Year Of Colour At Blarney Castle Gardens
As The Seasons Come And Go
With a 6-month pass (a gift) in my pocket, we made our first visit to the Blarney Castle Gardens in the dead of winter, in the opening days of January 2021.
We were greeted in the grounds, near the castle itself, by a lively robin who kept popping up as we walked along. We would see robins aplenty, and quite a few other birds also (including a Goldcrest, Ireland’s smallest, and a Goldfinch too), as the year progressed. We also spotted a squirrel that day but it was the only one we would see over the 12 months (we renewed our pass in July).
|In the Poison Garden|
Many big houses have a pet cemetery and Blarney have their own Horse Graveyard where you will find the resting places of Snoopy and Misty and others. On our riverside return walk, we came across an owl who was lying on the path and not looking well at all. We checked with reception. And they had someone on the way.
|Castle and cherry blossom|
|Blarney Castle in Autumn|
By the time of our second visit (29th January), a few daffodils were showing and some delightful groups of snowdrops. We were puzzled by a small group of wooden structures in a group of trees. They appeared to be some sort of sculptures from our distance but eventually we found out that they were man-made hives!
|The Lion Rock|
That walk also saw us find the amazing Fern Tree Garden (which became a regular part of our visits). Nearby there is a well-signposted ice-house. Indeed, most points of interest are well signed here. More snowdrops and primroses spotted as well.
|Horse stretches for a forbidden nibble, the best kind!|
By mid-February, the daffodils were putting on an amazing show, filling the wide margins on each side of a “main” road, stretching for, I’m guessing, half a kilometre or so.
|Spectacular early showing by the daffodils|
Another highlight that visit was the walk around the lake, lots of birds here including ducks, swans and seagulls. There is a Bird Hide on one side but it is hasn’t opened up yet for the year, whether the reason is seasonal or related to Covid 19 I don’t know.
Our walk on the 25th saw us linger in the Poison Garden which is quite close to the castle itself. Some very common plants, eg rhubarb, are listed among the dangerous ones. As indeed is juniper. I’ll be checking my G & T from now on! Nearby you’ll see the carnivorous garden - mind those fingers!
It was mid-March before we got out to Blarney again and this time, we had a closer look at the ice-house.
There is a working farm on the estate and it has a few of its fields around the estate. Here you will see farm animals such as cows, sheep, horses and donkeys.
|Coffee? On the left.|
We didn’t see that many wild animals but they are here. We spotted a fox (well, his long tail) as he dashed from a clearing into the nearby trees and later in the year got a good view of one making his way across a field (though he was a decent distance away). While we saw just the one squirrel, other visitors told us they had seen quite a few!
|In the rockery|
The best known grown in these islands is Gunnera manicata, which has huge leaves that can reach 2m wide. This is the variety in Blarney; in the early part of the Spring, the site looked like a heap of rotting leaves but later in the year you could get lost in the Gunners foliage here!
|A different kind of hive!|
In a wired-off corner of the large walled garden, the bees have their own place and there are signs of life there when we call on April 13th. You can see quite a few hives (some of unusual shape), lots of charts too about the bees and a video of them (and their honey) is running constantly! In another sign of the country coming to life, the bird hide is open on the lakeshore.
We enjoy our stroll along the timber paths, other paths eased with a covering of mulch (from their own trees) and bridges by the waterways, taking in the bamboo archway also filling up with greenery.
A bit early yet for the Rose Pergola, still very much on the bare side though the flowers in the adjacent herbaceous border attract the bees. Took time out to view the sculptures again. They include a fox and soon we see a real one, well at least his tail as he vanishes into the trees.
|Murder Hole, in the castle|
We are back on the 24th and now the tulips reign, in both formal and informal settings. The bamboo archway is splendid in all its green glory as the plant revival continues. But there is an entwined crown of a small tree still bare near the castle; it will take some time yet for its leaves to make a crowning appearance, Quite a few bluebells here too at this stage.
A few days later, on the 28th, the wild garlic and the cherry blossom continue to impress as we take a closer look at the magnificent Red Cedar close to the castle itself. A little further away we find the Vietnamese Farm Hut. The hut and its surrounds are “part of an ex-situ conservation project in partnership with the Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources based in Hanoi”. I was surprised to read that the plants here are heavily threatened by deforestation and non-sustainable agricultural practices such as cardamom farming. Much more info here in the hut.
