Peter Dowdall takes a walk around the blooming Castle gardens this week, where the borders are summer-blowsy.
I found myself wandering around the grounds at Blarney Castle recently. No, I hadn’t decided to join the throngs in line to obtain the gift of the gab, best of luck to them. No, I was here purely to enjoy the gardens. I try and visit every few months as they are improving and progressing at such a pace, I don’t want to miss anything.
In particular, I wanted to see the herbaceous borders. Two long borders flank a gravel path with a simple stone urn perfectly positioned under a birch tree acting as the focal point at one end of this path and a beautiful cast iron bench painted red drawing the eye at the other end. Both beds are tied together by a series of arches which enclose the path like a pergola — although there were still some blooms, the roses were definitely past their best but the rest of the planting was breathtaking.
Heleniums, which have the space here to spread and clump up, were looking resplendent in the summer sunshine, growing alongside masses of Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ (catmint). The colour combination is great but so too was the hive of activity — bees, far too many types for me to identify, were gorging on the blooms, butterflies, and hoverflies were all certainly making use of their opportunity for a good feed and as a result, they were spreading the pollen on their toes, noses, and wings, ensuring continued pollination and so it goes on, the living tapestry that is nature working at its best.
I had the fabulous opportunity to admire a peacock butterfly at very close quarters as she settled on a bloom of Echinops ritro (right). Often confused as an allium, this late summer perennial produces perfectly formed spherical pale purple coloured flowers. Let me tell you that this butterfly was not for moving, even when I took the phone out to get some pics and a bit of video, normally a sure way to get them to move as their sixth sense tells them that someone is nearby with a camera.
Not so this little lady, she certainly wasn’t camera shy, stretching out her wings for me to admire every single bit of her. I don’t know was she enjoying the sunshine, the Echinops or the chance to be a show-off, but it was a true privilege to be allowed to be so close for so long.
Verbena bonariensis too, was planted throughout these beds and of course this kept the display of insect life going as they flocked to its mauve purple coloured blooms. This plant needs a big space to be allowed show itself off as it can be a bit ungainly. It needs shelter too, as the somewhat fragile stems can reach over 2m in height in one season leaving them susceptible to falling over.
They often remind me of the giraffes in Fota, I admire them in the field but don’t quite understand how those spindly little legs manage to keep them upright. So too with the verbena, but they do stay up and they act as a perfect addition to a herbaceous planting. Not perhaps the greatest of displays in its own right, but the verbena brings a great added dimension to other planting.
Lilies are planted liberally and they bring the garden a step further by involving the sense of scent, with their powerful aroma and breathtaking beauty. Aconitum, too, is looking stunning in dark navy blue, but please do be aware that this is a very toxic plant and should be planted with extreme care.
It’s hard to pick out a plant that actually steals the show — and beds like these don’t need a star performer as everything works together to create an area of extreme beauty but cynara cardunculus, also referred to as the globe artichoke or cardoon, stands proudly above all others, in full flower on the day of my visit but most likely gone over by now. However, its architectural and sculptural attributes will remain for months.
Sidalcea ‘Elsie Heugh’, or the prairie mallow, was the other one that stopped me in my tracks. Cleverly positioned, its very pale pink blooms softened the surrounding planting and you really couldn’t walk past it without stopping to simply wonder at its beauty.
She too, was alive with bees and butterflies and not a plant that I had ever thought of before as necessarily a good one for insects, but of course it is, as the flowers are simple, single blooms and there are masses of them on the established clump in Blarney, and so the pollinators have no problem finding it.
While I was there I continued around much of the gardens, there’s no way you could do the entire estate in one day, such is the level of excellence that is being created and added to here — but I did get a chance to enjoy the ‘Seven Sisters’ (a rock formation garden, centre above), another area in full colour at the moment, and The Jungle where head gardener Adam Whitbourn, who is the driving force behind these gardens, has planted some of his collection from Vietnam. Without the conservation work being carried out by Adam and those like him, many of these plants would simply disappear in the wild. Blarney may well be the only place we will see some of these in the future.
WORK FOR THE WEEK
Camellias, Rhododendrons, Magnolias, Azaleas and more will all set their flower buds for next spring’s display during the next two months. To ensure good bud development make sure that they don’t dry out so pay close attention to watering, particularly newer specimens.
A good mulch of organic matter such as bark, homemade compost or farmyard manure around the base will help to stop water loss through evaporation. Feed them now with Goulding’s Liquid Tomato Food or a good Sulphate of Potash.
Summer containers such as window boxes and hanging baskets will also benefit from regular feeding at the moment with tomato food, and also make sure that they don’t dry out as, if they are allowed to, they will certainly die off early at this time of year.
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