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The Art of Colour -Interview with T.J. Maher

The Art of Colour -Interview with T.J. Maher

The w|ė MAGAZINE April Interview features an incredible creative plantsman and artist T.J. Maher who’s Wicklow garden is a wonder in colour, texture and form. We talked to the talented creative about his garden, why weeds are good and how to choose colour in planting. 

Q1. Can you tell us a little how, when and why you started your amazing garden?

We moved here to Kiltegan, in County Wicklow 25 years ago and the garden was a neglected space. Straight away I started to potter about in the garden having always had a love of plants and the natural world.

Q.2 What is at the heart of your garden?

A connection and respect for nature.

Q.3 This month’s theme is all about wild garden living- Can you tell us how the idea of garden living has found its way into different areas you’ve created in your incredible garden?

A garden is an ecosystem so a respect and understanding of the connection between plants and the animals living in the garden is the foundation of how I garden. Every choice I make has an impilcation. If I were to use chemicals in the garden (which I don’t), these will effect the natural balance. Slug pellets will kill the slugs but also the birds, frogs, hedeghogs feeding on dying slugs. Pesticides for aphids effects the bluetits, ladybirds etc feeding on the aphids.. Spraying off what we call ‘weeds’ will effect the insects feeding on, and the larvae of insects feeding on those weeds, and the birds feeding on the seeds.
Everything has a role and everything is connected.
The disconnection lies with us who make decisions to change this balance whether intentionally or through ignorance. We need to embrace our native vegatation. There is a trend at the moment for growing wildflowers for pollinators but too often people are spraying out less pretty wildflowers to grow pretty colourful ones like poppies, cornflowers, etc. All have a role to play. Too many people are hopping on the green bandwagon growing a patch of pretty flowers in one area while all around it everything is sprayed off to look neat. And then sticking up notices in villages and towns around the country reading ‘Managed for wildlife’ or ‘Managed for pollinators’,.. Complete disconnection from what the aim is.
If we tolerated all our wild flowers/weeds we wouldn’t need to plant anything for pollinators. Put the spray away.
Here in Patthana we hand weed but only if the plant really needs to come out. I want to be part of a living garden. Also, we have a pond for wildlife which is a refuge for creatures who are increasingly nudged out of the countryside.

Q.4. What role do you think gardens play in our mental state and do they impact our happiness?

 If everyone connected to nature, embraced, protected and treasured it, we would be happier and healthier. My own sense of wellbeing is in part derived from the natural world.

Q5. Can you describe your gardening approach?

Making a garden that is asthetically beautiful and also healthy and teaming with life. A very manicured garden devoid of life, no matter how colurful can never be beautiful.

Q6. You are a talented artist- how do you think this informed your approach to planting combinations?

As an artist I am very sensitive to colour and so the garden is just one big canvas to paint in with plants. Different plant combinations creating different moods in different areas of the garden.

Q7. Your borders are so artful and dreamy….can you give us some advice on how to start with combining colours in the border?

Choose only colours which you like and then choose other colours that will complement those.

Q8. What advice would you give people who are creating gardens for themselves right now?

Don’t feel its too challenging or you don’t know enough. Jump in and just enjoy the journey. We are all learning and each garden is different. Grow plants you feel you like, and colours you like. A garden is never finished and after a year you can edit your choices and move plants. The biggest hindrances will be the ones in your mind.
Also, ask yourself, ‘What do I want from my garden, what do I want it to be?. Everyone will have a different answer to that.

Q9. You grow some stunning dahlia specimens – can you give us any advice on growing these incredible plants?

Yes, I love Dahlias. So do slugs when they are small, so I start them off in pots and transfer to the ground when they are about a foot or so tall. That way the stem has hardened off. The plant might get some leaves nibbled but thats ok. No slug pellets. Deadheading spent flowers will stop them producing seed so they will go on making new flowers all summer long.

Q10. What are your top three favourite Dahlia varieties and why?

I’m growing only single Dahlias from seed so the flowers are simpler and combine really well with other plants. And of course they are loaded with nectar and pollen so everyone is happy.

About the Garden:Patthana Garden is an award-winning small village garden set over a third of an acre and is home to T.J. Maher and Simon Kirby.  Despite the size of the plot the garden is laid out in a series of different garden spaces which lends interest to the garden and is full of design concepts, ideas and inspiration from both a floral and landscaping perspective.  The lower cobbled courtyard with its Potting shed and a sunken mediation room leads to the main courtyard with a small wildlife pond and is bursting with colourful pot displays.  Both these areas house an extensive collection of plants from the hardy to the tender and exotic.  Circular granite steps sweep up  to the upper terrace garden with its borders of herbaceous perennials, annuals and unusual shrubs and trees carefully chosen for a small garden.  Patthana Garden is gardened organically and is a sanctuary and haven for wildlife with many plants chosen for their value to wildlife.

Learn with T.J.

T.J. runs the Patthana Garden Course, which offers a unique opportunity to witness Patthana Garden as it changes through the year.  On this inspirational nine month course running March to November you will join artist and creator of Patthana Garden T.J. Maher to learn about topics such as how to use colour creatively in the garden, selecting plants for maximum interest and impact, propagation techniques, garden design, creating borders and  fabulous pot displays, attracting wildlife, choosing the right plant for the right place, among numerous other topics.   Limited places – must be pre-booked 

Patthana Garden is open to the public every Sunday from the 1st Sunday in May to 1st Sunday in October from 12 to 5pm. Groups by Appointment at other times.  

Address: Kiltegan, Co. Wicklow, W91 X789 

Contact: T.J. Maher  

All imagery courtesy of featured TJ Maher at Patthana Garden

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