June Blake’s garden
June Blake has created an intriguing garden in the Irish countryside, where sharp structure and soft layered planting happily co-exist. Written by Alasdair Currie.
There are three acres of garden that many in the ‘Emerald Isle’ and further afield believe to be amongst the finest private expressions of current contemporary plant and garden design. Situated close to the County Wicklow town of Blessington, June Blake’s garden is all but invisible behind tall layers of beech and sycamore foliage.
Here, on her family’s old farm, plantswoman June has created a tour de force of elegant design interlaced with swathes of naturalistic planting. Her inspiration stems from the walks and hikes she takes through the landscape of the distant Wicklow Hills – from what nature creates.
With her careful eye for detail, June began the process of developing the farm in the late 2000s.
Helped by Dublin-based architect Michael Kelly, renovation began, firstly on the unique 19th-century Steward’s house, then latterly on the L-shaped courtyard barns.
The heart of the garden is a grid system of raised borders reminiscent of a North American city streetscape. Perfectly uniform and spaced gravel paths (10mm gravel) allow the visitor to navigate between a series of seven large raised beds and a single elongated rectangular reflecting pool, newly adorned with lightly coloured cast concrete wall seats at either end.
This juxtaposing of hard and angular landscaping elements is part of the key to the success of the site. At the height of the flowering season, the walls of the raised beds seem to disappear as one’s eye is held by the colours and textural beauty of June’s planting palette.
It is within these herbaceous borders that June exhibits a true freedom of expression, and where her innate gentleness finds voice.
Within the long entrance border in spring, multiple small silver-leafed Pulmonaria ‘Blake’s Silver’ grow by roughly textured large-leafed Rodgersias or smooth Bergenias. Layers of Hostas give way to elongated stems of cream-flowered Thalictrum pubescens (one of June’s current favourites) and Primula florindae hybrids. Close by, in a neighbouring bed reminiscent of Germany’s Hermannshof botanical garden, Achillea ‘Red Beauty’, cream-coloured Paradisia lusitanica, Aruncus dioicus and purple Linaria purpurea vie for attention amongst a sea of flowerheads and stems.
By the house and patio, a leaning Larix decidua (European larch) has been allowed to remain despite its diminished scale – part of the tree fell this year, creating yet more space for change.
Within many of the borders, June has chosen to express a sculptural interest by planting highly architectural varieties, including the spiky and parasol-like Aralia echinocaulis, yellow-stemmed Phyllostachys vivax f. aureocaulis (golden Chinese timber bamboo) or Paulownia tomentosa. But ultimately, the garden is about pace too. Previously, the many coach loads of garden visitors were channelled straight from the car park, through the nursery sales area and onwards into the garden. Now, a graceful snaking path and clover-sown grass mounds force the viewer to slow down and prepare for what they are about to experience.
At the garden’s far side, curved mown grass paths and wildflower meadows gently guide the visitor upwards to the final observation point. From up here, on high, one truly appreciates how June has melded the site into its environment, allowing the natural to ingress more and more, whilst glimpses of the wild and inspiring Wicklow Hills appear on the horizon.
June Blake’s garden, in Tinode, Co. Wicklow, Ireland is open every Wednesday to Sunday from April to September, 11am-5.30pm; plus guided garden tours by appointment. The Cowhouse is an exceptional architect-designed retreat – a recently restored farm building set in the grounds of the garden and available for holiday lets. Tel: +353 87 2770399. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Web: juneblake.ie.
Encouraged by her younger brother Jimi, whose famous Hunting Brook Gardens are across the hill, June swapped jewellery for horticulture and gained an RHS qualification and hands-on experience at Mount Venus Nursery, Dublin. Her beautiful garden attracts thousands of visitors, drawn by its interesting mix of traditional and contemporary elements.