Article reproduced from Ireland's Homes, Interiors & Living
June 2000 - Article by John Cushnie (BBC Radio 4's Gardeners'
Question Time) - Original photographs By Ashley Morrison.
had arranged to meet Adrian at his home in Belfast at 2.30
pm. I was a little early and thought that I had got the wrong
address because the front garden is covered by a hard surface
for car parking. There is no side garden but the surprise
of the back garden was pure quality and It more than makes
up for any lack of space.
Adrian took over the house about five years ago and describes
the rear garden as a sloping grass area with a centre path
and a large pear tree growing in a heavy clay soil. The pear
tree remains - but only because it provides some shade- not
for the fruit that, while plentiful, ripens and rots in a
few days. There is a rumour, spread by Adrian, that the framework
of the pear tree is going to be used as a support for a climbing
There are still parts of the original grass under the tree.
It is only about ten feet by seven feet and the quality of
the turf is poor, but it is laced with snowdrops and fritillaries.
The whole garden is only about twelve yards by seven yards
and well screened with a timber fence (painted moss green)
and privet hedges.
Growing space is at a premium so pots are used for a whole
range of plants such as pinks, hostas, lilies and grasses.
There is even a pot of Bishop of Llandaff dahlias with their
deep bronze red foliage. Some of the herbaceous plants and
lilies are obviously tall and benefiting from support. This
support is effective and simple and made by Adrian from metal
coat hangers bent into shape and looped together. They get
brownie points for not rusting.
The paving slab path steps down to the lower part of the garden
and is overhung by plants of every hue, shape and size. It
passes an eight foot circle of cobbles and I mean the old
square setts lifted from Belfast streets, purchased by Adrian
from a salvage yard and laid by himself. There are eight clay
pots painted a bright blue and planted with box plants.
association of plants is evident, with ladies mantle
underplanting the smoke tree (cotinus) and the rich
crimson foliage softened by the grey green leaves and
sulphur yellow of the alchemilla.
At the end of the path, there is a superb specimen of
purple-leaved Acer palmatum Dissectum Atropurpureum with
Cosmos atrosanguineus (smelling of chocolate with deep
crimson red flowers), closely separated by Sedum spectabile
with its pale matt green foliage.
is a buddleia, but Adrian had the sense to plant the
variety Nanho Blue which is a compact growing variety
with pale blue flowers. A recently planted clematis
Duchess of Edinburgh is scampering along the timber
fence, its large double white flowers sitting well out
from the foliage. Ligularia stenocephala The Rocket,
flowering at six feet, towers over the patio with its
black stems and black yellow racemes of flower. The
leaves are deeply cut.
Half-way down the garden I did a silly thing. I asked
Adrian to name his favourite plant. There are three
and they are families rather than varieties. Hardy geraniums
come first with varieties like Kashmir White and a beautiful
specimen of Geranium maderense with its enormous panicles
of magenta flowers. Penstemmon are another favourite
group, especially the ever-changing blue of Catherine
de la Mare. Then there are the verbascums. V. chaixii
Album has white flowers with mauve centres; V. Helen
Johnson with its rusty brown flowers is a recent addition
but, like me, Adrian is a bit disappointed with its
At the bottom of the garden there is the best example
of Populus candicans Aurora, the variegated poplar,
that you could wish for. It is pruned hard every year
to build up a mass of young growths that produce the
brilliantly coloured leaves and allows the height of
the plant to be curtailed.
I am not into ornamental grasses but two stipa caught
my eye. Stipa gigantea was making great effort with
its six foot high oat-like panicles and S. tenuissima
was like a low floating cloud with feathery buff-coloured
panicles moving in the slightest breeze.
Right at the bottom of the garden there is a small sitting
area complete with a table. It is secluded and very
shaded and is defined by ferns, slug food (hostas) and
hellebores. I suppose it could be called the quiet corner.
By now the typical shower had become a downpour, so
I had a quick look at the home-made compost that seemed
fine and headed for the verandah.
We finished with a quick fire round of questions. Favourite
rose? - Graham Thomas, a scented double yellow shrub
rose. A plant grown for its scent? - Lavender, especially
English Lavendula. A bulb you enjoy growing? - Alliums,
any of them. A plant that you would like to buy? - Verbascum
Olympicum which is one of the biggest of the mulleins
with white woolly leaves and a clear yellow flowers.
The plant you would least want? - Golden Leyland Cypress,
and I must admit that what ever the garden is, it is
not a garden for a 'Leylandii'.
I drove away my final thought was that small can be
and enjoyable, as well as beautiful.