Homes & Gardens
A GRAND DESIGN
The gardens of a neglected Irish country estate are reimagined, balancing classic formality, contemporary vision and naturalistic planting
“NEILL ALLOWED US SCOPE TO WORK WITH THE ENTIRE LANDSCAPE TO BRING A SENSE OF PLACE TO THE HISTORIC HOUSE, WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY CREATING A GARDEN FOR HIS FAMILY’S ENJOYMENT AND ENTERTAINMENT”
LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT Colum Sheanon
Emsworth sits at the heart of a 17-acre estate, surrounded by ancient woodland, just eight miles north of Dublin. A kink in the quarter-mile drive reveals the first glimpse of the white-washed 18th-century Palladian villa designed by James Gandon. It is now a place where classical and contemporary designs merge to create a breathtaking garden panorama where meticulously manicured emerald lawns are fringed with the estate’s magnificent specimen trees – cedar of Lebanon and the giant redwood, Sequoiadendron gigantea. This country idyll is sliced through with a sleek, stone-edged canal pond, a modern trajectory that darts towards the house, punctuated by clean-shaven box pyramids and balls. A quartet of parterres filled with pink scented Rosa ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ softens the entrance, proportionately in tune with the relatively modest scale of the house. This is the remarkable first impression designers Murphy + Sheanon have created for this beautiful Irish home.
Not so long ago, the entire Emsworth estate lay neglected, strangled by nature and chained in by abandoned security fencing. This unique proposition tempted Dublin businessman Neill Hughes. He acquired Emsworth in 2014 and embarked on an immense programme of restoration and reinvention, keen to create relevant and radiant gardens, while simultaneously, potentially paradoxically, making a garden for his family’s enjoyment and entertainment.
Dublin-based horticulture and landscape architects Dominick Murphy and Colum Sheanon were charged with the transformation. Neill’s brief was deceptively simple, ‘a garden for all seasons, with an appropriate mix of lawns, together with self-regenerating/natural planting, all bound by existing mature trees’. The designers had free rein creatively, but consciously bonded Emsworth’s historic imprint to a more contemporary and practical design. ‘Satellite technology unveiled the geometry of the original garden landscape, which we duly incorporated,’ explains Colum. The new superimposed hard landscaping is impressive. ‘A network of walkways and broad terraces link the house to the interconnecting gardens or satellite destinations – areas for relaxing and entertaining, the pool, the pitches and courts in the wider estate,’ says Colum. The pergola-covered entertaining spaces are reminiscent of Cape Cod, which Neill frequents with his teenagers, Shane and Anna. ‘We enjoy the casual, outdoor, coastal lifestyle; it’s very sociable,’ says Neill, who is a big fan of family barbecues and firepits.
Just three miles from the Irish Sea, Emsworth’s temperate maritime climate is similarly conducive to the billowing Cape Cod-style hydrangeas, which thrive in the beds, borders and woodland glades.
Horticulturist Dominick defines the planting with his typically bold, colourful and naturalistic ‘handwriting’. ‘Influenced by an encounter with James van Sweden in my youth, I aim to infuse designs with movement and colour, incorporating wild and native plants to help create a looser, naturalistic style,’ he says. Dominick works in concentrated plant zones, loosely repeating patterns to create meadow-like movement and rhythm, designing to deliver colour, texture and stature
(the garden is pancake-flat) in seasonal succession.
Prairie-style planting, including purple loosestrife, betony, meadowsweet and bellflowers, characterises the perennial meadow. The woodland garden, a shady pocket of reclaimed wilderness behind the house, is boldly planted with vibrant rivers of astilbe, which flood through feathered ferns beneath canopies of Japanese maples. Even the immense flower borders of Pauline’s Garden break with traditional flower-garden formality. ‘They were designed with picking in mind. Neill’s mum, Pauline, is a passionate gardener and phenomenal flower arranger,’ says Dominick. ‘She became really involved in the flower choices here, insisting on particular roses, and, despite having her own garden, still pops over to pick mine,’ laughs Neill.
Emsworth is rejuvenated. The vibrant new gardens and untangled grounds appropriate and agreeable not only to the house at its heart, but to Neill’s close and extended family who love spending time here.
‘‘I LOVE THE DIVERSE MIX OF SUMMER PLANTING; THE GARDEN’S RICH PALETTE COMBINES ALMOST TWO HUNDRED PERENNIALS – WILD, NATIVE AND CULTIVATED – TO ENSURE A SEASONAL SUCCESSION OF COLOUR, TEXTURE AND MOVEMENT” HORTICULTURIST AND LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT Dominick Murphy
ORIENTATION Parkland setting.
SOIL Rich, fertile, alkaline.
SPECIAL FEATURES Eighteenth-century villa set in woodland, contemporary canal garden, naturalistic lake, woodland garden, formal lawns, topiary and parterres, perennial prairie meadow, flower garden, swimming pool, barbecue and fire pit, tennis court, games pitch.
GARDEN DESIGN Horticulture and Landscape Architecture studio Murphy + Sheanon, murphysheanon.ie.
CONTRACTOR Carragh Paving & Landscapes, carraghpaving.ie.
The garden is not open to the public.