On our way to Waterford, we stopped at one of the cutting-edge new plant gardens in Ireland, Hunting Brook, owned by Jimi Blake, one of horticulture’s new generation of plant cognoscenti.
Jimi met us at the gate and immediately began pointing out some of his fantastic plant treasures, starting with what he sometimes calls his signature plant, Aralia echincaulis.
We immediately noticed these spidery looking plants that Jimi told us were juvenile Pseudopanax crassifolius, a New Zealand native tree that looks a little different once it is fully formed.
The borders leading up the garden were full of rare and specialty plants, including one that had bright silver foliage, Celmisia semicordata ‘David Shackleton’.
The garden is located on a sunny, south-facing slope on Lamb Hill in the foothills of the Wicklow mountains. The site has an interesting history.
The land is part of a 20-acre parcel that has been in Jimi’s family for years and was once a farm. But it also has remains of a Neolithic settlement and also a ring fort dating back to the 7th century.
As well as being a passionate plantsman, Jimi has also done some plant hunting in Hubei province in China where he apparently collected seeds from the original Dawn Redwood that was found in the 1940s.
We were entertained by seeing all sorts of new and fascinating plant treasures scattered around the garden, including rare species of schefflera and interesting varieties of euphorbia and lovely bronze variety of astelia, viburnum and podophyllum.
In one spot, we found a tender Cordyline indivisa, which thrilled Rudi Pinkowski in my group since he also grows it in his garden in West Vancouver.
In another area, Jimi is trying to establish a meadow garden and has already gots lots of clumps of ragged robin with pretty clusters of red flowers popping up.
The centre of the garden with serpentine gravel paths looked fabulous with towering alliums and newly planted banana trees and the remnants of masses of purple tulips.
All the colours and textures blended together to create a lovely tapestry of shapes and hues that dazzled and delighted.
Into the woodland, we were treated to a mouth-watering abundance of rare and unusual plants, including hardy orchids, double trilliums and unusual ground covers and impressive drifts of rodgersia.
Jimi took us down into his valley garden where he is starting to plant new treasures including species rhododendrons and newly acquired forms of schefflera.
Jimi has planted with an eye for all seasons; something he calls “succession planting” with group plantings to create “stunning combinations.”
Hunting Brook is already getting a lot of attention from world-media and Jimi is being celebrated as one of the new, enthusiastic plant gurus leading the charge into new and imaginative planting ideas.
We felt honoured to be treated to a personal tour and were also very appreciative when he took time to personally serve us all with tea and cake including the most delicious rhubarb pie.
From Hunting Brook, we headed south and arrived at Altamount Garden, considered the crown in the jewel of Ireland’s garden.
When we arrived it was pouring rain and we started our exploration with umbrellas up and raincoat on, but within a few minutes the rain stopped and the sun came out and we were able to lower our umbrellas and put away our rain coats.
The new, sunny exposure showed the garden at its most brilliant. So much so, that many of my group emerged at the end saying it was their favourite garden yet on the tour.
We walked down to the lake and continued along the path that circles around the water-lily covered water, passing under giant canopies of trees and rhododendrons, most of which were in full bloom.
The garden looked gorgeous in every direction. And the lake was clear enough to reflect the sky and the clouds above.
Highlights were a superb, giant pocket handkerchief tree and a long lane of evenly spaced ancient beeches with immense trunks and branches that stretched high into the sky.
On the way out of the garden, we were entertained by a peacock wooing his bride-to-be, strutting and stomping and dancing in mesmerizing and dazzling displays of affection and confidence.
However, it didn’t work. The female peacock flew away and the male turned his attention to us. We made good use of the photo op.