Go visiting if you want to be a good gardener

Peter Dowdall kicks off this year's Open Gardens for Marymount trail with a visit to a Carrignavar stunner

Go visiting if you want to be a good gardener

THE trail of Open Gardens for Marymount Hospice is in full swing at the moment and this weekend it’s the chance to visit the creation of the man from Mushera mountain and his wife who hails from Castlelyons.

Dromboy Gardens — the home of Maurice and Gertie O Donoghue — is in neither townland, but actually in Carrignavar where they settled over 40 years ago, roughly midway between their two homeplaces.

No need to ask how long they have been developing this garden because as you will walk through it, you’ll realise quite quickly that this magnificent place didn’t happen overnight and has taken all of that 40-plus years to get to where it is now.

This is a garden that has evolved as most gardens do. One area gets overcrowded and to be extended and the plants moved to new pastures — so more of the field gets colonised and hidden gardens within gardens happen.

This is one of those rare gardens that I could actually lose myself in for days — it’s a garden that gets under my skin and I want to learn more, admire more. Why is that? Why do some gardens do that when others, though aesthetically beautiful, sometimes leave me cold?

It’s designed to my taste, certainly, it flows seamlessly and informally from one area to the next, it’s a plantperson’s garden which also excites me, as you will see specimens here that you won’t see everywhere.

In particular, you will see hostas, as Maurice and Gertie have both developed quite the hosta addiction. Having started off dotting them around the garden, they then developed a stand alone hosta area which has developed now into several uniquely hosta areas, and of course, they are once more mixed in throughout the other planting in the garden.

They also have a great eye for design and the consideration that has been given to the positioning of each feature and each plant, is evident throughout.

Gertie gives as much consideration to the structure, texture and form of foliage and grasses as she does to flowers and colour. The reason it appeals to me so much though, has to be more than that, it’s a combination of all these things yes, but also something else.

Is it the atmosphere — or is it something altogether deeper. Walking through this garden I was reminded of Highgrove in the UK. I can’t give much higher praise than that, as HRH’s residence is one of my most favourite places. It’s not so much that both gardens look alike, nor are they similar in scale, but this garden in Carrignavar does remind me of that garden in the Cotswolds. I shouldn’t have been surprised then to learn that it, too, is one of Gertie’s favourite gardens. Is it something subliminal? I can’t say.

ONE of the unmissable features is the sculpture collection. Perfectly carved and equally perfectly positioned these works of art will draw you from area to area and then when you least expect it — one will appear beneath a choice specimen, or half hidden by some leaves.

The works really do add to the garden and not just because of their beauty but because they were carved by Maurice himself. When I asked him did he do any commercially, he answered no, as it would be too much like pressure. In his equally unassuming manner he mutters that — “yerra anyone could do it really”.

Of course, anyone couldn’t do it. Give me a lump of stone with a hammer and chisel and I’d still be looking at it. His sculptures are named and when you visit the garden you will be given a printout of the names and descriptions.

One of the more standout titles is The Unholy Woman of Carrignavar, described as having the.... “old glint in her eye; the rakish look of one ready for a glass of porter and a half set around the kitchen flags.

“She kept sanity alive in Irish womanhood through the centuries, and spat in the eye of those who would do otherwise”.

When this gardening bug gets you, it becomes obsessive all too easily and is especially manifest in the search for obscure and rare species and varieties. A garden made up exclusively of sought-after and hard to get plants doesn’t always work — as the design elements can suffer.

Here, however you will see different varieties of familiar plants, for example Dicentra ‘Valentine’ is used instead of the straightforward D spectabilis. It’s used perfectly and the dark cherry red with white flowers held on dark, nearly

black stems are quite dramatic and more eye-catching than the more common form.

I can’t even get into hostas, there are so many of them, but one which jumps out for attention possibly because it is so different, is the variety Blue Mouse Ears. If you visit this fantastic place over the weekend and you don’t find it yourself, do ask Maurice or Gertie to point it out to you. Small rounded leaves, blue/green in colour nestle close to the ground before producing short, stout stems of the typical hosta mauve-coloured flowers.

Once again though, it is the attention to detail in the garden and in the positioning of plants that sets this specimen off. A plant as small as this could easily be lost in a garden of this size, but planted where it is on the corner of a bed next to a path and enclosed within a pocket created by a fallen branch means that it stands proud and noticeable.

When I asked Gertie was the garden a full-time occupation for them, she answered in her typically unassuming way: “Ah ya, there’s a lot of work in it during these few months, but then it all calms down again.”

Neither have had formal garden training - yet this is a garden full of standout features, areas of interest, perfectly positioned features and an excellent eye to design elements and one with a fantastic use of the surrounding countryside.

As you go through one more hole in a hedge you are welcomed into another garden or series of gardens and as you walk past a scree bed full of Celmesia including the most recent addition, C. David Shakleton, you find yourself looking down on the Millenium Garden.

This was designed with a central water feature, again created by Maurice and enclosed by a perfect beech hedge. What was so clever though, is that this garden was created lower than the surrounding garden which gives the visitor the opportunity to look down at it from above, but it also means that the beech hedge isn’t high in relation to the entre garden and this Millenium Garden has the backdrop of the magnificent North Cork countryside behind it.

Where they get the time to maintain and keep adding to this garden I have no idea — where Maurice finds even more time then to create those wonderful sculptures defies logic.

One of my favourite sculptures is actually a two piece set called The Man from Mushera Mountain and his Wife described as: “Sane sensible and steady, a man who eats his dinner in the middle of the day.

“The Celtic Tiger never reached him — but the the destructive aftermath found him without difficulty — and austerity grabbed him in its grip.”

Is Maurice the man from Mushera? You’ll have to ask the artist. What is certain though is that any self-respecting gardener or garden visitor needs to get to see this fantastic place today or tomorrow.

The O’Donoghue garden is open for Marymount Hospice today and tomorrow from 2-6 pm and is signposted from Rathduff on the Cork-Mallow Road (N20), and from Carrignavar.

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