April Flowers in the Magic Forest

Enchanting – that’s the word that comes to me when I think of The Magic Forest. Although at first I was drawn to the quirky art installations (see our post from five years ago), as I’ve become more interested in wildflowers I like to photograph them there, since it’s such a special habitat. So here is a selection of early spring photographs from the Magic Forest, to illustrate what a diverse and attractive plant life it hosts.

In their beautiful and comprehensive book, The Wild Flowers of Ireland: The Habitat Guide, Declan Dooge and Carsten Krieger describe what to expect in a native woodland. First and foremost, there are in fact very few native woodlands left in Ireland, of the kind of oak forests we might have seen in medieval times. However, the little woods that surround the Magic Forest fit their definition of an acid-soil natural woodland, with trees not so dense that light cannot penetrate, and lots of moisture underfoot giving ferns and mosses (below) a friendly environment. A visit to an undamaged native woodland, they state, is a remarkable experience.

While the Magic Forest is probably not as pristine and undamaged as it could be (it’s in the middle of farmed land, after all) it has been left to flourish intact for many years, thanks to the stewardship of Thomas Wiegandt, whose interventions have only added to the fairytale quality of the woods.

What we see inside is an excellent representation of an Irish woodland habitat in as unmanaged a situation as possible. Walking through it in early spring is an ethereal experience – I defy you not to be moved.

That is not to say that all the plants we find in it are all truly native – for example, the Yellow Archangel flower that flourishes here (above) is a garden escape that has naturalised widely across Ireland. There is a native Archangel, but we know this one is the introduced variety because of the silver markings on the leaves.

Dooge and Krieger point to the presence of Early Dog-violet (they call it Wood Violet) in woodland, but in fact what I have found in the Magic Forest are two types of violet – the Common Dog-violet (above) which is everywhere in West Cork right now, and the much less-seen Marsh Violet (below).

Because the Common Dog-violet can turn as it ages from its normal deep blue to the same pale lilac colour as the March Violet, you have to keep a sharp look-out for the differences, but once you see them together they are unmistakable.

One of the nicest aspects of walking in woodland is the soft carpet underfoot. In The Magic Forest this tends to be a bed of Opposite-Leaved Golden-saxifrage (above), which loves damp dark places. This is an interesting flower in that it has no actual petals. The Sepals are bright green and unfold to reveal the stamens which are brown-tipped inside their little bed but shed the brown cover and turn bright yellow when fully open.

Getting right down on the forest floor (a little undignified and hard on clothing) is well worth it as all kinds of flowers are emerging up through the undergrowth. Celandines and Bluebells mingle above, while Celandines and Wood-sorrel cover the banks of a tiny stream (below).

At this time of year, early spring, one of the most attractive species is Wood-sorrel, with its distinctive shamrock-shaped leaves. The delicate purple veining on the petals, leading down to a golden-yellow centre rewards close scrutiny.

Of course, at this time of year, what we all love to go into woodland to see are the Bluebells and The Magic Forest abounds in native Bluebells. If you are wondering what the differences are between Native and non-Native (Spanish) Bluebells, here’s how to tell: we know these are native Bluebells because they have a lovely scent, their petals curl back, the flowers only grow on one side of the stem (the weight of which gives them that characteristic curve over), the anthers are white and the leaves are quite fine. All of these points can be observed in the photograph below – except for the scent! 

Bugle is another flower that loves this kind of environment, although it’s not quite as specialised as the Bluebell – I have seen it on hedgebanks as well where it might be getting moisture but not a lot of shade. Below, the two enjoy each other’s company.

Zoë Devlin, on her website Wildflowers of Ireland (my go-to resource, both print and online, and the best and easiest all round book to introduce you to Irish wildflowers) tells us, In his ‘Complete Herbal’ of 1653, Nicholas Culpeper wrote of Ajuga reptans [Bugle]: ‘if the virtues of it make you fall in love with it (as they will if you be wise) keep a syrup of it to take inwardly, and an ointment and plaster of it to use outwardly, always by you’.  A hand lens is a must for this flower – close up the tiny orchid-like flowers open wide to show their tonsils.

in Southwest Ireland we have a special group of plant species known as the Lusitanian Flora. Here’s a good explanation of what this means from Wikipedia:

The Lusitanian flora is a small assemblage of plants that show a restricted and specific distribution in that they are mostly only to be found in the Iberian Peninsula or southwest Ireland. Generally, the plants are not found in England or western France even though suitable habitat almost certainly exists in those regions. . . . This biogeographical puzzle has been a topic of academic debate since the middle of the 19th century. Conflicting, and as yet unresolved theories centre on whether the Irish populations are a relict, surviving from before the last ice age or whether they have been transported there in the last 10,000 years.

For a complete list of the Lusitanian species, take a look at my other favourite website – Irish Wildflowers by Jenny Seawright.

