Landscape Designer Catherine Fitzgerald On Creating Emotive Spaces

Why GARDENS must INSPIRE, transport and suggest THOUGHTS AND IDEAS


I believe gardens should be places of imaginative possibility – places of atmosphere and emotion. I love plants but it should be more than that; they must inspire, transport and suggest thoughts and ideas. I don’t like to impose too much but to be sensitive to what feels right for a particular place – to “embroider” on what is there, if possible. My favourite plant varies with each month – at the moment Echium pininana is pretty spectacular. It is a biennial from the Canary Islands which forms a rosette of bright green leaves in the first year, which shoots up into a dramatic four-metre spike in a second. The spike is made up of hundreds of tiny bright blue funnel-shaped flowers – bees love them – and is wonderfully exotic. Visitors gasp when they see them at the back of the border at Glin. My favourite part of Glin is sitting beneath the ancient oak tree on a small hill at the top of the garden. It is dark and mysterious but the grass beneath it is always lit up by bulbs or the lacy pignut flower. There is a seat from which you can look down across the meadowy hill back towards the house – with the expanse of the Shannon estuary beyond. This sessile oak is a remnant of the ancient oak forest which originally stretched all the way from Killarney to the estuary. Tiny polypody ferns run along the mossy tops of its long sinuous boughs.


I was involved with Glenarm Castle’s walled garden design. It needed a strong structure. I planted beech hedges to create “rooms” and crab apples, medlars, pears and apples to create “formal” orchards within these rooms. This felt right, in what was originally a domestic kitchen garden. I also designed a grass “mount” or “mound” with a spiral path to the top – children love to race up it. From the top you have a wonderful view of the sea in one direction and up the glen in the other. It is lovely for grown-ups and children. I really admire Tom Stuart-Smith – his work is beautiful, feels right for the place, but also feels contemporary and original – his eye for planting is brilliant. He is also a wonderful draughtsman. My partner Mark Lutyens and I do all our presentation drawings by hand. It is deeply satisfying and clients love it.

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