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Carl Wright pictured in his Caher Bridge Gardens Fanore, which feature on Garden Heroes tonight. Photograph by Arthur Ellis.

Landmark Clare garden to feature on RTÉ One this Thursday

NESTLED deep in the heart of the Burren, Caher Bridge Garden in Fanore has over the years been wowing garden enthusiasts from all over the world, even bringing some to tears of joy.
The award winning garden has appeared in magazines, newspapers and the Top 100 Gardens of Ireland book among other esteemed publications. So, it is surprising to discover that this Thursday (July 22) will see the garden make its very first television appearance, featuring on RTÉ One’s latest series Ireland’s Garden Heroes.
The show, which will be broadcast at 8.30pm reveals the hard work and imagination ordinary people have put into their gardens across the island.
Carl Wright, the man behind Caher Bridge Garden tells us that he never intended to be a gardener, but once he started he couldn’t stop. Describing the hidden gem as an “obsession”, he says, “I don’t think there is another garden in the country like it”.
Originally from Devon, Carl first began coming to Clare on his holidays, becoming entranced by the wild landscape of the Burren and eventually settling here more than 30 years ago.
“I’ve been here a long, long time and I used to come over on holidays. For most of my life I was really into caving and potholing, and the Burren of course was an obvious choice with all the caves. My background is also in ecology and I’m a photographer as well so the Burren is a major attraction because of the flowers and landscape here. It was just the perfect holiday destination for me. Eventually I decided it might be an interesting place to live for a couple of years, and I got a job here. I came over for what was supposed to be a little bit. I think that was about 36 year ago,” he smiles.
The creation of Caher Bridge Garden came about by accident, he reveals. “I only started it in 1999 and I never really intended to make it a very big garden. It was going to be small and low-key, because I wasn’t really a gardener and I didn’t really know that much about garden design. I liked gardens, but I wasn’t a designer. Gradually I got more and more into it and as I went along the garden got bigger and bigger. It sort of turned into a bit of an obsession. It started getting noticed and people started asking questions and then eventually the cat got out off the bag and my little secret hideaway garden became kind of known.”
He eventually gave up his day job to fully concentrate on gardening, opening up Caher Bridge Garden to visitors for guided tours. “Opening up to the public was kind of an accident as well, people sort of persuaded me and I said I’d give it a go and see what happens. It’s been brilliant, I do enjoy showing people the garden very much.”
The garden is very much a labour of love for Carl who designed it to suit his own tastes, and it is clear his work has resonated with many garden lovers.
“It has been in books all over the world, dozens of magazines and newspapers. And now it’s on the telly, for the first time ever funnily enough. I get visitors here from literally all over the world.”
He continues, “It can be quite moving for some people to see the garden, over the years I’ve seen at least three visitors actually burst into tears. You couldn’t get a bigger compliment. This is my garden and I’ve done it for me, it mightn’t be to everybody’s cup of tea and that’s fair enough everybody likes different styles. But when something like that happens you know you’ve done something right.”
Of course Covid-19 meant that the garden had to be closed to the public for some time. Now re-opened, visitors must make contact and book an appointment as spaces are extremely limited to just ten people a day due to ongoing restrictions.
While the closure due to Covid resulted in a loss of income, Carl says there were positives to the lock-down. He brought his father to live with him and used the time to carry out work around the garden. “It was amazing, a blessing in disguise. Life carried on completely normal other than no income and no visitors. We got so much done really, a lot of essential maintenance that really needs doing and I normally just don’t have the time to do, to be honest. It really didn’t affect us other than the lack of income, but we’ll get over that.”
The garden has been inspired by the Burren, created with Carl’s senses, his heart and his hands.  Carl says, “We belong with nature, not apart from it, if I could sleep outside I would.”
He explains, “Because my background is in ecology, it’s a very rural garden. It’s really in the middle of nowhere. It is a beautiful location and I am surrounded by the Burren landscape. What I really didn’t want to do was create something that looked like a garden out of Bloom or Chelsea in this landscape because it just doesn’t work. It is one of my pet hates, rural gardens that just look out of place.”
He began by utilising native greenery in keeping with the local landscape, and the garden is now home to thousands of plants including some important plant collections such as hawthorns, Irish daffodils, ferns and Hydrangea.
“The garden is very unusual, it’s probably fair to say that it is unique. It’s a real blend of nature and absolute gardening. It’s not full of brambles and nettles, it’s not a wildlife garden in that sense. There are a lot of garden plants here, thousands.”
With such an array of flora it’s not surprising that the garden attracts all kinds of wildlife. “It’s wildlife heaven. I have got everything here. It’s fantastic for birds, brilliant for insects, moths, butterflies.”
The plant-life isn’t the only outstanding feature of the garden, with an artistic theme running throughout inspired by the locality.
“There is an old stone bridge here with two beautiful arches, it’s actually Caher Bridge which is what the garden is named after. It’s just beautiful, and I really wanted to kind of use the bridge throughout the garden. So I had the idea of using arches and circles as a recurring artistic theme. Everywhere there are nods to the bridge.”
There is a wealth of creative stonework, created by Carl himself, which were inspired by the archways of the bridge. “Every single inch of this garden has been made by me and me alone. It’s absolutely a one man band entirely, apart from a bit of help from my parents over the years and one or two friends now and again. I do everything’s myself.” The garden also includes a section of the Caher river, ponds and water features.
Carl says he is looking forward to seeing his garden on screen this Thursday. “I haven’t seen any of the show, it’s all secret. They were lucky when they came to film because it was the most beautiful day possible.. They were here for about 12 hours and I’m told they have got some beautiful footage of the garden, but I haven’t seen it.”
The show each week will see three contestants open their gates to experts horticulturalist Jimi Blake, garden designer Niall Maxwell and landscape designer Ingrid Swan. The experts will take the tour, examining every leaf and sniff every flower, to evaluate the gardens.
The gardens will be split into different categories in each episode, and the experts will assess the plants, the design, the functionality, and the feel of the garden before ultimately choosing a winner. Each episode will have an individual winner, and they will become one of Ireland’s Garden Heroes.
For more on Caher Bridge Garden check https://www.facebook.com/CaherBridgeGarden/

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