It was a time of storms and storms. Here in Glin, on the Shannon Estuary, sleet – or is it hail? – suddenly fall out of my bedroom window and the wind picked up again. Trees have been uprooted over the winter and lie on their side, their broad, shallow root systems exposed.
Our otherwise picturesque babbling brook, which flows down the side of the garden lined with ferns and rushes, has turned into a raging torrent. At a certain point it sinks underground into two old stone box drains that sit next to each other – usually hidden – but due to the force of the water the earth cover has begun to cave in. We will have amazing engineering work ahead of us. So far we’ve dug up a huge pile of cinders from dirt and rocks – what’s the solution? We’re not sure yet.
So we look out for signs of spring and cheer in the garden. We are lucky that the evergreens carried us through the winter full and lush. Yesterday the sun came out and there was blue sky behind the old giant: the Monterey pine that great-grandmother Rachel planted on the side of the house in the 1890s. It looked so beautiful with its large, ridged limbs draped in dark green needles, utterly untouched by the winter turmoil. What a noble creature! I couldn’t help but sigh in admiration.
There were also the camellias; the early bloomers start blooming before Christmas. They are the most rewarding plants – ours get no attention and bloom for months. I especially love Grandma Veronica’s towering red Japonica – with a clean, flat face like Coco Chanel’s flower; The even, overlapping petals are a geometric marvel. It was taken as a clipping by the Misses Leslies of neighboring Tarbert House in the 1930s. Another wonderful red has the most poetic name: ‘Freedom Bell’ — and the white ‘Cornish Snow’, with its elegant, open habit and smaller pointed leaves, contrasts well with the paler ones williamsii hybrids.
They are all planted around a Japanese tombstone. I like to dream that I’m in a Shinto shrine somewhere outside of Kyoto. The worship of nature and ancestors, of course. There is a Acer palmatum ‘Senkaki’ nearby and an exotic Japanese tree peony that I bought at the ‘Rare and Special Plant Fair’ that was held in Glin a few years ago. It comes into its own in May with a lush crumpled pink bloom.
Part of the appeal of camellias is their coat of dark green, glossy leaves, while witch hazel (witch hazel) miraculously bloom from the bare stems. Its yellow or rust colored flowers appear spidery and otherworldly – like something out of the sea, an exotic sea anemone blowing in the tide. We have yellow H. ‘Pallida’ and ‘Arnold Promise’, both of which have a distinctive spicy scent.
Green onions are the best value. Once planted, you forget them for half a year, but then – oh, the joy and gloating! No maintenance, no weeding required, just pure enjoyment. Cyclamens of various shades of pink have colonized the pine-depleted soil beneath the Old Giant, and in January various species of snowdrops are beginning to appear – the first of the special ones to appear Galanthus ‘Mrs Macnamara’ gifted by my friend and gardener Mary Keen. It has lush, long blue-green leaves.
I love the larger strains that pack so much punch – ‘Sam Arnott’ is hot on her heels. Once they’re over but still in the green area, you can move them around and expand your colony. Snowdrop relative ‘Spring Snowflake’ is a winner at Glin (leucojum ‘Gravetye Giant’). It’s big and tough, enjoying our humid conditions and competing manfully with the tall grass and spreading like crazy. They start coming out here at the end of February and continue for weeks until the end of April.
I have to mention the very jubilant early daffs – daffodil “February Gold” and the mini “Tête-à-tête” so good for tree circles. Some of my clients claim they don’t like the brassy bright yellow – in this case the hill at Glin, which lights up with a hint of a delicate pale yellow Narcissus lobularis in March is for them. The bulbs were sent from Tresco on the Isles of Scilly to my great grandmother over a hundred years ago and have continued to grow ever since.
Other good light varieties are the Mini daffodil ‘WP Milner’ and the later blooming aristocratic beauty ‘Thalia’. The latest in the unfolding pageant is the ‘Pheasant’s Eye’ daffodil, which looks great in May when planted in tall grass with blue Camassia. Forget the Roy family – this is the succession you really need to keep an eye on!
All that dark winter I put off jobs – but no more! The days stretch out; The quality of the light changes. I’m like that kid in the ’70s Bisto Gravy ad, sniffing the air and following my nose around a corner until I bump into that prickly creature, the mahonia. Its yellow starfish-like flowers emit wonderful lily-of-the-valley swathes.
I feel a bit like the badger just coming out of hibernation. I know it has turned up when each year it hungrily digs up the choicest bulbs under the Killarney Oak, leaving bumps in its wake: moss and debris carelessly tossed about. I watch the scene with dismay – it’s like stumbling upon the chaotic remains of a teenage party when the culprits are long gone.
This is the time I move most of the trees and plants around – dig them up, put them in better places, regroup things. The wonder of gardens is that mistakes are never permanent and can be easily corrected (unlike homes where you can be stuck with an unfortunate color choice for years). Then I obsessively mulch the plantings. The sight of bare earth pressed hard by long winter rains is so bleak and disheartening.
Once this soft layer of mulch is spread and forked, worms start bringing it down, the roots have room to breathe, and everything starts to move.
Later, the mulch suppresses the weeds. Whether it’s home-made compost, organic green waste in bags from the local garden center, a load of mushroom compost or ideally well-rotted horse manure, your plants have a wonderful head start.
March is the time to plan and dream about what is to come. Vegetables and popular cut flower seeds are gathered in the greenhouse – their crumpled packets are held together with rubber bands – fragrant broth, Sweet William, Nicotiana, cornflowers, cosmos for the border. At the same time, I prune the pelargoniums to ensure they get bushy for planting in pots in May – and pick the leaves off to eat with poached forced rhubarb, pale pink and tender. I am quite as happy as this badger.
Marching Orders: This is the month that…
• Plant summer flowering bulbs.
• Cut off wind-damaged branches on trees and shrubs.
• Kill spring flowers and leftover winter bedding to prevent them from setting seed.
• Check new shoots for aphids and remove.
• Sow hardy annuals outdoors, including nasturtiums and poppies.
• Clean borders and remove established and newly sprouting weeds (do not throw the weed seedlings into your compost heap as they may come back to haunt you when compost is applied to the garden).
• Plant faded compulsion bulbs in the garden next year so they bloom.
Nature in all its forms: how to help and hinder…
• Place beetle boxes or bundles of hollow stalks in sheltered corners where insects can lay their eggs. Gardens need insects. They are useful in many ways: important workers when it comes to decomposition and giving us nutrient-rich soil; essential for pollination of flowering plants and crops; Predators for other insects such as aphids and an important food source for other animals such as birds and bats.
• Have food ready for garden birds when breeding season begins.
• As the days get warmer and the garden begins to bloom, slugs hatch and can wreak havoc on the new shoots. When controlling, use natural solutions instead of pesticides. Beer traps are effective; Physical barriers like coffee grounds and sawdust are also deterrents. Or encourage natural snail eaters like birds and hedgehogs, as well as nematodes (which you can buy at garden centers).
Don’t miss your Spring Gardening brochures, free this weekend in the Irish Independent on Saturday and the Sunday Independent, with expert advice on everything to plant for all types of gardens, how to entertain the outdoors, how to keep the kids can include and much more.
https://www.independent.ie/life/home-garden/gardens/my-spring-at-glin-castle-a-time-to-plan-and-dream-in-pursuit-of-the-perfect-garden-41455973.html My spring at Glin Castle – a time to plan and dream in search of the perfect garden