Let’s Peep Over That Garden Wall

A garden behind a high wall is a tease and a challenge and we all wish to go inside and satisfy our curiousity.

The Thyme Walk in early summer
The Thyme Walk in early summer
The Pergola
The Pergola

The cult and illusion of exclusivity is a wonderful marketing ploy. The garden behind the high walls and locked gates is the one we all want to see but £24.50 will turn the key in the Highgrove Garden gate and allow you curtailed, guided, supervised and restricted access to the gardens – no photographs allowed, stay in line and do be respectful, please!

The Lawn
The Lawn

I am only making fun – to some extent – as I feel the Prince of Wales Highgrove Gardens are an example of the most wonderful self-promotion and people are almost literally breaking down the gates to get in to see the gardens and be funnelled through the shops and restaurant to maximise their spend. Access is restricted, numbers are limited but, please, let your spending be without restraint on our beautifully labelled “Highgrove” this and “Prince of Wales” that.

The Meadow with Crocus 'Purpureus Grandiflorus' and 'Remembrance'
The Meadow with Crocus ‘Purpureus Grandiflorus’ and ‘Remembrance’

However, and very importantly, it must be said that the gardens are wonderful, delicious and a joy to behold and that the Prince of Wales seems to be a most enthusiastic and knowledgeable gardener and promoter of the values of sustainability, conservation, organic farming and general good care of our planet – all in all a good chap.

The kitchen garden with daffodils and tulips
The kitchen garden with daffodils and tulips

highgroveNow, if you are not already booked in for an individual tour or a group tour or even the “Champagne Tea Tour” you can take a peep over the garden wall through Bunny Guinness’ book “H.R.H. The Prince of Wales Highgrove: A Garden Celebrated” which lavishly described and illustrates the garden throughout the year in a month by month approach with each month introduced by a note from Prince Charles, text by Bunny Guinness and photographs from Marianne Majerus (always fabulous!), Andrew Butler and Andrew Lawson. From January to December it is a feast for the eyes and, although the text is well written, comprehensive and informative, it is the photographs which carry the narrative along so wonderfully. So, if you cannot get to visit this season I highly recommend the book as the next best alternative.

[Highgrove, A Garden Celebrated, Bunny Guinness, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2014, HB, 240 pages, £35, ISBN: 978-0-297-86935-1]

The Borghese Gladiator statue standing between the Lily Pool Garden and the Lime Avenus
The Borghese Gladiator statue standing between the Lily Pool Garden and the Lime Avenus
 View to the Arcadian Parkland with traditional cleft oak fencing
View to the Arcadian Parkland with traditional cleft oak fencing
The Thyme Walk in December
The Thyme Walk in December
The central pool of the Terrace Garden with pots of Rhododendron 'Alfred'
The central pool of the Terrace Garden with pots of Rhododendron ‘Alfred’
Winter frost in the Sundial Garden
Winter frost in the Sundial Garden

Paddy Tobin

To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook

Advertisements

A Garden Worth the Visit

Some gardens are worth visiting again and again; each visit a joy and an opportunity to steep in the accomplishment of a wonderful gardener.

I have been visiting this same garden for many years without ever thinking beyond the obviously simple fact that I have always enjoyed being there and that I have never been disappointing with the garden.

We, each of us, probably has a pair of shoes which are perfectly comfortable, a coat which is the perfect snug fit or the garden fork that just lies comfortably in the hand and is a joy to use. We don’t analyse what it is about these which makes them so endearing to us but are simply happy that they are so and enjoy the experience.

So, it has been for so many years visiting Mildred Stokes garden near Kilsheelin in Co. Tipperary. It has always been a pleasure, always a joy, always comfortable and easy, always just right! And now, I have begun to wonder why this is so though I don’t intend probing too deeply – at times analysis does not add to enjoyment and, most of all, I wish to continue to enjoy this garden.

Among many beautiful roses this one, 'Hot Chocolate' caught every eye.
Among many beautiful roses this one, ‘Hot Chocolate’ caught every eye.
Lilies were performing especially well this year in Mildred's garden and this yellow one ('Conca d'Or' possibly) was spectacular
Lilies were performing especially well this year in Mildred’s garden and this yellow one (‘Conca d’Or’ possibly) was spectacular
The wonderful colouring on this mophead hydrangea was very eye-catching.
The wonderful colouring on this mophead hydrangea was very eye-catching.

Certain aspects of the garden contribute clearly to its success: From the entrance gate neither the house nor garden is visible and one moves along a short shaded avenue before entering the open space to the front of the house so, immediately, there is the element of wonder, puzzlement and surprise. The house is comfortable and well-proportioned and acts as a counterfoil to the main part of the garden which is set out in front of it, a lawn encircled by flower borders while, at the far side of the lawn and directly opposite the front door of the house there is a gate in a stone wall which directs the eye to the wonderful view beyond the garden, farmland with hills in the background. This is a house and garden which fit comfortably into their surroundings and this makes the visitor feel comfortable too.

