Garden Lifestyle

Springtime in the Emerald Isle

Just returned from a trip to Ireland, where the countryside is lush and green from the spring rains--no wonder its moniker is the Emerald Isle.

Irish country road, County Cork, en route to Ballymaloe Cookery School and Gardens; the yellow stripe is a field of rapeseed grown for oil. Click on other pix to enlarge and read captions.
Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger

Just returned from a trip to Ireland, with me mum and sisters, where the countryside is lush and green from the spring rains–no wonder its moniker is the Emerald Isle. More than one Irishman laughingly said, “Just wait a minute and you’ll experience another kind of weather”. And that we did–it rained about half of the time we were there and it was alternately sunny, cloudy and blustery the rest of the time. One chatty bloke from up on the north coast told us that it rained 320 of the 365 days a year.

With all of the precipitation, the whole country is green. Driving from one end of the island to the other, I often felt like I was in an Alice-in-Wonderland-type movie… and it wasn’t just from driving on the wrongside of the road. The constant ongoing, yet ever-changing vistas were almost dizzying–a veritable patchwork quilt in every hue of verdant green imaginable bordered by stone walls, hedgerows of wild herbs, heaths and heathers and schoolbus-yellow gorse, dotted with white sheep and black-and-white speckled cows. And then along the coasts were towering rocks sculpted from volcanos, sandy strands, crashing waves and breathtaking views.

These Irish folks grow vegetables, especially root vegetables, along with crops of grain for livestock and beer (national beverage), yellow fields of rapeseed for oil, and nut and fruit trees and berry bushes. There are sheep and cows in abundance, some grazing steep hillsides. Many of the farmers grow organically and there are lots of windmills and solar collectors. We followed numerous tractors and other farm machinery down winding country lanes and even main thouroughfares and saw more than a few pulled up outside of a pub.

There are many wonderful gardens to see. One of my favorite places we visited this trip was the Ballymaloe (rhymes with Mr. Magoo) Cooking School and organic farm. ( We spent a day there since there are many gardens to walk through, an acre of glasshouses, the school, a cafe, a cooking shop and a gardening shop, and a lovely old, Wisteria-covered home, which is a hotel and first-class restaurant. The latter uses fresh seasonal produce from their gardens, and sources locally made cheeses, meats and seafood. Usually the restaurant only cooks for staying guests, however we were fortunate that there were a few places for lunch and had a most delicious repast.

I had a memorable, white vegetable soup (I detected leeks, potatoes, parsnips and cauliflower) drizzled with a wild garlic and creme fraiche garnish, followed by an organic baby green salad with local ewe’s cheese and a superb mustard vinagrette; me mum and Sally had free-range roast chicken with fresh herb stuffing, roast butternut squash and red currant sauce; and sister Doneth had escalope of local John Dory (a whitefish) with cauliflower puree and leeks. All were accompanied by brown bread and butter, mashies, and roasted parsnips (oh how I love those Irish parsnips!) and carrots. The baby rhubarb tarts were a sublime dessert.

Thankfully, we ate first and walked about the gardens for the next few hours. Below are only a few photos which I took there!

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