Dermot O'Neill purchased Clondeglass just over 10 years ago. It originally was the walled garden that belonged to the Pimm family - a well-known Quaker family in Co Laois. He purchased the old walled garden and an acre of land. The walled garden was built in approximately 1822, and was built from local sandstone from the Slieve Bloom mountains. Built into the walls is a small gardeners cottage which was in poor condition and Dermot set about restoring it.
Walled gardens were very much a part of large estates throughout the country in the 18th and 19th centuries. Their purpose was to provide produce for the families that lived in the big house. The walls provided shelter and protection for plants, stopping deer and rabbits from raiding crops. These walled gardens were intensively cultivated with rigorous work being carried out on improving the soil. Often, there was a team of gardeners employed to work to provide the produce.
Traditionally, walled gardens were built on a south-facing slope to take full advantage of sun, which allowed the soil to warm early in the season for planting. Also, the north-facing wall of the walled garden was usually planted with trees to act as a wind break, helping to protect the garden from wind coming from the north. One of the advantages of owning a walled garden was that gardeners could take full advantage of the microclimate created by the walls. Clondeglass has these features, and also the additional of having the corners curved to take full advantage of the rising and setting sun. It was well cultivated by the Pimm family and, for many years before Dermot arrived, one section was used for the growing of fruit trees. When he arrived, there were a few stumps of old apple trees that had long since died.
One of Dermot's earliest memories of a walled garden was visiting Johnstown Castle's walled garden in Co Wexford with his grandmother. This is still open to the public today:
Dermot's priority was to clear out weeds and to lay out the paths in a sympathetic design to fit in with the old walled garden. A priority was to reinstate drainage to assist the planting plans that he had for the garden as the soil was heavy, very wet and sticky. This involved using diggers and employing help as it was a big undertaking, but essential for the future development of the garden.
Once drainage was organised, hardcore was put in on top to give a sound base for the paths. Dermot used local stone providers Kinsella Stone (www.wesellstone.com), based in Roscommon. Then he set about the important task of improving the soil quality. All gardening starts with the soil, and this is one of the essential jobs that anyone starting a garden should pay attention to. A little money spent on the soil will pay dividends, and Dermot used this philosophy in the creation of the garden at Clondeglass.
"My first priority was to get organic matter into the soil, especially where I was going to be growing demanding plants like roses. I used the valuable advice of neighbour Peter Dobbin, who remembered the garden from when he was a boy growing up on the estate.
Plants named in the programme
Pink Fir Apple Potatoes
One of the keys to successful gardening is looking after your soil. Old gardeners always believed that money spent on the soil was money very well spent. A pound on the soil and a shilling on the plant was the philosophy that was often used. The key is to make sure that your garden soil is well drained. If you're having difficulties with drainage, it's a good idea to have an expert come in for advice. Poorly drained soil leads to lots of different disease problems that will affect a wide range of plants you may try to grow.
Also, adding organic matter like well-rotted farmyard manure or homemade garden compost can make an enormous difference to the soil quality and condition of your plants, especially if you're planting vegetables or fruit. Make sure the soil is well dug and plenty of organic matter is worked into the soil before planting. Do not underestimate the importance of soil preparation in advance of any planting, whether it be bulbs, vegetables or fruit. All plants require careful attention paid to the soil which they are going to grow in, especially if you're considering planting a tree, which will be in situ for years to come. The little work you do at the beginning will pay and the tree will quickly establish and live a long, healthy life.
This year, Dermot has reduced the number of varieties of potatoes that he's growing to three that he has already tried and tested. He's growing them for excellent flavour. Dermot's especially happy to grow Sarpo Mira as it is blight resistant and works superbly under the organic conditions he uses in the walled garden. He sources seed potatoes from Mr Middleton Garden Shop (www.mrmiddleton.com), which are certified.
Mulch roses and make sure that they are all pruned by the end of the month.
Lawns can be cut and lawn feed can be applied. A spreader is ideal for a large area.
Check that trellis other plant supports are secure.
There's still time to divide perennials.
Tender plants may need some protection. Use fleece, particularly if there are cold nights forecast.
These can be watered more regularly and you can now start to use a weak liquid feed on established plants.