A glimpse of Ire­land’s best

The Daily Telegraph - Gardening - - Sage Words - Mary Keen

peo­ple’s schemes.

He­len Dil­lon has never had a “less good” gar­den. Hers is the top and her last-gasp dis­play – she has sold her fa­mous Dublin plot – was like a glam­orous fire­work show at the end of a party. “Gone gaudy,” she says and so she had. Pinks, pur­ples, salmons, crim­sons, or­anges, apri­cots and blues were burst­ing out all over.

He­len likes what colours do to one an­other, what she calls “the bang, bang, chat, chat” of plants in a crowded space. She has never been afraid to ex­per­i­ment and it was a ter­rific way to go out. The Dil­lon gar­den has al­ways been high main­te­nance and my own in­cli­na­tion is to head for wilder ter­ri­tory as the gar­den gets more de­mand­ing. I also like more green spa­ces as a con­trast to the bang, bang, chat, chat, but He­len’s ex­am­ple made me want to try harder and, per­haps, to make changes to my work­ing life so that I can up the stakes in the colour­ful ar­eas at home next year.

That means more feed­ing, wa­ter­ing and stak­ing, and keep­ing a bet­ter watch out for pests in what I hope will be a stay-at-home 2017.

He­len is a plan­ta­holic, but she is not afraid to use or­di­nary plants among the rar­i­ties.

I would not have thought of us­ing com­mon pur­ple looses­trife in a showy bor­der be­cause it seeds ev­ery­where. But Lythrum sali­caria has ev­ery­thing go­ing for it. Tall, ver­ti­cal and shock­ing ma­genta, it flow­ers for three months from July. This is a wild river weed and it would never flour­ish in my dry soil, but it would be a daz­zling num­ber for a client with a wet site. The dou­ble form, Lythrum sali­caria ‘Feuerk­erze’, does not set seed and might be a safer choice than the bog (lit­er­ally) stan­dard type.

I saw plenty of de­sir­able plants in Ire­land that I have tried to grow in the past and failed. Some­times you have to face the con­di­tions you live with and be con­tent to ad­mire the flow­ers you wish you could grow in other peo­ple’s plots. Lo­belia tupa was run­ning wild in amaz­ing Sheila Reeves-Smyth’s Hardy­mount gar­den. I say amaz­ing, be­cause Sheila is 90 and not only does her own gar­den­ing but also climbs lad­ders to pick her own plums. She showed me where she had fallen off a lad­der last year, say­ing, “I just lay there laugh­ing, as there was no­body around”.

I may have the res­o­lu­tion to re­sist lad­ders and Lo­belia tupa, but I want to try Cro­cos­mia ‘Rowal­lane’, which is a giant golden cro­cos­mia that I saw in sev­eral gar­dens and have now been given by my best Ir­ish friend. It needs the soft weather of misty moisty Ire­land and a place in the sun, but I will take the time to please it.

That soft weather is also re­spon­si­ble for far bet­ter phloxes than I can hope to grow.

See­ing all kinds of phlox in won­der­ful stands in so many gar­dens made me re­alise how puny my own plants are. And that’s an­other les­son. If you don’t stick to the plants that are happy in the con­di­tions you can of­fer, you have to work hard to make the aliens feel at home.

At Glin Cas­tle, the fam­ily home of Cather­ine FitzGer­ald, the de­signer, I found my­self won­der­ing about the bal­ance of large and small flow­ers in a bor­der. I like the pointil­list look of tiny flow­ers, es­pe­cially my favourite Erigeron an­nuus, the 6ft airy daisy that car­ries on all sum­mer, and the salvia ‘Blue Enigma’, but Cather­ine has bold and showy lilies and sun­flow­ers in the mix, which made me think I should be more ad­ven­tur­ous about scale at home. Get­ting out and about may leave the home patch a bit ne­glected, but it is worth it for the boost it gives a gar­den in the years to come.

Fire­works: He­len Dil­lon among al­strome­ria in the gar­den she is now leav­ing be­hind, left; ‘Rowal­lane’, below

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