The gardens of Mount Usher are located near the town of Ashford in western
Ireland, south of Dublin, in County Wicklow. The scenic Vartry river flows
through this privately owned property of about twenty acres, creating many
lovely vistas of the gently rushing waters framed by tall trees, rhododendrons,
azaleas, and companion plants along the banks.
The microclimate in the sheltered valley at Mount Usher provides a home for
many rare plants
that are not easily raised in the rest of the British Iles. This
remarkable 140 year
old garden includes a palm walk as well as a grove of mature eucalyptus trees.
When we arrived at Mount Usher, a full hour before opening time, the place
deserted and the gates were
locked. Peering through the bars, we had
only a brief hint of the beauty that was there. Even though the
curator arrived well ahead of schedule to give our group a private tour, my
impatience had almost reached critical levels.
As we passed through another gate in an inner courtyard, we entered the
gardens of Mount Usher, an informal landscape in the natural style of
Standing in a grove of Japanese maples,
mature specimens with red fern-like foliage mingling with some brilliant red
Knaphill azaleas, I could see the tops of huge rhododendrons blooming along
the river banks. Before us were meadows of wildflowers filled with English
Bluebells in peak bloom. The charming fragrance of the
yellow Pontic azalea, Rhododendron luteum, permeated the air.
For the first few minutes, I stayed with the group listening to our expert guide,
a very knowledgeable horticulturist who managed the gardens, as he related
interesting stories about Mount Usher while describing the richness of the plant
materials on site.
However, to appreciate beauty does not require a guide, so I started breaking
from the group, walking into
the meadow to photograph the magificence on my own. At first, I took brief
asides and would rush back as our guide continued his talk. Eventually, though,
I started taking longer jaunts, and would then try
to catch up with the crowd as the group moved to the next location.
I regretted not hearing the
wisdom of our host since he knew the history of every plant in the
garden as well as cultural requirements and Latin name. However, the chance
to experience and
photograph such exquisite beauty, the chance to be
alone in paradise without a crowd of tourists, was too much for me. I was on
I did experience one brief moment of anxiety. I knew that our group crossed
the river Vartry and was exploring the gardens on the other side. However,
I felt I had to explore the banks of this side of the river, appreciating the
many vistas and taking numerous photographs before I could cross the river.
When I finally did venture across the bridge, I discovered the proverbial
fork in the road! Our tour had taken one
of these paths, but which one? I ran to the right first, but the landscape
was still pristine. There was no evidence of traffic in the glorious
fields of flowers, so I concluded that they must have gone the
other way. Rushing back to the left, I eventually noticed trampled
grass under a large leaved rhododendron that was in full bloom. Here was
incontovertible evidence of garden photographers; I was back
on track. I finally caught up with everyone at the gift shop as
our group was exiting the garden, ready to board the bus and head
off to our next stop, Mount Congreve. I thought to myself, to be left at
Mount Usher wouldn't have been a trajedy. However, at the time I had
no idea how incredible Mount Congreve was going to be.