We all know I love garden centres and we all know I’m always going to them for a poke around, you know, just in case. I have my favourites for various reasons but that’s a secret. So, when I saw the Rare Plant Fair in Fota House advertised I was delighted, it was a gathering of garden centres (and other crafty stalls) in one place, all for me of course!
Although the day was dreary and showery and there was a biting breeze at times, we were wrapped up in coats, hats and wellies, it was lovely to see such a great turnout and there seemed to be lots of trade too.
As usual I was a little broke (that whole responsible adult thing getting in the way again) but I did purchase this beautiful Succulent which I instantly fell in love with. My upstairs window sills are looking a little bare and I think it’ll be quite at home with the Money tree across the landing for company.
You may have read my previous blog post A Different Kind of Spring about Fota House and Gardens and a new appreciation I have for the place. Although a big house it’s not as imposing as one would expect it, unlike maybe Donneraile House which is built on a hill and overlooks a river. It looked quite impressive especially with all the people milling about to put it into perspective.
As we were eating lunch I spied a poster for a tour of the walled garden, which is not something that is offered willy nilly so we jumped at the chance to have a nose at the ‘Secret Garden’. The ‘Secret Garden’ was a walled garden, home to various glasshouses where they would grow their fruit, vegetables and flowers. When it was no longer viable to employ workers to maintain it, they literally locked the gates and left it go to disrepair. The Irish Hertitage Trust and various other bodies have spent the last couple of years restoring these hidden gems. Our tour guide explained that they had budgeted X amount for salvage and replacement but they managed to salvage much more than they originally thought, which is really a testament to the Victorian design.
They used an intricate heating system to keep the glasshouses at extremely high temperatures (up to 60°C) throughout the year! The pipes in the hottest greenhouse were still intact.
They had various glasshouses, including a pinery (yes! they grew pineapples!). What was fascinating about the different buildings is that they were all heated in a slightly different manner, the boiler, manure from the farmyard etc. They could easily control the temperatures this way so they could speed up or slow down the growth of different fruit or vegetables. This meant that rather than a glut of strawberries, they could ensure they had a constant supply over months and of course it depended on what the occupants of the house wanted!
The boys/men who lived in the bothy (red brick building above) were single and did the unglamorous jobs such as pot washing (to prevent fungus and mould and plant disease) and to open and close the windows and maintain the temperatures as requested by the head gardener. If you were married and had a family you might have been lucky enough to live in a cottage on the estate. If the temperatures in the glasshouses were above or below the ideal, the workers would usually be punished. What was unusual about this bothy is that it was built on the sunniest wall of the garden (which could have been ulitised for fruit and vegetable growing) , which would indicate that the people in the main house were good to their staff.
These plants really caught my eye, very unusual (you should know at this point I’m terrible at names of flowers so if you know please do let me know).
We were then taken into the orchard, which is probably where they would have kept their chickens as it was closest to the kitchen entrance.
In the surrounds of the orchard stood the Head Gardener’s house. It is beautiful, and I was very glad to hear they are hoping to restore the house this year. It took 14 years of training to become a head gardener and it was a very well respected position. Even the residents in the house would ask the head gardener if they could visit these gardens.
The head gardener had a bell above a gate next to his house. This is where everyone would gather if they heard it being rung it was also used to notify workers of end of day duties or if he thought there was a frost coming.
I missed some of the tour as I was chasing T and making sure she wasn’t getting up to any mischief (although she did steal the show a few times!) and I would most certainly go back again for this tour. They are also looking for volunteers which is something I am going to seriously consider as it would be such a wonderful project to be involved in.
Again, yet another inspiring day!