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August 2011

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Mary Davies pays a long-wished-for visit

Up in the Wicklow Mountains, nearly a thousand feet above sea level, a long, low pavilion-style house sits close to a rounded summit, backed by dark forestry plantations. Once a hunting lodge, and perhaps dating back to the late eighteenth century, the house overlooks a wide panorama: gentle views over cultivated uplands to the south; mountain and moorland views to the west. Its hundred acres or so reach down steeply to one of the great mountain lakes.


For three decades I looked across the valley to this house from my weekend cottage. Before my time it had been lived in briefly by a well-known Irish writer, but for most of my years nearby it stood empty, opened up only occasionally by its foreign owners. Apart from an occasional trespass down by the lake, I never had occasion to set foot in its grounds. 

WeekenderAugust


Now, though, the house has a new lease of life, and a splendid new garden. The approach gives no hint of the pleasures to come - the centuries-old narrow drive between green fields is still no more than a country boreen. But the elegant house once reached, a gateway close by leads into a walled garden of gravel paths and gently-coordinated flower borders. As walled gardens go, it is of no great size, but there can be few to match its mountain setting.


It is a serene garden, where a froth of the greenish-yellow flowers of lady's mantle intermingles with the blues of catmint along the central path: a sundial marks the point where paths cross to divide the garden into quarters. Low hedges and balls of box define the spaces. One wall supports a small pergola where the questing shoots of white wisteria promise a fine show to come in future years. The south-facing wall backs a new greenhouse where peaches ripen - in the wall behind there are still traces of the bricked-up flue from an earlier, larger glasshouse range. Despite the lower temperatures of an upland situation, this is a productive place where fruit and vegetables flourish.


Another small doorway gives a view out through the high stone walls into wider grounds where recently-planted trees mingle with older woods and bare outcrops of the local schists. Even within the walled garden there is none of the sense of enclosure found in many such - the mountains and woods intrude into the views and there are great expanses of sky. Tall old pines, forestry plantations velvety in their uniformity, and distant summits fading into a blueish haze, emphasise the contrast between this sheltered, tended spot and the less hospitable landscapes beyond.

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