It’s officially summer, which means that there’s plenty to see and do in the garden this month plus lots of great garden festivals, talks, workshops and open days to tickle your fancy. Below is lots of green-fingered inspiration to get you going.
1) Visit some of the hundreds of lovely Irish gardens open to the public, many of which are looking their very best at this time of year. To find listings of those near you, check out the websites of The Irish Garden magazine (garden.ie) and the Gardens of Ireland Trust (gardensofireland.org) as well as the many different garden trails around the country including dublingardengroup.com; donegalgardentrail.com; connemara.net; boynevalleygardentrail.com; laoisgardens.ie (the Laois Garden Trail kicks off next Saturday 8th June); antrimgardens.com; clewbaygardentrail.ie; carlowgardentrail.com; ulstergardensscheme.org.uk; ringofcork.ie; secretgardensofsligo.com; tipperary.com; visitwaterford.com; westcorkgardentrail.com; wexfordgardentrail.com and opw.ie.
Shirley Lannigan’s newly updated and excellent pocket guide, The Open Gardens of Ireland (Butter Slip Press), is also a brilliant reference.
2) Take a horticultural masterclass with one of Ireland's most highly respected gardeners. Examples include Helen Dillon's ultra-popular Garden Lessons series, which she's running throughout the summer months at her new garden in Monkstown, Co Dublin. Dates for this month include Saturday, June 15th (10am-12.30pm) and Tuesday, June 18th (2pm-4.30pm), at a cost of €30 per person (pre-booking essential, call 01 2148740 or email firstname.lastname@example.org).
Wicklow gardener June Blake is also running a new series of weekly hands-on workshops at her garden near Blessington, Co Wicklow, throughout the summer months (every Wednesday afternoon, 2pm-4.30pm) at a cost of €30 per person, which includes a 10 per cent discount on plants purchased from her newly expanded nursery on the day. Again, prebooking is essential (by email at email@example.com or phone 087 2770399). Both gardens are also open to the public throughout the summer, see dillongarden.com (open by prior appointment only) and juneblake.ie.
3) Go forth and propagate . . . June is a great time of the year to take softwood cuttings of a very wide variety of plants. The term "softwood" refers to plant material taken from the current season's growth that hasn't yet firmed or "hardened up", meaning it's still soft and in active growth. Typically softwood cuttings are between 4cm-5cm and should be taken from healthy, vigorous plants in early morning, after which the cuttings' lower leaves should be gently stripped away, their very soft tips nipped out (to help prevent decay/disease and ensure a bushy plant) and the cuttings then gently inserted into pots filled with a moist, good quality seed and cuttings compost to just below the bottom set of leaves.
Generously watered, covered with a lid/plastic bag and placed in a gently heated propagator or warm glasshouse but out of direct sunshine, they will often root within a matter of weeks. Examples of shrubby or perennial species suitable for this cost-effective and easy method of propagation include anthemis, aubrieta, argyranthemum, osteospermum, penstemon, pelargonium, fuchsia, perovskia, lavatera, and hydrangea. For more details, see rhs.org.uk
4) Ditch those chemically-treated, environmentally-unfriendly imported blooms this summer and instead create your very own cut-flower patch in your garden or allotment to give you armfuls of organic, truly seasonal bouquets. For fast results, hone in on a handful of quick-growing, super-floriferous, long-flowering, easy-to-grow species. Examples include the taller varieties of cosmos, dahlia, amaranthus, cerinthe, sweet pea, tagetes and achillea, all of which can be bought as young plants from garden centres at this time of year.
Give them a fertile, humus-rich, soil in full sun and plant them closely together and in neat rows (as you would vegetables). For more detailed advice, get your hands on a copy of Erin Benzakein’s brilliant guide, Floret Farm’s Cut-Flower Garden and/or UK garden writer Clare Nolan’s newly-published and excellent In Bloom (Octopus Books).
