Playing with colour and texture

Outdoor Living

Blueberry flowers, bumblebee favourites. Pic: Stewart Boles

The philosophies that help guide planting in one Westport garden

In the garden
Stewart Boles

Tulips in full pomp of garish of colour, soon to be replaced in my garden by the subtler alliums. My tulips colour combinations don’t quite work for me, but from the alliums on is a joy. Onwards into summer and the ever-changing herbaceous palette. Preparation for this completed during autumn and throughout the winter.
My veg garden was started in January/February in the polytunnel to avoid frost and give them a running start with Mayo’s short growing season. Presently the major job is to control weeds, so they don’t swamp the vegetables and flowers later in the season. This can be relaxed as your plants establish themselves as a timid nod to the rewilding philosophy.
It’s a good time to get planning for the garden. Plants have become noticeably more expensive, and the losses that come with dry spells can be mostly avoided with some attention to autumn planting, though different plants do have personalised requirements.
Planning helps the creativity, ordering colour and texture. There are other components to consider when planning, such as wildlife, scent, crops and structure. Gardening is personal expression; as my son Donncha put it, he prefers the trees in winter for the structural weave of their bare tree branches.
While the tulip is a blast of colour after our long winter, what brings me delight at this time of year is the beautiful blueberry flower, or the pear flowers – purity in white. One of my favourites is the bluebells lining the shade of my driveway. The evening light as the sun rides low, hits them and they irradiate in ephemeral brilliance.
Maybe that’s where a ‘proper gardener’ starts in the planning of their garden ... with colour? Take a blue print in colour; Yves Saint Laurent garden in Marrakesh built in 1923. I love this garden, as its success is its boldness and simplicity. In the bright light of the Moroccan sun it uses a backdrop of cobalt-coloured buildings to highlight natural textures and shapes, complement and contrast. The towering cactus against a canvas in blue. My garden got inspiration here, but lost its way to a Mary Mother of the Perpetual shade (Our Lady’s blue).
Come high summer, my veg garden is a riot in chlorophyll green. Presently, I am trying to use this landscape backdrop to introduce contrasts of colour and textures of interest. Two myrtle have been added here; fragrant white flowers, and I like the texture of its pealing bark. Scent is a theme throughout my garden, coming into its own during those beautiful warm still days of last summer, the garden’s perfume drifting into the bedrooms at night.
Close to home is Marty’s woodland garden, Speckled Meadow, near Brackloon woods. Through the use of euphorbias, mosses and other delights, a magical groove in green flows. I have not asked Marty if this is the result of planning, luck or just talent. Planning helps, but where is the surprise in that? When planting doesn’t work, the key is to just move and adjust. My white tulips start yellow. I struggle with ‘yellow’, but then they turn a wonderous ivory white – and without the Pachyderm poach. No elephants harmed!
In planting for protective structure, I chose native trees. After the fact, I considered and planted for autumn colour. Trees like beech give a roar in colour before the drop. Last autumn I removed a small ash to make room for a Liquidamber Styraciflua (sweetgum). Not visible before cutting, the inside of the ash was over 50 percent degraded by Hymenoscyphus fraxineus, the fungus that causes ash dieback. To my mind a high degree of native planting to enhance wildlife and the environment is a ‘no-brainer’. However, even such aims are not without flux and complexity. Trees that were once ubiquitous are going to become rare.
Beech trees give beautiful autumn colour but lack the buzz of insect life. An answer is to plant both. Think native, think colour. I see variety as the answer. That’s why the blueberry shrubs wins for me. Presently, the bumblebees are pollinating their flowers, then, post berry fest, they produce the most wonderful autumn colour. Win win!

Stewart Boles owns and runs Kilcasey Tree Services in Westport. He is also a member of the Clew Bay Garden Trail, a chain of beautiful and unique private gardens that open to the public during summer to raise funds for charity (see for more). Each month an article by a trail member will appear in these pages.