Monday, March 14, 2011

Devonshire Day 2011 - A Special Spring Preview of Lismore Castle Gardens

Enjoying cream tea in the Pugin Room Lismore Castle
Today was a beautiful crisp sunny Spring day - the birds were singing, there was a coating of hoar frost on the grass and cars and rooftops this morning before the early sun slanted across the shadows to thaw everything and burn a few shrubs with leaf-burn - but as it was Devonshire Day 2011 all we were interested in was the actual weather, as Ross O'Carroll-Kelly might say.

When I went to bed last  night - quite late as is my wont in the weekends - the cars were white with frost, as forecasted. This morning dawned bright crisp and sunny. Perfect for the event that's become enshrined in Lismore fundraising folklore as a day to be enjoyed by visitors from far and near.

Farmers' Market Lismore Castle Avenue
It's the second event after the Table Quiz in January that's become a fixture as a fundraiser for Immrama Festival of Travel Writing, and we have been involved since the outset 8 years ago. The event receives widespread publicity in the local and national press, and people from all over come to it, many who return year after year.

This year we were delighted to welcome our most recent distinguished guest - Ciara Conway TD - our newly elected Labour Party member for Waterford about whom I've blogged extensively in the run-up to and beyond the election.

Bernard gives his talk on Lismore history
Chris talking about the Castle and gardens
The day consists of a cream tea in the Pugin Room of Lismore Castle, which is a privilege in itself as the Pugin Room is never open to the public during the rest of the  year. It is only on Devonshire Day when people get to see and hear the history of the castle which is in private ownership of the Duke of Devonshire, who's had it on and off for centuries. A last bastion of colonialism, it has shrunk in size considerably since the days of Sir Walter Raleigh when it was a huge estate. The Land Acts returned a lot of the arable land to the people and the Castle retains about 10,000 acres of which 8,000 is forested woodland. The rest is a working farm with managers and staff. The castle runs itself by being an upmarket B&B with rates of (those of you who've read previous posts on Devonshire Day will be familiar with this) about €35,000 per week for a party of 12! So it's obviously only for the well-heeled.

The gardens looked lovely despite the harsh cold winter - compared to last year's Devonshire Day, which followed a really hard late winter, this year's winter was earlier and by January and February the weather was warmer and spring had sprung a few weeks ago. The daffodils were starting to flower and the magnolias were in bloom, although one pink magnolia had its blossoms burnt by the recent night frosts. There was evidence of a lot of plant damage from frost and frost burn.
Castle from Courtyar

 The yucca-like palms didn't survive the -15C temps of the past winter and a number had to be cut down, and a lovely Mimosa and Chilean Myrtle have also been damaged beyond resurrection. The Mimosa is normally ablaze with yellow blossom at this time, in-keeping with its International Women's Day symbolism - and this year the entire tree is deadwood. The Myrtle might survive but it seems unlikely, as only a few branches are in leaf.

The Castle from the Courtyard
It was lovely to walk around the garden with the groups of visitors and Chris Tull the extremely knowledgeable Head Gardener kept everyone entertained and informed in each of the five tours he conducted. People really enjoy having the guided tour as it's the only time it happens. The gardens are open from March - October but not with guided tours. The Lismore Castle Arts gallery is also open during the summer and this year these artists will be exhibiting.

Part of the draw of Devonshire Day is the Cream Tea served in the famed Pugin Room or Ballroom (the former Chapel) while Immrama Chairman Bernard Leddy and Immrama President Peter Dowd give very informative talks on the Castle's history in the context of the history of Lismore, which is pretty amazing as it encompasses the Book of Lismore, an illuminated manuscript from the 15th Century in Irish which documents the travels of Marco Polo. Another famed travel link to Lismore, along with the more contemporary Dervla Murphy link!

First group enjoying the noon sun
Carlisle Tower Lismore Castle
View from Courtyard
Chris standing on the Ice House grid. Gallery in Tower
Chris Tull, the aforementioned Head Gardener, gives a talk on the Castle and the Gardens, with their links to Joseph Paxton (the Greenhouse) and the Devonshire's links to the Kennedy clan and Fred Astaire. (A sister of President Kennedy's should have been the Duchess of Devonshire but she and her husband - the Duke-in-waiting - were killed in separate aviation accidents during and after WW11). The incumbent Duke's mother was one of the famous Mitford sisters - Deborah, the Dowager Duchess, who was the least controversial of the Mitfords - and recent visitors to the Castle included Prince Charles and his now-wife Camilla Parker-Bowles, who came here in 2004. Our sons were then working as butlers in the castle for summer jobs and were serving them their dinner - surely something for them to dine out on but they're not fazed by fame at all - they leave those bragging rights to their mother!

I'm on duty as the health and safety first aider but thankfully I have never had any problems, other than the odd fall during bad weather when the ground becomes slippy underfoot. Today was uneventful but I still have to be there to accompany the groups on their walkabout, just in case. The Farmers' Market reopened for the season today and we can enjoy this every Sunday until October.

All in all it was a great day; I am at home now with aching legs from all the walking around the uneven terrain and garden steps, writing this up and sharing some of the photos with you. I hope you enjoy them and that they give an idea of the lovely day we had. Compared to last year the garden was further on but compared to the previous year it was still very late.
Carlisle Tower from Lower Gardens

As we have seen in the tragedy of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, we mess with nature at our peril and we have to bow to the strength of the forces of nature. When they are unleashed we are pretty powerless to do anything, and it was heartening to hear Chris in his role as head gardener of the castle extol the virtues of symbiosis with nature, working with rather than against it in being as organic as possible, crop diversity and selection of indigenous and not exotic plants, and not using chemicals at all as there are none without consequences. The results are seen in the wonderful working kitchen gardens that are ready for planting now, to provide the house and guests with fresh produce throughout the season.

Arbutus tree planted by Pres. Mary Robinson 1991
Chris and Antony Gormley sculpture
Crest over entrance "God's Providence Our Inheritance 1615 "
An Irish Man (1907) Unknown Artist
"Up and Over" Irish Artist
Me with Mary Roche and family
The Yellow Jackets - me with Jan and the boys!
Pugin Chandelier in Dining Room - Note D for Devonshire
Joseph Paxton greenhouse
Accurate Sundial


Ann said...

Looks like a wonderful day. The gardens are looking wonderful. Hope the fundraiser was successful. Wish I could have been there. Such fun! A nice story for your boys to tell their children in years to come too.

Rita said...

Lovely post! We are seeing arbutus trees here in Victoria BC. They are so majestic.