My husband and I recently visited Ireland, a trip that has always been a dream of mine. Ireland claims to be the land of saints and scholars and there are certainly enough churches to support the saint part. We toured an ancient monastic community and some castles, but the gardens and floral displays are what always attract my eye.
Ireland is known as the emerald isle because the countryside is lush and green. There is an Irish song called 'The Forty Shades of Green' and I certainly cannot dispute that. The climate is so mild that tropical plants, such as palm trees are widely grown. These trees looked to me like large branched Dracaenas (the small spikes we use in containers are Dracaenas). Frost is a rare occurrence and only occasional snow falls in the mountains.
We visited Garnish Island (off the SW coast on Bantry Bay), which has been transformed into a botanic garden. Because of the warm ocean currents, it is almost subtropical in climate. Sadly, it rained while we were there, but we were still able to view the beautiful Italian and walled gardens. The flowers seemed to glow in the gloom and the tropical ferns and the strange moss on the trees were unique. As soon as we got back on the ferry, the sun came out!
Ireland receives an average of 80 inches of rain a year, although they are way over the average for this year resulting in flooding. The soil is acid and rocky. In medieval times, the isle was heavily forested with oak, birch, pine and beech. Many oaks were cut down to build ships and buildings and to clear the land for crops. Often oak was burned to make charcoal which makes a very hot long-lasting fire that is used to burn limestone to make whitewash and fertilizer. The forest cover is now only 5-6% and reforesting was begun with non-native spruce and fir. Recently native oak, ash, birch and yew are the replacement trees. Because of the climate, trees grow 47% faster in Ireland than in continental Europe.
Rhododendrons are an introduced plant that is being torn out and burned because they have become such a nuisance. The flowers are beautiful, but they grow up to 30 feet tall and shade out the natural growth such as oak seedlings and even moss.
Although the mountains are low (the highest is only 3000 plus feet) compared to the Rocky Mountains they are every bit as rocky. Rock is used everywhere as a building material. Most of the land is pasture and is divided by rock walls or wide hedgerows. The hills are covered with green (of course) grass, purple heather and gorse, a spiny shrub with fragrant yellow flowers.
The saying goes that the way to tell if it is winter or summer in Ireland is to take the temperature of the rain. Even so, Ireland does experience a seasonal color change and some of the trees were turning while we were there. Ferns that are growing everywhere were half green and half a rich bronze color. As we traveled through the mountains, I saw many trees and shrubs loaded with red berries. The trees were Rowan (European Mountain Ash) and the shrubs were holly and cotoneaster. White sheep dotted the hillsides and were even out on the edge of the road watching the cars go by. Numerous waterfalls cascaded through the mountain area.
Dublin is a very cosmopolitan city. It is home to Trinity College, Dublin Castle and many centuries' old bridges, churches, and other buildings. One has to be alert so as not to be run down by a speedy pedestrian or a careening bus. Flowers are everywhere, with huge hanging baskets decorating the busy streets. Window or wall boxes enhance many buildings, especially the plethora of pubs.
Fuchsia, which we often grow in hanging baskets, is a shrub that grows to 8-12 feet tall and the Irish call it 'The Tears of Christ.' Hydrangeas, white, pink, blue and a deep red, are abundant and are often grown as hedges. Front yard gardens are common and are usually enclosed with a stone fence or a hedge. Of course, not all people are gardeners so some of the yards were black topped for parking space. I found it interesting that a few years ago all the houses were either whitewashed or of grey stone. Presently, most are painted a rainbow of pastel colors or in some towns bright jewel tones. Often walls of taller stucco buildings are covered in ivy, now turned brilliant red and gold.
Although I did not kiss the Blarney Stone, I did climb to the top of the castle where I got a great view of the countryside and the arboretum below. My only comment is one of the favorite Irishman's words, 'lovely!'
Breitling is a longtime West Fargo resident and avid gardener always in
search of new ideas.