The last days of November would generally not be regarded as good garden-visiting days but there are some advantages. It is a time to see a garden without the distraction of summer colour, without the fullness of summer borders and without too many other visitors also. It is a time to see the bones of the garden, the structure and layout, the framework, that which holds it all together.
Gertrude Gekyll, the famous designer of garden borders, was also a very accomplished photographer and the many hundreds of magazine articles and her many books were almost always illustrated by her own photographs. She recommended taking black and white photographs of the garden, even in summer, so that the eye was not distracted by colour and could, instead, assess the framework, body and shape of the garden and its planting.
We visited Altamont Gardens in Co. Carlow yesterday and all (well, almost all) that I love about this garden is there to be enjoyed in the middle of the winter. There is the house, substantial yet not obtrusive, which, at the front, gives a sense of arriving and, to the rear, anchors the garden and guides the visitor to the central avenue, box-lined and framed with yew uprights and arches, and leading to the lake and the walk around it.
The trees in the garden are now mature and give wonderful structure to the garden, give interest to the skyline, enclose the lake and give it a sense of cosiness – for an expanse of water would otherwise be visually very cold at this time of year. It is only as I sit and write that it has struck me that we always walk around the lake in a clockwise direction and that almost everybody does the same for one rarely meets others walking in the opposite direction. We are all guided by the design/layout of the garden in an unobtrusive and comfortable way for it all seems perfectly natural for us to walk in this direction. Revisiting a garden and following the same route around it brings a security to the visitor, a sense of safety, the garden as refuge as is often mentioned. Perhaps, it is this feeling of being comfortable which is attractive about Altamont. It is a garden which has no need to be extravagant, brash or loud. It is, as it is, just as I like it.
I did say that “almost all” I love about the garden was there yesterday. What was missing? The snowdrops! There were a few in flower, ‘Faringdon Double’ among them but there were many snouts showing and the display will be at its best in February when the annual snowdrop event will be extended this coming year to become a month-long one rather than the week it has been to date. There will be the associated Snowdrop Gala, snowdrop sales at Altamont Plants and guided walks of the garden and, this year, also of the collection in the walled garden. It is always an excellent event and one well worth attending – and you can enjoy the garden as well as the snowdrops!
Let’s walk around the lake!