historical gardens

I stumbled upon Dublin's 'Secret Garden'

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I love old secret gardens, hidden away behind walls where ivy trails the paths and the bustle of a city slips away. I stumbled upon Dublin’s ‘Secret Garden’ yesterday.

On a warm April morning when dog walkers and tourists stopped to chat, I was talking to a complete stranger about her two Bichons when I noticed an old gateway at the end of Clonmel Street, off Harcourt Street. If you don’t know our capital city, this is a stone’s throw from the centre and St Stephen’s Green.

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A passer-by stopped to advise me (as they do in Ireland). No, he said, this was not the famous park, this was called the Iveagh Gardens.

So I had to take a look and here it is. A peaceful oasis in the centre where locals take their thoughts and cups of coffee. So quiet too - a silence broken only by birdsong and a young girl playing a guitar on one of the steps leading down to a lawn.

The Iveagh Gardens isn’t alive with bright flowers or splashing ducks. It is cool and green and soothing, where trees throw shadows across grass and wrought-iron gates in high walls lead to gardens at the back of Georgian houses. It is a glimpse into the past.

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Apparently it was once the site of the Dublin Exhibition Palace in 1865 and now it has been restored and is cared for by the Office of Public Works. If you’d like a stroll through a historic garden or even a short cut from Harcourt Street to the National Concert Hall on Earlsfort Terrace, walk through the gates of the Iveagh Gardens and allow yourself a few minutes to drift back in time.

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The Neglected Garden is a page-turner seeded with mystery, romance and suspense. Available worldwide.

The Neglected Garden opens today

The-Neglected-Garden-with-snowdrops

Happy Valentine’s Day to us all.

Today is the official launch of ‘The Neglected Garden’ and the novel is available to purchase worldwide as a paperback and e-book.

I took the photo of the book with the snowdrops in my own neglected garden, which is beginning to come back to life now that winter is nearly over. We have miniature daffodils flowering at the moment.

It’s been a long but enjoyable path to this day and, if you read the book, I hope you will enjoy it. I would love to hear from you so please send me an email by the contact button below or join me on Facebook and Instagram.

Enjoy the rest of the day!

Suzanne x

The path leading to 'The Neglected Garden'

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It has been a long path often strewn with obstacles but we’re nearly there now. The walk to the red door with the peeling paint is almost over. ‘The Neglected Garden’ will be published next week and I would like to thank all who have accompanied me on this adventure, especially my friends who encouraged me, the editors who pruned my overgrown words into shape and all the kind people who have joined my Facebook and Instagram pages. I’m really grateful to you all.

‘The Neglected Garden’ is a mystery with romance, suspense and a sprinkling of light humour. The story takes place in Ireland and London. I’ll let you know more about the launch in a few days’ time but first I’d like to share some of the photographs that inspired the walled garden setting when I was writing this book.

This old red door inspired the one in ‘The Neglected Garden’. The photo was taken at Duckett’s Grove in Co. Carlow in Ireland where two interconnecting walled gardens have been restored and are open to the public.

This old red door inspired the one in ‘The Neglected Garden’. The photo was taken at Duckett’s Grove in Co. Carlow in Ireland where two interconnecting walled gardens have been restored and are open to the public.

I loved this arch in the Colclough walled garden on the Hook Head peninsula in Co Wexford. The garden is attached to Tintern Abbey and has been beautifully restored. Another historic garden open to the public.

I loved this arch in the Colclough walled garden on the Hook Head peninsula in Co Wexford. The garden is attached to Tintern Abbey and has been beautifully restored. Another historic garden open to the public.

One of the herbaceous borders at the Colclough walled garden in Co Wexford. I took this photograph in August 2018. I like to imagine that when Gilly Townsend has finished planting up the garden at Glanesfort in the novel, it is might look something like this.

One of the herbaceous borders at the Colclough walled garden in Co Wexford. I took this photograph in August 2018. I like to imagine that when Gilly Townsend has finished planting up the garden at Glanesfort in the novel, it is might look something like this.

A lily pond with fountain. This photo was taken in Spain by my friend Anne.

A lily pond with fountain. This photo was taken in Spain by my friend Anne.

Detail of water lilies in a pond.

Detail of water lilies in a pond.

Unlocking the door of The Neglected Garden

I have a sneaking suspicion that authors get more excited about the arrival of a new book cover than readers. I’ve been waiting a little while for mine and I’m now convinced it’s been worth it. So… tah-dah, here it is! I am grateful to Stuart Bache of Books Covered for his wonderful design.


