Two ‘stout’ gardens in Dublin

On a visit to Dublin this August I discovered two very different gardens, linked by associations to the Guinness dynasty.

The first, Farmleigh House and Gardens, lies on the western perimeter of Europe’s largest enclosed public park, Phoenix Park. The estate was created in the latter half of the C19 by Edward Cecil Guinness, the grandson of the founder of the Guinness Brewery, J. Arthur Guinness. The Irish state bought Farmleigh in 1999 to host official visitors to Ireland, and photographs displayed in its elegant rooms record visits by Barack Obama, Elizabeth II and Justin Trudeau. Before reaching the house and gardens, you walk from the car park along a lane bounded by pastureland occupied by a herd of shiny black Kerry cattle and, in a neighbouring field,  four rescue donkeys.

As well as landscaped grounds graced with mature specimen trees and a peaceful lake overlooked by a popular Boathouse Cafe, there is a large walled garden area. Yew hedging acts as a foil to the pale palette of a double herbaceous border, where the whites of lilies and Acanthus mollis, Bear’s Breeches, are accented by orange day lilies, Hemerocallis,  and the giant thistle-like heads of mauve  Cardoons, Cynara cardunculus. The garden glasshouse is in need of restoration but the surrounding cutting garden is neatly arranged into plots demarcated with wooden shuttering, one section of which housed a glorious display of Echinacea purpurea.

Another Dublin garden owes its origins to Ireland’s most famous beverage. The Landscape architect Ninian Niven was commissioned by Benjamin Lee Guinness in the 1860s to create Iveagh Gardens for his nearby townhouse. They were gifted to the Irish state by a subsequent Lord Iveagh. The peaceful public park is situated to the south of the more well known St. Stephen’s Green, where memories of the struggle for Irish independence during the Easter Rising of 1916 contrast with its formal Victorian flower beds, fountains and bandstands. Iveagh Gardens are so secluded as to be almost secret. I found a modest entrance on Earlsfort Terrace, to the side of the National Concert Hall, in an area housing international law firms and financial institutions. The Gardens’ long rectangular footprint is surrounded by mature trees, masking the multi-storeyed buildings nearby. An avenue of standard hollies links a rose garden, The Rosarium, and yew maze to a sunken lawn which was Ireland’s first purpose-built archery ground. The recent drought had stilled the water features to either side of this avenue. The Rustic Water Cascade is spectacular, its high rocky outcrop reflected in a pool at is feet, framed by clifflets in the crevices of which numerous fern species thrive. These include several large Tree Ferns, Dicksonia antarctica, their geometrically arranged fronds mirrored in the water below. Twin circular pools in a lawned area feature elegant female figures in Art Nouveau style, atop rocky plinths. Each lady bears a large dish from which water spills in damper times. I had noted earlier, in a service area in St. Stephen’s Green, a water tanker on which a laminated A4 sheet indicated it contained ‘canal water’, presumably from the nearby Grand Canal. The lawn of the archery field was patchy, its parched areas beginning to re-green following the return of wetter conditions. My exploration of  a narrow gravel path along the perimeter of the park led me towards a gateway beside which stands a stout figure, preserved in bronze in the act of singing, arms outstretched and lips parted: Count John McCormack. A plaque celebrates Ireland’s greatest tenor of the C20. His statue is set in a woody glade, with low growing shade loving plants at his feet, including several self-seeded oak saplings.

Next time: an Indian garden in the heart of the Cotswolds.

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