30th Anniversary Rectory Garden

The warm sunny afternoon of 9th August saw an impressive turnout of IGPS members and guests to celebrate the 30 year partnership between the rectory garden volunteers and the Ulster Folk and Transport museum. A virtual horticultural who’s who; the guests, many of whom had been involved in the early days of creating the garden, included 1987 IGPS Chair Mary Davies from Dublin, travelling from Donegal, her successor Mary Forrest, who in 1988 planted the garden’s weeping ash, past Northern regional representative Reg Maxwell who served on the first working party with the museum, the first volunteer Katherine Nixon who recalls frequently working on her own, Mike Snowden former head of Rowallane Gardens and past Secretary of the Northern region Catherine Tyrie and her husband, Paul Hackney who had also worked for the museum. The event was well supported by many IGPS members from across the regions.

Attractions for the day included, flower arranging demonstrations by Cherry Townsend and children’s activities such as making paper flowers and lavender bags. There was a bee-keeping stand, guided garden talks and also a very successful plant sales table. Complimentary refreshments, including a delicious homemade sparkling elderflower cordial, were served and a melody of live traditional Irish music provided a pleasing background to the festivities.

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The anniversary marked the conception of the garden, first embarked upon in 1987 when the IGPS was looking for a garden project. By happy coincidence the old rectory from the townland of Lismacloskey, near Toomebridge, County Antrim, had been reconstructed at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, Cultra. The Society were asked to design and plant a garden appropriate for that of rural clergyman circa 1900.  Since then the garden has been developed and maintained by a succession of volunteers, mostly, but not always, IGPS members.  The plan of the garden is simple with a central straight path leading from the gate to the front door and two rectangular flower beds in front of the house, which now includes many Irish heritage plants.

 

In commemoration of the anniversary, IGPS Chairman Billy McCone, assisted by volunteer Lorna Goldstrom planted two heritage plants cultivated by Irish nurseries; Agapanthus ‘Midnight Blue’ bred by Slieve Donard and Escallionia ‘C. F. Ball’ originally grown at Glasnevin but then grown and distributed by Daisy Hill, Newry.

Billy thanked all those pioneer gardeners who were present, also including Andrena Duffin and Patrick Quigley who were unable attend, remarking on how much they had done in taking the site from a patch of grass to the garden it is today.  Congratulating the current volunteers – Marion Allen, Lorna Goldstrom, Barbara Mayne, Carrie Mercer, Sharon Morrow, Margaret Newman, Yvonne Penpraze and Maureen Reid on their organisation of the day, Billy also praised the team on the appearance of the garden which he thought magnificent. Thanks were also given to the Folk Museum staff, in particular, Ruth Osborne, retired head groundsman Andy Bingham and Operations Manager David Blemings, for their help, support, drive and enthusiasm over the years.

Billy McCone concluded:

“Not only is the rectory garden a collection of beautiful plants, but it is more than that; it is a safe haven for Irish plants and without the garden, without the volunteers and without the support from the museum we would not have that safe haven.  Increasingly some of the plants left as our legacy, as part of our heritage and plants with our stories are becoming scarcer.  We very much need gardens like the Rectory garden and we very much need the volunteers. So to the volunteers, past volunteers to the staff of the Ulster Folk and Transport museum, thank you for the 30 years and we wish you many, many more.”

 

This report is from Barbara Kelso, a member of the Northern Committee of the IGPS and the photographs are from Stephen Weatherall. 

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

 

 

 

We Boiled a Frog!

Change, especially when incrementally small and over a long period, is often imperceptible and we occasionally need someone to ring the alarm bells and alert us to dangers. Charles Handy, the business/management guru of the 1980s, in his book The Age of Unreason told the parable of a frog being put in a pot of cold water which was heated so gradually that the frog became accustomed to each increase in temperature until the water reached boiling point and the frog died. He used the story to highlight that people very often do not realise their world is changing and that unless they react and take charge the consequences may be drastic.

