We had a beautiful day today. After suffering the tedium of being indoors because of stormy weather, wishing to be outside walking or gardening, we had a day of beautiful weather today and made the very most of it with a most enjoyable visit to Mount Congreve.
The garden has been closed for the past few weeks to allow time for general maintenance. Opening to the public takes staff from the essential work of the garden and closing down for a short while allowed a great deal of work to be done without interruption – and the garden shows the benefit of it. The gardens open to the public again on Friday, 14th February.
There was much to catch the eye today especially an area only planted with snowdrops and hellebores only last year and already clearly a great success but I’ll save that for another blog.
The sun shone brightly today and lit up a number of trees so they caught the eye. Oftentimes, it is the colour of the flowers of magnolias, camellias and rhododendrons which usually draw our attention and these trees are overlooked. Today was their day as they shone in the sun.
On the walk towards the house there is a tree which marks an early occasion in the life of Ambrose Congreve. The tall Monterey Cypress is now showing some signs of premature old age with its crown looking a little sparse and battered, and though it is reputed to live as long as 2,000 years this is widely disputed and the verified age of any tree has not exceeded three centuries. Monterey Cypress, Cupressus macrocarpa, is native to California but is now confined to two small populations at Cypress Point, Pebble Beach, and at Point Lobos, near Carmen. Despite its narrow native distribution, the Monterey Cypress became a popular and valuable tree in gardening landscapes when introduced to Europe. This specimen at Mount Congreve was planted by Princess Marie-Louise, granddaughter of Queen Victoria, on the occasion of Ambrose Congreve’s christening in 1901.
Evergreen trees and conifer do not appeal to me but, in the right light, they can brighten the winter garden. We began our stroll this morning on The Fragrant Walk – the fragrance coming from the many species and cultivars of mahonias planted there. Shortly along the walk there is a small open area of grass to the left and facing the walker is an evergreen tree with light yellow/yellow green foliage. This is Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Hillieri,’ a variety of Lawson’s Cypress which arose as a sport at the Hillier’s Nursery in England. Lawson’s Cypress is native to Oregon and northwestern California where it grows to 60 metres in height with a trunk up to two metres in diameter. Locally it is known as the Port Orford Cedar but after it was introduced into cultivation by Charles Lawson, a nurseryman in Edinburgh, Scotland, it became widely known as Lawson’s Cypress. The native species has blue-green foliage but the young foliage in Hillier’s variety is yellow becoming yellow green as the season progresses.
One of the venerable old trees of the woodland stands at the crossroads before one comes onto the Bell Gate Lawn. This is Castanea sativa, the Sweet Chestnut – to distinguish it from the Horse Chestnut – and produces the edible chestnuts rather than the conkers we played with as children. Reputedly, the Sweet Chestnut can live up to 2,000 years and while those at Mount Congreve are not of that age they certainly show signs of being in decline. A notable feature of older Sweet Chestnut trees is the twisting in the fissures of the bark as though some giant force had caught the tree from above and given it a turn. Those in Mount Congreve are coming to the end of their years; many have lost limbs and show signs of decay and it will not be long, I fear, before they are removed for safety reasons but we can enjoy their splendour for some years yet.
I will be at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin on Saturday next, 15th February to give a talk on Mount Congreve, “Mount Congreve – A National Treasure”
It would be a pleasure to see you there. Full details are on The Irish Garden Plant Society’s website.