Irish Style Gardening: How To Make An Irish Garden Of Your Own

Irish Style Gardening: How To Make An Irish Garden Of Your Own

By: Mary Ellen Ellis

Whether this is your ancestry, or you simply admire thebeauty and culture of the Emerald Isle, Irish style gardening and Irish gardenplants can help you create a lovely outdoor space. The climate of Ireland iswet and mild, which makes it perfect for lush greenery. Whether your climatematches this perfectly or not, you can still use some elements to add Irishflair.

How to Make an Irish Garden

Crafting an Irish garden is all about making it your own aswell as being inspired by and using Irish gardening ideas. You may not be ableto recreate a perfect Irish garden if you don’t have the climate for it, butthere are still many ideas you can incorporate.

For instance, start with architecture. Ireland is full ofstone and slate, and the gardens use these materials in low walls, walkways,and decorative elements. A slate path or stone wall that meanders is a perfectstarting point for an Irish garden. Also, usestone figurines or sculptures for decoration or a focal point: a Celticcross, a bird bath, or a Green Man face.

Gardens of Ireland also have a natural feel. They aren’toverly designed or too formal. Use the natural landscape to dictate elements ofyour garden. Embrace the swampy area, for instance, and choose native Irishplants that thrive in wetlands. And leave that boulder where it is, planningbeds around it.

Irish Garden Plants

With a basic structure, some architectural and decorativeelements, and a space dictated by nature, you’re ready to populate it withIrish plants:

  • Moss. With the wet, shady nature of Irish gardens, moss is ubiquitous. Embrace moss and let it grow between slates on the walkway, in your stone wall, and under trees and shrubs. Sagina subulata, known as pearlwort or Irish moss, is a moss native to Ireland.
  • Foxglove. This pretty perennial flower is also a native. In Ireland, foxglove plants are often known as fairy thimbles.
  • Woodbine. Also known as honeysuckle, Lonicera periclymenum is commonly found growing in Ireland and is often found climbing walls and hedgerows.
  • Yarrow. The common yarrow wildflower is found all over the country, and its flat-topped flowers will bring butterflies and bees to your garden.
  • Bugle. Otherwise known to many as bugleweed or ajuga, this native wildflower is perfect for wooded areas or wet meadows.
  • Roman chamomile. Different from German chamomile, the type of herb seen most often in the U.S., this chamomile is native to and common in Irish meadows.
  • Shamrocks. Of course, no Irish garden would be complete without some shamrocks. There are plenty of varieties to try with different colors of foliage and flowers.

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Go wild in the garden: how to sow your own wildflower meadow

It’s at this time of year that I always find myself contemplating sowing my own mini flower meadow, using a joyful, high-octane mix of fast-growing, ultra-colourful, pollinator-friendly, mood-lifting, hardy and half-hardy annuals.

Cosmos, for instance, with their cheery daisy-like blooms in shades of carmine-pink and white. Dainty cornflowers too, in shades of cobalt blue, moody plum, snow white and candy pink as well as burnt-orange poppies, fiery marigolds and coreopsis, scarlet malope, frothy ammi, dainty toadflax, purple honeywort, feathery love-in-a-mist, fragrant candytuft and a host of other hardworking floriferous species. In short, a smorgasbord of pretties to provide months of vibrant, long-lasting colour through summer into late autumn.

Usefully, an increasing number of seed suppliers and good garden centres now offer an excellent range of different annual flowering meadow seed mixes to choose from. Some are in soft pastel shades such as Sarah Raven’s “Delft Blue and White” some in richer, hotter colours such as UK-based Pictorial Meadows “Candy” mix, while others are specifically designed for very small gardens or even large containers (examples include Seedaholic’s “Annual Dwarf Flowers Mix”, Pictorial Meadows “Pixie” mix and Sarah Raven’s “Mini Meadow” mix).

Whichever blend you choose, between now and early June is an excellent time to sow them while soil moisture levels, temperatures and light levels are sufficient to ensure good germination.

Site selection

But before you do, there are a few things to keep in mind, most important of which is careful site selection. There’s no point, for example, in sowing an annual meadow mix into a dry and very shady spot as the vast majority of these fast-growing, short-lived plants need full sun and a moisture-retentive but free-draining, averagely fertile soil to thrive.