Pádraig Fogarty in his recently published book, Whitted Away, Ireland’s Vanishing Nature, is the one ringing the alarm bells on behalf of the Irish natural and environmental heritage: “A growing mountain of scientific research is demonstrating that we are in the midst of an ecological catastrophe, principally from the twin evils of climate change and biodiversity loss” and he contends that our view of Ireland as a green country is misinformed – and as one reads the book one cannot but sadly agree.  

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Many of our historic traditional fisheries have simply disappeared. Who has even heard of the pilchard fisheries at Baltimore which once employed 2,000 people on a seasonal basis? Herring have all but disappeared from the north Irish Sea and the Donegal cod fisheries are a thing of the past yet regularly we will hear statements about our “sustainable” fish stocks meaning that present fishing levels will not deplete fish stocks further but such statements disguise or ignore the fact that present stocks are only a miniscule fraction of what they were previously. Other countries have managed to revive fish stocks so with good management it is possible that Irish stocks could recover also.

While one might expect our national parks to lead the way in good environmental management this is not the case. Rhododendron ponticum continues to be a major problem in the Killarney National Park. Wicklow Mountains National Park is the largest expanse of ground over 300 metres in the country and while we may admire its beauty we seldom stop and think how unnatural an environment it is. The mountains were once covered in trees and it is unnatural that they have now become a monoculture of heather. Present policies are to maintain it in this manner, preserving a landscape which has already been damaged and continues to be damaged by overstocking of sheep with numbers driven ever upward by per-head state subsidies. Yes, the state pays people to put sheep on the mountains knowing they will ruin it – sheepwrecked! Even in 1928 J. W. Synge wrote of Connemara National Park, “The absence of trees is a sad feature of a Connemara landscape. Seen from a distance the very bareness of mountain slopes makes them look savage and, indeed, almost repellent in a hard light.” However, the author – he really does come up with gems of optimism – describes it as “not a paradise lost but a paradise waiting to happen”.  Glenveagh National Park continues to have difficulties with the reintroduction of the Golden Eagle, has no management plan and illegal turf extraction seems to be allowed to continue unchecked within the park boundaries. On the other hand, The Burren National Park is very much a success story, a wonderful example of farming for conservation and the only one which could be described as well managed.

The decline or loss of some species will always lead to headline news – the red squirrel or the corncrake, for example – but the author says the list of lost plants and animals runs to 115 while, perhaps more alarmingly, there is a general decline in the numbers of all wildlife with the World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society of London reporting that there has been a 58% fall in population of all species between 1970 and 2012. Alongside this unnatural loss of numbers there are several sanctioned culls of wild animals. Badgers are culled to prevent the spread tuberculosis in cattle – approximately 7,000 each year, though 80% – 90% of the culled badgers have subsequently been found to be free of TB. Pike are culled are culled to allow other fish species build up numbers; there is a bounty on foxes; deer are culled and there is a call for a cull of seals.

Ireland’s food products are  promoted as being “green”, that they come from a green land, are produced by “green” farming yet 47% of our rivers, 57% of our lakes ad 55% of our estuaries do not meet the requirements of good ecological status and over half of this pollution is attributed to agriculture. It is interesting that the body which promotes the green image of Ireland, An Bord Bia, received government funding of €32.2 million in 2014 while the body entrusted to actually make the country green, National Parks and Wildlife Service, received €14.3 million that same year. There seems to be a disparity between promoting the message and actually creating the reality of a green Ireland. It would seem that the billions of euro paid to Irish farmers to protect the environment have not been well spent. The blame does not lie with the farmer – certainly, not entirely with them – as many farmers, many passionate environmentalists themselves, view the approach of the Department of Agriculture as poorly thought out and, regularly, detrimental to the environment. They will be required to clear corners of scrub, to drain low-lying wet patches so as to bring all land into production though they see that by so doing they are removing a diversity of habitat which would have accommodated a diversity of wildlife.

