Gar­den of earthly de­lights

Peter Dow­dall vis­its the 97-acre es­tate at Inish Beg Es­tate near Bal­ti­more, Co Cork, and meets the own­ers whose or­ganic ap­proach has reaped re­splen­dent re­wards

Irish Examiner - Property & Interiors - - In The Garden - Pictures: Dan Line­han

Inish Beg has it all — apart from over 90 acres of lush West Cork gardens, this des­ti­na­tion lo­ca­tions, which is also part of the West Cork Gar­den trail, is also on the Wild Atlantic Way and has just re­ceived a plaque as­sur­ing vis­i­tors that they pro­vide ex­cel­lent ser­vice and stan­dards.

The cou­ple who run the grand old house and a clus­ter of five-star lodges and guest houses on an is­land on the Ilen River, is Paul and Ge­orgie Keane. They, along with a team of gar­den­ers, in­clud­ing the de­sign­ers, Ver­ney Nay­lor and An­thony Cohu, have achieved great things here in Inish Beg and over a large area too.

An un­re­mark­able nar­row drive­way, a few kilo­me­tres out­side Sk­ib­bereen, leads down to the house and sud­denly opens up into a sweep­ing field flanked by the sur­round­ing coun­try­side and then leads into the most beau­ti­ful court­yard area, which has been de­signed and planted with a dis­tinctly French feel.

The sil­ver-leafed pear, Pyrus sali­ci­folius Pen­dula is planted here giv­ing the im­pres­sion of an olive plan­ta­tion. How­ever, the Pyrus will prob­a­bly do bet­ter and cre­ate a nicer fo­liage ef­fect than the olives, so a wise choice of plant.

I couldn’t help but be bowled over by metic­u­lously main­tained dry stone walls around the grounds and was lucky enough to be shown around some of the gardens, too by Paul Keane, who was quick to point out to me that they are to­tally or­ganic and that if a weed is seen, it is picked out, not sprayed.

I am de­lighted to see more and more gar­den­ers be­hav­ing like this and as a re­sult you will see some weeds. Sim­i­larly at High­grove, prob­a­bly the best known or­ganic gar­den in these is­lands, there are weeds about and that’s what makes it nor­mal, that’s what makes it a real gar­den.

I’d much rather see the odd ma­raud­ing weed or wild­flower out of place, but also hear the bird­song and the sound of buzzing in­sects than walk through a ster­ileen­vi­ron­ment with none of the other joys of na­ture about.

I wan­dered first through a lovely wood­land area which can best be de­scribed now as a “fairies refuge” as there are homes for these myth­i­cal crea­tures ev­ery­where — since their well-doc­u­mented evic­tion from neigh­bour­ing wood­lands. Paul says the fairies and their doors are more than wel­come at Inish Beg.

In all the times that I have vis­ited the beau­ti­ful vil­lage and gardens of Bal­ti­more, I had never heard the story of The Sack of Bal­ti­more un­til my most re­cent trip. Al­ge­rian pirates vis­ited on midsummer’s day in 1631 and took the res­i­dents away as slaves.

In mem­ory of this event the Keane’s have de­vel­oped a Pi­rate Trail in the gardens here and it starts in the Or­chard which abuts the Fairy Trail. And it’s in this or­chard where you truly ap­pre­ci­ate the im­por­tance of the or­ganic prac­tices for the ap­ples — they were in full bloom with a car­pet of re­splen­dent blue­bells be­neath when I vis­ited, and sev­eral bee­hives are housed in the mid­dle of this area with a sim­ple ‘cau­tion’ sign the only thing needed to keep hu­mans at bay.

I strolled around the whole is­land and en­joyed the Boathouse and Han­ni­bal’s H2O, a lovely pond area which is so peace­ful and at­mo­spheric, I sim­ply had to sit for a while to ad­mire the sounds of na­ture all around — the bird­song, the buzzing of wildlife, the wa­ter and the plants mov­ing gen­tly in the breeze.

Paul and Ge­orgie, who are lucky enough to call Inish Beg home, could not be more wel­com­ing and Ge­orgie says there is a dif­fer­ent dy­namic in West Cork to the rest of the coun­try. The house is grand and the prop­erty at once unique and spec­tac­u­lar, but there are no airs and graces as gar­den­ers come and go from the kitchen to get hand tools, as if it’s their own home. No time here knock­ing on doors or seek­ing per­mis­sion — no owner and worker men­tal­ity here, it is truly a beau­ti­ful, lived-in fam­ily home.

Paul and Ge­orgie took over a very di­lap­i­dated es­tate in 1997 and set about re-creat­ing the plea­sure gardens around the house and the low-walled kitchen gar­den. The wood­lands, in a shabby state have slowly been re­turned to life and the or­ganic pad­docks are grazed by cat­tle and horses .

I no­ticed a small la­bel on a re­cently planted Prunus out­side the house, on which was writ­ten ‘In Mem­ory of Al­bert’. Al­bert was a much loved fam­ily mem­ber who left too soon and it is touches like this that make the gar­den such a liv­ing en­tity, a place where Al­bert will al­ways be re­mem­bered and so too, the rest of the fam­ily that, for now, call Inish Beg home.

■ in­ish­

■ west­cork­gar­den­

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