Entering this garden equalled instant sadness. You can immediately absorb how incredibly impressive this place would have been in its day, in the days before the OPW put paid to all its potential and beauty by withdrawing all but the most nominal funds from the upkeep of the place. I imagined decadent lawn parties with laughter and ladies and gents laudenummed out of their minds, drinking and cavorting the nights away in the epic gardens, diving naked and full of lusty joviality into the beautifully designed lake, the next morning, writing naive and romantic poems in the numerous nooks and crannies hiding around the grounds. Such is the faded flair that this garden has.
Given a talented and interested team of gardeners, several hundreds of thousands of euros a year and a head person who could inspire and cut edges without eradicating the bones of the place, Altamont could easily sit cheek by jowl with any of the great gardens. Sadly, it’s all old fashioned and non-sensical planting, overgrown paths, poor management and dilapidation. Of course, there is a certain charm in the ‘re-wilded’ nature of the place, particularly along the meandering and lengthy woodland path that flanks the river Slaney. A path that is full of Victorian playfulness and quaint tweeness, with ‘100 steps” and stepping stones over brooks and large boulders by which you weave and duck your way about. The woods hold a beautiful watery coolness and magic, which, if cleared of briars and weed trees, could elevate them to grandiose levels.
It’s difficult to imagine how Altamont can save itself. Perhaps by raising the ridiculously cheap car park fee from €2 (about the only place in Ireland that isn’t taking the piss with entry prices), or perhaps if someone on the OPW had an iota of originality and could see the potential in the place and, as a colleague suggested, maintain the stunning house (before it’s too late) and open a top-class horticultural education centre or college, because the grounds can certainly offer it!
But what do I know… ?