Rocking on!

We have just returned from a few days on The Burren, that fabulous area of limestone pavement, in County Clare where we enjoyed excellent weather, some wonderful walks, some very special wildflowers and, not to be missed, a visit to Caher Bridge Garden – the garden of Carl Wright.

Carl shouldn’t have made a garden here; any sensible evaluation of the site and the conditions would have told him to move elsewhere but he fell in love with the area and has poured his heart and soul into this garden and the garden has responded in kind. Now, a visit to The Burren would be incomplete without a visit to Caher Bridge Garden.

Oliver Cromwell’s appointee, Edmund Ludlow, is regularly quoted: “It is a country where there is not enough water to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him.” He might have added that it would be a crazy place to make a garden!

Carl’s garden is situated on north western corner of The Burren, close to Fanore, an area with extensive stretches of bare limestone pavement so that one is, first of all, amazed that anything will grow there and then amazed at what a fabulous selection of wildflowers not only grow but thrive in the conditions. However, to develop a garden on this extremely shallow soil – as little as a few centimetres in places – and with drainage like a colander was a brave undertaking indeed.

Carl cleared the scrub hazel, built raised beds which he filled with imported soil and also grows a lot of plants in large pots – especially his impressive collection of hostas – and he has made a garden which astonishes me every time I visit for the achievement of making any sort of garden at all, for the fabulous stonework, the ingenious use of the natural layout of the ground and for the selection of choice forms of the plants he grows.

I visit The Burren for the walking and the wildflowers but a visit without calling to Carl’s garden would leave me feeling I had missed the jewel in the crown.

If you are in the area do drop in to see the gardens but, in the meantime, I hope you enjoy this slideshow.

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Paddy Tobin

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

On the Edge!

The Burren is a plant lover’s paradise, an area of outstanding scenic beauty and so a joy to all who visit. When the opportunity arises we jump at the chance to visit, enjoy the long walks and search out the many wildflowers which we could see nowhere else in the country – indeed, one might more readily expect to see some of the plants here on The Alps or the Arctic tundra rather than in other areas of Ireland.

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A roadside area of grassland south of Fanone on The Burren, Co. Clare, an area rich in plants
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A stretch of limestone pavement which may appear an inhospitable place for plants but is actually teeming with interesting species.

After driving from Waterford recently we were walking along the coastline south of Fanore by half past eleven among Sea Thrift, Sea Campion, Thyme, Rock Samphire, Kidney Vetch, Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Hemp Agrimony, Lousewort, Common Dog-Violet, Bloody Crane’s Bill, Mountain Everlasting, Common Milkwort, Heath Spotted-Orchid and many others and all with wonderful views of seaside, cliffs, spreading limestone pavements and in perfect weather. The selection of plants which are literally at one’s feet within a few steps of parking the car is quite astonishing and a perfect treat.

A small selection of plants in this area: Clockwise from top left: Common Milkwort, Spring Gentian, Bloody Cranesbill, Lousewort and Sea Thrift with Bird’s Foot Trefoil 

Dactylorhiza maculata subsp. erictorum Heath Spotted-Orchid is a feature plant of this area

We drove to the car park at Fanore Strand – a fabulous location for Sheep’s Bit Scabious later in the season – and then headed off on The Fanore Loop Walk which quickly takes one off the coast and uphill on a minor road for about two miles where it meets with one of The Burrens “Green Roads” which leads north across the limestone hillside before descending to the Caher River Valley, and the road leads back to Fanore. The walk is estimated to take two and a half to three hours but generally takes us longer as I stop every few steps to photographs flowers. Well, this is understandable when one comes across delicious groups of the Spring Gentian, Mountain Avens, Water Avens and a super abundance of the Early Purple Orchid many of which are pink and we have found the occasional white one.

Along the Green Road on the Fanore Loop Walk with limestone pavement to either side, clint and gryke, and views to the sea and the Arran Islands. 

With, clockwise from top left:  Early Purple Orchids – three different colour forms shown here – Water Avens, Mountain Avens and Spring Gentians and all in great numbers and easy to find 

Back on the Caher Valley road we made our way back towards Fanore but, as the road passes Carl Wright’s Caher Bridge Garden, we dropped if for a visit. It was not part of our plan as we were to be back in Limerick for dinner but when we saw Carl we couldn’t miss the opportunity for a chat and walk around. As ever, it was a delight to visit with many interesting plants and the whole garden a fabulous creation made on The Burren limestone pavement.  We eventually got to that dinner, well over an hour late, and were the last to leave the restaurant late that night. A lovely end to a wonderful day!

