How to be a tourist in Ireland

July 27, 2010

Skip the Irish cabarets for one thing. How many choruses of “Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ra” can one person stand? Personally, I would avoid the medieval banquets, too. I attended the show at Bunratty Castle Folk Park in County Clare (near Limerick) years ago, and drank the mead and watched the show along with the herd of other foreigners. And boy, did we feel like foreigners. The setting of Dunguaire Castle , right on Galway Bay in Kinvara, is fabulous, but I think I’d rather enjoy the sights from a pub in that hopping little village (although, it’s become a much posher place since the last time we visited).

Instead, ask around the town or village for good traditional music pubs. On our recent Ireland trip, many in our group went to the Kilkenny Traditional Music Trail that travel agent Brad Cilley of Northwest Travel found. They enjoyed the music and learned a bit about the instruments.

Our hotel in Kenmare hosted music one night we were there – just a local family, including their daughter who danced. We felt like we were part of the evening, not just the audience.

In Dublin, Brad booked us into the Irish House Party, held in the Lansdowne Hotel in Ballsbridge, for our tour’s farewell dinner. We had dinner and music and dancing and no one had to beg for salt or feel like they were channeling Bing Crosby. I found the entertainment was enjoyable – these people really care about their music. Yes, I was a tourist, but I have lived in Ireland, and feeling like a tourist here was OK. I wasn’t a cheesy tourist, I was a tourist who wanted to have a good time and even learn something about the country. Besides, the room was full of not just us, but the bell ringers of Somerset and an Irish hen party. We all had a great time.


Black is the new black – black Tuscan kale

July 20, 2010

at Hunting Brook

Edibles and ornamentals – the new hot celebrity couple. The top honors for the most popular edible to plant in an ornamental bed must go to the Tuscan black kale, seen everywhere but to greatest advantage at Hunting Brook in County Wicklow, Ireland, where Jimi Blake paired it with this fabulous Bupleurum longifolium subsp. aureum. The combination of the dark, chunky, textured leaves with the airy sprays of flowers made a good show.

More on Hunting Brook to follow.

Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, part 2

July 19, 2010

Proving there’s nothing new under the sun – but perhaps always a new way to convey your message – the gardens at Hampton Court this year displayed the essentials: small landscapes, water features, flowers (yes, yes, and vegetables) and sustainable practices. (My friend and colleague Virginia Hand, says responsible designers have always been sustainable.)

NealeRichards Ltd

Water remains a huge draw. Designer David Neale used “floating York steppingstones” across a formal pool and Arthur Northcott and John Gutteridge, in the Fire Pit Garden, included a burbling feature. The latter garden and

The Plant Co

It’s Only Natural by The Plant Company delighted in showing casual reseeders making a splash,causing us all think that we probably spend too much time rogueing out volunteers.

A Lost Loved Garden by Linda and Ralph Gardening brought lots of sighs with the display of those ornamentals that hang on after a garden is no longer tended. A ramshackle gate and abandoned bicycle added to the atmosphere. It reminded me of the gardens that John and Toni Christianson created for the Northwest Flower & Garden Show.

A Lost Loved Garden

No visit to Hampton Court should begin without first getting a Pimm’s Cup for the journey around the grounds.

Look out for the wheelie box! Notes on Hampton Court

July 9, 2010

They were everywhere – “wheelie boxes” being pulled along the metal pathways at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. Their plastic wheels grated on the washboard walking surface, making a constant “grrrrrring” as gardeners made their way around the show.

No need to worry about gardening being dead. Yes, there were plenty of veg displays, but those wheelie boxes were filled to the brim with all sorts of plants – Helenium, Phlox, Veronica, ornamental grasses and … was that a Cercis?

It was warm and muggy; some of the display tents were like saunas. A blast of hot air hit us as we neared the entrance to the Country Living marquee, causing us to veer at the last moment. “There were lovely things in there,” a woman commented in the queue for the train. I’m sure there were, but I couldn’t have stood it. I did, however, put up with the heat to see the floral marquee – who could resist those flamboyant displays awash in chrysanthemums, sweet peas, bougainvilleas, fuchsias and pelargoniums.

I’m a terrible eavesdropper and so I report with relish the comments I hear at shows and nurseries. For starters, here’s one Hampton Court attendee as she passed one of the “conceptual gardens” (a pile of sand with some plants coming out of it):

“I’m sure it’s supposed to mean something.”

More Hampton Court in part 2.

I Get Around – London

May 25, 2010

The Chelsea Flower Show started today – Monday. It isn’t open to the public, it’s the day the Queen and other notables attend – and part of the build-up on the Daily

Chelsea, 2005

Telegraph’s Web site was “How to get to the Chelsea Flower Show.” That is, of course, if you already have tickets, because it’s sold out. Limiting the number of tickets reduces the crowd; yikes, I can’t imagine more people there than already go.

Anyone who has traveled around London knows there are all sorts of ways to go – bus, tax, the tube. So, to get to the Royal Hospital, take the District or Circle line and get off at Sloane Square. It’s only a 10 minutes walk – you’ll be there before you know it.

Find the lines and stops on the iconic tube map, and when you’re in London, don’t forget the accompanying tourist paraphernalia including “Mind the Gap” t-shirts and refrigerator magnets.

