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top posts for december

eryngium-bourgatii-oxford-blue

eryngium-bourgatii-oxford-blue

the top posts for November were getting back to a more horticultural nature and December a little moreso again – but – I still don’t understand why a post on taxi ranks has rated in the top 10 since it was written….? Maybe someone can tell me?

That said, I still have to publish the top posts for the year of 2008…

For the moment…. from 1-10 here are the top 10 posts that you liked to read the most for last month. Once again, enjoy and thank you for visiting and reading.

Of course you can also have my posts sent direct to your e-mailbox – click here or follow me on twitter – click here

Title:

the taxi regulator and the rank…
Rick… thursday garden guest #6
Small Gardens – good design
budget car hire….. ?
trees – crown raising, topping or traini
Cedrus Atlantica Glauca Pendula
phil… thursday garden guest #7
south africa, 2008, gardens & the ni
khayelitsha, south africa 2008 – part 1
electric pinknic… picnic

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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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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Ireland Soil Types

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I have been writing for self build magazine for some time now but if you are building and at present your garden looks something like the picture above then this magazine and its website should prove really useful.

Some previous articles are available online.

This piece was on soil types and was published in 2007

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Nowadays, most people’s first steps when planning a garden involve a visit to a garden centre. In this supermarket for the garden, you are likely to encounter a bewildering array of soil enrichers, soil testing kits and more to help you to understand the type of earth you have and how to enhance or adapt plants better to a soil to which they are quite unaccustomed.

Beginning with trying to explain what plants grow can grow where is almost creating a set of rules, quite the wrong course of action. The key to growing plants well in varying weathers or soil is to understand them and their origins, their homes and where or what conditions they prefer.

In truly understanding what soil actually is it’s important to appreciate that mineral or inorganic particles, vegetable or organic matter (humus), air and water are all a part of what we call soil. Because the ‘soil’ contains some physical characteristics of the parent material and contains trace elements resulting from rock erosion, the type of rock from which it was eroded will often determine if the soil is free draining or waterlogged, alkali or acid.

Climate is another important influence, in four main ways: chemical and physical weathering of mineral parent material, the glacial or fluvial or Aeolian movement of parent materials, development of the soil profile by internal soil processes and finally the erosion or physical removal of soil. The relative importance of each of these varies from region to region.

Using the ‘pH scale’ which is graded from one to fourteen, where one is almost car battery acid and fourteen more like caustic soda as a rough guide, peat is around 4.5 – 4.8pH and compost (or lime treated peat) 5.3 – 5.6pH. The optimum is 6.0 for peat and 6.7 for a mineral rich mix. Using this knowledge we can work out acidity levels, which in turn guides us towards what plants we can grow.

Despite our knowledge of the effects of pH, we still don’t fully understand why plants find it difficult to grow in acid soils. Toxicity results from the loss through leaching of valuable nutrients such as magnesium and potassium, and increased plant availability of iron and aluminium. This in turn disables the micro organisms and thus growth is prevented or severely retarded.

Ericaceous or acid loving plants include Azaleas, Rhododendrons, Pieris and some varieties of heathers, most other plants prefer a more alkaline situation.

Great Soil Groups

There are ten main Great Soil Groups occurring in Ireland. These are the Brown Earths, Podzols, Brown Podzolics, Grey Brown Podzolics and Blanket Peats (zonal soils), the Gleys and Basin Peats the Rendzinas, Regosols and Lithosols.

BROWN EARTHS (11 & 22) are relatively mature, well-drained, mineral soils with a rather uniform profile, which have not been extensively leached or degraded. Most Brown Earths occur on lime-deficient parent materials, and are, therefore, acid in nature; these are called Acid Brown Earths. These soils, in general, possess medium textures of sandy loam, loam or sandy clay loam and are often relatively low in nutrients but respond well to nourishing.

BROWN PODZOLIC (28 & 39) soils have a surface layer containing organic matter mixed with mineral material. These soils are characterised by higher iron contents in their subsoil. Their low nutrient status is easily overcome by the addition of lime and fertiliser.

GLEYS (showing “blue till” caused by de-oxygenated material, 20 & 10) are soils showing the effects of poor drainage and have developed as a result of permanent or intermittent water logging. This may be due to a high water table, to a ‘perched’ water table caused by the impervious nature of the soil itself, or to seepage of runoff from slopes. Most gleys have poor physical conditions, resulting in restricted growth in spring and autumn.

