Peter Dowdall: Our new gardening columnist

Thinking about how I would try to fill the shoes of my predecessor on this page has driven me to distraction. So I have decided not to.

Peter Dowdall: Our new gardening columnist

I have had several influences in my life when it comes to gardening: my mother from whom I inherited the bug — I still remember mixing compost with soil and sand in a wheelbarrow like I was helping to make a giant soil cake. And I was addicted as a young child to Geoff Hamilton and his exploits in Barnsdale on Gardener’s World. I still remember being enchanted watching him prepare beds for planting and getting seeds ready to sow.

That love affair with all things garden and gardening has continued into my adult life and has been nourished and encouraged each week by Charlie’s column in this paper. There are very few people who are known simply by their Christian name but Charlie is one of them. A unique way with words and a real love of his subject matter combined with his easy way of imparting knowledge made his column an essential part of the Saturday ritual for me and many more. So, no, I have decided not to try and fill his shoes… because I couldn’t.

I think we are truly connected to nature and the natural world much more than we realise. I love when seed sowing time comes along in the spring and I think a switch goes off in each one of us at that time of year that really forces us outdoors.

The longed for season seems to take an eternity to arrive but as soon as it does, it hurtles at speed straight into summer and you really know summer is starting when you see the garden trails being advertised once more.

What’s not to love about these garden trails, you get to see fantastic gardens, design features and stunning specimen plants growing where they perform best. You get to see into the owner’s inner self when you visit their garden. The manicured formal beds created by orderly, organised people and the haphazard cottage garden styles created by less structured souls.

The West Cork Garden Trail, from Jun 15-30, offers a huge diversity in gardening themes and inspirations: from the formal beds, parterres, classical statues and not to be missed wisteria circle in Bantry House all the way to mass plantings of bamboos and tree ferns in the Bamboo Garden at Glengarriff.

One of my favourite places in the world has to be Ilnacullen or Garnish Island and its classic Italian Garden designed by Harold Peto that leaves the visitor wondering if they’ve been transported to the sunny Mediterranean.

Beyond the Italian Garden there are classic herbaceous borders and stunning specimens of plants that you won’t find anywhere else in Ireland thanks to the micro climate created by its unique position in the Gulf Stream.

But for me Illnacullen isn’t just about the specimens and design features, it’s about the feel of the garden and how it makes you feel when you visit. I still remember the thrill of seeing the seals basking on the rocks on my way out to the island.

One garden on the trail that I have yet to visit is that of the Wiseman’s in Durrus.

Carraig Abhainn is a little sub tropical gem set in woodlands. I am still looking forward to experiencing the natural streams and waterfalls as they wind their way through this garden and the collection of tender and rare plants which the family have developed over many years.

* Next week Peter will visit the McGreal garden in Glanmire

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