TO get to the Garden of Re-Imagination on the magical Beara Peninsula, head to the beautiful town of Glengarriff. Continuing on, as if heading towards Kenmare, the road begins to bend and ascend as you snake your way around the mountains.
On this day, the sun is breaking through and there is a sign here and there that autumn is beginning to extend its Midas touch, turning a few leaves a golden hue.
After a few short kilometres, a wood-carved sign points to the entrance way. Cavolo Nero kale is blooming like a giant shrub either side of the gateway — the first sign that this is going to be a garden like nothing I’ve seen before.
It’s cooler up here, and Kloë Wood, 30, from Mizen Head, one half of Two Green Shoots, says that they’ve been shrouded in cloud for the last week or so. My rain dance must have worked.
As we chat, Adam Carveth, 33, and originally from Cornwall, the second Green Shoot, approaches clutching a still-potted blueberry plant, points at the red coloured foliage and declares autumn has definitely arrived. Gardeners’ instinct — it cannot be faulted.
It seems fitting that the first thing thrust under my nose on arrival is an edible plant, for that is the entire premise of The Garden of Re-Imagination.
“Absolutely everything in the garden is edible,” says Kloë.
“We want to show people how a garden isn’t just about aesthetics, it can be about discovery and nourishment too.”
Our tour about the garden starts straight away. In the crevices of the flagstones are bunches of wild strawberries — they are everywhere. Most of them have been harvested now, but there is still the odd one here and there — small, misshapen but brimming with the most gloriously intense strawberry flavour. In the entrance hall I had spied a jar of these wild strawberries macerating in brandy.
“If only you weren’t driving,” says Kloë. If only…
On the same shelf, I also spied Nasturtium seeds — poor man’s capers, peppery pickle bombs certain to brighten up those earthy, rooty flavours later in the year.
In the garden, there are pockets of Nasturtium flowers everywhere: red, orange and yellow, ivy-green leaves, tumbling over walls and terraces. The flowers, leaves and seeds are all edible — and delicious. Soon, it becomes apparent that many of the plants thriving in the edible garden have more than one use.
“Dahlia!” proclaims Adam. “Incredible plant: the flower petals are edible, but really what we want are the tubers. Depending on the variety, the flavour of the Dahlia tubers can either be nutty, fruity or wet. Really delicious.”
Just like potatoes, I say.
“Exactly like potatoes,” Adam retorts, and I feel like I’m going to get great marks on my report card come the end of the tour.
Next to the Dahlia is a perennial Parsnip, a medieval plant also known as Skirret that is our modern day Parsnip’s ancestor. There are the most incredible Sweet Peas growing nearby, the perfume carrying on the breeze. Apparently, the seed pods are edible — just like mange tout. Over there is a plant whose bark tastes just like cinnamon when it’s dried. A Szechuan pepper tree growing away as happily on the side of a mountain in West Cork as it would in the lush foothills of its native China.
At the base of the Szechuan pepper tree are three metal topiary moulds shaped like hens.
“Oh, this is Chilean Guava. Pick the leaves and crush them — that citrus aroma, when they’re dried they make incredible tea.
“The young berries there, they’ll grow to about twice the size of a blueberry and be juicy and sweet. But also the seeds inside the berries can be dried, ground and used as a natural coffee substitute.” Chilean Guava has now become a must-have plant for my newly forming garden back home.
We wander on into another part of the garden, over the bridge that has been built around a large, old tree. It’s a Strawberry Tree, producing a fruit that neither looks nor tastes like strawberries and has yet to impress Kloë with any culinary delight. But apparently the Portuguese love them, so I suggest dunking a load in some port wine and see what happens.
The bridge leads to a set of magnificent flagstone steps leading into a lost world canopy of trees.
“We had no idea these steps were here,” says Kloë.
“They were hidden under about a foot deep of leaf hummus and moss, but there was a regular undulation to the slope so we thought there might be something there. We started digging and found these incredible stone steps!”
