There aren’t many gardeners who can name wild goats as one of their chief pests, but in Darren Graham’s garden in County Fermanagh, they’re akin to slugs. It’s less of a surpise when you see the landscape surrounding the plot: the borders by the boundaries are set against a stunning backdrop of wildflower meadows, ancient woodland and rolling hills and mountains.
When Graham bought the garden five years ago, he found plenty of mature conifers and chestnuts, and large shrubs such as rhododenron and lilac. But there wasn’t very much in the way of herbaceous planting, and he set to planting a small circular garden.
“I planted natives such as primrose and bluebell to begin with,” he explains. “But then I began to gain experience and became more adventurous and bought more vivid plants. I was particularly interested in bulbous plants including tulips, chinadoxia and crocus.”
Graham’s first challenge was to remove the many weeds growing in the garden and improve the soil with organic matter. The latter wasn’t particularly difficult as Graham lives on a farm, so he used well rotted cow manure. This has resulted in some beautiful displays of flowers such as Clematis ‘The President’, lupins, hellebores and foxgloves.
Graham’s designs for the garden developed with his confidence. “There was an excellent opportunity for a long border the entire way down the avenue leading up to the house. The garden just gradually developed and it got larger and larger. I did eventually start to think about the plants which would grow best in different parts of the garden and how I could plant them to create a well balanced structure.
The biggest success so far, he says, has been a spring garden he has planted underneath a group of horse chestnuts. Using a variety of woodland bulbs, Graham has created a naturalistic planting which has a soft and dainty effect.
Graham loves the activity of a garden in the spring, and this predilection has clearly influenced the planting of a garden that seems at its best from the first few weeks of spring to early summer, although there is a second spurt of blooms in late July and August. Darren Graham’s top tips for new gardens:
Don’t overplant, as the plants will end up growing over and smothering each other. Leave them to establish and spread out.
Plant tall plants at the back of a border, and lower ones at the front.
Try to plant large volumes of one plant, rather than lots of different plants, which will give the garden less overall impact.
Enrich your soil using organic matter such as well-rotted manure. If you’ve got poor soil, plants aren’t going to grow as well as they could.