There have been a number of success stories: Lough Boora Parkland in Co. Offaly was once a Bord na Mona worked bog but has now been allowed to return to nature. A survey in May 2012 by the National Biodiversity Data Centre identified and counted 946 different species – more than were counted on The Burren in a similar exercise in the following year. There are other Bold na Mona bogs which could be similarly allowed to return to nature – it could be the largest habitat restoration ever seen.

The book is well written, well organised and deeply engaging. It is one of those books which certainly gives cause for thought and it would be of great benefit to our political decision makers, and to the environment, if they each read it.

This book provides a reality check for all who are interested in the Irish environment – a very startling reality check – but we should, as the author does, not think of the situation as a paradise lost but as a paradise waiting to happen.

[Whittled Away, Ireland’s Vanishing Nature, Pádraig Fogarty, The Collins Press, Cork, 2017, Hardback, 360 pages, €20, ISBN: 978-1-84889-310-8]

The book’s title, by the way, comes from a Irish Government Report of June 1969: “Ireland’s heritage is being steadily whittle away by human exploitation, pollution and other aspects of modern development. This could represent a serious loss to the nation.

Paddy Tobin

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

 

Not as it should be!

It must be comforting to be able to lift one’s head, direct one’s gaze to some beauty in a garden, and ignore the weeds around one’s feet. Some will visit a garden, seek out the good and ignore the bad but I find this difficult to do and can find a garden visit spoiled when I encounter areas of poor gardening.

I visited the gardens at Bantry House last month and felt significant areas of the garden were far below the standard one would hope to find. Mind you, reading the leaflet one receives on admission, the owners do not attempt to hide the fact that there is a huge amount of work yet to be done and my visit certainly not only confirmed that fact but left me feeling very disappointed that some especially significant and integral parts of the garden have been allowed to fall into a state which is very unacceptable.

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A sideways glance to the house before turning to the woodland.
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A pretty bridge over the stream in the woodland.

We began our visit at a pretty red bridge over a small stream which ran into the woodland which the leaflet states “needs to be restored and to be made more accessible” – a reasonable assessment – and followed the walk along the stream to the Walled Garden. This “had been partly sold in the 1950s and then abandoned. Consequently, it fell into disrepair and neglect” and so it remains with little more than some hints that it might once have been a garden –  impressive gates, the remains of two ponds and a few trees, a scene to disappoint and sadden the visitor.

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The entrance to the walled garden
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Some signs of planting in the walled garden

The return walk, the “Old Ladies Walk”, leads to the top of The Hundred Steps, one of the main features of the garden and leads past the West Stable en  route which “is much more visible and its state of dereliction quite obvious. It has been made safe in 2011 with the help of the Heritage Council. To restore it is another hope.”  I had wondered if it might have been better to have excluded visitors from these areas of the garden. They were not attractive and seemed unprepared for visitors.

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The West Stable

The “Old Ladies Walk” brought us to the top of The Hundred Steps and one of the most glorious views in any Irish garden. From here one looks down The Hundred Steps to the fountain and parterre, the house and a magnificent view to Bantry Bay beyond. It is truly impressive and demands that one stop and admire it all. However, the walk down the steps brought terrible disappointment. The ornamental pots to each side had not been attended to this year and many sported weeds while the steps themselves seemed also destined to being overtaken by weeds. The terraces to either side of The Hundred Steps appear as though only recently rescued from wilderness. These were originally designed “to be grassed over” a simple treatment which would have complemented the architectural design but over the years Rhododendron ponticum, seedling willow and myrtles took hold. The information leaflet states that some clearing was carried out in 2016 but it was difficult to notice signs of any work in the current year. This feature, The Hundred Steps, is central to the garden design and it is such a pity that it has not received the attention that it deserves.

