All Posts Gardens by Peter Donegan Garden Design

Landscaping Dublin: Brackenstown House, Gardens 2007

brackenstown house

In 2007, the 27 acre estate gardens of Brackenstown House won 2 awards at National competition. The gardens designs, though they were intended to start some 300 years ago had, history states and shows, never been completed, until that is 2007.

The two awards, an Award of Merit for Best Private Garden Landscaping and also for Best Overall Maintenance were awarded to Peter Donegan Landscaping Ltd for works completed and to Peter Donegan as the gardens Designer.

In submitting the garden for award an A3 size bound presentation was submitted showing a history to the landscaping that took place to get the grounds to where and what the judging panel were now looking at and judging. Of note, the grounds had matured by the time judging took place. The photographs shown are all of works nearly (intentionally so) complete.

At the time, technology was not what it is now and I guess the alternate is to leave the ‘gardens’ history sitting in a filing cabinet. It may more importantly prove of benefit to someone else in researching gardens of the 17th and 18th century. Something that I and others only know too well is very difficult to find indepth readings of.

I have tried to keep the presentations layout as best as possible online, similar to that that I submitted at the time. What is not included here are and hundreds upon hundreds of photographs; and my drawings and plant legends. The latter for no apparent reason apart from they are very, very large and I don’t own a scanner of that size. This is but, the presentation.

At the time of designing, [again] the internet was not what it is now. And as the gardens designs were never completed, there logically is very little of note on them. That said to the history of the house I owe much thanks to Finola and Turtle.

You can view more information and phtographs of Brackenstown Gardens taken after the awards. I have also added some images in at the very bottom below, including the kitchen gardens handmade central pavilion (sometimes known as a gazebo), the final piece in the jigsaw outside of the planting and the changing of the sunken gardens pond sculpt, I felt.

Of Brackenstown, the awarding judges noted that:

the work illustrates a consisted commitment to horticultural excellence in a restoration project that requires a keen understanding of the client’s requirements. The herbaceous beds in particular deserve special acclamation for their restrained but inventive interplay between colour and foliage texture.

And of the second award, that the award goes to this project because the judges believe it:

demonstrates a discernible excellence in maintenance.




brackenstown house gardens, donegan landscaping dublin


Second edition Ordnance Survey map of Brackdenston, dublin 1874

Above Fig 1. Second edition Ordnance Survey map of Brackdenston, Dublin 1874

Purchased by Paddy and Veronica Campbell in the late 1970’s the redesigns and consultations for the actual landscape took place between October and May 2004. The main concern at all times was that whilst the preferred route was to restore the historical and famous gardens to its original intended state, the ‘farming’ of Brackenstown was no longer realistically feasible, as was its original purpose as a 16th century estate with gardens combined. A fitting and rewarding design needed to result whilst also keeping the charm and character of what was originally known as Brackdenston House and Estate.

Mr and Mrs Campbell whilst holding a love for architecture, the landscape and the grounds did have ideas on what they wanted. A combined effort by both client and designer/ contractor have culminated to result in what can only be described as a unique landscape within this island and although aware modern constraints had to be taken into consideration, justice to the estate and its history has been given.

Breckdenston Demense was firstly owned by the Burnell family in the 16th Century but it was not until Chief Baron Bysse’s daughter inherited the home and married Robert Molesworth’s father that the future of Irish landscape would change. Molesworth introduced Allesandro Galilei from Italy in 1718 and Stephen Switzer in 1719 to begin plans. Although a Dutch designer was promised for the kitchen garden it was [somewhat surprisingly at the time] resident and native gardener Nick whose influence on Breckdenston, history shows, ‘was not insignificant’ within the overall estate. In 1721 Molesworth was left bankrupt via his dreams of the ultimate landscape in Brackenstown. One should note that whilst infrastructures where put in place, the grounds were never fully completed. The next 350 plus years of Ireland own troubles would influence the outcome of the entire estate.

