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How to care for house plants

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‘House plants’ are not house plants everywhere in the world. Somewhere in the world, what we grow indoors is growing happily outdoors. Most plants that we grow indoors in Ireland are from tropical places with fairly stable temperatures. Within our homes, we can create different conditions to care for different types of plants.

When you are caring for a houseplant, there are a few things that you need to keep in mind: temperature, light, humidity and water, as well an any ongoing trimming or shaping.

Temperature: Most houseplants dislike very hot places, so avoid keeping them too near radiators, fires or cooking surfaces. They enjoy the type of temperatures that we enjoy, eg approx. 14º to 24ºC. Just like us, they dislike cold draughst, so avoid windy halls or leaky windows in winter. A slight downward temperature change at night time promotes better flowering .

Light: All plants require a degree of natural light. Some houseplants, such as Cacti and succulents, require as much light as can be found in Irish homes – including direct sunlight. These should be placed in sunny windows. Other plants, such as orchids and ferns, require light, but not direct sunlight. These plants can be placed further into the room. Some plants, such as Spider plants, bromeliads and Sanseveria can survive very low light levels, such as bathrooms with small windows.

Humidity: Many houses can be very dry, especially when heating is on over the winter. Misting the plants occasionally with water keeps the leaves clean and the foliage fresh.

Water: As a general rule, plants require at least twice as much water in the summer as in the winter. In winter, allow the compost to get dry between watering. Empty any excess water from the saucer or pot after watering to prevent soggy compost. In the warmer months, increase watering and allow compost to be moister, but still remove excess water.

Feeding: Use a liquid fertiliser during the warmer summer months, added to the water every 2-3 weeks. Some plants such as orchids, citrus and cactus have specific fertilisers. View the Pdf version by clicking here.

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What Dubliners can learn from Hamburgers

When you are somewhere for a short time, and you explore, you come away with a few distinct impressions.

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They may not be representative, or even accurate. In any case, we were in Hamburg for two days at a trade event and had a day to look around. As gardeners and plant lovers, here are the impressions that we came away with; bearing in mind that these thoughts are seen through the lense of 'if only' when it comes to Ireland or, more specifically, Dublin.

People are not afraid to 'live with plants'. Compared to Irish people, the Hamburgers seem to understand that they can have plants adjacent to, on top of or below them without disastrous results. There is a general fear in Ireland about plants getting 'too big' (ie reaching their natural size), as well as some illogical fear that plants need to be kept a healthy distance from the house. It's almost as if we have a fear of them expressing themselves naturally, a bizarre throwback to Catholic stilting of exuberance. "The tree is growing up too fast, it's waving its arms about, it's sowing its seed and just doing whatever is in its nature to do. Cut it back, strip the limbs, those branches are taking our light, our water, our view." That's the Irish way. 

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Entrances to car parks under apartment buildings. Could we ever achieve anything like this in Ireland? The skill and effort that went into the planning, the construction, the cobble-laying, the plant choices and the maintenance is something that would find almost impossible to muster.

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Hamburgers are better gardeners. Is that too brutal a thing to say? Of course, we have amazing gardeners here in Ireland and amazing gardens too. But if you were too average it out and throw everyone into the mix, I would say that they would come out on top. Maybe a better way to say it is that their general level of horticultural skill is higher than our general level. That is because we have many people in Ireland who are so deracinated (to use a horticultural term) that they haven't the faintest idea how to care for a plant. The basic skill-set for many Irish people in relation to horticulture is NIL. Or, for some, there is a sense that you need to pour weedkiller over your outdoor area a couple of times per year. When I lived in Germany in my twenties, my two flatmates, who were students, grew their own herbs and tomatoes on the balcony. In our shops we frequently get asked questions such as: 'Should I take it out of the pot when I plant it?" or 'Oh. I didn't realise it was going to get bigger", or " I didn't know it needed to be watered. All my plants just die on me." From what we saw of Hamburg, the end result is an urban and suburban landscape which displays skilled, knowledgeable handiwork, the likes of which is rare in Ireland. Apartment blocks, balconies, street planting and parks all display an understanding of horticulture which weon;y have in very short supply.

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Great cacti collection in a shop window.

Despite having many things wrong with its attitude to the environment, including a love affair with luxury cars, giant motorways and way too many foreign holidays, Germans know that gardens - or the outdoors in general - is 'the nature' and needs to be treated with respect. There's no evidence of chemical sprays. Grass in median strips is allowed to be long and shaggy. There is a certain tolerance of 'mess': ie unhindered growth where it doesn't get in anyone's way. When was the last time you saw someone out with a flame weeder in a public space in Dublin? In our Monkstown shop, which we take great pride in maintaining, we were asked by the local tidy town people if we could please spray weedkiller on any cracks in the pavement outside our shop! How can it be 'tidy' to spray poison onto the brave bits of greenery that soften the edges between concrete pavemets and concrete wall? This is exactly the attitude that we really need to loose in Ireland when it comes to the perception of 'tidiness'.