Thorough site preparation is also crucial to reduce the risk of aggressive weed growth quickly out-competing your annual meadow for light and nutrients. Bear in mind that all normal garden soils contain what is known in horticultural parlance as a “seed bank”, the natural accumulation over many years of the viable seed of a wide variety of native and non-native plants. Give these the right conditions for germination and off they’ll quickly romp. So to reduce their numbers, you’ll need to first create what’s known as a sterile seed-bed by deliberately depleting the shallow uppermost layer of soil of this hidden stash of seeds.

How? Start by clearing the ground of any existing weeds and their root systems before lightly forking it over to a depth of 15-20cm. Next, use a rake to create a fine, crumbly tilth and to smooth off any lumps, bumps or hollows as well as to remove any garden debris that could prevent your meadow seed from germinating. Then leave it. Within 7-10 days, you’ll see a rash of young weed seedlings appearing on the surface. Don’t take a spade or fork to dig these out, which will only bring yet more viable weed seed to the surface. The only exception is if you suspect that there may be the fresh re-growth of fragments of perennial weeds’ root systems still lurking below the ground, in which case you’ll need to carefully remove them. But otherwise, choose a dry, sunny day and a sharp hoe to slice any young weed seedlings away at ground level. Repeat this process a week or two later and you’ll have done a great deal to limit weed germination.


To make sure that you’ve sufficient seed mix to sow at the recommended spacing (typically about 3g per sq m, a little more if you’re not going to be netting it from hungry birds), you’ll need to roughly calculate the size of the area to be sown. This is a relatively simple matter of multiplying its length by its width (in metres), to give you the total area in square metres. Don’t be tempted to skimp on quantities as this will only result in a poor and patchy meadow.

Colm O’Driscoll, head gardener of Airfield Estate in Dundrum, has had plenty of experience of growing these sorts of exquisite pictorial annual meadows on a large scale in this historic Dublin garden over the past few years. He strongly recommends paying careful attention to the edges of your meadow-to-be to ensure that these are particularly well seeded.

To ensure even coverage, he stirs the seed mix vigorously, divides it in half, then evenly broadcasts the first half by hand while systematically walking up and down the site before changing direction (so that he’s walking at a 90 degree angle to his original route) to sow the remaining half. This grid-method of sowing helps to prevent the problem of uneven growth. Many suppliers also recommend mixing their annual meadow seed mixes with coarse horticultural grit before sowing (five parts sand to one part seed) to further help ensure even coverage. Some also suggest sowing the seed in narrow drills, which helps with the problem of distinguishing young emerging annuals from any opportunistic weed seedlings.

Once sown, the freshly-sown seed needs to make really good contact with the damp soil. At Airfield they roll the ground after sowing but in small garden areas you can achieve the same effect by gently walking the area or firming it down with a plank or the back of a spring-tined rake. It’s also a good idea to gently water immediately before and after sowing and during any prolonged dry spells in the first few weeks following sowing. After that, it’s a case of watching and waiting plus a little judicious hand-weeding when required. By late July, you should have your very own mini meadow, alive with colour and the happy buzz of pollinating insects. Heaven.

Online specialist suppliers of annual meadow seed include, ,

This Week in the Garden

Early May is all go, go, go in the vegetable garden and the time to make direct sowings (into well-prepared, weed-free, raked soil) of seed of early carrots, beetroots, turnips, peas, runner beans, chard, radish, parsnips and annual spinach. But if your plot is one where emerging seedlings repeatedly suffer bad slug or snail damage, then many of these vegetables can be sown in modules for transplanting into the garden once they’ve germinated and grown on a little, giving them a far better chance of survival. The only exceptions are crops with tap roots (examples include carrots, parsnips), which generally don’t transplant well and should almost always be direct-sown.

Unless your garden is a very mild and sheltered one, don’t be so seduced by the long, bright evenings, milder daytime temperatures and colourful shop displays of bedding geraniums, lobelias and petunias into thinking that a hard frost is no longer a possibility and that it’s safe to plant out tender bedding plants. All it takes is one cold night of close to sub-zero temperatures to cause serious damage to them, especially if they haven’t been properly hardened off (gradually acclimatised to colder temperatures). So play it safe until the end of May, the time of the year traditionally considered safe for planting out. If you’ve already taken a gamble by planting them outdoors, then keep some horticultural fleece or even old newspaper at hand to protect vulnerable plants on chilly nights.

