The Garden Visit

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‘Elizabeth, as they drove along, watched for the first appearance of Pemberley Woods with some perturbation; and when at length they turned in at the lodge, her spirits were in a high flutter. The park was very large, and contained great variety of ground. They entered it in one of its lowest points, and drove for some time through a beautiful wood, stretching over a wide extent.

Elizabeth’s mind was too full for conversation, but she saw and admired every remarkable spot and point of view. They gradually ascended for half a mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road, with some abruptness, wound. It was a large, handsome, stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; — and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal, nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!

They descended the hill, crossed the bridge, and drove to the door; and, while examining the nearer aspect of the house, all her apprehensions of meeting its owner returned. She dreaded lest the chambermaid had been mistaken. On applying to see the place, they were admitted into the hall; and Elizabeth, as they waited for the housekeeper, had leisure to wonder at her being where she was.

The above description of Elizabeth Bennet’s first view of Pemberley, home of Mr D’Arcy is an early novelised example of tourism and a garden visit in the early nineteenth century. The tradition of garden visits started in the eighteenth century, when members of genteel society would visit the great demesnes of the aristocracy. Gazetteers detailed which houses and gardens lay along the different routes to and from Dublin and guide books such as William Wilson’s Post Chaise Companion. Or Traveller’s Directory through Ireland, published in 1786 described the sights to be seen in different counties.  Tourism at home gained a boost during the Napoleonic wars when travelling abroad on the Grand Tour was curtailed or regarded as dangerous and unpatriotic.  Domestic tourism was also available to members of the newly emerging middle classes who did not have the means or time to take months off work to travel the continent. By the end of the nineteenth century many great houses were also opening their demesnes to the general public to visit on certain days of the week, generally on Sundays, which was the only day off for most working people.  During the same period the public parks movement developed with the provision of open spaces for workers being its stated aim.

The behaviour and education of the working classes would, it was said, be greatly improved by the opening of public gardens, museums and picture galleries. The nineteenth century city was dirty, overpopulated and disease ridden. The fashionable city squares were closed to the Dublin public and there was little for workers to do apart from visiting public houses. Castletown House was one of the first gardens to open its gates to the public along with Lord Talbot’s garden at Malahide Castle and Lord Cloncurry’s Lyons Estate and later Lissadell House. Lord Talbot and Lord Cloncurry were at the forefront of the movement to provide public parks for recreation.

Today most big houses of note open their gardens to the public regularly and many lovely smaller private gardens open their gates to the public on certain days of the year, usually for charity or in association with the Royal Horticultural Society of Ireland or other garden clubs. Garden visits are a great way to get ideas and make plans for our own gardens. Even great gardens such as Powerscourt or Mount Usher can be a source of inspiration for the smallest suburban garden, bedding displays can be copied or adapted to suit the smaller garden, trees and shrubs can be observed for size, colour and form in mature growth to help decide whether they would suit our own gardens and new plants can be discovered. Most gardens that are open to the public have nurseries selling plants and I challenge you to come empty handed. There are however some strict rules to observe on a garden visit:

Garden Visit Etiquette

  • Never, ever take cuttings or seeds, in fact don’t touch the plants – it makes the owners edgy
  • Don’t loudly exclaim every time you see a weed
  • Be polite, even if you don’t like a particular display
  • Park where directed and never park outside the front door as if you own the place
  • Don’t stray into areas the public are forbidden from entering
  • Where an appointment is necessary for viewing, don’t turn up without prior booking
  • Remember that though the gardens are open to the public, they are still privately owned and show respect to the owners
  • Obviously don’t litter
  • Bring a notepad and scribble down ideas and names of plants

Some Gardens Open to the Public

Avondale House

Altamont Gardens

Bay Garden

Belvedere House and Gardens

Birr Castle

Camas Park

Coolaught Gardens

Dillon Garden

Derreen Garden

Emo Court

Fernhill Gardens

Glenveagh

Glebe House and Gallery

Huntingbrook Gardens

Huntington Castle Gardens

Ilnacullin (Garinish or Garnish Island)

Irish National Botanic Gardens

Irish National War Memorial Gardens

Japanese Gardens,

John F. Kennedy Arboretum

Johnstown Castle

June Blake’s Garden

Kells Bay Gardens

Kilfane

Kilmokea

Killruddery

Kilmacurragh

Knockpatrick Gardens, Foynes, Co. Limerick

Larchill

Lissadell

Lodge Park, Straffan

Mount Congreve Garden

Mount Usher Gardens

MuckrossKillarney National Park

National Garden Exhibition Centre

Newtownbarry House Gardens

Powerscourt Estate

Ram House Gardens

Rathmichael Lodge

Talbot Gardens, Malahide

Terra Nova Garden

Tombrick Garden