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The Powerscourt Blog

Meet Alex, Head Gardener at Powerscourt

Posted by Aoife O'Driscoll on Jul 29, 2016 3:58:45 PM

Over the next few months we will meet the people behind the scenes at Powerscourt who keep the estate looking wonderful and provide a great welcome to our visitors. This week we meet Powerscourt's Head Gardener Alex who grew up at Powerscourt Estate and has had a love of the gardens here from a young age. 

Tell us a little about how you got into gardening – what inspired you and have you always loved plants / seeing things thrive and grow?

My first gardening job was to pull ragwort out of the field beside where I live now when I was about 7. My aunt Wendy paid us a rate of one penny per ragwort pulled. Gardening wise I didn’t have a big garden but I was always outside building bases and trees and wigwams. I was happiest outdoors as a child with my playground being the gardens and river walk. Because I had access to the gardens and the river walk and a massive amount of outdoor space without realising this set in motion my desire to spend time outside as a career – I thought this is something that I can do for the rest of my life. What I was happiest doing as a child – being outside – led to landscaping, gardening and a love of watching things grow and develop.

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Was there a single moment when you knew that you wanted gardening to be your full time profession?

I was 11 and I was going around my mother’s garden and being a bold kid. I was whipping flower heads with a bamboo cane and my mother came out and roared at me and she chased me as far as the river walk and I got in a lot of trouble! From that moment on I started to respect plants and flowers and that’s when I decided to look after rather than destroy them!

Have you ever worked on estate gardens before?

I worked as a landscaper in Glencree for 3 years and then as gardener in a private garden for many years. While studying for my degree in horticulture at the Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin I began working at Powerscourt and have worked here intermittently for the past 5 years. I became Head Gardener of Powerscourt 1 year ago.

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Are there different considerations for looking after such a huge estate space rather than smaller garden spaces? 

It is the same concept but there is a lot more to prioritise on a large estate. Time management is crucial as it takes a lot of time for tasks compared to a smaller space. For example, a rose bed here is four times as large as one from an average garden.

Are there any gardening jobs that require constant attention on the estate?

The roses, the herbaceous border and the formal gardens all require constant attention. High maintenance areas include the Italian Gardens which have straight lines and have to be perfect – we are constantly cutting the grass there.

How big is your team?

There are 6 permanent staff including myself and we take on 2 seasonal staff each summer.

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What is the main priority for the estate grounds during each of the seasons?

In spring our priority is pruning work, lifting and dividing herbaceous perennials and feeding. In summer there are more routine tasks including grass cutting, dead heading and wedding. In autumn we focus on planting, mulching, planting bulbs and winter bedding. In winter we work mostly on projects such as developing and maintaining paths, hard landscaping and tree work.

What should we look out for, plant wise on the estate this year? 

In Spring Powerscourt is full of vibrant colour with our annual tulip festival featuring over 10,000 tulips in bloom. Daffodils and crocuses bring colour to the gardens each spring. In late spring the Rhododendrons, Azaleas and Camellias make their appearance. In summer herbaceous flowers come into bloom, roses and summer flowering shrubs. In winter, winter jasmine, daphnes and evergreen trees add interest to the gardens.

Do you tend to draw up schedules and plans for work on Powerscourt Estate?

I do a weekly plan. Each season I have a target list of tasks to get through. Whether it’s a clearing the lakes, working on the trees or cleaning antique statuary, it’s a very varied job.

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What is your biggest challenge when dealing with Powerscourt Gardens?

My biggest challenge is keeping the quality of the gardens at its peak at all times. We plan our gardening tasks around our opening hours so that certain jobs can be completed outside of visiting hours to maximise the enjoyment of our visitors. We are very weather dependent and the weather can play havoc with managing the gardens. A weekly plan can go out the window when it rains and also when it doesn’t rain!

What’s your favourite part of working on the Estate grounds?

I love the herbaceous border. There is a dramatic change along the border when spring arrives and the plants and shrubs come into bloom. It looks entirely different in July than it does in December – the border is an incredible sight to behold at its best in summer.

