A Visit to Ardgillan Castle
When I started this month’s newsletter it was a crisp weekend with clear blue skies and I had just enjoyed a super afternoon exploring the grounds of Ardgillan Castle. Now we are in the midst of a blustery battle between a polar vortex called ‘The Beast’ and a much more benevolent sounding storm ‘Emma’ which is really quite a bully by meteorological standards as it has forced the country to shut down until it blows over. As I look out at the snow-covered houses around me, I indulge in the coconut and lime drizzle cake I made because what other flavours work well during a snowstorm other than those of the tropical variety! Meanwhile, like I imagine most of us are doing, I daydream of sunny days which we all hope are just around the corner.
In that same vein, let me continue where I started and tell you all about my visit to Ardgillan Castle. This month I was craving some new garden inspiration so together with a dear friend from gardening college visited this historic gem overlooking the Irish Sea. These excursions are always best when you have a fellow plant enthusiast to ooh and ah over all the new and familiar plants that cross your path. That’s not to say that you should only visit gardens with other plantaholics but there is a certain comfort in whiling away hours chatting about the last time you met a particular plant and dreaming about when you can add new members to your own collection.
Ardgillan Castle is a spectacular country house which overlooks Balbriggan in North county
Dublin. The demesne encompasses an area of 200 acres and is managed by Fingal County Council. Arriving around lunchtime, we instantly fell in love with the breath-taking view that opened up before us. The incredible rolling lawn that leads down to the inimitable castellated building is nicely complimented by the sparkling blue of the sea along the horizon. The castle itself dates to 1738 when it was built by Reverend Robert Taylor whose family continued to live there until the 1960’s.
Today, this historic gem boasts a wonderful variety of managed plant areas including an ornamental garden which is further divided into a Trellis Garden, Irish Garden and Four Seasons Garden. There is also a formal Rose Garden, a National Potentilla Collection and a Walled Garden which was once a Victorian kitchen garden used to grow produce for the house. There is also a wonderful example of a Ha-Ha, a common feature introduced during the English Landscape Movement to deter grazing cattle from accessing the formal grounds in front of the house.
Doted around the estate are many impressive stately trees from the orderly line of fastigiate yew (Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata’) planted along the front of the house to the remarkable monkey puzzle (Araucaria araucana) at the rear of the house where we enjoyed a cup of tea in the sun. Although for the most part the garden was still deep in its wintery hibernation there was promise of spring with a variety of crocuses peppering the herbaceous borders along the yew walk. As we ventured further into the garden we found some superb examples of pruning techniques from roses to espaliered apples and both wished we had worked here as eager students back in the day. The walled garden retains its formal layout with perennial vegetables like artichokes and rhubarb, some of the few crops that were actively growing in the box-bound beds.
One of my favourite features of the walled garden area was the alcoves where it was believed more tender fruits like peaches and nectarines were once grown. I am a particular fan of the history of garden design so it was a real treat to see such an interesting feature persisting in a modern reincarnation of such a stately garden.
I was also thrilled to meet a new variety of Magnolia (well new to me) called Magnolia proctoriana which was on the verge of bursting and will definitely be making its way to the garden of my forever home. Another aspect of the garden which I quite admired was the fact that many of the plants were labelled. This is always a huge bonus when you meet a new plant especially when the gardeners are off duty. Ardgillan Castle is a must visit on the gardeners tour of Ireland and is a credit to Head Gardener Dominica McKevitt and her team. I will definitely be returning for a visit this summer!
Weekend Gardening Course
I have a new Saturday gardening course coming up this April. This will be held at the Trinity College Dublin Botanic Garden in Dartry and will cover lots of useful demos on how to divide herbaceous perennials, take cuttings in the garden and sow vegetables and cut flowers for summer interest. We will also visit the National Botanic Gardens where I will give the class a guided tour for some spring inspiration.
For further details please contact me on 086 393 8467 or email@example.com
Hope you are all safe and sound during this snowy spell and looking forward to what spring has to offer.
Take care and as ever Happy Gardening!