“Many poetic writers have likened Ireland to paradise itself and this is a recurring theme in the poetry of W.B. Yeats. He had thoughts of Ireland, as a land beyond a land, in a time beyond a time, as in “The Everlasting Voices.”
“…..You call in birds, in wind on the hill, In shaken boughs, in tide on the shore?”
George Bernard Shaw implies “To live were the facts are not brutal. And the dreams not unreal.”
More recently Seamus Heaney in his poem “Postscript”:
“Useless to think you’ll park and capture it more thoroughly. You are neither here nor there.”
Ireland is mild and green. The climate doesn’t vary much and the air is soft, softer than I’ve noticed anywhere else, while the soil, full of peat, is watered by fine mist and rain.
It was a lovely day and following the road we soon reached Enniskerry a village known as the most beautiful in Ireland. Situated in an area known as the Garden of Ireland, it came into being as a result of the large Powerscourt demesne nearby.
The name Powerscourt derives from the Norman de la Poer. They first built a castle here in 1337, but in 1603, James I granted the estate to one of his generals, Sir Richard Wingfield, and they became the Viscounts Powerscourt.
Situated beneath the Sugar Loaf mountain, famous for its historic white quartz stone, the gardens on this estate, like the nearby village, are considered, by many, the most beautiful in Ireland.
Besides the mist and rain, water is essential, and the gardens are conveniently situated near the river Dargle and one of the highest waterfalls in the British Isles. This waterfall situated a few miles away, takes a special trip to view it.
We bought tickets and drove two kilometers along the main driveway lined by tall beech trees. This plantation also contains shrubberies and a deer park with some of Ireland’s famous red deer.
Eventually we approached the formal gates and saw on the right the Araucaria walk. This avenue of “Monkey Puzzle” trees planted one hundred and twenty years ago, is very shady and the fact that the trees are there at all, is proof of the astonishing fertility of the soil, in fact, other trees grown at Powerscourt are rare Dragon trees, so tender that they survive only in the gentlest air.
We entered the garden and were soon confronted by a path running through a large expanse of smooth lawn. There were many beautiful roses on the left hand side, while to the right were trees and statues. At the end of the walk there was a magnificent gilded gate, the famous 1770 Bamberg gate, coming originally from Bamberg Cathedral.
The next garden was filled with flower beds and hot houses. I peeped into one of the hot houses and saw amongst the orchids and ferns, petunias, and impatiens, plants that flourish in the Southern hemisphere.
The next gate was the gilded Chorus Gate, and through this we reached the house itself. The Mansion is an elegant grey structure of thee stories. The vast terrace, dating from 1900, includes the Venetian Gate, while displayed on the lawn are several statues, including Apollo Belverdere, Diana and Fame and Victory.
A broad shallow flight of steps leads down to a wide lawn, and beyond this is the remarkable Perron, which is the focus of the Italian garden started in 1840 by the sixth Visount. Similar to that at the Villa Butera in Sicily, this Perron by Francis Penrose, sets thousands of small black and white stones into the first upper terrace, creating a magical touch. Another magical touch is the fact that the granite pebbles were brought from the nearby seaside village of Bray, the young son, only seven at the time, placing the first stone. Other interesting features are a group of bronze children similar to those at Versailles called “The Infanti ,” and actual urns from Versailles. Many varieties of flowers are found from tulips, daffodils, and dahliahs, to pansies, and violets.
Taking twelve years to build and more than a hundred gardeners, all five terraces and the lake comprise the magnificent Italian garden. Descending the terraces takes you to the Triton’s lake, so named because of the large Triton man fountain in the centre. It throws a jet of water one hundred feet into the air and is modelled on one found in the Piazza Barberini in Rome created by Bernini. Flanking the path above the water are two rampant winged horses or Pegasi. They stand at the foot of the last flight of steps and represent the heraldic supporters of the Wingfield arms. The lake is filled with water lilies and below the Pegasi are two “Spitting Men” originally from Milan, with a sun dial between them that has the inscription, “I only mark the sunny hours.”
On the banks of the lake there is a small man made inlet obviously used for the mooring of a small boat. Boating must be interesting, as the jet of water from the fountain, descends in a large spray that falls over most of the lake. The water is filled, as I mentioned with water-lilies, that come into bloom in Summer, when wild duck also make an appearance. The water is very clear and many small pebbles are visible in the shallows, while elusive eel and fish hide in the deeper water.
