The Bay Garden – Always a Delight

Domesticity of scale adds to the winning charm of The Bay Garden in Ferns, Co. Wexford, the garden of Iain and Frances McDonald.  Although a reasonably large garden by today’s norms it is experienced in a series of relatively small stages so that the visitor takes in the garden at a gradual and comfortable pace and never feels overwhelmed by largesse or grandeur. Despite the extensive work which was involved in developing this garden and the fabulous selection of interesting plants used to furnish it there is an encouraging feeling that the visitor might achieve a similar effect on the home patch. The Bay is an impressive garden yet remains one which is encouraging rather than daunting.

The yellow front door which a neighbour told Iain and Frances they were never to change. The addition of the wisteria matches it perfectly
The yellow front door which a neighbour told Iain and Frances they were never to change. The addition of the wisteria matches it perfectly

On a visit with a group of friends last week I was followed as I headed off on my usual route around the garden only for one of my companions to comment, “Oh, we are doing the garden the wrong way round today.” The normal route around the garden is to enter to the back of the house and move through the various rooms to end up in the woodland garden. However, the woodland garden is the section which always attracts me and it is where I always go first. In the month of June it has the most perfect picture postcard scene imaginable in any garden where hosts of primulas in a range of colours are set in front of a garden house. It is as perfect a composition as I can imagine and I simply adore it. There is much of interest at any time of the year but the highlight is certainly the show of primulas.

At the end of the woodland garden in June
At the end of the woodland garden in June
Such a perfect planting with a wonderful selection of primulas
Such a perfect planting with a wonderful selection of primulas

In contrast, the grass garden does not set my heart on fire but this is a general attitude of mine that I simply do not like these grass plantings. Having said that, there are views within this garden that I adore – the combination of rhus in its autumn colours among grasses is simply divine while a view over the planting which leads the eye to the surrounding countryside is a design feature which Iain and Frances have developed to perfection.

The Grass Garden with views to the surrounding countryside
The Grass Garden with views to the surrounding countryside
Wonderfully dramatic planting in the Grass Garden
Wonderfully dramatic planting in the Grass Garden

Frances’ “Funereal Borders” with her selection of very dark flowers have been an amusement for many years, great fun to see what she has added this year. I think she has passed the funeral stage somewhat and I’m not sure whether we are celebrating cremation, a drop down to hell or a celebration of the life hereafter for the colours in this section of the garden are brighter, richer, with more happiness and generally more autumnal than previously and all in our group were delighted with them.

Hydrangeas are adding a further level of interest to the garden, another layer to an already rich planting
Hydrangeas are adding a further level of interest to the garden, another layer to an already rich planting

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The Rose Garden is not what it was. Box blight has ravaged the previously beautifully formal and neatly clipped hedges. It is so hard to leave go of a design and planting which was so successful but I’m sure this area will be resurrected in the very near future to shine again.

I’m not sure what Iain and Frances call the area with the formal pool and Loggia; I think of it as an Italianate area and while I adore aspects of its design there are others which I am not too keen on. It gives a wonderful change of atmosphere as one walks around as it is a space with a different feeling to the rest of the garden. It introduces a touch of formality in a country garden which I think could be incongruous but that it is kept separate by hedging so, overall, it is a clever introduction of a different design element. The hard landscape work has been improved greatly in the last few years; the hedges have matured and are maintained to perfection. What irritates me is the planting to either side of the pond. I feel it is an area where a lot less planting would give a far better effect and that the present planting is a distraction from the overall design and layout of this area. Indeed, if Iain extended his present hydrangea flair to this area, removed all other plants except the hedging and used a mass planting of one cultivar of hydrangea, I feel it would be fabulous. A mass of ‘Annabelle’ or ‘Limelight’ or ‘Vanille Fraise’ at either side set off by the hedges would be simple and impressive.

The formal pool and loggia
The formal pool and loggia

The small area to the front of the house is called “The Cottage Garden” and I think the description could be extended to the garden to the side of the house also. This is a delightfully comfortable area with a very relaxed atmosphere. It is so very pleasant to walk here and enjoy the plants. The pink-berried sorbus which Iain raised from seed is one which I like to see on each visit. The Cornus kousa was just showing colour in its fruit last week and a very dark-flowered sedum caught everybody’s eye. The very tall Dahlia ‘Admiral Rawlings’ impressed us all with its fabulously rich colour and imposing size.

The area to the side of the house, informal in layout and rich in plant interest.
The area to the side of the house, informal in layout and rich in plant interest.

Coffee and chat round off any garden visit very well and a selection of plants for sale present the opportunity to take a keepsake home with you and so our visit was complete. There will be other days and other seasons as this garden looks well all year round.

Finally, some plants which caught my eye on our visit – only a very few as there were so many.

An interesting range of hydrangeas has been added to the garden. Here are just a few...
An interesting range of hydrangeas has been added to the garden. Here are just a few…
What a blue!
What a blue!
Hydrangea aspera, a divine colour
Hydrangea aspera, a divine colour
This impressive stand of Lilium lancifolium caught everybody's attention. It grows easily from the bulbils produced along the stem. We have some of its offspring at home and they are doing very well.
This impressive stand of Lilium lancifolium caught everybody’s attention. It grows easily from the bulbils produced along the stem. We have some of its offspring at home and they are doing very well.
This colour of this monarda was such a delight
This colour of this monarda was such a delight
Those autumnal colours!
Those autumnal colours!

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Paddy Tobin

To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook

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2 thoughts on “The Bay Garden – Always a Delight

  1. Dear Paddy

    Thanks very much for the write up on our garden – much appreciated and greatly enhanced by the good photos. Ireland is so small and so many people are happy to praise a border of weeds rather than offend or risk the wrath of the owner so it is good to find someone who actually expresses their own opinions – and yours are very fair! We cannot all like the same thing or always expect others to like what we do…one does need to explore one’s feminine side to appreciate the pond garden with its reflecting borders! However I understand what you visualise – I think you would like Wollerton Old Hall for what they have done with a similar area.
    Anyway many thanks once again – hopefully those reading this will ‘Like’ The Bay Garden on Facebook…

    Come back anytime – you will be quite safe!

    Frances

    Like

    • Were every garden the same life would be such a bore. I really must seek out my feminine side. LOL

      We went to Wollerton Old Hall last August and adored it – this is high praise as I was in pain and ended up in hospital that evening and spent the rest of the holiday there. We must return as there is a wonderful selection of gardens in the area. In the meantime we will be content with those nearer home though next week it will be Carlotta, Balbianello, Melzi, Serbelloni, Monastero, Cipressi etc.

      Like

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