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September 2011

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Mary Davies finds an evocative spot

One of the features of many great gardens is a pets' graveyard, where animals of various generations lie each beneath its small headstone inscribed with name and dates. As with family gravestones it is possible to puzzle out the relationships, working out when one beloved dog or cat was succeeded by another. Two of Wicklow's great gardens have such graveyards, and on a much lesser scale three dogs of mine, and a related one, were buried in turn years ago at my cottage in the country. My dogs have no headstones, but they are not forgotten, and the sheltered place where they lie is unlikely to be disturbed. Weekender Sep

A friend and I found a dogs' graveyard last year in a garden across the water. We had booked into a country guesthouse, reached in the dark up a narrow winding drive through dense woodland. It was a secluded house, its pointed gables over the first-floor windows typical of those northern regions, and had once been the steward's house of a very large estate. The car headlights illuminated its immaculate whitewashed stonework, embellished at one side by a thick covering of Virginia creeper. There were cheerful tubs of summer bedding at the front door and welcoming light in the tall sash windows.

It was morning before we could study our surroundings. There were no neighbouring houses, no views through the trees, no sense to be gained of the countryside - the garden was pretty, but very enclosed. Perhaps it was this sense of enclosure that in daylight gave us a feeling of unease about the place and its elderly owners: despite the bright lights of the evening before, the welcome we received as guests had seemed muted and there were no other visitors.

The garden had some good shrubs, with late summer flowers and the first colour changes of approaching autumn. Paths wound through the trees. And round at the side we found the entrance to an enclosed space that in some way reflected life there. A fine lacecap hydrangea on one side and an exuberant pink rose on the other led to a grassy glade where carefully planted shrubs enclosed a circle of markers, each painted with a dog's name and a word of appreciation. A taller marker had pinned to it, preserved in a plastic cover, a long poem extolling the animals' virtues. The markers hinted at a story of many decades of life in this isolated spot, and of affection lavished on both pets and working dogs. But despite the bright flowers and the neatly cut grass, an air of melancholy to match that of the house hung over the little glade.

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