Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Rare and Special

On Sunday we went to Birr Castle, not to see the telescope, though that was right beside us, nor to view the grounds, though we did that too. This was far more exciting. Birr Castle was hosting the annual Rare and Special Plants Fair, and I was fairly in heaven. I had a few euro in my pocket and twenty or more stalls filled with unusual plants on which to spend them.

Straight in to one near the starting gun and three plants bought in a three-for-one offer, all of which were definitely unusual. I have to say I was a bit giddy from all the choice, and struggling, as was everyone, with the gale blowing down the field. Tall plants were especially tricky.

Once I'd spent my money and the plants were being cared for in the plant creche (being taught the trick of settling into a new garden, perhaps) we had a look around. Joe wanted to visit the science rooms in the old stable block, and I could hardly refuse as he'd been so patient with the plant excitement. Plus it was a relief to be out of the wind for a while. There are photographs and explanations of the extraordinary job the Third Earl of Rosse made of constructing a giant telescope during the early 1840s. The 'Leviathan', as the telescope is called, was the largest of its kind for over 70 years. Lord Rosse was a complete enthusiast, spending hours working on it in his workshops at Birr Castle.

The Leviathan was the second major telescope he built, and with it he was able to discover the spiral nature of some of the galaxies. People came from all over the world to use this astonishing piece of engineering. The telescope was used until the Earl's death in 1867, after which it fell into disrepair, but in the 1990s the Seventh Earl of Rosse began the job of restoration. And there it is today, looking magnificent, and somewhat improbable sitting like a cannon between its tall protective walls.

After the telescope stuff we walked around the formal gardens where there's a 'hornbeam cloister' and some complicated designs with box hedging, then on into the woodland, across the river on a stone bridge where we found a giant tree, recently cut. It was one of those vast North American types which make you dizzy when you look up into them. A few were still standing and I had a shivery Jack and the Beanstalk moment. The felled tree would keep you in firewood for years. Back along the river walk to the lake where a crowd of ducks were having a bit of a spat. It's that time of year. Marital stuff.

My courtyard is full of beauties now, waiting to be planted out.  A reorganisation of the garden might be required. And perhaps a spot of lawn stealing.

Joe's purchase was these toadstools made from Birr Castle timber. I think they're gorgeous. Seats to put in the far ends of the garden to perch on and admire the view and the flowers.

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