Creating a show garden for a festival like Bloom is a strange process. The garden, which would normally take years to grow into the shape required of it, has to be put together in a matter of days. Hard landscaping in the shape of paths, walls and buildings, must be assembled or built in hours. Borders have to be planted up in flash and yet look like they have been in situ and growing for months if not years. Lawns, if there are lawns, have to be rolled out in an instant and made to look mature and permanent. Trees have to be levered into place. Water features with or without electric pumps and mechanical works have to be assembled. It is a fraught business, particularly as it all has to be done to a madly tight schedule. Normally the only way the job can be achieved is for a large team of technical wizards and sundry assistants to work around the clock.
It would not be generally thought that one person trying to create a show garden single-handed was wise. Deirdre Pender, landscape designer from Palatine in Carlow, obviously has other ideas.
Almost single handedly, she designed and built her garden and submitted it to the competition in Bloom two weeks ago. She was not completely alone. She did have some help from her family. There was help too in the complicated building of a beautiful, sunken circular stone wall and paved area that forms the centrepiece of the garden. Professionals also made the steel water channels that send water around the space.
But in the concept, design, laying out and general construction of the garden it was Deirdre who did the work. She grew almost all the plants in the garden herself. She also cut the willows and wove them into willow fences and erected these around the garden. She planted it up almost single-handed and by the time I met her on the first morning of the open show, she could hardly speak she was so tired. I don’t believe she can have slept for about thirty hours and she would probably gladly have lain down among the foliage for a long nap given the chance. But there were people everywhere, looking at and admiring the garden, asking questions about it and making comments about the planting scheme. They had to be chatted with so she stayed awake and did the chat too.
This was such a popular garden with the public. I think that was because the overall feelings that this garden conveyed were those of serenity, peace and tranquillity. In her literature, she stated that aim of the garden was to “provide a source of quiet contemplation and refuge from busy, everyday living.” That aim was certainly achieved because even in the scrum of people and the noise of the festival, it felt like a truly peaceful place, a bit of the countryside dropped into the middle of the show. This was a remarkable garden and it did feel as though it had been here, growing for a long time, right down to the little tufts of moss around the metal lined pond in the middle of the gorgeous limestone paved area.
Deirdre Pender trained in environmental studies before she moved into landscaping and her feel for the Irish landscape is very much in evidence in her design. She uses a number of natives like hazels, foxgloves and ferns to make the garden feel native and natural. The overall palette is one of greens. There are not many flowers included. But the mix of different leaf shapes and textures are what give the garden its beauty. The rain was falling lightly when I visited it and the soft misty downpour only made the place look more beautiful. Wet weather suits Irish gardens. And when we feel that sometimes our gardens lack a bit of colour, it might be a good idea to stand back and look again and perhaps realise that green in its many shades, used with thought, can often be more than enough to make a spectacle. Deirdre Pender seems to understand that understatement is a great weapon used in the right way.
Merging her designs with ideas on sustainability and environmental responsibility, her gardens are made to contribute to the environment rather than take from it. Native plants and local materials make more sense on every level from providing for wildlife to providing for local jobs.
By now the garden has been dismantled and broken down into piles of stone, individual plants and some drawings on paper. But this was a most beautiful garden. It won a well deserved silver medal in the medium garden category. In a perfect world someone would have Deirdre recreate it in their garden where it will transform a space the size of a small town garden into a magical, plant filled, natural-style wild garden. She can be contacted at www.talamhlandscapes.com