The best thing about my garden: The wall, the trees, the beasts

‘It’s a great spot . . . It has a lot in it for me,’ says Cormac Begley of his hand-built wall

I have a Beara Chair bench and every year I paint it a different colour. Now it’s purple, which by coincidence exactly echoes the flower heads of the chives that have seeded wildly around the gravel at the front door. It’s a real delight, and I can’t imagine ever wanting to paint it again. But now I remember I also thought that when it was pink. And green, and blue. . . As summer brings the outside alive, we asked six people about their own garden joys.

Katherine Boucher Beug

On the front lawn of the house I grew up in, in Princeton, New Jersey, there were three large rocks big enough to sit on. They became characters in my world. I named them, watched them and invented games around them. In my first photo album (made age nine), the rocks are important subjects.

As I became more and more interested in my garden in Dunderrow, Co Cork, I started searching for “my rock”. I spotted one on the road to Cork, tried to buy it but they wouldn’t sell. Then one day, walking in a newly harvested field, I saw it. I asked a farmer neighbour, if he would be so kind and someday bring me the rock with his tractor.

“No bother,” says John, having known me since he was a child.

Then the matter seemed to have been forgotten until one day John rolls up to our house, smiling in his big tractor, with my rock precariously placed in the loader. We all stood around deciding on its placement. I wanted to be able to see it from my studio, and for it to be near the walnut tree. One of my grandchildren, Evelyn, took one look, got her book and sat reading on it. It even has some curious markings, which I imagine could be in Ogham.

Katherine Boucher Beug is an artist, katherineboucherbeug.com

Carol Barrett’s favourite spot is a little deck built over the water.
Carol Barrett’s favourite spot is a little deck built over the water.

Carol Barrett

We live beside the sea, so it’s part of our garden – an unusual thought. You can’t go outside without seeing or hearing it. People say you can’t grow much because of the salt winds, but planting sea grasses, which grow well, creates shelter for other plants to thrive, and our garden is a vibrant space. We have flowers, including edible flowers like nasturtiums, and vegetables. At the hotel garden we also have chickens; I’m holding a green egg, freshly laid, as we talk. Having your own kitchen garden is a joy. To be able to cook with fresh organic produce is simply the best.

My favourite spot is a little deck we built over the water. It is surrounded by wild flowers, and it’s our perfect place to sit with a beer or a glass of wine in the evening when we get back from work. We’ll chat, discuss the day, wind down and relax. It makes the day peaceful, and that is always a special thing.

Dunmore House Hotel in Co Cork has been in Carol Barrett’s family since 1948, dunmorehousehotel.ie

Musician Cormac Begley on the wall he built with Breanndán Begley and Johnny Dhónaillín.
Musician Cormac Begley on the wall he built with Breanndán Begley and Johnny Dhónaillín.

Cormac Begley

Two months ago, I started building a wall. My uncle, Seamus Begley, is a musician and farmer, and me and my brothers and cousins used to follow him and other local farmers on their tractors, clearing the stones from the fields. We were in our early teens, and it was like a rite of passage – or maybe slave labour. . . But it was more the idea of meitheal, of coming together.

As teenagers we had no interest in that, we wanted to be playing football. On the plus side you were around your cousins, but it wasn’t one of those things you’d be enthusiastic to do. Fast forward 20 years and I’m here at home [in Kerry], having been away for 10 of those years, and I’ve spent a lovely few weeks with my father Breanndán and Johnny Dhónaillín building a wall.

You get stronger picking up the bigger stones, using your body, getting physically tired and maybe getting out of your mind. It reminds me of how my grandfather and great grandfather would have been. Picking stones and seeing them being chosen to be stacked up to make a wall: it’s the journey from not really seeing the point as a young fella to seeing the wall and realising the creativity that has gone into it. There’s a flat surface designed for dancers. Stephanie Keane baptised that rock a couple of weeks ago with a dance. There’s a seat in the middle to sit on and play a few tunes. It’s a great spot and a nice thing. It has a lot in it for me.

