The Times We Lived In: Garden variety

Published on May 2nd, 1990. Photograph by Joe St Leger


It’s like an Irish Zen koan: water and land, sunlight and shadow. Or one of those tick-the-boxes magazine quizzes. Which personality type are you: lady in summer dress skipping gaily over rocks, or gentleman in suit proceeding cautiously across bridge?

The lady in our picture is Madelaine Jay, owner of Mount Usher Gardens, in Ashford, Co Wicklow. Clearly at ease on her Japanese pond, she is leading the chairman of Bord Fáilte, Martin Duffy, in a merry dance to announce details of the first Wicklow Garden Festival. Duffy appears to be taking things rather more slowly, perhaps mindful of his high-gloss shoes, perhaps taking in the pond life.

Despite their very different body language and their yin-and-yang outfit – she all brightness right down to her shoes, he in more funereal black – the photographer has caught the pair in almost identical pose, mid-step with right hand and right foot raised, marching as if in unison.

Add in the clarity of the light and the reflections on the surface of the water, and you have a picture that sings: “It’s summer! Get out into the garden!”

You may have to wait for the last of the snow to clear first. But it’s not too early to plan a visit to the Wicklow Garden Festival, still blooming every year from April through to September.

dLike any self-respecting perennial it has colonised the neighbouring counties as well, featuring some 33 gardens across counties Dublin, Kildare, Wexford and Carlow. Meanwhile, if it’s still snowing as you read this, the cafe at Mount Usher – now run by Avoca – is a cosy spot for lunch, whatever the weather.

Arminta Wallace

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