This section is from the book "The Gardener V1", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
This is the seat of the Duke of Leinster, the home of the Fitzgeralds, who have figured so long and so prominently in the history of Ireland. Situated in the county of Kildare, it is only some fifteen miles from Dublin, in a flat and fertile country, where bullocks by the hundred may be seen wading in grass to the shoulders, like buffaloes on a prairie. The railway and royal canal run parallel from Dublin to Maynooth; indeed the former seems to be built on the banks of the latter.
Maynooth, an historical name of recent years, is a small quaint country town or big village of one broad street or boulevard, with a line of trees on either side parallel with the houses, stretching from the college-gates at one end to the first gate for Carton on the other: neither of which gates is at all worthy of mention as gates to celebrated places, and both strike the stranger as being quite mean; but it must be admitted that finer gates would be quite out of keeping with the immediate surroundings. Having entered the street, about midway from the railway station, one turns instinctively to the left towards the famous College, and approaching the gate, the ruins of Maynooth Castle are passed, once the residence of the Geraldines; scarcely like ruins, however, but magnificent remains of what must once have been a magnificent building. Outwardly there appear two immense quadrangular blocks of ivy-covered wall, rising from the greenest and closely-shaven turf. Never have we before seen Ivy in such grandeur; there looks like an acre of it, standing perpendicular, of the greenest, most luxuriant colour.
Irish Ivy, we dare assert, and where Ivy is at home.
If the poet Gray had seen these towers, he would have devoted a whole stanza to them, for they are indeed ivy-mantled; and they are inhabited also by numberless starlings and jackdaws and swallows, and maybe moping owls, and many other forms of life may be seen for which this rare old plant forms a shelter; and it must have taken hundreds of years to creep over these ruins old, and to gain its present strength.
Within the college-gates grows an ancient Yew-tree, which may have been planted by some one of the former inhabitants of the ancient castle. Outside it seems old enough to have been a tree when Ireland was first annexed to the English crown, or it might have been a bush when William came over from "Normandy and annexed England to his own. It is the most perfect and healthy of any old Yew-tree we ever saw of the same age; indeed there does not seem any sign of decay, so far as we remember. The bole is like an immense fluted column, smallest at the very base, and widening as it rises to the branches; and we should say that the diameter may be 5 feet at the widest part, of solid timber. We have seen Yews of greater diameter, but decayed in the heart. This tree alone is worth the journey from Dublin to see. Of Maynooth College we have nothing to say horticulturally, except that in the kitchen we saw and smelt the conversion of an immense caldron of Cabbages, after boiling, into food beautiful and savory for the 500 students about to sit down to dinner; Potatoes also, and a caldron of cocoa undergoing an infusion of two hours for tea.
There is a college-park, and lawns and shady avenues.
Repairing to the ivy-mantled towers and along the boulevard, we enter a long, straight drive, with broad margins, 60 or more feet of Grass,with a line of trees, Spanish Chestnuts, and Limes on either side; and in the far distance the eye encounters another gateway, with dense masses of foliage in the background. The long avenue has a bare, uncomfortable look about it; but one feels that some old patrician home is near. Through the gate, which is substantial, if not imposing, the drive crosses a handsome modern bridge, which spans a narrow part of a large lake, and from which some good views are had of the lake and park and masses of large oak-timber. Over the bridge, the visitor finds himself in dressed ground, a highly-kept drive, margined with choice evergreen shrubs and conifers and shaven Grass, which winds around an incline to the carriage front of the house, which does not call for much attention.
The kitchen-garden is very large, say 9 acres, intersected by fine old Yew-hedges and cross-walls; the soil heavy, and the situation apparently wet; the walls admirably covered with well-trained Pear-trees of all the leading sorts, and laden with fruit. There were large quantities of very fine Strawberry -plants in pots; a long border full of herbaceous materials and annuals for spring bedding, in fine health; a long range of Peach-houses, the trees in fine health and training; long ranges of vineries; and some venerable Fig-trees, introduced from Italy by this or a former Duke, and allowed to grow in a natural sort of way, with innumerable quantities of Figs of the White Marseilles or some small sort. There are also several plant-houses stocked with decorative plants, of which Eucharis amazonica was prominent; and we also remember that the hot-water men were busy, and things consequently topsyturvy. The gardener's house is most pleasant and commodious-looking, with a pretty and extensive piece of flower-garden in front.
