A Dublin Garden

down to earthHelen Dillon has gardened in a small Dublin garden for over thirty years.  Short essays paired with photos of her garden detail her likes, her dislikes, even her bold uprooting of garden elements she installed in previous decades.  Many of her plants come with a story about who gave them to her or where she first saw them, and big names like Graham Stuart Thomas pepper the text. She says not a word about native plants, cheerfully installing plants from around the world.  She even includes Americans like tree of heaven that are highly invasive here but apparently behave well in Dublin.

As she discusses her gardens from the 1960s to now, she  compares gardening styles to hair styles.  Both change over time but if we’re not careful, we end up with “a 1960s Cilla Black look – that’s if I don’t get the softly curly Nancy Reagan, or the ubiquitous à la grandmère, with every curl betraying its roller-friendly origins.”

Her garden is open to the public, and I hope to visit this summer.  But I’ll be on my best behavior:  she has some sharp words for garden visitors who try to hide their theft of plants and cuttings in their capacious handbags, or those who loudly criticize the garden and the gardener in her hearing.  Can’t say I blame her.

Although much of what she says is specific to her climate and conditions, I still found much to think about and admire.  (Why again don’t I have a water element in my garden, I ask myself.)  Like the best garden books  (Green Thoughts comes to mind), this is one to keep on the bedside table.  You could pick it up and read randomly from time to time and always learn or re-learn something good.

Roses Without Chemicals

rosesAuthor Peter E. Kukielski used to be in charge of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Rose Garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and before that he ran a rose garden design business, so he knows what he is talking about.  (Plus, Martha Stewart blurbs this on the cover.)

This book focuses on what he calls “millennial roses,” that is, roses that reflect the new millennium’s interest in gardening without chemical sprays and poisons.  He offers a good overview of rose care, but even better is the list of 150 roses that meet his criteria of disease resistance and good flowering.

Each entry features a gorgeous photo, plus a rating for blooms, disease resistance, and fragrance. He also indicates where they are best sited (front or back of border, in a container, etc.) and what other roses work well with the rose in question.

All this info, combined with a list of roses for various areas of the country, make this a go-to book when selecting roses.

As for me, I never can decide and, more to the point, have no place to put one unless I move some things around or expand the sunny bed.  BUT if I ever get to the decision point, this is the book I’ll look for.

Hiking the Lakes

On our way to a day of hikingToday was again cloudy and cool, but perfect hiking weather.  We set out towards Flims and parked at an area around two lakes.  There are lots of trails here, and we started by making our way to Lake Cresta and around.

It was a short walk along a wide path through firs and moss, reminiscent of Middle Earth, or more mundanely of Ellen’s and my hike near Lake Superior.

moss and firs

moss and firs

We skidded down the path to the lake, which is an unearthly blue-green.

getting closer to Lake Cresta

getting closer to Lake Cresta

The water is so still and clear that you can see right down to the shallow bottom, covered with rock slabs and ghostly dead fir trees.

blue-green water

blue-green water

Halfway around we came to a little cafe where we veered off towards Conn and Lake Cauma.  It was an interesting place, with these sculptures on display.  DSC05527This path was also filled with moss, firs, rocks and meadows.  We could hear cow bells clinking but couldn’t be sure if they were somewhere just beyond view or if they were from the cows we could spot dotting the meadows across the valley.

meadow, first, mountains

We stopped for many wildflower shots:

yellow wildflowers

yellow wildflowers

daisies and little fir

daisies and little fir

possible orchid

possible orchid

cow parsley?

cow parsley?


close-up of yellow clover

and once for a bit of chocolate before continuing on our way.  After a while we came to a restaurant filled with walkers, where we stopped for a delicious bowl of  Gerstensuppe, barley soup.

barley soup

barley soup

Here we were above the Rhine, looking down into an enormous gorge,

The Rhine gorge

The Rhine gorge

and a spectacular viewing structure beckoned to some of us.   DSC05563

Biffy and I stopped after the first set of steps, where I took a picture that clearly shows the white-knuckle grip on the railingDSC05556 and quickly made our way back down, where we could take pretty good pictures from a less scary vantage point.  DSC05555-PANOBrave Silla and Judy lingered at the top and returned with wonderful views which I plan to steal to illustrate this blog.

