A Seaside Garden.
08 September 2009 17:54:16
Fionn Tra, Skerries
While in Skerries a couple of weeks ago I visited the garden of Colm Keane. I've been meaning to write about it for ages but haven't had the time to do it justice, but now that the little people have settled back to school I have time to think!
Colm has a normal sized garden in a row of houses facing the sea on the outskirts of Skerries. The garden has the delightful name 'Fionn Tra'. For a small garden there is a lot going on. I had admired it for years from the upstairs window of the 33 bus, but one day I was passing on my way to the beach with the boys and Colm just happened to be out in his garden. I asked if I could take some pictures of his immaculately kept front garden. It was full of colour in a very controlled palete - mostly orange, reds, yellows and browns provided in part by Gazanias, Begonias, gorgeous dark leaved Dahlias, Phormiums in all the different colours available, Cannas and Geraniums . There is a lovely Phormium with coral pink tones that picks up the coral pink of the geraniums used as bedding around the edge of the velvet lawn. Foliage plants include Lonicera bag's gold which has a feathery air when not pruned, impressive Agaves in pots and placed as different heights, Astelias, ferns and the variegated red, cream and green Houttuynia. After I had photographed every possible angle he asked if I would like to see the back garden which he said was totally different to the front. And it certainly was.
In a corner of the front garden is a hint of what is to come in the back. No driveway here - plants get pride of place in this front garden. Two very healthy looking bonsai trees in their shallow ceramic pots flank the path. Visitors to the house must feel like giants with these miniature trees at their feet. And it must be difficult to keep them looking so good with the salty winds sucking the moisture from their tiny leaves. There is a small Japanese influenced sculpture garden to the right of the front door. In the front garden plants are crammed in – there is not a bare inch of soil to be seen. The gravel along the path echoes the shingle on the beach that is quite literally a stone’s throw away.
The back garden is more restrained and restful. A much more private space, the main feature of which is what you could call a Japanese picture garden, positioned to be viewed from the sitting room sliding door. Looking at it I was transported from a vibrant Irish seaside garden to a restful corner of Japan. It takes up about a quarter of the back garden and is a tranquil, meditative space. Since visiting the garden I’ve been reading about Japanese style and how Japanese gardeners aim to distil nature down to a garden scale using the elements of water, stone and plant-life. The beauty of Japanese style gardens is that they are almost unchanging throughout the year, except maybe for the leaves that colour and fall in autumn and the transient flowering of some trees in the spring. Japanese gardens do not depend on flowers for year-round impact, and give the gardener more of a feeling of being in control. Generally plants chosen are not particularly vigorous and do not outgrow their allotted space too quickly.
The circular stone which acts as the entrance step to the picture garden was retrieved from the beach. Interestingly a custom in Japanese gardens is to position stones and rocks in exactly the same orientation that they were found in nature. A practice that is difficult to honour today when most rocks would be bought at the garden centre!
I loved the little moss gardens in pots either side of the stone step – so simple and providing added interest. They would make a nice feature on a balcony and give an aura of restful meditation.
As my boys soon learned there is not a stone out of place in this garden! Around the garden are clues to Colm’s working life – a shed door adored with a map of Japan in red and black, a map of the Emerald Isle, an armillary sphere, a weather vane, not to mention plants from every corner of the globe point to the fact that he is a Geography teacher by profession.
Other features in the back garden were a gingerbread-house-like shed, a lovely lemon-painted metal table and chairs, a gazebo adorned with an imperial looking eagle, and birdcages that would make you think of the oriental story of the Nightingale. Tucked away in another corner are the practicalities like the greenhouse and washing line.
Colm has won a number of awards for his garden over the years but his motivation is definitely for his own enjoyment, and that of passers-by I might add.
Colm was not actually aware of Garden.ie so I told him about it in the hope that he would sign up. I’ve put lots of photos in the album ‘Fionn Tra’, Skerries.