If you’re growing tulips in the ground, you’ll greatly increase their chances of perennialising by giving them a fortnightly liquid tomato feed until the foliage yellows and naturally dies down. If you’re growing them and other spring-flowering bulbs in pots or containers that you want to free up for summer bedding displays, then gently tip the bulbs out (foliage and all) and temporarily transplant them in an unused corner of the garden or allotment. Keep them well watered and regularly liquid-fed as described above until the foliage naturally dies down, then lift them, cut the faded stems and leaves off and store the bulbs in a cool, dry shed for transplanting back into the garden in autumn.

Dates For Your Diary

From tomorrow (May 6th, noon-6pm): Every Sunday until October 7th, Patthana Gardens, Kiltegan, Co Wicklow opens to the public with a talk/demonstration by owner TJ Maher – May 6th and May 13th (2pm) on using annual bedding plants for colour with a selection of annual plants for sale on both days.

Moving On: A New Home for Helen Dillon, Ireland’s ‘Undisputed Queen of Gardening’

A garden is no place for sentimentality, Helen Dillon once said: “Good gardening is a constant process of editing. Really what it boils down to is not what you put in, it’s what you take out.”

Maybe it should have come as no surprise. After 45 years in a grand house on the south side of Dublin where she created Ireland’s most famous garden, Dillon woke up one morning and told her husband, Val, that it was time to move on. “The first thing Val said was ‘absolutely not.’ The next morning he said, ‘Do you know, I think you’re right,’ which is extraordinary, as normally there’s an argument over everything,” she recently told The Independent.

Within months, the couple had moved to a cottage by the sea, where Dillon set out to create a garden from scratch. “If you are a gardener, getting a new garden is the most exciting thing that can happen. It’s an empty palette,” she said.

Her new garden on a quiet lane is hidden from the street, surrounded by gray granite walls built in the 1800s when the property served as an orchard. But thanks to a lovely collection of images taken last summer by photographer Richard Johnston, we can stroll around–and see why House & Garden dubbed Dillon “the undisputed queen of Irish gardening.” (See more of Johnston’s photos: @theirishflowerfarmer.)

Above: Before planting, Dillon enriched the soil, digging down to a depth of 18 inches to add a deep layer of nutrient-rich earth . Above: The walls of the sunny garden provide shelter from wind to climbing roses, including pink ‘Pierre de Ronsard’ (at L). Above: Tree ferns thrive in the mild weather (the micro climate is a few degrees warmer than Dillon’s previous garden).

Above: A large urn at the end of a walkway creates a visual destination. Bordering the gravel path are a mix of cottage garden favorites, including white foxgloves and purple alliums. Above: Purple drumstick alliums (Allium sphaerocephalon) bloom in clusters on either side of the path. See more growing tips in Alliums: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design. Above: A classic color combination: pink climbing roses and purple Nepeta. See more growing tips at Roses: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design. Above: Complementary colors orange and purple do an exuberant dance at the front of the flower border. Above: Dillon has two dachshunds, Ruby and Rosie. Above: Container plants, including silvery Senecio candicans ‘Angel Wings’, have as much presence and visual impact as sculpture. Above: A glasshouse provides an extra layer of protection for tender tropical plants. Above: The symmetry of two chairs flanking an urn imposes order on the colorfully chaotic flower borders.

See more ideas for designing a cottage garden in our curated guides to Garden Design 101. Read more:


March 2021

The room outside: how to create an outdoor haven for family and friends

This summer, our gardens look set to become our main places for entertainment, and will likely be the only way to relax with friends when restrictions are lifted.

Beauty of small things: compact gardens have their own charm, and need their own careful approach

Gardens do not need to be of football-field size to be beautiful. In fact, often, larger gardens are simply a series of smaller gardens joined together under a coherent approach. With a small garden, what becomes important is the functionality of your space — every inch matters.

Me and My Garden – Catherine FitzGerald: ‘I love pruning overgrown shrubs into lovely shapes’

Designer and gardener Catherine FitzGerald has landscaped the gardens at Glin Castle, her ancestral home, as well as Hillsborough Castle and St Olav’s Church.

