Classic garden furniture on display in a stunning Laois setting
Sheppard’s shows antique statues, urns and sundials in Gash Gardens ahead of sale
Lot 161 (€3,000€5,000) comprises a pair of cast-iron Georgian urns modelled on the Borghese Vase, at Sheppard’s
Whether you’re a keen horticulturist or just curious about what’s in bloom, a garden visit at this time of year ticks some pretty energising boxes. You get to spend time in beautiful surroundings; you make the acquaintance of interesting new plants; and you see all sorts of things you can try on your own patch.
If you take a trip to Gash Gardens in Co Laois this weekend, however, you may fall in love with something considerably heftier than just a new variety of herbaceous perennial.
This tranquil space at the foot of the Slieve Bloom mountains is currently playing host to a collection of garden furniture, sculpture and architectural ornaments assembled by Sheppard’s Irish Auction House, from Durrow, and carefully placed under trees, among borders and in all sorts of surprising nooks and crannies.
For the prospective buyer, a walk around the garden’s four acres of curving paths becomes a voyage of discovery as cheeky putti, graceful benches and elegant urns emerge from their leafy hiding-places.
They look as if they’ve always been there – but in fact, these sculptures and ornamental pieces were brought in by quad bike a couple of weeks ago and carefully placed so as to show them to best effect without disturbing the immaculate lawns.
It’s a simple idea – display the material for a garden sale in an actual garden setting – but it required a great deal of meticulous planning to carry it off. “It took a week and a half to move them all in,” says Michael Sheppard with a wry smile.
“It’s something we’ve always wanted to do. We try to come up with new concepts, to make it interesting for people to look at stuff and this way, the pieces are contextualised. It’s a meeting of two architectural elements – the garden and classical features.”
Some of the items in the sale were originally intended for very grand gardens indeed.
Lot 161 (€3,000-€5,000) comprises a pair of cast-iron Georgian urns modelled on the Borghese Vase, made in Athens in the 1st century BC and bought in the 16th century by an Italian family with papal connections. At 106cm across, Lot 205, a terracotta jardiniere (€1,500-€2,500), is almost as big as many suburban gardens.
A 200cm-high Italianate stone figure (Lot 40, €1,500-€2,500) was made to be displayed in a formal garden, while a group of bronze deer (Lot 8, €1,400-€1,800) could safely graze in a woodland clearing.
There are also many pieces which would sit happily in a garden of any size or style.
As Sheppard points out, it takes just one strong architectural shape or texture to draw the eye, and the most contemporary garden design can be given focus, not to say gravitas, by the addition of materials which have weathered naturally over centuries.
A pair of 18th-century cast-iron urns (Lot 202, €300-€500), would look good in the most modest of spaces; Lot 26, a bronze sundial stamped 1667 (€1,200-€1,800) would provide both a focal point and a talking point; and Lot 112, a birdcage on a treetrunk, topped by a raised hat (€900-€1,200) is simply great fun.
There is a wide selection of stone troughs, staddle stones, fountains, benches, chairs and bird cages – even a Victorian swing seat. All will be auctioned, using a big-screen display, at Sheppard’s in Durrow on Tuesday morning.
To see such garden ornaments nestled into a mature garden is an absolute delight. But Gash Gardens also offers inspiration to those who might be scratching their heads over how to design a new outdoor space, or struggling to tame the jungle which overtakes many gardens at this time of year.
The owner, Mary Keenan, recalls a time when the garden was just “a blank field” on her father’s dairy farm.
“He always had a dream to create a garden, but he hadn’t any education beyond primary school,” she says.
In the 1970s Noel Keenan started a nursery on the farm, and began to read every garden book he could lay hands on.
“I can remember the exact day the garden started,” Mary Keenan says. “It was the October Bank Holiday weekend 1984. A Saturday. The two of us headed off down the field with two shovels and a spade.”
Over more than a decade, Keenan and her father worked on the garden together, bringing its contrasting levels and planting areas into being – among them a Moon House with a waterfall cascading into a lily pond, a laburnum tunnel and a tree-lined walk along the River Nore – and when he died in 2000, Keenan and her husband, Ross Doyle, took over the running of Gash Gardens.
She has inherited her father’s love of unusual herbaceous perennials which she now propagates for sale to visitors. Her current favourites are the deceptively tough Calycanthus, with its magnolia-like burgundy flowers, and the shade-loving Solomon’s Seal, whose arched stems carry white, bell-shaped blossoms. They look great at any time.
Place them beside a statue of, say, a comical big-bellied Punch (Lot 72, €6,000-€9,000) or a saintly, mysterious, headless figure holding an orb (Lot 90, €800-€1,200), and you’ve got a marriage made in garden heaven.
Garden Sculpture and Architectural Ornaments is on view at Gash Gardens, near Castletown, Co Laois, today, tomorrow and Monday, 9am- 5pm daily. Admission €10 per person.
The sale is at Sheppard’s Irish Auction House, The Square, Durrow, on Tuesday (May 30th) at 10.30am. See sheppards.ie or gashgardens.ie