Monday 18 December 2017

Diarmuid Gavin: Garden TLC

Your to-do list to get your garden in shape this weekend

Diarmuid Gavin. Photo: Mark Nixon
Diarmuid Gavin. Photo: Mark Nixon
Floral art

We are well and truly into the growing season, and for some, garden anxiety is beginning to take hold. It’s time to get your garden into shape, so here is the first part of your to-do list of jobs which may need tackling in your garden now.

1 Lawns:

Since the invention of the lawnmower, lawns have been the overwhelming first choice as ground cover in Irish gardens. Typically used to create a verdant carpet, they’re cheap and relatively easy to install, and absorb lots of rainwater water, which can help with our increased susceptibility to flooding in places.

But, while we may adore them, there are issues which will certainly make them less prolific in the future. The humble (or elaborate) lawn is no longer regarded as the most environmentally friendly of garden features. They can be expensive and time-consuming to maintain, and our mowers use up a lot of petrol and electricity.

It often takes loads of chemicals, including factory-made nitrates, to help achieve the perfect shade of green. Alongside those additives, there’s the thousands of gallons of water delivered through sprinklers and hosepipes to be considered.

Over winter they’ve been battered, water logged, become weak and patchy and at risk of disease, which could result in bald patches forming, allowing the build up of moss and weeds in places. It’s time to take action by ramping up your lawn maintenance. Scarify by using a spring time rake, applying some pressure as you rake back and forth. The main aim is to remove thatch, mainly dead and decaying grass leaves which can weaken the healthy shoots. Soon you will notice piles of yellow/brown material being brought to the surface which you gather and remove.

The lawn will look awful — don’t worry, as with all treatments, it will recover fast.

Other spring treatments include aeration by spiking with a garden fork to a depth of 6cm, seeding patches and feeding with a high nitrogen liquid or granular feed to encourage strong new growth.

You can use specialist weed and moss killers now or dig out perennial weeds. It’s also time to plant new lawn from seed or roll one out. And don’t forget to mow the grass, keeping the blades at a high level for the moment.

Most grass species which make up the lawn won’t get to flower before their heads are chopped off by a mower (we like to keep our lawns neater than a hipster’s beard) so a vast area of our gardens isn’t attracting bees, butterflies and moths which help our delicate eco systems.

2 Deadhead spent flowers:

Winter and spring flowering plants such as violas, bellis and primulas can be kept going by removing flower heads which are just past their best.

This will stop seed heads from ­being produced and spurs on new flower ­development. But if some species, such as polyanthus, are exhausted and past their best, whip them out and dump on the compost heap.

3 Water saving:

We have a tendency to use water liberally in our gardens whether through giving plants drinks, using it to mix and apply feeds or potions, or for cleaning.

Although recent meter instillation and billing for water use has become a big issue, we allow millions of gallons of rainwater to drain away. It’s time to harvest through installing a water butt positioned under and fed by a down-pipe to make the most of rainfall.

4 Top dress containers:

We have a tendency to water and feed flowering baskets and containers with all manner of preparations while often neglecting potted shrubs, perennials and trees. Anything grown in a container has restricted access to nutrients and water. These weeks are an excellent time to help ensure plants in containers, big or small, are kept happy by teasing away spent soil and compost and replacing it with some fresh nutritious growing medium.

For bigger pots, lean them to one side, carefully tip out the root balls to see if they are pot-bound. If they are, repot using pots a size or two bigger. If your plants are too big or awkward to repot, use a process called top dressing, carefully removing the top couple of inches (5cm) of soil or compost from around the base of plants and replace with good quality material.

5 Divide herbaceous perennials:

Many herbaceous perennials will soon be shooting up from the ­borders in preparation for wonderful summer displays. After a number of years in the same place, however, they can get tired and worn out. Or they may possibly just become too big for the space they occupy and are beginning to crowd the border.

Now is an excellent time to divide them by digging up a clump and separating before replanting the smaller divisions in groups of three or five.

However, if there’s even an hour’s delay in replanting, lie them under some damp sacking and always ensure that each ­section have roots and shoots, and are given plenty of water to settle into their new positions.

NEXT WEEK: Get your garden ready for growing with part two of our spring tasks list

Dates for your diary

If flower arranging is your thing, don’t miss Susan Turley’s demonstration of floral art on April 15. Presented by the Royal Horticultural Society of Ireland, the event will be held at 8pm in Marlay House, in Dublin’s Rathfarnham. A great night for those interested in the floral arts is guaranteed. All are welcome and there’s no need to book. There’s no charge for members, and entrance is €7 for non-members (€5 for students). INFO: Marlay House, Marlay Park, Rathfarnham, Dublin 16. Attendees are requested to use the main Marlay Park car park off Grange Road. Tel: (01) 235 3912,

The Irish Garden Plant Society have a great interest in the plants and horticultural practice of this island. They have a passionate membership who trade information on all things green. Amongst its remits is to research and locate garden plants in need of conservation especially species with an Irish connection. As well as hosting a well informed website they present regular lectures have recently announced that Their will hold its AGM will take place over the weekend of May 16-17. The meeting, held at Glenveagh Castle, Co. Donegal on the Saturday, will be followed by a guided tour of the gardens with head gardener, Seán Ó Gaothín. The weekend activities will include visits to Oakfield Park and two private gardens with the AGM dinner at the Clanree Hotel in Letterkenny. The cost of the weekend is €85. This includes tea/coffee in Glenveagh on arrival, entry to four gardens, a three-course dinner on Saturday night at the Clonree Hotel, light lunch on Sunday and a cup of tea at the final garden before heading for home. INFO: Visit

Grand designs

A wonderful addition to the record of garden making in Ireland is Irish Demesne Landscapes, 1660–1740 by Vandra Costello. It charts the history and development of formal gardening

in Ireland in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, and in particular the grand geometric style that was fashionable between 1660 and 1740. It examines the people who created these gardens, the influences that affected them, the materials that they employed and the uses of landscape interventions. Using a wide range of sources, including several previously unpublished, this  is the most extensive survey of early Irish gardens to date. Visit or  call  (01) 453 4668.

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