Wondered what the banner which greeted us down the long beech-lined drive to Powerscourt Gardens was worth: it proclaimed the National Geographic's assignation of No. 3 among the great gardens of the world, yielding only to Kew and Versailles. Even the approach yields lovely vistas of the valley, though the Wicklow mountains beyond were only occasionally visible, and the top of the Sugarloaf, usually such a landmark, not at all.
Now I'm not anything like as well versed in international matters horticultural as my friend Kerry Richardson, an experienced director of TV programmes on the subject including Around the World in 80 Gardens, but when we passed through the ticket office and emerged on to the top terrace, the vista immediately made me realise the reason for the accolade. It's a little like La Foce, where the formal layout is in striking contrast to the hills beyond, but on a truly Versaillian scale (this vista, with my friend, driver and Powerscourt enthusiast Catherine, one level down).
The glory of the gardens can be assigned to two Viscounts, Sir Richard Wingfield (1697-1751, who built the house and oversaw the first wonders of the garden design) and No. 7, Mervyn Edward (1836-1904), with the terrace designs instigated under No. 6, Richard (1815-1844) by architect Daniel Robinson, and now to the son of the present owners, Alex Slazenger, whose training to become head gardener has paid off (according to a local. the family is much liked for its good treatment of everyone who works there). Much of the statuary was bought by the Seventh Viscount on a grand tour or commissioned from Prof Hugo Hagen of Berlin, Fame and Victory on the top terrace being based on the design of sculptor Rauch.
Diana and Apollo Belvedere were purchased in Rome by the Sixth Viscount
while some of the vases (probably not this one) were bought in St Petersburg
and the bronze groups of children/Putti, imitating the ones in Versailles, are the work of Marin.
The patterned pavement at the next stage down is a wonder, and worth repeating in more detail.
Below it there are two 17th century Italian bronze figures of Aeolus ('the spitting men' with dolphins), bought by the Seventh Viscount at Christie's in 1872, with sundial in between. The sundial has a Latin inscription which translates as 'I only make the sunny hours'.
All perspectives down towards the lake
are more impressive than looking up towards the house,
the backside of which, originally only two storeys high and much altered, is less impressive than the north front, adapted in the Palladian style.
A major refurbishment came to an end with a fire on 4 November 1974, leaving the house roofless and all its main rooms destroyed. It's now a centre for retail by the ubiquitous Avoca and others, though I guess you could hire the piano nobile for a big event. Anyway, everyone I met here was very friendly, as more often than not in Dublin and environs.
So to the Pegasi framing the lake. They're splendid, if a bit blingy, and though I thought they might be recent additions, they're more of Prof Hagen's work from 1869.
In the centre is a reproduction of Bernini's famous Triton fountain in Piazza Barberini, Rome. Can't help feeling this one has a happier setting, and the shaggy moss suits him.
Time here for Respighi's magnificent musical tribute to the original, based around a single horn note (Triton blowing his conch).
I hadn't expected the Japanese garden to be more than a couple of temples in a glade. But this is a ravine wonder apart. The descent is rather spectacular (a nice woman in the house told me that for crinolined ladies, it was a relief to descend in to lower temperatures on a hot summer's day).
This was laid out by the Eighth Viscount in 1908, but it embraces a wonderful grotto from the time of the First Viscount, established in 1740 and made from fossilised sphagnum moss. Ireland's moist airs do the rest for the greening.
Other shades in the Japanese garden are complementary, though I imagine it's also lovely in blossom time.
Heading back up to the lake, our route now took us past giant sequoias and other splendours - the garden, like Mount Usher which I visited in the spring and really ought to have chronicled, has some of Ireland's prize trees, which must be pursued with a guidebook next time -
past the Pet Cemetery to the different feel of the Dolphin Pond zone, with more big trees surrounding it including Ireland's tallest Eucalyptus.
The pond features on a 1740 map, but the fountain was bought in Paris by our very statue-acquisitive Seventh Viscount.
We now went through one of many splendid gates to the Walled Gardens; the herbaceous border was still in full spare - praise young Slazenger for the choices - and not only dahlia/bee rich but even producing an Oriental poppy.
I was especially keen to see the Gate from Bamberg Cathedral, bought by the Seventh Viscount from one Mr Pratt, a London curiosity dealer. Again, it looks a bit blingy, but regilding is done every decade or so. The golden rose vase on top is reminiscent of those in Vienna's Schatzkammer which were given by the Pope to the daughters of the nobility, giving Hofmannsthal his idea of a silver rose for Strauss.
The English Gate at the other end of the walled garden proper - again, surprisingly extensive - was brought, as the title makes clear, from England in 1873.
In between, the rose beds were still doing well
and the two discoboloi, one pictured here, bought by the Seventh Viscount in Naples - they were copied from the originals in Herculaneum by one Massalli - look ready for action against a background of hydrangeas.
Murmurations of starlings flew overhead,
while we didn't exactly fly back to Dublin - nearly missed the start of Irish National Opera's stunningly well-sung Faust - but what an afternoon. Can't wait to return.