Friday 18 October 2019

Gerry Daly: change can be a good thing in the garden


One of the reasons that perennial flowers have become so popular is that they do not have to be planted each year
One of the reasons that perennial flowers have become so popular is that they do not have to be planted each year
The National Botanic Gardens
The 17th Century home of the St Legers, Doneraile Estate in Cork

Gerry Daly

Do you get tired of daffodils after three weeks, or forsythia, philadelphus, lupins, lilacs, delphiniums or many other plants? Adored when they first open, these flowers are quite happily waved off at the end of their season. Seasonal change is part of the charm of a garden, which each year sees the annual parade of plants, much like birthdays or long-weekends, and measures the year out in flowers.

So, this measure of seasonality can be used to offer change on a monthly basis, even weekly. To go beyond that natural seasonal change, is there a case to be made for temporary effects in the garden? Should a garden change somewhat from year to year? Does a garden become a little predictable, and therefore boring, if it is the same year after year?

Some garden-makers have taken this approach, deliberately making changes, as simple as a few tulips in a small number of clumps, or a path through a meadow that traces a different track each year.

Some garden designers have created even more temporary effects, often these last just long enough to be photographed.

For example, mowing patterns into grass lawn and allowing them to disappear when the grass grows out, or, even more temporary, marking patterns in the dew on grass lawns at dawn in summer or autumn, and photographing them before the sun dries the dew.

The use of bedding plants, which can be planted still, provides a way to have some element of change in the garden from one year to the next. If bedding plants are used for containers, and for filling in at the front of beds and borders, a change of variety can make a big difference.

For example, use a pale pastel colour one year and a strong colour the next. Or use tall flower cosmos or floriferous lavatera for a change, or plant some tall sunflowers or echiums, and when they disappear, the memories will still remain.

One of the reasons that perennial flowers have become so popular is that they do not have to be planted each year, but does a garden of perennial flowers become too much the same, year in, year out.

Shrubs offer much the same constancy, but their own natural built-in longevity can have a significant effect.

For instance, shrubby lavatera filled gardens with pink flowers for 10 or 15 years but then got a dieback disease that killed most of them. Frost in 2010 killed almost every New Zealand flax and cordyline plant in the country, two of the great shape-makers of Irish gardens. But many grew back, or were replaced.

Self-sowing is another way nature shapes a garden by seeding new plants in varied places, often very attractively positioned. Plants that self-sow can be hardy annuals such as candytuft, calendula, native echium, nasturtiums and California poppy, biennials such as foxglove or verbascum or perennials, including lady's mantle and ponytail grass.

The result is unpredictable but can be very pretty and the effect is eye-catching. But this is a transitory as well as a seasonal change.

In the case of taller plants, the flower spikes that were not there in winter, even until a few weeks ago, can now tower over nearby plants, giving a completely different effect

To have a variable garden, we should encourage this change, live with nature's own variation and use it to enhance our space.

One to try

Genista x spachiana, also sold as Cytisus racemosus, is a remarkably good shrub or small tree. It carries bunches of yellow pea-like flowers in spring - a bit like miniature laburnum flowers. It is a good choice for well-drained soil, because, like other pea-family species, it likes an open well-aerated soil.

Musical plants

Humans have used plants for centuries to make music. Now a tour at the National Botanic Gardens explores some of these fascinating species and how they have inspired us. Take a listen to some plants - and discuss whether they might be listening back. Meet at the Education & Visitor Centre. €5 each, July 6, 2.30-3.30pm;

Take a tour

The 17th Century home of the St Legers, Doneraile Estate in Cork, is set to re-open its doors to the public for the first time in decades this weekend. View the house, and artworks from the Crawford Art Gallery and explore 400 acres of parklands. Open today,

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