Mount Stewart's world-class gardens
Mount Stewart is one of the most spectacular and idiosyncratic gardens of Western Europe and universally renowned for the 'extraordinary scope of its plant collections and the originality of its features, which give it world-class status' - excerpt from Mount Stewart's listing on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage tentative list.
The Sunk Garden
The Italian Garden
There is a richness to the Italian Garden unequalled elsewhere, in its architectural detail, its planting and a humorous allegory. Lady Londonderry was known as Circe, the sorceress goddess, Odysseus’ sailors meet on the most westerly Isle the Greeks knew of. Circe turned half of Odysseus’ crew into pigs and their faces and that of Circe are depicted on the herms on the southern wall. The planting is derived from an article Lady Londonderry wrote for the RHS Journal in 1935.
Highlight: The statuary
The Dodo Terrace
During the dark years of the 1st World War, Edith and Charles hosted a weekly social gathering at their London base, Londonderry House which became their “Ark” or haven of escapism, safety and fun during those troubled times. It was open to a great range of people, many of whom were involved in the war effort, including politicians, artists, writers and poets, and members of the armed forces and Women’s Legion (which Edith founded). The one thing that guests were not allowed to discuss was the war. Members of the Ark all took pseudonyms which was usually a pun on their name, and pledged allegiance to Edith who adopted the name of Circe the Sorceress. Charles became Charley the Cheetah - he was tall and elegant and as sleek as a cat, and his infidelities were also an open secret. Charley’s mother, the formidable Theresa, was dubbed Theresa the Tigress. His cousin, Winston Churchill became Winston the Warlock; Hazel Lavery took the name of Hazel the Hen; John Buchan - John the Buck; Sir Philip Sassoon - Philip the Phoenix, and the artist Edmond Brock became Brock the Badger.
The Ark remained active for many years, and there are many references to it at Mount Stewart, especially in the gardens. Here, some of the animal characters were recreated in concrete by Thomas Beattie in the 1920s and 30s, with Noah’s Ark taking pride of place. Beattie added some creations of his own, including the Mermaid of Mahee, while the Dodos refer to Edith’s father, Henry Chaplin, who was caricatured as such after serving for 35 years in the House of Commons in 1903. The Cheetas are for Charley, the frogs for Freddy the Frog (Lord Dufferin) and Sir Cyril Hankey (Head of the King’s Messenger Service) features as Cyril the Squirrel. Beattie created most of the remarkable sculptures around the garden, including the tall herm pillars topped with orang-utans, which Edith adapted from the classical versions at the Villa Farnese at Caprarola near Rome. Below the orang-utans are men’s faces, and careful observation shows that each one becomes more pig-like.
Highlight: The mythological figures
The Spanish Garden
The arcades of Cypress designed by Lady Londonderry were inspired by an early 16th-century description written by a Venetian traveller who described how similar arcades were used by the Moors to line the water parterre of the Garden of the Generalife near Grenada. The colour palette comes from the blue/green hue of the Casita tiles and the salmon pink limestone of the decorative well head, which was bought by Lady Londonderry at the Chelsea Flower Show in 1926.
Highlight: The tall wall of Cypress hedges surrounding the garden
The Mairi Garden
Lady Londonderry founded and directed the Women’s Legion, a voluntary organization which placed women into the work place during WWI and whose emblem was a stylized Tudor Rose. Lady Londonderry gave this emblem the Stewart family colours of blue and white. Today, the Mairi Garden has a succession of blue and white flowers. A bronze statue commemorates the birth of Lady Mairi in 1921, surrounded by bells and cockle shells based on the nursery rhyme.
Highlight: The Mairi fountain