean that the typical garden of your old family home must be crammed into your new, small suburban garden. As John Brooks said in The Small Garden:

‘Gardens first and foremost are for people, not plants’, and continues, ‘The key to realising the potential of your small space, in both visual and practical terms, is design – this involves planning and styling your space so that it suits your way of life, as well as the character of your home and its surroundings.

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vegetable growing [easy style]…

pumpkin flowers

pumpkin flowers

i tried the ‘going green’ with the veggie grow gig, the herbs and all the other green stuff. It takes time. I needed something to impress the in or out-laws and fast! I’m Peter Pumpkin eater… the walls of the house and my car are supposed to be green… I’ll be ready for them all next year?!!

The reality is some things are easier to grow than others. So I’ve devised my own list of what actually can be categorised as ‘no brainer’. To this I mean: plant it – lose interest – no uber special treatment – it survives!

I’m not saying you’ll have finest fruit in Ireland, what I am saying is if you don’t have time everyday or even every weekend to be in the potting shed – then here’s my suggestion on what won’t die overnight… [you get my drift!]

The easy green category has to start with fruit – the herbs- then veg… and yes, I know I should be stating ‘biblicly how to precisely’ – but lets be honest… if you’ve tried that and got no thanks at all….? then here’s the how to impress the in-laws list! I wont give too long a list – but if you want to give it a bash – here’s where you pretty much can’t go wrong. If it does – dont worry [I’m here] just try again.

from seed..

from seed..

herb/ kitchen cooking

  • parsley
  • thyme
  • lavander
  • oregano
  • bay laurel
  • chives
cherry trees

cherry trees

fruit- tree style

  • apple tree cookers and eating
  • pear
  • plum
  • cherry
  • olive
  • logan/black/ berries and currants
rhubarb stools

rhubarb stools

veggie-ish style

  • rhubarb [top of the list]
  • pumpkins
  • carrots
  • corn on the cob
  • turnip/ swede
  • onions

one for the kiddies

  • mustard
  • basil
  • watercress
free apples...

free apples...

what’s eating my plants

I couldn’t believe it when I looked outside and saw, literally every cabbage plant, stripped. What is left over,  probably hasn’t got long left.

This little git is the catterpillar and will eventually become a butterfly – as I’m sure you already know. But how, domestically and non chemically do I deal with the little insect.

The only solution is to pick them off and cover with a horticultural fleece to prevent them returning to their f-l-avoured leaf. I’d better get started on my 100 plants, while I have some left!

Apart from the obvious signs one will know if it is catterpillar [in this case] because they cannot eat the large veins of the plant as its mouth parts are not big enough. That said if the catterpillars are not there be careful, not to confuse the damage with what could be that of birds… you’ll know this because the bites [holes] are not interveinal [though the veins] as their mouth parts can eat through any part of the leaf.

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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