TV presenter Mary Kennedy doesn't have to head south for some colour and light during the cold months. With clever planting, she has created a bold winter canvas at home
As we move into autumn, we can reflect on the successes and failures of the summer just passed. I recently met up with RTE's Mary Kennedy and asked her about her experiences in her Dublin suburban garden this year.
"I have to tell you Dermot, this was the best summer for me in a good few years," said Mary, who co-hosts 'Nationwide'. "The preparatory work I did in springtime was well rewarded because of the nice sunshine in the early summer months, and, after a bit of rain, we had a fairly decent summer overall, so it was possible to sit in the garden and admire the colour and the heat of the sunshine at various times of the day."
Mary is lucky to have a west-facing garden, and she follows the sunshine around the garden during the day. "There's a spot right at the bottom which catches the morning sun. I have a bistro-style table and two chairs, nicely sheltered by a Clematis armandii and a climbing rose. This is where I have my first cup of tea of the day.
"There's another spot which is sunny in the afternoon -- nice for a pause for coffee. The sun shines on the patio in the evening, which is where we eat, drink and chat until it gets dark. Even if there's a light shower, we can take shelter under the canopy and light the chiminea."
Chimineas are great for extending your evening in the garden, but Mary has some practical advice: "Be sure to buy the smokeless eco fuel for the chiminea, otherwise all clothes will smell of the fire the next day."
The growth in Mary's garden was super this summer and she was "conscientious about feeding, for a change. I'm really thrilled with the way the herbs grew this year. I could stock a stall with parsley and I grew a basil plant in the conservatory -- the leaves were huge and so tasty".
Surveying the last of her rose blooms, Mary said: "I'm delighted with the way the roses flowered this year. As for the hydrangeas, I would advise anyone to invest in them. They love the moisture. You could have your heart broken year after year trying to nurture exotic lilies and other such plants, but the old hydrangea will reward with big, bold and bright flowers year after year -- provided you don't prune them." Mary got great results because she knew to feed them with ericaceous plant food, which is also good for camellias and rhododendrons. "We should stick to our own, really," she said.
"We're heading into the winter now and I know that all the colour and the flowers will die off and leave a vacuum in the garden. I'm not a winter gardener, I'm afraid. I hate working in the cold and damp.
"Two years ago I decided to make a few changes that would guarantee I would have something nice to look out on in the winter. I tore down all the climbing plants from the perimeter walls and had the walls plastered, capped and painted. Although the climbers had looked lovely in summer, they were horribly bare and stalky in winter," she explained.
"Instead, I have mature topiary plants which stand tall and elegant against the cream backdrop in the winter. I also put lights shining on them and a water feature, so there is always something uplifting to look at through the kitchen window. I reckon it's the best investment I've made in the garden. During the summer, the topiary is almost hidden by the growing annuals in the borders. Not so in the winter when they really do come into their own."
For those of you who are summer gardeners, it's interesting to note that Mary has also taken into account that she'll be viewing the garden from the house during the winter. Now is the perfect time to take a leaf out of Mary's book and plan for winter interest in your own garden.