The entrance reveals little but promises much.
The entrance reveals little but promises much.

DSC_0019DSC_0020DSC_0014There is an interesting, varied and beautiful collection of plants in her garden but Mildred has always sought first and foremost to create a garden and her chosen plants are selected to augment her overall design. On this recent visit the range of lilies, hydrangeas and roses caught everybody’s attention, all beautiful but none a prima donna. Each was there to fit into and add to the overall effect. Mildred has that sense and good judgement, not always seen in those who wish to attract people to their garden, of knowing when enough is enough. Many gardeners who open their gardens to the public seem to feel obliged to recreate themselves and the garden for each season. It seems to be imperative on them to have the latest novelty plants on show and the effect is very often a display similar to that which one would encounter in a garden centre or what my wife calls “a shoe shop window display”. The desire for novelty regularly outweighs good design and a kaleidoscope of the latest introductions is often considered the essential ingredient of the interesting garden. In this general atmosphere it is a joy to visit a garden where bauble and glitter are not required, where the garden has been developed in sympathy with its surroundings and where the owner has shown the restraint and good taste to allow it to continue in that vein. It is no wonder that some years back, in a garden competition, it was considered the best garden in the country. It is still wonderful.

Paddy Tobin

A view from one of the side gardens back to the house.
A view from one of the side gardens back to the house.
Such a pleasant seating area among the flower beds.
Such a pleasant seating area among the flower beds.
DSC_0033
The pond is wonderfully planted
A final look at that view.
A final look at that view.

To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook

A Reflection on The Carlow Garden Festival 2015

It was a week of garden celebration and enjoyment, of gardening experts, gardening celebrities and enthusiastic followers travelling and gathering and sharing in plants and gardens. This was the Carlow Garden Festival, a week crammed full of events, talks, guided walks and garden visits which seems to grow and grow in its success year on year with greater and greater numbers attending.

The house at Altamont Gardens where conservation work has begun and the fabric of the house has been safeguarded.
The house at Altamont Gardens where conservation work has begun and the fabric of the house has been safeguarded.

It was impossible to be everywhere, to attend all events, so I was forced to pick and choose the occasions where I might attend and I choose very well. No doubt, I could have enjoyed other events also but I cannot imagine I would have enjoyed them any the more.

Altamont Gardens never fails to attract nor to satisfy; it has always been the most delightful garden, a quintessentially Irish garden fitting into its surroundings so perfectly comfortably that one can stroll from garden to ice-age glen, to river bank without feeling the jar of change and on to pasture land and back to lake and find all lie so happily together, so perfectly at ease.

The double herbaceous borders in the walled garden at Altamont
The double herbaceous borders in the walled garden at Altamont

A visit to Altamont invariably brings sad thoughts to mind. I recall the days of Mrs. Corona North, her great love for her garden and her great struggles with the financial demands of maintaining both it and the house and that it is only now after she has passed it into the hands of the state that the gardens are once again thriving and looking as she has always wished them to be. The Office of Public Works with Paul Cutler, the Head Gardener, who worked with Mrs. North for many years, has performed that extraordinarily difficult task of taking on a person’s garden and continuing to maintain and develop it in a style and manner which is very much that of Mrs. North. It is sad that it was only in her death and in her passing on her garden that her vision was maintained but I’m sure she would be delighted to see it now. It is very heartening to see the gardens continue to develop – as they must for no garden can stand still – and to witness such developments as the snowdrop collection and the very successful Snowdrop Week, a wonderful example of how a garden may progress while still remaining loyal to the vision of its creator . The double herbaceous borders developed by Assumpta Broomfield have matured very well and are a great attraction to visitors while the garden centre developed by Robert Millar, has become one of the best places to visit for interesting and top-quality plants.

The central axis of the garden at Altamont, edged with box hedging and filled with roses.
The central axis of the garden at Altamont, edged with box hedging and filled with roses.
The iconic yew arches on the central axis at Altamont Gardens
The iconic yew arches on the central axis at Altamont Gardens

Of the three events that I attended during the Carlow Garden Festival, two of them were at Altamont which I like to imagine was because I was attracted more by the garden than by the various gardening “personalities” who were providing similar guided walks in other gardens. The cult of the personality is strong, very strong and while it is something I view with a certain degree of distain it must, in fairness, be credited with attracting the large numbers to so many of the events of this past week and to giving a big boost to garden related business in the Carlow area.

