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Mayo’s most beautiful wall

If there was a competition for the most beautiful wall in Mayo surely it would be hard to beat the dry stone wall at the entrance to Enniscoe House and Gardens nature trail when the fairy foxglove turns the structure into a vertical flower garden in early summer.

The lengthy dry spell we have enjoyed this April and May brought Enniscoe’s 19th-century wall to life in a spectacular display of fairy foxgloves (Erinus alpinus), an Alpine plant that is native to central and southern Europe.

Rare

Rare in Ireland, and especially the West, the fairy foxglove is only found in one other location in Mayo. The National Biodiversity Data Centre shows Enniscoe and Cong as the flowers only habitats in the county.

The fairy foxgloves at Enniscoe are complemented by the ferns and mosses. Photo: Anthony Hickey
The fairy foxgloves at Enniscoe are complemented by the ferns and mosses. Photo: Anthony Hickey

We are extremely lucky in North Mayo to have such a beautiful little flower on our doorstep.

The lovely, delicate shades of pink, magenta and lavender of the delightful fairy foxglove covered the garden wall near the car park when we visited in late May for one of our regular wanders along Enniscoe’s enchanting looped walks.

Alpine garden

Flowering from crevices in the magnificent sloping wall that surrounds the Victorian walled garden, this pretty perennial flower is also known as alpine balsam. This may well indicate that it was probably used for medicinal purpose in earlier times.

 The fairy foxgloves (Erinus alpinus) in bloom on the walls of Enniscoe's Victorian garden. Photo: Anthony Hickey
The fairy foxgloves (Erinus alpinus) in bloom on the walls of Enniscoe’s Victorian garden. Photo: Anthony Hickey

In bloom from May to September, the fairy foxglove makes the most of its shady, dry home, high above the damp of the woodland path, transforming a humble wall into a wondrous alpine garden.

Craftsmen

Beautiful bell-shaped fuschia flowers at Enniscoe. Photo: Anthony Hickey
Beautiful bell-shaped fuschia flowers at Enniscoe. Photo: Anthony Hickey

The fairy foxgloves exquisite colours are complemented by the glossy greens of the ferns and the coppery browns, greens and yellows of the moss clumps that also cling to the cracks and crevices in the wall built by the hands of Victorian craftsmen whose tools can be seen in the adjoining North Mayo Heritage Centre.

The fairy foxglove grows to a height of 30cm and has distinctive fleshy evergreen leaves, bearing short stems of pink flowers. Photo: Anthony Hickey
The fairy foxglove grows to a height of 30cm and has distinctive fleshy evergreen leaves, bearing short stems of pink flowers. Photo: Anthony Hickey

Close-up the wall is a miniature world where flowers and insects live among the cracks, crevices and holes that in human terms would be a mountainside of ridges, ledges and caves; a wonderful example of biodiversity in a man-made structure that has allowed nature to flourish over the centuries.  

It’s likely that the flower which is so rare especially in the West of Ireland was originally planted by gardeners in Enniscoe’s walled garden which dates back to the early 18th century.

Over the centuries, the little flower found its perfect home in the south-facing wall that enjoys just enough shade from the surrounding woodland.

A lone rhododendron flower looks even more beautiful amid the early summer greenery of Enniscoe wood. Photo: Anthony Hickey
A lone rhododendron flower looks even more beautiful amid the early summer greenery of Enniscoe wood. Photo: Anthony Hickey

The surrounding lush woodland, so typical of our Celtic Rainforests, is full of the colours of early summer from the decorative red and pinks of the bell-shaped fuchsia to the vibrant pinks of the rhododendron.

Usually not welcome because this invasive species smothers our native plants, on this day a single rhododendron bloom in a sea of green looked magnificent.

However, it’s the graceful beauty of the fairy foxgloves springing to life from a stony Victorian relic that steals the show in early summer.

By Anthony Hickey

Follow writer and photographer, Anthony Hickey, as he travels around his native Co. Mayo, Ireland.