I seek to create gardens which feel completely of their place rather than imposed, acting with nature and local idiom. My guiding philosophy has always been the idea of the ‘Genius loci’ – summed up in Alexander Popes famous line ‘Consult the Genius of the place in all’. My aim is to create atmosphere using subtle interventions to evoke ideas and emotions – to help us to connect with the subconscious within us all.
Plant associations are considered deeply and often mimic those found in nature, or conjure a moment in time or a style which seems to chime with the place. My work depends on a balance of structure created by evergreen bones with looser romantic planting to soften and contrast – always ensuring a succession of interest follows throughout each season into deepest winter.My experience comes from gardening at my family home, Glin Castle, on the Shannon estuary in the west of Ireland. Over twenty five years I have added to and adapted it with a broader range of planting: a collection of magnolias and other flowering trees and acid loving shrubs. An on-going project has been developing a wild flower meadow and introducing a wide array of spring bulbs beneath the shady Killarney oaks.
The gardens of the west coast of Ireland, where the effect of the Gulf stream means that a wide array of exotic and tender plants can be grown, have always been a source of inspiration. I live between Glin and a restored brewery house in north Wiltshire where I am making a garden of rambling roses and fruit trees.
I work chiefly in conjunction with the London based landscape architect Mark Lutyens. We have collaborated on many projects in the UK and Ireland – large country gardens, as well as smaller London ones. Our most high profile project has been the re-design of the gardens at Hillsborough Castle, the Royal residence in Northern Ireland, now run by the charity HRP (Historic Royal Palaces), which opened to the public last year. Other recent projects were the planting design for a peaceful space and meeting place for the community outside St Olav’s Church in Rotherhithe East London and the planting for a newly imagined Physic garden at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh.
After an English and Art history degree at Trinity College Dublin I trained in horticulture at RHS Wisley and then worked as planting designer for many times Chelsea winner landscape architect Arabella Lennox-Boyd.
I would choose Helen Dillon who inspired me about plants growing up and was always so funny about the process of gardening. Mary Keen has also been a huge influence and brilliant on ‘place’ and atmosphere.
Derreen garden in County Kerry, Ireland and Ninfa in Lazio, Italy. Both ‘wild’ gardens that make one feel transported!
Glin Castle, home for 800 years of the FitzGerald family, hereditary Knights of Glin, stands proudly in the middle of a 400 acre wooded demesne with 12 acres of pleasure grounds, on the banks of the broad Shannon estuary. The toy-fortress like quality of the castle is echoed by a series of battlemented Gothic folly lodges.
It looks over formal lawns centred on a stone sundial surrounded by plump yew hedges and topiary. This main vista takes a line directly from the graceful Venetian window which centres the south front of the house and ends with a perfectly sited Persian Ironwood tree encircled by an elegant low Arts and Crafts scalloped wall . Beyond, in contrast, lies a more natural garden of ancient Killarney oak trees and picturesque stream. Meandering gravel walks surround a wild flower meadow of spring bulbs, filled in high summer with the buzzing of insects and bees. Beyond in the wood lies a hidden hermits grotto and stone circle.
It has been lovingly tended by each generation of the FitzGerald family who have been planting interesting specimen trees and shrubs since the 1800s. Catherine FitzGerald, the daughter of the late Knight of Glin, continues this tradition and brings her Garden Designer/plants-woman’s eye to the task. The restored walled kitchen garden with colourful borders and giant echiums, romantic rose arches, vegetable, herb plot and orchard is overlooked by a charming green house full of sweet geraniums and lemon verbena. Adjoining it is the cobbled battlemented 18th century stable yard.
The protective walls of the castle and surrounding woods along with the benign effects of the Gulf stream that washes the nearby Atlantic shores, mean that a broad range of tender plants can be grown. These include giant leaved Tetrapanax ‘Rex’, champion Drymis winteri, Crinodendron with their scarlet Chinese lantern flowers, broad swathers of gunnera, Embothrium from Chile, and a collection of magnolias, dogwoods, hydrangea and Eucryphia.