It’s a long way from Denver to Dublin; but last August, I made a pilgrimage to Ireland, homeland of my paternal ancestors. With a name like Colleen, I’ve always identified with strongly with my Irish heritage, particularly the closeness to the land.
On any trip, I try to take in as many gardens as possible. The Emerald Isle surprised me with an abundance of colorful flowers and gardens—not to mention the lush, green, Eden-like landscapes at almost every turn.
My by-far favorite garden in Ireland – or almost anywhere--is Kilfane Glen and Waterfall in Thomastown, County Kilkenny, Ireland.
Off the beaten path to a secret garden
My sweetheart and I, on Ireland to celebrate our birthdays, discovered this Irish secret garden quite by accident. Or was it the luck o’ the Irish?
Kilfane was not listed in any of our guidebooks or on the short list provided at Knocktopher Abbey, an 11th century abbey converted to a lodging that served as our home base in the Emerald Isle.
Driving on the wrong side of the road one day, I spotted a small sign that read “Secret garden and waterfall.” Two of my our favorite things!
A Romantic Period garden recreated from the 18th century
We took a road less traveled to Kilfane Glen and Waterfall, where we encountered only four other guests enjoying the glorious gardens on a sunny day. The garden, open in July and August only, recreates a whimsical 18th century Romantic Period garden.
Small tiles lead one through the enchanting little Eden. We walked gravel trails into a woodland of ferns and mosses strewn with ivy, ineffably green lawns and hedges, an orchard with apple trees planted in a circle. Various theme gardens delighted us: the Blue Border, the Moon Garden, the lily pond and the clematis strewn pergola with a colorful tile floor. Delightful garden features made me wonder whether I might be dreaming as we happened upon the Butterfly Seat, the Fairies Gate, the Hidey Hole, Daphne’s Well, and a fun-house mirror that distorted our images.
The garden carried me off to my childhood memories, fairy tale recollections, and fantasy visions of otherworldly gardens.
Whimsy, wonders, and an ethereal vision
We heard water and thought we’d found the waterfall: a stream rushing over a large expanse of flat rock. But as we wandered on, we followed a trail to a moss-covered double arched stone bridge straight out of a story book. At this point, we giggled like school kids at recess.
Eventually, we carefully walked a muddy path upwards until we saw an ethereal vision: a shining white stucco cottage with a thatch roof. At that point, I seriously wondered whether I might be in a dream state, but my sweetheart led me on until we saw the 30' waterfall—a great rush of white water cascading across from the cottage. We continued to a tall spiral staircase painted Kelly green, though rusting in a charmingly rustic way.
An unexpected spiral staircase in the woods
Enthralled, we continued, carefully descending the magical staircase in the woods. We approached the thatch-roof cottage carefully--or at least I did, mindful of witches and gingerbread houses and such. When I peeked in the window, I got an even bigger surprise upon seeing the furnishings—all perfect, as you would expect for such a place. Floral fabrics covered furnishings. A small table was waiting to be set with a floral china tea service. The walls were painted a serene sky blue. I half expected garden fairies to begin flitting around inside, or dwarves to sally forth.
Or leprechauns. I did not spot any leprechauns, but I’m pretty sure at least one was present at Kilfane Glen.
If you'd like to experience more of Kilfane Glen and Waterfall, here's a short, sweet YouTube piece with still photographs and calming music.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you and yours, and may the luck of the Irish lead you one fine day to Kilfane Glen and Waterfall.
••• "Cultivate your corner of the world.
You grow your garden; your garden grows you." •••
• Colleen Smith's gift book "Laid-Back Skier" makes a sweet Easter gift! This whimsical, inspirational book includes lots of ski bunnies and encouragement for life's ups and downs. Watch "Laid-Back Skier's" brief YouTube video here.
• Colleen Smith’s first novel, “Glass Halo”—a finalist for the 2010 Santa Fe Literary Prize — is available in hardcover or e—book.
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