A BUCKET OF GOLD; gardening.
Bucket lists. Now there's a new phenomenon that seems to have wormed its way across the Atlantic. What does it mean? Well, to be brutal, it appears to refer to a list of things to do before you die - kick the bucket!
CAPITAL: Crocuses at Hyde Park I like my bucket - it travels around with me in the garden as I dig the borders for bits of convolvulus root and a deep tap from a dandelion. It takes the deadheads from the roses. But I got to thinking: What would make a gardening bucket list? I'm going to create lists to do, not before you kick the bucket, but before this glorious spring gardening season is out. What should you see, where should you go? Which gardens are looking their best at the moment? MOUNT USHER, COUNTY WICKLOW: The River Vartry broods through this magnificent plain. Its waters, as black as the darkest Guinness, reflect rhododendrons shaped like perfect clouds laden under the strain of floral posies. Romantic miniature suspension bridges allow the exploration of the planted banks. Small streams gurgle with appreciation of their densely planted shores - lysichiton, drumstick primulas, druopteris and carpets of bulbs. When added to the famed cuisine of the cafe, this is a Wicklow garden that demands a look. www.mountushergardens.ie LONDON PARKS IN SPRING: There is no better city in bloom than London in spring. It is a park and garden paradise and mostly free, whether it is grand displays outside Buckingham Palace, pretty window boxes in Notting Hill or admiring the famous illuminated plane tree at The Dorchester. There are many beautiful vignettes - the flower gardens of Hyde Park, the Sunken Garden at Kensington Palace. Colours that come to mind are the blue of the myositis (forget-me-not), lilacs pretending they are purple bunches of grapes and grand magnolias. WATERS: Mount Usher RHS CHELSEA FLOWER SHOW, LONDON: I have to include Chelsea. You mightn't make it this spring for its 100th birthday but make the decision now to plan for next year, otherwise you won't get in. Tickets aren't that hard to get but what I can promise is the most amazing gathering of horticulturists and their displays for garden appreciators anywhere. Muslims are required to visit Mecca once in a lifetime. Gardeners should do the same with Chelsea. No words can describe the excitement of viewing the great work of individual passions, whether it be Tom Stuart-Smith's latest crisp and dreamlike creations or gazing at bonsai trees cultivated and pruned for 100 years. The infectious colour and laughter might draw you to the brash displays from Trinidad and Tobago or the collection of proteas always on display from Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens in Cape Town. I think I enjoy this show more as a visitor than I do as an exhibitor. It's always the third week in May and open to the public, even if you are not a member of the RHS, from the Thursday to Saturday. www.rhs.org.uk GUERNSEY WILD BLUEBELL WOODS: Time for an admission. I haven't seen this yet. I was on Guernsey this time last year and the bluebell woods were late to produce their startling floral carpets. We did take a walk to see the hints of their beginning. The site sits under magnificent trees near the coast behind Fort George - I shall definitely return. www.visitguernsey.com/-bluebell-woods EXBURY GARDENS, HAMPSHIRE: Years ago I was working in a seed shop in Dublin city centre. The previous evening on the BBC there had been a programme about Exbury Gardens in the New Forest. The camera seemed to dance through this woodland, a setting Hollywood couldn't have imagined. Rhododendron, azaleas and camellias in what appeared to be every colour of the sun and at different heights almost led to an out-of-body experience. Everybody in Mackeys of Mary Street in 1983 wanted to visit. I did and was not disappointed. I was enthralled by the tallest flowering wisteria in Britain. www.exbury.co.uk BODNANT GARDENS, CONWY: This National Trust garden sits above the River Conwy in Wales, gazing across at Snowdonia National Park. The garden bursts into life in spring with vibrant displays of bulbs, wild flowers, azaleas, magnolias and rhododendrons. In late May don't miss the wonderful, 55-metre laburnum arch - a glorious tunnel of golden, dripping blooms. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden KEUKENHOF GARDENS, HOLLAND: For spring bulb displays, there is nowhere to match these gardens. Seven million bulbs are planted annually and the results are dazzling swathes and ribbons of colourful beds. Each year there is a theme and this year it is United Kingdom - Land of Great Gardens. The tulips are starting to bloom and the gardens are open until May 20. www.keukenhof.nl
WATERS: Mount Usher
CAPITAL: Crocuses at Hyde Park
COLOUR: Exbury Gardens