The Blooming Desert

In the country where the Sahara Desert is found it’s unsurprising that gardens are special features. Cities are dotted with them. Mosques are surrounded by them. Giant palm trees, exotic flowering plants and water features star in Morocco’s many gardens.

In Rabat on New Year’s Day a physician I’d just met took me on a long walk around Rabat, a walk that included the Kasbah of the Udayas where we found one lone white rose in full bloom.

In Rabat a large park named Jardin Nouzhat Hassan, sited on the edge of the medina, quickly became my favorite place.

On my first day in Marrakech I stumbled upon Jardin Majorelle, created by French painter Jacques Majorelle and nurtured by him for 40 years. Rescued by the fashion designer, Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé, the garden today is filled with massive bamboo plants, many-year-old cactus plants, and inanimate objects brightly painted in bold blue and screaming yellow. It is one of the most popular tourist sites in Marrakech.  Comprised of several acres of mature plants, paths through the garden and the home of Saint Laurent and Bergé, the garden has also become the memorial to the designer. In addition to the garden there are small museums on the property and an upscale shop. Several small restaurants and café’s are adjacent.

The entrance to the garden is lined with enormous, old bamboo.

The narrow paths and the bright yellow pots were found througout the Jardin Majorelle

Here you see the Marrakech home of Saint Laurent and Berge.

Several other large gardens are found in Marrakech including the Agdal Garden covering of one and a half square miles and featuring a large square man-made pond and a botanical garden. Adjacent to it the Koutoubia Garden ,filled with roses and orange trees, surrounds the most visited mosque and minaret in Marrakech. Inside the medina a beautiful place named Le Jardin Secret [Secret Garden] is popular with visitors. In January the days are short, the flowers are few, and my time was limited. I didn’t get to all these gardens so I’ve given you links to share some images with you.

The Koutoubia minaret, surrounded by orange trees.

This is my last post about Morocco. Problems with my computer caused me to be unable to blog as I traveled there.  Morocco is a very affordable place to visit. Prices of hotels and restaurants and taxi cabs (among other things) were extremely low. French is an official language and most people used it. Moroccans I encountered, mostly in hotels and restaurants, were very pleasant and helpful. Marrakech is rather thrilling: the thousands of zooming vehicles will raise your heart rate! I recommend the Hotel Racine where I stayed in Marrakech (very good value) and the Ibis Rabat Agdal hotel in Rabat (delicious food in the on-premises restaurant). There seemed to be lots of honey-mooning couples in Marrakesh.


Ten Reasons I Love Ireland: No. 4 – Gardens!

Gardens draw me to Ireland more than anything else. Irish gardens are old (usually) and lush (always) and green, highlighted by spectacular displays of flowers and blooming trees. Most of the best gardens are built around a lake or small river. Each garden is unique.

I’ve been to many gardens in Ireland.  There are five that are my favorites. I return to them as often as possible. At the top of this post is a spring view of the azaleas and rhododendrons in the John F. Kennedy Memorial Garden and Arboretum. The photo was taken in May when they are at their best. The arboretum is huge, comprised of hundreds of acres. The garden makes up just a small portion of the arboretum but the walking trail around the garden is three kilometers long. I love walking around that trail, finding many new things each time.

Altamont is a called a “woman’s garden” because a woman named Corona North nurtured it for much of the last century. Her large home, now unlived in, overlooks a formal garden filled with many species of narcissus (daffodils) in spring and roses in summer. The walk leads to a small lake surrounded by many trees and bushes including a California sequoia and very old beech trees.

Mount Congreve was the life’s work of Ambrose Congreve. He began gardening there, on his family’s large estate, when he was 11 years old. He continued until his death at the age of 104. Its 70 acres are criss-crossed with trails leading through woodlands where thousands of azeleas and rhododendrons and hydrangeas (called “hortensia” in Ireland and England) bloom.

Mount Usher Gardens are especially beautiful in spring when bluebells cover the ground and the garden is filled with blooming bushes and flowers. Many species of small trees have been planted in this garden and spring is the best time to see them when they’re covered in bright new leaves. Placed on both sides of a small river, the garden stretches over a large area laced with walking trails.

