Planning your garden of delights for 2018

Peter Dowdall waxes lyrical about the joys of planning the garden for the year ahead.

Well, the world is beginning to get back to normal once more and we face into the joy of another year with renewed life and opportunity. The magic that happens beneath the soil is already beginning to rumble as the very first of the spring bulbs start to poke their heads up over the ground heralding the beginning of a new gardening year.

We have the opportunity now to see our gardens naked, that is bereft of all foliage and flower and when reduced to these skeletal bones — obvious gaps and omissions stand out like sore thumbs. I don’t mean that everything should be evergreen in the garden, no, far from it, for if that were the case then the garden would offer none of the striking seasonal delights that come with the passing of time.

However, every garden needs to change to be interesting and to be a truly living beauty. I can’t imagine a garden without the spring bulbs and the promise that comes with them. I would not like to think of a garden without deciduous trees and shrubs that burst into life as the days get longer and during the autumn, tire once more and offer one last season of magnificent colour before divesting themselves of their foliaged garb for the winter.

The thought of a garden with no summer flowering perennials, or even some pots of bedding brings me no joy. That summer exuberance is needed to highlight the pinnacle of the gardening year when life in the great outdoors is running at full tilt.

Evergreen planting:

There will always be some areas of the garden that need some evergreen planting. If everything is seasonal and transient then there is no consistency, no continuity in the outdoor space. Well-placed evergreen specimens in the herbaceous and deciduous area will ensure that the garden doesn’t look totally bereft during the down months.

Overlooking windows/ unsightly views:

These will need to be screened for 12 months and not simply in the spring and summer. It is the gaps that I refer to and there are many ways to fill them. There is nothing wrong with conifers, though the mere mention of the word nowadays is frowned upon by many in the gardening world.

Do look at many of the more interesting genera that are out there such as Thuja, Cedrus, Picea and Pinus. These will provide evergreen cover and different heights, forms and textures depending on the variety and there is bound to one for your needs.

Bamboo as a garden screen:

If you have the issue of overlooking windows you need to screen, but if you don’t have a huge garden, then what options are available to you? Sure, there may be some conifers you can use, but many of them will need space, as they will grow quite wide as well as tall. Bamboos seem to tick many of the boxes, evergreen, tall and not too wide, they bring texture, movement and they also introduce sound into the garden as the wind rustles through their foliage.

However, be very careful as many bamboos, in particular those of the Phyllostachys genus, will ingratiate themselves into your home and then in a few short years turn into thugs. They will bully their way through your garden, pushing all their neighbours out of the way and will pay no attention to paths, patios, fences and even underground pipes.

So while this group of plants is worth looking at in terms of evergreen screening, choose wisely and do your homework as to the eventual height and spread of the variety you choose. Fargesia and Thamnocalmus are two types of bamboo which I would be happy to use and you will have all the benefits of bamboo with none of the undesirable effects. Or, you could contain the plants in a purpose-built, raised bed or by using a bamboo root barrier beneath the soil.

Pleached trees:

The best way to describe a row of pleached trees is similar to a hedge on stilts. Trees grown and trained in this way are widely used in urban areas in France, Italy, Belgium and other European countries. They look elegant, they are tidy in that they don’t develop wide crowns, but they do need careful maintenance each year to keep their form. Pleached trees are a fantastic option to provide screening up high.

Evergreen oak, Quercus ilex, left unchecked will develop far too broad a crown for most gardens but in a pleached form it could be ideal.

So too, holly, Photinia Red Robin, Prunus laurocerasus (Laurel) and even the evergreen Magnolia, M grandiflora.

Garden notes

Cork Nature Network is hosting a number of events in the new year starting on January 17 with a pub quiz at Henchy’s Bar, St Luke’s, Cork at 8pm. Cost is €5 per person per table of 4. We can match individuals to tables, if required. To reserve a place please contact Proceeds go towards the work of Cork Nature Network.

  • January is Beaumont Quarry Clean up time with a meeting on January 21 at the Old Spar shop in Beaumont Drive at 1pm. Please bring warm waterproof clothing. Contact for further information.
  • A talk at Blackrock Castle on Cetaceans and the conservation of marine mammals will be held on Februay 2. For further information please contact 
  • National tree week is happening from March 4 to March 11 and there’s a tree planting event and talk on trees by Ted Cooke in Macroom. Other up and coming events include a talk on stoats, an easter egg hunt and talk on river invertebrates. For more information please contact 
  • Cork flower club will hold its AGM on Tuesday, January 16 in Canon Packham Hall, Douglas at 8pm. All visitors are welcome.


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