When it comes to design and designers, Cork has plenty to offer. In Fota itself, we have a Richard Morrison designed house. The neo-Gothic Cathedral in nearby Cobh was designed by Pugin and Ashlin. More modern, award-winning designs like the UCC Glucksman Gallery came from O’Donnell + Tuomey. But everyday in Fota House and Gardens, in the Frameyard and the Orchard, we see that Nature is the best designer of all.
Even on a misty, early-Autumn day, the Orangery is a bright, light-filled space. Growing happily in one corner is a species of Brugmansia, its orange “Angel’s Trumpets” and large foliage bright against the whitewashed walls. And then there’s the fragrance – released at night to attract moths and lingering throughout the day…
While walking around the garden today in the warm sunshine, I was totally taken aback with the incredible amount of insect life that has flocked to the profusion of garden flowers that are out at present. What really caught my eye was the beautiful Peacock Butterfly on one of the Verbena bonariensis. Her vibrant colours glistening in the sunshine and she did not even mind if I got up close to take a photo as she was too busy sucking the sweet nectar.
Unassuming, low-growing and evergreen but I can only describe this plant as enchanting. Cocooned in its spiders’ webs, it looks like a magic carpet of ancient, neglected rosettes. The plant that time forgot in Ms Havisham’s glasshouse. Now it has produced a delicate pink flower, bringing a dash of colour that seems to say “Don’t be fooled, I’m still growing” and living up to its name which means “always alive”.
Fota isn’t just about the flora and fauna, though these are spectacular throughout the seasons. It’s also about nature, birds, bees, butterflies and some elusive animals. Here are some of the creatures we happily share Fota with.
Not all our visitors arrive on foot. On Monday last, just as we were finishing up for the day, an unusual visitor arrived. Our volunteers, Mary and Harriet and Bernard the gardener, watched in amazement as it darted about and hovered, its wings flapping rapidly. Then it latched onto a Dianthus plant and fed on the pollen. We were puzzled, having never seen anything like it before. Was it a bird, a butterfly, a bee or a moth? In fact, it was a Hummingbird Hawk-moth, Macroglossum stellatarum (Linnaeus, 1758)
Cork is known as a city of “Steps and Steeples”. Some were designed by famous architects like William Burgess and George Pain. Nearby at Cobh Cathedral, the work of Edward Pugin and George Ashlin towers over the sea. Summer brings a different kind of steeple to the Frameyard and gardens of Fota House, this time designed by Nature. It’s called Echium pininana or Giant Viper’s Bugloss. This beautifully structured plant even has its own bell-like flowers. They don’t ring out like carillon bells but on a sunny day they sing with the sound of bees.
In the Frameyard now we see a beautiful tiny flower, with an equally beautiful name. Diana, Greek goddess of the hunt + ella meaning small + native to Tasmania, gives us Dianella tasmanica or Blue Flax Lily.
Something smells wonderful in the Frameyard. It’s not the wallflowers in the glasshouse or the thyme growing on the top of the old walls. It’s the fragrance of our newly acquired Scented Pelargoniums wafting from Glasshouse No. 5. These tactile plants release citrus, rose or woody scents and come to life when touched.