One favourite garden fact

Biophilia – The biophilia hypothesis suggests that there is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems. As humans we depend upon nature and need to interact with and be part of it. We thrive as human beings when we have access to greenery and enjoy our natural surroundings. It is a very current trend as people are developing an ever increasing love of gardening and an appreciation for the environment.

How can visitors help the establishment of the gardens at Powerscourt?

Our members and other regular visitors to Powerscourt are very helpful to us in terms of both positive and negative feedback about the estate. They are a vital part of the estate and are committed to keeping is as the peaceful haven it is for so many people. They act as an extra pair of eyes for us and are really helpful. As gardeners we are focused on the tasks at hand and trying to tackle the gardening challenges before us. As leisure visitors to the estate, our visitors offer a fresh perspective to us. We always appreciate getting feedback.

Thanks Alex! We will continue this interview with Alex next week, before meeting our other team members soon :)

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Topics: Powerscourt Gardens, Gardening, Head Gardener's Blog, Wicklow

Head Gardener's Update with Michael Byrne

Posted by Aoife O'Driscoll on Jan 5, 2015 1:07:00 PM

A very Happy New Year from me and all the gardeners! This week has started off very mild so it's perfect weather for getting outdoors and moving forward with our projects for Powerscourt Gardens this January. We are delighted with the progress we are making on renovating our Victorian greenhouses.

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The greenhouse before renovation

These beautiful structures have aged over time and were starting to show signs of wear and tear. They needed glass and old timbers replacing to bring them back to their former glory. We have just completed the first renovation of one of the greenhouses and are delighted with the results!

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Before and After Pictures of the Greenhouses

The second greenhouse will be completed shortly. I am sure you agree that they look fantastic and I am particularly looking forward to seeing them surrounded by the roses in full bloom this summer. We hope to use the greenhouses to store tropical plants and unusual plants which will be of interest to our visitors.

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The greenhouse after renovation

The gardening team are busy rejunvinating the herbaceous boder this month, completing work which began last October. We are re-planting the entire border and replacing 70% of the plants with new and interesting specimens. This is the first major overhaul of the planting along the border in 20 years and we are carrying it out to refresh the soil and help the plants to thrive better. The herbaceous border can be seen at its very best in June and July, although there it plenty of colours at other times of the year, especially in spring when the daffodils arrive. There will be some striking pink and purple colour themes along the border near the pond area with plants including Nepeta Walker’s Low (which was a very popular plant last year), underplanted with Ann Thomson geraniums. We are all looking forward to seeing these plants in bloom later this year.

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Due to the work going on along the border, we have had the opportunity to dig out the space and plant even more tulips and daffoils! We have planted an extra 2,000 tulips and daffs along the border this year. Come April, you will be able to enjoy over 12,000 tulips in the gardens and thousands of daffodils as well. 

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The winter bedding in the gardens looks very well and included red and yellow Polyanthus while the Bellus is flowering in red and white. Our Camelias are in full bud and will produce a really nice display within the next 2 weeks. Be sure to pop by the walled garden and see our display!

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Lastly, while witner is not a traditional time of year for colour, is it a great time to enjoy the statuary in Powerscourt Gardens in all its glory. The starkness of the statues against the greenery of the gardens really makes them stand out, particularly on a bright winter's day. I really recommend you to experience Powerscourt throughout the seasons as there is always something new to see. I spot something new every day I am at work here! 

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Finally, i will leave you with a picture of our visit to Aras an uachtarain a few months ago. We welcomed President Higgins and his wife Sabina to Powerscourt Gardens last summer and were delighted to receive a return invitation to meet with the Head Gardener and his team there and tour of the gardens. We gave the President’s Head Gardener a Japanese Red Cedar tree that we grew ourselves from one that the Prince of Wales planted in the gardens in 1911.

Until next month!

