RTÉ One, Thursday, 7.00pm
Dermot's Secret Garden

Episode 2


Once Dermot had organised drainage and improved the quality of the soil, his next priority was to concentrate on the layout of the garden. Dermot was anxious that the layout was in keeping with how the garden was originally laid out, with intersecting paths. It was very important to keep the integrity of the garden design. A large, wide path ran the entire length of the garden with a cross-path midway, intersecting it. Over this intersection, an archway was positioned and planted with wisteria, an old-fashioned French rambling rose called 'Bleu Magenta' and a Clematis vitcella variety called 'Betty Corning'.

Another important part of the layout was to position box hedging to add structure to the garden on the edges of beds. This was done along paths and around two oval beds. Rachel Doyle of Arboretum Lifestyle & Garden Centre (www.arboretum.ie) gave help with the planting of these oval beds, positioned at the start of the main garden path.

Box hedging should be planted approximately 6 inches apart for small plants. The soil should be well prepared and dug with organic matter incorporated in advance of the planting. Once the plants are in position, it's important that they are kept watered during dry weather while they are establishing.

Box hedging works superbly when used at the edge of important flower beds. It helps to frame the beds and borders, giving structure in the same way framing a painting can lift the painting and enhance it. Box hedging does this in a garden. Once established, box hedging should be lightly trimmed once a year in early summer.

Dermot decided to include a wooden garden pavilion against the east-facing wall, at one end of the cross path. He asked carpenter Gavin Duff to construct a traditional design he had seen in an Italian garden - a simple wooden structure with a slate roof. Buildings such as this help to give an extra focal point in the garden and also more opportunities to grow special climbing plants.


While he was still recovering from his chemotherapy, Dermot went with his father, Peter O'Neill, to visit the Irish Seed Savers Association in Capparoe, Scarriff, Co. Clare www.irishseedsavers.ie, where he picked up some old Irish apple cultivars.

Founded by Anita Hayes in 1991, the main objective of the Irish Seed Savers is the conservation of Ireland's very special and threatened plant genetic resources. Their work focuses on the preservation of heritage varieties that are suitable for Ireland's unique growing conditions.

Their achievements to date include:

  • The creation of the Native Apple Collection containing over 140 distinct varieties
  • The creation of the Native Irish Grain Collection with 48 varieties
  • The establishment of a Seed Bank containing more than 600 rare and endangered vegetable varieties
  • The establishment of a Native Brassica Collection
  • The creation of a Native Broadleaf Woodland and Wildlife Sanctuary
  • Extensive areas of beautifully landscaped seed gardens and peaceful orchards which are open to the public
  • Establishment of a colony of hives of Native Black Bee
  • Maintenance of a separate living malus (apple) gene bank helping Ireland to meet its obligations in the area of conservation and sustainable use of Plant Genetic Resources in Food and Agriculture (PGRFA)
  • A unique orchard of over 33 self rooting varieties of apple trees that require no grafting for propagation. This is probably the largest collection of this type of apple tree in the world
  • The donation of 1% of our earned yearly income to support other organizations with similar aims within Ireland and in the developing world

Clondeglass Walled Garden always grew apples, but when Dermot arrived they had sadly grown too old and disappeared. Dermot was keen to reintroduce apples to the garden again. Old-fashioned varieties were his priority and he included several highly-regarded Irish cultivars which include:

• Irish Peach - Dr Lamb describes it as "The most delicious fruit of its season, but like all early varieties it should be fully ripened on the tree, and eaten soon after gathering...Its great weak point is its susceptibility to scab". Small, round, slightly flattened, angular fruit. Smooth, pale-yellow skin with brownish-red flush. Slight stripes of darker carmine red and with slight greyish russet specks. It is quite likely that the Irish Peach originated in Co. Sligo. It was held in great esteem during the 1800s and was exported to England where it is still available today.

• Bloody Butcher - Firm white flesh, moderately juicy and acid. Large round fruit, pale yellow skin, almost entirely covered with darkest crimson with a few russet veins. Also known as the bloodhound in Co. Kilkenny and the Winesap in Co. Offaly.

