Life Gardens

Sunday 18 February 2018

Diarmuid Gavin... global gardens

Take the holidays home with you by using elements of the world's top gardens in your own patch

The High Line, New York
The High Line, New York
Villa de Rothschild, Cap Ferrat
The Eden project, Cornwall
Great Dixter House and gardens, Sussex
Gardens of the Alhambra, Spain
Villa de Rothschild, Cap Ferrat

Diarmuid Gavin

Garden visiting both at home and abroad is a very popular holiday activity for Irish people. We go to be inspired and entertained and bring ideas home. Here, I've put together a list of gardens that are worth boarding a plane to see.

Arm yourself with a notebook for jotting down plant names and ideas, download one of the many smartphone apps that allow you to upload pictures of plants you don't recognise and identifies them for you, and immerse yourself in their beauty.

Even if you can't travel to see these gardens, you can still bring some of their best features into your own space with my 'get the look tips'. Bon voyage!

1. The High Line

Where: Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th and 12th Avenues, New York, USA.

What: An extraordinary contemporary public park which floats above the city created on top of an old railway aqueduct. Unveiled in 2005, the design for this park was conceived for a strip of elevated rail tracks last used by trains almost 30 years ago.

Highlights: Seeing some of the original train tracks run through the planting, and watching how New Yorkers and visitors come together to enjoy a defiantly green view of a manic noisy city below.

Get the look: The planting is beautiful. It was inspired by the way the weeds (which had made the track their home for three decades) grew. Wild flowers and prairie grasses mixed with perennials, amelanchier bushes, and multi-stemmed Birch trees. Examine the drifts of perennials carefully and echo their use in your own garden.

See: the

2. Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild

Where: 1 Avenue Ephrussi de Rothschild, 06230 Saint Jean Cap Ferrat, South of France.

What: A garden of personal indulgence created by Beatrice Rothschild on a plot of land surrounded on three sides by the azure Mediterranean. Nine different garden styles including formal French, rose gardens, Spanish garden, along with a Florentine-inspired area, rock garden and exotic Japanese garden.

Highlights: The overall plan -the gardens are laid out like a ship! Beatrice used Europe's top garden designers and had a team of 30 gardeners whom she dressed as sailors. To help imagine the effect of ponds and canals when planning, she would have them unfurl rolls of silver and blue cloth and shake them to make them shimmer and used cardboard cut-outs to place the trees.

Get the look: At its highest point, which makes the best use of some magnificent views, she created a temple of love - a simple structure with a domed roof supported on Roman columns. This, festooned by roses, would look great in most gardens.


3. Eden Project

Where: Bodelva, Cornwall, England.

What: The world's largest 'captive' rainforest lives in a biome near to the town of St Austell. It comes complete with waterfall, steamy jungle and arid Mediterranean zones, all sited at the bottom of a crater the size of 30 football pitches. The setting and architecture are awe-inspiring. The wonders within focuses on educating visitors about the relationship between plants and people, and illustrates in a friendly but informative way how we depend on plants for our existence.

Highlights: Seeing giant palm trees, fruit-producing banana plants, cacao from which chocolate derives, and groves of citrus fruits and olives of the Mediterranean growing side by side under dramatic domes takes your breath away. Outside, there's a further 30 acres of landscaped gardens to enjoy.

Get the look: Commission your own geodesic dome and grow a collection of tender exotic species. Small ones are available as an alternative to the normal greenhouse or conservatory, and one could add a mysterious Bond villain flavour to your plot!


4. Great Dixter House and Gardens

Where: Northiam, Rye, East Sussex, England.

What: Christopher Lloyd's 'arts and crafts' style garden surrounding his Tudor house, restored by architect Sir Edwin Lutyens.

Highlights: This is British gardening and plantsmanship at its best. It's a relatively concise wonderland of beautiful flower borders, meadow early in spring with a show of wild orchids - all set against a tumbling old mansion with all the features you would wish for.

Get the look: Try and copy Lloyd's experiments with planting and understand how he set fire to the borders late in the gardening season using plants. He ditched some beds of roses for wildly exciting displays of late summer oranges and reds.


5. The Gardens of the Alhambra, Spain

Where: Calle Real de la Alhambra, 18009 Granada, Spain.

What: Standing on a fortified plateau, surrounded by the Sierra Nevada mountains, the Gardens of the Alhambra are a stunning example of the Moorish Islamic style. Muhammad I (1230-72) was a Moorish ruler who invaded Spain and made the Alhambra his palace. Later generations of kings developed the palace. The garden's jewels are a series of courtyards with glittering pools, fountains, and canals or rills. The planting echoes that of many oasis styles of garden: palm and cypress trees, myrtle, mulberries, magnolia, and wonderful orange and lemon trees, often in urns and pots. The Court of the Pool is elegantly proportioned, surrounded by Islamic detailing. The windows which look out from the palace frame distant views of the surrounding landscape.

Highlights: The Court of the Lions, which includes the Lion Fountain at its centre, dates from the 11th century. It is an extraordinarily powerful and evocative garden.

Get the look: Water, reflecting tanks, rills and fountains bubbling away, citrus trees in pots (if you have a conservatory, move them to it in winter) are all elements we use in contemporary garden designs.


Day trip

The Royal Horticultural Society of Ireland is organising a day tour of gardens in counties Louth and Meath on July 25. Book: Call the RHSI on (01) 493 7154 or email

This week in the garden:

There’s a lot of basic gardening work needed in productive gardens just now. Climbing plants such as star jasmine, honeysuckle and clematis (pictured), which have been putting on loads of growth, need to be trained on to a trellis or wire support or tied in to walls.

While you’re working at that, keep an eye out for clematis wilt — it attacks in muggy warm weather. You’ll notice it through wilting leaves and black markings/discolouration on leaves and stems. If it’s there, cut it out immediately and burn or dump the affected material. Don’t keep it in your garden.

Also, keep deadheading flowering plants in baskets, pots and in borders. Prune the fading flower stalks from lupins to encourage new ones and don’t forget to feed tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers with a high potash liquid fertiliser to encourage luscious results.

If you are off on holidays, ask someone to water your pots and containers, and any newly-planted trees or shrubs in your garden.

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