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Two people involved in different methods of weed removal. The default method in Ireland is poisonous glyphosate-based herbicides.

Hamburg is a wonderfully green city. I am sure that if we had been there in February we would have felt differently. But green or not, it has veins of wildness running right through it, with canals, small rivers and lakes. Balconies are full of plants. Trees and shrubs grow up and around apartment buildings so that the residents can look into the branches. So waht can Dubliners learn from Hamburgers? 

  • Don't be afraid of trees and shrubs getting to close to you: they don't bite.
  • Don't use herbicides / plantkillers, but learn to tolerate growth or to remove it manually.
  • Choose trees carefully that can can grow to their natural size.
  • Even if you love your car and your car parkind space, allow as much greenery as you can fit all around it.
  • Put as much time as you can into gardening your own little patch: it's pleasurable to do this, not a chore.
  • Whether you have a balcony, a windowsill, a patch of pavement or a big garden stretching down to the river, allow 'nature' to find a foothold in the form of plants.
  • Learn that 'messiness' is, to a degree, a natural state, and practice tolerance for 'weeds' (we're not advocating messy, unkempt gardens here).
  • Dare to plant a tree if you have even a couple of square metres. The more of them there are around the nicer everything looks. And don't hack them when they get 'too big'.

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A beautiful front garden with magnolia, roses, pond and box hedging.

 

Weedkiller Season Again

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It's summer and the sprayers are out again. Every year it's the same thing. People see lovely new growth and decide that the best thing to do with it is to spray it with weedkiller. It's a strange reaction because the weedkilled area looks terrible for months, and then a selection of the most aggressive weeds comes along when growth remumes again. There is no reasonable argument for it, yet for some strange reason it appears to be part of 'looking after one's property'. It's expensive, ugly, dangerous to your health, poisonous to animals, soil, water insects, labour intensive....

In any case, garden centres have the opportunity - and even the responsibility -  not to sell weedkillers. A garden centre selling weedkiller is akin to a doctor selling something that makes you ill. Garden centres should be life affirming places that deal with growth, not with death. Sure, weeds grow in gravel, verges and edges grow fast and need dealing with, but herbicides are an unfortunate blip in the world of gardening: a bit like people saying that smoking was healthy in the early days.

As gardeners or farmers, or anyone responsible for any outdoor space, we each have the responsibility for our own little bit of land. Collectively it all adds up to the what we call the world - that's if you include public spaces, roads, parks, woods etc. Weedkillers get everywhere, poisoning plants and animals, including humans. They are not necessary, least of all in gardening. Farmers find reasons to spray their land with herbicides and insecticides, with disastrous results for wildlife and their heath. Gardeners have no excuse; gardening is done ostensibly for pleasure. Although our gardens may be small on an individual basis, collectively they cover huge areas. Furthermore, the treatement of our personal plot should be symbolic of our attitude towards the greater world. Here in Ireland, where green is our national colour, we should remember this: our national colour is not burnt orange-brown. Using any form of poison in a garden negates the purpose of gardening. It's sad that the 'authorities' use weedkiller with abandon. County Councils such as DunLaoghaire Rathdown haven't cleaned the blocked road drains around our Monkstown shop in years, nor swept the pavements for that matter, yet they diligently send out a crew to douse the pavements in weedkiller every summer.

Well, there's the annual anti-weedkiller rant over ansd done with for another year. I hope that one day it won't be necessary. I hope that more garden centre owners will stay on the side of gardening and of the natural world. I hope that people will regard their own plot as a small part of a tiny whole, all of which needs to be treated with respect.

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Unless they want a bowling green, it's difficult to see how this brown-yellow collection of dead plants is preferable to some mown or strimmed greenery. The perception that any plant other than grass is a weed is still prevalent in Ireland.. 

Our garden centre in Dunboyne, Co Meath

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Customers like to point our that our new garden isn't actually in Dunboyne. They say that it's much closer to Clonee. Over 20 years ago there was a garden centre on the site known as 'Clonee Garden Centre'. Then it became Gardenworks. After that it became Plantagen, and was a flagship shop for a Norwegian chain than planned to expand across Ireland. A few years after that it closed down, and now it has opened up as 'Avoca Dunboyne', and we have a big chunk of it on the left hand side. It seems that it will be known for the forseeable future as 'The Former Plantagen Garden Centre' as it was such a landmark in the area. If it sounds like it's a long way from Dublin, it's not. Take Exit 5 from the M3, cross over the motorway and drive in the same direction along the old N3. Always follow signs to Fairyhouse. It's less than ten minutes from the M50.

