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Irish Countryside

Irish Countryside

It’s been a couple of months since our trip to Ireland and we talk and laugh endlessly about our Irish journey as we go through photos and recall our Irish happenings. Travel experiences, like fine wine and cheese, get better over time.

Narrow Irish Street

Narrow Irish Street

One such happening was the decision to rent a car in Ireland and go where the locals go. Or so we thought. When it was time to depart Dublin, we picked up the mid-size, four-door Chevrolet sedan from Hertz then got a five-minute tutorial on driving-on-the-left-in-Ireland-with-a-six-speed-manual-transmission from Fintan, our new Irish friend. I will not soon forget following Fintan out of the Hertz car park (Irish for parking lot) onto the left side of a busy main Dublin thoroughfare, fumbling with the 6-speed stick shift. I was a bit nervous, Angelina was speechless.

Fintan led us through a maze of Dublin city streets to the N11, a modern motorway in Ireland, and pointed us towards Powerscourt in County Wicklow. Then with a wave and a toot of his horn he peeled off back into Dublin and we were on our own. The adjustment to left-side driving and shifting was surprisingly quick, only an hour or so, but it would be negotiating the very narrow roads and lanes that provided high driving drama throughout the rest of the trip. We had included a Garmin GPS in our rental agreement, thinking it would be a back-up in case we got lost. Bridget was the name we gave the feminine voice with the Dublin accent in the GPS. Her smooth, silky directions turned out to be very accurate and I don’t think we could have found half the places we went without her. She was our steady companion for eight days. It was on the next leg from Powerscourt to Kinsale that we discovered another feature of Irish driving – roundabouts everywhere. Roundabouts re-direct traffic without stopping and often take the place of traffic lights. I found them to be quick and efficient…as long as you select the right exit. If not, simply turn around in somebody’s driveway and try it again.

Rugged Irish Coast

Rugged Irish Coast

After two days in Kinsale, we took a travel day, spending the entire day meandering down to the southern tip of Ireland and then up the famed rugged western coast towards Killarney, stopping along the way on a whim.Heritage-Museum

First stop was in Skibbereen at the Heritage Museum dedicated to the devastating Irish Potato Famine in 1845. The 6-year famine, another bitter, tragic event in Irish history, led to the starvation deaths of 1 million and the loss of another million to immigration, a total loss of 30% of the population in less than ten years. We walked to a nearby memorial burial ground full of famine graves, a sober moment on our trip.

Famine Cemetery Memorial

Famine Cemetery Memorial

On the road again we made short stops in Bantry and Kenmare. By now I’m quite comfortable driving; downshifting smoothly into countless roundabouts, flying out the other side by centrifugal force much to Angelina’s chagrin. The narrow and twisty drive from Kenmare to Killarney on the N71 through the western mountains and part of the Ring of Kerry was absolutely spectacular even though I dared not take my eyes off the road.

Emerald-QuiltIn Killarney, we took a tour to the Dingle Peninsula, similar to the Ring of Kerry but with less traffic. By now, I was more than willing to sit and enjoy a ride in the country with someone else doing the driving. This trip to Dingle is where we saw Ireland as a stunningly beautiful green tapestry. The fields are defined by ancient stone walls forming an emerald quilt and filled everywhere with sheep. Homes and barns were built of concrete blocks covered with stucco; no wood structures at all. Walls were stacked field stones, just like New England; again no wooden fences. The best part of the day was the drive more so than where we stopped. The small towns were all quaint but filled mostly with gift shops and pubs for tourists. They started to look alike.

Thatched Roof Cottage

Thatched Roof Cottage

The following day we hit the road once more with another travel day stopping in Adare for lunch. Adare is where we found several of the increasingly rare thatched-roofed buildings. It’s also where we found aubretia planted in gaps in a stone wall in front of a boutique. We would see these bright, blue-violet floral clusters growing as feral flowers in nooks and crannies everywhere we went. I wish we could have brought some home.

 

Aubretia

Aubretia

Limerick was the next and final destination of our trip. We spent a very pleasant afternoon with cousins of mine that I had never met. The following day we went on our second day trip, this time out to the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher. The Cliffs were impressive in every way but it was the Burren that I found more fascinating. “Burren” comes from an Irish word meaning “rocky place” and rocky it was.

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher

It’s a large area of rolling hills of limestone, a moonscape of archeological sites megalithic tombs, portal dolmens, Celtic high crosses, and ring forts along Galway Bay.