Caher Bridge Gardens, Carl Wright’s creation on The Burren.

On the following day we drove to Doolin and parked the car there – I recommend parking on Fisher Street as it is very convenient to the Cliffs of Moher walkway and also to the bus stop for, The Paddy Wagon, to take us to the Visitors’ Centre at the Cliffs of Moher. This is a twenty minute or so drive at 6 Euro per person which I thought was good value for the convenience it provided – linear walks can be a nuisance as there is always the difficulty of returning to the car. The Cliffs of Moher hardly need my recommendation as they are so well known and so justifiably highly regarded and live up to the hype and praise they receive as they are jaw-droppingly impressive and beautiful.

As a cliff-top walk it was no surprise to see Sea Thrift and Sea Campion in profusion but it was spectacular to see them in such number and making such a pretty addition to the views.  Along the way there were also generous patches of orchids and even an early Sheep’s Bit Scabious.  It is quite a competition for one’s senses on this walk with the challenge of fabulous views and interesting flowers. The stretch of the walk nearer to Fanore featured Sea Mayweed, Common Scurvy Grass, Tormentil and the ever attractive Ragged Robin. It is an easy, interesting and very pleasant walk.

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Sea Thrift providing a beautiful foreground to the view of the Cliffs of Moher

Along the Cliffs of Moher

If you haven’t been to The Burren and wonder where to start you could do as we did on our first visit and join Tony Kirby of Heart of The Burren Walks for a guided walk. Our first visit to The Burren was a weekend special organised by The Old Ground Hotel in Ennis – a fabulous hotel, by the way – when Tony came and gave an introductory talk on the Friday evening and collected us in a minibus on Saturday morning, with packed lunch provided by the hotel. We had our walks, a picnic, and were brought back to the hotel for dinner. This was repeated on the Sunday.  We have repeated this arrangement several times since with The Old Ground Hotel for accommodation but making our own arrangements for the walks. Tony has a very helpful handbook guide to The Burren with information on a range of walks which is an excellent resource.

So, put on your walking boots and enjoy the experience.

Paddy Tobin

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

On the Rocks!

Caher Bridge Garden is most certainly on the rocks! It is located on The Burren, a vast area of exposed expanses of limestone pavement, one of the  most beautiful places in the country and an area which hosts an intriguing and exquisite selection of wild flowers. Here we will find plants which we might more normally expect to encounter on The Alps or within the Arctic Circle. Even a walk along many roads here will present an astonishing selection of orchids while in some areas they can be found in great numbers which will astound and delight the visitor.

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An example of Carl’s expert stonework: A Moongate reflecting the arch of the bridge over the Caher River which flows through the garden.

It is an old adage of garden design that one should take account of the spirit of the place – the “genius loci” – when planning one’s garden so that what develops “fits in” with its location. This all sounds remarkably easy, and for most of us it is, but when one’s surroundings are so dramatically peculiar and outstandingly beautiful the challenge could very well be daunting and even off-putting. However, Carl Wright has embraced the challenge of his surroundings with enthusiasm because, quite simply, he truly loves the place.

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A gentle planting reflecting the natural vegetation of the area

Some people might comment that their garden is on limestone but for Carl his garden is limestone with the limestone pavement of The Burren literally the surface on which he has to work. This might sound an impossible task, to garden on bare rock, but The Burren is very deceptive in this manner and the often heard quotation from Edward Ludlow, one of Oliver Cromwell’s general’s was very misplaced. He said, “After two days march, without anything remarkable but bad quarters, we entered into the barony of Boireann, of which it is said, that it is a country where there is not water enough to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him.”  However, in fairness, he continued, though it is not often added to the quotation, “and yet their cattle are very fat; for the grass growing in turfs of earth, of two or three foot square, that lie between the rocks, which are of limestone, is very sweet and nourishing.”