Michael Byrne, Head Gardener at Powerscourt Gardens

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Topics: Powerscourt Estate, Powerscourt Gardens, Gardening, Head Gardener's Blog

Head Gardener William Henry Lee & his family's time at Powerscourt

Posted by Aoife O'Driscoll on Jul 23, 2013 8:59:00 AM

Dear readers,

Here is a wonderful article by Kevin Molloy, the grandson of William Henry Lee who was the head gardener at Powerscourt from 1915 until 1946. It makes for very interesting reading - we hope you enjoy it! Thanks very much Kevin.

"My wife and I have lived in the United States for thirty seven years now. I was raised in semi
rural Rathfarnham in the Fifties and Sixties. Almost every time we are in Dublin, we pay a trip to Powerscourt, including the Waterfall, not only because of the beauty of the place, but because of my mother's association with it.

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My grandfather was William Henry Lee who was employed as head gardener at Powerscourt
from 1915 until 1946. My grandparents were English and they had two children, also born in the UK, my uncle, Ivor Lee, born in 1909 and my mother, Kathleen Muriel Lee, born in Dorset in 1912. My grandmother's name was Lucy Kate Downton. They made the trip to Ireland when my grandfather took up the position of head gardener at Powerscourt in 1915. They lived in the gardener's house outside the Bamberg Gates entrance to the gardens.

My grandfather made his mark on the gardens and also was very involved with the Royal
Horticultural Society of Ireland. He judged each year at the main R.H.S. show and also judged at the Chelsea Flower Show many times. Until the last few years of his life, he made a point of visiting his son, Ivor, who had settled in London between the wars, at the time of the Chelsea Show so that he could attend the show.

My mother, who has been dead for many years now, always spoke of the idealic nature of her
upbringing at Powerscourt. It was a community unto itself and in many ways can't have been
much different than the lives of those portrayed in Downton Abbey. There was the hierarchy of the staff at the house, the staff in the gardens and the staff for the farm and the estate. Mum maintained friendships with many of her friends from Powerscourt throughout her life.

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My mother saw the Battle of Agincourt being played out for the film Henry V which was made
on the estate and remembered Laurence Olivier being around about. My mother was married
from the gardener's house during the earlier part of World War II. Her husband died thirteen
months later. She married my father in 1944.

I am enclosing some photographs of those days showing the life my mother's family had at
Powerscourt. They show some of the great ambience of the internal estate life. The first picture is a snapshot of my mother as a toddler with "Miss Doreen", later grandmother
to Sarah, Duchess of York.

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The next two photos are of interest. One shows my mother as a teenager with a couple and my grandmother, who is sitting in a slightly elevated position. Behind them is a glasshouse which protrudes out into the garden. This is where the Julia Pond/fountain is now located.

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The other photo shows Mum as a girl in her late teens /early twenties seated on the steps up to the pool. The next photo is a shot of their home in those days.

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There is a photo of my mother and Uncle Ivor, as well as a friend, boating on the Triton Pool.
Powerscourt Triton Pool resized 600They were making their way to the Triton statue, as there is a photo of my uncle seating on top of the fountain also attached.

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There is a photo of four estate gardeners taken standing at the garden front of the house. My grandfather, W. H. Lee is the second from the right. This photo was taken for an article in the Irish Times, late war years.

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There is an early photo if my grandfather with some prize winning Powerscourt sweet peas.

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My mother raised Pekinese dogs for a period of time. There is a photo of her standing in front of the Bamberg Gate with some puppies."

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Thanks so much Kevin from everyone at Powerscourt for this wonderful insight into your family and Powerscourt at this historic time.

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Topics: Powerscourt Estate, Powerscourt Gardens, Guest Blog, Gardening, Head Gardener's Blog

Hello from Michael Byrne, Powerscourt's Head Gardener

Posted by Aoife O'Driscoll on Jun 7, 2013 12:36:00 PM

I hope you are enjoying the amazing weather we are having at the moment! The gardens at Powerscourt are buzzing as the tourist season kicks in and people from home and abroad make their way to beautiful County Wicklow.

