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Anne's Grove

There is a fundamental difference between a walled, inward-looking garden and one that sits comfortably in its natural surroundings.

Anne's GroveI can give you examples of both kinds of garden from one place: Anne's Grove at Castletownroche in County Cork, Ireland, one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

There is a walled garden. The walls are high and made of brick. It is a classic English garden, laid out in gracefully planted beds, with a grassy center, and punctuated with shapely shrubs and interesting trees. To make such a garden, you simply wall out the whole world and create a pleasingly designed, self-contained world within.

Anne's GroveIts more or less symmetrical design makes for a complete and satisfying whole. To be there is an endless delight. Its nooks and crannies and many plants provide variety and a sense of many little places to explore. You can take it in, full circle, know it all, and find it everywhere perfect. Now that is a garden.

There is a walled garden of this kind at Biltmore, too, in Western North Carolina. It occupies four acres. Its design is more severely grid-like; the variety and interest are found in the hundreds, or is it thousands, of roses, the most diverse and arresting of flowers.

If you can put your hands on enough land and water, you can make a garden like this anywhere on earth, and this has been done. These gardens are all different styles inside -- the Macao Gardens at Belem near Lisbon are tropical, for example, but the principle is the same. Once you are inside a walled garden, you are in a special world.

Anne's GroveAnne's grove has another garden, just as wonderful, but of a different kind. The water garden is a stretch of cultivated river bank.

When you walk down to it, you think you have just wandered into a beautiful wetland, and of course you have. But it is far from natural. You feel it is: look.

When we were there, we left the path and walked far enough upstream to see the native riverbank. It's green and lovely with the smell of wet earth and tall trees. See: it is a plain muddy riverbank in Ireland. Go back to see the gardener's skillful touch. The joint between the garden and the real world is imperceptible.

Following the paths through the water garden -- that is how your prospect is controlled -- you never see where it ends. It is a complete illusion of a natural world that is just ever so subtly more various in plants and serendipitous in design than Nature unadorned. That, too, is a garden.

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