Great Ireland characters: Lady Londonderry

Mount Stewart gardens

Discover the style and creativity of Lady Londonderry through her celebrated gardens at Mount Stewart

As you drink in the glory and greenery of Mount Stewart’s gardens, its creator’s nickname begins to make a little more sense. Known to her friends as Circe the Sorceress, Lady Edith was gifted with green-fingered talents right out of a fairytale – and the enchantment she cast here at the turn of the 20th century is still alive today.

“Edith saw the garden as a vehicle for her artistic expression,” explains Neil Porteous, general manager of Mount Stewart. “It’s full of iconographic references and allegories. There’s a lot of playful fun and lighthearted realism.”

Although mistress of no fewer than three stately homes, it was at Mount Stewart that the Marchioness of Londonderry allowed her personality to truly flourish, creating an oasis of colour and contrast that delighted her well-to-do visitors.

Finding inspiration

Travelling the world as a member of the privileged upper class allowed Lady Edith to soak up lots of different influences. These inspired her to create different styles in her gardens. It’s for this reason that stepping into Mount Stewart is a true departure from the standard ornate beauty of many Victorian estates.

These gardens usher myth and lore into real life in a way that makes them look as though they have always belonged: Tír na nÓg, the legendary Irish land of eternal youth, has its own space here, guarded by stone towers and an imposing statue of the white stag – a central figure in Celtic mythology. But perhaps even more whimsical is the Dodo Terrace, where concrete statues of dinosaurs, apes and (of course) dodos immortalise the members of Lady Edith’s Ark Club: a secret group of her nearest and dearest, which included Winston Churchill, WB Yeats and even Prince Albert!

Celebrating nature

These gardens were never intended as a manicured, pristine space; rather, they are a celebration of nature and of Lady Londonderry’s love of design and horticulture. Italian elegance, Moorish ingenuity, Greek mythology and Gaelic folklore all have a place in Mount Stewart, as if the visitor is taking a tour guided by Edith’s personal travel diary.

In Edith’s day there would have been dogs hopping in and out [of the house], flamingos in the lake, frogs in the shamrock garden, lizards in the sea plantation.

The Telegraph

Throughout the 100 years since their formation, the themed gardens have developed their own unique beauty; their plants, shrubs and flowers maturing into something very special.

As you stand here, it’s worth pausing a minute to look around and really take in the sights and smells dreamed up by a visionary woman, who travelled the world’s four corners to lay the best of it all right here at your feet.

Trust us: it’s worth the trip.

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