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October/November 2011

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Optimism in the face of adversity!

Shirley Lanigan hears of colossal damage to dahlias.

While many people lost some, or even a lot of, plants over the last two winters, very few lost almost everything. Paddy Grace grows dahlias and dahlias do not like frost. On the border between Wexford and Kilkenny, Paddy's garden took quite a hit over the past two hard winters. Losing the bulk of their favourite plants is hard for anyone. For someone who opens his garden to the public, it was more than an inconvenience - it was a body blow.

But when it comes to his garden, Paddy is one of the most optimistic, relaxed people ever. His response to the double-whammy was simple - he started again. His new, scaled-down, but gradually growing garden continues to open to visitors, and on view, there is a nice display of plants and a stunning display of resilience.

At one time, the whole garden was given over to dahlias, grown in big beds and business-like lines. There were dozens of different species and varieties, from water-lily types and pompoms to cactus, semi-cactus, star varieties, anemone and singles. These flowers filled the garden with their big, colourful, splashy, gorgeous, sometimes glaring shades. Paddy constantly added new acquisitions, grown from seeds and cuttings. He administered the care and attention these fairly fussy plants required throughout the year and was rewarded well for his work.

Then the winter of 2009/10 struck. There were a number of losses. Paddy was taken by surprise but he dealt with it and prepared for last winter by lifting his plants, drying them off, putting them in boxes of peat and storing them in sheds. But temperatures of -16° Celsius have little respect for sheds.

I could understand being philosophical about losses if the plants had been left in the ground to suffer their fate. But Paddy's calm so-be-it attitude is impressive to state the least. He told me that in the face of such an extreme, early and protracted winter, there was nothing to be done but get on with starting up the collection again.

The garden this year is made up of those few plants that survived, including species like delicate-looking Dahlia merckii, which he says is much tougher than the highly bred varieties. It also includes plants grown from new tubers, but because even the big nurseries were hit hard, getting hold of plants and tubers has been difficult so he is busy growing new plants from seed.
The long lines of plants have been replaced by a lawn around which smaller beds now hold the reduced collection, interspersed with herbaceous perennials. The operation has been scaled down but only for the time being!

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