It’s great fun to go off with a group of fellow gardeners, leave your own patch behind for a while, and wander around other gardens admiring, chatting, photographing and finding new ideas that you might try back home. We had such a weekend recently. It was the occasion of the Annual General Meeting of the Irish Garden Plant Society with the meeting itself held in Glenveagh Castle in Co. Donegal followed by visits to four gardens over two days. A busman’s holiday! Speaking of buses, it was a delight that we had bus transport on the Saturday as, for us, the journey to Co. Donegal had been a five hour drive.
One overall impression and great delight from our four garden visits was that we were so warmly welcomed in each one of them. Seán O Gaoithin, Head Gardener, welcomed us to Glenveagh with refreshments before our meeting and afterwards, along with other members of staff, brought us on guided tours of the garden. The castle and gardens are situated on the banks of a lake and there are beautiful views at every turn. The Walled Garden occupies an area where once stone was quarried to build the castle and is now a beautiful combination of the practical and the ornamental. The gardener’s house, where Seán lived for some years, attracted every camera in the group like a magnet. We roamed on to the Pleasure Gardens, the Italian Terrace, The Tuscan Garden, The Swiss Walk and all agreed that it was the most enchanting garden we could possibly imagine. This garden alone made the five hour journey worthwhile. Everything else for the weekend was going to be a bonus for me. Apparently, midges can be a nuisance here but it was a blustery day with occasional showers when we visited and we were spared.
Our onward journey brought us over the mountains where we stopped to view the Poisoned Glen and Dunlewy Lake. A gale was blowing as we left the bus to take the view but it was worthwhile. The rather odd name for this glen arose from a mistranslation from Irish and the Heavenly Glen would be a more accurate and appropriate name.
We arrived at Cluain na dTor Nursery at Falcarragh in mid-afternoon. Seamus O Donnell with family and staff greeted us and brought us on a tour of the garden. Seamus has a keen interest in growing different and unusual plants and a particular passion, a necessary one given the location of his garden, in identifying plants which will do well at the seaside where salt-laden winds would reduce many a plant to shreds.
Sunday morning brought us to Oakfield Park, a Georgian deanery dating from the early 18th century, now fully restored and the home of Sir Gerry and Lady Robinson. To one side of the house there is a walled pleasure garden and a kitchen garden both restored to perfection while, on another side there is a wonderful downhill vista to a lake and nymphaeum and, further, to a recently installed and magnificent sculpture. Impressive specimen and heritage trees grace the landscape near the house while the parkland at the other side of the road has an abundance of walks through recently planted woodlands with lakes, follies and much to entrance the visitor. The miniature railway brought out the child in us all and we each enjoyed our tour by rail around the grounds.
Our final garden of the weekend was to Dunmore House, in Carrigans, the home of Lady Maryette and Sir John McFarland. First impressions do matter and here we were immediately wowed by a magnificent specimen of one of the Loder rhododendron cultivars to the front of the house. It was simply fabulous and we continued to be delighted as we walked around the walled garden which was on a slight slope so that the upper part suited azaleas perfectly and the damper lower end was perfect for primulas which flourished there. One red primula stole my heart; it was without a name and had come to the garden, as so many of the old Irish cultivars, “from an elderly lady”. Her memory lives on in the plant here.
It was a wonderful weekend; well worth the long journey and we can only look forward to our AGM weekend in the Cork area next year.