Welcome to an old walled garden

Let me tell you a little about the background. When garden designer Gilly Townsend first visits The Neglected Garden, she feels both nervous and excited. Paid projects have been scarce since the recession in Ireland in 2010 and her bank balance has reached depressing lows. When she’s shown into the overgrown mass of tangled briars and weeds at Glanesfort, she is overwhelmed by the walled garden’s potential.

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Family Secret

But the garden is not the only thing that has been locked away. Its owner, Marc Fletcher, a property developer from London, has a family secret that has been hidden for over a decade and now an increasingly aggressive blackmailer is threatening to destroy both his future and that of his four-year-old son.

If Gilly hadn’t stepped through that door and if she hadn’t found herself falling for Marc, her own future might have been very different.

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot but the story moves between County Kildare in Ireland and Marc’s property business in London, featuring eccentric characters, a ghostly woman from the old house and a sprinkling of humour.

Valentine’s Day, 2019 is the day The Neglected Garden will be unlocked - the day the action in the novel begins - so if you’d like to find out what happens, please come back.

Wishing you and your families a very happy Christmas and a healthy New Year.

Suzanne


See the full book description here:

Two versions of an Irish ghost story

A locked door at Ardgillan Castle in North County Dublin.

A locked door at Ardgillan Castle in North County Dublin.

One of the best things about living in Ireland is how eager people are, often complete strangers, to tell stories. I was lucky enough to be picked to work on a film set at Ardgillan Castle in North County Dublin earlier this summer and, in the quieter moments between shooting, we discussed the history of this beautiful demesne, now restored and run by Fingal County Council. The castellated house with walled garden and parkland has sweeping views of the ocean and is open to the public. As with most castles and grand old houses in Ireland, the stories inevitably involve a ghost.

The ghost who waits on the railway bridge is called The Lady of the Stairs

The Lady of the Stairs is the spectre who lurks on the railway bridge at the lower end of the property nearest the sea. The Dublin to Belfast railway line runs along the edge of the demesne and I was warned not to go near the bridge after dark. This warning was, of course, accompanied by laughter so I didn’t take it too seriously but I was inspired to find out who the Lady of the Stairs was.

It turns out there are two versions of this Irish ghost story. The first reminds me of a novel by John Fowles called The French Lieutenant’s Woman, which was made into a film starring Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep. You probably remember it: The beautiful social outcast Sarah Woodruff standing on The Cobb at Lyme Regis, gazing forlornly out to sea while she waits for her French Lieutenant to return. I listened to the audio version last week and it is well narrated by Paul Shelley and more humorous than I remembered. It is a classic worth reading, especially if you’re interested in the Victorian era and society. It is set about 1860.

An old unidentified railway bridge, possibly on the Dublin to Belfast line. This is not the one at Ardgillan Castle but it conjures up the right atmosphere. (Photo: National Library of Ireland)

An old unidentified railway bridge, possibly on the Dublin to Belfast line. This is not the one at Ardgillan Castle but it conjures up the right atmosphere. (Photo: National Library of Ireland)

A heart-broken wife gazes out to sea

The first version of the Lady of the Stairs is that, long ago, the husband of this woman was a keen swimmer and one day he went for his usual swim but never returned. His heart-broken wife searched in vain for him and waited day after day and week after week for him on the steps of the railway bridge from which she gazed out to sea. Eventually she faded away from grief and died. Locals will tell you that on dark Halloween nights you would be extremely foolish to go up on the bridge because the Lady of the Stairs waits there to hurl you to your death.

A new bride drowns

The second version is more plausible. A certain Lord Langford visited Ardgillan Castle with his new bride and left her to stay with the family while he travelled to Scotland to go hunting. Lady Langford was tempted to swim in the sea at the edge of the demesne and, in spite of warnings from others that this was a dangerous idea, she couldn’t resist the urge.

She drowned and it is said to be her ghost that haunts the railway bridge, dressed in her white wedding gown as she waits for her husband to return.

The ghost of a white lady in my novel

My own novel has just returned from its final editing stage and also mentions, in traditional Irish fashion, the story of a local ghost at Glanesfort. The white lady is rumoured to stand at the side of the lake as the daylight fades. She plays a small but puzzling role in the novel. Locals say that she was a daughter from the big house who waded into the water and drowned. Is she real or is she just a figment of vivid imaginations? You’ll have to read the book to find out. I’ll give you a hint: She might be more real than you think but for a different reason.

