Liss Ard Estate lies just outside Skibbereen. We were lucky to manage a visit to the gardens on the last opportunity before it closes for the season. Parking inside the gate, we made our way up a lime avenue, the trees starting to show autumn colour. Although there are paved driveways and walks, the way forward wound through a wood and led to the water gardens – a series of ponds and serene spaces with rustic benches and a background of nattering streams. Eventually, we emerged onto the lake where we stood on a tiny pier, looking across the rippling water and listening to the sound of the wind in the tall rushes.
From here we climbed upward through woodland paths to the Sky Garden. An entrancing, curious, confounding construction, the Sky Garden was designed by renowned American artist James Turrell and opened in 1992. It is an oval grassy crater, with an altar-like plinth in the centre. Lying on that stone, gazing at the concentrated area of sky encircled by the walls of the crater is a deeply contemplative experience. Turrell is interested in light above all other considerations. The Liss Ard Sky Garden was the first large scale design to explore his ideas although he has gone on to design more such spaces, mainly in the US. I would love to go back there on a clear night.
Irish gardens come in so many varieties from the formal to the self-conscious ‘wilderness’ to the experimental arboretum to the classical-statued vista; and some gardens encompass all of these styles. Liss Ard invites the visitor to stroll; to see, hear and smell; to luxuriate in the soft carpet underfoot; and to contemplate what lies above as well as around. It is a place of sensual and intellectual pleasure.