Where can you find some of Cork's finest gardens?

Have you ever ventured along The West Cork Garden Trail? Olive Ryan tells us more in her weekly column
Where can you find some of Cork's finest gardens?

Layers of acers and hostas in the Asian garden at Kilravock House near Durrus.

THE West Cork Garden Trail is waiting to be explored, comprising some 27 gardens located throughout Cork county, and there are some inspiring gardens to explore along the way.

June is a great time to get out and get ideas for planting, hard landscaping and other features that could be included in your own garden. Gardens are looking great right now as lush growth and colour is beginning to build.

The gardens start with Fota House and Gardens in East Cork and work their way west as far as the Kerry border.

A recent visit to Kilravock Gardens near Durrus along the West Cork coastline revealed a wonderful collection of plants from all corners of the world growing adjacent to the coastline. The garden is located alongside a reasonably sheltered inlet, with views of Mount Gabriel and Mount Corin directly in front when looking south across the water.

This garden reaps the benefit of the gulf stream, which enables tender plants to be over-wintered successfully. Ronnie Halligan, the owner, provided an informative guided tour on the day we visited.

The garden is about 1.7 acres and is shaped like an ice-cream cone, narrowing to a point at one end. It is sloping south and has been laid out in terraces for ease of access.

One of the most difficult aspects of gardening at this location is the thin layer of soil over bedrock, that makes an appearance at different points in the garden. This makes establishing plants challenging. In addition, there is the salt laden air that blows in from the sea.

In spite of all these challenges, there is a great collection of Camellias, Sorbus, Acers, Tree Ferns and Olerias creating the main backbone of the garden, which has evolved into a series of garden rooms and walks, with themed planting in some areas like the Asian garden, the Southern Hemisphere Walk and the Mediterranean Garden.

There is an impressive collection of Acers in the Asian garden. These are not plants associated with growing successfully near the sea, but at Kilravock they are thriving, mainly due to the existence of a shelter belt comprising bamboo on the water side of the garden.

The acers are under-planted with collections of hostas, azaleas, ferns, hellebores and crocosmia, which means this is a very attractive and interesting area at all times of the year.

The garden style is most definitely Robinsonian, with plants from all over the world growing together in a habitat that suits their needs well.

The Robinsonian style can be described as encouraging a wilder garden rather than an over-manicured one, a style first advocated by William Robinson in the 1800s. He believed in naturalizing plants, acclimatizing plants from distant shores, and growing what did well in its given habitat. His ideas were revolutionary in the Victorian era when a lot of gardening was concerned with formal flower beds and maintaining a neat and tidy garden.

Large palm trees adjacent to the patio area near the house create an impressive sight in the wilds of West Cork. One is a jelly palm, Butia capitata, native to South America, the other is a Canary Island date palm or Phoenix canariensis.

Visiting other gardens is a great way to see first hand how different elements work in a garden and there is an opportunity to talk to the owners about what works and doesn’t.

Both these palms are quite hardy in the West cork micro-climate, surviving down to about -7C, but it may get too cold in the winter months further inland for these beauties to survive and grow well.

The Mediterranean Garden is home to many plants tolerant of extremely dry growing conditions, and ideal for this particular garden as the thin layer of soil means plants need to be tough and resourceful.

Cordylines, agaves, palm trees, yuccas and fascicularia all give a very hot and holiday feel to this part of the garden. It is also a clever garden theme as instead of importing tonnes of topsoil and attempting to grow more conventional trees and shrubs, the existing conditions are being used to grow plants that will thrive and do well in the given conditions — this is at the foundation of the Robinsonian style of gardening and something we all need to consider when developing our gardens.

A lot of the gardens on this trail are open daily during the summer but it is always best to check as some are open by appointment only. See www.westcorkgardentrail.com for more details about locations, opening times and descriptions of the different gardens — and happy garden visiting this summer.

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