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The gardeners and I are busy with tasks such as cutting the grass and trying to keep up with all of the growth with this heat! We are stripping out the winter and spring beds this week and getting ready to put out the summer bedding, with its glorious colours and scents in the next few days.

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We are cleaning up Triton Lake in our battle to control the algae! The common yellow Lily is becoming an invasive weed throughout the lakes of Ireland so we are doing our best to control this and encourage the white and more ornate Lily to flourish. This is all done through organic methods. We found eels in the lake when cleaning it, in addition to lots of fish and even an otter! Our ducks are still there of course. We are cutting back a lot of the viburnum around the lake itself to create a more open view of the lake and it is looking very well. We are putting a new slate roof on the pump house on the island so keep an eye out for this on your next visit.

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It is almost time for the Roses, which will look incredible in the walled garden and other parts of the gardens.  We are feeding them with liquid feed and spraying them to prevent disease and fungus. It’s so dry the roses are already starting to come into bloom. Red climbers are among the first to bloom so be sure to check them out the next time you are here.

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Everything in the gardens is late this year due to our lack of spring! The Rhododendron Walk is looking amazing at the moment. There are a lot of old tree rhododendrons, mixed with deciduous azaleas and we have many unusual varieties of these species with spectacular colours. The scent is magnificent and they are still in bloom due to the late spring!

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At the bottom of the long walk you will meet an orange bushed flower called Embothrium or the Chilean flower bush. It usually flowers at the end of April and is at its best now.

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As you head past the Pet Cemetery towards the bottom of the lake, look out for a very large specimen of the Drimys winteri or Winter’s Bark which looks beautiful. This tree like shrub is over 20 metres tall and is covered from head to toe with the most elegant white jasmine scented flowers. Don’t miss it!

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Another thing worth seeing at this time of year in the Japanese Garden is the Azaleas which are just about to finish. Above the grotto is a beautiful specimen, a Chinese lantern tree, which looks very like a fuschia. We have another lovely specimen flowering below the Pepper Pot Tower.

I better go now as there is lots to be done outside J Until next month,

Michael Byrne, Head Gardener, Powerscourt Gardens 

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Topics: Head Gardener's Blog

Head Gardener’s Blog – Powerscourt Gardens

Posted by Aoife O'Driscoll on Feb 5, 2013 3:12:00 PM

Head Gardener’s Blog – Powerscourt Gardens

Greetings from a snowy Powerscourt!

After last night’s snow, the first task that lay before us this morning was to clear the snow from the roads and foot paths throughout the estate and get everything ready for our visitors today. Despite the blustery and cold weather of late, spring has arrived in the gardens, and some colour is most welcome after the long winter months!

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The daffodils have arrived early; indeed the first daffodil appeared here on 9th January along the Rhododendron Walk.  The daffs have slowly started coming up around the gardens. The snowdrops are a little late this year and are just coming up now while the spring crocuses are also making an appearance.

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There is plenty to keep the gardening team at Powerscourt busy during the early months of spring. Here are just some of the jobs we are working at now:

Crown raising the trees in the gardens to establish and develop good specimens and help with mowing underneath the trees.

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Cutting back the laurel in the gardens in the Killing Hollow, Japanese Garden and Rhododendron Walk.

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Monitoring the winter bedding plants and seeing how they are coming along.

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Raking the leaves and mulching them for compost.

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Using crushed granite chips from a local quarry to dress the paths in the gardens.

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Cleaning the statuary such as Triton, the Lacoon, Belvedere, Diana and Apollo.

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I hope some of you can make my guided walk to celebrate the Tulip Festival on 12th April. For more information, visit our website www.powerscourt.ie/events

Michael Byrne, Head Gardener at Powerscourt Gardens 

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Topics: Powerscourt Estate, Powerscourt Gardens, Head Gardener's Blog

Head Gardener's Michael's Powerscourt Picks of the Week

Posted by Aoife O'Driscoll on Oct 5, 2012 10:36:00 AM

Head Gardener's Picks of the Week

Good morning from Powerscourt,

We're heading into autumn and there's certainly been a drop in temperatures during the last two weeks! It will soon be time to get planting lots of colour to keep the gardens bright and colourful during the colder winter months ahead.

