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Friday, 09 October 2020

The Story of the Victorian Walled Garden Restoration

walled garden restoration


The Beginning


The Walled Garden was established and developed around the same time as the castle between 1867 and 1871. The Garden was at the height of its splendour between 1880 and 1890. See black and white photos to the left of the door).


Mitchell Henry poured an enormous amount of investment into the Garden
. The best Head Gardener that money could buy supervised a team of up to 40 gardeners and groundskeepers.  


The Duke of Manchester


When Mitchell Henry sold the estate in 1902, it was taken over by the ninth Duke of Manchester. The Duke did not have the resources of the Henrys to invest in the Garden, and staff numbers were drastically cut. The slow process of decay had started. Following the
Duke's departure, the Gardens stood empty for seven years in which time nature wreaked havoc on the glasshouses and the once immaculate grounds. 


The arrival of the Benedictine Nuns
Once the nuns arrived in 1920, the Gardens were brought back into use but this time as a working garden where fruit and vegetables were grown to supply both the needs of the nuns and the girl’s school. Local gardeners, notably John Joyce and Michael (Mikey) Thornton, under the supervision of Sr. Benedict, carried out this work. Sr. Benedict also ran the nearby farm with its beef, dairy cattle, and poultry farm. The Garden and Farm were extremely productive, and Kylemore was an almost fully self-sufficient estate for many years. In this extract from an interview with John Joyce in 1993, we can see the extent of the garden at that time.


“We had all types of vegetables, carrots, parsnips, turnips, potatoes; the early potatoes were number one, we used to sow them in March. Then cabbage was next, all different types of cabbage." John Joyce former Gardener 


The Secret GardenHowever, as time went on less and less land was given over to gardening.  Nature began to encroach further and further on the Garden. By the 1990s most of the Garden was hidden under a deep layer of shrubs and brambles with large trees growing a where once formal flowerbeds were found. The glasshouses had disappeared, and most of the Garden buildings had fallen in. It seemed that the once majestic oasis was being forgotten. It was at this time that Sr.Magdalena Fitzgibbon took on the project of bringing the Garden back to its former glory. Partial fundraising became available through the Great Gardens of Ireland Fund, and Sr Magdalena set about raising the necessary support for her project to restore the ‘secret garden. Working with great faith and foresight, she managed to catch the collective imagination of the right people.


“the restoration of the garden was a dream: a place where one could dream, reflect and find peace. Pax-peace- is our Benedictine motto and it all springs from the stillness of silence.” Sr. Magdalena FitzGibbon OSB  


The Restoration Begins
 In 1995 an advisory team of historical restoration consultants, garden archaeologists and architects was brought together to ensure the success of the ambitious project. A new Head Gardener, Ann Golden, was appointed and a team of local workers and student gardeners recruited so that the project could begin in earnest. Much of the early work was akin to an archaeological dig as the long-hidden structure of the Garden was painstakingly revealed. As very little historical documentation Bothy House and other garden buildings.  At an early stage, it was decided that Kylemore would be a Heritage Garden where only plant varieties from pre1901 could be used. This was a crucial decision in giving authenticity to the project, although it also meant research and hard work! In 1995 following five hard years of investigating, digging clearing and reimagining the Garden was once more ready to be viewed by the public.  


The Grand OpeningOn 13th October 2000, the Garden was opened with great fanfare to a delighted public. Sr. Benedict was on hand to place the key in the grand entrance gate, and Kylemore's last original gardeners John Joyce and Mike Thornton were invited to plant a ceremonial tree. The formalities took place in the newly built Garden Tea House which had been designed to beautifully complement the restored Garden. In 2001 the Garden restoration project won the prestigious Europa Nostra, a fitting accolade for a job well done. 


The Victorian Walled Garden Today
In the years since the Garden was reopened to the public, it has beautifully matured, and we are constantly searching for more clues about its past. The Garden continues to be a work in progress and under the guiding hand of Head Gardener, Anja Gohlke and her team it has once more emerged as a Garden that even Mitchell Henry would be very proud to call his own.