The Burren

The Burren

Going to the Poulnabrone dolmen, an ancient burial site, in the Burren was on my wish list for the trip and I was the last one back in the van after our visit. This was one of the trip’s high points and a fitting end to our Irish getaway as we headed home the following day.

Poulmabrone Dolman

Poulnabrone Dolman

We have come to realize that the best part of travel is the suspension of daily routines and putting worries on the shelf for a couple of weeks. It’s a calculated and delicious leap in the dark to somewhere new and wonderful. And despite careful planning, you never really know how the details will unfold. And, like fine wine and cheese, much of the reward lies in great expectations.

Rose Jeopardy

Yellow Brick Road

Yellow Brick Road

What is Yellow Brick Road?
One answer would be, “Follow this three-word rose that ostensibly works well as a ground cover.”
This was the answer that Alex Trebek gave on last night’s (September 26) episode of the Jeopardy game show under the category of “A Rose Garden.” The visual clue was our photo of Yellow Brick Road and we were excited to see a photo of one of our favorite roses on Jeopardy.
2.-Jeopardy-BoardOur involvement began when the producers of Jeopardy contacted us in early June and requested permission to use our photo of Yellow Brick Road that they had seen on our blog. They said it may be used on the show and, if so, we would receive an on-air photo credit. We, of course, agreed, signed the release, and sent along several other photos of Yellow Brick Road, which happened to be in full bloom in our garden at that time. And as luck would have it, on August 1st we received confirmation from our contact at Jeopardy that the photo had indeed been used and she provided last night’s play date.
Jeopardy CreditsWe were a little puzzled by the answer indicating that Yellow Brick Road “works well as a ground cover.” Yes, it could, but it displays more of a short, bush-type growth habit – that’s how we grow it – than a low growing, shrubby ground cover habit.
Regardless, Yellow Brick Road has a cast iron constitution with very high disease resistance. Rose gardeners, unlike Dorothy and her friends in The Wizard of Oz, don’t have to travel to The Emerald City in search of one of the best yellow roses on the market today.

Clair Matin

Clair Matin

Roses seem to bloom overnight when no one is watching. So it’s sometimes a surprise to go out in the morning and see the wonderful flowers that were only buds the day before. Over the holiday weekend, Mike was cutting roses so I could fill some vases before our company arrived. He slowly walked around the garden, selected a few stems of Graham Thomas, that was finishing its second bloom cycle, as well as some super fresh Hot Cocoas and a flashy Tropical Sunset.Clair-Matin bush

Clair Matin Spray

Clair Matin Spray

Then he discovered a spectacular spray of Clair Matin hiding in the back of the bush. This soft pink climber with bright yellow centers typically blooms in great clusters and is always the first rose to bloom for us each spring. Introduced in 1960 in France by Meilland, it is disease-resistant as well as shade tolerant, hardy to Zone 5 and easily grows to 10 feet. We’ve had it in our garden for 16 years and recommend it in our book Roses for New England: A Guide to Sustainable Rose Gardening.

The stem hat Mike cut, more like a raceme than a typical cluster, stands 20” tall and displays 7 open blooms with a half dozen buds ready to pop. We were so gob smacked by this specimen of Clair Matin that we stopped everything to take pictures so we could share them on our blog. This is the kind of spray a rosarian hopes to find the day before a Rose Show. No luck there – but who needs a rose show when we can sit and admire this garden treasure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Earth Song

Earth Song

Rose gardening can sometimes be like a science project and our sustainable rose garden serves as our laboratory. What roses will thrive and be black spot resistant? What roses will give us the number of blooms and the form we like? Sometimes the answers are personal, but in the case of the newest additions to our no-spray garden, Earth Song and Kiss Me have passed the test and have earned their places in our garden.

Earth Song and Yarrow

Earth Song and Yarrow

In August 2013, I posted about Earth Song, a Griffith Buck grandiflora introduced in 1975. Last season it produced beautiful, large, saturated pink blooms and this season it was even more proliferous. In June this year, Earth Song rewarded us with a non-stop first bloom with many sprays of 3-5 blooms on a bush with an upright habit that has grown to about 4 ft. tall. I had Mike plant yellow yarrow behind it and once the yarrow had an explosion of growth, I was really happy with the colors and texture that the two plants provided together. Earth Song is well into its second bloom cycle and shows very little black spot.

