The Gardens of Kilmacurragh


watercolor, 14″ x 20″

Over the weekend the sun shone, on Saturday from dawn ’til dusk, and what better way to enjoy the day than to head down into the heartland of the ‘Garden of Ireland’
, County Wicklow, to a property that’s now being run by the Office of Public Works, the Kilmacurragh Botanical Gardens. What a special place; acres of unusual trees, fields of narcissus, and hundreds of different rhododendrons, all blooming in the spring sunshine. Rows of them, lining ancient pathways and carpeting them in petals of pinks and purples, fringing ponds and lawns with thousands of blossoms, standing in community with tree groupings wherever you look, and all raging with bright colour!

We found ourselves a spot very quickly, and got to work. In the warm sunshine with the bees buzzing, and the sounds of children playing on the lanes and lawns of the gardens, we were very much in heaven. I enjoyed painting rhododendrons for the first time – strangely enough I had never painted them before, although they were a staple of my childhood. They grew both in our garden and in the area in which we lived, and also out in the West, and every spring and early summer they would be profuse and abundant, flanking roadways and tracks with blousy big flowers of mainly pink and purple, but also in whites and reds, and even some rare yellow ones.  The older trees grow a couple of hundred feet tall, and the shrubs grow in thick copses, making for romantic and spectacular tunnels and arbours.

And now this garden where we found ourselves on a sunny spring weekend was a host to them all, all the sizes and colours and shapes you could wish for –  a sacred place to be, as it turns out, once a monastery and later the home of a conscientious family committed to planting a beautiful garden. A high calling indeed.


My mother settling in to paint rhododendrons in Spring sunshine!


Garden pathway in Kilmacurragh Botanical Gardens, Co Wicklow, Ireland.



What a way to spend a long weekend – hardly leaving the house, painting from early morning experimenting with watercolors, and although I am not a good watercolor painter, doing these sketches has inspired many ideas for further work, both in watercolor and in oil.

Easter sketch #9

I am not sure of the name of this blossom, but it grows on a tree at this time of year and is a beautiful purple color. I call it the June Blossom Tree. I saw a branch blossoming and overhanging a wall on Saturday on my way to the supermarket, so picked one and carried it home. I obsessed over it for three days, paintings maybe a dozen sketches. Haven’t cracked it yet….

Easter sketch # 10Watercolor must be the most difficult of paints to use, but its so soft and gentle, so translucent, so spontaneous and effortless when done properly that its worth persisting with and trying to become proficient.

Easter sketch # 4Not being there yet, I experimented with inks on this one, as I haven’t managed to add enough contrast with just the pure paint and brushwork yet.

Easter sketch #4Looking at them now I can see much room for development and of course improvement. What a lovely way to spend the weekend, and to end it perfectly, it rained a lovely soaking rain this afternoon. After the heat and drying wind we’ve been having, it was a true blessing for my garden.

Inspirational Jade Vine

Watercolor Jade 1

There’s a most magnificent vine that grows in the tropics. Commonly called the Jade Vine because of the color it usually is, it also grows in red. I think the jade version has a fuller flower than the red one, but either way its one extraordinary landing pad for insects. It looks like a mobile of the most exquisitely carved dinosaur teeth, or dragon claws, or finely tooled pendants worn only by the ruling monarchs of a  magical kingdom in another land…


My mother-in-law had one growing outside her bedroom, and that was my first encounter with said vine. Since moving to Kingston I occasionally visit the breath-taking Strawberry Hill Hotel on the way to the Blue Mountains, and have brunch beneath theirs, wound as it is over a strong metal frame so it can hang its flowers just over the tables beneath. The above photo is my daughter AmberDia making a necklace with the claws with the view of Kingston behind her.


I decided I would try to paint it. Turned out to be a very difficult undertaking, and it will take more focus to get it right. Good thing its so inspirational or I’d give up…

at work

jade watercolor

The first sketches developed into larger watercolors….

Watercolor Jade 2

I also have tried to render it in oils, one of which has been abandoned;





and the other that took many weeks but ended up with only a few small sections that I like;



Yet another task: paint a good jade vine that speaks of its delicacy and design with sensitivity…..