A North Wales Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: Two Northern Ireland gardens to relish - Entry 17
So far this April has been one of the driest on record and in N. Wales we have hardly had any rain, so I have had to water plants in containers, which is unheard of here in April. But it has been lovely, following on such a dreadfully wet and windy winter, to be able to get outside whenever time has allowed, and I have almost got the whole garden weeded, which should ensure that things do not get out of hand as the summer progresses. But before I tell you a bit about the joys of the garden here at Bod Hyfryd, let me tickle your tastebuds with some images of other gardens I have visited this month, starting with two in N. Ireland that were fitted into a weekend meeting of the Joint Rock Garden Plant Committee to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the Ulster Show. Both gardens are very well known to keen rock gardeners, one being a relatively small (approx. 40 x 30 m) suburban garden in Lisburn belonging to Harold McBride, the other a 6 acre rural woodland garden near Portglenone owned by Bob Gordon. As you would expect, they are completely different, but both wonderful in their way, and a credit to their owners.
Harold McBride's garden is absolutely packed with plants; I have never seen so many in so small a space, and that is only achievable on a consistent basis by being ruthless in keeping everything in order and potentially unruly, or potentially big plants, in check. If plants get too big, or more importantly before that stage is reached, they are pruned or trimmed back, so nothing overpowers anything else. Most of Harold's plants are raised by him from seed; he has hundreds of carefully labelled pots in frames and trays around the garden, and his beds are full of all manner of the wide range of interesting plants that result. In addition, at the time of our visit his alpine house was crammed with exhibition quality plants, many of which had carried off prizes at the previous day's Show. The plant I, along with several other members of the visiting party, most coveted, was one that I grow, but not to anything like the standard of the specimens soon to be in full flower with Harold; a 30-year old clump of the so-called Chatham Island Foreget-me-not (Myositidium hortense), like a super-hosta in leaf but with the most beautiful heads of foget-me-not blue flowers to follow. This fabled plant is not very hardy and Harold covers the crowns with a mulch of leaves for the winter, but it does not need the seaweeed, rotting fish etc., etc. that are sometimes recommended, based on its native strandline habitat on the seashores of Chatham Island. The remainder of my photos of Harold's garden show a range of other interesting or unusual plants and/or combinations, for he is not afraid to mix plants up in ways that few of us would feel confident or willing to do, in short a plantsman of the highest order.
General view of Harold McBride's garden
Trillium rivale, in white and pink forms
An eclectic mix of first-rate plants
Various muscari, corydalis and chionodoxa in the f
Bob Gordon's garden
Bob Gordon's large plot is mainly woodland, most of which he has planted since making the garden from a potato field from the 1960s onwards, but there are also substantial open areas. Bob loves the trees for themselves as well as for the shade they provide for his beloved woodland plants that thrive beneath them in the rich, leafy soil that he has built up over the years by the assiduous collecting, composting and spreadng of the copious leaf fall. My eye was taken by one of the tallest and healthiest specimens of Cunninghamia lanceolata, a semi-tender Chinese conifer with lustrous dark green foliage, I have seen, and a very good youngish specimen of Nootka cypress (Cupressus nootkatensis), with its characteristic hanging curtains of branches. But what causes gasps of amazement from all visitors to this hallowed plot is the large drifts of robustly heathy, self-seeding trilliums and erythroniums, stretching away in drifts below the trees; they truly have to be seen to be believed.
Among the swathes of the easier erythroniums there were clumps of more difficult ones, including a splendid example of E. americanum, which I have never managed to flower in the open garden, and only once, and poorly, in a pot.