We continued on through firs, moss, rocks, meadows and Alpenblicks.  Every now and then we would raise our eyes and more often than not see snow-covered peaks across the way.

Soon enough we were at Lake Cauma, another clear, blue-green expanse, DSC05570this one a bit more touristy as it is a popular swimming spot in summer.  The most fun was taking the funicular back up the steep mountainside (shades of Ljubljana!).DSC05569 From here we wended our way back to the car.

More than six miles, 18,000 steps, and spectacular country.  Who could ask for more?

Oh, my, Obbermuetten!

From here we had one more stop, but what a stop it was!  Silla turned the car to the left off the main road and we began a steady ascent up the side of a mountain. We went up switchback after switchback, always thinking wemyst be there but always going up.  Finally the paved road became a dirt road, and still we went up.  We came ot Mutten, but no, we were headingto Obermutten, so still we went upward.

At LONG last, we reached the top.  It was chilly up here, and we even found some snow nestled in a few low spots.  We entered the small wooden church and enjoyed its simplicity.  We took in the views and the fresh, cold air and walked down the hill a bit to see whether we could see the valley where we started from – almost!

This was an amazing experience.  Silla was a sure-footed driver who never lost her nerve (though I would have many times over).  Here are a couple videos to give you a sense of the height, the views, and the bends.  Wow.

Geology! Waterfalls! Wildflowers!  History! Danger! 

The Via Mala had it all.

The churches made a wonderful start to the day, but it continued to be quietly spectacular. We drove along to the Via Mala, a path through a deep gorge carved by the Rhine.  This was one of the routes the Romans took through the Alps, so it has been in use for centuries.  But it’s not an easy route.

The path down to the gorge was punctuated by signage telling stories of disasters that overtook previous visitors.  Note to self:  a carriage hauling wine barrels + a driver too fond of his cargo + bad weather and nervous horses = the Rhine turned red from the wine (and perhaps from the blood of the injured as well).  We marveled at this enormous boulder wedged between the gorge walls, not just its size but its swirling markings.

We stopped to take pictures of wildflowers, played Pooh sticks at a bridge (Judy won), and marveled at the waterfalls.  To say nothing of the people who traversed the gorge before the advent of bridges and paths.  All hail the Romans!

A Rich, Full Day, part eins

first view of the Rhine

first view of the Rhine

Today could not have been more glorious.  Ancient, quiet churches, high mountains, lunch at an old mountain hotel, lovely walks – all was wonderful.

We started out leaving Chur and going up the road to Rothenburn, where a painted castle stands high up on an outcrop overlooking the tiny village.

another view of the castle

We walked up to the gate so that we could see it up close.  It’s now owned by an unpopular politician who just uses it for meetings.

From here a path between meadows wound its way up a small hill to the church. DSC05428 St. George’s, Sogn Gieri in Romansh, DSC05432is unassuming from the outside, DSC05441but inside is a riot of color.

another view

another view

St. George and his dragon are painted on the flat wooden ceiling, while the walls are covered with paintings depicting Bible stories.  I always like to see how Adam and Eve are portrayed.

In Adam's fall, we sinned all

In Adam’s fall, we sinned all

The apse paintings have been well restored and are charming to behold.

inside the church

inside the church

We were very struck by the pews.  Silla suggested that they were designed to have additional seating on top but we weren’t sure how that would work.

another view

another view

1741 is not so old in this part of the world, but it was a good period for graceful, simple architecture.

From here we went to the Via Mala (see following post). But first, a stop in Zillis to the famous St. Martin’s church.  DSC05468This was one of my clear memories from my year in Chur because of the mirrors you use to view the painted ceiling.  I had forgotten the gorgeous setting:  a valley set between high mountains (like most of this part of the world), with small villages dotting the landscape and snow on top of the mountains. DSC05472But the church!

The exterior features an enormous painting of St. Christopher with the baby Jesus,DSC05470 although the church itself is dedicated to St. Martin. The nave/apse is painted in shades of cream, grey and red, simple and beautiful.  DSC05475But turn your eyes upwards to see the most amazing painted flat ceiling.  I took no pictures, but here’s someone else’s photo.


