Andrew McCann reveals how he manages his beloved garden despite his chronic illness

Andrew McCann was inspired by a trip to Rowallane  - he describes his garden as a 'magical rainforest in Craigavon during late spring'
Andrew McCann was inspired by a trip to Rowallane - he describes his garden as a 'magical rainforest in Craigavon during late spring'

Andrew McCann was inspired by a trip to Rowallane - he describes his garden as a ‘magical rainforest in Craigavon during late spring’

Andrew McCann started his garden nine years after moving house, and after a few ‘unsuccessful attempts’ was inspired by a trip to Rowallane gardens.

Andrew McCann started his garden nine years ago

Andrew McCann started his garden nine years ago

“It was not the gardens themselves but the plant stands that fascinated me. My wife and I had previously travelled through the rainforests of the Hong Kong islands, Sri Lanka and north eastern Australia and had loved the tropical scenery. So this was the style of garden I was going to create to remind us of happy travels,” Andrew explains. “But this is Northern Ireland and my garden soil was heavy. I started fanatically listening to the back catalogue of Gardener’s Corner, for tips and advice relevant to our climate.

“I should mention that three years previously I was diagnosed with having a rare vasculitis disease - one of the effects of which is chronic fatigue.

“I had the energy of an unfit 70 year old and I received a life changing piece of advice from an older gentleman in the Portadown gardening club.

“He said ‘don’t try and do it all in one day, its not like you have anything else to do over the next number of years, so take it slow and easy and you will get there in the end.’”

“Wise words indeed, and so over the course of the next five years I slowly added decking and paths.

“In a sense this worked out well as the planting established itself around my abilities to keep going and as the young plants grew they showed me where and when I could add more in the right place at the right space.

“Trees needed to be planted to form a shelter belt even on such a small plot as I have, unfortunately for coming generations I may have gotten a little excited - and now have 53 trees and three bamboos - one of which is a fast growing hedge (which still contained needs careful and diligent pruning in early spring).

“My biggest disaster has been planting an Acacia Dealbata Pupurea next to the house, this tree not being hardy and prone to wind scorching should not have survived or at least not have grown above the height of the wind breaking bamboo. Yes you’ve guessed it, in two years it has grown to the height of our two storey house and is quite happy to continue growing all year round.

“The garden truly is a jungle in high summer, the lonely rheum has been joined by some friends and also a few rhubarbs, and friends and neighbours are told that they are welcome to forage.

“The colour scheme of the garden is largely green and purple with an emphasis on leaf structure and texture and it remains so all year round with winter colour coming from Fatsia Japonica Scheffluras and purple Phormiums and Cordyllines and of course the Bamboos.

“The garden is not without flowers though some are there by happenstance but some like the Crocosmia are planted within the bamboo to give flashes of red in the summer winds. I do have one single daffodil the only survivor from a pack of 100 and it proudly stands out as the gunnera manicata trys to devour it.

“The right plant in the right place has always been a challenge for me as many of the plants that I have detest heavy wet clay, so I have adapted small areas, changing the soil structure to suit the plants.”

“The biggest headache has been protecting the bananas (Musa Bajoo), which were obtained on a trip to the Scottish Highlands of all places and the tree ferns (Dickensonia Antartica) which do not tolerate temperatures below 5 degrees well.

“However, I seem to have achieved my goal of a near perfect microclimate as the bananas survived as did three house plants that I also forgot to bring inside.

“Every garden should have a water feature but I have long decided that there will be no more digging so the retaining wall at the raised patio was turned into a mural of an abstract water feature and it is changed every few years to reflect the changes within the garden as it grows in maturity.

“Surprisingly hardy plants have been the Schefflura, Korean black ferns, Pseudopanex crassifolus and as mentioned earlier the Aacia Dealbata Pupurea.

“All in all I think that there are about 150 different plant species in the garden comprising mostly of ferns, phormiums, acers, Fatsias, Hostas and many of our native plants which thrive in shade along with climbers and ramblers.

“To most observers it seems totally random and messy but sit for a while and your eye begins to be taken on a journey through the greenery by purple and brown accents dotted at strategic points and with dual planting of these plants between front and back gardens there is I hope a seamless transition as one wanders through this tiny garden.

“I love the surprise in late spring when the covers come off the ferns and the new fronds unfold. They are just magical in appearance and signal hope, new life and the promise of an imaginary hot and sultry summer in a rainforest in Craigavon.”