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We were roasting lamb the other day and I headed out to the garden for a few sprigs of rosemary, as you do. For ages after cutting, the gorgeous aroma clung to my hands, reminding me yet again what a super plant this is – so much so that I think it deserves a Gardenwise column all to itself.
Last week we looked at some of the garden design issues facing those lucky enough to have a garden close to the coast. This week I’d like to share with you some of my favourite plants for growing in these challenging locations. The great benefit to living and gardening close to the sea is that frost is very rare, so you will get away with a wider variety of tender plants without winter protection than you would further inland. The downside, of course, is that strong, salty winds will be almost constant unless your garden is very sheltered, so plants need to be chosen with this in mind.
A coastal garden is usually a challenge, and being based on the western edge of our beautiful island, a lot of my clients have gardens by the sea. The biggest challenge is usually the wind – not just its strength and frequency, but the salt it carries with it which can be so harmful to sensitive leaves and flowers. Being the west of Ireland, rainfall is high and soil by the sea often tends to be sandy, full of rocks and low in nutrients. But there are few amongst us who don’t love the sea – and that can often lead to the biggest challenge of all – how to create a sheltered garden without losing your view of the rolling waves.
Since lockdown was lifted I’ve been travelling along the highways and byways on my way to clients’ gardens, and the wildflowers along the roadside verges never fail to take my breath away. In a ‘normal’ year, they are as much a marker of the seasons as the leaves on the trees, from wild primroses in April, to cow parsley and foxgloves in May, and the hundreds of nodding heads of the dog daisies in June. How precious they seem this year, when travel restrictions kept us confined, apart from daily walks, to whatever we had growing in our own gardens! There are still more to look forward to as summer unfolds, especially here in the Burren lowlands, with sky-blue scabious, aromatic wild marjoram and many others still waiting to flower, before the multitude of golden grass seed heads takes over in late summer.
I always dread hearing a hosepipe ban announced, for legal reasons. And why is that, you might ask? Well, it’s on account of Murphy’s Law, which states that “although several weeks of sunny weather may create the expectation of a good summer, a declaration of drought will immediately be followed by dark clouds, heavy rain and a chance of localised flooding”. So the hosepipe ban came into effect earlier this week and we haven’t had a dry, sunny day since. I rest my case.
I’ve always been a firm believer that gardens are to be enjoyed, not just worked in – and the last few months have brought home just how valuable they can be. With restrictions easing and indoor visits allowed from this week, lots of us still won’t be comfortable with visitors indoors, especially if someone in the house is vulnerable from a health point of view. So this summer more than ever, we need to get good at gathering in the garden. Here are a few hints to help you make it happen.
Whoever would have thought a couple of months ago that a visit to the garden centre would become such an eagerly awaited event? Suddenly somewhere you popped into to pick up a few bits without thinking – a bag of compost, a bird feeder and a six pack of lettuce plants – became a Destination. Outfits were chosen and displayed on social media. Lists were made and a flask and sandwiches packed in the car just in case the queues were so long you couldn’t get home in time for lunch.
At this most enchanting time of year – ‘Sweet the evening air of May’, and all that – what better subject to focus on than paving? Sand and cement, jointing, hardcore and quarry screenings? Unromantic it may be, but good paving is far more important to your garden than pretty flowers.
I’ve always loved clematis ever since I started gardening – a wall or fence completely smothered in its blooms is a lovely sight to behold. As a garden designer, I include them in planting plans for clients quite a lot – depending on the individual garden (and the garden owner ) - because, if chosen carefully, clematis can make a glorious addition to any garden.
What a mixed bag gardeners have had this spring! Some of the best spring weather for years, extra time for many of us to tackle garden jobs – and the closure of our garden centres, nurseries and hardware stores, just as the growing season gets underway. A time of changes, confusion and contradictions in all aspects of our lives – when we’ve turned to our gardens for distraction and comfort, and counted ourselves lucky to have them.