Archive for ‘PLANTS’

April 26, 2016

Vertical Spring

by Ciaran Burke

I took a few pictures of my vertical planting for a talk to a garden club that I am giving tonight.

They planters were made from old 5l plastic water bottles, chicken wire and weed control fabric.

Recent research from Harvard reports that people who live in areas with more leaves and plant life around them live longer and have less illness. Maybe we need to encourage more people to make use of vertical surfaces for growing plants. If nothing else, it will look nice!




January 7, 2016

Getting connected…

by Ciaran Burke

The birds were singing. First light hid behind the trunks and branches, the soft glow, shy behind the trees. Deep wine buds of Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’ glistened with a coat of moistness, blue wisps of Carex glauca tickled the air in the gentle breeze. Amongst the pots the winter flowering Helleborus X nigercors faced the world with gentle defiance.



I pinched a faded bloom, picked a tiny weed from a pot, looked with admiration at the pink buds and white flowers of Viburnum tinus ‘Lisa Rose’.

Nature can refuel the mind, a quick reboot to start the new day. A garden is a beautiful thing, but we do not have one. Our pots and planters grow our flowers, herbs and even some fruit, providing beauty and halting us for brief moments as we pass them by. A few moments to look, a few moments more to pluck a weed, another few to pinch a faded bloom; long enough to feel connected to the beauty of the world.

June 22, 2015

Two little big surprises from seed

by Ciaran Burke

Alnus fruticosa – dwarf seedling


Betula albosinensis – 9 year old in centre at back of deck


Buds of dwarf alder


Bark of dwarf Betula albosinensis


dwarf Betula albosinensis in spring

We made a list of all the plants that we are currently growing in our container garden. Some of the plants we brought with us from our old garden. Included in these are a number of plants that we raised from seed. When growing plants from seed, each one is genetically distinct from the others. Although the majority will usually look quite similar when growing trees such as birch or alder, occasionally one can be pleasantly surprised. In 2006 we sowed seed of Betula albosinensis and an unusual alder, Alnus fruticosa. We potted up the germinated seeds and after a few years some plants were planted in the garden. From each of the two species, we got one individual amongst the seedlings which displayed characteristics remarkably different from the rest of their seedling batch; dwarf bushy plants! In the case of the Birch, after nine years our selected plant now measures less than 1 meter and has a bushy habit, all other plants grew much taller and average about 3 meters or more. From the alders only two plants survived, one growing to 2.5 meters, typical of whet on would expect, but the other is hardly reaching 30cm and retains a distinctly bushy growth habit. The dwarf plants from each batch we dug up and now grow as prized plants in our containers. With Plants that we have propagated ourselves, we create a stronger attachment when compared to bought plants. Seed raised plants have the bonus of potential individual interest, diversity and the potential to be something special.

January 24, 2014

Getting in touch with your inner designer!

by Ciaran Burke

Carefully placed objects can enhance the garden experience

It is brown, barely visible, one has to look closely and bend down to examine the small flowers, thin and sinuous, like a dark rodent tail, almost hidden by the foliage. I think it is fabulous, Asarum probiscidum. The green flowers of Primula ‘Francisca’, ruffled and clustered on short stalks, pretty, not showy. Snowdrops, Galanthus sp., imagine a garden with fifty different kinds, a gardener proud of the collection. This is the world of the plant enthusiast. We plant people can be terribly nerdish, true anoraks walking around a garden on a wet February afternoon, bending to admire the subtle differences between one snowdrop and another. We “ooh: and “aah” at the green markings, only visible when viewed from beneath the white skirt of petals. Perhaps we are a bit odd.

Living in Ireland, we have the opportunity to grow a wide range of plants. The winter air is warmed, most years, by the Gulf Stream. Our island is spared from the harshest cold by our enclosure of ocean. The rain that we all complain so much about, waters our plants. Our gardens do not really stop during the year, even in the depths of winter there are plants in growth, flowers blooming, there are fruits and foliage to admire.
Not everyone can get as excited as me about the mouse-like blooms of Asarum probiscidum, many will think snow drop fanciers are a little bit mad and very sad. That is okay. A garden is more than a collection of plants. It is not just a cabinet to display the prizes of the collector: the freaks, the beautiful, the rare and expensive.

Gardens can fulfill various functions and fancies. It can be a picture of beauty, a lively composition of colour, an outdoor room to entertain and live. It is also a sanctuary for the mind, a rest for the tired body, a rejuvenator of the spirit. Gardens can provide vegetables for the kitchen pot, fruits for the dining room table. Gardens are places to interact, with nature and each other.

