Dream Home in Wicklow: My Own Landscaping Contract

Watch the video tour here.

I first acquired this land in 2002. Planning was finally achieved 4 years later, by Wicklow County Council, 2006.

The house design was my own. I took from the Irish cottage style with small, recessed windows with a square bar design within the glass. The roof was split into sections by large granite strips, giving compartmentalisation & definition. The design was also inspired by a trip to Morocco around the same time. To re-create what I saw meant removing all the corners of the house using a con-saw. The colour is also inspired from there. A warm light orange you get at certain times of the day there.

The site was on a North facing slope, with panoramic views to the North and East over the Sugarloaf, Bray and finally the sea. The site was lower down than adjacent sites to the West, protecting it from the constant prevailing Westerlies. The site was accessed by a small lane leading to a farm once owned by Tommy Snell.

The building of the house was handed to a local builder called Eamonn Wolohan. The excavation of the slope would be twice the area needed for the house to allow space for a yard for my business. The excavations were used to create level area for driveway and sloping driveway up to the existing laneway.

After excavation and installation of foundations, I was left with a 3M high bank on the South side and sloping banks each side. The fact there were such high levels South side excited me. I love gardens with different levels, also south facing means plenty of sun.

Straight away the builder required a retaining wall to protect the build. The retaining wall was completed using RSJ’s dropped into large holes filled with concrete. The RSJ’s were placed approx. every 2.3M apart. Sleepers are a variable 2.4M in length so each one was cut to fill between RSJ’s. I used yellow bricks at each end of the sleepers giving control over maintaining levels and planting gaps for future living wall feature.

Once the retainer was completed a 200mm deep bed of pea gravel was filled the entire length, for drainage of water. The RSJ’s were purposely left too high. These would allow me to create a reinforced concrete cap above the sleepers for granite capping. Once the retainer was finished, building the house could move forward, giving me time to draw up my dream garden design.

I am qualified with a Diploma from the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin and a Bachelor degree (Hons) in Garden Design from Leeds University. I am also an Award Winning Garden Designer/Contractor. To say my expectations for the space were high is an understatement.

I viewed my garden as a show garden. A garden where I could invite potential clients to view my work. Including different paving solutions, fencing, wall extensions, low maintenance, different water feature applications, games room, garden sheds, different garden Lighting applications/effects, synthetic grass areas, planting solutions, natural stone walling, raised beds, compartmentalisation of areas, contrasts between materials and the importance of a good finish and professional craftsmanship.

My favourite area is garden lighting. It plays a huge part in achieving a beautiful garden. Garden lighting means the garden can be enjoyed way beyond sundown. Recently I’ve had to row back on my garden lighting because the garden was starting to look like ‘Never Never land’, also with garden lighting, less is often more.

This is the great thing about Garden Design/Landscaping you are always learning and honing your craft, trying to become, if you are lucky a master designer/craftsman.

The first stage of every garden design is the brief. This is your wish list for what you want from your garden. This wish list gives you the base to move forward.

 My wish list was as follows:

  • Low maintenance, very big site to maintain
  • Soakaway for water coming from upper laneway down the sloping drive & runoff from level driveway
  • Garden lighting in all its forms, including glazing, up lighting, down lighting, picking up ripples of water onto white wall, Aquatic lighting and shadow.
  • Games room: For my son and nephews, but mostly myself
  • Installation of large shed to house tractor mower/tools for garden
  • Gym, sauna and steam room
  • Cinema/mancave
  • Play area
  • Water features in as many forms as possible
  • Koi pond
  • Outdoor room with fireplace/barbecue
  • Firepits
  • Log fired ‘Skarsgard’ Hot tub
  • Hardwood deck surround to earth house to surroundings
  • Granite pillar entrance with sliding gate for security
  • Lean too at end of house/synthetic grass roof/seating area
  • Gravel driveway
  • Screened yard for business, Sliding gate for security, Installation of 20’ and 40’ Containers, construction of 6x6M container shelter
  • Drum circle seating area with central fire pit
  • Wildflower meadow
  • Planting to encourage wildlife
  • Raised beds
  • Stainless steel rill water features within raised beds
  • Synthetic grass lawn
  • Child friendly
  • Skip planters
  • Hedge screening
  • Use of faced granite for naturalised edge down driveway around beds
  • Cobble strips down sloped driveway
  • Outdoor U.V. heating
  • Bee hives
  • Bird feeders, bird boxes
  • Geo-thermal heating system within house to help environment
  • Tarmacadam upper main laneway
  • Installation of second gate pillars using Dunlavin stone at top of upper laneway
  • Installation 2nd set of electric gates at beginning of upper laneway
  • Shortcut from garden up to laneway
  • 3 levels all connected by steps
  • Good utilisation of space to get greatest impact from space
  • A rust theme throughout the garden, including brown stone, stain etc.

