On a ‘soft’ day (for those who are not familiar with Irish terminology that means windless and drizzly) I headed south of Wexford to visit Johnstown Castle. Although the main attraction is probably the Irish Agricultural Museum and the Irish Famine Museum I have saved those for another day and just walked around the garden.
You can find out lots more on the website below* but basically the grounds cover 4oo hectares (1000 acres) of which a tenth are open to the public. The gardens were designed by Daniel Robertson who was responsible for the more famous gardens at Powerscourt near Dublin, in the Wicklow Mountains. The majority of the estate is used for agricultural research and the whole is now owned by Teagasc (the Agriculture and Farm Development Authority).
The castle, which is delightfully ornate and gothic in style (Victorian revival – its my style of architecture), dates from the 19th century although there has been a castle here since the late 12th century. It was built for the Grogan-Morgan family between 1810 and 1855 and the gardens laid out from about 1830 when the 2 hectare (5acre) lake was dug out. The huge (4acre) walled garden was started in 1844, a fair distance from the house so the owners would not have to see anything so unpleasant as a sweating gardener! Similarly the meat store and kitchens were located in a separate building with underground tunnel so the ‘domestics’ were never seen.
The castle was in private ownership until 1942 when Lady Fitzgerald died and it passed to her grandson who gifted it to the Nation in 1945. The castle was used as offices until recently.
The grounds also feature two other lakes in addition to the main ‘castle’ lake, Rathlannon castle dating from the 15th century and the Statue walk opposite the castle.
The ground are home to many fine trees and large rhododendrons. Though this is in no way a plantsman’s garden and there are few herbaceous delights it is a very beautiful place and abounds with wild flowers and wildlife including red squirrels (though I did not see them).
The walled garden (though apparently restored between 1946 and 1959) is laid to lawn and could, with much effort, be restored to some degree to make it a notable feature. In particular some huge eucalyptus could and should be removed. The same applies to the sunken garden. These features must have been incredible when at their peak and are now a mere shadow of their former selves, though they are at least retained.