Very Christmassy, in a sort of way, but there was a sense of walking in a winter wonderland today at Mount Congreve Gardens (near us here in Waterford). No, they hadn’t spoiled the gardens by draping decorations or lights along the way but there certainly has been a noticeable change through our visits over the last fortnight. The blaze of autumn colour, mainly from the many, many maples planted through the garden, is clearly going into decline but this lack of eye-catching colour allows one vision to wander upward and appreciate the magnificent trees which are the backbone of these woodland gardens.
When Ambrose Congreve began developing the seventy acres of woodland at Mount Congreve, taking inspiration from the garden of family friend Lionel de Rothschild at Exbury, he cleared almost all of the understorey growth, leaving the giants of the woodland – beech, oak, chestnut- which provided the upper layer of the woodland garden, supplemented by a quite extraordinary planting of Magnolia campbellii raised from seed in the garden. Into this setting he planted perhaps the greatest collection of rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias of any garden in the world. The first magnolias of the year come into flower in February – Magnolia campbellii ‘Lanarth’ – and the colour show continues in the woodland garden right up into the month of June with a lull, filled by the displays in the Walled and Pleasure Gardens, in mid-summer before the woodland comes to life again with the autumn colour from the many maples.
As the foliage is lost from the maples we are better able to appreciate the giants of the woodland as our eyes are not distracted by the colour at lower levels and can drift to the outlines of fine mature trees against the blue skyline of a clear winter’s day.
Our walk today was made all the more enjoyable by the company of two gardening friends we hadn’t seen in ages – since pre-covid days! – and it was great to see them again and to catch up on all the news.
[The Feature Image is Cardiandra formosana, an herbaceous plant is full flower at the moment in the gardens and very striking and beautiful.]