• Kerry Pippin - Hard, crisp white flesh with a spicy tang. Small and oval flattened at eye end. Skin orange-yellow with dull carmine flush and stippling. Often with pearly white dots and sometimes a few slight russet patches. Usually a healthy variety but slight scab observed in a few instances. A small apple but very good for the small garden. Fruits are crisp and crunchy and the tree a regular bearer. Long grown in Ireland. Mentioned in the Statistical Surveys of the RDS in Counties Kilkenny and Antrim in 1802 and 1812.

• Ard Cairn Russet - Yellowish-white flesh, dry, firm and sweet. Medium-sized fruit, golden-yellow skin often flushed with carmine. Almost entirely covered with thick golden-brown russet. Found in a garden in Ireland in 1890. Listed in Hartland of Cork's catalogue of 1907 with the comment "tastes like a banana...found in an out of the way orchard in this county...". Received a Royal Horticultural Society Award of Merit of 1910.

• Lady's Finger of Offaly - Firm, sweet, greenish-white flesh. Medium sized, markedly oblong fruit. Lady's Finger is the name commonly applied to any long shaped apple. Generally not scabby. Seen in Counties Offaly, Monaghan and Dublin.

The Polytunnel

Dermot was tight for funds and so was not able to install a magnificent Victorian-style greenhouse. So instead he opted for the next best thing for those on a budget - he went for a large, Irish-made polytunnel, which would grow a wide range of vegetables and flowering plants. The polytunnel was made and installed by Colm Warren Polyhouses Ltd www.cwp.ie who are based in Milmurray, Trim, Co. Meath. CJ Sheeran www.timberfencinggates.ie put in a timber decking path to allow easy access the length of the tunnel. The tunnel also has the feature of allowing ventilation from the sides as it is possible to roll up the polythene on the lower parts of each side.

Within the polytunnel, Dermot worked with Tanguy to grow a wide range of salad crops, including 30 different varieties of tomato, which they could experiment with. He also included herbs and some flowering plants which could be used for cut flowers.

Spring Bulbs

Before Dermot had become ill, he had planted hundreds of different spring bulbs. These included a wide array of different daffodil varieties (Narcissus). The idea was to select varieties that would start to flower from January onwards to the end of May. These included one that was already established in the garden - Narcissus 'White Lady', a 19th century cultivar. Others included Narcissus 'Actaea', 'February Gold', 'Peeping Tom', 'Golden Ducat', 'Rip van Winkle' and 'Rijveld's Early Sensation'.

Among the spring-flowering bulbs, Dermot was also keen to include a wide range of different colours of tulip. These included varieties like 'White Emperor' and 'Princess Irene'. In one area, he made a special planting of two types: 'Queen of Sheba' and 'Pink Diamond'. Christopher Lloyd is a great gardening hero of Dermot's and Tulipa 'Queen of Sheba' was his favourite tulip of all. These were planted deeply to encourage a good crop of flowers to come the following year and the area was then covered in grass, which the bulbs came through. This created a carpet of green studded with the jewel-like colours of these tulips. It made it easier to maintain and allowed the bulbs a chance to establish.


Dermot was very keen to add poultry to the garden. They add life and interest, and being able to have organic fresh eggs was also a great bonus. Tanguy is also a keen poultry enthusiast and in this programme Dermot visits his garden to see two special breeds which are known for their particularly colourful eggs: copper Star with rich brown eggs and Fenton Blue with pale olive green/blue eggs.

Dermot then went to a poultry fair at Larchill in Kilcock, Co. Kildare www.larchill.ie, where he met owner Michael de Las Casas, who showed him around the walled garden and ferme ornée.

Gardening Jobs for March


Watch out for greenfly and deal with them using an organic spray.


Don't allow moss to get a grip. It's important to make sure that drainage is right to prevent moss spreading.


This is a good time to plant climbing plants such as clematis and climbing roses.


When planting perennials, they often look best if planted in blocks or groups of uneven numbers for impact.

Tender Plants

This is a good time to order tender fuchsias and pelargoniums from specialist mail order nurseries to get going under protection.

Greenhouse Plants

If not done already, make sure the glass is cleaned to allow maximum light in for the coming season.


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