I continued on the left hand side of the lake. Blending perfectly with the formal garden, this part of the garden is very natural, and there were many little walks branching off from the main path that led into grassy areas beneath the trees. There really is nothing more enticing than cool grass beneath shady trees and I eventually followed a little path into the woods. Here in the shade, is an area where red deer graze quite calmly beneath the trees. In the distance I heard children playing , they must have found a glen somewhere beneath the Pepper Pot Tower. The eighth Viscount was the Chief Scout of Ireland in 1911 and he built the tower, modelled on one of his pepper pots. He could view all his scouts from the top and needless to say the tower also has the best view of the gardens. Interestingly many of the finest trees and shrubs are found in Tower Valley, several of them native to North America.
Listening to a lawn mower buzzing in the distance I found a shady walk, and moving through sunlit tipped rhododendrons and azaleas, reached the Japanese Garden. Laid out by the eighth Viscount and Viscountess, over a century ago, the route around the garden is a series of concentric circles flanked by stone lanterns. The innermost circle is in front of the Pagoda and crosses a small stream using several bridges. The next circle is lined by Chinese Fortune palms and the last circles runs around the garden at the foot of a small cliff. As it was Summer azaleas, rhododendrons, Japanese primula and cherry blossom were in flower, while in Autumn many coloured Japanese Maples come into bloom. With a view of the Sugar Loaf mountain, this garden is best viewed from above. Walking inwards we discover our innermost selves, while walking outwards and upwards we come to a knowledge of the world around us. A philosophical view most appropriate to Powerscourt.
From there, moving towards the base of the lake, I passed through a shady grove of tall dark trees, some of them elms, planted several centuries ago. The atmosphere was so truly relaxing and tranquil that I felt what I was experiencing, was better than a good nights sleep and knew it was a memory I’d never forget.
From there I moved to the grotto, also one of the oldest features of the garden. Built in 1740, from petrified sphagma, found on the banks of the river Dargle, it has remained a garden from another era. As I walked down a slope leading to a little stream, I came upon an area very natural and luxuriantly green, where near the water I saw small plants with large leaves. Despite the many trees, sunlight filtered through the foliage lighting the scene just sufficiently for all the plants to glow, and for a time I knew I was in another dimension. This grotto has been preserved near the retaining wall of the Triton’s Lake and two centuries ago was turned into a “Fernery.” Little secret pathways lead under stone archways to areas where you can view ferns and water tumbling down in small waterfalls to a pool below.
Walking amidst the rhododendrons, azaleas and roses on the other side, there is the the “Pets Cemetry,” known as the largest in Ireland. Interred on a gradual slope are childrens’ ponies, cows, dogs and cats and more than a score of little grave stones are found, many of the personal inscriptions still visible. This made me recall the Italian sun dial, with the inscription “I only mark the sunny hours.”
Passing through more flowering rhododendrums, there is an area near the Dolphin Pond, where a fountain with a central jet surrounded by dolphins, spouts water five meters into the air. This is also an older part of the gardens and the actual pond is found on a 1740 landscape map. The fountain was bought a century later in Paris, by the seventh Viscount. There are some magnificent conifirs here, including Japanese cedars and giant Wellingtonias.
From there I entered the Walled gardens. A calm reflective pond and an attractive centerpiece in the first garden, is the memorial to Julia, wife of the seventh earl, for it was she who planted the garden with flowers, it having previously been filled with kitchen plants and fruit trees. The seventh Earl always said that this lovely garden was “one of the greatest pleasures of my life.” The edifice designed by her son, is a fitting memorial to Julia. Many flowers including tulips, daffodils, fox gloves, poppies, and delphiniums, as well as dahlias, cyclamen and fuschia grow here. The Walled gardens also include the longest herbaceous borders in Ireland and a famous rose garden.
The formal gardens, drawing attention to the mountain, were started in 1740 by Richard Wingfield, the third Viscount, at the time of the first “Irish Famine.” This was caused by extremely cold weather in Europe and Britain during the last cold period of a little ice age, between 1400 and 1800. The Viscount employed many gardeners and fed one hundred a fifty starving people each a day.
The sixth Viscount died in 1844, one hundred years later, at the time of “The Great Potatoe Famine.” He had already planned the Italian Garden, so this would have been the attention of his widow and the young, seventh Viscount, only eight at the time. The young man naturally continued the work when he was older, again creating work for many gardeners. Enniskerry was founded, at this time, by the building of St. Patrick’s church.
From Norman times until today, the owners of this estate and it’s now famous gardens, have shown a passionate interest in other peoples, as reflected in the personal collection of international statues and plants on display. Moving inwards we discover ourselves and moving outwards we discover the world around us.
After passing through another ornate gate the famous English Gate displaying the Rose, Thistle, Shamrock and Feather emblems, I reluctantly found the main pathway once more. First planted over four centuries ago, this garden is one that I know, instinctively, can hold many delights both individual and collective, for any who care to visit it.”
Jenny Babic, 2013
With many thanks to Jenny for such a wonderful article on Powerscourt!