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Away with the faeries

Outdoor Living

Planting up a garden woodland trail 

Flower Garden
Margaret Sheehan

I have mentioned the fairies before in my articles, the ones who steal the cuttings from your pots if you put an even number in together. Well recently, I learned a bit more about a few other fairies, this time some traditional Irish ones.
My adult children came home for a short visit recently, so despite the weather, we ventured out for the obligatory drive around the wilderness of Mayo. This year, we discovered a new attraction, in the form of Valley House on the north coast of Achill Island. This is not just home to a very welcoming hostelry, but to a number of supernatural garden dwellers.
The owners have made a faerie trail, a fantastic use of a small piece of woodland, laying out a winding path and using woodland materials to add activities along the way, enough to keep even teenage boys amused.
However, the main attraction were the introductions, occasionally reintroductions, to a number of Irish faerie folk. The work of artist Anna Overmoyer complemented the trail (see above), keeping our interest along the way.
I won’t give away all the secrets of this garden, but just thought I’d enlighten you on one particular character. He’s hairy, ginger and extremely smelly (I know – I’ve come across that kind before too). This particular little character, the Grogoch, is always male, appears nude, and the best thing about him is that he helps in the garden and has even been known to help in the kitchen. It does make one wonder if it’s worth putting up with the smell, for a little bit of help around the place.
I have a short woodland trail in my own garden. It started when we cleared a couple of dead trees that had fallen, and we worked with the shape that was left. The garden seems to have largely designed itself since then into a miniature dell and a path leading off under the trees.
My son put in some steps made from railway sleepers, and we added a gravel path, which I lined with upturned chubby beer bottles (great way to recycle) in the more open area of the garden.
Here I have managed to grow a good number of plants that thrive in dry shade and semi-shade, for example Geranium palmatum. Big and blousy, this is a glossy leaved variety which brings forth masses of flowers in June. Any other type of geranium would thrive here, and of course foxgloves are happy out too. In spring, I had a fine display of candelabra primulas and of course bluebells. No success with the snowdrops though – I think I have too many hungry mice around here.
The dell was a riot of colour the first year especially, and I am now separating the men from the boys as it were, finding out which plants are tough enough to survive dry shade.
But further into the woodland, I had done little more than line a path with long branches and sticks, using bendy branches to shape the pathway. In summer, especially this year, the path is surrounded by lush elder bushes, which provide ingredients for delicious elderflower cordial in spring and elderberry wine in autumn. In the winter though, the daylight floods through beneath the trees.
I plan to encourage more bluebells, wild garlic and other natural woodland flowers to enjoy early in the year. Inspired by the faerie trail, I am planning to build in a few attractions for my young granddaughter along the way, while as a practical option also, aiming to keep the planting as natural as possible.
And of course I am particular conscious of creating the right habitat for our ethereal little folk. Anyone know where I can find a Grogoch? I think I have a new home for him.

Margaret Sheehan is a member of Ballinrobe Garden Club, which meets on the first Tuesday of the month at 7.30pm in Tacú Resource Centre, Ballinrobe. New members welcome.

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