The Artful garden of Dan & Irene Martineau

One of the first things you notice about Irene and Dan’s garden is the wonderful health of her blue scaevola, which she has growing in hanging baskets, in pots and in the garden. Scaevola seems to love it here and grows and blooms profusely.

The second thing you notice is her collection of garden art. Irene’s garden is a gallery of interesting and lovely objects that she places to show off her plants – or does she plant to show off her objects? No matter. The two work in perfect harmony.

But to say that is all would be wrong. The garden is the result of careful planning and hard work. A waterfall and pond, a stream, with a bridge – all these attest to the garden design vision that Irene has brought to enhance her home in Cornwall.

So it’s hard to believe that Irene didn’t start gardening until just eight years ago, when she started poring over gardening books, soaking up every bit of information she could find. Then she and Dan, whose father also loved flowers, began mapping out the garden together. “The only thing I’d do differently now,” says Irene, “is to do the waterfall over again and make the pond bigger.”

But then, they are always tweaking things here and changing them there, and now they help others plan their gardens, too. Dan finds that very rewarding.

“It’s my serenity garden, my escape,” says Irene. She loves it so much that she doesn’t know when to stop. Dan would call her in at dark, saying, “You can’t garden if you can’t see!” To solve that problem, friends bought her a LED miner’s lamp so she could garden at any hour.

“I love to walk through the garden in the morning when I get up to see what’s changed overnight. It’s a kaleidoscope. It’s constantly changing and growing. Sometimes I am astonished to notice that a plant appears to have grown four inches in eight hours!”

She loves to watch the bumblebees load up on pollen. She loves the flowers but recognizes the importance of foliage in design. An Italian arborist in his 70s went through her garden with her recently, explaining about each shrub and tree and now she has a new appreciation for the woody plants. “It opened up a new avenue of interest,” Irene says.

“You need texture, shape and colour to keep the garden interesting when the flowers have finished blooming.”

For the rest, she says she is a “little anal”.

“Everything has to be symmetrical. I don’t like things untidy. Your eyes have to flow. Like with the edging. It has to be almost like a river. It has to flow.”

Irene’s attention to detail extends to the artwork in her garden. The waterfall and pond, for example, are embellished with her little touches – a plaster boy here, a piece of gnarled driftwood there.

And Irene understands the need for adding levels of height to the plantations as well as the importance of texture and colour harmony.

She adores water plants and they respond to Irene’s regard, filling the pond with happy water lilies and water lettuce. “It take time to get them to the size of dinner plates, but it’s extremely satisfying to see them that way now,” she says.

Gardening here in Cornwall can involve wildlife. She has had a badger tear out the shrubbery among her sunflowers. She saw a fox one night, a rare treat in the city. Neighbouring cats often stop by for a drink from the pond, much to the delight of both Dan and Irene.

Her biggest challenge is wind, which can knock the stuffing out of tall plants in an instant, or the wicked rains that flatten the rest. Still, the weather is part of the territory.

One of the nicest things about the garden is that Dan loves it, too. “He is always ready with a shovel,” beams Irene with pride.

Her final advice? Don’t be afraid to try anything. She cites the ferns growing in the bright sunlight at the top of her waterfall, where it’s “super hot”. The water moderates the heat and so a usually shade loving plant is just fine in a sunny spot.

Irene owns a hair salon at a retirement home and she brought in a Boston fern that had grown too large for her own house. “It’s the talk of the home,” said Irene “The ladies can’t believe how beautiful it is.”

Like Dan, Irene’s most satisfying moments come from sharing her garden.

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