As convenient as it is to get to Chelsea on the tube, at the end of the day, I’d much rather walk out the Bullring Gate and take a cab back to the hotel. It’s exhausting looking at all those gardens, especially after a Pimm’s or two.

This summer we’ll take to the water for the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, on

Hampton Court, 2007

the Thames River Boat from Westminster – the entire three-hour trip, instead of getting on at Richmond. We saw the boats arriving last time we went to Hampton Court, and thought it would be a great way to see an entirely different view of London. After the show (and a Pimm’s or two), we’ll get on the train that takes us back to Waterloo. The train station is a 10-minute walk from Hampton Court; not everything is a 10-minute walk in London, but these really are easy journeys.

Nature’s color combos

April 13, 2010

We can fuss about what flower to plant next to which, but seeing a field of wildflowers makes you realized that really anything goes. On a recent press trip to bluebonnet country (Washington County, Texas), the bluebonnets were shy to bloom at first after a cold winter and chilly start to spring, but by the last week of March, roadsides and fields were getting their customary impressive swathes of color. The little annual lupine (Lupinus texensis) – really bluer than any photo can show – shares field- roadside space with several other wildflowers, including orange Indian paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa) and several DYC (damn yellow composites, or sometimes DYF, damned yellow flowers – a bit of convenient botany student nomenclature). Walking along the river at Washington-on-the-Brazos – what had been the main street of town – after a short lecture on the Republic of Texas, I spotted a few spiderwort (Tradescantia occidentalis), Phlox drummondii, and a blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium). And this all before our lunch at R Place, located literally at a bend in the road, where we had brisket plus lots of sides. But food will have to wait for a well-deserved post of its own. Meanwhile, don’t be afraid to combine blue, orange, yellow, purple and pink for a truly natural garden.

And take a look at “Landscaping With Native Plants of Texas” (George Oxford Miller, 2006, Voyageur Press). When I ducked into the gift shop to look up a plant ID, I was reminded that I had a copy of George’s book at home – and I told him so, because he was on the tour, too. Well done, George!

Go see bluebonnets for yourself.

The potted garden

March 2, 2010

holly & ivy, Whichford

This summer, I must stop in at Whichford Pottery for a visit and to admire more of their fabulous work in terra cotta. I have several Whichford pots – Country Garden Antiques in Wapato carries them, and they usually have a booth at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show (where were they this year?). Whichford pots are sturdy, do not succumb to frost or feeze damage, and come in wonderfully traditional shapes (long toms, auricula pots) and many sizes. They are worth every penny.

Smith College had a wonderful exhibition on the pot. Much of the information is still online. Guy Wolff, an American potter – I have some of his pots, too – was part of the exhibition.

The baggallini brigade

February 16, 2010

I didn’t know that baggallini bags were such a cult item. While signing books at the University Bookstore author’s table at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show, someone noticed my baggallini Around Town Bagg (color: espresso/tomato) and pointed to her own baggallini. We’re our own underground group.

I promised that this bag would be for travel, but I can’t stop using it for everyday, because it’s so darn handy. The pockets! One for business cards, one for sunglasses (safely stowed through most of the Seattle winter), one for thin stuff, one for big stuff, another one for big stuff, a little one inside that one. Whew. And a wide strap that doesn’t kill my shoulders. Coming up, the travel test as I head to Philadelphia to speak at the flower show, Chicago to check out their show, then later in March to Texas to check out the bluebonnets. This summer, Ireland, England. Fall, Italy. This is what comes of not going anywhere in the awful year 2009, I’m ready to burst at the seams. But my baggallini will be intact.

Gardeners Commiserate

January 27, 2010

There’s nothing like disaster in the garden to bring gardeners together, and this summer on our Ireland garden tour, we’ll find out just how much we have in

Crinodendron hookerianum (Chinese lantern tree)

common. Here in the maritime Pacific Northwest, we’ve had only one bout of freezing cold this season – a week in December that turned the ground crusty and made the leaves on all the rhododendrons droop. But it was enough to make us think of last year, when the cold, ice and snow lasted far too long.

Last year, gardeners reported loads of damage: Phormium looked wretched and many gardeners swore they would never plant another hebe. This year, the damage was minimal, mostly taking out plants such as Pelargonium, which usually die as annuals anyway, unless you take extra precautions.

In Ireland and England this winter, they’ve had what we had last year. Will the Chinese lantern be in bloom when we’re there? Jane Powers reports on the damage in her garden in the Irish Times.

Garden Book Picks

December 29, 2009

The Daily Telegraph’s list of garden books is out – intended as suggestions for Christmas gifts, but it’s a good list of what caught the eye of British garden writers. Most notably from our end of things, is Great Gardens of America by Tim Richardson , photos by Andrea Jones (Frances Lincoln, 2009). This distinguished list includes quite a few I haven’t visited, although I can see them fitting into a garden tour in the not-too-distant future. Others, I’ve visited and led tours through, such as our hometown favorite, Windcliff, as well as Middleton Place in Charleston. Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown, Filoli in Woodside,


California, Monticello – this book may have been intended for the British audience, but it’s great find for gardeners in the U.S., too. A memory of what you’ve seen or a wish list of where to go, either way it should be on your table within easy reach when you need to dream.