Kiss Me

Kiss Me

Kiss Me is also classified as a grandiflora, but has more of a rounded, shrub-like habit. What Mike and I both love about this rose is its color – a medium pink that is more saturated and a bit on the coral side than your run-of-the-mill medium pink – and its form. The flowers are round with ruffled, scalloped edges with a blush of bright yellow around its yellow stamens. We had some fantastic blooms in June; in fact Mike and I won Best of Class for Floribunda Spray with Kiss Me in the Rhode Island Rose Society Rose Show on June 14. Kiss Me is one of Ping Lim’s Easy Elegance Collection.

Along with the other easy care, disease resistant roses we have, Earth Song and Kiss Me are here to stay in our garden.

La Rosaraie

La Rosaraie

Spending a weekend in Montreal is the next best thing to visiting Paris. Where else can you get that European flavor without getting on an airplane? We usually visit Montreal during the last weekend of June to visit with friends and see La Rosaraie, the rose garden at the Montreal Botanical Gardens. But often we find that the rose garden peaked the week before we arrive, so this spring we made plans to go a week earlier to catch the garden at its best and take some rose photos for a new book we’re working on and guess what? Their peak bloom, like ours in New England because of a cool spring, was at least a week late!

Still there were plenty of beautiful roses in bloom and, as an added bonus, the Quebec Rose Society was holding their annual Rose Show at the MBG the same weekend we were there – a week earlier than in the past. Mike was invited to judge, so while he was judging the show with our friend, former Rose Garden Director Claire Laberge, I strolled through the garden.

LionIt was a perfect day to be in the garden. The temperature was in the 70’s, there was a nice breeze, and the sun went in and out, so I didn’t broil. By tradition, I always take a picture of the big bronze lion that guards the entrance to the rose garden, and this time the Sea Foam roses were just beginning to bloom.

While many of the shrub roses were still in their bud stage, I found plenty of roses were in a perfect stage of bloom – roses that during past visits had already gone by. I took plenty of photos – over 100 – and can’t begin to describe them all, but here are a few that I think are worth mentioning.

Compassion

Compassion

The climbing rose Compassion, winding its way up a wrought iron trellis, was one of the first roses I saw. Its orange pink petals had a touch of orange-yellow inner petals and a noticeable fragrance. This rose was introduced in 1972 and I can see why it’s remained popular.

Honey Dijon

Honey Dijon

A bed of Honey Dijon roses caught my eye because of its unusual golden brown/yellow blooms. As you can see from the photograph, this rose was aptly named because it has the coloration of honey mustard. It also has beautiful form.

Europeana

Europeana

One of my favorite roses, a rose we used to grow in our garden and I have on my wish list to grow again, is Europeana. This floribunda has been around since the 1960’s and has received many awards. I was impressed by its true red color and the disease-free foliage. Another rose that I’ve added to my wish list is the luscious deep golden yellow rose South Africa. This rose from Kordes, a German hybridizer known for producing disease resistant roses, has dark green, shiny foliage – a perfect backdrop for this rose.
While visiting the Rose Garden was our major goal, Mike and I extended our stay a few days so we could experience Montreal, the city. In the late afternoon and early evenings we explored Ste. Catherine Street, a major shopping area of the city, a half-block from our hotel. In the mornings, we’d walk down rue de la Montagne to a small café, called M’s, which had the best croissants I’ve had since Paris.

One afternoon we went to the Beaux Arts Museum that had a special exhibition of Faberge eggs. We felt right at home when we saw the Chihuly glass sculpture displayed outside one of the Beaux Arts building. The Beaux Arts is comprised of several buildings on opposite sides of busy Sherbrooke St. that is accessed through a tunnel going under the street.

Chihuly glass sculpture

Chihuly glass sculpture

The exhibit included four Faberge Easter eggs created for the Romanovs as well as other Faberge creations and that alone was worth the trip. After a short break we explored some of Beaux Arts’ permanent collection including a fantastic ceramic and glass collection and some Impressionist art.

FabergeAlong with our visits to the garden and the museum, we enjoyed some delicious meals in Montreal. One night we ate at La Societe, a restaurant in our hotel that was reminiscent of a Paris bistro. Another night we took a cab to Vieux-Port Montreal, the “Old City”, and enjoyed walking down the crowded streets lined with restaurants and souvenir shops. Remarkably, we walked into one of the first restaurants that we had eaten at when we had come to Montreal 16 years ago! We decided fate had placed us at the door of Vieux-Port Steakhouse and we decided to have dinner there. Good decision. We had the best steaks we’ve had in a long time.

