Ireland is home to many splendid gardens and I’m hoping to visit as many of them as I can and write about them along the way, but every so often you happen across a garden so delightful that it is tempting to keep it secret, so you can have it all to yourself. Altamont Gardens in County Carlow is one of those gardens. The 40 acres that makes up the estate have been home to a monastic settlement, a nunnery and a castle or two over the centuries, but the house that stands proud today is from the Georgian era, and the gardens were created in the 20th century by the fabulously named Fielding Lecky Watson and daughter Corona North.
Around the side of the house, the walled gardens are home to lush herbaceous borders, a cafe and a plant shop.
This time of year, yellow dominates the borders; tulips bobbing with the wind and giant crown imperial fritillaries glowing under April skies.
Although there are formal elements to the borders, with box hedging and topiary adding structure, when I wandered along the central pathway there was a distinct sense of laid back planting, with flowers tumbling over each other and recklessly self-seeding in the most delightful way. I was beginning to fall under the spell of Altamont Gardens.
Around the back of the house sweeping lawns and clipped yews made an imposing first impression, but off to the side, ancient trees jostled with frilly rhododendrons and azaleas, under-planted with softly informal drifts of bleeding hearts, hellebores and pulmonaria in waves of pinks and purples.
To the left I found a wonderful woodsy area with delicate plants filling the forest floor and followed the trail until it tumbled me out under a pale magnolia tree by a lily-strewn lake.
Skirting the lake I was confronted by one stunning vista after another.
As I stood at the lake’s edge, an otter rippled by, his mouth full of building material. He glanced up at me as he passed by, never once breaking his pace as he slipped through the water towards his dam. Across the lake, a swan preened its bright feathers against shady black waters. Birdsong filled the air.
I was beginning to see that Altamont was much more than just a garden. It was a habitat for an extraordinarily rich range of wildlife too.
Past the lake, a black metal fence bisected a pasture. Cows grazed to the left, sheep to the right, and at the crest of the hill, Altamont Garden’s folly, named The Temple.
It doesn’t have any grand history, it was added in 1998, a year before Corona North passed away, but it has a whimsical touch that doesn’t seem out of place in these gardens. Onward I travelled, through wildlife habitats featuring great drifts of wild primroses and cowslips, down past secret waterfalls to an ice age glen and into the dark walk filled with brown water pooling under a shady canopy so thick only occasional rays of sunlight made their way through to dapple the forest floor.
The trail would around and down, suddenly emerging with a view over the River Slaney far below…
…then descended even further until I found myself walking along the banks of the river.
The way back up, imaginatively named the One Hundred Steps…
…wound me back up a step set of steps. There were exactly one hundred of them; I counted.
Altamont Gardens is a place to be savoured; a place to take your time; sit on a bench and watch the world go by. As luck would have it, there are plenty of benches scattered throughout the gardens in the most idyllic of spots.
Bring a picnic, kick back and enjoy all this magical place has to offer. If you can, visit a couple of times to see what each season has to offer here. And the best part about these gorgeous gardens is that they are free, at least for the time being, which means you can visit just as often as you like. Maybe I will see you there someday.