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Garden Ideas: 5 Uses of Features and Focal Points In Garden Design

car garden morris minor

All images and gardens by Peter Donegan/ Donegan Landscaping, Dublin

The better nee best features of any garden I have ever seen work, are those where the client, with the designer or creator almost decides to compel that design feature to commission.

A little Machiavellian by way of word choice maybe – but it is the revelation, the revealing over time and finally the receiving of that something very unique, created one-off and just for you and your garden  – that makes what may possibly seem like a gamble that I note, irrespective of garden size and budget – so very, very, very worthwhile.

That said, there is a difference between a house and a home – and – with gardens, better gardens – the main feature or what some may feel should be the main focus, should also work in tandem with its surrounds. Get that chemistry spot on and you might just have something very special.

The following are five examples of features in gardens that I have created. They are also decisions that made that garden a little different from the rest and for their owners, for the better.

1. Garden Walls with a Difference

donegan gardens dublin

If you can get this one right, you are on to an absolute winner. What I will say is it does require one to be a little bit daring, maybe, at the point of imagining what it will look like. Most tend to choose, as one might in interiors to have one featured colour wall and the rest white, for the sole logic of light purposes. As you can see in this garden, myself in the top corner planting away, the white was actually used on the lower walls the entire way around therefore allowing licence to be a little more sporadic on the upper level.

The backdrop plant of choice to soften is Fargesia, a dwarfed bamboo brought in slightly more mature and that shall only grow to around eight foot tall in its lifetime.

2. Garden Art

gardens dublin

It doesn’t have to be a piece of sculpt type olde art that you choose for your space outside, but do rest assured we have been using art in our gardens for absolute centuries. This piece was used in two of my gardens – one won two awards, one didn’t. Both great gardens. That aside, the decision to use art in our gardens has it seems been on the decline for some time.

That said, pick the right piece for the right space and surround it with choice perfect planting and you might just have that something so very special. In my opinion, we don’t use art outside enough.

3. A Feature Garden Structure

gazebo donegan garden

I’ve made and designed some great structure for some so much the better for it gardens, but this has to be one of my all time favourite garden structures I have ever used. I will admit there is no feeling greater than sitting underneath the stars whilst feeling like you are in a room of your own sipping a gin and tonic with some close friends.

If you can master that feeling ie. including the surrounds, so that the structure just stands out for the very right reasons during the day time, you have managed to achieve something extremely wonderful.

4. The Water Feature

garden water feature

There is nothing worse than a grandé anything in the wrong space and it is at this juncture that some variation of the quality not quantity cliché comes to mind. The key in all garden features is to get it just right and that’s were a good eye comes in for a great overall picture of just what it is you want. A bit like the gazebo, if it can have an additional use ie. during the day and at night-time, you have just got double bargain value for your pound.

5. A Hard Garden Surface

water garden dublin

Decks, cobble and all that is functional does have its place in the great outdoors – but if, once again, one can master so very good-looking with functionality then who am I to argue. I have created many walkable hard-surfaced finishes in my time – one of the simplest ever used in a garden of mine was this timber surface above. Divine perfection. Extreme simplicity.

In summary: the images used are ones I thought might strike a chord with you and personally, I’ll be very surprised if you like all of the images you see here. That said, they are a little unique, a little personal and individually loved by their owners.

More info:

dublin gardens

The Perfect Clients Garden


**Listen to the audio first before enlarging the images below.

I think the audio says it all.

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I found it really difficult to explain this with one image….

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.

Iveagh Gardens, Dublin

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It was last month when I chose to visit the Iveagh Gardens just north of St Stephens Green.

On the whole, I like the Iveagh Gardens. I like the layout, the sunken lawn and the symetry of the main features.

But on this occasion I was a bit surprised with some elements of the grounds.

The Iveagh Gardens were originally given to University College Dublin by Lord Iveagh in 1908. The gardens are now under the remit of the OPW.

The waterfall was closed off, which is fine, but road cones and some other paraphernalia seemed to be strewn there and the rose area was closed off. These bits one can live with and are easily resolved. But when you see statues/ figures with parts removed and at the same time a brand new looking [and therefore slightly out of place] sculpt of John Mc Cormack one wonders mildly. No offence meant to the Mc Cormack people…. but I could think of more fitting places for such a sculpt. I suppose I may have thought that one would restore the more historic pieces before bringing in the brand new [?].

The main water features were also turned off, the lawns [acknowledgment of winter weather here] were in disrepair and the trees had a fair amount of suckering growth. Not a lot going on being quite honest.

On the plus side the park is one of the quieter ones in Dublin, which in recent times has become a little better known thanks to the comedy festivals that now take place there. And no harm. It is in summer months very much filled with the joys of spring [?!!] but on this occasion I was disappointed.

As I said, I really do like this park, overall and to simply escape the hustle and bustle of the city centre. It’s history is also quite amazing and well worth reading up on… that said if I was Lord Iveagh… I guess I’d be a little disappointed to see the missing and semi dismantled sculpts that dorn the parks peripherals.

On a slightly seperate note The Iveagh Gardens wiki page tells as lightly different story to that of heritage Ireland

The gardens in their present form were laid out in 1863 by Benjamin Guinness after he had built what is now Iveagh House on St. Stephen’s Green. Previously the land had been laid out as a private pleasure garden by “Copper-faced Jack”, Earl of Clonmell.

According to Heritage Ireland

The Iveagh Gardens are among the finest and least known of Dublin’s parks and gardens.  They were designed by Ninian Niven, in 1865, as an intermediate design between the ‘French Formal’ and the ‘English Landscape’ styles.  They demonstrated the artistic skills of the landscape Architect of the mid 19th century and display a unique collection of landscape features which include Rustic Grotto’s and Cascade, sunken formal panels of lawn with Fountain Centre Pieces, Wilderness, Woodlands, Maze, Rosarium, American Garden, Archery Grounds, Rockeries and Rooteries.

The conservation and restoration of the Gardens commenced in 1995 and to date most of the features have been restored, for example the Maze in Box hedging with a Sundial as a centrer piece.  The recently restored Cascade and exotic tree ferns all help to create a sense of wonder in the ‘Secret Garden’.  The pre 1860s rose varieties add an extra dimension to the Victorian Rosarium.

More images of the Iveagh Gardens on Pix.ie

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the most amazing water feature…

This video[s] was taken about 5 years ago now, a good while ago now… but I’ve only gotten around to uploading recently.

It’s a natural piece of sand stone with a hole bore straight through. A light is then placed below water level. It contains a resevoir below the surface which recycles on that water. The resevoirs are a great idea because it means there’s no plumbing required to the water feature itself. It also means you can use the water from your rain water harvesting butts! More than that it means they are very child and pet friendly.

The videos explain it better than any words could. let me know what you think…Funny thing possibly, but, the amount of people who knocked on the door to tell me there was a fire in my garden was un-natural… 😆 what do you think?