I sat down earlier in the week and had a chat with Head Gardener Michael Byrne about his favourite plants in the garden. It was hard to pin him down (he has many favourites!!) so here are a few he really enjoys to see at Powerscourt. We look forward to hearing more from Michael on the plants at Powerscourt soon!
Michael Byrne's September Picks
Myrtus Luma (Chilean Myrtle)
"I love this plant because of its unique bark, unusual texture and red tint! I like how dense and small the foliage is. The best thing about this tree is that at the start of summer it produces an abundance of jasmine white flowers and the tree is covered from top to toe with flowers during all of the summer months. We have two particularly fine specimens in the gardens, one on the left of the Dolphin Pond and the other by the small fountain in the Japanese Garden."
Chilean Fire Bush (Embothrium)
"This tree-like shrub grows vigorously in Ireland. It is not the most common of plants and is not often seen. It has beautiful, long elongated foliage with a pale green, waxy coat. This plant comes to life most during April and May. It is nicknamed the Chilean fire bush because it produces tall orange plumes during the summer months. You can see this plant on the Long Walk the next time you are in the gardens."
Winter’s Bark (Drimys Winteri)
"This tree was named after John Winter, a captain with Drake, who found on Tierra del Fuego that its bark, used as a spice by the Indians there, was a powerful medicine against scurvy, and brought some back in 1578. As well as its medicinal uses, it is also used as a substitute for black pepper! I love this tree because its unique and has such beautiful flowers. At the end of winter and the beginning of spring, the shrub is covered with the sweetest white flowers. Once you are within 1 or 2 metres of the plant you get the most glorious scent!"
Thanks again Michael! Until next time all, Aoife
Healing House Plants
This month we are looking at the added benefits of house plants. They are easy to look after and have great health benefits too!
House plants are like a large, natural filtration system in your home. As few as 15 houseplants can purify the air of a 1,800sq ft home.
- They absorb harmful substances from the air.
- They filter dust and dirt in the surrounding environment.
- They emit oxygen - refreshing the air in your home.
- They act as natural humidifiers - giving you cleaner air and easy breathing with fewer colds, less headaches and less fatique.
Plants reduce sound levels, improve the appearance of your home and reduce stress levels. Studies have shown that the very presence of house plants increases positive thoughts and feelings and reduces anxiety, anger and sadness.
Plants also have physical healing properties and can soothe irritated skin. To receive the optimal benefits of these plants place them close to your personal breathing zone within 6 to 8 feet of where you work, sleep or spend a lot of time.
So what are these plants? An unaffordable exotic plant? Not at all! Most people are familiar with these plants but may be unaware of their benefits. First up is a customer favourite!
The Peace Lily or Spathiphylum
This plant is great at reducing mould particularly in bathrooms. The plant soaks up the mould organisms through its leaves and transfers the spores to the root to act as food. This helps to reduce the build up of spores on shower curtains and tiles, resulting in less cleaning and easier breathing for you.
This plant is also wonderful if there is a smoker in your house which helps clear tobacco pollutants such as benzene and formaldehyde from the area.
The Peace Lily thrives in a semi shaded area. Water approximately once per week. It will also benefit from misting the leaves once per week.
The Boston Fern
Modern heating and ventilation systems in our homes can leave our skin feeling dry and itchy. Boston Ferns help soothe dry skin by acting as a humidifier. They restore moisture to the air by releasing water vapour in exchange for air born pollutants.
The Boston Fern is a classically elegant plant with lucious sword like fronds that arch gracefully. It is another plant that is easily cared for. It loves a bright spot out of direct sunlight. Keep the soil slightly moist and feed weekly.
The Spider Plant (Chlorophytum)
The Spider Plant is one of the most powerful air cleansers and has been known to remove 90% of toxins from indoor air in just 2 days! The plant filters harmful substances and aborbs mould spores along with carbon monoxide and formaldehyde which results in less headaches and better breathing.
Place your Spider Plant in a bright position away from direct sunlight. Only water every second week as it prefers to be a little drier than most plants and never leave it sitting in water.