DSC_0048
The lake at Altamont

Matthew Jebb, Director of the National Botanic Gardens at Glasnevin, and Roy Lancaster, plantsman and author, both conducted walks of the gardens at Altamont during the week and both were excellent with the events very well attended and certainly enjoyed by the enthusiastic gardeners who were there. One aspect of both speakers’ presentations impressed me greatly. There is no doubt that both of these men have probably forgotten more about plants than I have ever known yet it was obvious, and confirmed to me later, that both had visited the gardens in advance, taken note of what was of particular interest to them, and had prepared for the event so that their talks were well organised, well delivered, very informative and very entertaining. I have attended such events previously where it seemed the “celebrity” felt their mere presence should be sufficient for our enjoyment and entertainment and that a few off the cuff light and frivolous remarks would satisfy the audience, an approach I feel is hugely disrespectful to people who have made the effort to attend and who have come with great interest and hopes of learning something applicable to their own gardening. Matthew Jebb and Roy Lancaster displayed a deep knowledge of their subject, a passion for it, professionalism in preparation and a respect for their audience and I admired them greatly for this. Such a great garden with two such speakers made for two marvellously enjoyable occasions.

The magnificent Sweet Chestnut at Hardymount
The magnificent Sweet Chestnut at Hardymount
The greeting to the walled garden at Hardymount
The greeting to the walled garden at Hardymount

The other event we attended was at Sheila Reeves Smyth’s Hardymount Garden near Tullow.  Though not as large a garden as Altamont, Hardymount has its own charm and interest and a visit there is always enjoyable.  The walled garden is compact and full both with plant interest and a range of strategically placed statuary. At the front of the house is a most magnificent example of Sweet Chestnut, a specimen gauged to be two hundred and fifty years old.  Anna Pavord spoke to an audience of more than two hundred people in a marquee on the front lawn and her hour long talk, without illustration or prop, had the audience engaged and attentively enjoying the occasion from beginning to end. She has been the gardening correspondent for The Independent newspaper for many years but is better known here in Ireland as the author of several highly regarded books. Indeed, she has a long list of books to her credit but “The Tulip”, “The Naming of Plants”, “Bulb” and “The Curious Gardener” are her latest and best known and the story of “The Curious Gardener” provided the subject matter of her talk at Hardymount.  Refreshments, a raffle for plants and a walk around the garden completed the afternoon very pleasantly.

How well the eye is lead by the clever placement of this statue at Hardymount
How well the eye is lead by the clever placement of this statue at Hardymount
The Gardener's Rest at Hardymount
The Gardener’s Rest at Hardymount

Now, I can only look forward to the2016 festival but the gardens are there all year round.

Paddy Tobin

To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook

A Great Tree – A Great Loss

For the most part the woodland garden at Mount Congreve is a very democratic and equal-opportunity location where trees and shrubs are intermingled and each left to fend for itself in company and competition with its neighbours. Occasionally, a tree has been given special status and space to grow unfettered by the encroachment of neighbours so that it can show off its form and beauty. One such specimen was a fern-leafed beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Asplenifolia’), planted just a short distance off the Bell Gate Lawn at the beginning of the Fragrant Walk.

Fagus sylvatica 'Asplenifolia' - The Fern-Leafed Beech - seen here with its spring underplainting of crocus
Fagus sylvatica ‘Asplenifolia’ – The Fern-Leafed Beech – seen here with its spring underplainting of crocus

Each March the area around the base of the tree was covered in a planting of crocus in mixed colours, a display which provided one of the first big colour splashes of the year and coaxed the visitor to stop for a moment and admire the magnificent beech tree overhead. Of course, it was later in the year when it came into leaf that we could see that it was not an ordinary beech tree but the fern-leafed variety which has slender and cut leaves, and it was in the autumn that we enjoyed the wonderful colour transformation of its foliage which later carpeted the area and walkway underneath.

The same scene in autumn with the wonderfully coloured leaves of the beech on the ground.
The same scene in autumn with the wonderfully coloured leaves of the beech on the ground.

Unfortunately, after gracing the gardens for well over a century this wonderful tree has had to be felled recently, an even which is a big loss to the garden and to those who have worked there over the years. Michael White has been at Mount Congreve Gardens since he was a teenager, worked under the guidance of Mr. Ambrose Congreve for many years, and is now the Garden Curator. He is without doubt the person with the deepest knowledge of the gardens and of the plants there. He wrote this short note to me yesterday regarding the fern-leafed beech:

The scene at present as the beech has been cut down.
The scene at present as the beech has been cut down.

Lament for an Old Arboreal Friend – Fagus sylvatica ‘Asplenifolia’

The spring of 2015 saw the garden lose a cherished old resident, a beautiful tree that was planted by John Congreve, we suspect, in the late eighteenth century. It bade us farewell as it succumbed to a malady that it bore and fought for a decade. It did hint at its demise in 2005 when we noticed a weeping from its trunk. Last year sadly it wore its golden autumnal dress for the last time. I had hoped its leaves would dance in the autumn breeze for one or two more years. Yet, rather than lament the loss of this old friend its removal opened up a vista that hadn’t been seen for over a century and allowed a very rare Magnolia officinalis that had lived in its shadow to show off again. Now, all is not lost as the Garden Director, Mr. Herman Dool, had the foresight to propagate from this tree and its progeny grows happily on the Beech Lawn today.

Fagus sylvatica 'Asplenifolia' cut down (1)

Fagus sylvatica 'Asplenifolia' cut down (3)

Michael White with Paddy Tobin

To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook