There are Giants on the Earth in these Days!

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.

A favourite view in the gardens as it shows the mature beech trees and Ambrose Congreve’s gardening style of underplanting beneath these large trees with rhododendrons, camellias, azaleas, maples etc.

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.

One of our favourite trees in the garden, Acer ‘Villa Taranto’. There is a magnolia planted nearby, Magnolia ‘Neil McEacharn’, named for the creator of the wonderful gardens at the Villa Taranto on the shores of Lake Maggiore.

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.

Off they go, chatting away!
The view down the drive as one leaves the house at Mount Congreve.

[The Feature Image is Cardiandra formosana, an herbaceous plant is full flower at the moment in the gardens and very striking and beautiful.]


6 thoughts on “There are Giants on the Earth in these Days!

    1. Mount Congreve has the great advantage, for us, of being only ten minutes away and we hve visited for many years and still enjoy going there. The scale of the garden makes it difficult to transfer ideas to our own smaller garden but we certainly have seen plants there that we liked to grow – and many gifts of the same!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. And we took advantage of today’s good weather to make a run up to Altamont. Frost forecast for overnight here with rain tomorrow so it’s best take advantage of any good day that comes along.


  1. I think we need to stop celebrating gardens in Ireland (and probably elsewhere) built entirely on money – unless we point out that it was only money that made them.
    I visited this garden in 1988 – probably very soon after many shrubs and trees had been planted. The ground was sterile below the plants that had been put in place. I am sure a huge amount of weedkiller was used – nothing was growing in May 1988 except for the young shrubs and trees just planted – I promise you that I know a ‘weedkiller desert’ when I see one.
    As a horticultural student from Kew (graduated with honours in 1989), in 1988 I found it one of the most depressing places I had ever, ever been to. Our whole group of (nearly final year) Kew students was completely silent when we were taken around and we never spoke about it afterwards – except mutterings about how depressed it made us feel. However, we did have a Rothschild in our student number, so maybe that was what shut us up?
    Remember that all of us had planted many, many young trees and shrubs at Kew, so new planting was not something that we had never experienced.
    Anyway – we continued on our tour around the coast of Ireland, visiting Ireland’s finest gardens (so inspiring – truly.) Mount Congreve was the low point on the whole tour.
    Please let’s stop equating money spent (ie – ‘my’ ability to buy and plant 10 massive, mature magnolias at the same time) with a good garden.
    You in Ireland, Paddy, should have learnt the difference! And your own garden shows what real gardeners can do! Don’t pander …
    Hopefully the owners of Mount Congreve have employed good gardeners (and paid them enough) so that some heart has been put into this sterile garden since 1988.


    1. My own first visits were in the very early 1970s and I have no difficulty in imagining what you describe. I expect it was an early approach to clearing the site for planting but it has not been continued and the approach in the last twenty years has been very different. The gardens have matured greatly since your visit and I imagine you would find it quite different today.

      Indeed, there was great wealth at Mount Congreve and huge amounts were spent on plants. On the other hand, large amounts came as gifts from friends – records show truckloads, literally, came from Exbury and the large planting of Magnolia campbellii, well over 100 trees, were raised from seed collected from trees in the garden in the early 1960s and planted out in the late 60s.

      There may have been gardening practices in the early days of the gardens development which would be frowned on nowadays but they were commonplace and acceptable at the time and those practices no longer have a place at Mount Congreve.

      As a general comment – and this is from the present Garden Curator who worked for many years with Mr. Congreve and the late Herman Dool – there is no doubt but Mr. Congreve was an extraordinarily enthusiastic gardener, a lover of plants and gardens.


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