City Garden Visits

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Guest blog post from Hazel Proctor

Continuing 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 17 th century garden which nods to the French formal

gardens, 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 late 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 which

was 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’ at the back of the garden 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 17 th 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 17 th century symmetry. Around the walls there are some

fabulous climbing plants such as the passionflower which was teeming with bees and heavy with an

abundance of fruit on the cusp of colouring up. Either side of the teahouse, a spectacular sight in its

own right, we find 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 wonderful examples of espalier apples and pears already full of promise for the


One of the most interesting elements in the garden and one of my favourite features are the

herbaceous borders. These are divided into two 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

stairs are styled like Tudor knots filled with tulips during the spring, providing much needed colour

before the growing season sets in.

Herbaceous Borders

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 Head Architect

Elizabeth Morgan, these beds are a reflection on what was once thought to hold medicinal plant

beds, a physic garden if you will, used by the Hospital in its former role. 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) and Monkshood (Acontium napellus).

In fact, the grounds were home to the Garda Headquarters from xxxx 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 left 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

  1. Hailed as the Peoples 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.

The People’s Flower Garden in the Phoenix Park

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 alongside vibrant pink penstemon and towering hollyhocks and the ever-

intriguing globes of Echinops ritro.

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.

Visit Hazel Proctor’s web site here.

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