The house that is attached to the Garden of Re-Imagination is at least 200 years old. At around the time that the Italianate Gardens of Garnish Island were being created, a Mrs Hardstaff was the owner of the house. Quite taken with the fashionable gardens on the island, Mrs Hardstaff set about creating something of her own on a much smaller scale. The stone steps and the cascading ponds that were also uncovered were part of her original design.
“Jackie, our next door neighbour, is 81 and every Sunday we pop round for an hour to have tea and cake with him,” says Adam.
“When we uncovered the steps, he said to us that it was him and a couple of friends built them for Mrs Hardstaff. He was 16 at the time, and used to go up the mountain to find and crack the stones, and carry them back down to the garden by donkey. Imagine that little piece of local history could have been lost forever!”
As we walk and talk, Adam, who has a formal training in Horticulture and for many years worked for the Royal Horticultural Society and the National Trust in the UK, points to plants and cites both their common and Latin names. As we ascend the stone steps up the other side, a four-tiered terrace comes into view.
“Camellia sinensis”, says Adam, followed by “Tea Plant”.
Wait, what? Tea growing in West Cork?
“Yes,” he says. “It’s proving difficult to get more plants in at the moment — thanks to Brexit and all the uncertainty around that — and this patch was pretty overgrown with Rhododendron so we need to rebuild the soil nutrients, but this whole area will eventually be a tea plantation.”
I suggest they start a tea video diary — I may be a little bit excited about the prospect of tea growing in West Cork!
Back to the house and Adam, who is also the head gardener at Bantry House and Gardens, has to leave for work there after being rained off the day before. Kloë and I squirrel ourselves away into the warmth of the house for tea, made with Apple Mint from the garden, and a life-affirming bowl of Nettle Soup from their ‘cut and come-again’ Nettle patch.
Whereas Adam’s career path in gardening was always clearly laid out for him, Kloë’s was somewhat more of a gentle meander. She studied Zoology in Bangor University, obtained an MA in Sustainable Development in Exeter before embarking on a PhD. Shortly after beginning her studies, something clicked.
“I had spent just so many years in academia. I felt like I was just a head and a brain, like my body was surplus to requirements really. It was quite a dark time for me.
“I had a really strong desire to just move my body and feel productive, and I fell in love with the magical world of plants!
“I set up a community garden, and it was the perfect antidote. Adam was writing a gardening column for the local paper, and I invited him down to do a talk at the garden — that was how we met.
“My approach to gardening has always been social, whereas Adam’s is very academic, but our different approaches complement each other really well.”
Kloë’s love of gardening and socialising means their Garden of Re-Imagination is open for Taste Tours four days a week from May until the end of September. Guests get to nibble their way around the Garden of Re-Imagination before settling into their Feasting Room for delicious homemade tasty treats, a refreshing drink and gifted a souvenir recipe card.
“The garden is all about making the magic of natural ingredients accessible. The dishes we serve are simple: we are obsessed about being out in the garden so we leave the 14-course menus to those talented chefs! Rather, we want to inspire people with simple dishes that they can easily replicate at home; fit in with busy lives, but to see how easy it is to make it a part of their lifestyle and celebrate freshness.”
As well as Taste Tours, Two Green Shoots offer Bed & Feast Escapes for a minimum two-night stay. The four rooms available have been tastefully decorated to individual botanical themes: Lichen, Fern, Silver Birch and Willow. The rooms are finished beautifully with botanical inspired curios handcrafted by Kloë, upcycled furniture and pieces of woodcraft made by Adam. In the shared bathroom, silver and gold painted pottery fishes swim across the mirror.
“Guests have this whole side of the house to themselves, including the sitting room and Feasting Room. In the morning, we make plant-based breakfasts inspired by the edible garden, and there are eggs from our hens.
“The idea of having a minimum two-night stay is because this isn’t just a place where you drop and then go again. We encourage guests to settle in and unwind; lounge in the hammock chair under the tree and head off on adventures around the garden or elsewhere.”
I scribble in the margins “Sign Me Up!” and envisage myself communing with butterflies in the hammock chair whilst penning an award-winning novella in the afternoon.
Visit www.twogreenshoots.com for information about Taste Tours (every Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday until end of September) and Bed & Feast Packages.
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