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Shady Gem

Shady Gem


In late July every year, well planted borders everywhere are brimming over with colour and foliage. Having enjoyed masses of Spring bulb splendour and early summer Iris and Aquilegia, we come into a more substantial phase in the garden. In a symphony this phase would be called the crescendo, the time in a piece where everything comes to a dramatic climax.

I think many gardens have this feel in August and September. Before the plants start to develop seedheads for wildlife, there is one last explosion of colour and bloom. Sedums bloom in cushions of red and pink and yet green grasses have tall plumes of feathered foliage.

On a recent trip to the wonderful Birr castle, Lord Rosse, a true plantsman and collector, took us on a fascinating August tour of the many beautiful areas of the grounds. From borders exploding with late summer colour to many unique tree specimens, this garden really is beautifully planned, planted and maintained.

We studied the flowers and foliage of trees such as the exceptionally rare Carrierea calycina and photographed the worlds oldest Box hedges in the formal gardens. Here native Chilean plants grow happily next to Tazmanian specimens and all look as though they belong here. In Spring, the gardens of the estate are alive with special Birr Violet shrubs and a noted collection of Magnolias. At this time of the year however, the shady river walk is where you really want to be.

After crossing over Ireland’s oldest suspension bridge, Lord Rosse lead us through massive cushions of pale pink hydrangea to a more delicate and subtle variety of the shrub. The stunning Hydrangea aspera ‘Villosa’, or ‘Lacecap’ Hydrangea, he tells us, was a real favourite of his mother, Anne, Countess of Rosse and she planted many specimens throughout the demesne.

This variety is one of the more unusual ones and does so well in a shady spot such as this. These lovely loose shrubs have velvety soft deep green leaves and when in flower have beautiful tightly packed purple centres which are surrounded by the palest pink florets, which almost seem to glow in the light.

The Hydrangea plant has had a bit of a hard time in landscape design in the near past but has thankfully had a massive resurgence in the past few years. And no wonder, It’s notable thriving in shady spots and masses of showy flower mops mean that this plant is a trusty selection for any garden and from a design point of view can fit into both formal schemes as well as more loose country garden styles.

Interestingly the Villosa is one of the only Hydrangeas that have a reliable colour. You see, most Hydrangeas colour shading relies on the acid pigmentation for their blue hue, turning even the most striking blue specimen into a pink in normal soil.

I think Hydrangeas are incredibly rewarding and if you can get your hands on one of these specimens then it would really brighten up a shady spot in the garden. For a plant that is both subtle and yet truly captivating in flower and leaf, this shrub is a wonderful choice.

For more on Birr Castle go to the Birr Castle website

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