Cormac Begley is a concertina player, cormacbegley.com

Farah Elle from Julianstown, Co Meath, in her favourite spot in the garden which turns out to be her conservatory. Photograph: Alan Betson
Farah Elle from Julianstown, Co Meath, in her favourite spot in the garden which turns out to be her conservatory. Photograph: Alan Betson

Farah Elle

I live in my family home in Julianstown, we have been here since I was about 10 – but we came to Ireland when I was one. My mum was a doctor in Libya, and now, because of the political situation, it’s not safe for us to go back. There is a glorious jasmine tree in the conservatory. When it’s in bloom in March it really takes me back to hot Libyan summers.

But, in truth, I love the conservatory in all seasons, in all weathers. It’s beautiful, full of plants. We’ve got herbs, aloe vera, flowers. . . It’s one of those rooms you feel you can stay in all day. I come here to make music and to restore. You can hear the rain on the roof – when it’s raining it’s heaven, and in summer you get really warmed up, and you can hear the birds so well; but there’s a real sense of stillness. It’s like being outside without getting affected by it!

I’m trained in Capacitar, it’s a holistic healing practice. During our training we learned about feng shui, and the conservatory is exactly on the healing spot of the feng shui grid. I found this to be quite a divine coincidence, because my family, friends and I have spent many evenings in here drinking tea and talking about big moments in our lives and pasts. It definitely gives a nourishing sense of relaxation and being in nature.

Farah Elle is a singer songwriter,soundcloud.com/farahelle

Five silver birch trees grow in front of basketmaker Joe Hogan’s home in Conemara.
Five silver birch trees grow in front of basketmaker Joe Hogan’s home in Conemara.

Joe Hogan

It is difficult to choose a particular thing in our garden. All the plants or groups of plants have their moments, but the five silver birch trees in front of our house are probably the living things I most appreciate, and that I would most miss if they were not there. They were planted 35 years ago, and now frame the view of the lake from our house in Connemara. They shelter us from winter storms and add beauty at all times, though I think I like them most in the winter when the shape of the trees is most easily appreciated.

The way the sunlight shines on the pale bark and the shimmering twigs usually manages to make me pause a while and savour the present moment. These trees also seem to suggest that things take time to grow and that this is worth waiting for. When they were younger they blocked the view for a while but as they grew taller we were able to trim the side branches and now, underplanted with stipas and other grasses, they seem just right.

Of course, like all natural things they will change yet again. They have not yet reached full height and as trees go they will be relatively short-lived but, as they are now, they are perfect.

Joe Hogan is a basket maker, joehoganbaskets.com

One of three fox cubs that moved in under a shed in Julian Checkley’s garden.
One of three fox cubs that moved in under a shed in Julian Checkley’s garden.

Julian Checkley

I love the time I can spend in my garden, and mostly I love its inhabitants. At first glance it is slightly unkempt, but the lawns are neat and lined with rows of highly scented peonies, lavender and hyacinth. These are peppered with fragrant culinary herbs, which my perfumer wife Maggie loves to smell for reference.

The surrounding walls and fences are heavy with ivy, creeping clematis and jasmine, and there are also swathes seeded with wild meadow flowers, left to grow long to help the poor old bees and butterflies, giving the garden a more wild and somewhat magical air.

Alongside the bees, there are visitors that bring me the most amount of joy. The first is a seagull, named Monty after the character from Withnail & I. He first appeared several years ago, and is now as much a part of the garden as the herbs, showing up every day for breakfast and supper. He arrived rake-thin after one of the many Atlantic storms. Now he is happily healthy thanks to his penchant for fish fingers and hot dogs.

More recently (and you can choose your own collective noun), a skulk of foxes moved in under the shed. It is one of the most incredibly uplifting experiences to watch three fox cubs gambolling about in the early morning sunshine. I can’t express how perfectly blessed we feel that every year the foxes have returned to raise their little ones here. It feels like having our own private planet.

Julian Checkley is director of Cloon Keen Galway, https://cloonkeen.com/cloonkeen.com