GREY BROWN PODZOLIC soils are usually formed from a calcium based parent material, which counteracts the effects of leaching. The lighter texture Grey Brown Podzolics are good all-purpose soils, while the heavier textured types respond well to the addition of manure. Very little of this type occurs in NI, it is more wide spread in ROI.

LITHOSOLS (use lithosol image in folder) are shallow, stony soils, usually overlying solid or shattered bedrock. It is soil in the early stages of being formed. They are often associated with podzols at higher elevations. Generally such soil areas have bare rock outcropping at frequent intervals and many also have steep slopes. They require a lot of top soil to cover and/or the removal of rock.

PODZOLS (8) are generally poor soils, depleted of nutrients by heavy rainfall leaching through an organic layer (the podzolisation process). They need a lot of lime and fertiliser and are usually found in hill and mountain areas.

RENDZINAS are shallow soils, usually not more than 50 cm deep, whose patent material contains over 40% carbonates. The surface layer is very dark in colour, with a neutral or alkaline pH. Rare in NI, more common in ROI.

REGOSOLS (32) are soils which show no distinct layer development. The texture can vary between sands and clays, depending on the material from which they are derived. They may be acid or alkaline for the same reason.

PEATS (40) are characterised by their high organic content, over 30%, and by being at least 30 cm in depth. Two basically different types, blanket and basin peat, occur in the country.

BLANKET PEAT typically found in the West of Ireland and all upland areas because of the high rainfall and humidity. They are poor draining and relatively shallow.

BASIN PEAT was formed in lake basins, hollows and river valleys, or where the sub-soil is sufficiently impermeable to give a high water table. Deeper than blanket peat.

RAISED BOG usually consists of a basal layer of fen or woody fen, overlain by a layer of acid peat. In their natural state, raised bog peats vary from about three to ten meters in depth. When drained and reclaimed, basin peats can have a wide range of use.

(CP 16 8A and 8B Blanket peat)

Adapted from Teagasc Project Report 4104

The Eyes have it

Time spent just looking at your soil is a much better use of it than heading off to the garden centre. The biggest curse for most of us in this green and pleasant land is drainage, identified by a combination of texture and colour. As a rule of thumb, hard layers and grey/blue soil (concrete block colour), indicates water logging. This might not be obvious at surface level so to find out dig a few three-foot deep holes, fill with water and if drained within an hour, rather than taking twenty-four, your problems should be nil.

Well-drained soils have an organic dark brown/ black (compost/ bark) colour and water should continue to flow down easily through the three-foot depth.

Knowing the soil type is the first step, finding out what plants like to grow in it means more investigation in the best tradition of the plant hunters of the past.

Handsome is as Handsome does

In 1775 Drs Fothergill and Pittcairn went to the Swiss Alps in search of curious plants, in the company of a third Scot, Thomas Blaikie. Blaikie brought back 440 various types of seeds and plants, but it was the Doctors who stole the limelight for founding the first alpine plants collection. The rock garden had been invented.

According to the Collins Dictionary, (paperback edition), the definition of alpine is: adj 1 of high mountains. 2. Alpine of the Alps n 3 a plant grown on or native to mountains.

With particular reference to definition 3, the real truth is that the gentlemen made their new plants suit the region rather than changing the region for the plants. This was why the plant finding expeditions continued and were continually funded by the rich and famous who wanted to be the first, and only if possible, to have such rarities growing in their gardens.

Some people think that you can’t plant here, or there, because of the rocks or the soil, or because they live on a mountainside for example. The truth is, as the two Doctors and their gardener friend Blaikie discovered, you can grow any plant anywhere you want and in or on any place you want, the plant must simply like their new home!

Learning the lie of the Land

But how do you adapt a plant to grow in your garden? Recently I went to view a garden in The West of Ireland. The client, expecting the garden to have an acid based soil, planted fine specimens of ericaceous plants. The results were horrific. The garden soil did not have a bog like pH, the top soil had been brought from somewhere else by the developer and was just ordinary top soil, as I know it. The only solution was to start again from scratch.

Because the soil in Dublin is alkaline, when we want to have a Pieris ‘forest flame’ on the patio we take some peat (or ericaceous compost) and put the plant in a pot. If you want to make it look as if it’s growing in the ground then in theory you bury the pot. Taking this a stage further, if you wish a large array of acid loving plants then a bigger ‘container’ is required.