Around the perimeter are pictures of fantastic half-land, half-sea creatures (fishy unicorn, swimmy wolf), Zillis monstersifhybut the rest depict stories from the life of Christ, from the Annunciation to Christ crowned in thorns.jesus

We followed up with a visit to the nearby museum, featuring an informative slideshow about the history of the church and the provenance of the paintings.

A bonus on our way back – a herd of Swiss milk cows being moved through the village.DSC05483We got to be up close and personal with them.  DSC05482

From here to  Spluega.  We parked by a big old hotel but Silla had another place  in mind. We walked up and up through the village, DSC05488encountering roadwork that made the route a bit confusing.  Finally Silla found the little path around to the hotel, a Swiss Heritage hotel no less.DSC05496

Inside was a very Swiss mixture of old and new, the old being the stone and wood structure and the new a set of elegant, simple steps, and these beautiful windows showing off the view of the meadows and mountains beyond. DSC05491 Glorious.  We had a simple lunch of dried meat and cheese and bread, and then we left this spectacular place for an even more amazing one.

First Day in Chur

Biffy and Judy were on one flight, and I was on another.  When we landed in Zurich, there we were, standing right next to each other in the passport control line and didn’t even know it! Great hugs all around, then found Silla with great joy.  She drove us through Zurich to Juerg’s elegant apartment overlooking the lake.  DSC05386He and his wife, Nelly, gave us coffee and croissants and we caught up just a bit.

The apartment was so lovely that I had to take pictures of it -the clean lines,DSC05387 the oversized art, and even the people.  DSC05390It was lovely to see Juerg again after so long and to meet his wife.  Cheek kisses all around and we were off.

Silla and Biffy talked about this and that as she drove us the two hours to Chur.  Judy and I dozed in the back seat, waking up only to see one of the things I remember best from my year in Switzerland:  steep mountainsides dotted with farms, and the lake or valley below, then the mountains rising up just as steeply on the other side.  Wisps of cloud, fog and occasional rain obscured the view but just made it all the more magical.

Silla’s equally elegant apartment is just around the corner from Ottoplatz, where she grew up and I spent a year back in 1967-68. DSC05391 We were so jet-lagged that just about all we could do was pull out the sofabed and fall on it like wounded soldiers.  A two-hour nap restored us, as did a big slice of a delicious apple nut tart and a cup of tea.DSC05392

With renewed vigor, we set out to walk around Chur. We started off at the Hotel Stern where Biffy and Judy will be staying. DSC05396 It is a charming old hotel with Carigiet paintings on the walls, knotty pine and beautiful stonework, and these delightful pillows.DSC05395

Although many memories have vanished over the last almost 50 years (can it be???), I absolutely remember the walk up a steep path to the CantonsSchule. DSC05400 The school itself, with its courtyard shaded by enormous trees, has long since been replaced by a new building, but the steep sidewalk and the bishop’s vineyards are still there, as is the lovely view down to the city, with the mountains all around.DSC05402

We went into the Catholic cathedral, built on a site that has been home to a church since the 800s.  DSC05405It’s fairly austere for a Catholic church, but the beautiful altar and some stained glass windows brightened the interior.DSC05413(I am much more aware of stained glass from following Jane Brocket’s blog.)   We also liked these Celtic-looking animals,DSC05410and the entrance arch is lovely.DSC05407

From here we walked down the hill, past the spot where in the 16th century there was a wall separating the Catholics at the top of the hill from the Protestants at the bottom.  This was the old town that I remembered, with cobbled streets, sgraffito’d house fronts, and interesting little shops and courtyards. DSC05417DSC05416 We stopped at a pharmacy and ended up sampling Churer Roeteli, a local liqueur.  A little farther on was a fabric shop, and I ended up with a nice selection of locally inspired yardage.IMG_20150523_170944

By now it was starting to sprinkle, so we wended our way back home again, weary but happy, for Silla to cook for us while we draped ourselves over the furniture and assured her that we would be good helpers tomorrow when the jet lag wears off!