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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.