In ancient Rome, a genius loci was the spirit which protected a place, a territorial guardian angel of sorts. Nowadays, it is a phrase used in reference to garden design and was first enunciated by Alexander Pope. He contended that garden or landscape designs must always be adopted to the location for which they are intended; that design should always take account of the spirit of the location.
He wrote in his Epistle IV, to Richard Boyle, Earl of Burlington:
Consult the genius of the place in all;
That tells the waters to rise, or fall;
Or helps th’ ambitious hill the heav’ns to scale,
Or scoops in circling theatres the vale;
Calls in the country, catches opening glades,
Joins willing woods, and varies shades from shades,
Now breaks, or now directs, th’ intending lines;
Paints as you plant, and, as you work, designs.
I believe a similar principle ought to be applied to the continued development of a garden following the creator’s death when, for example, the garden has been left to the state. The spirit of the creator should continue to infuse the garden and guide its development. I would not contend that the garden be preserved as it was in the lifetime of the creator for every gardener will continue to develop and change their garden – the creator would have done likewise – and it is to be expected that those charged with its care should be free to do likewise, but informed by the creator’s style and approach to gardening.
This is a challenging task for the inheriting/caring gardener and, indeed, so very often lays them open to criticism – John Lydgate’s, “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”, comes to mind. However, there are wonderful exceptions and Altamont Gardens always spring to my mind in this context and the gardens today are as I imagine Mrs. North would have developed them with her style and spirit continuing to infuse the garden. The gardens have simply continued to develop since her time and have not changed in any way which jars with her approach. This, of course, was facilitated by the fact that the present Head Gardener, Paul Cutler, worked with Mrs. North and was perfectly familiar with her gardening thinking. He has continued to garden in her spirit and the garden has continued to improve year on year.
It is a garden which is beautiful and worth a visit at any time of the year and is especially interesting and beautiful at this moment as its Snowdrop Month is coming to a close. You can join Paul for a guided tour of the snowdrop collection, with much additional general comment on the garden and its creator, for the remainder of this month at 2p.m. each day.
For more information on events at Altamont Gardens and elsewhere in Co. Carlow: https://carlowtourism.com/events/snowdrop-month-2020/