If a garden is the reflection of its owner, then the lineage of Lismore Castle Gardens is very impressive. King John originally built the Gothic-style Lismore Castle in 1185 and it has been owned by Sir Walter Raleigh and Richard Boyle (the father of modern chemistry) before passing to the Fourth Duke of Devonshire in 1753. It is still part of the Devonshire family who own Chatsworth House in Derbyshire. As the Irish residence of the Devonshires, the garden is now supervised by the 12th Duke of Devonshire’s son and wife – the Earl and Countess of Burlington (William and Laura Cavendish) who, like their predecessors, have added their stamp to the site. Most notably with the addition of an on-site art gallery and most recently a renovated Sundial Garden – a present for the Earl’s 40th birthday from his wife.
There are two gardens at Lismore Castle, spanning seven acres, which both offer great views of the Castle and Blackwater valley and are set within defensive walls dating from the early 18th century. These have been planted with roses such as Francis E, Lester, Bobbie James, and Rambling Rector among others.
Entry to The Upper Garden is through the Riding House and is an example of a Jacobean garden and remains much like its original form – created by the first Earl of Cork, helped by his gardener – with a high wall and terrace with turrets at either end. The planting is a mix of ornamental borders with vegetables, herbs, fruit and flowers grown for the kitchen and the house.
It was the 6th Duke of Devonshire, known as the Bachelor Duke in the 19th century, with help from his friend and architect Joseph Paxton (the designer of Crystal Place, London) who created the Lower or “Pleasure” gardens. These are more relaxed and comprise the Yew Tree Walk, where Edmund Spenser is said to have written The Faerie Queen, in c1590. There are meandering paths leading to lawns and a collection of magnolias, camellias, rhododendrons and herbaceous borders.
Since 1999, several pieces of contemporary sculpture have been installed in The Lower Garden by artists such as Eilis O’Connell, Anthony Gormley and Marzia Colonna as well as two chunks from the Berlin Wall, after it was demolished in 1989. The Central Walk, which is between herbaceous borders, is backed by yew hedges and was laid in dramatic alignment on the Pain spire of the Anglican Cathedral.
Taking care of the extensive gardens is head gardener Darren Topps and his team, who prior to joining Lismore worked at the Eden Project in Cornwall, after completing his degree in ecology. He took over from former head gardener Chris Tull who was at Lismore for 20 years. The gardens were awarded an Eco-Merit award recognising the team’s environmental policy and improvement plan. In a former issue of THE GLOSS Topps spoke of his pride at “having the opportunity to develop and change certain aspects of such a historic garden and see the new plantings begin to establish is very rewarding. Also knowing that some of the plantings will be enjoyed by future generations; we can take great pleasure from planting a young tree knowing that it will be 50 to 100 years before it is enjoyed at the scale that was intended.” One of Topps helpers, Lee Behegan (@theplantboyy) often posts inspiring images of Lismore throughout the seasons.
Gardening legend Helen Dillon has said that Lismore Castle Gardens is her favourite in Ireland and a visit will reveal the fusion of history and creativity. The Gallery, accessed through the upper garden, presents and promotes contemporary visual art and exhibitions. Most recently artists Dorothy Cross, Niamh O’Malley and Michael Dean have exhibited. The main exhibition for this year is “Palimpsest” (which runs until October 13) and is based around the definition of its title – a palimpsest was originally a document or manuscript that has been erased or cleaned to be reused. The exhibition explores the ideas of connections between eras – much like the history and gardens of Lismore.
One of the (many) famous guests at Lismore Castle was Fred Astaire who wrote in his autobiography Steps in Time, “beautiful Lismore Castle afforded us much pleasure.” This is guaranteed on a visit.
Need to Know: The gardens are open from Monday – Sunday from 10.30am–5.30pm until October 13. Adults entrance is €8. Upcoming events include an illustrated talk celebrating Chatsworth and Lismore’s fashionable history by Lady Burlington from September 6-8, a Halloween film screening of The Witch and Christmas wreath-making workshops; www.lismorecastlegardens.com; www.lismorecastlearts.ie.
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