Diarmuid Gavin ahead of Bloom: '20 ideas that'll produce your own personal paradise'
Ahead of the Bloom festival, here are 20 ideas to lead you down the gardening path to your own personal paradise - from a few simple pots on a patio to bigger landscaped outdoor areas
It's an exciting time of the year for garden lovers. The high season is upon us, the Chelsea Flower Show has highlighted the latest trends and the eagerly anticipated Bloom festival is less than a week away.
The show gardens at Bloom are always bursting with new ideas, take-home trends and fresh inspirations - and the good news is that there is something for gardens of every shape and size.
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If you live in an apartment or smaller space, make sure to check out Kevin Dennis's Urban Sanctuary garden. The founder of the Cityscape Gardener wants people to "realise the potential for any outdoor area", from apartment balconies to allotments, and his choice of warm palms, grasses and perennials would look striking in pots and containers.
If you prefer wild, naturalistic gardens, pay a visit to the Tóg go Bóg é garden, designed by the Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme in Cabra Community College. Inspired by the Wicklow landscape, it incorporates local materials and mostly native plants, including ferns, hawthorn, mountain ash and heather.
Meanwhile, parents of younger children will love Brian Burke's Connectivity garden. The award-winning garden designer believes that children need to strike a balance between indoor screen time and outdoor play time, and his adventure garden scheme of play towers, crafting table and natural pond would draw even the most committed Fortnite players outside.
Remember, your garden doesn't need to be perfect. Gardening is wonderful for destressing so make sure to enjoy these tasks as you create your own Eden.
1 Pots and containers
Your garden can be brightened up by adding some instant colour in pots and containers. The danger of frost is usually gone by late May so you can plant out tender summer bedding such as geraniums, salvias, begonias, petunias, fuchsia, snapdragons, marigolds and cosmos. You can also plant trees, shrubs, roses and climbing plants which will sit happily in pots for many years if you keep them watered, fed and top dressed on a regular basis. Plants in pots rely on you for food and water so during the growing season, you might need to water every few days or even once a day when it's particularly hot. You also need to deadhead to promote the appearance of more flowers and give a fortnightly top up of nutrients with instant feed.
2 Wildflower meadows
To achieve an almost instant display from
packets of seeds, think about a wildflower meadow.
This is easy... simply clear an area of ground, removing all traces of weeds (especially perennial ones with deep or wandering roots) and stones and lightly dig over. Rake to a fine tilth and sprinkle a wildflower mix which contains gorgeous annuals such as poppies, cornflowers, marigolds, nigella and cosmos. Gently rake in, water and then step back and watch while your tiny seeds grow into plants in a matter of weeks and by mid-summer they'll be blooming marvellous!
3 Filler plants
If your garden is newly planted it will take a few years to fill out and up to seven years to look mature. But if you invest in some filler plants you can create an instant impact, filling the spaces between growing shrubs and perennials.
Choose easy and quick growing plants that will fill bare patches of soil and help knit together planting schemes. Good choices are erigeron, alchemilla, honesty, verbena bonariensis, hardy geraniums, cosmos and nepeta. Plant throughout and they will create the appearance of a fully-planted garden and if you use loads they will create groundcover, suppressing weed growth as a secondary benefit.
4 Play with your lawn
We are becoming increasingly aware that lawns aren't the kindest way of gardening for us or the environment. They require a huge amount of work mowing, edging and keeping them weed free. So have some fun with your grass! Take a patch and leave the grass to grow. And wait to see what nature does.
Within the collection of grass species which make up our lawns are some interesting plants which will blossom and produce pollen. They're not the showiest... but they are beautiful nonetheless. Other plants will emerge in the undergrowth such as clovers, dandelions and daisies which will have bright flowers. These will attract honeybees and butterflies. If you're worried about it appearing to be too messy, control this wild plot by mowing a frame of nicely clipped grass around the edge and maybe cutting a swathe of pathway through the middle. It instantly gives the message that your garden isn't untidy because you're lazy - framing the path or creating pathways show that it's been a conscious decision to grow a little bit wild! And the contrast between neat and woolly always looks good.