‘The cutting down of our trees displeases me much more than if they had burnt all our houses’
Robert Molesworth, 25th March 1690


Fig 2. View of old house of Brackenstown, Swords, 1900

brackenstown, swords

Fig 3: View of Brackenstown, Swords, 2007

brackenstown, swords

Brackenstown House was formerly the home of Chief Baron Bysse who was visited there by Cromwell during his military expedition in Ireland.

The Moleworths:

Bysse’s daughter married a Molesworth, and the house passed into the hands of the Molesworths who were created Viscounts of Swords. Lord Molesworth lived there in the time of Dean Swift, and it was to him that Swift addressed Drapier Letters.

O’Callaghan Family:

During the early part of the 20th century, Brackenstown House had a chequered history. It was owned by the O’Callaghan family and burned in 1912 as a result of a family feud. It was rebuilt in 1915, and this date is shown clearly on a plaque on the front of the house. This family left Ireland suddenly on the evening of the murders at Croke Park in 1920 (Bloody Sunday), and the house was occupied by the IRA as a billet for some time.

Patrick & Veronica Campbell:

The house was acquired in the late 1920s by Pansy Pagecroft, and she lived there with her partner, Harry Ussher, the horse trainer. She died in 1942, but left a life tenancy to Ussher who died in 1957. The house was purchased in 1961 by the Assistant Master of the Rotunda, Raymond Cross. He lived there until 1969, and the house was sold in 1972 to Cirus Investments. Stephen Larkin bought the house, but did not reside in it. He sold it to Patrick & Veronica Campbell in 1979, but they did not reside in it until 1983.

PAGE 4: Overview Photo Of Grounds

Brackenstown House Gardens Dublin, 2007 Presentation, Donegan Landscaping


Brackenstown House Gardens Dublin, 2007 Presentation, Donegan Landscaping

The actual physical work on this project began in October 2005, almost one year after design consultation began and five months after design completion in order to allow for material ordering, plant selection and project management schedules to be put in place.

Brackenstown House has an amazing overall layout which had to appear as if it remained untouched yet well maintained and whilst its natural landscape plays a great role; the retention of the old walkways, sunken lawns and buildings within the grounds now still tell of a wonderful history. The finished gardens have resurrected this once neglected 17th Century grounds to remain for the future an icon of landscaping.

Following through to the walkway from the front of house around to the sunken garden, the journey starts to take a different picture. Decisions of route must be made. This is where the formal central garden plays a most significant role in leading one away, possibly to the sunken lawns, hidden pathways or to the formal gardens past the herbaceous borders and into the new relaxation garden.

The primary objective was to discover what remained beneath the overgrowth and so the discovery began and with the use of documented history and manual due care the overall layout and picture of what once was evolved.

The qualified staff of Peter Donegan Landscaping only, without machine, worked to ensure the mammoth task of adapting, restoring and with great consideration rebuilding the grounds would on this occasion complete and reward its investors, believers and employers with the knowledge that Brackdenston and Brackenstown would be reborn to a standard fitting of the mind that first began its journey.

not shown

PAGE 7: Concept Sketches

brackenstown gardens, concept sketches

above: concept sketches and original doodle – elevation oblique of the kitchen garden with the new pavillion in centre

existing wrought iron gates as inspiration to the design

PAGE 8: Works To Kitchen Garden – 1

Brackenstown House Gardens Dublin, 2007 Presentation, Donegan Landscaping

PAGE 9: Works To Kitchen Garden 2

Brackenstown House Gardens Dublin, 2007 Presentation, Donegan Landscaping


PAGE 10: Works To Kitchen Garden 3

Brackenstown House Gardens Dublin, 2007 Presentation, Donegan Landscaping


PAGE 11: Kitchen Garden

Brackenstown House Gardens Dublin, 2007 Presentation, Donegan Landscaping


PAGE 12: Kitchen Garden

Brackenstown House Gardens Dublin, 2007 Presentation, Donegan Landscaping


PAGE 13: Front Of House

PAGe 14: Side Of House

Brackenstown House Gardens Dublin, 2007 Presentation, Donegan Landscaping

PAGE 15: Back Garden

Brackenstown House Gardens Dublin, 2007 Presentation, Donegan Landscaping


PAGE 16: Pond and Surrounding Area


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