Rachel Gaffney’s Letter From Texas - A Festival of Gardens and Nature

The famous foodie who’s flying the tricolour for us in Texas introduces an exciting new garden event that’s taking place this April at Ballintubbert House & Gardens in County Laois  

As Catherine Fitzgerald’s voice flowed through the phone, her excitement was palpable. She continued, to tell me that she and Minnie Preston (proprietor of Ballintubbert House & Gardens) had attended numerous garden symposiums over the years. Whilst they cherished these events, they couldn’t help but feel there was something missing, a sense of inclusivity and accessibility that would welcome everyone, from seasoned gardeners to complete novices. “We dreamed of hosting an alternative event” Catherine explained, her words brimming with passion. “A festival for nature lovers, a meeting of minds interested in gardens and the natural world, a place to share ideas, explore and connect. And so, she and Minnie put their heads down and, after two solid weeks of work, emails and phone calls, they have managed to pull off quite the inaugural Festival this coming April. Catherine said it was amazing that they managed to get so many people in such a short time. Somehow the gods were with them.

Ballintubbert House in County Laois is located between the village of Stradbally and the town of Athy. Built in 1725, this restored Georgian home is associated with Poet Laureate Cecil Day-Lewis and was also home to the acclaimed actor Sir John Hurt. This spectacular home and organic gardens gardens will serve as the custodian of this festival’s creativity.

On Saturday, April 20, the festival will open with a conversation between Colm O’Driscoll, the head gardener at Lismore Castle, County Waterford, Neil Porteous, expert consultant gardener for The National Trust and Catherine Fitzgerald from Glin Castle, County Limerick, also an expert landscape architect. As Catherine continued to share the lineup of speakers for this festival, her enthusiasm only grew, “…and Shane Connolly will be coming too!” I had heard Shane speak a few years ago here in Dallas, and his easygoing, fun way of sharing flower arranging techniques was contagious. I still remember his philosophy of “No Floral Foam” You will have to read or follow him on Instagram to learn more, (@Shaneconnollyandco) Shane is a renowned floral designer and he is perhaps best known for his public work for the Royal Family, recently including The Coronation. Seamus O’Brien is one of Ireland’s most outstanding modern day plantsmen, renowned throughout Ireland and the UK. He is the Head Gardener at Kilmacurragh Botanical Gardens, where he manages one of the most beautiful and diverse natural meadows in Ireland. Dermot will offer tips on creating a meadow at home.

For something completely different, Catherine’s husband, actor Dominic West (who played Prince Charles in Season 5 of The Crown) will be talking with David Pagan Butler, a pioneer in natural pools. Seventeen years ago, David was the first to construct a DIY Natural Pool. During lockdown, Dominic built a natural swimming pool with his help. I’m pretty sure their conversation will be both fun and inspiring, although I doubt that I’ll be replacing my own pool here in Dallas!
“And there’s more Rachel” Catherine continued, barely able to contain her excitement. "Cath Kidston is joining us too. She will be talking with The Burren Perfumery’s very own Sadie Chowen, about scent and its evocative power." By now, I was more than ready to purchase my ticket. I have always known Catherine to be nothing but effervescent when discussing gardens. I could feel her passion for nature and gardening radiating through the phone. Cook Rory O’Connell, co-founder of Ballymaloe Cookery School, will talk with Tom Petherick, an expert on sustainable living and biodynamics, and Kate Gatacre, a no-dig organic vegetable grower for London restaurants, will chew the cud on the relationship between the cook and the grower.

There are many more experts sharing their knowledge and advice over this weekend, too many to list here in this short article. Catherine’s love for gardens and nature throughout the island of Ireland is infectious and it is for that very reason that she and Minnie Preston work so well together. Although I will only have arrived in the country the night before, that did not stop me from purchasing my ticket for Saturday. I do not, thankfully, suffer from that dreaded FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), but I do want to be part of this collective energy and maybe do my part to be a guardian of our environment. Who else will join me there? Please let me know if you plan on attending andwe can meet up for coffee. To learn more and to purchase your tickets, click on this link https://festivalofgardensandnature.com/

E: rachel@RachelGaffneys.com

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