Walking through the Dell this week as it shows its summer colours…the lady’s mantle, the blue of the catmint, the peonies about to burst out, the pink and blue geraniums creeping around, the green of the Jacob’s ladder which has gone over but it’s vibrant green leaves delights the senses, I started to think about all the different people who have been involved in the garden down through the last 39 years. The family had always referred to it as Gwen’s Garden. Gwen was married to Owen O Conor Don and they lived here at Clonalis between 1919 and 1941.
Down Through The Years
When we came to Clonalis in 1981 the Dell Garden had become completely overgrown and was not on the list of things to do immediately! The garden always fascinated me and with Pyers and the children we spent time exploring it…we discovered where the paths had been and fought our way through to rediscover the bomb shelter which had been built by Denis O Conor Don in 1915.
In 1917 an 18th century gravestone was relocated to the garden. The Latin inscription on this stone translated by Douglas Hyde proved to be an epitaph for both The O Conors and people of Ireland at the height of the penal laws. This stone stands overlooking the garden to this day.
Several years later we had a FAS scheme here at Clonalis and we started to tame the Dell. Tons of weeds, brambles and fallen trees were removed. Paths were cleared and steps were replaced, this of course led to planting being decided on I did have certain ideas of what I wanted to plant but quickly recognised that I was no Capability Brown! Initially I was advised by a horticulture advisor and with the help of The FAS scheme we started the replanting. I was lucky to receive lots of cuttings and plants from friends-who knew that we were restoring the garden. To this day I can remember quite clearly who had given me what and that makes a garden more special when you can stop and think of friends.
For several years, the garden thrived but with the lack of help it began to go a little wild! I spoke to the mother of a school friend of my son about the garden and where we should go with it. She was a gardener and offered to help and advise me. She drew up a plan and we had many happy days of planting and so the garden took shape again. I was also lucky to have a gardener who lived locally who helped me with the maintenance.
Earlier this year I found the plans which had been drawn up and we revisited the Dell…we had lost two big trees there during winter storms so in spring it got a very good cleaning out and we added to the planting. Again, we have help with particular thanks to Mary whose enthusiasm and so many cuttings are very much appreciated and are greatly enhancing the garden.
A garden is not just a place to admire plants and flowers it also plays a very important part in our biodiversity. It is home to butterflies, bumblebees, ladybirds, birds, worms, wasps, hedgehogs and that is also reflected in our old fashion planting and our use of our own compost. We make our own compost using vegetable and fruit peels and leftovers (uncooked of course) paper cardboard coffee granules tea leaves, flowers. We also use very rotted manure from the farmyard and of course well-rotted chicken manure. I guarantee the roses thrive on it!!
It is a magical playground for children as my younger daughter told me recently, she and her friends had given concerts down there (without an audience!) Now our grandchildren all have fairy doors there and our grandsons spend many hours there playing and exploring. Other happy memories include both our daughter’s wedding photographs being taken there and guests who celebrated their weddings here.
You might ask how you would describe this garden, well this is a garden with a lot of history, full of energy and enthusiasm, with lots of happy memories of people who have been so kind to give us plants and cuttings. I would suggest that it veers towards the Robinsonian style of gardening. William Robinson had many influential ideas in gardening and wild gardening was one which suits the dell very much.
A garden requires lots of hard work, but it also repays you with great satisfaction and particularly during the last eighteen months a sense of wellbeing.
Marguerite O Conor Nash June 2021.