Tuesday 25 April 2017

A cut above

Norma Smurfit's garden is a haven with its array of sculptures, climbing roses, furnished terrace and a magnificent 100-year-old olive tree

Norma Smurfit in her garden
Norma Smurfit in her garden

Dermot O'Neill

Charity fundraiser Norma Smurfit has a large garden by suburban standards -- it measures about half an acre. She gained even more space four years ago when she cut down two rows of Leylandii Cypress trees, but, more importantly, it allowed more sunlight into the garden. That prompted her to develop a lovely new terrace. It's very inviting, with smart garden furniture and is a great place to sit, relax and entertain friends and family.

The garden features some very interesting climbing plants, including Rosa banksiae, which was one of Princess Grace of Monaco's favourite climbing roses. This rose loves a sunny, sheltered spot and grows very well in these conditions in Ireland. It has a buttery cream colour, with a small double flower and a very soft, mild rose scent. Good drainage and sunshine are the key to success.

Norma has two Lobster Claw climbers on either side of her house. The Clianthus plant is native to New Zealand and has striking flowers. Norma doesn't like red, so she opted to plant it in white. Indeed, her garden features lots of splashes of white, mauve, purples and pinks, but no red. The red version of the Lobster Claw is becoming extinct in the wild but you can buy both colours in specialist nurseries such as Murphy and Flynn on Johnstown Road, Cabinteely, Co Dublin.

At the other end of the house, you'll find Tetrapanax papyrifer, which has bold leaves. You could mistake it for an ordinary castor oil plant, but it is a much choice plant, an enthusiast's favourite that is available from the Finlay F Colley specialist nursery on the Green Isle Road, Clondalkin. This exotic plant has very attractive leaves and is easy to grow against a sunny, sheltered wall.

The white potato vine, Solanum jasminoides, has done very well in Norma's garden and looks very pretty, running along a wall.

The Solanum Glasnevin, with its purple flower, is more common in Ireland and was discovered at the Botanic Garden, hence the name. Like most climbers, Norma's Solanum does best with very good support and I recommend a wire support for this vine, locating it against a sunny wall and giving it a twice-yearly feed of tomato food. Don't be too generous or too heavy -handed.

One of my favourite plants in Norma's garden is the delicate lace cap hydrangea. They like good-quality soil but resent being pruned back hard and won't flower well afterwards. Norma has white lobelia growing under her healthy Bay tree, which is located in a large pot on the terrace.

Bay trees hate sitting in a puddle of water so remember to have good drainage, and with this in mind, I recommend that you buy some rounded gravel.

Now that the cold weather is coming, you could be extra kind and buy some plumber's wadding, the tape used as insulation around pipes. This will protect the all- important stem from frost.

Norma's garden boasts a very fine olive tree, which is more than 100 years old. I love this Mediterranean touch, but they are best grown in a sheltered part of the country. I've heard of them bearing fruit for gardeners in Wexford and Cork.

Wandering around the garden with Norma, I fell in love with the many varied pieces of sculptures she bought over the years, from the John Behan piece to the Rowan Gillespie pieces. One corner which never fails to bring a smile are the faces of her four children cast by artist Michael Cooper , surrounded by pretty pink Diasia flowers.

Irish Independent

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