I have picked out a few great plants to see along the herbaceous border at the moment which are at their best at this time of year:

Sedum (Stone Crop)

These plants are at their best in the autumn and are noted for their succulent foliage and unusual flowers. They like well drained soil and are fairly drought tolerant once established. Two of my favourite varieties are 'Purple Emperor' and 'Mediovariegatum.'

Sedum Purple Emperor

Phlox

Phlox in bloom are a sight to behold, with masses of small, star-shaped, colourful flowers which blanket the plant. They flower well into autumn here on our herbaceous border. A favourite of mine is the Varigated Harlequin. 

Phlox

Autumn Crocus

Most people are familiar with the spring flowering crocus which represents some of the first blooms to appear in spring. The less well-known autumn crocus is a joy to see popping up at this time of year. It is a must for any garden during the autumn months. It has a long history of medicinal use and is referenced in the oldest known medical text prepared by the Egyptians around 1550 B.C. 

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I hope you visit us soon and enjoy the herbaceous border which is holding onto some colour, with much to see and enjoy.

Talk to you all soon, Michael

Michael Byrne

Head Gardener, Powerscourt Gardens

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Topics: Powerscourt Estate, Powerscourt Gardens, Head Gardener's Blog

Head Gardener's Michael’s Favourite Plants

Posted by Aoife O'Driscoll on Sep 6, 2012 3:55:00 PM

 

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."

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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!"

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Thanks again Michael! Until next time all, Aoife

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Topics: Powerscourt Estate, Powerscourt Gardens, Head Gardener's Blog

A Note from the Head Gardener

Posted by Aoife O'Driscoll on Sep 4, 2012 11:45:00 AM

 

A Note from Michael Byrne

Hello from Powerscourt,

When admiring the view of Powerscourt gardens from the terraces, it is amazing to imagine that sheep and cattle once grazed in these now landscaped and formal gardens. Since the 1730’s, the gardens at Powerscourt have been on a remarkable journey. Hundreds of people worked to create the views we enjoy today and many of them never lived to see the completion of a lifetime’s work. As Head Gardener, I am delighted to continue this legacy and be part of the preservation and development of the gardens in the 21st century.

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There are so many different themes in the garden including the Italian garden, the Japanese gardenTower Valley and the Pepper Pot Tower and an extensive herbaceous border. From the structured symmetry of the gardens and terraces to the informality of the sweeping herbaceous border, all parts of the gardens are unique and special. It’s a great feeling when all the flowers are in bloom and the gardens can be seen in all their beauty. 

Japanese Garden

My hidden gems in the gardens are the Pet’s Cemetery because of my love of animals and the Rhododendron Walk as it’s one of the quietest parts of the gardens.Working at Powerscourt is a privilege and we would not be here without the support of our visitors.The Gardeners at Powerscourt – Dermot, Derek, Ken and Shane and I hope you you enjoy your next visit to Powerscourt. 

Next time you are in Powerscourt, be sure to say hello to us! And, don't forget to sign up for our newsletter.

Best Wishes,

Michael Byrne 

Head Gardener, Powerscourt Estate 
www.powerscourt.ie

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Topics: Powerscourt Estate, Powerscourt Gardens, Head Gardener's Blog

Meet Michael Byrne, Head Gardener of Powerscourt Gardens!

Posted by Aoife O'Driscoll on May 2, 2012 11:16:00 AM

 

Today we chat with Michael Byrne, Head Gardener at Powerscourt who gives us an insider's track about life behind the scenes in the Gardens!