I found a new favorite to my list this year. When I was in Ireland in 2016 I discovered Colclough Gardens (pronounced Coke-lee) at Tintern Abbey. I visited it once or twice in the springtime when it’s filled with flowers, blooming apple trees and the beginnings of a large vegetable garden. This year I visited it six times over the course of the summer, usually allowing about two weeks between visits. It is enclosed within an old walled garden It’s quite small when compared to the other gardens I’ve mentioned here. Around the edges of the garden a perennial garden with many species of flowers flourishes. The middle of the garden contains all types of vegetables. Recently planted apple trees were heavy with fruit. This lush garden is organic.

Gardens pull me back to Ireland, time after time. I’m already anticipating next year’s visit.


Resources: In Ireland this year I found a detailed book entitled The Open Gardens of Ireland by Shirley Lanigan. A number of other books by this author are offered on American but this one isn’t there yet. It was published just this year. In Ireland you can probably find a copy at a good book store.

Tintern Abbey Chapter 3: Colclough Walled Garden

In the early 1800s the Colcoough family (pronounced Coke-Lee), residents of Tintern Abbey for centuries, created a large walled garden about a kilometer away from their home. Little remained but the brick walls and 30 giant Sitka spruce trees which had been growing for a couple of hundred years. In 2010 the Hook Tourism Council began recovering the garden. Today a magnificent garden delights visitors throughout the year.

Led by professional horticulturalist Alan Ryan, a team comprised of staff and volunteers has made this 200-year-old garden spectacular. Divided by a brick wall, the front half of the garden has deep perennial borders on three sides.

Recently historical surveys uncovered footprints of diamond-shaped flower beds in the center of the space which have been restored and filled with red, yellow and blue annuals.

In 2016 I discovered this garden during a visit to the abbey in May. Although the weather was cool, many plants were large and blooming.

Apple trees and other fruit trees grow on or near the walls all around the garden. They were in bloom in May.

When I returned to the garden in early June this year I was really surprised by how advanced the plants were so early in Ireland’s cool summer. I asked what type of fertilizer was used.  Mr. Ryan explained that the garden is entirely organic, that the soil is very rich as a result of being abandoned for so long, and that now all dead plant material is left in the garden as mulch. He also pointed out that the brick garden walls soak up the heat of the sun and raise the temperature in the garden by several degrees.

By mid-July the garden was in full bloom, bursting with color.

This spectacular acanthus plant was a new discovery for me.

The garden is divided by a brick wall. The back half is a kitchen garden, as it was in the 19th century. A tall man made of wicker stands guard at the entrance. An enormous variety of edibles is grown here, ranging from apples to artichokes.

Everything flourishes in this garden.  Irish weather, famous for being damp and cool, irrigates the garden naturally.  Everything, including herbs, grows well here.

I try to return every week or two, watching the changes in Colclough Garden. It’s been a delightful learning experience.








Ireland This Summer


I’m returning to Ireland for the summer if all goes as planned. I will be there for three months staying at Fruit Hill, the old farm with rental cottages that I enjoyed so much last year. It was so hot in New Bern last year that in August I wrote to Susan, the owner of Fruit Hill, asking to book the smallest cottage for three months in 2017. Ireland’s weather is much the same throughout the year: neither too hot nor too cold – often “just right.”

Springtime is Sheep Season in Ireland

Several people have asked me about trips to Ireland recently. More have said, “I’ve never been to Ireland but I’ve always wanted to go there.” This is a great year to go and spring is the perfect season. The euro has fallen against the dollar, down to about $1.06 this morning. Airfare is much lower to Europe for the coming summer. I plan to fly from Boston (I have family in New England) to Dublin on a new airline called WOW and my summer round trip fare is only $609! Wow!

Thousands of daffodils bloom in the JFK Gardens and Arboretum.

Both the beauty of the green isle and the friendliness of the Irish people call me back to Ireland. This will be the third time I’ve gone there for a months-long stay. There is an old-fashioned comfort that makes it very easy to just be there. The narrow roads in the countryside are surrounded by low green hills. The network of newer highways make it easy to visit distant parts of Ireland. Last year I drove from the southeast corner to visit our cousins at the top of Northern Ireland in just four or five hours – it’s a small island.

Wide beds of narcissus bloom in the beds in front of the old mansion house at Altamont Gardens, now owned by the Republic of Ireland.

The combination of history and good growing weather have endowed Ireland with many ancient gardens. For centuries the British made Ireland a colony. A few wealthy men controlled the island and built grand estates. They benefited from the exploration of the world in the 18th and 19th centuries financially and also by arranging to receive seeds and saplings from around the world for their formal gardens. Today you’ll find 160 foot tall California redwood trees and “monkey puzzle” trees from Chile as well as 50 foot wide rhododendrons from China. The cool, damp weather of the north Atlantic is perfect for nurturing many species of plants. Irish people plant daffodils in every available spot and from late January through late spring they bloom everywhere.