If you’d like to receive a reminder by email when THE NEGLECTED GARDEN is published, you can sign up here:

If you’re interested in reading The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles or watching the DVD, here are the links:

The French Lieutenant’s Woman - Kindle, hardback and paperback options

The French Lieutenant’s Woman - The classic DVD or Amazon Prime video

Summer drought brought ghostly reminders of the past

One of the most interesting things that happened during this summer's unusual and prolonged heatwave in Britain and Ireland was the mysterious reappearance of historic gardens and buildings. Outlines of old houses and villages that had been lost and forgotten for centuries emerged and brought the past vividly to life, if only for a short few weeks. Why does this happen?

Apparently it's caused by the depth of soil, or lack of it. Parched grass in extreme temperatures dies off when there is less soil under it. A hard area, such as a wall or pathway, will show up as a brown scorch mark.

The lawn at Chatsworth in Derbyshire displays scorch marks of a 17th century parterre - (Photo: © Chatsworth House)

The lawn at Chatsworth in Derbyshire displays scorch marks of a 17th century parterre - (Photo: © Chatsworth House)

What was once a 17th century parterre, or formal garden, at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire reappeared and was photographed from above. In this first photo, the hard landscaped areas of Chatsworth's parterre are clearly visible in the modern lawn.

A 1699 illustration of the parterre garden at Chatsworth - (Photo: © Chatsworth House)

A 1699 illustration of the parterre garden at Chatsworth - (Photo: © Chatsworth House)

In the second photo, we can see the illustration of the formal design dated 1699 and it's obvious where the original paths belonging to this are still lying beneath the lawn today. The 1699 design was covered over when Lancelot 'Capability' Brown created his more natural landscape. I'm grateful to Chatsworth for allowing me to use their photos. They weren't certain whether scorch marks of this historic parterre had ever appeared before. 

 

The lost village of Edensor

What was also fascinating at Chatsworth was the reappearance of parts of the lost village of Edensor, which has only been seen a few times in the last two hundred years. The last time was an extremely dry summer in the 1940's. When a drone camera took photographs from the air during this summer's heat wave, outlines of the high street, a school and other buildings that had been demolished to make way for Capability Brown's new natural landscape in the 18th century were clearly visible. The new village of Edensor was completed in 1842. 

 

 

Prehistoric site discovered near Newgrange in Co. Meath, Ireland

Closer to home in Ireland, a 'giant henge' structure appeared on a tillage farm near historic Newgrange in Co. Meath. Drones photographed the outline of a prehistoric archaeological site approximately 200 metres in diameter. It's thought that this might have been built 500 years after Newgrange, which dates from 3,000 BC. The summer drought provided archaeologists a once in a life-time chance to discover outlines of important sites that we didn't even realise existed. 

 

 

More reading:

An abandoned demesne with walled garden

Abandoned demesne, walled garden, Ireland, Victorian kitchen garden

I’m fascinated by walled kitchen gardens and there are many in Ireland. Some have been restored and some aren’t so lucky: their history of people and plants either celebrated or else fading into oblivion.

Two interconnecting sections in a walled kitchen garden

Two interconnecting sections in a walled kitchen garden

Back entrance leading to an abandoned yard

Back entrance leading to an abandoned yard

I stumbled across this property last week. It looks like the original mansion from the 17th century was demolished and replaced with a smaller house, now also a ruin. It must have been a fine home centuries ago as there are two entrances. 

The walled garden is made up of two interconnecting sections and vegetables and fruit for the big house would have been grown here. It now appears to be used by a farmer for grazing livestock as the grass is short.

It obviously takes money and time to restore and maintain an old walled garden and some owners can't afford this. Some owners don't need to. An enclosed space is useful for farmers for keeping animals that are adept at escaping from more normally fenced fields, such as sheep, calves and small ponies. The high walls provide shelter from cold, winter winds. 

At least the red brick walls still stand and the property gives us, with its noble gateways, a shadowy glimpse of the lives once lived here.

 

Ivy and brambles scramble up the walls but they remain solid

Ivy and brambles scramble up the walls but they remain solid

The red brick arched entrance leads to a yard and another archway

The red brick arched entrance leads to a yard and another archway