It must be comforting to be able to lift one’s head, direct one’s gaze to some beauty in a garden, and ignore the weeds around one’s feet. Some will visit a garden, seek out the good and ignore the bad but I find this difficult to do and can find a garden visit spoiled when I encounter areas of poor gardening.
I visited the gardens at Bantry House last month and felt significant areas of the garden were far below the standard one would hope to find. Mind you, reading the leaflet one receives on admission, the owners do not attempt to hide the fact that there is a huge amount of work yet to be done and my visit certainly not only confirmed that fact but left me feeling very disappointed that some especially significant and integral parts of the garden have been allowed to fall into a state which is very unacceptable.
We began our visit at a pretty red bridge over a small stream which ran into the woodland which the leaflet states “needs to be restored and to be made more accessible” – a reasonable assessment – and followed the walk along the stream to the Walled Garden. This “had been partly sold in the 1950s and then abandoned. Consequently, it fell into disrepair and neglect” and so it remains with little more than some hints that it might once have been a garden – impressive gates, the remains of two ponds and a few trees, a scene to disappoint and sadden the visitor.
The return walk, the “Old Ladies Walk”, leads to the top of The Hundred Steps, one of the main features of the garden and leads past the West Stable en route which “is much more visible and its state of dereliction quite obvious. It has been made safe in 2011 with the help of the Heritage Council. To restore it is another hope.” I had wondered if it might have been better to have excluded visitors from these areas of the garden. They were not attractive and seemed unprepared for visitors.
The West Stable
The “Old Ladies Walk” brought us to the top of The Hundred Steps and one of the most glorious views in any Irish garden. From here one looks down The Hundred Steps to the fountain and parterre, the house and a magnificent view to Bantry Bay beyond. It is truly impressive and demands that one stop and admire it all. However, the walk down the steps brought terrible disappointment. The ornamental pots to each side had not been attended to this year and many sported weeds while the steps themselves seemed also destined to being overtaken by weeds. The terraces to either side of The Hundred Steps appear as though only recently rescued from wilderness. These were originally designed “to be grassed over” a simple treatment which would have complemented the architectural design but over the years Rhododendron ponticum, seedling willow and myrtles took hold. The information leaflet states that some clearing was carried out in 2016 but it was difficult to notice signs of any work in the current year. This feature, The Hundred Steps, is central to the garden design and it is such a pity that it has not received the attention that it deserves.
The Hundred Steps with views to the terraces – greatly in needs of attention
The parterre is impressive, the clean geometric design in box hedging very appealing and fitting against the façade of the house. It is an area which, obviously, receives more care and attention. It is worthwhile to choose a suitable vantage point and sit to take in the intricacy of design here, the framework provided by the balustrades with ornamental pots on plinths. It is no wonder that it is the most frequently seen photograph from Bantry House garden.
The Parterre and its surrounds
The Sunken Garden at the gable end of the house did not hold our attention – it needed a lot of tidying up – and we moved to the north terrace on the seaward side of the house where the Round Beds, fourteen in all planted with hemerocallis, run across the front lawns in a single line. It is a simple and effective design, sufficient to entertain but not distract from one’s progress to the view to the sea. The views seaward and back to the house are very pleasant.
The northern terraces with the Circular Beds
In fairness, the owners acknowledge that there is a great deal of work yet to be done and, were it done, this would indeed be a magnificent garden. However, at present, there are many very disappointing areas in the garden.