Archives for category: Shrubs

I was going to write about seeds this week, but Lord knows there is plenty of time for that!. Instead, I’ve decided to write about my little trip to Bellefield last Saturday to the Spring Plant Sale. I say trip, but it was only just a few minutes over an hour’s drive for me to get there.

Baton Rouge

Cornus ‘Baton Rouge’, a purchase from Bellefield Plant Fair

I love little trips like this and, while I enjoy the company of friends on such trips, there’s something very peaceful about going for garden visits on your own. A cup of coffee in a paper cup, an apple, a banana, an orange, a cheese sandwich, directions written in very large print (no GPS gadgets for me! Vive la map!), a camera and appropriate clothes for the weather — that’s all you need to enjoy your little trip. Oh, and most importantly, very strong shopping bags (mine are the ancient Tesco ones that hold absolutely loads) to carry your plants in — you always know the plant sale aficionados because they are carrying empty shopping bags as they come in. Five euro notes and 1 and 2 euro coins come in handy as well.

Upon arrival, do a quick sweep of the plant sellers. Don’t buy anything on your first go round (unless you absolutely cannot resist and there’s only one of what you want). Have a look at it all and don’t be shy to ask prices if they are not marked. Then go back and buy what you like. I’d give the advice not to buy things that you don’t have a place for at home, but I won’t say a word about that because I never heed my own advice. If plants are your true love, then buy anything you like, space be damned.


Hellebore at home

Bellefield has a very nice garden. It’s a funny time of year to go for a garden visit. But if you like snowdrops and early bulbs, hellebores and the like, it’s a great time for you to be out having a look. I’m more of a galantholiker than a galanthophile. Looking at different green markings on the white petals of a snowdrop is akin to trainspotting, if you ask me. But some people go crazy over snowdrops. Daffodils were just coming up; Iris unguicularis was flowering and hellebores as well.

Helleborus foetidus

Stinking hellebore at the Little Garden, grown from seed

Hellebores are lovely. I have one very large specimen of Helleborus foetidus I grew from seed and I have a dusky maroon-coloured one. Both are as sheltered as they can be in my garden. If left out in the wind, they go to tatters. And you have to cut last years’ foliage off in the early spring so that it does’t detract from the flowering.


Lupin wakes up after winter

If I didn’t have my own garden to tend to and another very Big one, I’d be out and about every weekend visiting gardens.

Next time… final touches on vegetable bed? Sowing seeds? Polytunnel ready?


This is the winter that would never end.  Never mind that it is spring according to the traditional and equinoctial calendars.  I have been walking around the Little Garden every day looking at buds on trees and shrubs, monitoring their progress.  I hope that when it does warm up it will stay warm and not revert to harsh, freezing temperatures.  That happened last year and it was fairly devastating to my plum and apple crops, and probably other crops as well that I didn’t even pick up on because the rest of the summer was so poor.

Flower buds of Chaenomels japonica

Flower buds of Chaenomels japonica

As I was going around looking at buds, I took a few photos.  I remember when I was taking a class on trees and woody shrubs at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Virginia.  We would have to identify plants by their buds – no leaves, no flowers, just a twig.  It seems impossible at first, but once you work with the plant a bit it does get easier.  The one area I never mastered was conifers – trying to distinguish between Thuja , Chamaecyparis, Cedrus, Larix, etc., made my head reel.  I suppose I haven’t worked as much with conifers as with deciduous trees and shrubs.  This is because conifers have not been as fashionable in garden design as they once were.  I have always hoped that they would make a strong comeback and will freely admit to having planted a couple in one of the Little Garden’s back borders.  One of them is a little Pinus mugo, which is among my favourites.  It’s a squat little plant, but that’s why I like it.  They can get quite large actually but it takes a very long time.  It adds such good structure and interest to the bed in the winter time.

Pulsatilla vulgarai 'Papageno' singing through the frost

Pulsatilla vulgaris ‘Papageno’ singing through the frost

Speaking of winter time, that’s what I’m really supposed to be writing about – how cold it is, extended winter, want to stay in front of the fire, can’t sow anything.  I’m itching to sow more seeds but am hesitant.  Now that I am working full-time, I won’t be able to carry seedlings in and out, to and from the tunnel every day.  So if I sow too soon and it remains cold I will either get leggy seedlings because they have to stay in the house, or they will be stunted, stunned by the cold in the polytunnel.  It’s a bit of a juggling act, a guessing game.  What I wouldn’t give for a little heated glasshouse…

Becky, warm in her fur coat

Becky, warm in her fur coat

What I have sown:  tomatoes, leeks, scallions (my people call them green onions), chillies.  I’ve sown some flower seeds as well:  Cobaea scandens, Cerinthe major ‘Purpurescens’, sweet peas.  I have loads more to do.

Self-seeded Wallflower 'Blood Red Covent Garden'

Self-seeded Wallflower ‘Blood Red Covent Garden’

That’s it for now because I have to wrap up and go do some work outside.  Enjoy the pictures of buds and the few things that are now flowering.  Make sure to get out into your own area and have a close look at the new growth.

Next time… a new bed at the Little Garden.

This is Raford House, home of the big garden part of my blog.

Autumn is my absolute favourite time of year to work in the garden.  I have been busy digging up perennials from my own place to divide and take over to the big house for the large border there.  I suppose there is some risk involved in moving plants this time of year, especially since the weather here in the west of Ireland is due to turn cold towards the end of the week (not to mention the fact that the ground is swamped from the summer that never showed up).  But I’m a bit of a gambler and am only moving things that you probably couldn’t kill if you tried (some dark Aquilegias and a clump of Geum rivale Leonard’s Variety).

My friends get the benefit of my division frenzy and are well used to having milk containers with the tops chopped off filled with bits and pieces of root and stem and leaf.  What’s this? they ask.  And I always say, just plonk it in the ground, give it a bit of space and trust me.  I’m trying to get as much lifted this year so that in the spring when I’m frantically sowing seeds and clearing the weeds (which continue to grow through the winter here), I won’t have to be so worried about dividing things.  And next year will be a big year for division as a lot of my stock is three or four years old now and well due hacking back and reviving.

We are slowly trying to make the big border less pink.  In the past someone who knew what they were doing planted loads of really nice shrubs and perennials.  Many are decidedly in need of serious haircuts and division.  I’m working through it as best I can, while simutaneously trying to eradicate scutch grass and a couple of horribly invasive weeds that have worked their way in from the river’s edge.  The problem with getting rid of the pink is that the main feature of the big border is four standard roses which are… you guessed it, PINK.  The pink itself is a lovely clear pink, but it is a pink that doesn’t want to go with any other colour.  As you can see, it demands attention and everything else pales beside it.  Worse still, it is swamped by Johnson’s Blue geranium run amok.  Pink and pale blue.  Yes, I know, it screams of the 1980s.  Dare I mention the pink astilbe which has made gargantuan clumps and totally clashes with the rose?  No, I dare not.

Close-up of the standard rose

I may be bold and introduce some dark foliage.  I have a happy accident in one of my own stock beds (at the little garden) involving Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ and Gertrude Jekyll (the rose, that is).  So it’s possible that some lovely rich-coloured foliage might sophisticate the border a bit, or at least take the smug look off the standard roses’ faces (lovely though they are).

Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ and Gertrude Jekyll

Back to work now.  I must go check the pea and broad bean seeds I have sown for overwintering.  And the tomatoes are screaming for me to clear them out of the tunnel.  A gardener’s work is never done (whether it’s in a big garden or a little garden).