The Formal Gardens at The Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin

formal gardens, royal hospital kilmainham

In my time I have spent 6 plus years researching, designing and building 17th Century Gardens and 18th Century that I have won awards for the design and build of. The signatured papers sit framed upon my office walls as a fine reminder, alongside just some of the other gardens I have made.

And though I know I say it often enough, I am honoured that what I love doing is also what I do as my work; if I might call it that. A little like, or the opposite of, an anatidaephobiac running very fast away from a trip to Disneyland, I just can’t seem to help myself when it comes to the great outdoors. On a more serious note, this Sunday past, I was at The Formal Gardens at The Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin; which is also home to the Irish Museum of Modern Art. I visit both regularly.

Further images below of both The Formal Gardens at The Royal Hospital Kilmainham and the Irish Museum of Modern Art.

They say:

The Formal Garden was also know as the Masters Garden lies below the North Terrace on the Royal Hospital’s principal front and forms an important feature of the overall design. The hospital minutes of 1595 note

“The gardens walls to be arranged so the garden may lie open to the north part…. for the greater grace of the house.”

Over the years, gardens, by their very nature, change and we know that the Royal Hospital Garden not only changed but was also periodically neglected. In restoring such early gardens one of the difficulties is in the inconclusive nature of historical evidence. The Minute Books of the Royal Hospital refer to planned works but it is not always clear that all the works were ever carried out or to which of the three gardens which once occupied the site they refer. Old maps indicate significant changes to the Formal Garden but there is no specific information of the original design.

In the early 1900’s when it was decided to restore the Garden the ‘ideal’ classical layout for a garden published by John Evelyn in 1664 was considered to be close to its original layout. The decision was made to use this ‘ideal’ plan as a basis for the first phase of the restoration. The more elaborate decorative form which the garden took at one stage was considered inappropriate and impractical to restore.

The basic layout having been established, the second phase of the restoration was initiated in the late 1980’s. To develop the gardens three dimensional features work began on the garden house, the walls, the paths, the structural planting of the hedges, topiary and pleached trees and, latterly, the fountain, entrance steps and terrace. The third and final phase developed the historica planting, including training structures for espalier trees along the wlls, the planting of small trees and bulbs in the ‘wilderness’ quarters as well as statuary urns and garden furniture.

The intention in this restoration is to create features which represent 17th and 18th century Formal Garden design based on extensive research of the site and the interpretation of features of the time. In that sense it is important to understand that this is not an historical reconstruction but a restoration in the spirit of the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

The garden was restored to its present state by the Office of Public Works under the supervision of architect Elizabeth Morgan. Responsibility for current maintenance resides with Duchas.

And it is here that I have to give full credit because equally in some parts for the design of 17th Century Brackenstown, no designs were ever [fact] completed; or and therefore no designs existed. I could only be (again therefore) ‘sympathetic’ to the gardens surrounds and design and then create what I felt was most fitting. And the question I guess is did The OPW and Elizabeth Morgan do it justice ? In my opinion, without question, yes.

Here for those visiting is something that current day home and garden owners and garden designers really should embrace; or maybe just look at slightly differently when you go there to visit; not so much the layout but the thinking behind the scenes of the actual layout and planning and of what the eye cannot see. That is to say, the ability not to be able to see everything in your back garden from any one point in the garden.

In formal, ones eye is drawn usually to a main level platform; and from there to one specific piece of art to another and then another; within that then one has to choose whether to continue to where the eye leads you, directly – see video above – or, to go off course if one should so choose. It is the basics. It is the minimum and here it has been extremely well executed.

Of note there is a car park there [2 euro for 3 hours] and if using google maps head for the Irish Museum of Modern Art, which I also visited. See images below the gardens images.

Go there. Enjoy. Higher than highly recommended.

From the Irish Museum of Modern Art – I visit both quite regularly and they are located within the same grounds of the RHK. Here there is a suggested donation of 2 euro. And this child like in my head space never ceases to amaze me. Of note also and highly recommended is the coffee shop restaurant downstairs and also the brilliantly stocked bookshop. To be very honest a sitting in the courtyard is a gem in itself.

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