Glantelwe Gardens Sale Blog | 27 – 28 June 2023 |

Every garden is a fantasy landscape, to a greater or lesser extent. Each one tells a story. They range from the formal gardens of the eighteenth century, populated by Roman sculptures and Grecian urns, to the Gothic gloom of Victorian grottoes, right down to the suburban garden gnome. Because of the narrative nature of gardens there are few places where you will find all of these traditions in the one place. Sheppard’s sale of architectural ornaments and garden sculpture, which is on view at Glantelwe Gardens, Durrow, Co. Laois, from Saturday 24 to Sunday 26 June, is an exception. Viewing is from 11 am to 5 pm each day and admission is free.

Glantelwe is a secret garden with winding pathways, hidden lawns, and hillocks tangled with Irish wild flowers. The Erkina river runs through the garden. There are bridges, an island, and suitably picturesque ruins. The ensemble was designed by Arthur Shackleton as a magical and mysterious setting for Sheppard’s annual garden sale, which is now in its seventh year. Expect the usual suspects from the pleasure grounds and gardens of Irish country houses including: 84 urns, 54 seats, 36 lions, 22 fountains, 19 troughs, 15 gates, 14 busts, 12 sundials, 9 eagles, 4 gazebos, and an alligator. There is something for those who come to auction with €50 in their pocket and also for those with €5,000 to spend.

Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1942), horticulturalist and garden designer sitting in a wheel barrow

Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1942), as a young girl in a wheelbarrow

Of the cast iron garden benches in the sale, 15 are painted white. The great Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1942), horticulturalist and garden designer, must be turning in her grave. ‘The common habit of painting garden seats a dead white is certainly open to criticism,’ she wrote, expressing a preference for furniture painted grey ‘the colour of old weather’. White paint jumps to the foreground, distracting the eye, and disrupting the sense of mystery. But Jekyll would have liked the wheelbarrow (Lot 309: est. €300 to €500) a faithful reconstruction of an old wheelbarrow in wood. There’s a photo of her as a small child, nestled in just such a wooden barrow.

The most mysterious piece of all is catalogued as an “Art Deco limestone garden sculpture of abstract figures with long flowing robes” (Lot 87: est. €2,500 to €3,500). The figures are abstracted and angular. They could be angels or demons. They could be ghosts. Their forms are dynamic; their faces angular and strangely elegant. At 140 cm high, the sculpture is monumental in scale and carved in a way that’s respectful to the block of stone. The back is curved. It has a patina of verdigris and moss. There’s hieroglyph on the front that could be a signature.

‘It reminds me of Oscar Wilde’s tomb in Paris,’ says Michael Sheppard. ‘Do you think it could be a grave marker?’

‘Don’t say that or nobody’s going to buy it,’ Philip Sheppard says.

They are cousins. There’s a lot of repartee.

‘I’d run away with it all the same,’ Michael says. ‘I like it because I don’t know what it is.’

His cousin nods sagely. ‘I like the idea of something that perplexes people. The reason I’d want it is because nothing could compare with it. You could probably interpret it in a million different ways and you’d probably be wrong about it every time.’


*Spoiler alert: there’s nothing in the sale that is actually catalogued as a gnome. Any gnomes on the premises are in disguise.