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View from the top of The Hundred Steps
Bantry House Garden (31)
The view from the top of The Hundred Steps

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The Hundred Steps with views to the terraces – greatly in needs of attention

The parterre is impressive, the clean geometric design in box hedging very appealing and fitting against the façade of the house. It is an area which, obviously, receives more care and attention. It is worthwhile to choose a suitable vantage point and sit to take in the intricacy of design here, the framework provided by the balustrades with ornamental pots on plinths. It is no wonder that it is the most frequently seen photograph from Bantry House garden.

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The Parterre and its surrounds

The Sunken Garden at the gable end of the house did not hold our attention – it needed a lot of tidying up – and we moved to the north terrace on the seaward side of the house where the Round Beds, fourteen in all planted with hemerocallis, run across the front lawns in a single line. It is a simple and effective design, sufficient to entertain but not distract from one’s progress to the view to the sea. The views seaward and back to the house are very pleasant.

The northern terraces with the Circular Beds

In fairness, the owners acknowledge that there is a great deal of work yet to be done and, were it done, this would indeed be a magnificent garden. However, at present, there are many very disappointing areas in the garden.

Paddy Tobin

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

Much more than that!

It is disappointing to see a good garden receive scant and silly coverage on a television gardening programme. Recently, BBC’s Gardener’s World visited Jimi Blake’s garden, Huntingbrook, and gave more time to Jimi on a trampoline than to the garden and plants. With any television programme there will be editing and selection of material but one would surely expect the resulting material to be reasonably reflective and representative of the garden. Perhaps, any publicity is good publicity but I am certain the programme was not a fair return for the amount of preparation and work Jimi did in anticipation. I have since visited Jimi’s garden and realise – confirmed my belief – that the programme reflected the poor standards of presenting gardening on television and failed to capture the delights of this garden. (Oh, bring back Charles Nelson and “A Growing Obsession”)

 

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The areas around the house, full of colour and interesting plants 

Every garden lies along a continuum between an emphasis on design and an emphasis on plants and Jimi Blake’s garden is somewhere off the scale on the plant side. He has an exuberant love of plants and it perpetually searching for something new and interesting for his garden so that each year brings new delights for the visitor to see. There have been years where sanguisorbas dominated; a year with salvias; dahlias, many grown from seed, took over for a while and this year it seems that the best of many years have been kept, a culmination of some years of trial, testing and selection so that the main beds around the house are now jewel boxes of delight. One plant which caught my eye and which I thought was used particularly well was a red-leaved banana. It grew to only about a metre in height so that the foliage was within the bed, among the flowers, and not the ragged tower of tattered leaves we are so often urged to admire in someone’s garden. This banana actually looked well while I believe it is generally difficult for a banana to look well in an Irish garden.

 

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A selection of blooms from the area near the house

An enormous amount of work has been done in the woodland area of the garden with new paths laid out, surfaced and with handrails on the steeper sections. There has been some clearing which has allowed in wonderful light and there has been extensive new planting which is still very young but is certainly interesting and will be beautiful as the years progress. The banks of the stream in the basin of the valley has also been extensively planted with suitable additions and, as they settle and spread, these will be particularly beautiful in spring.

 

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The woodland area where an enormous amount of work has been done with new path and planting

Well constructed flights of steps make walking the particularly steep areas much more easy and makes the route to the meadow all the more inviting. The transition from woodland to meadow is dramatically one of those darkness to light experiences as one moves from the shadows of the trees to the openness of the Co. Wicklow countryside with beautiful views to the hills beyond the garden.

 

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The Meadow

Although Jimi’s garden would generally be described as a plantsman’s garden it is much more than that with the woodland area being developed very significantly and interestingly and the meadow becoming progressively better with each passing year. It is a delight to visit the garden at present and the future is even more promising.

Paddy Tobin

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

She has it looking lovely!