Sometimes a plan comes together, and our weekend in Montreal was one of those times. Great roses, great art and great food, all without the hassle of hopping on a plane. I can’t wait to go back again.

Garden of Remembrance

Garden of Remembrance

Angelina and I arrived in Dublin on a rainy Sunday morning in early May on our recent trip to Ireland. This first leg had a number of historical locations on our ambitious itinerary the first of which was Trinity College where the Book of Kells is housed in the Old Library. Trinity College was an easy walk from the hotel and we entered the library after waiting in a queue for a short time chatting with other American visitors.

Old Library Trinity College

Old Library Trinity College

The Book of Kells is the remarkable work of medieval monks who created a lavishly illuminated gospel book containing the four gospels in Latin. The complex illustration and ornamentation is amazing and exceeded my already high expectations. The library displays two pages at a time in a climate-controlled display case – a page of illumination and a page of text – turning the pages every few months. While the exhibit was crowded, we were able to get a good look at this great manuscript. Since no photography was allowed in the Kells exhibit area, we waited until we went into the Old Library itself where photography is allowed and we found a colorful exhibit celebrating

Boru-at-Trinity-CollegeBrian Boru’s victory over the Vikings at the battle of Clontarf in the eleventh century. This was an unexpected bonus and an interesting glimpse into long-ago Irish history. Ireland has endured a long and painful struggle for self-rule and Dublin is full of reminders with one foot in the present and the other firmly planted in Ireland’s bittersweet past.

Prison Yard

Prison Yard

Kilmainham Gaol, located about 2 miles from Dublin Center, is an ancient prison with a tragic history, where leaders of the Easter Rising in 1916 were incarcerated after their failed one-week rebellion against Great Britain. Thirteen of them were executed by firing squad several weeks later in a grim prison yard which is preserved today as it was then with a solitary cross indicating where the prisoners stood. The building is now a museum and a tour of the building, especially that cold, forbidding prison yard, is a powerful experience. Kilmainham Gaol is Irish sacred ground.

Children of Lir

Children of Lir

Another compelling reminder of Ireland’s troubled past is the Garden of Remembrance located in Parnell Square at the top of O’Connell Street in Dublin City Center. This tranquil garden, dedicated to Ireland’s freedom fighters, opened in 1966 with a sunken crossed-shaped water feature. An impressive bronze statue titled Children of Lir symbolizing Irish freedoms was added in 1971. We sat for a bit in this cool and serene garden and enjoyed a quiet moment away from the noisy hubbub of O’Connell Street just a few yards away.

In Dublin we soon discovered a culinary fact of life in Ireland – lamb. Roast lamb, lamb chops, lamb stew, fall-off-the-bone lamb. Lamb was on the menu in some form everywhere we ate for 12 days…good thing we like lamb. (Corned beef and cabbage must be an American thing as we never saw it, not once, anywhere in Ireland.) Later in the trip we would see great flocks of sheep everywhere. We even saw a ewe with her lambs kept like pets in back yards of homes in suburban areas.

Ha'Penny Bridge

Ha’Penny Bridge

Much to my delight, good quality gluten-free food was widely available in all eateries due to the high incidence of celiac disease in Ireland. I had terrific GF meals with great GF breads, rolls, beer, soups, chowders, pizza, stews, pastries, fish and chips, plus lamb in all its forms.

Temple-BarDublin City is very walkable and walk we did – to Dublin’s boisterous Temple Bar entertainment district along the River Liffey, over the famous Ha’penny Bridge and up historic O’Connell Street in the center of the city to the General Post Office where the Easter Rising standoff took place in 1916, bullet holes still evident in the marble columns.

Stylish window boxes best seen on foot were on display throughout the city. Since Dublin has no subway, we used their excellent bus system when we had to travel beyond walking distance. No autos necessary.

Window-Box-DublinAfter three days we left Dublin and started the second leg of the trip, the part where I drive, which began at the Hertz Car Hire. Angelina and I packed our suitcases into a mid-sized Chevrolet sedan, set the GPS, and headed to Powerscourt and later on to Kilkenny. Little did I realize that morning, as I swung out onto a busy Dublin avenue and followed traffic for the first time on the left side of the road, what an adventure driving in Ireland was going to be. More on that later.

