Gardening Magazine

Irish Garden Odyssey: The Bay Garden

By Patientgardener @patientgardener


As with any tour of this type towards the end we found ourselves discussing which garden we had liked best.  I think for all of us it was hard to identify one garden that stood out above the others but different gardens had different elements that appealed to us.  For me the stand out planting was The Barn Garden at The Bay Garden in Co. Wexford.

The Bay Garden belongs to Iain and Frances MacDonald.  They are both qualified horticulturists and met whilst working at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.  These days Frances is the Garden Tours Manager for Travel Department, the company that organised our top, and Iain also leads tours as well as giving talks and designing and landscaping private gardens.


The majority of the garden is laid out in large mixed borders with themed areas.  As you can see from the photograph above the MacDonalds are very good at combining plants. The quality of the plants and the standard of the upkeep of the garden show the MacDonalds’ passion and horticultural background.  However, walking through a gap in a hedge you enter the Barn Garden and I have to say my heart really sang at this point.


The garden is surrounded by hedges on three sides with the fourth looking out towards the surrounding fields.  The path serpentine through the space allowing you to feel completely surrounded in the grasses which, given it was  a windy day, positively billowed backwards and forwards.


You can see the extent of the movement in the photograph above.  It was one of those days where the air seems still and then there is a sudden period of gusty window; all adding to the atmosphere of the space.


What I found particularly fascinating was the combination of plants in the garden.  My enthusiasm for adding grasses to my garden has come and gone.  I have  seen many a poor grass border or garden where the focus is purely on the grasses with little to lift them.  I also don’t like borders which are huge blocks of one grass as I find them quite dense and dull.  So to see a range of grasses mixed with an interesting range of perennials was great.


I think this photograph, albeit slightly out of focus, shows the MacDonald’s skill with combining plants.  You can see that the magenta flower centres of the verbascum picks up on the magenta sanguisorba buttons behind.  It allows the planting to have a more cohesive feel.


As with the other gardens I enjoyed during my time in Ireland the garden was planted densely.  Of course this is something that takes time to achieve and I forgot to find out how long ago the garden had been planted.  I think it had been in for a couple of years as I remember Frances saying they had to wait for it to bulk up and that last year the amount of rain and warmer temperatures had led to the grasses being so tall that you were dwarfed by them.


Look how the dark burgundy of the scabious picks up on the helenium flower centres and then on the grass behind which I think might be Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’. The finer small grass in the foreground, unknown, blurs the divisions between the different plants. And who knew Lychnis could looks so lovely with grasses.


Persicaria was also a key plant in the garden and I think the broader leaves add a good contrast to the grass as well as adding some green substance to the planting.


I also like the way the colours pick up on the rusty roof behind the hedge; a very simple effect but it really ties the garden to its space.


I loved this garden and it re-ignited my view that I should use grasses in my front garden.  It’s interesting how they work against the hedge which I think is beech. My front garden is bordered by a beech hedge and a laurel hedge.  The beech would work well especially as the grasses fade against the rusty autumn beech leaves but as for the laurel hedge – well I think if I am going to take this approach it will have to go.  The thinking hat is well and truly on.

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