“Not daunting, or nothing” 😊

Going on all the above information I drew up a Scaled Garden Design. The design included most of the above and would change many times as I progressed throughout the project. Because it was such a large open space compartmentalisation of areas would be paramount. The design also allowed for strategic early planting of hedges, trees etc.

The first job was to install 2 containers in yard area. 1st the 20’, for storage of tools, and behind a 40’ for eventual cinema room and gym. They were placed tight together in a way I would eventually be able to cut a door into the 40’ and roof area back to planned dividing wall/fence to creating gym/storage area and log store.

Next, I installed divide (Described above) between house and yard using 4” solids on the flat to a height of 1.2M. The wall was faced with Dunlavin stone and capped with re-cycled old town paving. The old town paving was removed from a past job. This would be a re-curring theme as I progressed. The up-cycling of materials taken from jobs I had previously done.

A hit & miss wall extension was then connected to the wall to a height of 2.2M. To the North end of the wall I installed 2 pillars capped with silver granite. A large hit and miss gate was fitted between. The divide was then continued to the West with 2 more pillars capped with granite. A sliding gate was then fitted between to secure yard.

A job came up where the client wanted removal of Grisellinia hedge. The hedge was taking up too much space within his garden. I removed the mature hedge and transplanted it onto the North Boundary giving me 60Lm of free hedge. Not one plant failed.

The rest of the hedge would eventually be finished using Grisellinia plants removed from various projects. Grisellinia amazed me, you could cut down a mature hedge, save as much rootball as possible, transplant it with very little foliage, sometimes just a 4’ stump, and it would still come back. Even during the growing season, a super plant. Also good for areas with a deer population.

The next job was the completion of first level around house. This level would include large 50Lm soakaway to remove excess water runoff. Completion of driveway using Ballylusk dust finished with 25mm of 14mm Ballylusk chippings. Installation of Masaranduba hardwood deck around the house. Installation of two sunken seating area’s including 1st synthetic grass lawn, raised beds faced with black limestone cladding, re-cycled Donegal quartz crazy paved circle with central fire pit/barbecue and granite ball water feature with central light.

The 2nd sunken area was stituated on the West side of house to accomodate future hot tub, fire pit and seating. This area was paved with up-cycled old town paving.

Retaining wall with floating granite steps to the East side. I Installed 3 chutes under three steps using galvanised gutter, for future water feature. Koi carp pond was constructed complete with large filter/UV light, life sized crocodile water feature and two limestone monolith water features within the pond and central fountain and light.

Further lighting was placed above the pond. These would create the best lighting effect of the whole scheme. They would pick up the water ripples and fire them onto the white painted retaining wall giving a fantastic lighting effect at night. The pond was filled and stocked with 10 large Koi, 2 Sturgeon, 1 Goldfish and an Orfe. Initially, I had a heron problem, but once plants filled out this stopped. Herons dislike enclosed spaces as they need space to take off.

A lean too was installed at the East end of house back to retaining wall, this was completed using torch on felt covered with synthetic grass. The roof would eventually become another seating area. Large tractor tyres would be customised and painted to create seating, oil barrels would be cut in half, painted to create tables.

The surrounds of the roof would be made safe by creating raised timber beds, planted with artificial plants. The quality of Artificial plants is so realistic nowadays you can hardly tell the difference, this is something I wanted to explore (Not completed yet).

Two mini skips were planted and placed either side of the gate leading to yard, framing entrance. 5 massive planters were kindly donated to me by Charlie Henderson of Gardenworld. These were planted with variegated Hollys. The variegation of the plants would contrast nicely with the Grisellina hedge. Garden lighting was installed below the hedge to glaze and also in the skips. This mostly covers the lower area.

Next up- cycled steel framed sleeper steps were installed to give access to the next level, tier 1. This level extended back 5M to another sleeper wall using technique already described. In front of the sleeper wall we installed a 600mm high raised bed created using 4” solids, faced with light beige porcelain slabs capped with silver granite. 3 Stainless steel rill water features were installed, two 600mm rills at each end and one 900mm rill in the centre. Each had LED back light. Along the base of the bed we installed blue LED lights every 1.5M. Stainless steel spike lights were also installed in the raised bed.

The base of this terrace was made up of Ballylusk gravel and silver granite path. A see-through fence was then installed along the edge of the path using planed pressure treated Scandinavian Spruce, painted teak. The fence allowed for views through, but most importantly made the 1st tier safe.

The terrace then led down to the outdoor sunroom complete with fire place/barbecue, up-cycled crazy paved patio, U.V. heaters, hammock, choice lighting, 2 ‘Funky Heads’ and re-cycled dining table and chairs made from steel barrels in Africa. From this raised area you were able to look down on the pond and the whole first level, which looked choice. It also gave you an elevated view of the surrounding Countryside.

Leading out from the sunroom you have another seating area made of up-cycled pink granite and framed with brown granite slabs. Within the patio we planted 4 Buxus balls either side which softened the space. After the patio, steps lead down to ground level driveway.

The far side of the driveway is mostly clover lawn with giant Yew stump, 5 granite mushrooms, rusted wind mill, central mound planted with Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’, drum circle area in East corner with central fire pit, surrounded with 3 standing granite lintols each encircled with 3 Betula jacquemontii, two granite tigers framing entrance, above this area is one of the famine bowls planted with another Cornus the second Famine bowl is placed on the far side, framing driveway and again planted with Cornus. Low voltage garden lighting is placed strategically throughout.

The lawn in the above area is never cut below 6” allowing the clover lawn to thrive. The clover lawn becomes alive with honey bees in the spring, frogs all year around and Daddy long legs late summer

The 2nd tier was accessed by granite steps located at the West end of the 1st teir. The steps were created using 4” solids capped and faced with brown granite.

The steps lead up to the fully insulated/heated games room and seating area made with Egyptian Limestone. Plastered retaining walls capped with silver granite surrounded this area. A fence was installed above the retaining wall to provide safety. I also installed recessed hardwood seat within the retaining wall. Behind the games room and above was the Tractor mower shed.

A fence was installed the length of the sleeper wall going Eastward, with bed far side. The rest of the area was taken up with play area including swing and two sunken trampolines (Which get great use). Wildflower meadow and native Mountain Ash woodland. Sloping beds planted with 1,750 bee loving heathers. The heathers were planted in large swathes of 90-110 plants. The specimens chosen would flower at different times providing plenty of pollen for our struggling bee population. The wildflower meadow and native Mountain Ash would do the same.

The 3rd and final teir (The laneway) could be accessed by granite steps placed under existing Oak on West boundary. The steps were completed using 4” solids and brown granite. Either side of the steps were two beds filled with heathers and Thuja ‘Smargards’.

The heathers will have no problem with shading from the Oak, I hope I can say the same for the ‘Smargards’. The beds were faced with reclaimed cottage granite. To the left of the steps was a 200 yr old gate post which was donated by Tony Lawlor of ‘Marakesh’. Low voltage Garden lighting was placed strategically throughout this area.