This very easy to grow plant needs a bright sunny windowsill so it can get lots of warmth and light. Water regularly in Summer but hold back on watering in the Winter months. It will throw up baby plants around the edge of the mother plant - these can be removed and planted to start a new plant.
Not enough can be said about the healing power of this plant. Use it to treat minor burns, soothe sunburn, ease the discomfort of eczema and psoriasis, reduce the signs of ageing and brightens skin tone to mention a few.
Recent research suggests that Aloe can help with cancer, cholestorol, arthritis, high blood pressure, crohns disease and many more. It really is one to watch!
The most surprising healing plant has to be the Gerbera Daisy
Most plants release oxygen during the day. Gerbera Daisies take in carbon dioxide during the day and release oxygen at night. You will reap the benefits of having this plant placed in a bedroom as it helps to give a deeper more restful sleep. They are brightly coloured and cheery and easy to grow, all they need is a bright spot and keep evenly moist.
These shade loving beauties are the real workhorses of the garden, producing massive flowers in both mophead and lacecap forms with a wide variety of colours and varieties. They are moisture loving and love a cool corner in the garden, but they will also tolerate a half shade providing there is plenty of access to water.
Hydrangea Macrophylla or the mophead variety is probably the best known of all the Hydrangeas and one of their interesting quirks is their ability to change colour! This colour change is due to the change in the soil ph which affects aluminium availablilty. Blue and pink varieties are blue in acidic conditions, mauve in acidic to neutral conditions and pink in alkaline conditions.
White varieties remain white and are not affected by ph of the soil. Pruning this hydrangea seems to cause some confusion. It is best to leave the faded bloom on over the Winter as this provides some frost protection for the tender buds below. Remove the dead blooms in the Spring, cutting back to the first buds lower down the stem. The lacecap varieties are slightly hardier and the flowerheads can be cut back to the second pair of leaves directly after flowering. On older more established plants cut one or two of the older stems at the base to encourage new replacement growth that will flower more freely.
Poor neglected plants can be given a new lease of life by cutting off all the stems at the base, be warned though, this will remove all the flowers for this Summer and new stems will not flower until next year.
Here are some varieties to try;
Hydrangea macr. 'Lady in Red' (red)
Hydrangea macr. 'Bela' (blue)
Hydrangea macr. 'Benxi' (white)
Hydrangea macr. 'Blueberry Cheesecake' (Blue, Mauve)
Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle'
Annabelle is probably one of the most loved white hydrangeas. It is a stunning white drumstick flower which can often measure 10'' in diameter. Annabelle will produce flowers every year even after severe pruning or a cold harsh winter. It looks amazing planted as a hedge and you can prune back severley in Winter to keep it tidy.
A new introduction - Hydrangea arborescens 'Invincibelle' is the first pink flowered mop head form of hydrangea to be sold commercially. Also known as 'Pink Annabelle' it has large globular flowers that bloom in June and July and repeat until the first frosts. Each flower head is densely packed with showy florets that emerge a deep dark pink, maturing to a bright pink. As with Annabelle, Invincibelle enjoys the partial shade and a moist but free draining soil.
Hydrangea paniculata 'Magical Fire' and Hydrangea pan. 'Mega Mindy' are two brilliant new varieties.
'Mega Mindy' is a solid, fast growing shrub which carries large panicles of flowers but does not collapse under the weight of the flowers. It grows to approximately 4-5ft tall. The flowers appear in late July-early August and at first are white but turn pinkish red as they mature. It flowers every year on new growth which means they can be cut back hard every year without interferring with the flowering.
'Magical Fire' is a spectacular new variety similar to 'Mega Mindy' starting off white, then dark pink and then a fiery red in Autumn. It has gorgeous red stems which are a lovely contrast to the healthy green foliage.
The Hanging Basket takes centre stage this month. This traditional planting can make a real statement in your garden and is really easy to accomplish.
What you will Need
You will need a 14'' hanging basket, 14'' liner, multi-purpose compost, water retaining gel and slow release fertiliser. And of course some plants of your choice!
