The Irish have five traditional compass directions: North, South, West, East…and Here. Here is an old expression the Irish immigrants used, to mean wherever they
live in the world, the mother country is with them in their hearts. Here is wherever the spirit lives, and its days can be brightened with a lush, green garden evocative of the Emerald Isle itself.
Still, how Irish can a garden really be, without actually being in Ireland? I think my personal garden comes close - and you can easily have something just as evocative!.
A bit of personal background: My ancestors hail from the Isle of Man, in the middle of the Irish Sea, and I have toured many gardens in Ireland. Heck, in 2012 I was honored to be the Grand Marshal of the fifth-largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in America. So with these roots, you can imagine I enjoy recreating a bit o’ the green in my little cottage garden - without a lot of fuss or finesse.
Coincidentally - and I‘m not making this up - the official 2013 Pantone color of the year is Emerald Green. So it’s not only historic, but also quite trendy.
There are good reasons why Ireland is called the Emerald Isle: Due to the surrounding waters of the Gulf Stream, its climate is temperate, never getting really cold, and staying mild in the summers. It rarely gets into the 80s, and always cools down at night. And those gloriously beautiful sunny days that don’t start out foggy are interrupted frequently with rain showers - perfect for a never-ending panorama of green.
So gardening with a wide variety of low-maintenance plants to give your garden some Irish flair is fairly easy. Start, however, with the “hard” features that make bold statements. An irregular stone walk, using gray, slate, or bluish stones, with an occasional standing stone or rockery for accent is easy enough, but for real drama add a stone bench, birdbath, bench, water trough or even a Celtic cross.
In many Medieval Irish churches you can still find stone carvings of the mythical Green Man - a foliate face with ivy and other plants flowing from its mouth, nose and ears. What a great wall hanging one of those can become! Or for a more whimsical touch, tuck a small leprechaun-like garden gnome or fairy in somewhere. (Note that I am only barely mentioning lining part of the path with some upended ale bottles - a common sight throughout the British Isle. Really. After all, if the Irish don’t have a sense of humor, they have nothing left at all!)
As for plants, don’t think Irish gardens are all shaded with holly, ivy, moss, ferns and traditional evergreen hedges pruned low and tight. Those are certainly popular and easy, no matter where you live. There is as much color (colour?) in Irish gardens as any English garden I have seen.
You would of course expect clovers of all types, with my favorite being the burgundy shamrock, Oxalis 'Triangularis’ with large, deep burgundy leaves and pale pink, star-shaped flowers. It is cold-hardy in Gulf Coast, Mid-Atlantic and West Coast gardens, but is a delightful container plant everywhere - perfect for setting out as a potted St. Patrick’s Day accent.
Where you can create a shaded Irish garden, be sure to tuck moss in between everything, and if you don’t mind watering a lot, try to include a little of the rugged, emerald green Irish moss (Sagina subulata).
Irish springs are filled with daffodils and other bulbs, foxglove, iris (love that foliage!), sedum and other stonecrops, and small flowering trees, most tumbling over one another in an almost random matter. One of the most popular “filler” plants is grayish Artemisia, especially the non-invasive ‘Powis Castle‘.
So, no matter where on the compass you find yourself gardening, you won’t need a pot of gold to recreate a slice of Ireland! After all, with just the right touch of green, everyone can be Irish.