Experience is essential, it makes us what we are, gives us life. The space around our homes is not just a picture, framed by the windowpane, viewed from a patio door, glanced at while putting out the bin.
Raindrops held like jewels hanging from a flower, the smell of fresh cut grass, the aroma of a crushed lavender sprig. The quiet calm of an autumn morning, the golden glow of a summer’s evening doused in sweet scents, the murky winter morning shrouded in fog, coated in frost; moments of magic, unique and sometimes fleeting. The view, the smell, the feel, they create atmosphere; we live the experience and cherish the memory.

Strolling through a beautiful garden we admire many things; the flowers, the colours, perhaps the perfume on the air. A path might lead us to a destination, but it also might guide our sight. We might be blissfully unaware that our gaze moved slowly along the airy flower heads of lady’s mantle that complemented the other yellow blooms. A golden foliaged conifer; its placement provided the structural form and resting place for the eye as the path curved way from view, invited us to explore.

Sitting on a stone bench, the air is quiet except for the rustle of leaves and the hum from insects. Comfortable and secure, restful and serene we take for granted the beauty of the scene, the experience of escape. The placement of the seat in this garden room is no accident. The height of the enclosure, the light that enters, the amount of space and uncluttered feel are elements that make this place so perfect.
If the hedges were any higher, our seat would be darker. If the opening to the path was narrower we might feel imprisoned. The hedge is high enough to make us feel private, low enough to allow us to see the sky, a protective boundary to keep the world out but not to incarcerate. Here in the haven, the degree of our enclosure, how the hedge surrounds the space and leaves a gap for entrance and exit, is a comforting hug not a tight grasp.
Beneath our feet is gravel, light, grey and rounded, a similar colour to the stone bench on which we sit. Harmony of the materials and their colour rests our senses, provides comfort. The colours around us are predominantly green, the soothing shade that relaxes our eyes. But if is not dull, not boring. Some soft pastel shades, a billowing catmint, a tall purple verbena and arching Dierama waves its angel fishing rod flowers above the stones in the slight breeze. The green leaves are not all identical; there are soft ferns in the shade and wide hosta leaves and shapely lady’s mantels topped with frothy soft yellow flowers. A quiet combination of foliage that arouses an interest but does not impose, and colour blends that recede to a respectful distance; soothing and pacifying.

Garden path

Garden path

Leaving the serenity of the secluded seat we walk to the open borders. We are invigorated by the frenzy of colour that fills each facing bed separated by the fine lawn. Burning bright Crocosmia masoniorum blazes with bright orange Helenium autumnale and golden Rudbeckia. The sight is lively and inspiring.

We take for granted the depth of the borders, how each one mirrors the other in size and shape. They are deep enough to accommodate the tall plants, separated by a lawn of good proportion so that we can admire their show along their entire lengths; excellent proportion. The balance either side is subtle, almost imperceptible, yet if it is not right we notice.
The path between the borders leads us to a water feature, this garden room enclosed by the plain backdrop of soft textured yew hedges. The borders appear longer than they actually are. The designer has played with the perspective, the line are not quite parallel. The colours are chosen and graded, hot colours as we enter gradually cool; the reds and oranges mellow to yellow, mauves cool to soft shades of pastel pink and wispy hues of palest blue. The colour gradient emphasizes the fact that the hot reds jump into out vision while soft pastels move away, drifting to the distance. The result, the border seems longer that it is.

The water feature at the end is carefully constructed. It is a focal point on which our eyes will rest, for a moment. Not too big to be an exclamation. Not too flamboyant so as to out do the borders but punctuation in the long space.
From the centre of the round pool, water bubbles from the centre of a rock, tumbles peacefully over the sides and returns to the pool creating a lively ripple. This carefully placed pond and well designed fountain retains the atmosphere of the lively but controlled herbaceous border, the central stone is similar in tone to the surrounding paving, harmony of style and colour.

Plants can be used as ornament to decorate a space or to create the design. They can add texture, colour, form, fragrance and interest throughout the year. How they are combined, where they are placed and how they are used with other features with in our garden; if done so with thought and careful consideration, this will create a more beautiful garden. There is a little bit of a garden designer in every gardener; we must not ignore this creative part of our persona. Instead if we develop our hidden designer, express our creativity, enhance our awareness of colours, forms, balance and harmony, we can transform a collection of plants into a part of something even more beautiful.That strange dark mouse plant, that collection of bright snowdrops and the green ruffled primrose can be details in a composition of garden beauty, components of a greater garden heaven.

