There were, no doubt, excellent reasons for Carl Wright to settle and begin a garden in Formoyle West, Fanore, Co. Clare but it was certainly not for an easy life. Caher Bridge Garden is on the rocks of The Burren, an area of limestone pavement with only the most shallow layer of soil and thoughts of making a garden there were brave to say the least.
Initially, Carl had to clear away the hazel which clothed the land around the house. It must have been rather a shock to then discover that, despite the hazel growing so very healthily, there was very little soil with which to work. The roots of hazel and ash work their way deep into the grykes in search of what little humus had gathered there over the years but at the surface there was nothing to work with, nowhere with enough soil in which to plant. The lay of the rocks decided the lines of the pathways and Carl build walls to create beds which would hold and retain the soil which he imported. His stonework skills also created walls and gateways and the iconic moongate which reflects the shape of the bridge over the Caher River which runs through – and, on occasion, over the garden.
Over the years Carl has introduced a choice selection of plants, always seeking out the best and most interesting cultivars. Plants suited to woodland conditions have done best and, presently, a large collection of hostas, grown mainly in pots to help spare them from the voracious Burren slugs and snails, looks particularly splendid and beautifully displayed to the front of the house and also on natural rock shelves throughout the garden. Ferns have done especially well in the garden and Carl now has an extensive collection.
The garden has developed and changed over the years and, I believe, it is presently at its most exciting stage. The earliest development made use of the wonderful resource of a river in the garden backed by a twin-arched stone bridge – Caher Bridge – with lush riverside planting. The bridge later inspired the moongate which separates front from back garden yet allows the visitor to look from one area to another. There is a perfect area immediately to the rear of the house, a garden in harmony with the house which always impresses as one comes through the arched gateway on the corner of the house. The garden then continues uphill along wandering pathway with retaining beds hosting a wide variety of special plants. In the last couple of years Carl has continued this upward development – as well as branching out along the bank of the river lower down – and I feel it is here he is developing the garden in a most exciting manner for he has left a central patch quite simply as nature had developed it. The paths run to either side with their ornamental plantings but the central part has been left untouched, a hazel scrub.
So, Carl, it seems to me, began his garden taming the wilderness, removing the scrub, and developing the garden to fit with the landscape around his house. His garden now, in its latest stages, seems to embrace this same wilderness and incorporate it into the garden, allowing it to continue in its own natural rhythms and growth. The hazel provides an excellent canopy and beneath is mainly a pleasant and muted green. There were wood anemones, primroses, sorrel and the like earlier in the year but ivy and moss seem set to be the summer carpet.
At the top of the garden Carl has developed a meadow over the past few years, an open area with views to Black Head and with an extensive collection of Irish-bred daffodils in the grass. It is colourful and exciting in spring and will be a peaceful haven in summer. A little further on, through a gate in the high link fencing – deer have to be kept outside! – is another developing area which again will embrace nature and bring another area of wonderful interest to the visitor. Carl has cleared this area – cleared to the extent of clearing the hazel – and once light has been left in the natural flora of The Burren begins to thrive so we found a very healthy population of the Early Purple Orchid, twayblades, primroses, cowslips and their hybrid, the False Oxlip, and a divine patch of the Common Butterwort. Elsewhere, the Common Spotted Orchid flourishes and that local speciality, the white form of the Common Spotted – O’Kelly’s variety, named for Patrick O’Kelly, a famed botanist of The Burren.
It seems to me that Carl developed a garden within a wilderness and has now incorporated this wilderness into his garden. There is something of the full circle about this – perhaps reflecting the bridge and the moongate – that the beauty which attracted him to this area and lead to his developing his garden there has stayed with him and that his garden is truly part of The Burren and The Burren now truly part of his garden.
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