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Ireland Garden Tour 2002
by Des Kennedy

Des Kennedy is a celebrated public speaker, having performed at numerous conferences, schools, festivals, botanical gardens, art galleries, garden shows and wilderness gatherings in Canada and the U.S. His humour, irreverence and passion for gardening and the natural world have made him a 'must see' speaker in demand across the country.

January 6, 2002

I am of Ireland,
And of the holy land
Of Ireland.
Good sir, pray I thee,
For of saint charite
Come and dance with me
In Ireland.

Thus sang an anonymous 14th century Irish Dancer in whose spirit an intrepid group of gardeners will gather in Dublin this August for a week-long tour of Irish gardens. As many tour-goers can attest, experiencing fine gardens along with a group of congenial fellow-gardeners is not only tolerable but downright desirable. For one thing, gardeners are, with only rare exceptions, the most pleasant of persons. Within a tour context, a lovely pooling of horticultural insight occurs. Ones appreciation of particular plants, their colors, forms, textures and combinations is greatly enhanced from being shared through the prism of multiple perspectives.
For optimal enjoyment a garden touring group must be neither so large as to be alienating nor so small as to offer opportunity for unsolicited intimacy. Our Irish ramble aims to accommodate about 25 participants thereby enabling an easy conviviality that neither stifles nor neglects.
Charged with enlivening the group experience without becoming tedious, the tour host (myself in this case) occupies an exalted, if somewhat precarious, position. Ideally the host ought to be impressively credentialed, knowledgeable in all facets of horticulture, invariably discreet and at least occasionally charming. Failing this – particularly in the case of Irish gardens – the host may rely upon an innate wildness of temperament seasoned with a great deal of good-natured bluster, and this is precisely the strategy I propose to adopt as host of our August ramble.
buswellshoteldublinphoto1.jpg (28248 bytes)We shall gather, as I say, in old Dublin town at Buswell’s Hotel on Molesworth Street on the afternoon of Sunday, August 4th under a brilliantly blue sky flecked with dreamy white clouds. A warm breeze will be wafting from the west. We’ll be immediately charmed by Buswell’s, a converted 18th century Georgian town house. Any lingering travel weariness will marvelously evaporate in the excitement of realizing that we are surrounded by the intricate architecture of history.
Mere steps away is venerable Trinity College, Ireland’s premier university, founded by Elizabeth 1 in 1592, watched over by sentinel statues of the poet Oliver Goldsmith and the great orator Edmund Burke, and in whose library reside numerous ancient texts including the Book of Kells, one of the oldest and most beautiful books on Earth, its illuminated manuscript dating back to 800 AD.
Close by, there’s the National Library whose reading room was featured in James Joyce’s Ulysses. Or we might wander into the gardens of St. Stephen’s Green and nearby Newman House where the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins taught. Just around the corner from Buswell’s stands Bram Stoker’s house and the Irish parliament buildings and old St. Ann’s church. Close at hand are pubs where Joyce and Brendan Behan drank and three marvelous old bookstores near where the ghosts of Shaw and Yeats wander the narrow lanes and alleys of Temple Bar.
Yes, even the most avid of gardeners might find themselves wandering off through the Georgian glory of this literary and ecclesiastical city and away down tiny ancient streets that date back to Viking times. But fortunately our group will be called to order in the hotel reception before dinner where we’ll meet our local guide and establish our modus vivendi together.
2000dillon6.jpg (66233 bytes)But make no mistake: this is not a tour that’s about to tiptoe timidly into its subject – far from it, because next morning, after a hearty Irish breakfast, we’re whisked away by motor coach to the renowned Dillon garden, creation of plant collector, author and lecturer Helen Dillon. Now a national institution in Irish horticulture who has been honoured by the Royal Horticultural Society, Ms. Dillon has gardened for 28 years in this walled city garden of just under an acre where she masterfully blends exotic and common plants. One writer characterizes the garden as “. . . a study in elegance which testifies to the harmony of art and science with nature. On any day, in all weathers, there are at least seven gardens to view here, with hundreds of variations in the course of a year.” Another scribe adds: “. . . the Dillon garden, which in fact never sleeps, should intimidate. Instead it beguiles, because an artfully deliberate attention to texture, shape and colour softens its potential austerity.”
2000usher3.jpg (61810 bytes)And that’s just the beginning of a week-long ramble that will carry us into Ireland’s most distinguished private gardens in the greater Dublin area. We’ll experience the old-world charm of Primrose Hill in the village of Lucan, the Robinsonian splendor of Mount Usher Gardens in County Wicklow, the romantic exuberance of Graigueconna House, hilly Kestrel Lodge, the old-fashioned romance of Rathmichael Lodge, the splendid natural landscapes of Knockcree and more. But we won’t be rushed, nor dashing frantically from spot to spot in which all becomes a blur. We’ll see these gardens well and savor them appropriately. Each evening we’ll swing back to Dublin for dinner and a soft bed at Buswell’s – there’ll be no daily packing and dragging around of suitcases on this tour. I seriously doubt we’ll see a drop of Irish rain, though the same may not be said for drops of Guiness.
Then - alas how quickly time has sped! - by Saturday morning, we will be packing our bags and checking out of Buswell’s, our tour complete, our spirits high and our memories of beautiful places and agreeable companions safely tucked away to savor many times again. And so, as the poet put it long ago, "Come and dance with me in Ireland."

Tour August 4-10th, 2002
For further information about this tour, visit the website at:
or call Donna Dawson toll free at:
1 888 476-8721

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