August 23, 2013

Burnets- Greater Burnet in the the wild and great burnets for the garden

by Ciaran Burke
Sanguisorba officinalis growing amongst trees at Lough conn, Co. mayo, Ireland

Sanguisorba officinalis growing amongst trees at Lough Conn, Co. mayo, Ireland

Recently while I was researching a plant profile article on the genus of Sanguisorba for The Irish Garden magazine, I consulted my old and slightly battered copy of Webb’s Irish Flora. This versatile and showy genus of plants has two Irish natives amongst its members. The salad burnet, S. minor, which is small and not very attractive, although useful as a salad ingredients, and the taller more showy greater burnet, S. officinalis. According to the old book, S. officinalis is not widely encountered, populations are confined to the north east of the island and also the shores of Liugh Cullin and Lough Conn, in my county of residence, County Mayo. Lough Conn attracts visitors for fishing and I would guess not so many plant hunters, on a cloudy August afternoon we set off to see if we could encounter, the greater burnet, S. officinalis, growing and flowering in its native habitat.

Shore line at Lough Conn, Co. mayo. In amongst the trees, Sanguisorba officinalis grows and flowers in stone covered soil.

Shore line at Lough Conn, Co. mayo. In amongst the trees, Sanguisorba officinalis grows and flowers in stone covered soil.

Lough Conn, Co. Mayo, Ireland

Lough Conn, Co. Mayo, Ireland

Our searches at a few places on Lough Cullin gave us no reward. We continued our search at Lough Conn, both lakes are separated by only a narrow strip of land. At our first Lough Conn stop we drove down a bumpy gravel road with a healthy sward of grass along the centre.

Shore of Lough Conn, Co. mayo with view of Nephin Mountain

Shore of Lough Conn, Co. Mayo with view of Nephin Mountain

We hopped out and strolled across the pebbled covered beach, past purple loosestrife and knapweeds flowering along the shore. We ventured into some sparse woodland, here native species of willow, ash and alder grew between stones. The water lapped the peacefully and a breeze made a lively yet soothing rustle with the leaves. The world was t peace around me, then the silence was broken, a triumphant shout from my Hanna, my wife, the greater burnet had been found.

Sanguisorba officinalis flowering at Lough Conn, Co. mayo

Sanguisorba officinalis flowering at Lough Conn, Co. Mayo

It is not often that you encounter a fashionable herbaceous perennial that is a native to these shores. Sanguisorba officinalis bears its tight clustered flowers in dense dark purple spikes on top of wiry swaying stems. Its appeal is simple and seductive, possessing an elegant reserved charm. The increasing popularity of the genus amongst gardeners reflects tastes of our time. The burnets are perfect for placing in naturalistic planting schemes, prairie planting and floral meadows where structure and texture matter more the flamboyance and brash colours.

Sanguisorba hakuasanensis var. japonica flower close-up flowering in our garden

Sanguisorba hakuasanensis var. japonica flower close-up flowering in our garden

In our own garden we grow quite a few species and hybrids. Earlier in the summer, S. ‘Pink Elephant’ and S. tenuifolia ‘Alba’ entertained us with their swaying displays of flowery haze. Now the pink fluffy heads of S. obtusa swing lightly in the breeze, while the even fluffier S. hakuasanensis var. japonica, which we brought from a nursery in Finland a couple of years ago, shimmers its stamens along an erect infloresence. In the garden there is the cool S. ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’, and in a raised bed the carpeting green mound of S. ‘Tanna’ has been flowering for a couple of months, its flowers like a cloud of purple bumble bees. Burnets, the greater burnet and many others are just, great!

Sanguisorba 'Tanna' flowers flowring in our garden in a raised bed

Sanguisorba ‘Tanna’ flowers flowring in our garden in a raised bed

Sanguisorba obtusa flowering in our garden, it grows in a poor stoney soil

Sanguisorba obtusa flowering in our garden, it grows in a poor stoney soil

Sanguisorba 'Rock 'n' Roll'  flowering in our front garden.

Sanguisorba ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ flowering in our front garden.

Achillea ptarmica flowering at Lough Cullin, Co. Mayo, Ireland

Achillea ptarmica flowering at Lough Cullin, Co. Mayo, Ireland

View wild Irish native plants and some scenery photos of Lough Cullin, Co. Mayo on my Photoshelter site

The August issue of The irish Garden features my plant profile article on Erigeron, and the forthcoming September isuue will be in the shops very soon. THE IRISH GARDEN MAGAZINE

%d bloggers like this: