Follow the garden trail to West Cork's Drishane House

Follow the garden trail to West Cork's Drishane House
Seamus O’Brien of the National Botanical Gardens, Kilmacurragh and Jane Somerville of Drishane House and Gardens with the Irish Examiner gardening columnist Peter Dowdall at the launch of the 25th anniversary West Cork Garden Trail in Castletownshend, West Cork. Picture Dan Linehan.

Setting off from Drishane House, Peter Dowdall explores West Cork’s very own Gardens of Eden.

The words of Seamus O’Brien of the National Botanical Gardens said it all: “Sure where else would you want to be?”

This is in conversation when we met recently at the launch of the 25th anniversary of the West Cork Garden Trail in Drishane House in Castletownshend.

“Where else indeed?” is exactly what I thought as I walked around this special garden which dips its toes right into the Atlantic Ocean at Castlehaven Bay.

Grand scale

Drishane House and Gardens at the launch of the 25th anniversary West Cork Garden Trail in Castletownshend, West Cork. Picture Dan Linehan.
Drishane House and Gardens at the launch of the 25th anniversary West Cork Garden Trail in Castletownshend, West Cork. Picture Dan Linehan.

This is an informal garden but on a rather grand scale. When I was there I allowed myself to get lost in the bluebell wood.

There’s something so magical about these spaces — the haze of blue, the scent that only comes with a mass planting, mixed with the fresh, verdant growth which gives an aroma of new life.

A bluebell planting like that in Drishane brings out the inner child in me wanting to lie down and roll amongst them — but of course, I couldn’t do that, what would people say?

Treasure hunt

The gardens in Castletownshend are spoilt by the benevolent climate and the Gulf Stream which allows the gardeners of West Cork to grow plants that those in other parts of Ireland could only dream of.

As if to confirm this , as I entered I was met with a glorious Embothrium coccineum (Chilean flame tree) in full flower and beneath that a mophead hydrangea.

Once you enter the garden at Drishane, the pathway constantly beckons you further to see what is beyond.

A massive Cupressus macrocarpa or Monterey pine is one of the first specimens to welcome you but believe me there are more treasures within.

The West Cork Garden Trail — celebrating its 25th anniversary — is described as “25 Gardens in Ireland’s Garden Paradise” and who could argue.

Special spaces

One of the beautiful walks at Drishane House and Gardens at the launch of the 25th anniversary West Cork Garden Trail in Castletownshend, West Cork. Picture Dan Linehan.
One of the beautiful walks at Drishane House and Gardens at the launch of the 25th anniversary West Cork Garden Trail in Castletownshend, West Cork. Picture Dan Linehan.

I always have tremendous respect and admiration for anyone who opens their garden for a trail or an open day for you are opening yourself up to inspection and perhaps to be critiqued.

Gardens are private spaces, private creations, they are as individual as those who created them and that’s what makes this trail a bit special for you are seeing not just into the garden but also perhaps into the imaginations and even the souls of the owners of those gardens.

This trail is unique as it contains private gardens, public gardens, hotel gardens and even a school garden. St Patrick’s Boys National School Garden in Skibbereen is an award-winning organic, educational and fun garden which has some really interesting features including a fantastic geodome, newly opened sensory path and much more.

The Ewe Experience in Glengarriff is more than a garden, it is an innovative series of gardens along a one km trail combining nature, art, science, narrative and humour.

An artist’s home, it has evolved slowly over 25 years into an interactive open-air natural-history museum, with a twist. Set along a spectacular mountain waterfall, the four themed gardens lead you on an intriguing exploration — back in time and back to nature.

Visitors enter Falling Water Garden, before crossing the waterfall into the Timeless Glen, a shady forest clearing.

The trail meanders on up through the Environmental Forest, featuring sculptures made from recycled materials, to finally reach the Valley of Eden which bathed in lush Jurassic planting enjoys spectacular views to the mountains and the sea.

Family fun

Video: Dan Linehan

Glenview is set over three acres in Enniskeane with amazing designs and fun for all the family, including the “Hobbit House” and “Fairies’ Trail”.

Full of surprises, each garden’s design flows into the next. The front garden contains a sunken white garden, an Italianate canal and a Japanese garden.

The wisteria walk opens out into the bog garden and woodland area, from where you can continue to the teahouse to enjoy a view of the Mediterranean and tropical gardens.

There are really so many gardens to visit on this trail, the best thing to do is to explore the website westcorkgardentrail.com, base yourself in the fabulous Fernhill House Hotel in Clonakilty and enjoy the trail.

The only thing that I can think of, better than a day in West Cork visiting a garden is perhaps 25 days in West Cork visiting a different garden each day!

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