Leonie Cornelius: How lockdown has given many of us the chance to find joy in our gardens

I think we can all agree that our green areas and gardens have become so much more important in how we experience our everyday now. In this moment, where we are all trying to find some kind of balance in global upheaval, the one thing I know for sure is that, whether we live in the countryside, a town or a sprawling city, this last year has put the importance of wild beauty in all of our lives into sharp focus.

Diarmuid Gavin: dashing dahlias will bring colour in summer and last until winter

If you’re like me, you may have a daily desperation concerning the weather. Could the wind, rain and cold please leave? Could I get to embrace growth in my plot, would there be a steady spell where I could savour my daffodils and crocus as they brighten the beds?

Diarmuid Gavin: How I got busy during a year in my own garden

Up until last March, I had a distant relationship with my garden. From Monday to Friday, I worked abroad, not arriving home until 11.30-ish on a Friday night. I’d wander into the garden, barefoot and bleary-eyed, first thing Saturday morning, the dogs yapping at my ankles.

Bee happy: How to make your garden a wildlife haven

Much of gardening is a war against nature so if you want to attract wildlife, the secret is to garden less. We’re told that moss is a problem (why? Because it’s not grass?) while shelf upon shelf of the garden centre is given over to chemicals designed to kill off pests and weeds (also known as wild plants and animals).

Spring gardening: Five tools every gardener should have

A gardener is only as good as his or her tools, but it can be easy to get carried away. To save yourself money and shed space, focus instead on getting the best-quality basics you can afford, and spend time on maintenance to keep them in good condition.

Me and My Garden: ‘Now is the perfect time to buy wildflower seed and start sowing’

For Patricia Butler, art and gardening are inextricably intertwined. Best known as an art historian, author of Irish Botanical Illustrators & Flower Painters (2000), she also owns the historic garden at Dower House, Rossanagh, Ashford, Co Wicklow, which opens from April (depending on restrictions) in aid of the Wicklow Hospice.

Budding gardeners: How to get the kids involved in your room outdoors

Getting kids into the garden is not only a great way to get them outdoors, but it also teaches them about biodiversity, wildlife and growing things. With spring upon us, there’s no better time for little hands to get muddy and start planting.

Insta inspo: Five great gardeners to follow

Diarmuid Gavin: What to do in your garden – and when


Diarmuid Gavin’s secrets to growing the juiciest tomatoes

Lycopersicon esculentum, better known as the tomato, arrived in these islands at the end of the 16th century — but was considered poisonous as it was a member of the deadly nightshade family, Solanaceae. This initial perception overlooked the fact that gardeners in southern Mexico had been cultivating tomatoes as a food crop from about 500BC and that the farmers of the Lower Andes had ensured they were part of the area’s staple diet since the 1500s. Closer to home, the Italians had fallen hard for this fruit by 1522.

February 2021

Let’s go outside… Diarmuid Gavin’s top tools and handy tips for spring gardening

After a bitterly cold snap, it was a pleasure to briefly see the sun, feel the rise in temperatures and enjoy the fact that spring is on the way. So whether you are working from home and need a little break from staring at the computer, or you haven’t been doing much gardening over the winter, it’s time to venture outdoors!

Hot hues: Diarmuid Gavin’s top plants for showstopping summer borders

It’s spring, and although our weather is offering a mixed bag — ranging from warm, sunny days to raging rain and deep chills accompanied by frost and snow — the days are getting longer and the temperatures will soon start to rise. As the soil gets warmer, and some of the excess moisture in the soil dries out, it will be planting time. Despite the fact that our explosion of early-2021 garden colour hasn’t begun yet, we need to think ahead.

Diarmuid Gavin: Why rambling roses are so blooming lovely

It’s St Valentine’s Day tomorrow and florists countrywide are busy creating festive bouquets. The classic romantic flower is the rose, an enduring symbol of love. Roses are also central to our vision of country-garden idylls, the heart of which is a cottage covered in roses.

Diarmuid Gavin’s rockery stars: the best alpine plants for cascading over natural stone walls, rocks or even pots

Rockeries are having a little moment, with a new generation of gardener now embracing the trend. Originally created as places for grand gardens and great estates to display alpines that had been sourced by intrepid explorers in places like the Alps, they soon became show-off features in manor houses such as Friar Park, which was later to become home to Beatles legend George Harrison. As with many of these grand garden features, it filtered down to become a staple of country and suburban houses, and our love affair with alpine gardening was cemented.