This is a longwinded way to introduce St Patrick’s Cabbage, the Lusitanian wildflower that crops up in The Magic Forest. The photos I have of it in the forest were taken just after it had started to bloom (above) so the flowers are yet sparse (below). You can see photographs of them in a more advanced phase in this post.

The final flower I want to highlight is the Cuckooflower, which is found in abundance in the fields all around the Magic Forest and to my surprise even inside it, although this is not typically a woodland flower. It likes the damp but it generally prefers open meadows. Besides being delightful, it is where the Orange-tip Butterfly likes to lay its eggs so look out for tiny orangey eggs on the stems. The flower varies in colour from almost pure white to a deep pink.

There is a LOT to see in the Magic Forest – once we are all able to travel again I highly recommend a walk in it (see our original post for directions) – at any time of year. You won’t be disappointed. And thank you, Thomas, for this gift to West Cork!

Robert chose to write about the Magic Forest too this week, but from quite a different perspective! Here’s his post, Mixed Magic Messages.

 

Mixed Magic Messages

We first visited Thomas Wiegandt’s Magic Forest exactly five years ago. It’s just round the corner and over the hill from Ballydehob. As time has passed the walk has matured and mellowed: it’s the most picturesque and atmospheric place now – true magic! Thank you, Thomas, for creating this and for allowing anyone to access it (subject to lockdown limitations, of course)…

As a connoisseur of Irish signs and signage (have a look at my previous posts over the years), this walk is for me a delight and an abundant source of tangible examples from the world of human communication. There are explicit and comprehensible signs, enigmatic ones, symbolic messages, and allegories. It doesn’t matter whether we understand them, or even relate to them personally: it’s just all part of the magic of the forest.

Who are the messengers? That’s really up to you to decide. here are some that I can relate to:

Each time we visit the Magic Forest, we come back with a different set of images. It’s just that there is so much here, you take in what appeals to you at a particular time.

A pantheist might find Gods and Goddesses in this forest… Others might see relics of a fading industrial age. It all depends on your point of view.

The forest itself will take over in the end. It’s certainly the case that, through the years, nature is absorbing everything. But, surely, it’s not a battle – just a mutual enhancement. Finola is definitely on the side of the natural world.

A place to think, meditate – or make music!

The whole place is a collaboration between the arts and nature. Enjoy the journey!

Magic Forest

Thomas

Thomas

A byway taking off to the north just after the Cross House on the Skibbereen to Ballydehob road – signposted to Corravoley – will bring you to the townlands of Ballybane West and Ballybane East. That little boreen will take you past some Rock Art, and then on to the Magic Forest. If you find your way in, keep a lookout for the Other Crowd!

Look out for the Other Crowd!

Look out for the Other Crowd!

We accepted an invitation from the creator of the Magic Forest – Thomas Wiegandt – to come and visit while the bluebells were out – and we were enchanted by the woodland walks and all the experiences which excited our senses once we were there.

art gallery

buoy tree

plain to see

It’s hard to describe Thomas – he’s a musician, an artist, a poet and – above all – he has a quirky and witty way of looking at the world… I like that way of seeing things.  He has lived for years at Ballybane and pursued his creative career as well as working on and caring for his few acres of West Cork wildness, which is based around an old sally grove – a place which hadn’t been used for around 100 years and which had been sold as ‘waste land’. As you make your way through the Magic Forest (and take care – there are some rough paths and a few stony steps to be negotiated) you will be taken through his thoughts and into his imagination.

spidey

spring

lizard

Thomas believes we are all musicians at heart (I agree) – and invites us to have a go at the Ballydehob Gamelan – a wonderful collection of ‘rescued’ objects with which we can create rhythms and explore a whole world of sounds: you can play an array of drums, cans, goblets, makeshift xylophones, even stones… Finola had a whale of a time!

There is art and poetry set amongst the willows, often with the most unexpected juxtapositions. One of my favourite discoveries in the Magic Forest was Natural High – a little knoll looking out to Mount Kidd: there are two garden seats there where you can sit at ease and frame the view of the mountain, with two dogs as companions: one of them is real!

There were some messages here – about how we treat our world (or mistreat it), but they weren’t intrusive to the enjoyment of the whole adventure. If anything they were thought-provoking and – overall – a very good lesson in how we can all positively re-use things that seem to have transcended their original purpose.

ball

cone

for the record

In another life, Thomas might have been a shaman or medicine man: walking through the forest can be seen as therapeutic and refreshing in the context of our modern busy world – and it will certainly make you laugh at times. I really liked the idea of picking up a phone and talking to our ancestors!

You can discover more about the Magic Forest – and about Thomas Wiegandt – on his website: Cosmic Radio. You will find his poetry and his music there, and you can download many of his compositions for free. But do go and visit this unique piece of West Cork for yourselves: I hope you will be as delighted by the experience as we were.

poetree

signage