Capture the art of an Irish country house walled garden

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A walled garden has a special feel against the backdrop of an Irish country house garden. Serene and secluded, it can be a place of comfort far from large landscaped spaces. A functional walled garden also contains an abundant mix of flowers, fruit trees, vegetables and herbs which are harvested for use in cooking.

Although originally built to create microclimates to cultivate this product, many walled gardens fell into disrepair to be salvaged and restored decades – and sometimes centuries – later by new owners, state agencies. or voluntary organizations.

“There has been a resurgence of interest in Walled Gardens if you consider the work of the Royal Horticultural Society in the Walled Gardens of Russborough House in Co Wicklow or the restoration of the Walled Gardens of Kylemore Abbey in Co Galway and Colclough’s Walled Garden at Tintern Abbey in County Wexford, ”says Donough Cahill, executive director of the Irish Georgian Society.

In 2021, the company decided to celebrate these gardens with two exhibitions at their headquarters at City Assembly House, South William Street, Dublin.

The first is Stepping Through the Gate: Inside Ireland’s Walled Gardens with paintings by four female artists – Lesley Fennell, Andrea Jameson, Maria Levinge and Alison Rosse – who are also planters in their own Irish country homes.

The second, In Harmony with Nature: The Irish Country House Garden, has been postponed to spring 2022.

Landscapers

Robert O’Byrne, curator of the two exhibitions – and presenter of two documentaries on Irish Historic Gardens on RTÉ1 on Sunday September 26 and Sunday October 3 at 6.30 p.m. – notably had the task of choosing the artists who would suit him best. the exhibition.

“There are a lot of good botanical artists but for this exhibition I was looking for landscape designers who were also gardeners and who knew walled gardens,” says O’Byrne, who has written extensively on Irish country houses.

O’Byrne also interviewed each artist before the show for a subscription series from the Irish Georgian Society earlier this year (and available to listen to at the show). In these interviews, the artists described their gardens and what inspired them to paint.

Lesley Fennell, who has created a lovely garden at Burtown House, Co Kildare says she is very drawn to color.

“I love flowers and gardens and my painting and my gardening are very much linked by the energy and the magic of the way things grow and the energy of the painting. It’s the combination of these things that interests me.

For the exhibition, she painted in Ballynure, Co Wicklow, Barmeath, Co Louth, Coolcarrigan, Co Kildare, Heywood, Co Laois and in her own garden in Burtown, Co Kildare.

Painting by Maria Levinge in the Walled Garden in Altamount, Co Carlow

Painting by Alison Rosse in the Walled Garden of Bellefield, Shinrone, Birr, Co Offaly

Painting by Alison Rosse in the Walled Garden of Bellefield, Shinrone, Birr, Co Offaly

Alison Rosse, along with her husband, Lord Rosse, inherited responsibility for Birr Castle, Co Offaly, whose estate includes walled gardens landscaped by Lord Rosse’s late parents.

“I found myself finding it quite difficult to paint walled gardens. Unless you paint in a corner, you have a wall in front of you, ”she explains.

However, she overcame her dilemma by painting from original angles from a high point in each garden. For the exhibition, she painted at Glin Castle and Kilgobbin, Co Limerick, Anne’s Grove, Co Cork, Birr Castle and Bellefield, Co Offaly, Larchhill, Co Kildare and Cullen, Co Louth.

Source of inspiration

Andrea Jameson who, along with her two sisters, maintains a walled garden in Tourin, Co Waterford says she loves the place where she lives.

“I paint because I want to share the beauty of this little haven of peace. I work outside most of the time, ”says Jameson.

She finds a particular source of inspiration in the enclosed gardens.

“It’s closed, comfortable and shapely,” she says.

For this exhibition, she painted the walled gardens of Doneraile Court, Co Cork, Dower House, Rossanagh and Kilmacurragh Gardens in Co Wicklow, Cappoquin House and Lismore Castle in Co Waterford and in her home gardens in Tourin, Co Waterford.

And Maria Levinge, who has created a new garden for herself and her family in County Wexford, says she enjoys painting in oils.

“I find walled gardens a place of sanctuary and shelter. Yet in all my paintings of walled gardens there is an escape route, ”she says.

Levinge painted the Walled Gardens at Altamount, Co Carlow, Woodstock, Co Kilkenny, Abbeyleix, Co Laois, Lisadell, Co Sligo, Crom Castle, Co Fermanagh, Enniscoe, Co Mayo and at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin.

Painting by Alison Rosse in the Walled Garden of Kilgobbin, Co Limerick

Painting by Alison Rosse in the Walled Garden of Kilgobbin, Co Limerick

Robert O'Byrne, curator of Stepping Through the Gate: Inside Ireland's Walled Gardens

Robert O’Byrne, curator of Stepping Through the Gate: Inside Ireland’s Walled Gardens

The catalog for Stepping Through The Gate: Inside Ireland’s Walled Gardens is also a celebration of all the country houses where the artists painted their paintings. Written by O’Byrne, it gives visitors a glimpse into the history of each property.

And O’Byrne is keen to draw meaning from the timing of the exhibit – as the world reeling from the Covid-19 pandemic and the growing climate emergency.

“As we become more aware of taking care of our environment and the benefits of growing our own produce and the physical and psychological benefits of engaging in our natural surroundings, the opportunity – the need – to cherish our walled gardens is clear. He said.

Stepping Through the Gate: Inside Ireland’s Walled Gardens with Paintings by Four Women Artists – Lesley Fennell, Andrea Jameson, Maria Levinge and Alison Rosse – takes place September 23 – November 26 at the Irish Georgian Society, City Assembly House, 58 South William St, Dublin 2

History of walled gardens

The walled gardens were first developed as part of Irish country houses in the 17th century. Consider Lismore Castle in Co Waterford (whose walled gardens have recently been wonderfully restored), the walled gardens of Royal Hospital Kilmainham and the large walled garden of Ballyfin, Co Laois.

Greenhouses built on the south-facing brick walls of these gardens offered owners the opportunity to grow exotic fruits. And the fish ponds also provided food for the table. In addition to these practical purposes, the walled gardens, with their tall hedges of yew, laurel or beech, also offered privacy and protection from animal or human intruders and were also a feature of many small houses such as the glèbes and convents.

In the second half of the 18th century, Irish country house owners adopted a more natural style of gardens with trees, lakes and large expanses of grass. For many gardens, this marked the disappearance of the walled garden next to the house.

Instead, tall walled gardens with raised flower beds for growing fruits, vegetables, and flowers and an orchard of fruit trees were located near the kitchen, but not in sight of the Big House.

Painting by Lesley Fennell in the Walled Garden, Burtown, Co Kildare

Painting by Lesley Fennell in the Walled Garden, Burtown, Co Kildare

Painting by Lesley Fennell in the Walled Garden, Burtown, Co Kildare

Painting by Lesley Fennell in the Walled Garden, Burtown, Co Kildare

Walled gardens have returned to fashion, especially for growing flowers, but, according to O’Byrne, by the mid-20th century only a handful of walled country house gardens have retained their original glory.

However, over the past two decades, the walled gardens of private and state-run country houses have benefited from considerable conservation and restoration, according to Finola Reid, a historic garden consultant.

These include the Walled Gardens of Mount Stewart and Hillsborough Castle in County Down, the Walled Gardens of Kylemore Abbey in County Galway and the Walled Garden of Russborough House in County Wicklow.

Garden historian Terence Reeves-Smith has estimated that as many as 8,000 walled gardens remain in Ireland in various states of repair and use.


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