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Falcarragh’s hidden horticultural jewel ‘revealed’

Seamus O'Donnell and Deirdre Brennan with pet dog Minnie at Ballyness Bay, Falcarragh  Cluain Na d'Tor (Seaside Nursery Garden), Falcarragh, Co. Donegal, Ireland photography © Andrea Jones/Garden Exposures Photo Library

Seamus O’Donnell and Deirdre Brennan with pet dog Minnie at Ballyness Bay, Falcarragh
Cluain Na d’Tor (Seaside Nursery Garden), Falcarragh, Co. Donegal, Ireland
photography © Andrea Jones/Garden Exposures Photo Library


ONE of Ireland’s best kept horticultural secrets is featured in the latest edition of the prestigious Royal Horticultural Society magazine, The Garden.
Cluain na dTor Gardens (Meadow of Shrubs) in Ballyconnell, Falcarragh, is set in twenty acres of wet, peaty ground is a seaside garden and nursery and contains many tender plants, trees and shrubs from around the world.
The fact that this fascinating garden is still relatively unknown, even in gardening circles, is due in part to its geographical remoteness, yet what owner, Seamus O Donnell has achieved in twenty years in extremely challenging climatic conditions is quite remarkable, the magazine reported.
The four-page feature on Cluain na dTor Gardens is the first time an Irish garden has featured in ‘The Garden’ which is the leading magazine of its kind in the world.
“It’s three years since the photographer was here taking the pictures for the piece while the author, Helen Dillon, was here a year ago. That’s how long it takes to get into The Garden which is not available in shops. It’s membership only,” Mr O’Donnell said.
A former student of St Columba’s, Stranorlar, Seamus attained a degree in botany from University College, Galway, and then travelled extensively, studying plants in the wild, particularly in coastal habitats.
His travels have taken him to Mexico, Costa Rica as well as Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia.
Cluain na dTor has been in the O’Donnell family since the 1920s when Seamus’s grandfather returned home from the Klondyke gold rush with money in his pockets.
Surrounding the more sheltered Tropical Garden there are 15 acres devoted to woodland and wild meadow. A pond area and autumn garden is being developed. Some of the land is part of a Special Area of Conservation for the protection of the corncrake.
‘From scratch’
“I’ve created the garden from scratch which I suppose just shows what’s possible in an exposed, remote location with wet, boggy soil. I take a look at what’s nice beside what and how a certain plant catches the light. I’m like an artist – it’s like working on a canvas a trying to blend in colours and textures.
“It’s time consuming but I find that it helps you forget about daily headaches and, what’s more, it also adds value to your property,” he said.
When Seamus started to garden on the site in the early 1990s there were no trees so he developed a deep shelter belt, including rowan, willow, Montery pines, sycamore and Sitka spruce, underplanted with salt and wind-tolerant shrubby species such as Phormium, Olearia, Hebe and Fushsia.
“Initially I concentrated on shrubs and plants that grow in this part of the world but now that the shelter belt is in place I can plant other shrubs from all over the world that don’t like the wind,” he said.
The garden also includes a retail nursery, with a trio of polytunnels at the centre of the plot, while Seamus also runs a successful garden design business.
“We’ve had a lot of visitors here since the article first appeared. We’ve had five or six cars alone from England as they’re prepared to travel here on the back of such articles. Hopefully it will lead to a few more visitors over the coming weeks and months,” he said.
Many of the plants in the gardens are available at the nursery which also houses an art studio/gallery. Cluain na dTor offers a Planting Design service as well as consultancy. Courses are run on Organic Gardening and Biodiversity throughout the year.

Trachycarpus fortunei, Ensete maurelii, Phormium 'Platt's Black', Cercidphyllum japonicum, Chusquea culeou and Salvia cv below palm in the Exotic Garden. Cluain Na d'Tor (Seaside Nursery Garden), Falcarragh. photography © Andrea Jones/Garden Exposures Photo Library

Trachycarpus fortunei, Ensete maurelii, Phormium ‘Platt’s Black’, Cercidphyllum japonicum, Chusquea culeou and Salvia cv below palm in the Exotic Garden. Cluain Na d’Tor (Seaside Nursery Garden), Falcarragh.
photography © Andrea Jones/Garden Exposures Photo Library

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