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August Newsletter

Continuing on with the city garden visits, this month I indulged myself with a visit to the formal garden in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, home of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA). The grounds include a superbly restored 17th century garden with design influences from the French formal gardens of the time, the most famous of which are the Gardens of Versailles. Designs from this period were rigidly formal in their layout, adhering to strict symmetry and clean lines. Although the garden was probably laid out when the hospital was originally built in 1680 no major designs were ever brought to fruition with the OPW finally taking the reins in the 1980’s and bringing it on to its formal glory today.

In the grounds, we find the walled garden sitting on the northern side of the Hospital building originally built in 1680, to home retired soldiers after the war. The garden is laid out below the museum building affording the visitor a superb view from the terrace of the meticulously manicured lawns and neatly clipped box hedges. From the grand staircase which drops down into the garden, the eye is immediately drawn to the ‘Teahouse’ which once housed the gardener and his family of eight children. Included in the formal sections are standard hollies and carefully trained yew pyramids – a nod to the Wellington Monument seen across the Liffey, in the Phoenix Park.

Like any 17th century garden worth its salt, Kilmainham has some of the finest examples of pleached lime trees which give the impression of a floating hedge across the central axis of the garden. They are very effective in compartmentalising the design and lead the visitor to the sections beyond, divided up by hornbeam hedges. I imagine these were added to provide something akin to the teatro di verzura or green theatres of the Italian Renaissance Gardens or the groves found in the Gardens of Versailles where outdoor theatrical performances were enjoyed by the members of royalty and their guests.

The garden is not all strict formality and 17th century symmetry. Around the walls there are some fabulous climbing plants such as the passion flower which was teeming with bees and heavy with fruit on the cusp of colouring up. In front of the Teahouse, a spectacular sight in its own right, we find a pair of enormous pots bursting with the most vibrant white Agapanthus. Either side of the house are beautiful examples of the delicately scented star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) a wonderful addition to the garden for summer interest. On the eastern side of the garden there are fine examples of espalier apples and pears already full of promise for the autumn.

One of the most interesting elements in the garden and one of my favourite features, are the herbaceous borders. These are divided into four narrow, long beds which flank either side of the garden along the east/west walls. The first set of opposing box-edged beds, visible from the grand staircase, are styled like Tudor knots filled with tulips during the spring. These provide much needed colour before the growing season sets in.

The beds further down the garden, which run along the outside of the hornbeam sections are filled to the brim with colourful, herbaceous perennials. Included in the design by OPW Conservation Landscape Architect Elizabeth Morgan, these beds reflect the historic use of the garden in part as a physic garden, a medicinal plant garden used by the Hospital in its former role. Perhaps it was influenced by the Chelsea Physic Garden not far from the Royal Hospital in Chelsea which the Kilmainham hospital predates by two years. The perennials are laid out in a linear fashion, like edible crops found in an allotment to provide ease of harvest, unlike your typical herbaceous border where species are laid out in colourful swathes.

The collection includes such beauties as the purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) widely used to treat cold and flu symptoms and the poisonous monkshood (Acontium napellus). In fact, the grounds were the Garda Headquarters from 1930 to 1950 and for a period, sections of the garden were divided into allotments used by members of the force.

With some time to spare, I decided to hop over to the People’s Garden in the Phoenix Park, located on the right of Chesterfield Avenue just as you enter the park from Parkgate St. This came into being much later than the gardens in Kilmainham and were officially opened as a promenade garden in 1840. Hailed as the People's Flower Garden, this park is a fine example of the Victorian gardening style where parkland and meandering paths were decorated with formal flower beds designed specifically for the public to come and admire.

There are the standard formal beds filled with striking, red pelargoniums but there has been a modern twist incorporated into the garden with softly toned herbaceous borders containing giants such as Echium pininana, easily standing at five metres tall, alongside vibrant pink penstemon and towering hollyhocks beside the ever-intriguing globes of Echinops ritro. The garden is not all pretty flowers and lawns, there is a fine collection of mature trees which are dotted along the periphery of the park and along the pond where there was an abundance of bird life.

All in all, I think the OPW gardens in and around the Phoenix Park are a fantastic asset to anyone living nearby or simply looking for another aspect of what Dublin city has to offer. There is still plenty of time to get out and see these gardens before the summer draws to a close and best of all they are all free to attend.

In The Garden This Month

For those of you who have grown your own edible crops this year, you are probably enjoying the fruits of your labour, especially if you have tomatoes or courgettes on the go. I once heard a funny quip from someone who had grown too many courgettes and had to resort to ninja style tactics by leaving piles of excess fruits on a neighbours doorstep in the dead of night to try and offload some of the harvest!

There are so many ways to use up your courgettes, from roasting, souping and grating into salads to baking in muffins or breads to give the most moist finish kiddies will never detect! If cooking from fresh, they are great for bulking up a curry or vegetarian chili but if you're feeling a little naughty they are delicious cut into sticks and fried in a light tempura batter. Don't forget the flowers, these are equally great stuffed with soft cheese like goats or ricotta and plenty of fresh herbs and fried for a light summer supper.

No other crop sings summer like the humble tomato and by now you are hopefully enjoying a bountiful crop. One issue which you may encounter is blossom end rot. This is a physiological problem with the fruits when a circular patch develops on the bottom of the tomato with a dark, sunken appearance. This is caused by a calcium deficiency in the plant which occurs through erratic watering. Calcium is an important nutrient as it helps to strengthen cell walls in the plant from the leaves and stems to the fruits and when it is lacking the cell walls can collapse on themselves, hence the sunken ring on the bottom of the fruit.

The bad news is, any fruit that displays these symptoms are beyond redemption but you can treat the plant to prevent any further loss. Simply ensure the plants are watered regularly, this is particularly important once they are producing fruit and more so at the height of the growing season as the root system is well established. When feeding the plants, especially those grown in growbags, always water the plants first as the concentration of nutrients is difficult for the plant to take up when applied to dry compost. For those of you lucky enough to grow your tomatoes in the open ground you hopefully will not have to worry about this problem.

Can you believe it's August already! When I'm not visiting lovely gardens and writing newsletters I am busy getting ready for the Autumn Gardening Classes and Evening Lectures I will be hosting in Trinity College Dublin. For more details about upcoming events simply visit

Anyway, Happy Gardening Folks and feel free to share the newsletter with all your gardening buddies!


#herbaceousborders #royalhospitalkilmainham #IMMA #OPW #17thCenturyGarden #VictorianGarden #PhoenixPark #DublinCity #courgettes #tomatoes #blossomendrot

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