Some gardens are worth visiting again and again; each visit a joy and an opportunity to steep in the accomplishment of a wonderful gardener.
I have been visiting this same garden for many years without ever thinking beyond the obviously simple fact that I have always enjoyed being there and that I have never been disappointing with the garden.
We, each of us, probably has a pair of shoes which are perfectly comfortable, a coat which is the perfect snug fit or the garden fork that just lies comfortably in the hand and is a joy to use. We don’t analyse what it is about these which makes them so endearing to us but are simply happy that they are so and enjoy the experience.
So, it has been for so many years visiting Mildred Stokes garden near Kilsheelin in Co. Tipperary. It has always been a pleasure, always a joy, always comfortable and easy, always just right! And now, I have begun to wonder why this is so though I don’t intend probing too deeply – at times analysis does not add to enjoyment and, most of all, I wish to continue to enjoy this garden.
Certain aspects of the garden contribute clearly to its success: From the entrance gate neither the house nor garden is visible and one moves along a short shaded avenue before entering the open space to the front of the house so, immediately, there is the element of wonder, puzzlement and surprise. The house is comfortable and well-proportioned and acts as a counterfoil to the main part of the garden which is set out in front of it, a lawn encircled by flower borders while, at the far side of the lawn and directly opposite the front door of the house there is a gate in a stone wall which directs the eye to the wonderful view beyond the garden, farmland with hills in the background. This is a house and garden which fit comfortably into their surroundings and this makes the visitor feel comfortable too.
There is an interesting, varied and beautiful collection of plants in her garden but Mildred has always sought first and foremost to create a garden and her chosen plants are selected to augment her overall design. On this recent visit the range of lilies, hydrangeas and roses caught everybody’s attention, all beautiful but none a prima donna. Each was there to fit into and add to the overall effect. Mildred has that sense and good judgement, not always seen in those who wish to attract people to their garden, of knowing when enough is enough. Many gardeners who open their gardens to the public seem to feel obliged to recreate themselves and the garden for each season. It seems to be imperative on them to have the latest novelty plants on show and the effect is very often a display similar to that which one would encounter in a garden centre or what my wife calls “a shoe shop window display”. The desire for novelty regularly outweighs good design and a kaleidoscope of the latest introductions is often considered the essential ingredient of the interesting garden. In this general atmosphere it is a joy to visit a garden where bauble and glitter are not required, where the garden has been developed in sympathy with its surroundings and where the owner has shown the restraint and good taste to allow it to continue in that vein. It is no wonder that some years back, in a garden competition, it was considered the best garden in the country. It is still wonderful.