Up the garden path at the West Cork Garden Trail

Peter Dowdall says the West Cork Garden Trail offers inspiring examples of community work

Up the garden path at the West Cork Garden Trail

IT’S THE flower of West Cork, isn’t it? Well, actually, no, most fuchsias, named after botanist Leonhart Fuchs in the 1800s, are native to Central and South America.

The particular variety which calls much of the South West of Ireland home is a species called magellanica.

Most varieties of F magellanica are hardy and there are many including Tom Thumb and the particularly beautiful Alba.

However it is the hardiest form, riccartonii which we see growing throughout our hedgerows.

Interestingly, it doesn’t tend to produce fruits and so is largely sterile, which means that most of the plants that have naturalised here have grown from cuttings and stems which have travelled from parent plants.

Even in 2010, the year of those two desperately harsh winters, they largely survived to tell the tale once more.

They were certainly knocked back and many took a few years to get back to full strength but those extremely low temperatures didn’t kill them.

It is the benevolent influence of the Gulf Stream which has allowed these fuchsias to thrive in this pocket of Ireland and the climate produced as a result of the Stream’s trajectory has allowed for the creation and development of some stunning gardens in west Cork and Kerry, none more spoiled by its impact than Ilnacullin or Garnish Island off Glengarriff.

This is just one of the fabulous gardens open at the moment as part of the West Cork Garden Trail (see westcorkgardentrail.com).

As Jeremy Irons said at the opening of the Trail last year “you could have a two-week holiday in west Cork and visit a new garden each day”.

Whether you want to experience that much horticulture in your summer break or you just want to dip your toe into one or two of the gardens is up to yourself but one thing is for sure is that there is something for everyone to enjoy on the trail.

Part of the Bamboo Park, as you expect, will have you thinking that you have somehow travelled to Japan without realizing it.

Wander further and explore the tree ferns, and palms and feel you have been transported to the Mediterranean.

All of this, while never leaving the lovely Glengarriff in the magical Bantry Bay.

You can then travel from there to Garnish, where kids and adults alike will get as much enjoyment from admiring the seals and, if you’re lucky enough, the eagles, on the boat trip out to this remarkable island.

Two interesting additions to the trail are: St Patrick’s Boys National School in Skibbereen where they have developed an award-winning organic, educational and fun garden complete with Geodome and sensory path and also the community garden in Dunmanway.

In 2012 this community garden was a dream and now, after much work, grant applications, spadework, voluntary effort, meetings and co-operations and persistence, this is an amazing space representing everything which is great about community and gardens.

It is maintained by a group of dedicated volunteers and open for everyone to enjoy.

Produce is shared among those who contribute to the garden and it has become a real-life outdoor community centre.

A quick look at their brochure will quickly show you how many local groups are using this space for education, fundraising, meetings and for its produce.

Courses and events are organised and held in the garden covering a wide range of topics: compost awareness, life-long learning, zero waste cookery, natural healing, schools, garden parties, Hungry Caterpillars kids and toddlers, root camps for the teens, tai chi, positive psychology, and Street Feast.

It’s so encouraging to see a garden become such a focus and such an intricate part of a community.

Again, situated near Glengarrff, the Ewe Experience, created by Sheena Wood and her husband Kurt over the past 24 years, since they moved here from South America and the Middle East, is a journey into a real wonderland and the result of such imagination as to leave you speechless.

This is an interactive sculpture garden and after travelling through the Falling Water Garden, the Timeless Glen, the Environmental Forest and the Valley of Eden you really will look at the world a little differently.

It is very deliberately named an experience and not a garden as this magical place is about exploring what a garden can be, to share ideas and throw off traditional labels.

“Rather than imposing a garden on to the site, it’s about working backwards and trying to bring out the hidden story, explore what is often missed and rediscover our link with the wild,” says Sheena.

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