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In any case, we have come from our very small shop in Monkstown to what is (for us) a very big shop. We have brought with us the same principles, and have been able to find space for more stock that we could fit into Airfield or Monkstown. We are still driven by a love of plants and the desire to sell healthy plants that thrive in Irish climate. We are proud of the fact that most of our outdoor plants are grown by Irish growers. These are people who know what works in Ireland, and Irish-grown plants have less 'road miles' than imported ones, are hardier and of course provide jobs within our own country. Although our shop is not huge, we believe that we have a selection of plants that will be hard to find elsewhere. We seek out the unusual and the beautiful, and many of our plants come from smaller, specialist growers: paeonies from a specialist paeony grower, herbs that are tough, hardy and flavoursome, trees and shrubs that are unusual and are grown from cuttings in Ireland, bedding plants that are grown in Wicklow, Kildare and Meath. Ultimately, plants are what we are interested in, and we hope that visitors will find what they are looking for when they come to our shop.

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Our new garden centre in Airfield, Dundrum

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In our Monkstown garden centre, there are times when we have been bursting at the seams with plants. It's the usual gardeners dilemma: so many plants and not enough space to fit them all into. When we came across the opportunity at Airfield Estate in Dundrum, we jumped at the chance to open a second shop where we would have more room for plants. Airfield's long history of gardening and growing is impressive. It's a valuable reminder of country life that remains right in the heart of Dublin's inner suburbs, complete with a 38 acre farm and garden. It's also an ideal location for a garden centre, with lots of parking, easy access and a wonderful position. Airfield is run as a charitable trust whose mission is to educate, inspire and to 'refresh the connection with food and the land it comes from'. Sales in our shop directly benefit the estate, so any purchase from us assists in furthering this mission.

With this in mind, our stock reflects the history and the ethos of Airfield. Plants are our big interest, and are supplied by Irish nurseries wherever possible. We have plenty of herbs, fruit tree and seeds suitable for grow-it-yourself gardeners. We supply certified organic potting composts, soil improvers and fertilisers. We also have all the trees, shrubs and flowers that are needed to create beautiful, healthy gardens. We have all the gardening tools and accessories that a dedicated gardener could wish for. Finally, we have friendly, knowledgeable staff who can offer expert advice. A visit to us is made all the more pleasant by a stroll through the farm and gardens or a visit to the excellent cafe/restaurant.

Just some of the items you can expect to find in our Airfield garden centre:

  • Outdoor plants: almost all from Irish nurseries, including trees, shrubs, hedging, perennials, ferns, bedding plants, bamboos, fruit trees and bushes.
  • Seeds: including organic seeds from Brown Envelope seeds, as well as Sarah Raven seeds, World Botanic seeds, organic green manure seeds, grass seeds, wild flower seed mixes.
  • Indoor plants: a big selection of indoor and conservatory plants.
  • Pots for indoor and outdoor plants, including many ranges that are unique in Ireland, including pots from Belgium, Germany and Holland.
  • Potting composts and fertilisers, including certified organic composts, John Innes composts, peat-reduced compost, specialist composts for orchids, cacti etc, ericaceous compost, organic 'Gee-up' horse manure, seaweed fertilisers, Soil Renew soil improver.
  • Gardening tools: we have the best selection of high quality garden tools in Ireland. We stock hand forged tools from deWit in Holland, Felco cutting tools from Switzerland, Niwaki tools from Japan, Berger and Freund tools from Germany, Fort wheelbarrows from Holland and much more.
  • Irrigation equipment from Geka, Germany. These include hoses that don't kink, hose fittings that last forever, hose reels, sprinklers, lances and so on.
  • Well designed and well made garden furniture from Italy and Holland. It will last for many years and bring style and elegance to your garden.
  • Door mats and rugs, so that you can keep your floors clean as you come inside after you've been enjoying the garden.
  • A big selection of well-chosen candles, toys, cards and garden accessories.

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How to find us: we are located approximately 5 minutes from the M50 motorway on Overend Way, Dundrum. If you have navigation on your phone or in your car, simply follow directions to Airfield Estate. If you dont, take the exit from the M50 signposted Dundrum. Drive past Dundrum Town Centre (ie shopping centre) on your left. Pass through a couple of sets of traffic lights and drive straight on. You will go up a hill onto Overend Way. The entrance to Airfield is well signposted and is on your right. Coming from Ranelagh / Rathgar / Clonskeagh direction, simply drive along the Clonskeagh Road and turn right at The Goat Bar & Grill onto Taney Road. Shortly after, take the second left up Birches Lane. At the top of Birches Lane, turn right onto Kilmacud Road. Keep left, and a moment later this road turns into Overend Way. We are half way down on the left hand side.

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