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1)      How did you come to work at Powerscourt

“After maintaining historic gardens across Scotland and setting up my own landscaping business, I wanted to move back to Ireland and find a better quality of life and spend more time with my family. A few months after my return I found myself in County Wicklow, being interviewed for the post of Powerscourt’s Head Gardener. On the day of my interview, I arrived with hours to spare, so that I could walk around the gardens, taking notes and getting a real feel for the place.” The day after the interview he got a phone call from Sarah Slazenger to say that he’d got the job!

2)      How big is your team?

“There are five of us in total – Dermot, Derek, Ken, Shane and myself. In the spring we take on an intern from countries such as Ireland, France, Italy or Germany and in the summer we take on students for seasonal work”

3)      How many different types of plants and trees are there at Powerscourt?

“There are hundreds of different types of plants, trees and shrubs here. In the herbaceous border there are 700 different varieties of plants and we have 50 types of roses in the Rose Garden – from a hybrid tea to a patio rose.”

Day Out Dublin

4)      Could you tell us a little about the Gardens, why are they so special?

“Every day I come to work I see something new or have a fresh idea about something that I have walked past every day for the past four years. The sheer scale and size of the gardens is very impressive. There are so many different themes in the garden including the Italian garden, the Japanese garden, the walk full of rhododendrons and azaleas and an extensive herbaceous border. From the really structured symmetry of the gardens and terraces to the informality of the sweeping herbaceous border, all parts of the gardens are unique and special.”

5)      Where do you get your inspiration about what to plant here?

“I tend to go with what has been here before and if it didn’t do well I try to find out why. Were the soil conditions wrong? Was it too damp for the plants? Are they happy in the sunlight or part shade? Plants are specific as to what they require. I try to introduce varieties of specimen plants that are new to Powerscourt whilst being aware that it is a heritage garden. I keep with tradition wherever possible but know when to move forward. This year we are introducing more winter colour to the gardens to brighten up the dark winter days in the garden.

Garden of Ireland

6)      What is a typical day for you at Powerscourt Michael?

“I have a very long commute to the gardens! (2 minutes) The first job is to open the English and Chorus Gates. I take a short walk around the fountains and water features to make sure they are all working. Then I make my way back to meet with the gardeners and discuss the daily to weekly work rosters and how we are progressing. I carry out my own work in the gardens whether it is pruning roses, cutting grass or edging the flower beds.”

7)      What is your hidden gem here?

“I really enjoy the pet’s cemetery and the rhododendron walk. It’s one of the quietest parts of the gardens. The Pet’s Cemetery is a real novelty for me because I love animals so much.” 

Day Out Wicklow

8)      What are the challenges you face in the garden?

“We face problems with both drainage and drought with the nature of our climate. There is damage from wildlife – the grey squirrels tend to damage a lot of the trees. We have had badgers and foxes dig in areas that don’t need to be dug! It’s a challenge to keep the fountains and water features going and maintain the troughs and the urns because of their age. The weather is often against us too!”

9)      What are you most proud of in the garden?

“When all the flowers are blooming and there is as much colour in the gardens as possible – it is great to see the garden in all its beauty.” 

Gardens of Ireland

10)   We’re curious, how DO YOU mow the sloped lawns in the Gardens?

“Years ago they would have been cut with a scythe. In more recent years the gardeners used Flymos with a long piece of rope. We have invested in a machine called a Ferris which is a hydrostatic rotary mower that will climb a bank up to about 60 degrees. All the terraces can now be done in 3 and a half hours!”

11)   What look in the Gardens can we easily create at home?

“You could create your own Japanese Garden or an area in your garden for Japanese plants and traditions. Anyone can create their own home herbaceous border on a small scale.”

Japanese Garden Ireland

12)   Tell us something we don’t know about the Gardens…

“Along the rhododendron walk as you walk to the dolphin pond, there is a small cave which was filled in years ago. Apparently there is a hobbit’s cave there!”

Thanks very much Michael, we have really enjoyed talking with you today. Next time you are in the Gardens why not say hello to Michael and his team!

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Topics: Powerscourt Estate, Powerscourt Gardens, Head Gardener's Blog