Farm Ireland

Thursday 27 October 2016

Size matters not when it comes to the great gardens

Joe Barry

Published 24/08/2016 | 02:30

A riot of colour in Kew Gardens, London
A riot of colour in Kew Gardens, London

A recent visit to some well-known gardens in Co Wexford made me ponder on what truly deserves the term "great".

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I have, of course, favourites, which I will list further on but in general, opinions on gardening, art, landscape and architecture diverge so widely that one can argue endlessly on what is or isn't worthy of such an accolade. How places are perceived depends very much on the taste and viewpoint of the visitor.

Masterpieces have been created in small suburban plots as well as in better known larger gardens. It all depends on the knowledge and interest of the owners and whether they share that flair and passion for gardening that ensures their properties remain special.

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to visit many famous gardens in Ireland, Britain and on the Continent. Some were so interesting and attractive I was reluctant to leave but others were quite the opposite.

Whether they cover hundreds of acres or just a small patch, gardens require constant care, for if left unattended they will rapidly become overgrown and sad.

In large landscaped properties, hedgerows require laying and maintenance, fallen or diseased trees need replacing, pathways must be kept clear and water features managed to avoid silting up and disappearing under an invasion of rushes and pond weeds.

Farms and gardens are living things that rapidly lose their appeal if neglected. In some older properties that were laid out in past centuries, too many rely on a partially invented history to make up for a lack of knowledge and enthusiasm for gardening on the part of the owners.

The statement that a landscape was thought to have been influenced by Capability Brown is typical of the kind of vague hints at past grandeur that are frequently employed, yet Brown would have to have been capable of time travel to have visited all those that are linked to his name.

Tales which hint at ancient ghosts or eccentric owners from the past must also be viewed with a large dose of healthy scepticism.

If we are paying an entry fee, we deserve gardens and gardeners who can introduce us to fresh ideas and demonstrate inspired planting and design.

Versailles near Paris covers 800ha and is perhaps the most famous garden in the world. The scale is literally mind-blowing and on arrival one can sense straightaway that it was designed as a palatial centre of government. Versailles is, of course, worth visiting, if only to gasp in awe at what can be done with endless money and power - but it lacks a friendly feel and is far too formal for my liking.

There are delightful gardens in Madeira and even more in Cornwall, where the climate is also kind and there are unrivalled walks among trees and borders where entire days can be passed happily.

Such is also the case at Kew in London which is of a scale and layout that can be easily appreciated. However, at £34 for a family ticket, Kew is not exactly cheap.

Returning to home soil, our own botanic gardens in Glasnevin in Dublin and Kilmacurragh in Co Wicklow are, for me, among the best to wander around and remarkably, entry to both is free. I have also written in the past on a visit to Mount Stewart in Co Down with its magnificent landscape and there are literally hundreds of others, yet of all the many gardens that I have been to, the ones I have enjoyed visiting most are Carl Wright's Caher Bridge garden near Ballyvaughan in Co Clare and Coolaught Gardens and garden centre near Clonroche in Co Wexford. For gardens on a scale that we could all aspire to, Coolaught and Caher Bridge are hard to beat. Both have been created and planted by their owners and both are evidence of how talented gardeners have the ability to transform blank canvasses in to places of great beauty. Caher Bridge is open by appointment only and Carl himself will take you on a tour.

Coolaught is owned and managed by the Deacon family and has an excellent garden centre attached where you can purchase plants you may have admired during your walk around the garden. For further information check them out on the internet and then be sure to visit, you won't be disappointed.

Visiting Coolaught and Caher Bridge

Coolaught is open from mid-May to mid-September or by appointment to individuals and groups, while the garden centre is open all year round.

The owners, Harry and Caroline Deacon are very knowledgeable gardeners and are generous with both their time and advice.

The Enniscorthy, Co Wexford garden itself extends over 2.5 acres and while the house and farmyard date back to the 1700s, much of the new planting and layout are relatively "young". Aspiring gardeners can see what can be achieved in little more than a decade. The Deacons also farm but most of their time is spent caring for the garden and nursery which contains many plants difficult to source elsewhere.

Caher Bridge in Co Clare is based around a restored riverside cottage and was created from what was originally dense hazel and blackthorn scrub. It is also included in the list of 100 Best Gardens in Ireland.

You simply have to see it to appreciate what has been achieved and, like Coolaught, it is a relatively "young" garden and is far more enjoyable to visit than many older "restored" gardens.

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