Enduring Legacy at
Gardens and Park Adviser at The National Trust
for Southeast England and Northern Ireland
December 6, 2011
Who would you seek advice from
if you wanted to create 90 acres of gardens?
Lady Londonderry consulted no one.
Lady Londonderry (Edith Vane-Tempest-Stewart, Marchioness of Londonderry) was “very rich, extremely talented and had no formal training as a garden designer.” Yet, her gardens at Mount Stewart are a world heritage site and considered one of the great gardens in the British Isles.
Lady Londonderry collected plants like some people collect stamps. Some might have considered her an amateur, but she was an expert plantsman. Buffin was lucky enough to have access to her meticulous garden journals containing voluminous documentation of her obsessive compulsive purchases, including 170,000 rare purple tulips. The Marchioness was a hoarder of rare and tender plants from all over the world.
Although she grew up in the 4th wealthiest family in the UK, she was often mistaken for one of the gardeners. Listening to Mike Buffin, I wanted to know how this socialite became so enamored of gardening. Trying to get at the underneath of things must be part of the motivation for those who write biographies. I was grasping for clues. Was it that Lady Londonderry’s husband was cajoled into marrying her by the Prince of Wales. Or the fact that the climate at Mount Stewart suited every tropical plant under the sun, but the SUN hardly ever shines in that part of Northern Ireland. Gardening is known to lift the spirit, maybe it did for Marchioness.
It was the fashion to change bedding out schemes in Lady Londonderry’s era. In the case of the gardens at Mount Stewart, there might have been a different reason for this constant reconfiguring and planting of gardens. According to Buffin, rose bushes grew to be the size of trees. The extremely mild climate combined with very high rainfall, caused everything to grew so quickly that plants just got too big too fast. That is a problem, I wouldn’t mind having.
Sea Plantation on the shore Strangford Lough
Ti Nan Org (burial ground)