It is close to the official first day of Spring - although it is hard to believe with the temperatures we have currently - and we all are thinking again of our kitchen garden. We have started to dig the ground again, started uncovering the strawberries (which I should have not done as the frost set in again after that, grrr) and the first seeds have been set in propagators. The greenhouse has been tidied up and the tools are out again.
And just on time, a new garden centre has opened nearby. Maria and Billy O'Connor have taken over the old Phelan's Restaurant and B&B and transformed it into a family friendly garden centre and restaurant. The garden centre includes a kid's corner where a big bronze gorilla is watching over the kids. The corner includes a pet zoo with chickens and rabbits - more pets to be added - and 2 big blackboards where kids can amuse themselves while mum and dad are discovering the centre itself.
Maria has created a beautiful gift shop which is in calm light colours and full of wonderful art and craft items. If you are on the lookout for a lovely gift for a special person - this shop is a must. Walking through the shop, you will come into the bar area with its open fire. The restaurant is located off the bar in the conservatory - with a fantastic view over the garden centre.
The menu is aimed at families as you have a good selection of dishes to suit all tastes. Starters include homemade soup of the day (€4.00), Seafood Chowder (€5.50) and Egg Mayonnaise Salad Plate (4.50). Main courses have a Roast of the day (€9.95), 6oz Steak Sandwich (€12.95) and Seafood Parcels (€9.95). The vegetarian options are not an afterthought but carefully put together. You can have Vegetable Curry (€9.95), Pasta in creamy Garlic Sauce (€9.95) and Vegetables Tarts (€9.95) - let me ensure you these are more options than you get in most restaurants. The Kid's menu includes Half Roast of the Day (€5.00) and the usual favourites of sausages, burgers and chicken goujons - all served with chips (€4.95). Desserts and cakes are homemade ( I tried the carrot cake - yum).
Billy himself has years of professional garden experience behind him and his selection of plants are based on season rather than beauty. He has already broad beans, peas, cauliflower and leafs ready for you to set out as soon as the frost is gone. Expert advise is also available from Aidan who is looking after the plants.
The whole atmosphere in the garden centre, bar and shop is relaxed, friendly and inviting - a great day out.
The centre is just off the Cork-Mallow Road. Coming from Cork, take the Blarney Exit and follow the signs. Coming from Mallow, take the Blarney exit and turn right at the corner.