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Wednesday, 13 October 2021

Celebrating 21 years since the Victorian Walled Garden was reopened to the public

Today marks 21 years since the Victorian Walled Garden was reopened to the public. To celebrate we are taking a look back at the history behind the renovations throughout the years.

After the Henry's left, the Victorian Walled Garden began to fall into disrepair. 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 needs of the nuns and the girls school. Local gardeners under the supervision of Sr. Benedict, carries out this work. Sr. Benedict also ran the nearby farm with beef, dairy cattle, and poultry farm. The garden and farm were extremely productive, and Kylemore was a almost fully self-sufficient estate for many years. In this extract from an interview with John Joyce in 1993, we see the extent of the garden at the time.

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

However, as time wen on less and less was given over to gardening, nature began to encroach further and further on the Garden. By the 1990's 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 had been 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 people.

"The restoration of the garden was a dream: a place where once 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

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 students 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. At an early stage it was decided that the garden would be a heritage garden where only plant varieties from pre-1901 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 years of investigating, digging, clearing, and reimagining, the garden was again ready to be viewed by the public. 

On 13th October 2000, the garden was opened with great fanfare to the 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.