 

So my visiting companion said as we were driving out of June Blake’s garden this afternoon and, of course, the conversation continued as we drove: “I loved that lipstick pink phlox…and that new dahlia in the lower part of the garden…and that blue geranium near the house – what was its name? That monkshood was a great blue and that double blue delphinium with it was fabulous. There was great colour in the red and orange border and great use of the crocosmias; they can be a blasted nuisance but when you see them used to well you’d be inclined to use them a bit more. It’s better with those trees gone – leaves in a lot more light and that corner looks a lot better now. Imagine Primula florindae still looking so well; they’re well gone at home! I love the outer parts of the garden – a great contrast and a great rest from the intensity of colour in the main garden; it’s lovely to sit and look down on the garden from the top” And on and on it went!

This is the way it usually is after any garden visit, comments and comparisons, highlights mentioned, disappointments aired (none today!) and plans made to search out such a plant or to try an idea in the home garden.

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Approaching the garden entrance 
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A thriving border bursting with energy and colour 

The central area of June’s garden, the herbaceous beds near to the house, simply continue to get better and better with each passing year – a tweaking of colour combinations and plant selections – and I doubt we will see a better example of colour combination and planting in the country.  Other areas of the garden have developed wonderfully – the grass area at the entrance, previously an area of wildflowers, is now an undulating lawn with a winding path which slows the visitor down and prepares one to be leisurely in the walk around the garden and encourages one to admire the border leading to the entrance where the heartiest of rodgersias thrive in the rich soil that only farmyard manure can provide.

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An iconic tree and view. 

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Fabulous colour in the borders.

Above, beyond and around the garden, the sweeping areas of grass have developed to become the perfect balance to the intensity of colour nearer the house. There is a peace there, quiet green and distance from the hub. The view over the garden from the perfectly placed seat encompasses not only the garden but allows views to the farmland and hills beyond. We sat there for a considerable and enjoyable time, the time to take it in, to savour the experience and to watch the gardener busy at her work.

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It doesn’t all happen by accident – there’s a lot of hard work involved and the end result shows this so well. 

Enjoy the slideshow of images from the garden today but better to visit and enjoy it yourself.

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Paddy Tobin

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

Come into the Garden!

Shirley Lanigan must be the greatest garden visitor in Ireland and she has written a book which would entice the reader to emulate her and visit the wonderful and beautiful gardens we have in this country.

Her latest book “The Open Gardens of Ireland” gives us details of 427 gardens we may visit. Some are large public gardens but most are private gardens which are open under the various local garden trails or for occasional charity events and I don’t think it unfair to say that Shirley is the champion of the smaller private gardens open under such schemes. More so that the larger gardens – which are included and well covered – these are gardened by the owners and are displays of individual taste and flair, something which makes them more personal and appealing. They may not have the grandeur of the larger gardens but more than make up for it by being in a size and proportion which has more relevance to most visitors – there is the feeling that “I could do something like this at home” when one visits and that brings the experience into the realm of the visitor which then becomes an encouragement and incentive to do more on the home plot. Irish gardens, Irish gardening and Irish gardeners are the net beneficiaries and that is a wonderful result.

shirley lanigan's book

The guide covers 31 counties of Ireland – there is no entry for Co. Longford – and is arranged by province with the counties listed alphabetically and the gardens likewise. Each entry is headed with the gardener’s name, contact details, opening arrangements and directions though not Sat. Nav. coordinates which would have been a helpful addition. A general description of the garden follows mentioning particular highlights, attractions and features. There are photographs throughout, more as an addition to the text rather than featuring in their own right..

Were I to voice a criticism – and, in a way, what a dreadful criticism – it would be to say that Shirley is too kind. She writes of each garden with great gentleness, always preferring to praise rather than criticise so that the book does not give an assessment of the gardens listed, something which might be of value to the reader. However, she obviously loves gardens, gardeners, their plants and their efforts and prefers to encourage rather than judge and though I might call this a fault, it is the kindest fault.

Occasional a descriptive word does catch the eye. When a garden project was described as a “challenge” I took it to mean the gardeners had taken on more than they could manage and when it was said that a garden had “a relaxed atmosphere” I had a picture of a wild and weedy patch. The state of a significant architectural feature in one of our major historic gardens was described as “not as it should be” because of the invasion of weeds which had been allowed unchecked. I had visited this garden very recently and would have been far more condemning in my comments. It was a shame, a disappointment, a disgrace and certainly “not as it should be”. Shirley condemns much more gently.

