A labour of love

Garden enthusiasts and gardeners will be delighted to hear that there are 23 gardens on this year’s West Cork Garden Trail, the longest running trail of its kind in Ireland. From formally designed gardens to natural havens of biodiversity, formal to informal, traditional to more contemporary, this is an opportunity to glean new ideas for your own patch and discover rare plants or simply to enjoy the natural beauty and tranquility in all of these garden gems.

New or rather making a return to the trail in 2022 after an absence of 10 years, Aultaghreagh Cottage Garden at the top of a hill in Dunmanway, with views to the west of Shehy mountain and Nowen hill, is a garden well worth discovering. Created from scratch on a one-acre grass field over the past 32 years by husband and wife team Christine and Leslie Wilson, Aultaghreagh is a celebration of the wonder that exists when man connects with nature in a garden.

About a third of the plot is now dedicated to woodland, mostly planted with deciduous trees by Future Forests in the early days; these are now mature providing the perfect place for snowdrops, daffodils, wood anemones, bluebells and other shade-lovers. “As the trees grew, the garden changed,” says Leslie. “A lot of the grasses we planted had to go.” One of the stars of the woodland show has to be the pretty yellow wood or celandine poppy (stylophorum diphyllum), which peeps its sunny head out from heavily shaded areas under trees but also (deliberately) pops up between the formal planting in some of the beds. As useful as it is pretty, this herb is typically used to treat stomach, liver, and gallbladder problems. As you meander along the woodland trail, you’ll come across a large pond with goldfish, a waterfall and a bog garden surrounded by ferns, rodgersia and the splendid leaves of the umbrella plant (darmera peltata). The bank around it is planted with willows, beneath which are various junipers and evergreen conifers.

Closer to the house, the abundance of self-seeded Abutilon trees throughout the garden is also an early summer performance worth catching. While the spring bed of camellia, rhododendrons, magnolia, and azaleas will have retired by June, the flower beds should be a glorious riot of colour from the many perennials – delphiniums, phlox, penstemon, lysmachia, lupins (a favourite of Christine’s) to name just a few, most of which have been grown from seed in one of the polytunnels. Ornamental clover (trifolium rubens) with its handsome pointed flowers catches the eye of bees and passersby. There is also a wildflower bed humming with happy wildlife and a number of veg beds created using a no-dig, no-bend, no-weed growing system.

Before you leave, follow the sound of water to find the secret walled garden, where hostas, ferns and other damp-loving plants are thriving. It’s a place to stop and drink in the gentle sounds and scents of the land.

 For hosta lovers, the couple recommends’Halcyon’, as its blue, heart-shaped leaves are quite thick, which make it more slug-proof than most.

Throughout the garden there are climbers covering trellis’ and pergolas. The Viticella group of clematis does well here. You might also spot the pretty Tropaeolum happily weaving it’s way through a hedge. Bright scarlet flowers are followed by indigo blue berries. “We first saw it in Brian Cross’ garden in Glanmire,” shares Leslie.

This garden is a labour of love and an excellent opportunity to view the type of plants that will thrive in similar conditions in West Cork.

Aultagh, Dunmanway, P47 XK71. Admission is free to Aultaghreagh, the couple just ask that you make a donation to a charity of your choice. To arrange a visit please call 085-169-6474 / 023-8855307 or email houserocker@live.com.
For more information on the West Cork Garden Trail go to westcorkgardentrail.com.

Mary O'Brien

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