January 2021

Diarmuid Gavin’s guide to tackling your garden to-do list in lockdown

A couple of days of midwinter sunshine this week inspired a thorough examination of my garden. Now is a great time to take stock before spring arrives and growth explodes.

Diarmuid Gavin shares the secrets of super soil

Soil is a magical thing. As gardeners, we often underappreciate this amazing resource. There’s nothing particularly sexy about a handful of soil… however, what it contains, how it came to be and what it can sustain is absolutely incredible.

Diarmuid Gavin’s top tips for making a fresh start in 2021

Last year many of us renewed our relationship with our gardens, with lockdowns leading to new engagements with our outdoor spaces. So at the start of a new year, it’s logical that we may wish to re-evaluate what we have and begin to enhance or reinvent our plots. It’s a back-to-basics approach, examining what’s important to us and understanding the steps which need to be taken to create our ideal garden.

Diarmuid Gavin’s enchanted forest: the perfect trees to plant to add wonder to large and little gardens alike

One of my most enchanting discoveries over the festive season was an online celebration of the beauty and folklore of trees. Just before Christmas I’d heard Sarah McInerney on RTÉ’s Drivetime explore an event called Whose Woods These Are… a Leitrim-based, joyous celebration of trees in music, talks and films. It included an endeavour called Tree TV, a series of evening broadcasts with history talks, musical vignettes, short film premieres and visits to a few lovely tree lovers.

December 2020

Diarmuid Gavin’s expert guide to caring for festive greenery and blooms indoors

With the country gone gardening mad, many of us will have given or received plants as gifts. Or we may have grabbed anything which looked colourful from the shops but aren’t sure what they are or how to look after them. So here’s my guide to indoor seasonal greenery and blossoms over the festive period.

Diarmuid Gavin: Deck the halls with festive flowers and foliage

This year more than ever, we may need to inject some sparkle into our lives. As we get ready for a different Christmas, and with the absence of hugs, I suspect some of us may go that further mile with our decorations. To help you along, I’ve compiled a list of ideas to brighten up your home… both indoors and outdoors!

Diarmuid Gavin: How to make the perfect cut

Our final practical gardening topic of 2020 concerns propagation and, in particular, creating new plants through hardwood cuttings. Shrubs, climbing plants and roses make up a large proportion of our garden plants and quite often we fail to realise how many of these can be propagated easily, cheaply and cleanly during the dormant season.

November 2020

Diarmuid Gavin’s great gift ideas for gardeners

A few Fridays back I had the privilege of representing the gardening and outdoor living sectors on a special edition of RTÉ’s Late Late Show. The episode was dedicated to small businesses who had adapted their way of trading through this challenging year in innovative and creative ways.

Diarmuid Gavin: plant those tulip bulbs today to switch on a bright and colourful light in spring

Once the summer flowers fade we begin to think about and then worry about our spring garden display. Isn’t it funny. we have bulbs on our minds but sometimes don’t quite make it to the garden centre to pick them out. Or if we do, we sometimes leave them in the shed or garage and forget to plant them.

Diarmuid Gavin: Bare-root planting

Before the advent of containerisation (where plants are grown by nurseries in the black plastic pots which are so omnipresent today) they were often grown in rows in fields and the best season to purchase and plant them was the dormant one — that is between now and the end of March, in effect when the plants go to sleep for winter. The past 40 years has seen much of our garden plants grown in hard plastic pots which allow them to be planted virtually all year round.

Give your winter garden the colour treatment

A little colour goes a long way in winter and even one or two pots are worthwhile. Pots close to the house are very effective, especially near a front door, or an entrance, or on a paved area.

October 2020

Tulips make for a blooming marvellous spring

In early October, I bought 30 tulip bulbs to change the way that the garden will look next April. I planted them in four groups, three of eight bulbs and one of six, and I planted them near the front of two borders where they will play off each other when they flower in spring. The bulbs are spaced different distances apart, and so are the clumps of bulbs. They were great value at 10 for €3, making for a good investment in spring, at a total of €9 and about 20 minutes to plant them all.

Diarmuid Gavin: Plant spring bulbs indoors now for chic Christmas centrepieces

Garden centres and nurseries are packed with spring bulbs at the moment - most of them looking forward to being popped in the ground so they'll produce a super display in the early months of next year. But in these darkening days of 2020, there's a more instant project you can undertake to grow some bulbs indoors.

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