Sunday, 3 May 2015

The Irish Garden


A morning of lashing rain seems like a good opportunity to review a magnificent book, The Irish Garden, with text by Jane Powers and photography by her husband Jonathan Hession. Recently released by Frances Lincoln, who are to be congratulated on having the vision to publish it so generously, this is a well-produced, big (400 pages), heavy book with excellent reproduction. Nothing is cramped and text and photographs are well balanced. It is beautifully written and unusually accurate in nomenclature, and someone has done an outstanding job at proof-reading.

It's very evident that author and photographer between them spent a long time working on the book - you can't cover that many gardens in depth in a season or two and the images provide evidence of multiple visits to many. Remarkably it doesn't seem to be raining in any of them! 38 gardens are covered in detail, given several spreads, and numerous others are mentioned in the introductions to each of the 'chapters' - really loose groupings of gardens of similar style or period. The whole island of Ireland is covered, though there is perhaps more emphasis on the Republic. This will be a lasting record of current Irish horticulture and a high standard against which to compare any other review of a country's gardens. At 3 kg it practically needs its own Ryanair luggage allowance, but although hardly a handy guidebook, it will be essential reading for anyone researching Irish gardens or planning a horticultural tour there for years to come.

A garden to visit: Glenveagh, Co Donegal, where much planting was done by James Russell (founder of the Yorkshire Arboretum) 'He had apparently wild ideas which proved to be excellent'
With its generally soft climate and abundant rainfall, gardening in Ireland has different advantages and challenges to those we experience in Great Britain. Growth is lush and soon becomes rampant, meaning that the jungle comes in fast if a back is turned. Many of the gardens described have been rescued after shorter or longer periods of neglect - and Jane Powers is not above a warning here or there when she feels that the current custodians of a particular garden are failing to maintain standards. Inevitably, I suppose, many of the featured gardens are those created by the Anglo-Irish elite, past and present, centred on various grand piles. Magnificent they are, and omitting them would be unthinkable, but it would have been nice if some smaller gardens had been featured more fully. One can think of those of Conrad McCormick and Harold McBride in the North, and Bruno Nicolai in Cork - all plantsmen remarkable in any company. Carmel Duignan's smaller garden in Dublin gets a mention, but that's about it.

One of the spreads featuring Carl Wright's Caher Bridge garden, a gem inserted among the rocks of the Burren.
I am fortunate enough to know the owners or keepers of several of the gardens featured, and have visited their and other gardens described. If there is one flaw in this excellent book it is that there are no images of the gardeners, past or present, who created these places (and indeed the images are all unpopulated). The tales of how the umpteenth Earl did or created this or that, and changes and fortunes of ownership, are faithfully recorded, but we have no image of any of them. Mount Congreve is literally synonymous with its magnificent creator, Ambrose Congreve, and what would the Dillon Garden be without Helen Dillon? I suspect this was a conscious decision, for uniformity, but perhaps we could next have an illustrated guide to Irish gardeners?

A full spread showing June Blake's Garden - the images do full justice to their subjects. 

1 comment:

  1. John, With such a book it is inevitable that some gardens are selected and others not otherwise Ryanair would ban it completely. In conversation with others I have commented that we could look at the book as we might at a team selection - we can grumble about whom the coach has selected but when the team wins - or the books is an outstanding success - then we must but admire and compliment the choices.

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