Japanese Garden at Powerscourt

Japanese Garden at Powerscourt

We traveled to Ireland a few weeks ago and saw many beautiful sights. I keep a travel journal and record our itinerary, make note of the places we visit and the memorable people we meet along the way. While we’re always on the lookout for rose gardens, we knew that we would be too early for the Irish spring bloom, but we were rewarded with memorable parks and gardens nonetheless. We let our imagination make up for the anticipated roses that would surely be spectacular in places like Powerscourt, Kilkenny Castle and the Inveagh Gardens.

 

Oscar Wilde in St. Stephens Green

Oscar Wilde in St. Stephens Green

Even before we ventured onto the roads in our rental car, we were able to tour two gardens in Dublin. One was St. Stephen’s Green – more a park than a garden — located in the heart of Dublin, a short walk from Trinity College, the shops on Grafton St. and our hotel. While we found no sign of roses in this 27 acre oasis, it was relaxing to stroll along its wide serpentine paths where we discovered a life size sculpture of Oscar Wilde lounging lazily on a rock with a rakish grin on his face. We returned several times to this serene place, taking in the peaceful setting and watching Dubliners enjoy the spotty sun between the inevitable raindrops. Not far from St. Stephen’s Green, but a bit of a walk, was Inveagh Gardens. It’s often described as Dublin’s best kept secret and I can see why. We had almost given up finding it and were circling out way back to St. Stephen’s Green when we spotted what turned out to be a walled garden. Behind this wall was not only a beautiful rose garden, but expansive lawns and fountains. There seemed to be hundreds of roses in this “secret” garden and they were full of buds waiting to bloom. We could only imagine what the garden would look like in two weeks time.

Powerscourt with Sugar Loaf Mountain in Background

Powerscourt with Sugar Loaf Mountain in Background

When we left Dublin and Mike was adjusting to driving on the left side of the road, a daunting adventure of its own, we made our way to Powerscourt, about 30 minutes south of Dublin. Powerscourt reminded me of the mansions in Newport, but on a grander scale. The Bellevue Avenue mansions truly seemed like summer cottages compared to the grandeur of Powerscourt and its gardens which comprised more than 14,000 acres. Currently, its Palladian style “house” is not open to the public, but the park-like grounds were spectacular. From its veranda we had a stunning view of Sugar Loaf Mountain – special to us because we spend many winter days skiing at our own Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine. We strolled down the stone terraces, along the paths, past the circular pond whose fountain was flanked by winged horses and we could see a rose garden set in the massive lawn. Further along we explored the Japanese Garden by climbing down stone steps, but the most impressive view was when we climbed back up, looking down over the winding brick paths, wooden bridges, a Japanese pagoda and purples and pinks of flowering azaleas and rhododendrons framed by various shades of green.

Roses at Powerscourt

Roses at Powerscourt

We made our way back to the main house by completing the circular path and came across what we had been hoping to see – roses. Only a few were in bloom, but the scope of the plantings was massive with beds of 20-30 roses all the same variety. Mike learned from one of the gardeners that because of the colder than normal spring in Ireland, the roses would bloom a few days late, in early June. Two weeks too late for us, but if you happen to be in Ireland in June, don’t miss Powerscourt.

Kilkenny Castle

Kilkenny Castle

The Butler House

The Butler House

Our next stop was Kilkenny Castle where we found another impressive rose garden. We stayed in the The Butler House, the old manor house which was located next to the castle. We had an enormous room, by European standards, that overlooked the formal gardens of The Butler House (see photo) which we thought was amazing in itself. When we saw the rose garden at Kilkenny Castle, though, we were thoroughly impressed. This formal garden with hundreds of roses was designed in the shape of a Celtic cross although none of our pictures of the garden do it justice. Imagine having a back yard like this to look at from your bedroom window!

Rose Garden at Kilkenny Castle

Rose Garden at Kilkenny Castle

As much as we enjoyed visiting the parks and gardens in Ireland, we had no idea how taken we would be by the historical sites such as the Garden of Remembrance, Kilmainham Gaol, the Famine Monument and the General Post Office that still shows the bullet holes in the masonry from the Easter Rising in 1916. Equally inspiring was Ireland’s spectacular landscape featuring views of its rugged coastline, the vast moonscape of The Burren and the endless patchwork of green fields. But those historical sites and landscapes will be subjects for future posts.

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