I don’t consider myself fickle but there is a twinkle in my eye after seeing the latest love of my life. Can it be just five months ago that I was bewitched by the sprint beauty of Mount Congreve and now I have a new paramour? Yesterday I travelled south and west to Lismore Castle and wow was I impressed. In fairness it is not fair to compare the two and I have not really lost my love of Mount Congreve, nor will I stop visiting, especially as autumn is coming and that must be the second highlight of the garden, after spring. And the two gardens are very different, even though both are large and privately owned (well Mount Congreve was till lately).
But Lismore Castle gardens have the benefit of a spectacular building which wraps itself around the garden in the form of old walls. And the quality of horticulture is second to none. In addition to the old borders and features there are new areas and plantings that are superb and the great cakes and coffee are just €4 for the pair!
So, this week will be ‘an homage’ to the place, starting with the lower, spring garden. But first, some inevitable history.
There has been a castle in Lismore (itself a beautiful town) since 1185 when Prince John built a castle here. When he became King of England he handed it to the Church and it was used as a Bishop’s palace until 1589 when it was leased to Sir Walter Raleigh, of potato fame, and he later bought it. In 1620 he sold it to Richard Boyle who became the first Earl of Cork. Lismore Castle is actually in Waterford, not Cork, but it is at the western edge of the county. His son, Robert, was the father of modern Chemistry.
In 1753 the castle passed to the fourth Duke of Devonshire after his marriage to Lady Charlotte Boyle, the heiress of the fourth Earl of Cork. The sixth Duke employed Joseph Paxton, who worked at Chatsworth and who designed the Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851 (in London) and he designed the garden much as we see it today as well as the (just about) surviving greenhouses in the top walled garden.
The present owners are Lord and Lady Burlington and the castle is a private, family home though, if you have deep pockets you can stay there. But the garden is open to the public and for €8 is a bargain.
The gardens are scattered with modern art and there is a gallery of art in the castle though it was closed for renovation when I was there.
So, on to the garden.
The lower garden is informally terraced with an upper walk that gives elevated views of the lower magnolias and avenue of huge yews that were planted in the 17th century. At the far end, below the castle are two rows of huge eucryphias, great green columns of poppy-like, pure white, fragrant flowers. I have never seen better.
Although mostly laid to shrubs and grass, there are herbaceous plants too like these Japanese anemones embracing the stone steps.
The upper terrace is open and rather formal but lower in the garden the atmosphere is more jungly and at one end dominated by the yew avenue that is reputedly where Edmund Spencer wrote part of the Faerie Queene (not something I know much about).
Hidden among the ancient trunks there is a self portrait by Antony Gormley – Learning to be I – (1992)
Possibly the most visited ‘art’ (sorry Antony) is the pair of pieces of the Berlin Wall, installed in 2015. I knew they were here but I somehow expected small fragments on a plinth, not complete sections.
So late in the season, the magnolias and camellias were obviously not looking their best but hydrangeas provided colour here (and more so in the upper garden, you will see tomorrow).
You can’t really miss the gardens if you drive into Lismore, since the castle dominates the town, but the entrance is not that obvious. There is a car park below the Millenium Park and a long drive that leads to the ‘gate house’ that is the entrance to the garden. This was lined with craft and food stalls yesterday but I am not sure if these are there every day.
Anyway, more tomorrow – and it gets better!