5) Well-known flower farmers Ciaran and Kealin Beattie of Leitrim Flowers are also running a series of Sunday courses this summer at their farm in Kilnagross, Co Leitrim, including "Wonderful Wedding Flowers" on June 23rd (9.45am-4pm, €80), which is sure to appeal to environmentally-minded brides and grooms-to-be (pre-booking essential, see leitrimflowers.ie)
Speaking of flowers for and from the garden, early June is an excellent time to sow seed of hardy biennial flowering species. Examples include wallflowers, sweet William, forget-me-nots, foxgloves, Canterbury bells, Icelandic poppies and honesty, with just a couple of packets of seeds giving you oodles of healthy, homegrown plants including many unusual varieties not readily available from garden centres. Recommended specialist seed suppliers include seedaholic.com, sarahraven.com and chilternseeds.co.uk.
6) Visit one of the garden festivals taking place around the country this month, many of which have lined up a host of expert speakers as well as plenty of the country's top specialist nurseries. Examples include Laois Garden Festival's "Buds & Blossoms" on Sunday, June 9th with guest speakers John Anderson, the Bots-trained Keeper of the Gardens of Windsor Estate in the UK, ecologist and plantsman Kevin Hughes and well-known gardener, broadcaster and author Dermot O'Neill, plus specialist plant sales by many members of the Irish Specialist Nursery Association (see laoisgardenfestival.comfor details of the event, which tales place in Spink Community Grounds just outside Abbeyleix from 12-6pm).
Limerick Garden Festival also takes place the following Sunday (June 16th, from 11am) and features expert garden talks (speakers include the Clare-based organic market gardener Jim Cronin) and specialist plant sales (see limerickgardenfestival.com), while on Saturday 22nd June (11am-5pm), Tullynally Castle will be hosting its own Rare Plants Fair (see tullynallycastle.ie).
7) Install a birdbath in your garden or allotment, which is also a fantastic way to study their intricate grooming rituals close up. Make sure to choose a wide, generously-sized, shallow vessel with sloping sides that offers a variety of water depths (from 2.5cm-10cm), easy perching (place a few stones/ rocks in it), and to situate it in a cat-proof spot that provides nearby protective cover in the form of leafy plants. Like bird tables, bird baths need to be cleaned regularly and refilled to avoid the risk of disease. For detailed advice, see rspb.org.uk. Recommended Irish stockists of well-designed birdbaths include irishbirds.ie.
8) Nothing beats a collection of well-planted pots, tubs and containers for providing a wonderful display of pollinator-friendly flowers and foliage throughout the summer months. For a truly peacock-like show of brilliant colour, make sure to include plenty of hardworking annuals (examples include cosmos, nemesia, tagetes, diascia, coleus) plus some tender shrubby or perennial species such as argyranthemum, plectranthus, dahlias and salvias and to use a great growing medium.
Many garden centres are offering bedding plants for sale at this time of year but for best results, make sure choose young, healthy, vigorous plants that have been well cared for and show no signs of being pot-bound or erratically watered.
9) Early June is a great time to plant many different kinds of heat-loving vegetables in the polytunnel or glasshouse including tomatoes, courgettes, cucumbers, melons, French beans, peppers, squash and sweetcorn. Outdoors in your garden or allotment, you still have time to sow maincrop carrots, beetroot, Florence fennel, lettuce, spinach, chard, radish, runner beans, turnip and to plant leeks, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, chard, lettuce, spinach, kale, scallions, squash, courgettes, pumpkin, sweetcorn, French beans and runner beans.
Many of these vegetables are available to buy as young transplants from good Irish garden centres. You can also order them online from quickcrop.ie or buy them from specialist Irish nurseries such as Paul Schulz's excellent Natural Growing Company, which will have a stand at the upcoming Buds & Blossoms garden festival near Abbeyleix on Sunday, June 9th.
10) Make your own mini-herb garden in a window box, pot or tub to give you a generous supply of flavoursome, organic, homegrown herbs this summer. Fast-growing herbs such as coriander, basil, chervil, dill and parsley can all be raised from seed sown this month while shrubby or perennial species such as rosemary, mint, sage, lemon balm, thyme and oregano are best bought as young plants. Not only do these herbs all have many culinary uses but they can also be used to make nourishing, health-enhancing herbal teas. For more details on the latter, pick up a copy of Irish gardener and broadcaster Fiann Ó Nualláin's great new book on the subject, A Quick Cuppa Herbal (Mercier Press, €16.99).