But equivalent statistics for the wild and windswept southwest coast of Ireland tell an altogether different kind of story, as Larkcom and her husband, Don, were to discover for themselves when in 2002 they moved to rural West Cork. Their new home, Donaghmore Farmhouse, came with a gently sloping, free-draining, south-facing half-acre of land situated less than a mile from the salty, wind-battered Atlantic coastline. The couple arrived, Larkcom remembers, in the middle of what felt like a hurricane. “We’d thought our previous garden in Suffolk was windy, but it was nothing compared to what we experience here. Plants would get uprooted, defoliated, or burnt black, and some things just wouldn’t grow at all.”
And so the couple quickly became what she later jokingly referred to as “windbreak bores,” researching the subject so thoroughly that Larkcom even bought her very own handheld anemometer to measure the speed of those searingly salty, southwesterly gales. The solution, they finally decided, lay in the construction of a sturdy, 6-foot-high windbreak made of timber and recyclable polyethylene netting that was planted on both sides with a mix of tough, salt-tolerant deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs. This would run straight along parts of the garden boundaries before zigzagging along the upper stretch of the windiest, western side. Secondary, internal windbreaks would offer a further line of defense, while even the farm’s gates would be covered with rigid, greenhouse ventilation mesh to prevent potential wind tunnels.
As for how Donaghmore’s garden has fared in the years since its now much-renowned windbreaks were erected, the answer is quite remarkably well. An astonishing wealth of colorful flowers, fruit, salad greens, and vegetables now grows in this Irish coastal potager as well as in the nearby raised vegetable beds and greenhouse. All are abundant proof that being a “windbreak bore” pays off handsomely and that the garden’s greatest enemy—that roaring, salty southwesterly—has slowly been forced to beat a reluctant retreat. Personally, I like to think that it recognized the caliber of its adversaries.
Originally published in Organic Gardening Magazine, April/May 2012
Photos: Richard Johnston