The level driveway was first to be completed but sloping driveway took a long time for me to decide. I didn’t want tarmacadam finish, eventually came across a job which entailed removal of 80Msq of 200x100x50mm red cobblelock. This would be ideal to create strips meandering up the driveway. I framed the red cobble strips with black cobbles also saved from another driveway job. Between the strips and either side, were finished with 14mm Ballylusk gravel. The edging for the driveway was completed using granite reclaimed from old cottage demolition, which I found on Done deal.

This type of edging was in keeping with naturalised Countryside feel I wanted to maintain. Ever 3M up the sloping driveway I installed lights which would glaze the driveway and light up the granite edging on the far side.

At the top of the sloping driveway and entrance into the property were two large granite pillars. Each pillar was connected to a small wall leading to a lower pillar either side. Between the large pillars we installed an apron using same granite. Within the apron we installed roller for sliding gate. The distance of the wall on the East side was exactly the length I needed for my sliding gate. This allowed the small pillar on the East side to act as the stopper for the gate. Beyond the entrance I cleared back the area, created an apron with gravel finish. Lighting was used either side of the pillars, which glazed the stone work and looked class. Under each pillar we planted a Buxus ball to frame and soften. A further apron/strip was installed connecting area to newly tarmacked laneway. The apron was created using up-cycled limestone and granite cobbles.

The upper newly tarmacadamed laneway ran 500M before it reached the main Rd. Here we built two pillars. Because i needed 4.8M width the gates would be very heavy. RSJ’s were dropped into the foundations for the pillars. Dunlavin stone was then used to build the pillars with central RSJ providing more strength. The new gates were installed between and automated.

The 40’ container was customized into fully insulated/heated cinema room, gym, yoga area including steamroom and sauna. The area left behind the 20’ container was roofed over and made into free weights/boxing area including: log storage area, plenty of shelving, up-cycled 8×6’ garden shed and 8 man infra red Sauna.

This area was accessed through a gate installed in the yard divide 4M away from the kitchen door of the house. All the above grew and came together from the original wish list and garden design, resulting in the best utilisation of  available space.

All in all, this whole project has taken me approx. 16 years to almost complete. I get great satisfaction in finally being able to build a garden for myself, the only problem being, the place is so big. Most of my spare time goes into maintaining it, the rest running my Landscaping business. I must admit, there is a lot to be said for a small garden or better still, a balcony with a few artificial plants.

Along the way I always had a close eye on Done deal and the various Architectural salvage yards to pick up unique items including: 2 Famine bowls (Circa. 1845), 4 granite mushrooms, old cast iron water pump, old parking coin meter, twelve 600mm high cast iron acorns, two small skips, 200 year old cast iron gate post, antique chimney flower pots, granite lintols, three 1.2 diameter granite millstones, 2 large cast iron fire pits, granite tigers, 2 granite boots, a 1M rim from old cart wheel which I Customized into a sculpture from Extinction Rebellion. This sculpture represents the depressing science on climate change. My wish list has been almost completed bar the beehives and the seating area on the synthetic grass roof, which I hope to install this year. The huge Yew stump was donated by Ian Brown of ‘King Tree Services’.

Planting to complete so far, includes: Grisillines littoralis hedge, Portugeuse laurel hedge, Prunus Laurocerasus, Buxus, Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’, Rosmarinus’Prostratus’ Acer ‘Sango-Kaku’, Nandine domestica, Dicksonia antartica, Pieris Formosa, Chives, Bay laurel, Aubretia, Iberis sempirvirens, Lime tolerant heathers, Thuja ‘Smargards’, Variegated hollys, Pinus spp., Betula jacquemontii, Sorbus spp, Phylostachys aurea, Cherry Blossom, Aralia spp, Taxus baccata, Narsissus spp, Allium spp, Wildflower mix, Clover lawn.

Check out the video walkthrough for the tour of my garden!


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