For over 30 years Arthur O’Meara has been the life and soul of O’Meara’s Garden Pavillion. Walking around his own garden during our phone call, Arthur remarks on the snowdrops, as they fall asleep again; making way for the daffodils, which are just about ready to shake their yellow heads, saying hello to the spring.
Arthur shares his best advice on hedging, trees and shrubbery for the countryside garden.
“My preference is beech. If you prepare the ground properly before planting beech, it will grow over one foot per year. So you dig your trench, add well-rotted farm yard manure to the bottom of it and cover the plant with a bit of top soil. Keep the weeds away from the plants for two years and you will have a fine hedge.
“It’s very traditional, but the rules don’t change and it works.
“Beech may not suit everybody’s taste though, as it can get a little bare in the winter time when it sheds some leaves. But out in the countryside it looks much more natural than green leylandii or laurel, for example. They can look a bit out of place in rural Ireland; a little suburban.
“For this reason, people are going away from growing a uniform hedge. A mix of semi native species, such as rugosa rose, beech, cotoneaster and viburnum gives a bit of variation and looks less sterile. It also brings colour in the autumn time and provides well for the insects and bees.
“Whitethorn and blackthorn blend in well in the countryside and are great to mingle in with other species. They can be a bit raw in the winter time around the house, but are good out in the fields.
“Put a little bit of thought into growing a hedge, rather than going asking for the cheapest option that will grow quickly.”
“Anything that will flower after Christmas time, giving you a bit of colour to brighten up the winter days is a good choice shrub. It is easy-peasy to have colour in your garden in summer time, but try to get colour in your garden in December.”
Arthur’s top five shrubbery picks are:
Daphne bholua Jacqueline postill: “As we speak, I am looking at this plant that has been in flower since before Christmas and is going out of flower just now. I am 30 foot away from it and I can smell it. It is a super plant.”
Rhododendron Christmas cheer: “In flower since Christmas. Rhododendrons only grow in peaty soil (acidic soil) so you dig a hole and throw in a bag of peat moss.”
Viburnum tinus eve price: “This is an evergreen plant and it flowers for six months of the year. It is quite hardy and will grow in any type of reasonable soil. You can actually make a lovely small hedge out of it too.”
Sarcococca confusa: “Also known as Christmas box; this is coming into flower now and is nice near to the house, as it has a great scent. It prefers a bit of shade. It just has a simple small white flower, but is a super plant.”
Hamamelis: “This is also known as witch hazel. It is quite hardy, very easy to grow and will flower for months.
“The important thing to remember with all these plants – especially the smaller ones – is that planting one is a waste of time. You should plant in groups of threes, fives or sevens, to get an impact.
You wouldn’t stick a whole lot of different shaped and coloured tiles on the wall at home, so don’t go into the garden centre and pick one of each plant that is in flower. You can’t expect to have a garden if you do.
“I am also looking at a Christmas rose (helleborus) right now. Although, it is not a rose at all - it is a herbaceous plant, that grows well in the shade of a shrub. They come in a whole range of colours; pinks, purples, whites and so on. You can plant a clump of them together and they will come up every year in early spring.
“There is a plant for every corner of your garden, but you need to do your research and figure out what suits your garden. Don’t be afraid to ask questions in the garden centre.”
“We have a hang up in Ireland about not putting trees near the house. We are terrified that they will knock the house, or that they are poisonous. But children don’t eat trees nowadays and they will find a lot more poison under the kitchen sink. So don’t be afraid to plant some nice trees in your back garden.
“My favourite tree is beech. It looks class all year around, even in the winter time. If you have a bit of shelter already, the Japanese maple trees are perfect, as they won’t grow too big. Liquid amber has fantastic autumn colour.
“Some of the flat-topped cherry trees (prunus shirotae) are beautiful. In its time, the prunus shirotae will grow up to 25 foot wide, but only about 12 foot high, like a big umbrella. It is absolutely glorious, but only for a week. That is to remind you of the brevity of life. That is why they revere them in Japan. They symbolise that life is beautiful but short. In recent times, we have learned to enjoy every day as it comes and this tree reinforces that message.
“There is a variety of birch called betula tristis and it is absolutely fantastic, because it dances in the wind as it gets older. They look magical in the winter time and are one of my favourite trees.
“You need to take good care of fruit trees. If you don’t, you will not get the result you want. The cold frost and wind that sometimes comes late in the season is a disaster for fruit trees. You need to pick your variety of fruit tree very carefully, choosing the one that will flower later in the season. The ones that flower too early are at risk of frost and will not produce fruit. Nowadays, you can get smaller fruit trees too. If you explain in the garden centre where you want to plant the tree, they should be able to advise you properly.
“You can plant trees all year round in Ireland, but the best time is between now and St Patrick’s Day, or the beginning of October. And again, preparing the ground is crucial. Dig the hole wider, rather than deeper for a tree. Most people don’t do that.”