Peter Dowdall joins Jeremy Irons in recommending the trail of open gardens dotted around unique West Cork.

I found myself last week, sitting out in the glorious sunshine of West Cork tucking into a Rosscarbery black pudding and Gubbeen chorizo. 

This was followed with a freshly-brewed Americano and a chat with Jeremy Irons about his garden at Kilcoe Castle outside Skibbereen and the West Cork Garden Trail. 

My job can be tough at times.

We spoke about the various gardens that are open as part of the trail and his own love for gardening. 

When I asked him about his own, he became effusive about the topic, waxing eloquent about the benefits of visiting gardens and how much there is to see and do in all the different open gardens in West Cork.

That’s the thing about gardening, or I suppose any shared interest, that when you’re talking to someone about gardens and plants — and more so somebody as enthusiastic as Jeremy — it becomes all about the conversation, the gardens, the plants, and what a garden means to him.

I’d say we would still be talking if it wasn’t for the fact that this was Jeremy Irons and therefore possibly one of the busiest men in Ireland — but such is his generosity when it comes to supporting local causes, that he spares the time.

Jeremy Irons who launched the West Cork garden trail 2016 at an aftenoon tea party in Glebe Gardens, Baltimore, West Cork.
Jeremy Irons who launched the West Cork garden trail 2016 at an aftenoon tea party in Glebe Gardens, Baltimore, West Cork.

His own garden which was designed by Paul Martin (who won his most recent gold medal at RHS Chelsea earlier this summer) has presented its fair share of challenges as you would imagine, situated on the Wild Atlantic coast as it is.

The trail which comprise 15 very different gardens, illustrates the different challenges that face different gardeners in the area — many of the gardens are exposed, as Jeremy’s is. 

Many are like Glebe Gardens in Baltimore, which is where the Open Garden Trail was being launched, and where I was enjoying the tastiest and freshest of produce — all local except for, I presume, the coffee beans.

Though close to the sea, Glebe Gardens is sheltered and lush. 

It has been gradually landscaped and designed since 1989 by its owners Peter and Jean Perry, and has developed now into a series of different gardens or ‘rooms’. 

This has been achieved by planting hedges and woodland areas which have now matured to create shelter.

Open gardens like these are all about enjoyment and happy days out, but we should also learn from them, and the first lesson that Glebe will teach you is that, when starting a garden near the coast, the first job, which is the least sexy and the least colourful, but the most important, is the siting and planting of hedges and shelter belts. 

If this is not done right, the garden can’t develop.

At Glebe, which is in the beautiful village of Baltimore outside Skibbereen, they’ve got it right. 

Rebecca Simon at the launch of the West Cork garden trail 2016 at an aftenoon tea party in Glebe Gardens, Baltimore, West Cork.
Rebecca Simon at the launch of the West Cork garden trail 2016 at an aftenoon tea party in Glebe Gardens, Baltimore, West Cork.

Several times on my walk around last week I had to remind myself just how close I was to the Atlantic Ocean.

Jeremy’s enthusiasm is contagious, and he was recommending people to come to West Cork for their two-week holiday.

“It’s ideal — because as there’s 15 gardens on the trail, you could do one a day,” he says. I think perhaps a bit much even for me, though I suspect Jeremy would have a go.

The great thing about this cluster of open gardens, which has been running since 1994, is that the gardens are open for most of the summer with several of them open all-year-round allowing you plenty of time to get to all 15.

Gardening isn’t all about challenges however. 

Much of it, like any art form is about expression and letting yourself be yourself: “You’re closer to God’s heart in a garden than in any other place on earth,” as Jeremy reminded me, and there is an awful lot in that quote.

A refuge from the rat race perhaps, a place to step outside, literally, and take some time to reconnect to that energy that is God or the Universe.

I always admire people who open their gardens to the public, for it takes guts. 

It’s unlikely to make any gardener rich, yet they are sharing that which is so special to them, allowing the visitor a glimpse inside their personal space, because most good gardens come from deep within those who have created it. 

Opening up and allowing that creation to be scrutinised is a brave and generous thing to do.

There are 15 to visit — and that’s just in West Cork. 

There are garden trails happening the length and breadth of Ireland at the moment though unfortunately for the rest, they all have to make do without that one thing that makes this one special — it’s in West Cork.

Do yourself a favour and visit them, be inspired, enjoy time spent amongst wonderful plantings and design features and, if you do happen to run into Jeremy, ask him has he done the Pirate Hunt in Inish Beg, or visited the Museum in Drishane House, the nursery in Garra Fado. 

Has he had a picnic yet in the Heron Garden, stood beneath the waterfall in Rosewood? 

Has he chosen a favourite fuchsia from the dozens growing in Lisselan, or entered the Hobbit House in Glenview?

Perhaps he has looked out at the birthplace of Michael Collins from the garden at Fernhill, has yearned for the subtropical peace and shelter of Carraig Abhainn, or looked upon the Valley of Eden at the Ewe Garden. I think you will probably find the answer is yes, yes, and again yes.

See www.westcorkgardentrail.com for more details.


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