Sunday, April 27, 2014

Canada Blooms 2014 Garden Build for Tourism Ireland: Canada Blooms 2014!

Canada Blooms 2014 Garden Build for Tourism Ireland: Canada Blooms 2014!: After returning from Ireland, we started pre-building "The Wild Atlantic Way", with inspiration and new ideas from our trip.  Our ...

Canada Blooms 2014 Garden Build for Tourism Ireland: Canada Blooms 2014!

Canada Blooms 2014 Garden Build for Tourism Ireland: Canada Blooms 2014!: After returning from Ireland, we started pre-building "The Wild Atlantic Way", with inspiration and new ideas from our trip.  Our ...

Canada Blooms 2014!

After returning from Ireland, we started pre-building "The Wild Atlantic Way", with inspiration and new ideas from our trip.  Our staff did a great job, working diligently and patiently, keeping quality top of mind at all times.  Moving day arrived, and as you can see, close to 20 tons of stone and material were delivered to the show floor, and off we went.  We tested the stone archway, with Reid from VRS Stone Masonry checking the structural integrity of his work.  All was well to say the least!
5 days later, all done with great results.  We won the prestigious W.E. Bridgeman award for Best Overall Use of Hardscape Elements, so congratulations to Sean Anderson for his inspiring design, and to all our staff for their hard work and dedication, and of course to Tourism Ireland as great partners in working together to showcase "The Wild Atlantic Way", at Canada Blooms 2014.  Please visit our webstite at for a full photo gallery of our garden.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Wild Atlantic Way, Day Four

Today we were met by Patrick Temple at our hotel who escorted us to his family estate where his mother Elizabeth has spent the past 25 years lovingly creating Salthill Gardens, a one acre walled garden within the grounds.

Upon arrival we were warmly greeted by Elizabeth and here husband Lynne, and were treated to the most wonderful coffee (Elizabeth swears it is the well water) and cakes in the refurbished old piggery, now a cozy studio/lounge area.  Having gotten acquainted we set off to tour the garden and grounds which overlook Donegal Bay, an idyllic borrowed landscape for Salthill.  Given the proximity to the ocean there have been challenges and benefits to the creation of the gardens, as Elizabeth explained, one must be careful of the salt tolerance of the plants as well as the soil requirements, as the ground is heavy clay and quite alkaline so many of the plants in the garden are a result of trial and error.  However, Elizabeth has passion and perseverance in spades, as evidenced by the fabulous garden and its structures, truly a pleasure to spend a morning in, only amplified by the warmth and hospitality of our hosts!!!

On a side note, Patrick runs the family business Magees in Donegal Town, and they are the premier makers of Donegal Tweed in the area, still produced by hand and supply the likes of Burberry and Ralph Lauren.   Fantastic!

From Donegal we departed for Dunveagh National park to meet up with the second head gardener Mark McFadden and Failte Ireland representative Maire Aine Gardiner at 12 pm at Dunveagh Castle. Our GPS however, decided to deposit us dead centre of the park in a valley of grasses and heather, surrounded by imposing barren mountains on either side, with not a building, car, or tree in sight. Clearly we had made a wrong turn, but a local sheep farmer came to our aid and pointed us in the right direction.

Fortunately, our hosts were patiently awaiting us, an hour after our scheduled arrival!  And on a Sunday no less. Luckily for us, as they gave us the most wonderful private tour of the extensive gardens and the castle itself.
Given the barren landscape that surrounds the castle and grounds, it is truly astonishing to see the lush collection of plant material contained within.  There are plants from around the world, and Mark possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of all the trees, shrubs, and perennials, putting us to shame!  For us however, the most astounding plants in the gardens were the rhododendrons, hundreds of them, some so tall we mistook them for magnolia trees! Coming from Toronto, this is seriously depressing, but our spirits were lifted by the beautiful symmetry of the Italian garden, the serenity of the Japanese garden, and the simplicity of the Tuscan garden.

We were then happy to enter the castle for our tour to escape the cold rain and warm up. And this castle is one of the coziest we have ever been in!  Rich linen wallpaper (ORIGINAL), hand woven carpets, and a diverse and impressive collection of antiques gathered by the former inhabitants of the residence. Of note however, was the deer motifs that embellished everything from the fine china, silverware, and other antiquities within.

