Not as it should be!

It must be comforting to be able to lift one’s head, direct one’s gaze to some beauty in a garden, and ignore the weeds around one’s feet. Some will visit a garden, seek out the good and ignore the bad but I find this difficult to do and can find a garden visit spoiled when I encounter areas of poor gardening.

I visited the gardens at Bantry House last month and felt significant areas of the garden were far below the standard one would hope to find. Mind you, reading the leaflet one receives on admission, the owners do not attempt to hide the fact that there is a huge amount of work yet to be done and my visit certainly not only confirmed that fact but left me feeling very disappointed that some especially significant and integral parts of the garden have been allowed to fall into a state which is very unacceptable.

Bantry House Garden (1)
A sideways glance to the house before turning to the woodland.
Bantry House Garden (2)
A pretty bridge over the stream in the woodland.

We began our visit at a pretty red bridge over a small stream which ran into the woodland which the leaflet states “needs to be restored and to be made more accessible” – a reasonable assessment – and followed the walk along the stream to the Walled Garden. This “had been partly sold in the 1950s and then abandoned. Consequently, it fell into disrepair and neglect” and so it remains with little more than some hints that it might once have been a garden –  impressive gates, the remains of two ponds and a few trees, a scene to disappoint and sadden the visitor.

Bantry House Garden (5)
The entrance to the walled garden
Bantry House Garden (8)
Some signs of planting in the walled garden

The return walk, the “Old Ladies Walk”, leads to the top of The Hundred Steps, one of the main features of the garden and leads past the West Stable en  route which “is much more visible and its state of dereliction quite obvious. It has been made safe in 2011 with the help of the Heritage Council. To restore it is another hope.”  I had wondered if it might have been better to have excluded visitors from these areas of the garden. They were not attractive and seemed unprepared for visitors.

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The West Stable

The “Old Ladies Walk” brought us to the top of The Hundred Steps and one of the most glorious views in any Irish garden. From here one looks down The Hundred Steps to the fountain and parterre, the house and a magnificent view to Bantry Bay beyond. It is truly impressive and demands that one stop and admire it all. However, the walk down the steps brought terrible disappointment. The ornamental pots to each side had not been attended to this year and many sported weeds while the steps themselves seemed also destined to being overtaken by weeds. The terraces to either side of The Hundred Steps appear as though only recently rescued from wilderness. These were originally designed “to be grassed over” a simple treatment which would have complemented the architectural design but over the years Rhododendron ponticum, seedling willow and myrtles took hold. The information leaflet states that some clearing was carried out in 2016 but it was difficult to notice signs of any work in the current year. This feature, The Hundred Steps, is central to the garden design and it is such a pity that it has not received the attention that it deserves.

Bantry House Garden (30)
View from the top of The Hundred Steps
Bantry House Garden (31)
The view from the top of The Hundred Steps

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The Hundred Steps with views to the terraces – greatly in needs of attention

The parterre is impressive, the clean geometric design in box hedging very appealing and fitting against the façade of the house. It is an area which, obviously, receives more care and attention. It is worthwhile to choose a suitable vantage point and sit to take in the intricacy of design here, the framework provided by the balustrades with ornamental pots on plinths. It is no wonder that it is the most frequently seen photograph from Bantry House garden.

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The Parterre and its surrounds

The Sunken Garden at the gable end of the house did not hold our attention – it needed a lot of tidying up – and we moved to the north terrace on the seaward side of the house where the Round Beds, fourteen in all planted with hemerocallis, run across the front lawns in a single line. It is a simple and effective design, sufficient to entertain but not distract from one’s progress to the view to the sea. The views seaward and back to the house are very pleasant.

The northern terraces with the Circular Beds

In fairness, the owners acknowledge that there is a great deal of work yet to be done and, were it done, this would indeed be a magnificent garden. However, at present, there are many very disappointing areas in the garden.

Paddy Tobin

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8 thoughts on “Not as it should be!

  1. Isn’t it great to have a scout who bravely goes before so that those pesky irritants cant ambush us! General Custer could have benefitted from using Scout Tobin and might have kept his hair on! It is always a pleasure to have the truth well told and I really wonder at the owners charging for a garden visit when the word garden seems a little exaggerated. All too often we accept mediocrity-I have done so most of us have but its good to have a champion-champions-who doesn’t/don’t! Many thanks.

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  2. I think there are several questions here. Should one open a garden at all if some parts, or indeed all of it, need attention. Should an open garden be completely weed free and all its features maintained or is it acceptable to have some parts up to the mark and others neglected. Are the standards different according to whether one is, or is not, charging to view the garden. Should only the finished parts be open and the rest closed, or should this depend on how important the unfinished parts are to the overall design. I have been to several gardens over the last week or two where the owners have shown vastly different attitudes to what one has the right to charge for. Some were immaculate and full of colour. Significantly the owners were hard at work in each of these, deadheading, adding touches of colour here and there, generally tidying, tweaking designs etc. In others, including one very famous one, the problems of keeping a garden appealing at all seasons were very obvious, and no one appeared to be addressing them. Yes, one or two areas had well maintained perennials that display well in august, along with a few seasonally flowering trees. But in other areas the garden was suffering from the conspicuous absence of anyone with a hoe or a pair of secateurs. I wouldn’t mind if they charged less at this time of year than they do when spring flowers are blooming or their is autumn colour, but they charge full price but don’t give full value. A quick trip to a local garden centre could have improved the overall appearance enormously and lessened the grumbling I heard from other visitors. I know how hard it is to keep a garden up to the mark. I don’t put enough effort into my own garden to open it, but if I was going to charge money to see it I would make sure that visitors didn’t go away disappointed. One garden I visited that has received a good deal of my support as a tax payer over the years is, frankly, bare face robbery.

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    • You echo my sentiments very closely, Kathryn. It is very disappointing to visit a garden where good standards of gardening are absent. We are very slow to complain though. One regular garden visitor I know, a lady who takes groups around, has told me she has complained and asked for her money back and received it. I generally find myself flabbergasted that the owner’s or their gardeners cannot see the state of the garden and won’t simply get on with doing the work. It is a huge disappointment.

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  3. Dear Paddy,

    Perhaps one should relish the fact that the house and the gardens are historic in Ireland and whilst you may be disappointed in the garden and the lack of gardening help that they have there at Bantry, amazingly their doors are still open, despite the expense of the recent death tax that left them staggering and trying to find a way to preserve their home, first, and the garden second. Bantry house is lived in by its owners who do their utmost in maintaining what they can despite the Irish government blocking their attempt to sell some of the antiquities so that they could continue to live in their home and also to maintain their gardens that you find so repulsive.

    Perhaps, just perhaps, we could all rally around them and continue to support them in their house and in their garden, so that one day they will be able to come back to normalcy after such a huge loss of husband, father and grandfather.

    I for one, make sure I stop to see the house and gardens on every tour I have in the area. If we lose them, then we will have lost a national treasure.

    Sincerely,

    Ginger Aarons
    Time Travel (Tours)
    Historic House Lover
    Master Gardener
    Tour Operator in Ireland

    Liked by 1 person

    • Many thanks for your contribution, Ginger. I’m sure your support for Bantry House and Garden is greatly appreciated and I hope you will continue to give it and to enjoy it. I chatted with some members of a German touring group on the day I visited to elicit their opinions and they expressed disappointment with the garden. I sincerely hope that the garden improves and has every possible success but I certainly feel it needs to be brought to a better standard than it is at present.

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