A fragrant re­treat from wet, dark days

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

When Der­mot O’Neill, one of Ire­land’s best­loved gar­den­ing per­son­al­i­ties, bought the walled gar­den at Clon­de­glass House, south­ern Ire­land, more than a decade ago, it was derelict. In his new book he ex­plains how he set about restor­ing it into the gar­den of his dreams. Dur­ing the project Der­mot dis­cov­ered he had can­cer. Clon­de­glass be­came a source of hope and sanc­tu­ary for him, and the book also ex­plores the ther­a­peu­tic role gar­den­ing can play in help­ing peo­ple to re­cover from ill­ness.

In this ex­tract he ex­plains how he dis­cov­ered that a poly­tun­nel makes a huge dif­fer­ence to his en­joy­ment of gar­den­ing. With the big surge of in­ter­est in grow­ing your own veg­eta­bles, poly­tun­nels have in­creased in pop­u­lar­ity. Orig­i­nally, my dream was to have a large lean-to glasshouse on the south-fac­ing wall at Clon­de­glass. How­ever, fi­nances were tight to start with, and so putting a poly­tun­nel in place made sense. I never looked back. It al­lowed me to have many dif­fer­ent edi­ble crops ear­lier than if I’d grown them in the open gar­den. I can grow year-round salad crops and some veg­eta­bles and flow­er­ing plants.

I rec­om­mend you go for the largest you can ac­com­mo­date (mine is ap­prox­i­mately 55ft/17m long and 28ft/8.5m wide) and, ob­vi­ously, con­sider that it may not be the most at­trac­tive fea­ture to look at. How­ever, it is one of the joys of my gar­den – a place I can re­treat to on wet days, a place where I can grow all kinds of ex­tra plants, bring­ing in ev­ery­thing from sal­ads to straw­ber­ries ahead of the rest of the gar­den. The at­mos­phere in the poly­tun­nel is very spe­cial, with all the won­der­ful fra­grances that are cap­tured within.

I chose a poly­tun­nel where the sides could be eas­ily raised to al­low ven­ti­la­tion in sum­mer. Th­ese roll up neatly and al­low air to cir­cu­late, which is very im­por­tant when grow­ing edi­ble crops. The next thing I did was to put in a path run­ning through the cen­tre of the tun­nel. It’s made of deck­ing tim­ber, which had been well treated with preser­va­tive in ad­vance of in­stal­la­tion.

At the very end of the tun­nel is a deck­ing area – a very use­ful place to keep ten­der con­tainer plants in win­ter. One of the most im­por­tant things when lay­ing out a poly­tun­nel is to al­low for wa­ter. I laid a pipe bring­ing wa­ter from my well to the tun­nel. I also rec­om­mend a large wa­ter bar­rel.

When erect­ing a poly­tun­nel, it is im­por­tant to in­stall elec­tric­ity. This al­lows for an elec­tric prop­a­ga­tor and light­ing and, if needed in se­vere weather, an elec­tric heater. This can all be done at the be­gin­ning and will add to the com­fort and use­ful­ness of the poly­tun­nel.

A haven for herbs

The poly­tun­nel of­fers warmth and dry soil, al­low­ing for a range of herbs to be planted. I went for tra­di­tional, easy herbs, putting in a row of thyme. In the warmth of sum­mer, I also in­clude a row of basil and in one cor­ner I have a dwarf rose­mary. The scent from th­ese on a warm, sunny day fills the air in the tun­nel and im­me­di­ately gets my taste buds work­ing as I think of the won­der­ful dishes in which I can use them. There’s no com­par­i­son be­tween fresh and dried herbs. Fresh herbs can make a great dif­fer­ence to the taste of a dish you’re cook­ing. The poly­tun­nel of­fers a Mediter­ranean cli­mate, al­low­ing th­ese herbs to fully en­joy warmth and shel­ter.

Also tak­ing ad­van­tage of th­ese con­di­tions, I planted a small hedge of laven­der on each side of the path. I went for a very par­tic­u­lar va­ri­ety called ‘Richard Gray’. This laven­der has ex­tra sil­very-grey fo­liage and dark rich pur­ple flow­ers. What drew me to this was the first time I picked and smelled the flower. To me, it was stronger than any other laven­der I have grown and adds won­der­fully to the over­all scent in the poly­tun­nel when in full flower. The con­trast be­tween the dark pur­ple flow­ers with the light sil­ver fo­liage is stun­ning, and the flow­ers are per­fect for dry­ing.

An­nu­ally, I sprin­kle seeds of cal­en­dula, the pot marigold, into some of the beds. This beau­ti­ful orange an­nual thrives in the poly­tun­nel and the edi­ble petals can be used in sal­ads, adding an ex­otic splash of orange as well as a pep­pery flavour. They are sim­ple and easy to grow, and usu­ally self­seed. A lit­tle bor­age gives bril­liant blue flow­ers, which are also edi­ble and good for use in sum­mer drinks. When re­lax­ing with a Pimm’s on a sum­mer’s day, some float­ing blue bor­age flow­ers can add a touch of magic to the drink. A sim­ple plant to grow from seed, I have found that bees love bor­age too, which is good for gen­eral pol­li­na­tion in the tun­nel.

Ex­otic flow­ers all year

I also use my poly­tun­nel to pro­vide cut flow­ers for the house. It gives me the op­por­tu­nity to grow some roses that don’t en­joy the wet cli­mate in Ire­land. This started as an ex­per­i­ment and turned out to be very suc­cess­ful. This year, I have added more va­ri­eties. The first to go in were two plants of the rose ‘Harry Ed­land’, one on each side of the door. This beau­ti­ful mauve rose is one of the strong­est scented roses I grow. The fra­grance is de­li­cious, rich and sweet, and con­jures up the essence of sum­mer. Other roses I’ve tried this year in­clude ‘Louis XIV’, a sump­tu­ous rose with a rich, deep red flower.

‘Em­pereur du Maroc’ is also a dark red with a su­perb, rich scent. Th­ese roses are never happy out­side, as they don’t en­joy the rain. The poly­tun­nel of­fers the chance for them to de­velop flow­ers and fill the air with scent. Be­hind the roses, I put in a row of re­gal lilies ( Lil­ium re­gale) to use as a cut flower. When in full flower, you want to linger to en­joy their rich fra­grance.

On the other side of the tun­nel, I grow some chrysan­the­mums to pro­vide late cut flow­ers. Th­ese in­clude ‘Em­peror of China’, a very beau­ti­ful pale pink with a dark cen­tre. They grow 3-4ft (90-120cm) high and I usu­ally use bam­boo canes to stake them. They flower late, usu­ally from Oc­to­ber on­wards, pro­vid­ing much-needed colour at that time of year. The ex­quis­ite quilled petals set it apart from oth­ers, giv­ing it a more el­e­gant look.

The poly­tun­nel al­lows me to grow some ten­der, spe­cial plants, and the first to go into the ground was a com­pact form of Ery­th­rina crista­galli, com­monly called the cock­spur coral tree. I had grown this ex­otic plant many years ago and had lost it. I was rein­tro­duced to it on my trav­els around Ital­ian gar­dens, where I saw plants in full flower. The bril­liant red pea-shaped pan­i­cles of flow­ers are in­stantly eye­catch­ing. In full flower it is a feast of scar­let red, lob­ster-claw-like blooms. In the north­ern hemi­sphere it flow­ers be­tween April and Oc­to­ber and loses all its fo­liage in win­ter.

This au­tumn and win­ter, I used the poly­tun­nel to bring in a small col­lec­tion of Brug­man­sia, com­monly known as an­gel’s trum­pet. I had planted th­ese fab­u­lous, ex­otic trum­pet-flow­ered plants in con­tain­ers and placed them in the gar­den to pro­vide a sum­mer dis­play. Not be­ing frost-hardy, I moved them into the poly­tun­nel where I cov­ered them in fleece and kept them on the dry side.

Un­for­tu­nately, the fleece did not al­low enough air cir­cu­la­tion – fun­gus hit and the plants had to be cut back. They are re­grow­ing and the poly­tun­nel played an im­por­tant role in pro­tect­ing them. I also did this with a var­ie­gated Ti­bouch­ina, a beau­ti­ful ex­otic with sev­eral colours in its fo­liage and bright ul­tra­vi­o­let flow­ers. The flow­ers seem to glow and give a sense of far­away places.

The poly­tun­nel pro­vides the per­fect win­ter shel­ter for my col­lec­tion of agaves. Agaves are those plants that you see when you travel around the Mediter­ranean: large, bold, spiky fo­liage in gi­ant rosettes. I like the var­ie­gated va­ri­eties, which need a lit­tle more pro­tec­tion in win­ter, though don’t mind be­ing al­lowed to dry out. Again, they are used in con­tain­ers as ac­cent plants in sunny, warm spots to add an ex­otic touch to the gar­den. I’m al­ways con­scious that they can be dan­ger­ous, es­pe­cially with chil­dren around, be­cause the spikes on the leaves are sharp. A trick I learnt years ago was to im­pale a wine cork on the spikes in ar­eas where peo­ple got close.

Clon­de­glass: Cre­at­ing a Gar­den Par­adise by Der­mot O’Neill (Kyle Books, £25), is avail­able from the Tele­graph Book­shop for £23 + £1.35 p&p. To or­der call 0844 871 1514 or visit books.tele­graph.co.uk

Cli­mate con­trol: in his poly­tun­nel at Clon­de­glass House, top, Der­mot O’Neill, above, grows ex­otic plants such as the cock­spur coral tree, far right, and year-round sal­ads, right

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.