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Visiting Altamont Gardens during Snowdrop Time

Updated: Aug 9, 2023

According to legend, in the Garden of Eden, Eve was distraught after God had cast her out of the Garden of Eden. God sent forth continuous snow and the earth was cold and barren. As Eve sat weeping, an angel appeared to comfort her. The angel caught a snowflake and breathed upon it. The snowflake fluttered to earth and gave birth to the snowdrop. The delicate bloom came to symbolize hope and rebirth.{ Barnack Parish News]

I just love that little snowdrop story and it fascinates me that this tiny, beautiful flower causes so much joy when it pops its snow-white head above the ground every year. It heralds spring and renewal. It is interesting too that it has been part of legend and folklore since the Garden of Eden. It is a symbol of hope and renewal.

It was left to Carl Lennaus in 1753 to classify it as a snow drop or Galanthus Nivallis with Galanthus being the Greek word for milk and Nivallis, Latin word for ‘of the snow’.

I learned much about this delicate plant when I was part of the tour of Altamont Gardens to view the Snow drops or plúiríní sneachta as we knew them during my time sa bhun scoil I dTrálí.

After coffee and much chatting in the Sugar and Spice Cafe, we walked around the beautiful lake on the grounds which was originally a famine project. Over 100 men were employed to dig it out.

We returned to the house for a two-o clock tour of the snowdrops with Peter our OPW guide. We started off with the lovely story of Corona North who with her husband Garry North planted so much of what we experience today like the snowdrops, the planted lake, and the Arboretum and many more features of this arboreal gem.

The gardens as we see them today were laid out by Dawson Borror in the 1850’s. He created a garden with some of the Victorian style of clipped yews and box hedging but he was also influenced by William Robinson’s [ 1838/ 1935] ideas of honest simplicity. His original design was enhanced by Fielding Lecky Watson and his wife until Fielding’s death in 1943.

At the end of World War two their daughter Corona moved home and thus began the transformation of the gardens into the beauteous place it is today. Before she died in 1999 Corona North left her house and 40 acres of gardens to the Irish Government, to be preserved as it was. That was a tremendously generous gift to the nation.

Peter enthralled us with stories about the 150 varieties of Galanthus growing in Altamont. We heard about Galanthus Coolballintaggart, The Irish O Mahoney Irish Snowdrop. Being a Kerryman myself, I loved the story about Pierce Charles Mahony born in 1850 in Kerry who was a friend of Parnell, planthunter and many more attributes besides. He died in 1930. I think it can be said that he was a true character in the real sense and was larger than life.

We saw Galanthus Hippolyta from Turkey while we did not get the exact origin of Galanthus Cider with Rosie or Spindlestone Surprise or Blewbury Tart or Blonde Inge, all great interesting names and looking lovely. I just loved Galanthus Grumpy and Galanthus Emerald Isle. In all they had 150 species in Altamont which is the largest collection in Ireland. Peter told us that there are 2800 species world-wide. He also told us to wear gloves when handling snowdrop bulbs as they are poisonous.

When we finished the hour-long tour, many went on the river Slaney walk which adjoins the gardens.

We entered this from an entrance beside the lake and traversed a downward path through the Ice age glen with its rocks and massive boulders. We followed the fast-flowing stream with its mini waterfall. It was a pure magical journey through time from the ice age to present times until we emerged on the banks of the fast-flowing River Slaney. We walked along the grassy bank until we came to the 100 granite steps to begin our ascent back to the gardens. This was a real cardio test, but we survived it and proceeded forward following the directional arrows until we emerged into a clearing.

We then chose the path through the ancient forest instead of going up the rise to the Temple with its stunning views because we had all gone that trail previously.

On our way back we passed through The Bog Garden Pool, The Arbutus pool, and the rhododendron drive. which has the rhododendron Corona growing there after which Fielding named his daughter.

Next we walked along the Nuns walk with its mature beeches. We passed some spectacular Spanish oaks or Quercus Hispanica, the Tsuga Heterophylla or Western Hemlock from North America and the lovely soft barked Sequoiadendron Giganteum more commonly known as Giant Redwood.

Finally, when we had crossed the last bridge, we entered the croquet lawn and the walled garden.

There was so much to absorb in Altamont that you would want to return and pitch a tent for a week there. It has 1500 different species of plants including two beautiful species of Weeping Ash trees in front of Altamont House. I had never before seen or heard about them.

Plans are in train to renovate this beautiful ornate house to further enhance this wonderful tourist attraction.

The grounds are full of bird nesting boxes while there is an owl nesting box on display at the entrance courtyard.

I really enjoyed the day in Altamont. We had a great group of people, excellent guide, ideal summer weather conditions and relaxing chats and coffees.

Days like this are wonderful for body and soul and I am already promising myself a return trip in May to see the rhododendrons and many more species in full bloom.

I just loved the fact that all the snowdrop trail is on level paths and is easily accessible to all.

I was also very impressed with their extensive garden centre which had a huge array of plants, trees and shrubs for sale.


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