Get out and visit some gardens

THE rustic poet Patrick Kavanagh put it lyrically when he wrote that “ordinary things wear lovely wings”.

One of the more positive effects of the recession is that people are tending, once again, to embrace simplicity.

They’re returning to the enjoyment of basic, natural things that usually don’t cost them any money. These marvels are all around us, if we only care too look.

And what better season than the present to think about bloom and, at last, forget about the so-called boom. We are now coming to what many people regard as the best time of the year to visit the many gardens and parks with which this country is so abundantly blessed.

Importantly nowadays, it doesn’t cost a cent to visit most of them and all our national parks are free of charge. Every county has feasts for the eye — many on a grand, aristocratic scale, others more humble, but all beautiful nonetheless. With new life springing forth all over the place, late April and May are ideal months for indulging the senses of sight, sound and smell.

A total of 15 gardens, 12 of which are privately owned, throughout Co Waterford, are taking part in the first ever Waterford Garden Festival, from May 1-13, during which the owners of some of Waterford’s finest historic houses are to throw open their magnificent gardens to the public.

Enthusiasts will have the opportunity to visit some of the finest gardens in the country, including a number of older gardens which have been lovingly restored through the years. Some of the great houses participating include Lismore Castle, Cappoquin House and Garden and Dromana House and Gardens and many more treasures dotted around the county.

Being an aficionado of west Cork, I’ve enjoyed many of its wonderful outdoor attractions over the years, but must admit I visited Bantry House and Gardens for the first time only last summer, having passed by many times. And a very worthwhile experience it was.

It was a sunny day, with glorious views of Bantry Bay to be savoured. The gardens had quite a lot of visitors and first impression was how the house and gardens looked as if they came about together, with one being an integral part of the other.

By all accounts, the second Earl of Bantry, Richard White, and his wife, Mary, got plenty of inspiration for garden design during their visits to the continent in the 19th century and European influences are apparent. The gardens have seven terraces, with the house sitting more or less in the middle. A notable feature is the famous Hundred Steps, a staircase built of local stone, amidst a profusion of rhododendrons and azaleas. Restoration work, begun in the late 1990s, is continuing in the gardens.

The temperate climate of the south-west makes it a perfect region for growing all sorts of plants, including sub-tropical varieties, and you could find some garden, or park, to visit every day of the year.

A few miles further on from Bantry is Garinish Island to which you can take a boat from Glengarriff. On the way out, you might see seals along the rocky shoreline. Once you step onto the island you’ll get an immediate sense of being in another world, for this is a worldly Garden of Eden, laid out 100 years ago.

Exotic plants from around the world flourish in Garinish which also boasts a colonnaded Italian garden, a clock tower and a Grecian temple. You get a sense of mild isolation from being on an island and this place is truly a haven of peace and calm. Further along the coast are Parknasilla and Sneem, always a joy to visit.

Some of our notable gardens were founded with lofty, even spiritual, intentions. Take the Irish National Stud’s Japanese Gardens, in Co Kildare, where the lay-out is meant to offer comfort and symbolise the life of man.

The Muckross Gardens in Killarney, which were written about as far back as 1760, also have a sense of grandeur and are visited by a million people every year.

But, there are hundreds of less grandiose havens all around the country. For instance, people in the village of Killeentierna, in the heart of rural Kerry, have created an oasis of tranquillity around a duck pond — a model for every other village and small town.

Back to the Waterford Garden Festival. On Tuesday, May 1, there will be a botanical illustration workshop at Lismore Castle, while Dungarvan Town Hall Theatre will be the venue for a talk on plantsman’s pleasures by writer and broadcaster Roy Lancaster.

On May 5, Susie Wingfield will give a demonstration on beekeeping for beginners at Salterbridge Gardens. Another highlight occurs on May 7, when Dick Warner (also of this page) will talk on trees and their place in the garden, at Salterbridge Gardens.

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