Archive for ‘Container gardening’

July 4, 2016

Fine foliage

by Ciaran Burke

Foliage adds interest often otlasting the comaparable fleeting presence of flowers

As the blooms open and fade, early summer blooms give way to the later summer show. While the often fleeting beauty of blooms enthrall us, foliage can command our attention over the seasons. New growths of Pieris japonica burn bright and cool to smoldering bronze before the green calm of green returns for winter.

Pieris japonica seedling

In our collection of pots, this Pieris japonica combines with other foliage plants to provide a foliar screen of an oil tank and together their colors and shapes mingle to create a leafy composition of beauty through the spring, summer, autumn and in some cases winter too.

Cornus alternifolia ‘Variegata’

The silver variegated foliage of Cornus alternifolia ‘Variegata’ creates a soft fuzzed backdrop, it’s potis placed on a garden table to elevate it so that it distracts the eye from an ugly oil tank. A beautiful large growing shrub will take time to achieve its full height of 4-5 meters.

Salix magnifica

I love the big leaves of Salix magnifica, it is so unlike most willows. The bluish green leaves can be as big as rhododendron or magnolia foliage. It’s new growth is reddish tinged. It is a vigorous plant that can grow into a fair sized tree. Like other willows it responds well to hard pruning, so we should be able to keep its size manageable.

Pyrus communis seedling

The pear seedling is one of two, this one is the less vigorous of the pair of pears, both have attractive copper new growths and shiny leaves. We await the first flowers, but that may still take a number of years. 

June 20, 2016

Under planting in pots

by Ciaran Burke

The space beneath trees and shrubs trained as standards offers the opportunity for gardeners to add an extra layer of colour and interest. In our collection of pots that form our garden, I look upon these spaces with great interest, an opportunity not just to squeeze in more plants, but to select plants that will complement the primary ten want of the container.

Recently I brought home from my work a Fuchsia magellanica that I had trained into a standard. After planting it in a terracotta pot and carefully placing it, the bare compost that was the plants new home demanded my attention and I had to find a few more plants to fill around the bare base of the newly planted shrub. While at Johnstown Garden Centre in Naas I picked up the very attractive Dianthus ‘Fire Star’; nicely fragrant and the deep red flowers were a perfect compliment to the red sepals of the fuchsia flowers. A small potful of  Sedum oreganum joined it, the reddish tinge of its foliage the reason for its selection and then an unnamed Pelargognium, a trailing variety with dark red flowers. Now the picture was complete.

In another a pot a combination from a couple of years ago continues to entertain;nth rough the dense foliage of a Liquidambar orientale a cheerful Potentilla scrambles without a care while the ever curious and intrepid stems of Parahebe perfoliata wander to explore every empty centimeter of the compost. The beautiful blue flowers dangle freely from the foliage of its larger pot cohabitant.

Even in the smallest of our pots there can be a chance to combine. On a table is plant of Tsuga canadensis ‘Minuta’, it grows in th lid from a terracotta roasting dish into which I drilled drainage holes. Covering the compost is a miniature lawn of Sagina subulata that gets studded with tiny and dainty white flowers in summer.

Under planting also provides benefits such as reducing weed growth and can actually reduce water loss from the compost by evaporation, the plants act as a mulch. Gardeners often need to find a place for just one more plant, have a look at your pots, there maybe plenty of space waiting to be filled.

June 12, 2016

Getting high in a small garden

by Ciaran Burke

Lonicera nitida “bagessen’s Gold’

I love trees, and the feeling of being surrounded by plants with their cooling foliage is one that stirs something deep within. A gentle stirring, that emulsifies thoughts and emotions into a delicious sweet custard, of serenity and calm.

In a small garden, or in our case, a 20square meter piece of hardcore gravel led farm yard, the possibility of planting out arboreal retreat does not exist. One great gardener paraphrased from another; even the smallest garden should have an arboretum! So drawing in the wisdom of others when we started potting our plot, some trees were included. A couple of trees in large pots and dappled shade and leafy embrace.

To add the extra height to our collection that surrounds our IKEA wooden slab decks, we have trained a number of shrubs as standards. This involves removing the side shoots from the main stem that is initially trained to grow straight on a bamboo cane. When the main unbranded stem has reached the desired height a head of 4 – 6 branches is allowed to develop and the leading shoot pruned.

The result is a clear stem and a crown of branches, a shrub that looks like a tree!


One of the first was a Gooseberry seedling, from seeds collected in my mother in-law’s garden in Finland, it produces the sweetest fruits, we have named it ‘Pirkko’

Lonicera nitida ‘Bagessen’s Gold’ with its bad hair day growth habit is left more or less unpruned, to impose a tidy haircut onto this free spirited shrub would be a crime. It stands sturdy and proud with a dense carpet of wild strawberries at its base.


Gooseberry ‘Pirkko’

The red stems of dogwood, Cornus alba are a common sight along motorways and in large landscape planting schemes. Although willow trees are often trained as standards and managed by pollarding, I have never seen C. alba used in such a manner. Not until I trained one myself, now I can enjoy the red shoots in winter and the white blossoms in May.


Cornus alba flowering

Then came Aaronia melanocarpa, inspired by a planting in a Finnish nursery where I was impressed by the drooping clusters of large edible black fruits in Autumn. The foliage will turn to hot orange and red before falling and the dainty clusters of white flowers are a joy in May.


Aronia melanocarpa

Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diable D’Or’ is a deciduous shrub that has dark foliage tinged with soft Amber tones in new growth. Trained as a standard it add depth and height to our plant composition.


Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Daible D’Or’

The latest additions are Fuchsia magellanica and Forsythia suspends. Fuchsia magellanica, is the hardy fuchsia seen in Irish hedgerows. Standard Fuchsias for sale in garden centers are usually the tender cultivars with bigger cloudier blooms than F. magellanica. I think that the simplicity of the species sits better with our collection and should survive cold Kildare winters.


Forsythia suspensa is a handy shrub with a lax growth habit of drooping stems that are covered in pale yellow flowers in Spring before the leaves emerge. I thought that it would make a fine weeping tree if given the standard training treatment. It had been growing in a poky theme tunnel over the last few years and is now sturdy enough to be planted out, the crown of weeping stems is starting to thicken.


Forsythia suspensa

In a more confined space standard trained shrubs give the height and structure that a tree lends to a bigger garden. Around the base there is opportunity to plant herbaceous plants or bedding. I love the process involved in taking a young plant and training it. Plans are to try Piptanthus nepalensis and my standard Chaenomeles is coming on well. Standards are the perfect way to get high in a small garden.



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.

December 3, 2015

Even when it rains…

by Ciaran Burke

The weather may be horrible, a wet and gloomy morning. The day ahead can seem impossibly dreary and it is hard to face the drive to work. That’s how it felt today…

As I descended the steps from the apartment rain drops gently shaking the feathery foliage of Mahonia eutybracteata ‘Soft Caress’ gently called my attention. A moment of admiration in the rain, led to moments more, a little time to reflect and appreciate.

The power of nature, witnessed through the beauty of plant life, made the day seem better. Not having a garden, we grow our plants in pots and other containers. We pass them by each day; they helps us to connect with the world and seasons, cheering up each day.

The flower buds of Viburnum tinus ‘Lisa Rose’, the few leaves of Liquidambar orientale paled yellow before the winter sleep, the humble nodding petals of Helleborus ‘Winter Bells’, and the cheeky faces of Viola in the vertical planters. They made my morning seem brighter, even in the rain.






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