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Tips o’ the Irish gleaned from visit to Emerald Isle’s gardens

When we travel the world to see great gardens we learn to be flexible.

Our latest tour to Ireland was billed as the castles, gardens and pubs tour, but thanks to our local guide we added a performance of “River Dance” in Killarney and falconry lessons at an Ashford castle where launching a large falcon from one’s arm gives a whole new meaning to the term “flipping the bird.”

Here are a few take-home ideas from the most spectacular gardens in Ireland.

Choose a signature color for your garden. Many of the grand estate gardens used paint to add a repeating color on the wooden structures and hardscaping. Benches, artwork and doorways all matched with bright red, cool blue or turquoise green paint. The flower shades and foliage colors might change from month to month but a single, repetitive tint held the explosion of color together. Choose your own signature color and start painting — the front door is a great starting point.

Frame a great view with a wide path and side planting — or use your window frame. We were awed by the grand vistas at huge estates such as Powerscourt House but even without acres of landscape you can imitate the skill that the Victorians used in framing great views. Just a pathway of lawn or paving material can lead the eye toward a lovely tree, bench or garden art.

Another way to frame a view is to design from the inside looking out — let your favorite window be the frame for the garden view you will be looking at year-round.

Add some height with ivy covered arches, wooden columns or a classic “folly.” Greek temples or contrived castle ruins were used in large estate gardens and these destinations were called “a folly” by their creators as they fooled visitors into thinking the garden was much older than it was. In your own garden you can repurpose or recycle a broken pot laying on its side with a ground cover plant spilling forth from the opening or use a rusty bicycle or wine barrel as a planter to give your garden a sense of history.

In a small garden use structures and archway to add height. Not only do you get the instant gratification of a vertical element but a garden structure won’t outgrow it’s space.

Pot up your blooming plants and move them around the garden. Helen Dillon is an internationally known garden writer and we were surprised to find metal garbage cans filled with flowers and foliage plants framing her formal water feature. Dillon is a color expert in the garden, on display in the way her gray and silver containers blended with the gray paving stone around the dark pool of her water feature. She also grows plants in black plastic nursery pots so she can mingle them in her borders, adding color accents where needed. The black pots seem to blend and disappear into the soil.

Add extra color to your people photos — use garden blooms for a backdrop. You don’t have to be a gardener to add the wow factor to your family or vacation photos. Our group had great fun looking for flowers that matched up with what we were wearing. Posing in front of plants that coordinate with a scarf, shirt or jacket brightens the intensity of all the color tones and reminds us all that you don’t have to travel far to realize that the world is really a beautiful place.

Celebrate the autumn season by posing in front of a fall scene at a public park or garden. Wear something orange, gold or brown. You’ll want to print and frame the colorful result and bring it out for display every autumn.


Want to join us on our next garden adventure tour? We’ve booked a river cruise down the Danube that sails July 1 with stops in Vienna, Germany and Budapest, Hungary, and a custom tour of the gardens of the Sound of Music. Contact or 253-863-2245.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at

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