Huge, ancient rhododendrons blooming at Woodstock, an old estate garden in the village of Inistioge.

I am particularly fond of the John F. Kennedy Memorial Garden and Arboretum near New Ross. You can read the blog posts I wrote last year about it, about Fruit Hill, and about the Irish gardens I love here:

Fruit Hill            JFK Garden & Arboretum               Some Gardens in Ireland


Click “Ireland” in the contents cloud at the top right corner of this blog to find all my posts about Ireland.

Fruit Hill’s website

JFK Garden and Arboretum on Facebook

Discover Ireland’s History here

The photo at the top of this post was taken beside Ireland’s Tintern Abbey on a walk in the woods on a spring day. The path leads past an ancient Irish castle along a stream lined with millions of bluebells and wild garlic flowers.

Spectacular Gardens in Ireland


Daffodils are planted everywhere in Ireland. They begin to bloom in late January. The magnificent old gardens of Ireland spring to life in February and March and are filled with an abundance of life by April. The Irish climate – mild winters, mild summers, perfect moisture – is perfect for many northern hemisphere plants and trees. Some of Ireland’s great gardens are found on the remains of colonial-era estates and date from the 18th century. Wealthy land owners sometimes owned shares in the clipper ships that circled the world. Ship captains would return with seeds and saplings from such places as California, Chile and China which were planted in the estate gardens we can visit today.

Three times I’ve had the pleasure of being in Irish gardens in April. One of these trips was an Irish gardens tour that launched my travel business. Here are scenes of my favorite gardens. Links to the gardens’ websites follow the photographs.


This is a view of my favorite Irish garden. It’s called Mount Usher Gardens and it’s located about 25 miles south of Dublin. Mt. Usher is comprised of 22 acres that have been developed since its beginning in 1868. In spring English blue bells cover the earth and pear blossoms float overhead.


This beautiful Japanese Garden is located at the Irish National Stud Farm, a breeding facility for thoroughbred race horses. The garden was developed in 1905 as a symbol of friendship between Japan and Ireland. The theme is one lifetime, from birth to death, expressed in the rocks, tunnels, and plants of this small garden. It’s exquisite.


Powerscourt was Ireland’s largest colonial-era estate. The gardens are Italinate in style except for the corner that houses a Japanese garden. There’s a wonderful perennial border near the mansion that blooms all year. There’s more to Powerscourt than the house and gardens. It contains a superb (but difficult) golf course, a waterfall, and even a mountain! It’s located about 15 miles south of Dublin.


Fota House & Gardens is located in the south of Ireland, a few miles west of Cork. It’s a superb example of a colonial era garden now filled with enormous trees and flowering shrubs. There’s also a zoo in this park.


Mount Congreve was the property of Ambrose Congreve who began gardening at the age of 11 and who directed the development of these gardens until his death in 2011 at the age of 104. Known especially for its azalea and hydrangeas, the garden comprises more than 100 acres. Mount Congreve is about five miles from the city of Waterford.


Ilnacullin is an Italian garden on an island in the south of Ireland. It is also called Garnish, the name of the island where Ilnacullin is located. It’s 37 acres include the formal small pond shown here and an Italian tower. Reach the island by small ferry; information about the ferries is in the site linked to below.


Altamont, located in County Carlow in the center of southern Ireland, is largely the result of the work of one woman, Corona North. It is especially beautiful when many specimens of narcissus bloom in the perennial garden. There’s a lovely pond, a nature trail and a riverside walk within its 40+ acres.


Mount Usher

Japanese Gardens at the National Stud Farm

Powerscourt House and Gardens

Fota House and Gardens

Mount Congreve


Altamont Gardens

There are many books about the gardens of Ireland. One I especially like is entitled The Garden Lover’s Guide to Ireland. It was published in 2001 (in the U.S.) by Princeton Architectural Press. It’s part of a series of garden guides for countries in Europe and as well as four regional guides for the United States. The ISBN is 9781568982700.

Googling for information, pictures and videos to gardens all over Ireland is recommended.  I’ve barely begun to introduce readers to the many beautiful gardens to be found there.

For any of these gardens, a search of Google Images will return many beautiful scenes.