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October / November 2012

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Little gems

Shirley Lanigan visits an unusual Cork garden

I came across mention recently of a place I tried to visit several years ago without success, the intriguingly named Paradise Garden in Mallow, Co. Cork. This time around, I followed the sign from the town centre to a lane behind a row of town cottages. A little way along the lane was an arched iron gateway in a wall of ivy and climbing hydrangea. Buried in among the foliage were several welcome signs and a bell and through the gateway lay the very picture of a perfectly beautiful, tiny garden.

It only measures about five metres by ten but it is a vision, brimming with carefully chosen, artfully arranged and meticulously cared-for plants. It is made up of miniature compositions of plants and stones, boulders, water and gravel. Many of the plants are bonsai-treated trees, expertly trimmed each year to the desired shape. In one corner is a little Japanese acer held to a tiny forty centimetres and a miniature contorted hazel, nipped and gnarled. Little Juniperus recurva encroaches on a small moss-covered rock and a fifteen-year-old weeping larch, less than a metre-and-a-half is quite a sight.

So too is a twenty-three-year-old knee-high pieris, dense and green and shapely. Rosettes of different saxifragas knit tiny rock formations together and even the ivy and cotoneaster covering the walls have been sculpted, shaped and disciplined in elaborate ways these two vigorous plants seldom are. On the back wall, a gnarled trunk of ivy has been fashioned into a miniature cave or grotto. Opportunistic clumps of blue campanulas grow in the bits of soil caught in the ivy branches and burst out through its leaves in an unusual touch.

Down on the ground there are scores of tiny alpines, grown as rock-like mountains around little lakes of mind-your-own-business and each of them demands that you get down on hunkers to make an inspection. Fionbar Rubens started this garden nearly thirty years ago, building it slowly and gradually. I was not amazed to be told that the waterfall leading into the little pond took a year to build. The garden was made to represent the life of Jesus, but it attracts people of all faiths and none. In one instance a Muslim visitor presented the garden with a piece of stone from King Herod's palace in Bethlehem, and groups of Buddhists have arrived and asked for permission to meditate. There is a tangible sense of spirituality and calm here.

Unfortunately Fionbar has not been able to properly show people around for some time. When he feels well enough, he welcomes visitors, and he has no objection to people looking in through the arched gate from which this special garden can be seen.

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