5 Disguise an eyesore
This is a job you can do instantly but the final effect will take time. We all have that spot where we are overlooked - and all gardeners have something they want to hide. So consider what plants you should introduce to your garden now as small specimens which in a couple of years will grow to hide the oil tank or block out a neighbour's window.
You are looking for something that won't be invasive, that grows tall, in a column shape. Useful plants for many Irish situations are clump-forming bamboos, the fast-growing Acacia dealbata or if you've loads of space try a Eucalyptus (sweet gum).
For a weekend project, how about a dollop of paint or wood stain to enhance an old garden bench or fence or even the slightly rundown shed? My favourite background colour for Irish gardens is a muted dark aubergine. Foliage, bark and flower tend to look great against it and it's a million miles from the usual Irish bleached wooden fencing and pebble dash exterior surface! Cobalt blue can add a real pop of colour for a bench and a very light pink can work well with our soft Irish light. If you want to be very tasteful and sophisticated, try sage or duck egg blue.
7 Begin a compost heap
Garden growth accelerates through the spring season - often at a seemingly extraordinary rate. The next five or six months will often be spent controlling this growth through cutting and chopping and weeding.
Rather than exporting our green waste to landfill, 2019 could be the year of the compost heap.
You can construct a simple wooden version using old wooden pallets or crates, you could simply let green growth decompose in black plastic bags or you could keep it very simple by layering courses of organic material on a piece of ground. Begin with a layer of twigs to provide a base that allows some air to circulate.
You can also recycle an old rubbish bin by drilling some holes around the side. The main advantage of closed containers is that heat naturally builds during the decomposing process and in a container this will be retained, speeding up the process. Containers also keep any odours in and are less likely to attract pests.
To start the composting process, place a layer of small branches, twigs and leaves on the bottom of your newly created structure. Then build up, layer after layer with green waste (vegetable peelings from the kitchen are super along with the flowers which you've dead-headed). More light twigs and branches can be followed by a layer of garden topsoil... the trick is never to use too much of any organic waste matter in any layer. And never use any cooked leftovers from the kitchen.
8 Encourage insects in your garden
Continuing with this environmental theme, why not create a habitat for other garden creatures by building a log pile? It's time to forget about gardening as housekeeping. For too long we've had notions of keeping everything perfectly clean and tidy outdoors. Our gardens are havens for wildlife and if you want to fill your gardens with the sound of buzzing bees and birdsong, create habitats for the insects they feed off. A woodpile is simple to make... choose an area which is lightly shaded and mound up some logs in a triangular shape. This will create a cosy place for creatures such as the common toad to hibernate and breeding grounds for stag beetles and the woodlouse.
9 Create a focal point
You've possibly been building a garden for many years and feel that it's developing nicely but maybe it needs that little extratouch. A garden should be entertaining. It should be a journey for the eye as well as the garden visitor.
All successful gardens will lead the eye through the plot, and tell a story as they do. They'll tempt you outdoors and bring you on a journey, ensuring that you see various plant delights or other features along the way. Having a final focal point is a device which works very well. Whether it's a seat, a pavilion or even the most magnificent specimen tree or shrub, make sure it can be viewed from a distance.
10 Grow a herb garden
Ease yourself into the notion of growing your own. Cultivating fruit and vegetables takes some work and a little bit of knowledge. It's enormously satisfying but an easing into some type of self-suffiency is recommended. So start by planting some herbs.
They can be grown in a window box, or in a pot or patio or straight into the ground. Often from the Mediterranean in origin, many will survive with little care and attention. Start with useful herbs that you use in cooking - thyme, rosemary, bay and sage which are all hardy so can stay outdoors all year round. Grow mint in pots, as it's invasive, and grow some tender plants such as basil for your summer salads.
