A is for annual membership of one of Ireland’s world class great gardens open to the public. Examples include Blarney Castle in Co Cork (12-month adult pass, €100, blarneycastle.ie); Mount Usher in Co Wicklow (€40, mountushergardens.ie); Killruddery in Co Wicklow; (killruddery.com from €60-€100); and Mount Congreve in Co Waterford (from €70, mountcongreve.com).
B is for botanical art workshops hosted by Irish artist Mary Dillon, whose exquisite watercolour of a parrot tulip features on the cover of the art historian Patricia Butler’s latest book (see last week’s column). To be held in locations in Spain, France, Greece and South Africa throughout 2024, they promise to be a wonderful combination of learning and relaxation. See marydillonbotanicalart.com for details
C is for candles, especially the garden-scented kind. I love the description of Galway-based Cloon Keen’s handmade “Gooseberry Leaf Candle”, where “ripe gooseberry currants are enhanced with crisp citrus oils and a hint of hedgerow fruits” (€45, cloonkeen.com), as well as Dublin-based Clean Slate’s equally delicious, environmentally-friendly offerings, a range that includes signature scents such as Lavender + Eucalyptus, Tomato + Vetiver, Oak + Green Leaves, and (this one I love in particular) Petrichor, described as a “strong, earthy aroma featuring plump green tomatoes, layered with the leathery balsamic base of vetiver in damp soil”. Yum. (cleanslate.ie)
D is for design, something which transforms the way we interact with our gardens and is a topic always at the heart of the Garden & Landscape Designer Association’s (GLDA) annual seminar. Hosted by Stephanie Mahon, the Irish garden writer and editor of Gardens Illustrated, 2024′s event Space to Grow takes place on Saturday, February 24th, with a stellar line-up of expert guest speakers from New Zealand, the Netherlands and the UK, including Jo Wakelin, Giacomo Guzzon, Ton Muller, Stefana Marinaz, John Little and Mark Gregory. Tickets from €60-€140, see glda.ie
E is for the eternal city of Rome, where next spring the Wexford-based professional gardener Iain McDonald will be escorting guests of the Travel Department on a guided tour of some of its most famous gardens, including the historical Vatican Gardens, the Gardens of Ninfa, Giardini della Landriana, Villa Lante and the Unesco World Heritage Site of Villa d’Este. Gardens aside, the three-day tour also takes in some of Rome’s most famous sights, including the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon, and the Borghese Gallery (traveldepartment.ie, from €1679).
F is for Fruithill Farm in Co Cork, the online supplier specialising in a wide variety of gardening tools and propagating equipment from grow lights, electric propagators and soil heating cables to Klassman’s range of peat-free composts (fruithillfarm.com)
G is for galanthophiles, or snowdrop lovers, who’ll relish a ticket to the 2024 Snowdrop Gala at Ballykealey House in Ballon, Co Carlow, organised by professional horticulturists Robert Miller and Hester Forde. Taking place on January 27th, next year’s one-day event includes talks by guest speakers Steve Edney of No Name Nursery in the UK and Michael Dreisvogt of Bonn’s Park Harle Arboretum in Germany, plus plant stalls from a hand-chosen selection of specialist nurseries. Tickets from €110 (early bird, book before January 13th, see altamontplants.digitickets.co.uk or email email@example.com).
H is for horticulture, something that the Royal Horticultural Society of Ireland has supported in this country since its foundation in 1816. A gift of annual membership entitles the recipient to enjoy an impressively varied range of talks, tours and lectures by garden experts, entry to many of Ireland’s finest gardens plus a copy of the society’s journal, from €60, see rhsi.ie
I is for indoor plants, a wonderful way to garden no matter what the season. From stalwarts such as the rubber, spider and monster plant to curiosities such as the ZZ plant, there’s something to suit every kind of room. Recommended stockists include Dublin-based Urban Plant Life (plantlife.ie); Dublin-based Hopeless Botanics (hopelessbotanics.ie); Cork-based Verd (verd.ie), and all good garden centres.
J is for Juglans cathayensis or the Chinese walnut, one of the many botanical rarities you’ll find at Rare Plants Ireland, Finlay Colley’s little gem of a specialist nursery which is located in the walled garden of Corkagh Mill House off Dublin’s Green Isle road, a favourite haunt of many discerning Irish gardeners (rareplantsireland.ie).
K is for west Cork-based Kilcoe Studio, whose beautifully illustrated, garden-inspired calendar is always a joy. The theme of its 2024 calendar is native Irish butterflies and their food (€16 plus p&p, kilcoestudio.com). Wicklow-based Irish botanical artist Yanny Petters is also known for her exquisitely illustrated calendars, with her 2024 offering featuring a range of beautiful watercolours executed by the artist over the last couple of years (€20 plus p&p, yannypetters.net).
