Thursday 23 October 2014

Prize Attraction: addicted to top array of plants

Marie Staunton visits an award-winning garden centre and comes away light in spirit... and even lighter in wallet

Published 06/07/2014 | 02:30

HAVEN: Marie Staunton at Ratoath Garden Centre
HAVEN: Marie Staunton at Ratoath Garden Centre

Unfortunately I have found a really good garden centre in Ratoath, Co Meath. I say unfortunately, because I am now addicted to the fantastic array of plants on offer.

It is a four-star Bord Bia garden centre and winner of the Bord Bia Best Quality Plant Award 2014, but it also deserves huge credit for its enthusiasm towards its customers.

John Lord is beyond enthusiastic about his craft, and it is a craft, because when you see the herbaceous borders, and the attention he pays to the rare and unusual plants, you will be hooked. I've met lovely people along the way on my journey in horticulture and John and Bernie have made a big impact on the horticulture scene in Ireland and remain unfazed and down to earth, which is exactly what you and me need when we visit a garden centre. No question is too silly. They are there to help and save you from yourself in a lot of instances.

I always advise people to visit gardens and jot down plants they fancy, but the beauty of Ratoath is you can stroll around its gardens and go straight in and buy the plant you have your heart set on. There is also a lovely afternoon tea on offer in its Wildflower Café, followed by a guided walk with John – and all for €20 (contact the cafe on 01 802 7708 for more information). John also shares his knowledge at a free talk on the second Saturday of every month, in summer. (Email ratoathgardencentre@hotmail.com)

Sambucus 'Black Lace' is currently in full glorious flower at Ratoath, as is the wonderful Cornus kousa 'Miss Satomi'. But it's the herbaceous borders that will fill you with envy – not a weed, not even a hidden one lurking at the back. I particularly love Thalictrum and John has many in this beautiful border to add both height and that gorgeous haze of delicate colour.

The last day I was there, John brought out a couple of herbaceous Sambucus that I admired in one of the borders, so of course I had to buy one and a couple of other things into the bargain. This place is dangerous for a plantaholic like me.

If you are bringing the kids to Ratoath, there are a couple of lovely little turtles in the pond along with some exquisite dragonflies for them to look at while you spend a bit of time looking around.

They had quite a few Salvia there last week, along with beautiful little patio roses; another of my purchases. Peony Bowl of Beauty is a sight to behold, as are the Itoh variety of peony. Named after Toichi Itoh, the first hybridiser to successfully cross a tree Peony with a herbaceous Peony in the 1940s, they are prized for their huge, beautiful blooms and lush green foliage. This variety won't disappoint: it doesn't flop over like the herbaceous variety, preferring to be the true star. Don't take my word for how wonderful they are. Go and see them for yourselves.

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