On a wet and windy June bank holiday weekend, cabin fever eventually drove Mary O’Brien and family out of the house and down west on the Sunday to visit one of the 23 gardens on the West Cork Garden Trail.
Taking on board the statement ‘there is no such thing as bad weather only unsuitable clothing’ and determined to get out, we donned raincoats and packed umbrellas and the ‘bouncing off the walls’ dog into the boot and headed off. There are a number of dog-friendly gardens on this year’s Garden Trail, which is something we always look out for wherever we go. Our destination on this occasion was the Heron Gallery Cafe and Gardens in Ahakista on Sheep’s Head peninsula.
Some time after Drimoleague, the rain eased off and by the time we arrived on Sheep’s Head, it felt like we were in a different country altogether. Although cloudy, there wasn’t a raindrop to be seen. Our waiter later confirmed that they hadn’t seen rain all day, a claim that was backed up by the girl behind the counter, who went so far as to say that Ahakista definitely got less rain in the summer than other parts of West Cork!
Deciding to build up an appetite for lunch, we hit the garden first. Welcomed by Mikey, the resident dog, we found paths lined with colour and wildlife: Echiums and foxgloves rising regally over brilliant bright orange California poppies and red geums. Delicate thalictrum and the golden flowering heads of stipa gigantica adding grace to the borders.
Along the way we passed quirky walls, recycled palette herb gardens and a barefoot path for sensory walking. and a young woodland We also met the happily grazing pigs and ran off our cabin fever in the wild meadow.
“It is an artist’s garden, full of colour. Hours of work have gone in to it, and we love it,” says artist and owner Annabel Langrish. “Klaus does the mowing, strimming and blowing (how men love the leaf blower!) and myself and my friend Niamh take care of all the seed sowing, planting and weeding.”
Annabel has always gardened organically and over the years, the soil has been enriched by seaweed mulch, homemade compost, horse and cow manure. The Heron Garden is now a haven for wildlife and birds. The ponds attract frogs, newts, dragonflies, damsel flies, water beetles and herons. The wildflower meadow is full of small blue butterflies, cinnibar moths, honey bees and leaf cutter bees.
“There is nothing very exotic just a happy profusion of cottage garden and wild flowers,” she says modestly.
Annabel never had a garden until she lived in Leitrim in a small cottage in a valley with an acre of rushy fields around it. “I discovered a new passion here,” she explains “and also something I was quite good at! I started growing and drying herbs as well as all sorts of vegetables, then propagating shrubs from cuttings and selling them to garden centres. In the late seventies, there was no internet, no google, so knowledge came from gorgeous books full of wonderful illustrations. In my enthusiasm, I tried everything and everything grew!”
The land around Heron Gallery, where Annabel and family arrived 16 years ago, was pretty much virgin territory, so the garden developed slowly – first the flower borders and paths, then came the raised vegetable beds and polytunnel, the wildlife ponds, the orchard, the future forest.
Like a painting, it is a beautiful work in progress, a place to find inspiration.
Annabel’s favourite place to spend some time in the garden is the seat at the end of the pond where she can watch the dragonflies go up and down the length and swallows dipping low over the water with its white, yellow and pink lilies.
Like all gardens, over the years, The Heron has found its family of plants. “They must withstand sea winds, dry summers, rainy winters, snail attacks and invasive weeds,” shares Annabel.
If you would like to visit the Heron or one of the other gardens on this year’s West Cork Garden Trail visit westcorkgardentrail.com for more information and contact details.