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August 2013

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Shirley Lanigan

Garden of Europe

Shirley re-visits a garden and park in Listowel, Co. Kerry


The last time I visited the Garden of Europe in Listowel was in 2000. Since then we have had boom and bust, lived through interesting times, been Europe's poster child and whipping boy. Being European is now different than it was back in 1992 when the Garden was opened. But through all the change, the Garden of Europe has gone from strength to strength.

I revisited a few weeks ago to find it not just doing nicely, but having grown and expanded, a bit like the Union it celebrates. The garden was originally built on the edge of town on the site of the old town dump, turning an eyesore into an attraction. Not content with that, having started the venture, the townspeople of Listowel, led by the Rotary Club and many local businesses, carried on. Since last visiting, the Garden has been boosted by an enviable network of wild walks through the woods and along the River Feale, linking playing fields and meadows, trails and parks. The north Kerry town has been completely encircled.

I took a walk around the garden itself and its strangely chosen collections of plants, before setting off to see the newly added and planted areas. In the current political situation, we could read all sorts of things into the plants chosen to represent each country. The Germans do particularly well, with a big display of camellias. The French also fare nicely with roses. Why Greece should be represented by eucalyptus and Spain by willow and gunnera is anyone's guess? Damp-loving plants seem slightly wide of the mark for hot Spain. The Irish were given yellow elm and potentilla while the poor British were allocated rhus and the not-universally-loved cordyline. The literature makes it clear that there was no particular reason for the national arrangements but wags may still take this opportunity to speculate.

The expansion of the garden project is what is so commendable. I left the main garden through an area planted with a series of commemorative trees, marking visits, events and deaths of notable local people. The path continues from here into a bluebell and wild garlic wood and a trail leading under oak, beech ash and hawthorn. Each class in the local Gael Scoil planted another series of trees along one of the walks, including varieties of acer, betula, cherry and apple.

The trail runs alongside meadows, which in turn circle playing fields and run into another mature wood. The walk continues down by the river and past the castle on the edge of the main town square. I met joggers, dog walkers, a fox, and several groups of chatting teenagers sitting in the meadow grass, making daisy chains. Everywhere there were people making full use of this beautiful varied town park, which as it wraps around the town and touches it at so many points, feels both open, safe and welcoming.



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