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How to achieve a perfect garden

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Something many gardeners aspire to is creating the perfect ‘Cottage Garden’. We’ve all seen them in magazines and gardening programmes, and when you close your eyes you can picture exactly what it should look like. But, how to achieve it?

Cottage garden plants are primarily roses and perennials, along with clematis for height and sometimes some topiary or low hedging. As always, I am going to be boring and say that it is all about preparation – most perennial plants and roses need deep, rich, well-drained soil, a sunny aspect and shelter from wind. That is why the ideal picture usually features a walled garden or the backdrop of a cottage. Most of these plants also prefer a slightly alkaline soil. So, it is definitely worth considering where you wish to situate your plants and prepare the ground for them by adding drainage, sand and lime if necessary.

To create a cottage type garden with an abundance of interest, it is important to take scale into account. The height of the tallest plant at the back should be equal to half the width of the bed. Plants should be grouped in threes for impact, and if you are short on space, try to repeat one variety three times at intervals instead. This makes for a coherent whole.

Decide on a colour palette

I tend to think in pinks, pale blues and whites with a bit of yellow here and there, but equally warm reds, oranges, yellows with a bit of deep purple or bright pink works. Roses are an integral part of the cottage garden, and with so many beauties to pick from I will devote next week to them. Perennial plants are the second large group of plants used in cottage gardens. Some which look well together in warm colours are Day lilies, rudbeckia, helianthemum and Asiatic lilies.

Cooler colours which work well are delphiniums, aconitum, agapanthus, nerine and liatris. Dahlias come in so many shades and shapes they can be found to compliment any colour scheme, as can begonias. For taller plants at the back, try Giant Scabious with its pale yellow flowers reaching to two metres, the azure blue flowers of chicory, deep purple of verbena bonariensis, or bright magenta of Knautia. Again, gladioli are ideal for the back of any border, though the butterfly types will only grow to about 60cm.

At the front go for lavender, catmint, or hardy geraniums. Greenery is of great importance among this abundance of flowers. I have several beautiful Mahonias ‘Soft Caress’ throughout my garden. They flower yellow in winter but have delicate feathery foliage all year round. Alchemilla mollis is another of my favourites, with its lime green foliage and flowers it provides an ideal foil. Grasses and ferns also provide interest. I cannot stress the importance of mixing some foliage plants in as it is these which allow the eye to observe the flowers!

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Daffodils are possibly the easiest bulbs to grow

By Debby Looney, gardening expert With autumn comes the promise of spring. In other words, once September is here, we have the joy of planning, colour coordinating and choosing the bulbs which are going to bring us out of the long winter months and into the bright new beginnings of the gardening year. Suffice to […]

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By Debby Looney, gardening expert

With autumn comes the promise of spring. In other words, once September is here, we have the joy of planning, colour coordinating and choosing the bulbs which are going to bring us out of the long winter months and into the bright new beginnings of the gardening year.

Suffice to say, I love bulbs. I also marvel at them each year, how such a dry, shrivelled little item can produce such blooms. I must admit, when I buy bulbs, I promise them as well as myself, that I will not spend money again next year, that this is the last time I will plant bulbs, that I now have the most beautiful choice there is, and so on. However, once the season starts, and I am faced with the photos on the boxes, not to mention the choice my ‘inbox’ receives, there I am buying again. There are always some pots or new areas that need filling!

Daffodils are one of the largest groups of bulbs and possibly the easiest to grow. They are split into 13 divisions – but no, I will not detail each one, that would be tedious! The proper Latin name for daffodil is Narcissus, named after the Greek mythological Narcissus who fell in love with his own reflection, and who, on realising this love could not be returned, melted away and turned into a flower. The most common divisions are; trumpet, which would include the common yellow daff, large and small cupped, and the pheasant eye daffs would be an example of the smaller cupped division. Tazetta are the daffs which produce more than three flowers per stem, such as paperwhites. Bulbocodiums have dominant coronas, while jonquils are generally small with five to seven flowers per stem.

