The garden as a whole is over 4 acres and is divided into three fields. What we call the “main garden” is again divided into different areas a bit like rooms. The Orchard, Secret Garden, Front Garden, the Stream, The Cherry Walk, the Old Veg Bed, The Square Bed and the Moon Bed. Phew that sounds like a lot, I’ve never really written it down like that but they are all separate and distinctive. Living so close to the sea and being exposed to the North and West winds I have had to plant a lot of hedging in order to protect any of the more tender plants I want to grow and the outer edges of the garden are protected by the red and purple fuscia that is so much featured in West Cork. The inner hedges that make up the “rooms” are predominately Escallonia, Olearia, Buddleja, Elaeagnus, Blackthorn and Hawthorn.
The rest of the garden is less developed and in the progress of being tamed includes The Big Field, The Courtyard and the Corner Field.
Tonight I’ll just start with the Secret Garden or what I often call the Chinese Garden. This sits on the Northwest side with fuscia and elm trees protecting the west, fuscia, sycamore and a cherry tree to the north and a very high Escallonia to the east. I have a white and pale pink fuscia hedge on the south side. All the pink and white fuscia came from one original cutting I took from a bush that greets visitors to Cape Clear Island off the south coast. I thought if it could grow there it would grow anywhere and I love the delicate ballerina like flowers that come and go throughout the spring and summer months.
I first started the Secret Garden when we started having kids 18 years ago as a place where we could put a swing, slide and play house. It wasn’t really that practical as you can’t keep an eye on the kids in there as it is hidden from the house by the huge Escallonia but the swing set is still there and it did used to get a lot of use but less so these days as the kids are now teenagers and playing out in the garden is quite a rare occurrence.
I had a great trip out to China as a 40th birthday present to myself. I spent nearly 8hrs a day for a month in a school hall with 20 table tennis tables, sweating buckets in unbelievable heat. Sounds like fun? Well for me it was amazing and I love it. I did used to get up very early in the morning before the heat of the day and before the first training session and explore the city of Baoding. Not the sort of place a tourist would visit and I don’t remember seeing one other European in my time there but I loved exploring the streets and especially the park, where there was just so much activity however early I tried to get there. There were groups of dancers, mainly women, old men doing Tai Chi, sword blades flashing in the early morning sun and people taking their birds out for a stroll or just hanging them up in the trees while they chatted with each other on a nearby bench. The planting in the park was quite sparse, predominately roses but areas of grasses and rocks of strange shapes, quite different to the urban parks I would be used to. I did get to visit the Forbidden Palace in Beijing and this had similar areas. When I returned I was inspired by my visit to China and the Secret Garden became my Chinese Garden. I haven’t managed to successfully capture that Chinese experience but it does succeed in reminding me of that first and my subsequent trips to China, a country I fell in love with and like all my gardening it is still a work in progress.
I’m not great with colour, it is definitely something I need to work on but originally I went for a red theme, an emblematic Chinese colour and the Escallonia, Red Fuscia and the Red Campion that has on occasion taken over this part of the garden have provided some of this.
One of my favourite plants is the Montbretia Lucifer (Crocosmia) which comes out later in the year and this does add a brighter scarlet splash. The orange version is also all over the garden as it is all over West Cork. I was given a Cherry Tree by a good friend of mine Vicki and this is now a very large tree which heralds the beginning of the year with an amazing display of blossom, more in keeping with a Japanese theme but I love it and in full leaf it hangs over much of this garden and the stone path.
I have not been good at hard landscaping but I am quite proud of the path I put into the garden, I took some of the left over tiles from when we did the kitchen floor and created a pattern in the concrete. I have collected a lot of tiles since then and one day I intend to use them in another project, probably in the Big Field. I have planted a number of grasses in the Chinese Garden as I love the way they move so gracefully in the wind and rustle providing a swishing sound. This year I have planted a load of gladioli bulbs and most of them are coming up like shark fins emerging from the ground. I am hoping they will add a real splash of colour when they eventually decide to announce their presence on the scene.
Well that’s far more than I intended and the rain has stopped so I’m off back outside. See you again soon.