L is for learning, something that all great gardeners continue to do throughout their life. Consider the gift of a course from one of Ireland’s gardening experts such as Wicklow-based gardener Jimi Blake of Hunting Brook Gardens near Blessington (huntingbrookgardens.com); Kilkenny-based Des Doyle of Lavistown House (lavistown.ie); Wicklow-based TJ Maher of Patthana Gardens in Kiltegan (patthanagardenireland.com); and Laois-based Tanguy de Toulgoet of Dunmore Country School (dunmorecountryschool.ie)
M is for magazines and in particular The Irish Garden, Ireland’s only home-produced dedicated gardening magazine. Established by the broadcaster and writer Gerry Daly, and now edited by Laois-based gardener and nursery-owner Mary Keenan of Gash Gardens, it’s the place where you’ll find expert advice from a wide range of professional Irish growers and gardeners, who generously share their knowledge and experience. An annual subscription (seven issues a year) costs €40, see subscribe.garden.ie
N is for Niwaki’s set of 4 small “kenzan” or metal flower frogs. Perfect for making Ikebana-style arrangements of single stems, they’re also an elegant and environmentally-friendly alternative to oasis. (€20, howbertandmays.ie)
O is for OpenHive, the Dublin beekeeping company and community that promotes an environmentally-sustainable approach to beekeeping, including conservation and breeding of the native Irish black honeybee. For 2024 OpenHive is partnering up with award-winning Windyridge Nurseries in Dún Laoghaire, where it will be running a series of half-day hands-on weekend workshops. “An Introduction to Beekeeping” will include a visit to its nearby apiaries (€85, openhive.ie). O is also for the handsome, hardworking “overalls” or garden smock designed by Dublin-based Abito. Fashioned from hard-wearing cotton twill or denim, and with a hoop for keys and oodles of reinforced pockets for tools, labels and seed packets, it’s both good-looking and functional (€240, abitolive.com)
P is for polytunnel, a very welcome escape from our rainy Irish climate. Sligo-based Quickcrop now offer a really affordable range sourced from the UK’s First Tunnels, long-time experts in the field (quickcrop.ie).
Q is for Quercus robur, the Latin name for the sessile oak. It’s just one of Ireland’s native tree species whose cultivation is supported by Trees on the Land, a charity and not-for-profit, cross-Border project run by the Green Economy Foundation working in collaboration with the Woodland Trust in Northern Ireland, to leave a living legacy of native Irish tree cover and woodland across Ireland’s 32 counties. To make a donation in honour of the tree-lover in your life, see treesontheland.com
R is for Root Slayer. Designed by professional horticulturist Bruce Baker as the ultimate digging tool and raved about by gardeners, this award winning spade features a V-shaped powder-coated carbon steel cutting tip to easily slice through roots and soil, plus an ergonomically-designed moulded handle, exclusively available from Dublin-based Mr Middleton (mrmiddleton.com, €68.99)
S is for Sakagen’s nifty little flower shears, made from ergonomic resin moulded handles and fluorine coated blades. Small enough to fit easily in your pocket, it’s a stylish and gorgeous lightweight snippers that’s perfect for harvesting flowers and deadheading (shopthegarden.ie. €59.00)
T is for tree ferns, which grow in abundance in the wonderful sub-tropical gardens of Kells Bay in Co Kerry, where owner, nurseryman and RHS Chelsea gold medal-winner Billy Alexander also runs a nursery specialising in all kinds of ferns and other rare and unusual exotics. To fully savour the visitor experience give the gift of a minibreak in Kells Bay House, which offers spectacular views out over both the gardens and the tranquil waters of Kells bay (kellsgardens.ie)
U is for unknown, the status of many heritage varieties of Irish garden plants currently at risk of being forever lost to cultivation. Help support their conservation with the gift of annual membership of the Irish Garden Plant Society (one year adult membership €30, irishgardenplantsociety.com)
V is for vase. Galway-based creatives Superfolk have designed a pared-back beauty, exclusively made for them by Fermoyle Pottery (€98, superfolk.com). V is also for Vegetables. West Cork-based organic vegetable seed producer Brown Envelope Seeds always has a winning selection of Christmas gift boxes and this year’s cracker is its Twelve Months of Gardening box (€55), which contains 12 packets of seeds for home-grown, delicious crops throughout the year (brownenvelopeseeds.com).
W is for weeds. For gardeners who steer clear of environmentally harmful chemical weedkillers but are searching for a nature-friendly yet less labour-intensive way to keep patios and paved areas free of overgrowth, Garden Gear’s electric weed sweeper is designed to put an end to back-breaking stooping and bending (€99, mrmiddleton.com)
X is for xanthic, meaning “relating to, or tending toward the colour yellow”, whose return to horticultural fashion has been forecast for a while. From the deep golden flowers of Rosa banksia ‘Lutea’ to the primrose yellow spring flowers of Corylopsis pauciflora and the dainty lemon bells of Clematis tangutica, there’s lots of ways to give a little botanical sunshine to the gardener in your life.
Y is for yuck, the feeling we gardeners get when we discover our boots aren’t properly waterproof. The solution is a nifty pair of properly waterproof ankle boots from Rouchette (€44.95, whitesagri.ie)
Z is for Zuiver, the Dutch design house for whom Studio APE designed the new Vondel range of contemporary garden furniture. Available in three colours (black, green and clay), and made from powder-coated aluminium, it’s both beautiful and resilient (aprilandthebear.com)
Dates for your diary
Saturday 9th-Sunday 10th December (10am-4pm), Sustainable Christmas Market at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin 9, with over 70 stalls featuring an array of sustainable gift ideas; also at the National Botanic Gardens on December 14th (7pm-9pm) Flower Arranging: Christmas Florals from the Winter Garden, a practical demonstration by the horticulturist and florist Aiva Veinberga, see botanicgardens.ie for booking details
Monday, December 18th, Ballymaloe Cooking School, Middleton, Co Cork, a one-day, hands-on sustainable Christmas wreath and table centrepiece-making workshop with garden writer and flower-farmer-florist Fionnuala Fallon, see ballymaloecookeryschool.ie for booking details