If you have a new garden but you're not intending to do main landscaping for a while you could begin the change by investing in a few starter plants... and then leave them to get on with it.
Most of our gardens are enclosed, surrounded by walls or fences which require softening. So it may be clever to plant as your first investment a selection of climbing plants. Often they do little or nothing for a few years before taking off at a gallop. A good example is wisteria which can be a most reluctant garden guest. It may take anything from five to 10 years to produce a blossom. Plant one that's in flower because they are more likely to produce some blooms annually from then on.
12 Get the hoe out
We've forgotten this most useful garden tool and we've become prisoner of lotions and potions - sprays that kill and destroy. A regular hoeing in between the plants will cut off weeds before they have a chance of establishing. Hoeing is easy meditative work. Even perennial weeds with spreading roots will weaken and eventually be destroyed.
13 Get a water butt
Remember the drought of last year?
It's predicted this weather pattern may become increasingly common. Now is definitely the time to save our most valuable of garden resources and the primary reason Irish gardens are so green - rainwater.
14 Late summer colour
Some of our best weather happens in September when the kids go back to school but, without planning, the garden may lack flowers so when you're planting up your beds and
borders now, remember to include some late flowering plants, e.g. Dahlias, sedums, rudbeckias, Michaelmas daisies, kniphofias, phlox and crocosmia.
15 Plant a tree
Mark special occasions by planting a tree. If your family is gathering for a summer get together, make the centrepoint the moment that everyone gathers around the planting of a new magnolia, a beautiful flowering cherry tree, a silver birch or, my favourite, a Killarney strawberry tree. Container-grown trees can be planted all year round but need to be kept well watered in summer.
16 Scent in the garden
We really enjoy scent in the garden and, interestingly, it's particularly seductive at night.
Some species only release their fragrances after dark to attract nocturnal pollinating insects such as moths. A must-have for its extraordinary scent is night-scented stock (Matthiola longipetala). Oenothera (evening primrose) opens its yellow-perfumed blooms at night, and it's a great self-seeder so ideal for a wilder or cottage garden but avoid in smaller plots. Petunias will smell their best after sunset. Nicotiana alata, the tobacco plant, has beautiful tubular white flowers which open during the day but it's in the evening that you will really appreciate their sweetness.
17 Let there be light
Lighting in a garden needn't be elaborate.
Invest in quality fittings, avoiding the cheap solar packs sometimes sold in discount catalogues or petrol stations - pretty soon their plastic components will end up in landfill. Battery operated strings of coloured outdoor lights are a cheap and easy way to bring some light outdoors. Floating candles on ponds are always enchanting or hang tea lights in jam jars from trees. Use citronella candles to combat midges.
18 Make your own
Reduce your reliance on pest-control chemicals by making up your own garden sprays.
Recycle a kitchen spray and get mixing. For example, one part cow's milk to two parts water can be effective against blackspot which can plague roses. Chamomile tea makes a safe fungicide and can be used to prevent damping off disease of seedlings. You can also sprinkle cinnamon powder around seedlings. Baking soda mixed with some veg oil and water can be used on leaf blight, powdery mildew and as a general fungicide. Likewise, an infusion of chopped garlic, veg oil and water can be a good insecticide. Methylated spirits can be used to remove woolly aphids from the trunks of fruit trees. Just soak a cloth and vigorously rub the insects away.
Plant Buddleja, the butterfly bush and you'll be amazed at the mid-summer delight of finding butterflies flocking around it. They also love verbena, marigolds, oregano, wallflowers and lavender and in late summer sedum, fuchsia and Michaelmas daisies. They also need places to breed and for caterpillars to feed so if you have a space for a little wild area in your garden, allow some nettles and thistles to grow - another good excuse for untidy gardening!
Encourage children to have some old fashioned outdoor fun away from YouTube and phones by creating a den. Or have a competition to grow the tallest sunflower. Children will be amazed that their seeds can result in flowers which are as tall as the house. And the time to sow is right now!