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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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good topsoil

...angels dust!

...angels dust!

If you are buying topsoil – buyer beware – this really is a case of cheaper can often be more tearful than cheerful. Buy from a reputable source and before it is tipped in you’re driveway… jump in and have a rumage around.

The [generally speaking] golden rule for good topsoil is the darker the colour [ie. on a scale of concrete block to peat briquette – the closer it is to brown/ black the better]. The second rule is that it should not be overly clumpy and stick in lumps [too much] to the soles of your shoes when you walk on it [ie. it should be akin to walking on a sandy/ yet soily beach-ish], but colour generally tells so much.

Whilst I admit I do have a funny way of describing things, you can *see* what I’m saying…?

notice the difference in colour?

notice the difference in colour?

Poor soil, means longer labour hours and when the 20 tonne load – approximately 800 wheelbarrows – has to be moved by wheelbarrow and loaded by hand, believe me paying €50-100 euro more for you’re product, is [when you know what you’re getting] well worth it. As a rule of thumb, good soil should cost about €350-400 per load.

That said one can go a stage further and buy a graded mix topsoil or compost which comes in large bags. Expect to pay €150 per tonne approximately. This is a lot more expensive but – depending on the task at hand – it might just be the one for you. Sometimes 20 tonne is just too much and a load delivered – no matter the size – is a load delivered. That said, the pre bagged mix also allows you to calculate exactly where you want it placed and calculate.

In all things soil, remember it can often cost more to get it removed!

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 harmonia.ie

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’.’

GRADUATE:  N 1 A PERSON WHO HOLDS A UNIVERSITY OR COLLEGE DEGREE. DESIGN: VB 1 TO WORK OUT THE STRUCTURE OR FORM OF (SOMETHING).  BY MAKING A SKETCH OR PLANS. 2 TO PLAN AND MAKE (SOMETHING) ARTISTICALLY.

HORTICULTURE: N THE ART OR SCIENCE OF CULTIVATING GARDENS

COLLINS DICTIONARV FOURTH EDITION

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 www.doneganlandscaping.com

[courtesy diarmuid gavin designs magazine]

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fertilising lawns…

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Yesterday and today saw a battered lawn take a spoon full of sugar. Oh yes! Caculated green back to perfection time is 4 weeks.

The days of the old 10:10:20 fertliser have passed however – For the times they are a changin’ – I’m not saying they’re defunct just passed – for me. In horticulture, the science of, where time management is concerned – is so important whilst inceasing quality – in this case this is a revelation [that’s been here for a while].

I’ve used a slow release fertiliser [like osmocote but for lawns]. Briefly, its’s like an M&M sweet[?!] – the outer coat contains the feed within – if the plant [grass in this case] grows at 12-14 celcius then the feed releases – when temperatures go below that – it stops… put simply.

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The ‘old way’ meant if it rained the fertiliser may be leeched through the soil and therefore had little or no effect. I’ve used Scotts Sierrablen range 14:5:21 + 2MgO which slowly releases feed over a 4-5 month range. This is where intelligence saves money. The feed does cost a little extra but the time saved and moreso only having to treat it once per growing season-ish is partly why.

The spreader [modelled by my good buddy Adam] is really cool. This one has a handle on one side [left as you look] which if pulled prevents it from going to that side. The importance here is that the fertiliser for the lawn is not that which would suit a fruit tree. Hence the name – edgeguard!

The pull handle in the middle means it doesn’t release feed unless you want to… little or no waste.

The green ‘bit’ between the handle and the holder sets the rate of output. A genius invention and so simplistic.

God – if I was getting paid for product placement I’d be worth a fortune… but, the truth is, as much as the people of Memphis believe that Elvis is The King of Rock and Roll – the reality is, there is not much competition to disprove or disagree. The people of Scotts have a really good product. It’s not that I prefer it. It is simply a good product.

If you are spreading – reduce the rate by half. Push in straight lines up and down – and then – go across left to right – normal output rates still apply. Application rates do vary but it’s recommended at 25-40gramms per metre squared. If you’re unsure do a trial run first [I insist!!] or you’l end up with variance in the lushness of your greens. Enjoy!

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free!! allium sativum

Also known as Garlic, these cloves [fresh] from China I bought in Superquinn!! Carbon footprint my tusche. The builders have destroyed my crop so I needed a fresh batch to grow from. I was surprised to discover their origin but these will be planted & not used for cooking.

To grow: Split the cloves. Plant 2″ down & 4″ apart. Plant now and lift at the end of summer when the leaves die off [as you would with most bulbs]. Let them dry and/ or replant. Free garlic!

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