Easier by far is to make an ericaceous bed. This sounds simple – the work is not, unless you have a son, as my Father would say! Assuming some mature specimen plants are included, I suggest that a pit of approximately 1.5 metres should be dug; the width depends on the amount of plants. “The bigger the better” is the golden rule here as the plant really needs to feel like it has just returned to its new cosy home. The hole is then lined with a semi permeable membrane. This allows full penetration by water, like tea bag, but retains all of your ‘new soil’. There are variations of the black liner but be careful not to take the cheaper alternative as you do not want this to break down below ground level. Ensure also to buy extra and overlap this over the edges of the hole created.

The new soil should be made by mixing three parts raw peat: two parts coarse horticultural sand: one part loam: ¼ lb four to six month slow release or base fertiliser. These are the ingredients for the John Innes composts that we see in plastic bags in garden centres. Anne Ashbury in her book “Gardening on a Higher Level”, (first published 1969), tells us that this would have been bought in its raw state and mixed by hand.

When in situ, cut off the plastic approximately 10 centimetres below the surface so that when the rest of the planting is done and mulched over it will all look even.

There are many soil enrichers and tonics that can be bought to add to your soil, but assuming you have followed my steps, no other maintenance or additives are really required outside of the usual garden maintenance such as top dressing with a slow release feed (four to six month only), weeding and mulching.

Most topsoil is neutral/slightly alkali to begin with, but if you need to alter yours, the ingredients are: seven parts loam: three parts peat: two parts coarse sand: ¼ lb four to six month slow release fertiliser and ¾ oz chalk. Again bags or pre made mixes are available if you don’t feel like getting stuck in.

Beware of following old wives tales or accepting offers of free manure when making your bed. The slow release fertiliser should provide all the nutrients needed and are a more controlled way of ensuring that equal amounts are distributed through all plants to maintain a delicate balance. C.E. Lucas in his 1956 publication tells us that “since plants imbibe their food through their roots, this enquiry should be the first and constant concern of the gardener, to an extent far greater than most of us realise. Earth is the mother of all and her children’s health depends on her own.” He goes on to say that you should “understand your soil and keep it in good heart and sweet temper. This is the beginning of wisdom.”

The best advice I can give is to ask for as much of it as possible! You don’t have to act upon it, but if you do seek professional help, never forget that cheaper can be often more tearful than cheerful. Quality lasts longer, and only use qualified staff who are members of registered and internationally recognised trade associations.

To Have and to Hold

The aftercare on a creation like this is based on understanding and no one rule will suit all. Like humans, plants will become unwell unless they have the right intake of vitamins and nutrients. A chlorosis or yellowing of the foliage may result from the lacking of a particular element or nutrient. The type of chlorosis tells us what in particular is deficient and then we can begin to understand whether the problem is one of soil type, drainage etc. One antidote is super feeds or various other quick fixes, but unless you deal with the underlying problem then it will recur.

Pre 1990 garden literature held that the gardens of bog land regions held acid soils whilst those in the Dublin/ Belfast region had more lime like alkaline soil. The rapid growth of the construction industry has changed Ireland to the point that this rule does not necessarily apply, it is now no longer possible to generalise all gardens by region. New ‘estates’ now mean something terribly different to that of the 1800’s, and for some developers the landscape is their last and least concern.

To convert a soil from acid to lime-like forever, and vice versa, or to allow opposites into the garden, requires that the plant be adapted to its new home. Attempts are often made to replicate the original rock garden, but rarely properly, and although the horticultural definition of a weed is ‘a plant growing in the wrong place’, more often the plant is put where it is not suited. As we have seen, it’s possible to create the right environment for anything from a single plant to a group or for an entire garden, mainly by adapting the soil.

The same reasoning applies to coastal gardens. In January 1927 H. H. Thomas wrote in the preface to his publication, “An Easy Guide to Gardening”, that it was “not a guide to easy gardening, but an easy guide to gardening”! (Read it twice). “Gardening is easy if you take the pains and use common sense, but not otherwise” and he goes on to say “on such a foundation, success beyond all expectation can be built.” The point is you can have the finest garden anywhere in the world, as long as you know what you are doing, have the ability to do it and carry it through. Whether bog, mountain, coast or pasture, the golden rule is planning and preparation. Fail to prepare – prepare to fail.

