Restoration of a Georgian Garden
By Belinda Jupp and Brendan Twomey
Archaeological finds included large quantities of 19th and 20th century glass and pottery and a dog grave-marker, dated to 4 July 1883, and dedicated by F.S. Sankey to ‘Prince’ a white Spitz. Most significantly the archaeological excavation work confirmed both the existence and the exact location for the oval-shaped path which is depicted on the 1838 Ordnance Survey map. The footprint of the path as shown in the accompanying images has therefore been the site of the garden pathway since the house was first built in the 1790s. During the summer of 2010 a replacement path surface, of red Indian sandstone slabs matching the pre-existing paving in the rear yard, was laid. Finally, in the autumn of 2010, and in the spring of 2011, the planting scheme was implemented.
Since the early 1960s the garden at No. 63 had been lovingly tended by Mr and Mrs. Behan, caretakers for the RSAI. The part of the garden located nearest the house was laid out with shrubs and summer bedding in the wall borders and the oval-shaped pathway was surrounded by box hedging. The rear half of the garden had been a vegetable garden until the early 1990s, but this had become overgrown in recent years.
Very little is known about what use private town gardens were put to in the eighteenth century. There was little space to grow vegetables and possibly the garden could be enjoyed as a purely decorative space, with a lawn, flower beds and seating. Fruit trees were often grown along the walls and the planting would also have included culinary and medicinal herbs as well as ornamental plants. The planting scheme for the Merrion Square garden utilises all of these elements and the plants are species and varieties known to have been grown before the early nineteenth century. They include ornamental plants such as Acanthus spinosus and Persian lilac as well as herbs like mint and parsley. The verdant lawn in the middle of the garden has a quince tree as its centre-piece. Other fruit trees are old varieties of apple, pear and cherry growing in the wall borders. A major feature is the small-leaf box hedging, which surrounds the oval path and replicates the previous box hedging that straddled the path. Though sparse at present, in time the mixture of trees, flowering shrubs, perennials, annuals and bulbs will flourish and fill this delightful garden.
The final phase of the project will be to put in place specially commissioned Regency-style benches, one of which will honor Arthur Prager and, following the formal opening ceremony, the garden will be open to allow visitors to enjoy the urban Georgian Garden at No. 63 Merrion Square Dublin.
The authors would like to express their thanks to all who helped in the successful implementation of the Georgian garden restoration project and in particular to their fellow garden committee members Aideen Ireland , Charles Doherty, Kelly Fitzgerald, Niall Brady, Bill Doran, Martin Kelly, Máirín Ní Cheallaigh, Cóilín Ó Drisceoil, Graeme Hanna, Donough Cahill, and the Knight of Glin.
Belinda Jupp is an historic garden consultant. Belinda planned the conservation and restoration of the renowned town garden at Pery Square in Limerick. Brendan Twomey is the Hon. Treasurer RSAI, he was the Chairman of the Merrion Square Georgian Garden Restoration Project Committee.