Creagh Gardens, County Cork

Those in search of a romantic garden with an intimate, reposeful ambience will surely find Creagh very much to their taste. This is a delightful, informal garden set in the wooded grounds of an old demesne that extends down to the shore of a river estuary. Acquired by Gwendoline and Peter Harold-Barry at the end of the last war, the garden has been developed by both of them, making excellent use of existing features, notably a mill pond and the ruins of a mill house. An extensive network of tracks and paths meander their way through the woodlands, across glades and along the strand, enabling the visitor to view a wide range of tender plants. These include camellias, azaleas, rhododendrons, fuchsias, magnolias, telopeas and abutilons all enjoying the gentle climate of West Cork.

The focus of the garden is a very pleasant Regency house, circa 1820, with wide eaves and a deep semi circular bow. From the lawns in front of the house, the visitor follows a straight gravel walk leading down to the pier. A short distance to the left, a narrow path through woodland winds around a serpentine mill pond amidst a scene reminiscent of a Henri Rousseau landscape - from which the garden was inspired. The waters of the pond and mill race contain arum lilies while their banks support much exotic foliage, includ ing the prickly rhubarb Gunnera manicata whose leaves unfurl into huge impressive umbrellas. Other plantings comprise the New Zealand cabbage tree Cordyline australis and the New Zealand flax Phormium tenax, both of which are conspicuous features of gardens in this part of Ireland. The tree fern Dicksonia antarctica is also native of New Zealand, while varieties of hydrangeas provide colour along Creagh's waterside in late summer.

Passing the octagonal folly-like ruins of the old mill house with its mysterious Gothic openings peering out through the undergrowth, the path winds on through a woodland glade filled with a variety of rhododendrons. A turning to the right leads into an old walled garden, half of which is devoted to growing kitchen garden produce - vegetables, herbs and fruit - while the remainder is used to keep exotic varieties of fowl. A path from here guides the visitor out to a long south facing border on the woodland fringe containing a variety of shrubs and interesting old roses. Returning back through the woods, the visitor will pass the site of a large Edwardian rosary in front of the house where a good range of tender fuchsias can be seen leaning against the terrace wall. Depending on time available, the visitor has the option from here of taking many more routes through the garden - indeed, be prepared to spend the best part of an afternoon in this heady and fragrant place.

Located 3 1/2 miles south of Skibbereen on the Baltimore Road.
NGR: W 077312.
Open daily, all year.
Suitable for wheelchairs. Sorry, no dogs.
Admission charged.
Tel: (028) 22121.
Best season: April to June.