After training in hotel management, Ulrike Crespo, born 1950 in Darmstadt/Germany, studied French, art history and archaeology in Switzerland. In 1982 she moved to Frankfurt where she taught German as a foreign language. From 1985 to 1990 she studied psychology at Frankfurt's Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, going on to set up her own practice as a psychologist and then the Crespo Foundation.
Since 1989 Ulrike Crespo has worked as a photographer, focusing primarily on images of landscapes, plants and flowers. Kehrer Verlag has published of her several photo books, and she has been nominated for the German Photobook Prize.
I first travelled to lreland as a young woman, back in the early 1970s, with my grandparents. I remember well how much I loved it. Then, at the age of 40, having just graduated in psychology, I sought a break after all the studying, and headed for a place where I could sit in peace and quiet and gaze at the sea. lreland immediately came to mind.
Back then, I travelled down the West Coast from the North and it was West Cork I liked best. lt was a breath-taking summer, hard to imagine it could ever be more beautiful. Three days before I headed home, on the spur of the moment, I bought this plot of land, simply shaking hands on the transaction. When I returned in the autumn it rained and rained and rained, and I asked myself: how could you simply, on a whim, buy a plot of land? As one does, I tossed and turned and thought it all through and have not regretted that decision for a moment. And that was 22 years ago.
My grandparents always had a garden, and since I visited them often, it's safe to say that I grew up in gardens. l'm sure this really influenced my development.
The plot of land I had so spontaneously acquired in lreland was a large one, directly on the coast, with cows on it and a small donkey. lt was overgrown with brambles, nettles and gorse-and there was not even a tiny piece of tilled soil. Yet essentially it was beautiful, and overall a marvellously wild landscape. What really attracted me was a wonderful little place where some 20 old elms stood, and there, or so I imagined, a house would fit in well. lt was a romantic sort of idea, of having a place that differed from town life, a place of my own where nature could be experienced in an almost meditative way.
First came the house. Then we conquered the soil, bit by bit. lnitially all we did was create a cultivated, fragrant area of flowers around the building, featuring just a few pretty plants. We chose plants typical of the North, such as rhododendrons and hydrangeas, and above all roses, because I love roses. The ubiquitous rosa rugosa started to bloom, rampant on the dunes, the unmistakable scent wafting on the wind. One of the things I wanted to give my home in lreland were those roses and their fragrance, and thus something of my childhood. The rosa rugosa was not native to lreland and so I ordered a whole mass of them, planting them on all four sides of the house and along the paths leading to the ocean. And there they continue to grow to this day.
From then on I spent two years leafing through books on roses. lt was truly addictive.
I simply couldn't stop myself, and I ended up planting over 40 different types of rose. Same flourished, others didn't. Some were a disappointment because they didn't like the rain. lt was sad the way the buds' petals were stuck together by the moisture and instead of opening the blooms fell off. You have to watch the weather carefully and choose the right moment before a downpour to cut off the blooms and turn them into a fragrant and gorgeous rose jam. In some summers everything simply blossoms. Some roses are marvels and highly resilient, such as the sharifa asma. lt's a pale rose with dense rosettes that flowers several times and has a great scent. lt blooms even in gloomy, wet summers. We planted them almost everywhere – they're wonderful.
At first there was no real plan, it was more a matter of gut feeling: the desire to surround myself with beautiful, unusual and especially fragrant plants. And things depended primarily on what the garden centre had to offer. At home all the gardening books awaited me, such as those from the Royal Horticultural Society. They tell you what the plants you've just bought like best, and where they need to go. Usually it went well. We started out placing them too close to one another, perhaps, but with such a lot of land you can't kick things off with only three or four stands – you need at least 50. And there were few gardeners about. Most of the people who were available were English dropouts who were happy to do anything – painting houses, mowing lawns. And we grew with the garden, learning by doing.
With Michael a lot changed. From 1996 onwards, he added structure to the garden, giving it dimensions. He made plans. He thought about where there could be ponds and "stages", as he calls them. I concentrated on paths, stone steps and stairs and cleared the old, completely overgrown farmer's tracks down to the sea. Then came bridges. Suddenly we had not just bought 50 plants, but 500 and then 5,000. Over the years we created small birch groves, small maple groves, poplar alleys and copses that provide shelter from the wind.
Everything flourishes here. In lreland you have the feeling that all you need to do is stick something in the ground and it will grow. Now the constant planting and replanting is over. There's no space left. So it's all about sustaining, about replacing one or other plant, but essentially the garden is finished. Sure, it's a life's work and actually it certainly isn't what I had hoped to create in lreland – a retreat. lnstead l've been given something quite different, something much greater. lt's a piece of wonderful nature, a small slice of country life with cats and dogs who have dropped in to stay, a kitchen garden, a glasshouse, my own vegetables, fruit and herbs. Pure joy!
Michael likes the garden to be furnished with chairs, benches and tables, where you can sit, spend time and let your gaze wander. The result looks great, but somehow it's usually our guests who make use of them. We tend to go outside armed with shears or pruning saws. Sometimes I go out wondering whether I should pull up some of the weeds along the waterfront, but then get caught up along the way doing something completely different. Far too rarely do I simply find myself sitting in the garden and enjoying a book.
l'm one of those people who likes weeding. lt's a bit like uncovering something. l'm a therapist, after all, and that's somehow related terrain. In therapy too you uncover something, get to the essence of things, the essentials. lt's very satisfying, and it is like meditation. You can't think of anything else; you concentrate utterly on the place, on the plants. lf the feeling of happiness exists then for me it is being outdoors in nature, in the garden, where you are what you are. lt's that simple.
A garden changes by the day, as does life. There's always something new, something hidden, waiting to be discovered. What's there today may be different or gone tomorrow; and something else crops up instead. Even light and mood change in the course of a few moments, which has a lot to do with us, too. One blossom fades while elsewhere a bud is about to open and surprise us once more.
(Source: Ireland Glenkeen Garden, Hirmer Verlag, 2014)