Lectures Reviews

Alpine Garden Society, Dublin Group Newsletter 58 – Summer 2012

Terra Nova – a garden of deboradations and surprises’, Deborah Begley, 16 February
If Terra Nova were a film, it would be Monsoon Wedding: a swirling mass of colour; if it were prose, it would be written by Colette, filled to the brim with delight in life. Created on half-anacre in the middle of the Limerick countryside, Terra Nova is a garden where more is definitely more.

On a dark February evening when we were all more than ready for spring, Deborah Begley entertained (and educated) us all with her talk about the garden she and her husband Martin have created in Kilmallock, Co. Limerick. As though we were walking on the winding paths through the garden itself, Deborah’s virtual tour led us on some circuitous routes through ‘mind the gap’, ‘the twilight zone’, ‘the joy of foliage’ and lots more.

Terra Nova is first and foremost a plantswoman’s garden. Deborah’s love of plants shone through her whole talk, whether she was describing the challenge of bringing Symplocarpus foetidus through the ten-year cycle of seed to flower, or the satisfaction in getting over 6,000 bulbs for a knock-down €50 at a local garden centre.

First though, Deborah solved the riddle of what a ‘deboradation’ is: it’s the name that a dear (and late) friend of hers, Nell, gave to any plant she felt was typical of the kind of plants that Deborah loves: variegated foliage, perhaps large leaves, showy flowers (doubles particularly) in sizzling colours. I think the word mutant may also have been mentioned!

Referring back to the harsh winters we had in 2010 and 2011, Deborah mourned the losses in her garden (including a Eucalyptus around which Martin had carefully built the roof of their Thai house) but she also pointed out that filling the gaps allowed her to use massed plantings of annuals such as Busy Lizzies. One of the pictures of a riot of pink and orange—or cerise and tangerine as Deborah said—gave me my Monsoon Wedding moment. Other annuals she recommended included poppies (lots of double-flowered varieties), sunflowers (‘Black Magic’), cornflowers, cosmos and dahlias (which Deborah recommends growing from seed). Nicandra physalodes also got an honourable mention.

Far from the bright and breezy annuals, Deborah led us into the twilight zone – looking at some of her woodland favourites. There were lots of Aroids mentioned here, starting with Dracunculus vulgaris, a positively gothic-looking plant, which smells like rotting flesh to attract flies for pollination. Other curiosities included Amorophophallus konjac, Arisaema candidissimum (which doesn’t flower until June and Deborah admonished us not to poke impatiently at it too early and damage its shoot in the process), A. sikokianum (a “nurseryman’s dream” as it’s difficult to cultivate successfully), A. griffithii and, a good one to start with apparently, A. consanguineum. As well as the Aroids, Deborah enjoys trilliums and showed us lovely pictures of T. albidum and T. cuneatum. All the lovely and illuminating photographs were taken by Martin and clearly show his love of both the plants and the garden. His portrait of Sanguinaria canadensis ‘Multiplex’ was met by a collective “aahhh…” from the audience: exquisite double flowers of the purest white, whose petals don’t turn brown and ugly as the flowers fade, but drop gracefully to the ground while still pristine.

Deborah loves foliage. And she really loves variegated foliage. Some of the plants that the rest of us think of eating or growing for their flowers are seen simply as holders of great leaves. So, Armoracia rusticana‘Variegata’ that most people would dig up for its fiery root is treasured by Deborah for its large splashy leaves. Similarly, a variety of kale, ‘D’Aubenton Variegated’ is not for the table. Astrantia major ‘Sunningdale Variegated’ is chopped back by Deborah in early June so she’ll have its foliage all summer. Lavatera arborea ‘Variegata’ is again grown in Terra Nova primarily for its leaves rather than its flowers.

There were many, many other plants described by Deborah, too many to mention here, although I think she wouldn’t forgive my leaving out her favourite rose, so here it is: R. ‘Teasing Georgia’, a pale creamy yellow David Austen rose, that’s a very floriferous and well scented Short Climber. But there were a few other things that stood out for me in Deborah’s talk. One was her reminder to all of us to “let your imagination run wild in your garden!” Another was to share our experiences with other gardeners, through garden.ie or, as Jamie mentioned afterwards, through the AGS Facebook page.And finally,there was Deborah’s cunning ruse to persuade other gardeners to share rare andtreasured beauties: “admire to acquire”. It worked for her in a famous garden in Munster and she acquired a coveted Hairy Bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta ‘Bracteata’. She may yet find some AGS members standing steadfastly and admiringly beside some of her many enviable plants in Terra Nova some fine summer’s day.

Fionnuala Broughan


Erica was also among the audience that night and wrote this in her blog

“I got a wonderful dose of colour on Thursday night when I went to an AGStalk by Deborah Begley who has created an amazing garden down in Co. Limerick: Terra Nova. Such an abundance of colour, such variety of plants, and such an entertaining speaker. She lit up a dark Thursday night and even the cycle home past abandoned, half-built apartment blocks didn’t dull the colours in my head.”