SHIRLEY LANIGAN
Shirley with her latest book – photograph courtesy of The Kilkenny People newspaper. 

It was 2001 when Shirley’s “Guide to Irish Gardens” was published and it has been a constant source of information over the intervening years. The advent of this new guide brings the invariable comparisons between listings then and now. Many gardens and gardeners we have visited over the years have gone but, thankfully, many new gardens have been added to the lists for our enjoyment. There is a little sadness in recalling gardening friends and acquaintances who have passed away in these years but it was an occasion to remember them fondly. Some gardens have endured the test of time and continue in the style in which we have known them while others have reinvented themselves to appeal to a new audience. I suppose it is an essential part of opening to the public, to latch on to the latest fashion or fad, make the garden a sort of shop window to attract people and increase revenue. Some open their gardens to share while others do so to gather. It is all part of the gardening scene and all very interesting.

I don’t think those who open their gardens could have a better promotional writer than Shirley and those who wish to visit Irish gardens have the perfect guidebook.

[The Open Gardens of Ireland, Shirley Lanigan, 2017, The Butter Slip Press, Kilkenny, €22.50/£19.99, Soft cover, 399 pages, ISBN: 978-0-9955825-0-7]

Paddy Tobin

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

 

 

Daring to be Old-fashioned

Colclough Walled Garden (24)

The sight of those regimented, regular and geometric lines of red bedding salvias immediately brought me back to a day in my student life. It was 1970, in a student residence in Dublin, where “chores” were part of the daily routine. These chores included general house work and occasional work on the grounds. The orchard had ornamental beds planted with red salvias and I was given the job of hoeing them on that particular day. I cannot recall why but I know this work was extra to the normal routine and was given by way of a punishment and that I undertook it in bad spirits and in vile humour. It gradually dawned on me that the hoe was an excellent tool for cutting the roots from a plant, a sort of inverse decapitation, and without incriminating myself too much, it seems those salvias went into terminal decline in the heat of the following day – when I was long gone!

Colclough Walled Garden (28)

The practice of bedding plant displays has all but vanished from our gardens. It may still be seen occasionally in park plantings but, by and large, it has gone out of fashion and is now generally looked on as somewhat fuddy duddy, something of a bygone era and now considered an affront to the eye, an irritant to the retina.

Colclough Walled Garden (1)

However, once in a while, such a planting makes sense, and though it may come as an initial shock it can be appreciated when it is explained its background revealed. Colclough Walled Garden, near Tintern Abbey in the south western corner of Co. Wexford, is presently laid out in a geometric design of bedding plants with large diamonds in Ageratum, marigolds and salvias giving a striking display. My first reaction on entering the walled garden was of surprise, shock and amazement that such an old-fashioned style should be used in what is a very recently restored garden.

Colclough Walled Garden (18)

We were very fortunate to have timed our visit to coincide with a guided tour of the garden and the outstandingly excellent talk from one of the gardeners gave a wonderful insight into the history of the garden, the story of the restoration and the reason for this year’s planting design. Research has shown the layout and design of the garden beds in the late 19th century and the gardeners have recreated this design. The guided walk of the garden added hugely to our enjoyment of our visit and I highly recommend you check on the timing of talks so you can also enjoy them.

For a restoration project which began only seven years ago the rate of progress is hugely impressive and has been done with the involvement and support of the local community – fruit trees bear the names of contributors and even individual timbers of the fabulously restored glasshouse were sponsored by local people and businesses. It struck me as a wonderful way to involve the local community

Our guide said that the present geometric display is unlikely to be repeated next year – it was a time-consuming and expensive project – so it might be worthwhile visiting while it is there.

Some other views of the garden:

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And there are very pleasant and beautiful walks around the area:

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Paddy Tobin