We then left for Letterkenny, our final destination for the day, where we ended our day with a brilliant curry dinner at Chili Shakers.  Have the duck vindaloo, trust us, it was amazing, incredible heat with complex flavours, an absolute must try.

And what night would be complete without a few pints and some Irish fiddling?

Monday, January 13, 2014

Wild Atlantic Way Day Three

Well rested, we started our day with another full Irish breakfast with kippers, bacon rashers, black and white puddings, smoked salmon and eggs. Fantastic.

After a quick stop to pick up a defibrillator, we set off to continue our journey towards Donegal.

 Having met up with Brian, we set off for our first stop of the day to visit with Susan Kellett at her grand ancestral home of Enisco House in the Sligo County.  We enjoyed a lovely private tour of the grounds and the residence, and she regaled us with stories of the family and some of the changes that have happened to the estate over the years.  The grounds and parts of the house are open to the public during the warmer months, and there is a visitors center where one can research genealogical data, and ancestry, a valuable resource for the local population.

Then we were off to Ceide Fields to visit one of the most interesting archealogical sites in Ireland. 
The coastal scenery in this area rivaled that of the cliffs of Moher, with promontories jutting out into the raging ocean, striated cliffs catching the sunlight, and mist rising over the adjacent fields. Breathtaking!

We were greeted at the Ceide Fields visitor center by Greta the head archeologist at the site.  Her enthusiasm and knowledge were inspiring and we learned so much about the earliest settlers 5000 years ago.  Yes  I said 5000 years ago! It was  also fascinating to hear about the process of the digs in the ancient peat bogs and how deductions about civilations past are made based on carbon dating, archeological finds and locations.

Heads swimming, Brian escorted us to the most amazing luncheon spot in Ballintra, an old converted ice house on the river, converted into a spa/hotel/bistro.  The river is one of the most famous for salmon fishing in the UK (hence the icehouse).  Lunch was fantastic, the fish and chips were AWESOME!!! That defib came in handy!!!

Parting ways with Brian we headed on up to Donegal, but alas we could not make our final scheduled tour of Donegal Castle as the we were slowed down by icy driving conditions, but better safe than sorry.  The scenery as we approached Donegal was impressive as well, and it was interesting to see the area from which Yeats wrote and his burial site.  

It was a long day of driving so we turned in early after a quick bite at our hotel, anticipating the adventures of the coming day…

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Wild Atlantic Way, Day Two

Having worked up an appetite after climbing the cliffs of Moher, we headed to the Doolin Hotel and had a fantastic dinner of locally sourced fare, expertly prepared by the hotel chef. Just what the doctor ordered!  The next day, fully rested we enjoyed a full Irish Breakfast with freshly  baked scones and muffins made in house by the excellent pastry chef, just the thing to set us on our way.

As we  drove up the coast the glacial landscape was a sight to behold, large boulders dotted the fissured limestone on the coastal side while pastoral fields led the way inland.  Rare arctic species of flora occupied some of the fissures creating the illusion of a collection of hundreds of miniature bonsai gardens.

The ghosts of generations past also accompanied us on our journey with ancient crumbling cathedrals, walls and dwellings dotting the landscape.

Further up the road, the landscape changed again with low lying mountains flanking lush valleys with running streams and meadows, but there were a few roadblocks on the way…

Driving  a little further, and suddenly the fa├žade of the impressive Kylemore Abbey came into view, almost perfectly reflected in the lake.  As our guide Susan said, you would have had to have been a bit mad and a lot rich to undertake a project of this scale in this isolated area!

Although the 3 acre walled garden was not at its peak in terms of its floral majesty, the layout was impressive indeed and the stories of the gentry and the staff added to the interest of the the place, and in fact the undergardeners Bothy will serve as an inspiration for our booth at Canada Blooms 2014!

The Abbey itself was grand, the architectural details impressive, although we are quite cross with the Duchess of Manchester for having removed the Neo-Gothic details at the turn of the century. But we should all be thankful for the nuns tireless efforts to preserve this rare architectural gem.