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July 2013

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weekender

Weekender July 2013



Mary Davies enjoys a Victorian treasure



Not long ago I went searching, in extensive grounds once part of the gardens of a large late-Victorian house, for a distinctive feature. The house has long gone, destroyed by fire half a century ago, and what was a winding rural road at the time of its construction is now a major motorway carrying traffic through the hills of Wicklow. But the setting is still a fine one and much of the gardens has survived: an avenue of yews far older than the house; a collection of unusual trees planted more than a century ago; restful green lawns with glimpses of the surrounding peaks. Together with their colourful modern plantings, the old gardens now encircle a major commercial centre.


The gardens are well-known, but the search was for an artificial structure, less well-remembered, of a kind beloved by Victorian gardeners. Drawn by the sound of gently falling water, I found what I was looking for hidden in plain sight close to the busy car park. The dripping pool, for such it is, remains just as it appeared in a drawing made at the time of its creation. Great boulders, seemingly piled at random, form a kind of grotto. The centrepiece is a large flat stone over which water flows in a thin sheet before falling like slender sparkling icicles over the edge down into the pool deep below.


Finding it was a pleasurable moment of discovery. Ferns and ivy sprouted from crevices among the massive boulders. More ferns, grasses and small garden plants grew on the surrounding slopes in the shadow of tall ancient pines, newly planted at the time of the original drawing. One great ash tree leant precariously. The eye was drawn, though, into the cool central cavern, the charm of which lay in the plants thriving in the moist air under the miniature waterfall. A curtain of delicate leaves was studded with the tiny purple-pink flowers of herb robert. Behind the green curtain the boulders, running with moisture, were thickly carpeted in moss.


Below, at the heart of the structure, the pool lay quiet, its surface only lightly disturbed by the dripping water. Pond skaters were the only living creatures, but it was easy to imagine the local wildlife coming down for a peaceful drink in the early morning before the arrival of the first cars of the day. The damp air was fragrant and a wren sang in the bushes nearby. The landowner who commissioned the dripping pool and the gardener who created it a hundred and thirty years ago would surely have been happy to see its safe survival into the twenty-first century.

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