Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Casino Marino

Gambling isn’t one of my vices and so when it was suggested that a visit to the Casino at Marino was a ‘must’ when staying in Dublin, I really wasn’t that keen.  Grudgingly I agreed little realising what a treat was to be in store for me.  The Casino was completed in 1775 and just like gambling dens its purpose was to entertain, impress and amuse its guests - but on a very different level.
When James Caulfeild, Ist Earl of Charlemont completed a nine year Grand Tour of Italy, Greece, Turkey and Egypt he brought back to Ireland a great hoard of treasures.  He also returned with a loveand deep knowledge of the classics and he used this to create a grand neo-classical building to house them.  Neither a folly nor a house to be lived in (the main dwelling, Marino House, half a mile away and linked by a tunnel, was demolished in the 1920’s) the Casino was built purely to show off his collections.  Caulfeild employed Sir William Chambers as the architect who, busy with Royal clients in London, never visited the site before, during or after completion; most of the work was carried out by the stonemason and sculptor Simon Vierpyl.  Chambers was, however, reputed to be immensely proud of his work and justly so.
Everything about Casino Marino was designed to impress and it still does albeit that the contents of the building have long been lost.  It stands alone and, nowadays, rather out of context for its landscape of far reaching sea views and open countryside are hidden by the city.  It was also built to deceive and it still does this too: what appears to be a square, single storey building is actually one built on a cross over three floors.  The huge oak doors are also a deceit for they open to reveal a small entrance, the remainder hidden from the inside by ornate plasterwork.  The blacked out single windows are neither  of these things for the glass has been bevelled to reflect light making it difficult to see in from outside yet flooding not one but three or more rooms with natural light.  The urns sitting high above the pediments are, in fact, cunningly disguised chimneys.  Four of the solid looking columns are hollow and channel rainwater from the roof.
The building of the Casino (its name derives from the Italian meaning ‘little house’) was all consuming both in effort and money and the building very quickly fell into disrepair, its art sold to settle debt.  By the 1930’s the building was in danger of collapse.  Now carefully restored it is possile to explore its sixteen rooms, some of which are reached by ‘secret’ doors.  Some of the original parquet wooden flooring survives and one small room has a delightful alcove, its wallpaper still looking fresh.  Interestingly, the printing technology of the time prevented continuous rolls being produced and it is possible to see the joints where several large sheets of paper were hung.
Casino Marino is open from March to October.  A very knowledgable guide escorts you around the building bringing it back to life with information sprinkled with more than a touch of Irish humour.  It is well worth making a special trip to see this very rare example of neo-classical architecture, considered to be the finest in Ireland and just one of three such buildings in Europe.
How to find the Casino Marino

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Friday, 4 April 2014

Guest Blogging

My guest blog for the Chipping Norton Literary Festival:

Gardening author John Shortland has put his green-fingers to the keyboard to tell us all about his ChipLit event
Are you sometimes disappointed with the look of your garden? Unsure what to grow where? Or just never seem to have enough hours in the day to get outside?  What happens when you can’t recognise one plant from another?  These are just some of the issues I’ll be considering in my informal, illustrated discussion.

‘Why Can’t My Garden Look Like That?’ is a question I’ve been asked many times during my career as Head Gardener to some of the most exclusive country gardens in Oxfordshire.  I have also been an adviser at the Chelsea Flower Show and worked for Channel 4 television alongside designer Dan Pearson. I’ll be drawing upon my wealth of practical experience to answer this often-asked question.
Most people these days have to juggle careers and a host of other things, leaving little time for gardening. But there are many ways that it is possible to still have a great looking garden without having to spend every waking hour in it.

In my talk (and book of the same title) I’ll look at simple, jargon-free and straightforward methods to improve the layout of your garden.  I’ll also look at different plant combinations and offer tips on how to make your garden one that others will envy.  A short walk will take you to see a garden in the heart of the town where some of these ideas can be put to the test.  Don’t worry – it doesn’t involve getting your hands or shoes dirty!

As the session ends with an opportunity to ask me questions over a cup of tea and a scone, it is quite probable that this event will run over its scheduled time.

John Shortland

Tickets for this event are limited and are already selling fast: Why Can’t My Garden Look Like That? The Vintage Sports Car Club, Sunday 27th April, 1.30pm

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