Prepared in association with Peter Donegan Landscaping Ltd., Bettyville, Ballyboughal, Co Dublin 01-807-8712 mobile: 087-659-4688 www.doneganlandscaping.com

info@

Soil & Environment: Northern Ireland publ DANI, Agri-Food & Biosciences Institute, Belfast 9025-5355 www.afbini.gov.uk ISBN 0 85389 699 2

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easier gardening – garden nirvana

beautiful kinsale harbour

beautiful kinsale harbour

This was my first ever article written for The Farmers Journal. Originally entitled ‘easier gardening’ it was published under the title Garden Nirvana October 23rd 2004. The great Dr David Robinson had passed sometime before and I remeber via email noting to my Editor Matt Dempsey that having gone through such an amazing life, knowing Dr. Robinson had left a void in so many a persons rather than having simply passed through. Amazing, wonderful and always remembered.

Have a very happy Monday morning and as always enjoy!

Garden Nirvana

‘What a man needs in gardening is a cast iron back, with a hinge in it’- Charles Dudley Warner, My Summer in a Garden, 1871

One of the main factors required in Japanese gardens is that relaxation, not perspiration is the end result. Moss lawns are created, dwarf trees are planted and the use of bonsai means that the garden becomes a soulful experience rather than an uncalculated costly or potentially hospitalised one. So why do we Irish spend in excess of Euro 2.33 billion annually on horticultural products and services.

I am not suggesting that ‘no maintenance’ is attainable through using ‘The Four Universal Energies’ as a theorem principle for garden design. No maintenance is only achievable through Mr Macadam’s ingenious invention, or concrete. I am proposing that there is a balance. The rear of your home does not necessarily need to be a car park nor does it wish to be a compacted version of the rain forests.

When we decide to invest in a boundary shrub like the Leyland – not for our fruit farm in Co. Kilkenny – but for our two-bedroom townhouse in the city, surely we only have ourselves to blame. Would it not be better to invest in a garden concept that requires only one day’s labour per six months? It’s a simple theory. The longer a plant takes to become a saleable product – the more it costs – more important, the slower it grows and therefore the lower the maintenance. This is mainly due to the amount of pruning required and the amount of debris removed. The cheaper quotation in landscaping is therefore not always the answer, at least not long term.

On average spending 3% of the value of your house (wisely) should add approximately 8% – 13% to the value of your home. We generally choose for it to be the last of our agenda when ‘doing up’ the house and usually we have little money left to spend.

The garden should be a place for the heart to unwind. A simple complexion of nature is easier than complex warrants on a tight fiscal policy. The use of select stone with a simple choice of a few slow growing semi mature plants will be a higher initial investment on your property but with no grass to cut, some serenity has been inscribed in today’s diary.

I am a plant lover. I do not wish to blight my green friends with coloured stones. The truth is, sometimes it is necessary to substitute what some may consider to be hard work and an expensive (albeit rewarding) hobby for a cup of tea and a nice view from afar.

This article is not my personal epitaph or biblical manuscript that I wish to impose upon others in any way. Should the scenario be that one has a piece of land, a patch, a rented house or just does not totally enjoy (what is my equivalent to ironing and drying dishes ambidextrously) ‘the chore’ whilst breaking their spine; I believe there is a way to come up trumps and not have to breakdown on each occasion the curtains are opened and you realise koala bears have nested in your prehistoric grounds. You wont be avoiding work, just intelligently reducing your work output.

It is my strong suggestion that if you want a survey done on your house, you do call a civil engineer or architect. If you want advice, or a design for your grounds, pay for the services of a qualified horticulturalist and specify the amount of time you actually will (be honest!) spend in your garden or get an annual cost to maintenance based on their proposal.

The main ‘chore’ or cost is the lawn. Cutting it. Use a mulching mower if you must. Ride on and push (with or without gears are available). With not stopping or starting to empty the grass box at the ‘heap’ you have at the bottom of the garden – this will (by my experience and analysis) reduce your cutting time by three if not four. With a good thick edge to your lawn, which allows you to put the wheel of the mower upon it and reduces the amount of edging you need to do you are now nearing that cup of tea a little quicker. Even better, try sowing a lawn with a dwarf seed or if the area is large enough use a dwarfing agent, which is applied using a calibrated sprayer. Should the lawn be able to go? Turn the entire area to plants and bark much or plants and pebble with a black plastic beneath. Do be careful. Cheaper isn’t always the best and some maintenance will be required no matter what you do.

Don’t curse the thoughts of what should be relaxation. Reconsider and redesign. The whole key to enjoying the life outside your four walls is to make it suit your lifestyle.