It is a bit of an odd title for this post, at first glance at least, but on Saturday I visited a garden in Bray, south of Dublin, with the strange name of Festina Lente which means, yep, you guessed it – more haste, less speed – well sort of. It actually means ‘go quickly, slowly’ but you get my drift! You are now probably thinking exactly what I thought – why is a garden called that?
Well, the garden dates back to 1780 and Festina Lente was the motto of the Conyngham Plunket family who owned the house and created the garden much as we see the layout today. In 1946 the grounds were sold to the Christian Brothers who ran a school and maintained the garden until they sold it in 1972. Festina Lente acquired the site in 1996 and now it is run as a charitable community garden. Apart from the walled garden the site is obviously well used by the community and there is horse riding on site, though I did not see it, and there is dog grooming and training.
My visit was very ‘spur of the moment’ so I just turned up in the rain and had a look round. The large walled garden is divided into two parts: the formal part with flower beds and the second that has been divided into many small allotment plots, cultivated by individuals, with a large double border running through the axis towards some metal gates in the wall.
Without being in any way critical – I have got into trouble over that before – the planting in the formal beds is a bit simple – largely calendulas and red persicaria, and this is no National Trust garden. The garden is run and maintained by volunteers who, apparently, were having their annual BBQ that afternoon. They do a great job and, judging by the number of people around who obviously knew each other, this is a really valuable local resource. There are lots of unusual plants, many labelled and there is lots to see and enjoy.
This is a garden that is about people as much as plants. And animals too. The ponds are a terrapin sanctuary – something I didn’t know there was a need for!
Formal lines, crisp hedges and a pond are the bones and on that you can hang anything you want.
The allotment side of the garden was fascinating, divided up into dozens of plots, all looked after in slightly different ways. And around and between them are some more planned areas such as a huge planting of dark sweet peas and comfrey and, below, a standard bay tree surrounded with calendulas.
Someone obviously decided to grow big onions this year.
The gardens are open daily throughout the year and entrance is free though you would have to be very mean not to leave a contribution. There is a small shop and plants for sale and basic refreshments. I suspect that most visitors to the garden are either local or actually volunteers. This is a bit of a hidden gem and well worth a look if you are passing Bray.
- Well done if you spotted the mirrors behind the gate.