Gardens occupy a very sacred space in the labyrinths of my mind. My first garden was the one that my mother beautifully created and tended to in the government-provided quarters for doctors. Fondly referred to as O-19, our ground floor apartment came with a beautiful patch of land that formed a sort of right-sided U around our home. My mother planted various trees – lemon, custard apple, frangipani, bel (or wood apple), parijatak, two kinds of neem trees, apart from many flowering plants and an assortment of rain lilies.
Gardens also put an indelible stamp on my heart from the books I read. First and foremost among them was The Secret Garden. Then there were the gardens from Daphne Du Maurier’s novels. If you have read Rebecca, you will forever remember the gardens of Manderly, and especially the ‘Happy Valley’ where rhododendrons and azaleas are pleasantly fragrant even in the rain, in colors of “salmon, white, and gold.”
Again in My Cousin Rachel by Maurier, you would witness two different types of gardens. The Italian one in Rachel’s Villa Sangalletti in Florence, and the English one in Cornwall (Remember the ‘sunken garden’?) I am as enamoured by both of these ‘literary’ gardens as I am with period houses, circular stairways, long French windows, and houses and manors that have seen history. Talking of circular stairways, do any Rebecca fans remember the scene where Mrs de Winter walks down one, resplendent in her costume dress, unaware of the malicious trick played on her by Mrs Danvers?
Therefore, on this birthday, when I got to stay at a period property, and experience the beautiful ‘pleasure grounds’ of the Glenveagh Castle, it felt like I was living many dreams in one, becoming at once Rebecca, Rachel, and Mary Lennox.
We stayed at the Rockhill House and Estate in Letterkenny – and the house, gardens, its many formal rooms were an experience in itself. I couldn’t say the same for the service; it definitely needs trained housekeeping personnel but the house and estate are so steeped in history and for someone like me who is reminded of a novel or a short story at every other hour – it was like being with a place that has been ‘alive’ through centuries. (The house traces its roots to the 17th Century plantation of Ulster.) It didn’t just feel like a building; to me, it was a living entity.
I spent a lot of time staring out of the windows, imagining what life would have been like for the lady of the house, the amount of staff the house would have demanded for its upkeep, the pastimes its owners would have pursued, what life would have also been like for its staff…
Coupled with it was our visit to the Glenveagh Park and Castle – this is about a 30-minute drive from the Rockhill House.
While the Glenveagh National Park is spectacular in itself, I particularly fell in love with the ‘Pleasure grounds’ at the castle. I had a surreal moment on a bench that was nestled under a canopy of bright, red rhododendron flowers. The dazzling summer sun was mottled through the leaves and flowers, and its shine came in as light as the gentle stroke of a watercolour brush. Down at my feet, a carpet of flowers lay in complete surrender, and birds sang above and around. There was another soft, barely audible sound – a small water body made its presence felt. In its waters, like some impressionist painting, rhododendron flowers floated candidly. To me they seemed at once like water nymphs and Thumbelina on a spring morning. I wanted to sit there forever, because all my senses held hands and felt content, satiated and happy. I thought to myself – if I were to die now, I would have no regrets.
I have pictures of the bench, but these do no justice to its beauty, and most importantly what they are capable of evoking in you.
The pleasure grounds also made me think of Udaipur’s Saheliyon Ki Bari (Garden of the Maidens). I remember being so mesmerised by its gardens, pools, fountains, water lilies… and my imagination running wild on what it must have been like when it was used by the queen and her friends.
This birthday, I let my mind wander and seek out all these places. From Rajasthan in Gujarat, Cornwall in England, and Florence in Italy – a period house and a magical garden in Donegal took me to the past, and to places that live in memories….
(P.S. This entire trip was planned and executed by my husband – most elements of our itinerary a pleasant surprise for me. It was to celebrate my birthday and our 10th wedding anniversary which falls later this month. )