How to plant them

When planting daffs, or any bulbs, make sure to plant them the right way up! The pointier side goes up – now, this might seem like common sense, but first timers and children are not always too sure. Plant the bulb down three times its own depth with a little compost or grit in the bottom of the hole. A teaspoon of bonemeal can be added in the bottom also, but make sure the bulb does not touch it. All bulbs prefer well drained soil, though daffodils do put up with fairly wet conditions.

Some great varieties to try are: ‘Avalon’, a large cupped variety with big lemon yellow flowers. The corona is paler and fades to white with age. ‘Golden Ducat’, an old and reliable double yellow daff, ‘Pink Paradise’, one of my favourites, a double daff, which is white with pink. It is also scented. ‘Merlin’ is white, with a small, bright orandge corona – it spreads well. ‘Minnow’ is a very popular dwarf daff with three pale yellow flowers to each stem, growing to about 20cm. ‘Tete-a-tete’ also remains a popular dwarf variety, it naturalises well. ‘Rip van Winkle’ is another small variety with spikey double flowers. It will not tolerate wet! ‘Thalia’ is a beautifully scented, delicate looking white variety bearing two flowers on each stem. ‘Mount Hood’ is probably the most popular and reliable large trumpeted white daffodil available.

It is well worth looking out for unusual varieties – I certainly think it is worth paying a bit extra for something different, but do put them in pots, or a special spot, where you can appreciate them!

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Summer’s over, it’s time to focus on fitness

By Brian Foley from Activate Fitness For a lot of people, the summer months are a perfect time to loosen the reins a bit when it comes to fitness and nutrition, and that’s OK. With summer coming to an end, a lot of people now face a key inflection point; do you take inventory of […]

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By Brian Foley from Activate Fitness

For a lot of people, the summer months are a perfect time to loosen the reins a bit when it comes to fitness and nutrition, and that’s OK.

With summer coming to an end, a lot of people now face a key inflection point;
do you take inventory of where you are in relation to your goals and double down on making progress starting today, or do you keep all things the same and just cruise into the fast-approaching Christmas, inevitably just putting your goals on hold until it comes time to set those New Year’s resolutions for 2022?

I’ve written plenty about the psychology of “Monday, January 1 etc.”, check out our blog on www.activate.ie for why we think January 1 isn’t sustainable.

It can be tough to hear but we’re almost at the final quarter of 2021. The year will wrap up soon and it’s up to you to decide how you’re going to end it.

I love the idea of compounding habits, the author James Clear (Atomic Habits) calls habits the “compound interest of self-improvement”. So let’s take a 1% improvement each day between here and Christmas.
“1%? It will take me forever to reach my goal if I just improve by 1% each day”, but that’s exactly where you are going to fail. We often look for the new shiny novelty and quick fix that promises 40% in six weeks, but we typically get nowhere near that type of return in nowhere near that timeframe. But if we focus on the process and make small incremental changes daily, that’s where the magic occurs.

One small improvement each day this autumn means you will be flying high in whatever you choose to be doing by Christmas.

Here’s a simple example:

Day 1 – Add vegetables to a meal you previously didn’t
Day 2 – Move more and get in some intentional exercise, like a walk for example.
Day 3 – Drink 2 litres of water
Day 4 – Write down your thoughts for the day and list things you were thankful for
Day 5 – Add a source of protein to a meal that previously didn’t have protein
Day 6 – Go for a longer walk than Day 2.
Day 7 – Prioritise sleep aiming to get at least 7 hours.

Think what types of habits you will accrue by day one hundred. None of the above are earth shattering huge changes, just small incremental habitual changes that keep adding on top of each other. And if we manage to stack small habitual improvement on top of small habitual improvement we get big changes that cause an overall improvement in our lives. None of the above mean you need to live like a hermit or just eat chicken and broccoli, but they do mean you have to commit to the longer term changes and give up the fads and be consistent in your thoughts and actions.

We often think the chains that hold us back are physical, where nine times out of 10 they are mental and we need to see these constraints for what they are.

As a colleague of mine @angela_kerrisk posted on social media over the weekend:

“In life, we can have results or reasons. If you are not getting the results you want, your reasons are the lies that you keep telling yourself.”

Your move. Let’s go!

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