Let's get Started
Start with proping the basket with the liner onto a bucket (this will stop the basket from rolling around as you are planting it).
Mix your compost with a spoon of swell gel and a spoon of slow release fertiliser and water (leave this mix for about an hour before using).
Half fill the basket with your compost mix, then start placing your plants. Plant something tall in the centre e.g. geraniums to create some height in the basket. Surround this with your trailing plants (petunia, diascia, bacopa). Fill in with compost and as a finishing touch plant lobelia or allyssum into any gaps. Water well!
Shhh...Our Top Tips
When hanging your basket avoid windy spots as this will dry out the basket very fast.
Place in a sunny spot - water at least once a day and more when it is hot and dry or very windy.
Choice of Plants
The choice of plants for your hanging basket is very personal. Some people like a riot of mixed colour while others like a more co-ordinated look. It will also depend on the aspect of where you are placing your basket although remember most of the summer bedding plants prefer a sunny spot.
If you have a shady area, choose plants such as begonias, fuschia, mimulus and new guinea bizzy lizzie which will give you fantastic colour and brighten up that shady corner.
The California Lilac, so called because it is native to California and the flowers resemble those of the lilac tree (Syringa).
The Ceanothus are a family of both evergreen and decidious shrubs or small trees. They come in a variety of colours including pink and white but most people will be familiar with the beautiful blue varieties.
Ceanothus enjoy a sunny South or West facing position, sheltered from cold winds and a free draining soil. Damage can be caused by positioning in a wet spot particularly in Winter. Ceanothus vary in colour (depending on the variety) from a subtle powdery blue to a deep sapphire blue. They require very little feeding and almost thrive on a little neglect! If feeding becomes necessary early Spring is the best time to do it. Pruning, if necessary, should be done immediately after flowering. Avoid pruing late in the season as it promotes new growth which can be hit hard by early frosts.
Some varieties to try; Ceanothus x 'Blue Sapphire', it's graceful arching form makes a beautiful ground cover specimen. Abundant dark sapphire blue flowers cover the plant in April. The dark emerald foliage turns almost black in Winter.
Ceanothus arboreus trewithen blue is a much larger growing variety growing 8ft high with deep blue panicles of flowers which appear in April and May, backed by a broad dark green foliage.
Ceanothus thyrsiflorus var. repens flowers in April, May and into early June. This low growing evergreen shrub is cloaked in fluffy powder blue flowers. Planted at the front of a mixed border, it looks great when coupled with Euonymus 'Emerald & Gold' or Dianthus 'Kahori'.
The rose of the Winter, the show-off Camellia is our plant of the month at the Garden Pavilion this January. Camellias have amazing roselike flowers and lush, shiny evergreen leaves. The flowers range in colour from white to pink to red.
Camellias are relatively easy to grow but do have specific requirements:
Most Camellia plants are shade lovers and prefer dappled shade to full sun.
Avoid an east facing position.
A sheltered westerly position is much preferred, avoiding heavy winds.
Camellias require an acidic, well draining soil and will not thrive on chalky soil or other calcium rich soils. Alternatively they will happily grow in a container with the appropriate compost.
Camellias are thirsty plants and require lots of water, rainwater is the best, especially in hard water areas, when tap water can often contain too much calcium. Never allow them to sit in water.
Feed Camellias with acidic fertilisers, such as miracid, sulphate of ammonia or sulphate of potash. Using slow release fertiliser pellets mixed through compost for container grown plants is quick and easy and avoids the need to fertilise until the next season.
Camellias are early flowering shrubs and form flower buds in late Summer and Autumn, particularly on new growth. Pruning at this time could remove potential flowering growth. The best time for pruning is the Spring, immediately after flowering.
Try varieties like "Debbie", Donation" or "Merry Williams" all gorgeous pink varieties.
Camellia Japonica's Chinese cousin Camellia sinensis is a plant of major commercial importance as this is the plant that gives us our favourite beverage - tea!