Sunday 21 July 2019

Diarmuid Gavin: Global gardens

Booking a holiday this January? Why not visit one of these striking, inspirational plots

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild
Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild
Kyoto, Japan the Ryoan-ji Temple zen rock garden in the spring.
La Majorelle
Tresco Abbey Gardens

Diarmuid Gavin

With the festivities of Christmas behind us and more cold and dark months ahead, it's small wonder that at this time of year, many of us book holidays. Irish people love to travel, and low-cost airlines with a wide range of destinations have made getting away from home easier than ever.

Gardeners are exhilarated by the prospect of travel because we have an innate amazement in seeing what flourishes in the plant kingdom elsewhere. It may be simply an abundance of bougainvillea with its lush cerise colour in Tenerife, or some giant redwoods from Yosemite National Park. Or hearts leap at the sight of South African proteas growing in the bush - normally viewed in a heated greenhouse at the Glasnevin Botanical Gardens. What grows in other places often fascinates.

The garden world is ruled by climate and other factors including wealth, religious influence, expressions of power and style of the day. These factors have led to the creation or evolution of masterpieces. So, as gardeners, whenever we travel there's always a new experience to enjoy.

Gardens also adorn our history, they bring it to life because they are a living example of the ways things once may have been in the days of Ancient Rome or Egypt. The Three Wise Men brought gold, but also frankincense and myrrh. Where would you go to find such floral wonders? Planning your garden trips can be a real adventure.

Below are some of my favourites, from home and away.

1. Powerscourt Estate Enniskerry, Co Wicklow


The 47 acres of gardens and natural attractions were, some years back, voted amongst the best in the world by National Geographic magazine. Boasting an Italianate-style gardens, which borrows as its final focal point the nearby Sugarloaf mountain, it has terraces, lawns, magnificent staircases and Ireland's highest waterfall. This home-grown gem, just 35 minutes from Dublin, has something to offer everyone - including a great shopping and cafe experience courtesy of Avoca.

2. Tresco Abbey Garden the Scilly Isles, England

Tresco Abbey Gardens

In Ireland, gardeners benefit hugely from our temperate climate - the lack of extremes of hot or cold, wet or dry - along with being washed by a warming gulf stream. So, we can grow a fair amount of tender species, but not as many as people on the Isles of Scilly can. The Isles are made up of an archipelago off the Cornish coast, in southwest England. Covered in heathland, fringed by sandy beaches on Tresco, the Abbey Garden is home to an abundance of subtropical plants such as palm trees, proteas, echiums, strelitzias...the exotic list goes on!

3. Ryoanji temple Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto, Japan the Ryoan-ji Temple zen rock garden in the spring.

If you're planning a long-haul trip and Japan is on your itinerary, you will be spoilt for choice garden-wise. One of my very favourites is a plot which has enchanted visitors for over 500 years. They tell me that the rock and gravel courtyard garden at the Ryoanji temple in Kyoto was the birthplace of the Zen philosophy. It's a mystery how the simple arrangements of forms - sparse planting of garlands of moss surrounding the stone 'islands' - can captivate. On the couple of occasions I've visited, I found it to be blissful, serene, intriguing, captivating and very oddly beautiful.

4 Villa Ephrussi Cap Ferrat, France

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild

One of the most gloriously opulent sites on the Côte d'Azur is the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, created in the first decade of the last century at St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat between Nice and Monaco. Baroness Beatrice de Rothschild, a young heiress, was inspired by a voyage taken some years previously on a magnificent ocean liner. So she conceived her landscape in the shape of a ship, built on a narrow spit of land, surrounded on three sides by the sea. Surrounding the villa, she created nine remarkable gardens including a rose garden, a Spanish garden, a Florentine garden and an exotic Japanese garden. But the pièce de résistance must be the dancing fountains which erupt several times each hour and dance to popular classical music which is played throughout the landscape.

5. La Majorelle, Marrakech, Morocco

La Majorelle

No amount of photographs can do justice to this horticultural wonder. Developed by a French painter in the suburbs of Marrakesh, he adorned not only his house, but also other features such as the garden walls, in cobalt blue. Trees, flowering shrubs, cacti, succulents and water merge to create a unique picture, the likes of which I have never seen before and may not enjoy again. A must on a trip to north Africa.

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