Through a gate in the garden-wall, and we were into the pleasure-grounds: and here much pleasure awaited us. One of the prettiest lake-scenes was presented to us which we ever remember to have seen in a garden - a most natural-artificial lake, the outline excellently managed. It was, however, in process of cleaning out, and its beauty could not be so well appreciated except in imagination. One side is entirely overhung by a majestic bank of foliage; the other and lower end was fringed by sloping glades of grass interspersed by shrubs and conifers, Pampas Grass, and Tritomas: in the centre was a long island entirely overgrown by luxuriant vegetation; and a striking feature of this island, and one much admired, is shrubs of all sorts overhanging the water to such an extent that no landing from a boat seemed possible - Willows, Dogwood, Rhododendrons, and all sorts of entangled vegetation, seemed floating or growing out of the water. At one point, both arms of the lake could be seen lost in the distance among overhanging branches, suggesting unknown extent, and the possibility of African Stanley penetrating round the distant bend in a canoe of savages.
Still farther we wended our way through a wild garden and groves of large forest-trees; and again a subtropical garden appears, with beds of Cannas. Tobacco, Wigandias, and some grand old trees of Liriodendron tulipiferum: and here was also a majolica balustrade round a fountain or something which did not invite our taste. Suddenly at a turn a brace of peacocks in Yew decoyed us into a semi-private part of the grounds. These birds were perched a considerable height, and were admirable specimens of the clipping art; the tails and head and beak were excellent. Here were also several fountains in Yew, with basin above basin, repeated five or six times, the climax of the hedger's art - just as the genius in confectionery who can fashion a ginger-bread cake may yet aspire to a bride's cake.
Proceeding round a turn, we come suddenly on an elevated position on the top of a flight of steps, in front of a magnificent broad vista of several hundred yards' length, along a terrace parallel with the front of the mansion. Half of the distance is enclosed on each side by high masses of foliage, within which on each side are lines of the Florence Court Yew - grand specimens - their huge black green masses contrasting with the emerald green of the turf. Down the middle of this vista is a broad walk which leads to the flower-garden in front of the house, where the usual glories of the Pelargonium and Calceolaria are to be found. Violet Hill Nosegay was here, and Mrs William Paul, both very gay; and the white-flowered, white-foliaged Mont Blanc. A feature of this garden is, that it is laid out in panels of Yew, cut as if by machinery, two or three feet high, straight and level, in a style seldom seen in England, and not at all in Scotland. The mansion is of a white polished limestone, Roman in style - not in the most fortunate position, one would suppose, though spacious and handsome enough.
We are, however, not half done with the pleasure-grounds, for we have a walk of a mile by the margin of the large lake first seen on entering the gate, winding through shrubberies and plantations, with many varied scenes at every turn, until, passing a long bridge over a dam and cascade, where we first realise that the lake is artificial, we enter the cottage flower-garden - a sweet little garden of varieties in Roses, and arbours, and shrubs, and borders, and bedding of Pelargoniums, and succulents, and hardy carpeting-plants. The cottage itself is almost unique - a piece of fancy-work like a cabinet from floor to roof. The pavement of the veranda is a piece of mosaic itself in small pebbles, one design in commemoration of the visit of Queen Victoria to Ireland. Within is a room of curiosities, a museum of antiques, foreign and native; and still within is another room, exquisitely done in shells of every imaginable shape and clime, which cannot be described - the design is marvellous, and marvellously executed, and all by ladies of the Fitzgerald family, with the help of an old labourer. This is only surpassed, so far as we have seen, by the grotto at St Giles, in Dorset, which is, of the sort, possibly the finest thing in the three kingdoms, or elsewhere.
Returning by the opposite side of the lake, the dressed grounds are still on an extensive scale of undulating slopes, with fine old forest-trees, and modern Conifers, very old Cedars of Lebanon with lobes 3 or 4 feet in diameter, Tulip-trees, old Larch and Scotch Firs, a very large and old Cupressus funebris, which must have been planted on its first introduction, which has now assumed a habit distinct altogether from the plant in its young state. A hunting-tower on a rising ground within the park has a fine effect from beyond the lake; and a monument to the late Duchess is seen for many miles in all directions, even to a point very close to Dublin. We - for there were three of us - returned by the long avenue to Maynooth much delighted, with only one regret, that Mr Knowldin was, like ourselves, from home.
The Squire's Gardener.