Again we are greeted by the robin, well one of them anyhow! On this day, May 6th, we make our way through the Himalayan Walk and there is a carpet of fallen rhododendron flowers filling the path. Nearer the house (not open to the public), the flowering shrubs are coming on strong, sometimes grouped on their own, sometimes placed under taller trees.
And it is much the same a week later. Our dancer has another flower as we make our way from the now impressive bamboo archway. Wild garlic and bluebells still impress as do the various azalea shrubs.
One of the features of the Blarney castle grounds are a number of fields where you can see the domestic animals: cattle, sheep, horses, even donkeys. They are rotated quite a bit in these fields and also in the fields of the estates working farm.
|Blarney House (not open to the public)|
On the 19th of May, we take one of many walks by the lake, getting fine views of Blarney House (with cattle in front of it). On the water, there is new life, a family of ducks and, more strikingly perhaps, a pair of swans and their six cygnets, and we would see them all together a few months later.
The wild garlic still lingers on, the Gunnera manicata has revived; on the other hand, the daffodils have all gone. At month’s end, the harmony between the colours of the shrubs is at its zenith.
On June 4th, we notice the striking whitethorn blossoms and lots of buttercups too and still those flowering shrubs. On the 12th, we see displays of lupins in the herbaceous border.
There is then a gap about a month - we were taking advantage of a lessening in restrictions to visit other parts of the country - and when we return the rose pergola is in full and magnificent bloom as is the adjoining border that draws bees and butterflies. These insects will last longer than the roses.
There are cacti to be seen in the Rockery - always something new to be seen in the gardens. On the 21st, we take time at the castle, and have another look at Blarney House and also begin to appreciate the magnificent Western Red Cedar.
And it just gets better during the weeks of August especially as the Bamboo Archway and the Gunnera are at their best. The herbaceous border continues to shine while the Fern Tree Garden is always worth a visit and another call is made to see how the bees are doing in their corner of the walled garden.
|Gunnera in full bloom; contrast with pic above from earlier in the year.|
Visitors enjoy their coffee and treats, now at two pleasant cafés, one near the entrance, the other alongside the castle, and there is also a playground and picnic tables by the castle and the spot where the two rivers here, the Blarney and Martin, cross one another, one going under the other! An info board explains all.
There is quite a display of Black-eyed Susans in the large border adjacent to the first of the coffee serving areas. The elderberry is showing its flowers and the swans are showing off their cygnets on the lake.
|Black-eyed Susans and picnic area|
One of the highlights of a visit on September 19th is a walk down a long lane (towards the lake) and alongside a field where the horses graze. One side of this is full of fuchsia and it is in full flower and the bees are busy!
|Bee in Fuchsia|
Some colour still in the herbaceous border and we, some bees and especially butterflies, are delighted with it. We were expecting some autumn colours on October 6th; there were some in the trees but not that much. Took a stroll round the poison garden again and the adjoining carnivorous garden where a crown of leaves now covers the entwined beaches that were bare a few short months before.
Those autumn colours in the arboretum are much more striking on October 30th, spectacularly so. The Black-eyed Susans continues to catch the eye. It is a foggy day though; no clear shot of the castle today, nor of the cows grazing.
|Four of the cygnets in September. And right, the parents with all six, all of whom stayed together at least until September!|
The first December visit is on the 10th and I shoot a nice little video of the Fern Tree Garden. Its paths are all renewed with a wood mulch (from their own trees) and ready for another year. With some of the surrounding foliage vanished you can see many of the big rocks here. One of the most striking is perhaps the Lion Rock.
After Christmas, there’s still plenty of visitors walking about but little change in the scenery. But keep looking and usually you’ll see something different. This time, it was a bunch of puffball mushrooms that we “forced” into puffing for a short video!
You may visit Blarney as a once-off which is fine if you are not from the area. But if you are from the surrounding areas of Cork, including the city, then the way you get the best value is by purchasing a six-month or 12-month pass (which also includes parking by the way) - Very Highly Recommended!
Much more info on the castle, the grounds, the facilities, and admission here.