Thursday, 8 August 2013

Hunting Brook Gardens

Early morning light on Persicaria amplexicaulis 'Orangefields', with Monarda behind.
Lying literally just beyond the Pale, in the West Wicklow hills at about 900' above sea level, Hunting Brook has become one of Ireland's famous gardens since its inception about ten years ago. Jimi Blake was fortunate enough to inherit a subdivision of the family estate that has enabled him to create a garden to his own taste and requirements, and to use it and his home as a base for his business of horticultural consultancy, and for running courses and seminars on many aspects of gardening and the holistic life. More information is available on the Hunting Brook website.

Hunting Brook has featured in many of the 'glossies' over the years and the spreads are framed on the walls. Perusing them immediately highlights the most important fact about this garden: it is experimental and ever-changing. It is different every year as Jimi investigates other options and combinations, aiming for different effects with his plant material, old and new. Few people are as assiduous in trawling in the nurseries of these islands! The result is therefore an always fresh, always inspiring garden: Jimi's view is that the maximum lifespan of a planted bed is four years.

Airiness and elegance are two key words here: although the palette of perennials and grasses is similar to that used by many designers,  there is never any feeling of blockish painting by numbers, and one knows that there is plenty of seasonal change here too. This is a very serious plantsman's garden after all, and diversity is important, but it is achieved with harmony throughout.

A green and yellow area near the house showing the skilful paring of shades and textures of flowering plants and foliage: Primula florindae in the foreground, with Ligularia 'Britt-Marie Crawford' behind.

Glimpses of the landscape beyond: the slight feyness of Hunting Brook accords with its upland location.

A steep-sided valley runs through the property, carved by the Hunting Brook. with a canopy of a larch plantation above, it is a perfect place to grow ferns, both wild and cultivated, and is being transformed into green lushness.

The site includes this Bronze Age ring fort and a standing stone in the adjacent meadow.

Aralia echinocaulis was introduced to cultivation by the Glasnevin Central China Expedition in 2003, in which Jimi Blake was a participant. It is used repeatedly through the garden as a leit motif: with its prickly stems and enormous leaves it is a magnificent plant. This must be the largest in cultivation, growing through a hole in the deck in front of the house.
Lovely though the gardens are in full daylight, the quality of the planting is best seen very early in the morning, as the east light strikes the hillside.Being fortunate enough to be staying in the Garden Room, with a door straight outside I was able to get out to capture a few pictures while the light was at its most magical. It will be interesting to compare them with what I find on my next visit.

The golden gleam of early morning.

Filipendula purpurea 'Elegans' is used in large drifts and becomes incandescent in the low morning light.

It is astounding that no British nurseries (according to the RHS Plant Finder and database) stock Geranium 'Mount Venus', which, as seen at Hunting Brook at least, is an incredibly good plant, flowering for months on end. Here it is with Linaria vulgaris 'Peloria' and Stipa gigantea.

Even the native and usually rather weedy Wall Barley, Hordeum murinum, sems to grow in just the right place to catch the light.


  1. So exceedingly jealous, but inspired! I hope to see that garden in person someday! Thanks for sharing your experience and stunning photos!

  2. This garden/nursery is definitely on my to visit list, the ethos seems to echo one I am developing. I think the comment that a planted bed has a 4 year life is interesting and probably very true and I was amused by your comment on the plant blocks by number

  3. A top class garden with great plantmanship and colour play! Impressive!!
    But I have a feeling that it is not Hordeum murinum but H. jubatum the North American barley that you have photographed.


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