The Orchid Isle

Cleveland Magazine and Cleveland Botanical Garden’s feature garden blends the best of the tropics with the Emerald Isle to provide floral inspiration for your back yard.
At Cleveland Botanical Garden, it’s “orchids go bragh” or maybe “Erin go orchids.” But no matter how you say it, tropical orchids and the colors, plants and historical elements of the verdant Irish, Welsh and English countrysides combine to inspire Larry Giblock, Cleveland Botanical Garden design horticulturist and creator of the imaginative garden to complement this year’s Irish-themed Home and Garden Show.

Giblock, who works with the Botanical Garden’s woodland and Japanese gardens, teamed with Don Vanderbrook and Associates to build this artfully crafted garden.

They created a grassy meadow, dotted with English daisies, leading to the focal point: a 15-foot tall stone installation, reminiscent of England’s famous Stonehenge. Vines, ferns, mosses and heather climb the columns, growing from pockets specially designed in the stones. The plants and flowers delicately drape toward a pond. The stones and the flora, set against a background of specially grown evergreens, combine with innovative lighting to create a one-of-a-kind garden that evokes the mystical tranquility of the Emerald Isle.

“It’s Stone Age man meets Costa Rica, because we’re going to be using tropical orchids throughout the exhibit,” Giblock says. “We’re sort of stretching it, just for fun.”

Giblock says this fanciful take on the Irish moors might not translate literally to the home garden, but there are elements that can be used with great success by a home gardener.

They’re multipurpose, aesthetically pleasing and incredibly useful to the home gardener. Although a 15-foot Stonehenge replica might not be feasible in an average back yard, appropriate implementation of stones, large and small, can greatly enhance a garden space.

“Stone seems to be a material that is well used in gardens, whether it be to create a natural look or to serve some function like erosion control or earth retention or defining space, as in low stone walls,” Giblock says. “They’re useful as planting areas. Stone walls can be designed so that things can be planted in them and among them.”
Focal point

A visual point of interest can be a strong statement in a garden. A structure can serve as a focal point, but actual flowers, plants or trees in the garden can become a great center as well, Giblock says.

“Some people look at purely aesthetic values when creating focal points, and other people look at it more pragmatically. They might want their vegetable garden to be the focal point of their landscape,” Giblock says.

Whatever you like best in your garden can be cultivated to make a statement about your landscaping.

Just as interior designers make sure furniture is compatible in a room, so should a gardener make sure the plants work and look well with each other. A theme can be a great way to elevate your garden into something really spectacular.

“A theme helps you relate elements together to create something cohesive, rather than just one of this and one of that, a hodgepodge of things,” Giblock says. “It can really pull it together.”

While hard-scaping elements, such as built structures, can help enhance a theme, it is the selection of plants that really enforces and unifies it.

“Your plant palette should be able to speak of a specific world, whether it’s a plant community such as a woodland or a meadow or a wetland. If you gather the right elements together, those that live together naturally, then you’ve created something very special in your own back yard,” Giblock says.

There is room in home gardens for a touch of whimsy. If an Irish garden is what you’re after, Giblock says planting shamrocks can be fun.

“All of those little cues can help reinforce to the visitor exactly what the intent of the garden is,” Giblock says.
Water features

The Irish garden contains a pond, and ponds are certainly viable options for home gardeners. Water can be incorporated in many other ways, too, creating another layer to your garden.

“Water features — in any way shape or form ... can appear in your back yard,” Giblock says. “They can be very, very simple or very, very extravagant and lavish in their presentation. The element of water is universal.”
Plant life

Many of the plants featured in the Irish garden can be quite at home in a Northeast Ohio back yard. Certain varieties of heather and heath can be grown successfully here, and they are thriving in Cleveland Botanical Garden’s Herb Garden. A new strain of orchid on the market, the Yellow Lady Slipper, can thrive in our area too. Moss, an increasingly popular garden element used frequently in Japanese gardens, can be used beautifully in yards with moist soil and shade.

“In Ohio, there are so many ferns that grow naturally that can be brought into the home back yard. You always want to look at where a plant came from to tell you how to use it, so if you have no shade on your property, then ferns are probably not the best choice,” Giblock says. “Responding to the needs of the site will usually lead you in the right direction when using plants.”
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