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Behind the house, as the land rises up the slope, walls and raised beds have been constructed to accommodate Carl’s interesting collection of plants

Carl discovered the truth of this latter comment for, while the bare limestone might lead one to believe little would grow there, his garden, as he found it, was a dense impenetrable copse of hazel which he had to clear by hand before gardening could even begin. It has been the work of many years, undertaken piece by piece, as a little more of the plot was converted to garden and, while most of the hazel has been cleared, discretion proved the best course on some occasions and a few specimens of considerable size have been allowed remain and maintain the spirit of The Burren.

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The rising ground to the rear of the house has  been manipulated cleverly to provide planting areas

Growing on the bare limestone would be an impossible restriction for the keen plantsperson – and Carl is undoubtedly one of those – so he has built many walls and raised beds which have allowed him to hold soil and provide planting locations for his eclectic selection of plants. The soil has had to be brought in from elsewhere though this has brought problems on occasion as some deliveries have brought with them pernicious weeds, builder’s rubble and other undesirable content so that Carl now sieves each delivery before putting it into his raised beds. Working with stone seems not only to be a great love for Carl but is an area where he displays wonderful skill and taste and the quality of wall construction and features is one of the great strengths of the garden.

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These beds hold a collection, several collections, of choice plants which Carl pursues with a single-mindedness and determination and enthusiasm that only a plant lover would understand. There is a significant selection of snowdrops for the early season, an expanding collection of daffodils of Irish origin follow and the number of hostas, many pot-grown, continues to expand. Other special favourites for Carl are Brunneras and ferns and, of late, hawthorns and hydrangeas. I’m sure other plant groups will be introduced as he progress up the hill, clearing further areas of hazel and creating more and more planting situations.

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Almost as though untouched by human hand – the existing hazel trees have been underplanted with an extensive collection of ferns.
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The iconic moongate at Caher Bridge Garden.

While a visit to The Burren is a fabulous experience it is fair to say that a visit to Carl’s garden certainly adds to the experience and I recommend you seek it out should you be in the area. We were on The Burren last week and dropped in for a flying visit but will be back again.

You will find information on Carl’s Facebook page!

Paddy Tobin

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

 

 

 

 

This is The Burren

A beautiful book on a beautiful part of Ireland is simply perfect!

My introduction to The Burren was one of my most enjoyable holidays ever. It was organised by The Old Ground Hotel in Ennis and combined a stay in the hotel with an introductory talk on The Burren by Tony Kirby of Heart of The Burren Walks, followed by a few days of guided walks in his company. It opened up a treasure to me and I still reflect on it with great happiness. We have returned on several occasions since, always staying at The Old Ground because it is nice to sit down for an excellent meal at the end of a long day’s walking. Each visit has been a joy. We go to enjoy the scenery, the completely different and almost crazy environment that is The Burren where flowers which are at home on the Alps, the Mediterranean and the tundra are all found within a stone’s throw. Then, of course, there are the other regular and not to be missed stops – a visit to Carl Wright’s Caher Bridge Garden (Nice photograph of Carl in the book!) and coffee and cake at Catherine O Donoghue’s An Fear Gorta restaurant in Ballyvaughan – though I think I am showing my age somewhat as Catherine has handed over the reins to Jane for quite some time now but, more importantly, the food and the people are wonderful.

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It is no wonder that Karsten Krieger decided to make his home there. He had visited several times – to see what had inspired J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth – and eventually settled there. Landscape photography is Karsten’s passion and he has previously published two books which have featured his work: “The West of Ireland” and “Ireland – A Luminous Beauty” (with others). In this, his latest book, “This is The Burren” he has captured the essence and beauty of this area with wonderful landscape photographs and intimate portraits of plants, animals, insects and people, all of the beauty of The Burren.

The photography is excellent, something which hardly needs to be said given Karsten’s previous volumes of work, and the text is, as one would say, short and sweet, sufficient to weave it all together, fill in the background and give us a brief overview of this wonderful area. It is a quick read but a slow book as the photographs will hold your attention and demand you gaze at them with longing to be there.

The subject matter is wonderful and Karsten has presented it magnificently! You will enjoy it and, if you haven’t been to The Burren, you will be making plans to do so.

[This is The Burren, Karsten Krieger, The Collins Press, Cork, 2015, Hardback, 175 pages, €19.99, ISBN: 978-1748892514] http://www.collinspress.ie/ – available by mail order. 

Paddy Tobin

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