That’s what they call themselves but their real names are Kloë and Adam and they are the powerhouse team behind the Garden of Reimagination. You’ll find it just west of Glengarriff and not far from the Ewe Experience, the wonderful sculpture garden and all-round woodsy experience we’ve written about before. The Ewe is the work of Kloë’s parent, Sheena and Kurt. Put a note in your diary now for next year and make sure to plan a visit to both of these incredible gardens.
Kloë and Adam, both highly educated gardeners and conservationists, moved onto the property only three years ago and set about finding what was actually under several feet of moss, bracken and brambles. They had a strong suspicion they would find something special, because their neighbour, Jackie Cronin, now in his eighties, had told them stories about Mrs Hardstaff, who lived there in the 40s and who had been inspired by what she saw on nearby Garinish Island.
An Italianate terraced garden was what she had in mind, so Jackie and some friends were dispatched up the mountain to break out suitable rocks for the steps and paths, bringing them down on donkeys and levering them into place with iron bars. It took Adam two weeks of backbreaking digging and clearing to reveal all those stones steps. He also found little trickling ponds and lots of old plantings.
The Terrace, painstakingly constructed from stone slabs: many gardeners would declare war on the ‘weeds’ that pop up between the paving stones, but Kloë and Adam use these spaces to grow herbs. Here’s Kloë pointing to some special Alpine Mint that seems to have adapted well to this micro-environment
These Two Green Shoots, Kloë and Adam, have a philosophy rooted in a dedication to conservation and in their own passionate beliefs about gardening. Everything, they decided, should be edible, to the extent possible. So they have taken the underlying Italianate Terraces and added layers of edible plants. Some of these are familiar to us and some of them definitely aren’t!
From the top: Nasturtiums and a miniature Fuchsia – very pretty but also edible
At the same time, they are conscious of their West Cork location and have tried to preserve as many of the native trees, shrubs and plants as possible, reflecting that sense of place that makes each garden a part of its particular environment. Everything grows so quickly here, says Adam, although getting enough light in can be a challenge.
From the top: Natural tracery filters light through the trees; a trellis constructed from materials to hand in the garden; Adam’s perennial wildflower patches, newly mown and raked as per best practice as described in One Acre – Three Years On
We attended their Open Day yesterday, a fundraiser for the Save Bantry Bay Kelp Forest campaign. Adam led us on a tour of the garden and then Kloë fed and watered us with cakes and muffins featuring botanical ingredients. We wore masks and kept social distancing in mind and there was a limit on numbers, so it all felt quite personalised and there was lots of time to ask questions.
The sheer variety of edible plants is a revelation. Many of them of course, would have been familiar to our ancestors (anyone for nettle soup?) while others would have been used for ornamentation rather than grown for their nourishment value (nasturtiums, for example).
From the top: Comfrey is a familiar edible and medicinal plant, but the Prickly Ash was a surprise, especially when we learned the berries are what we know as Szechuan Peppers – a key ingredient of Chinese cooking
Adam talked us through many of the plants he grows, some for their leaves, some for their flowers and buds (day lilies – who knew!) and some for their berries or seeds. Some, indeed, for all three, like the Chilean Guava that grows in neat little shrubs and make a great topiary plant.
From the top: I’ve forgotten the name of this gorgeous plant but do remember it’s the seeds that are collected. Chilean Guava is one of the new favourites of top chefs – a delicious alternative to blueberries or cranberries
We are all conscious now of the need to feed and preserve our pollinators and Adam spoke frequently about plants in terms of their attractiveness to bees and butterflies. We certainly saw evidence of both – and another little critter as well (below).
One of the surprises of the day was to find out how readily tea grows here – yes, tea, that most beloved of Irish beverages, and as Adam says, your good old Barry’s tea, nothing exotic. It’s a little tricky – apparently it hates being moved and will go off in a huff if you disturb it – but now they have the hang of it, it’s coming along nicely, although it probably won’t grow as tall as it does in Sri Lanka.
The tea is the tall plant with shiny leaves, and the prolific plant on the left is Woodruff
Kloë has her mother’s artistic flair and there are nature-sculptures and special spaces off to the side all over the place. They have developed a B and B business as well, with attractive rooms in the house and a Botanical Tent in the Garden for anyone with a yen for the glamping experience.
The Garden of Reimagination is a work in progress, still very much under development. I look forward to returning many times, since it’s clear there is a long-term vision at work here and all kind of plans for the future. If you get the chance yourself – jump at it!
And Kloë – thank you – that tea is delicious!