A Beautiful Obsession

In his seventeen years at Huntingbrook Garden, Jimi Blake has cut a dash through the traditional herbaceous border, the shrub border, the woodland garden and is leading the way in Irish horticulture with his innovative approach to gardening, with his new plant trials and introductions but, most of all, in the manner in which he has made gardening such fun and such a joy.

Jimi with Doris, an Old English sheepdog who greets all visitors to the garden.

After his training at the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, he went immediately to Airfield Garden in Dublin and transformed it from an old garden in decline into one of Ireland’s leading gardens. From there he moved to home ground, a twenty-acre section of the family farm in Co. Wicklow and started a new garden from scratch – named “Huntingbrook” as the stream running through the property was so named in an old map.

The garden was only part of the Huntingbrook adventure for Jimi quickly expanded his activities into gardening classes, lecture tours at home and abroad, guided garden holidays, travels in search of new plants – in the wild and in nurseries, supper evenings, yoga, meditation and on and on in a seemingly unlimited supply of energy and enthusiasm.

Views of the garden.


“Obsession” is the word chosen for the book title but I feel only because “love, enthusiasm and hard work” would have been too long for Jimi’s work in the garden – as so very well outlined in this book – is one of constant work, of constant assessment, of constant change, of constant trial and experimentation in a search for what he considers the beautiful garden. Noel Kingsbury, the co-author, comments, “many gardeners replant, replan and rejig until they reach some sort of satisfaction, the leave it. Jimi does not do this…for him satisfaction is somehow boring”. And Helen Dillon comments, “Jimi’s his own man. He is a true original – I’ve never seen him copy anybody. But his focus is the plants; he’s not interested in structure. He manages to do the magic, entirely without structure, quite extraordinarily so.”

An example of the “funky” design in the book – was it copied from one of Jimi’s flamboyant shirts?

Jimi’s garden has always been challenging to me. I am of an older generation and like structure and order in my garden, a sense of development and progress, of permanence and ease. Jimi’s garden is one of excitement, of ever-change, of innovation, of novelty so that this year’s garden may well be quite different to last years. It is entertaining, sparkling – funky, even and this sparklingly colourful book perfectly reflects Jimi’s work at Huntingbrook. Those who love the garden, will love the book for it too is bright and cheerful, colourful and visual, somewhat along the line that Noel Kingsbury uses to describe the garden – like a Californian relative at a country wedding!

View to the house with Aralia echinocaulis featuring in the planting to the front.
The original Huntingbrook stream from which the garden derives its name.
Down in the valley

After an introductory section, with background on Jimi’s journey in gardening, there are sections on the various areas within the garden, features on selected plants and a Plant Directory, all lavishly and extensively illustrated with excellent photography from Richard Murphy and Bernard van Giessen. The balance of the book leans heavily toward image, illustration and outstanding photography while the text is concise, insightful and perfectly informative and captures the essence of this garden – that it is dynamic, exciting and with a certain, who know what next year will bring? Whatever it brings, I am certain it will be interesting and beautiful.



A feature on epimediums


On a personal note and as an aside from my review of the book, I am delighted that an Irish gardener and an Irish garden have been featured and highlighted so perfectly well in this excellently produced and attractive book.

[A Beautiful Obsession, Jimi Blake with Noel Kingsbury, Photography from Richard Murphy and Bernard van Gieesen, Filbert Press, 2019, Hardback, 224 pages, £25, ISBN: 978-1-9997345-2-7]



12 thoughts on “A Beautiful Obsession

    1. Like the garden, it is a book with flair and beauty. You’d enjoy it.
      I’ll hold it for you but Mary wants to read it first so you’ll have to wait! Ladies first!


    1. Yes, “entertainer” is a suitable word – he opens his garden to the public so strives to have attractive and entertaining planting at all times, a difficult task that he manages so very well.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Looks very interesting, and it must be awesome to be able to follow your passions in such a way and really dive in.
    I also like a little more permanence and ease in my own garden, but the excitement of all this building and coming together sure has its own draw

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If were all the same life would be so boring. It is good to have somebody who gives style a good kick up the rear end every now and then. It gets us all thinking and looking at things again

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent review, Paddy. I have been following Jimi’s posts for a while now, and I think the book must sum up the garden and the man.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. On my to be read list. Visited there with Hillsborough a few years ago. Also June’s garden..Doris is a good merger and greeter. Have you been to Clashacrow garden.it is near Kilkeny. We discovered it by chance a few years ago. Husband was a chef and his wife a teacher. We just rung them as we were in the area and they invited us round. Still have some of the plants she gave me.Waiting for rain and thunder here this afternoon. Best wishes Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

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