Wednesday 20 February 2019

The Lordship woman in charge of Ardgillan gardens

Dominica McKevitt, head gardener at Ardgillan Castle and Demesne
Dominica McKevitt, head gardener at Ardgillan Castle and Demesne

Margaret Roddy

'It's a hidden gem,' says Dominica McKevitt, head gardener at Ardgillan Castle and Demesne.

From the 194 acres of park, woodland and gardens in north Dublin, she can catch a glimpse of the mountains of her native Cooley peninsula.

Gardening is in her blood, and she has childhood memories of her mother asking her to help out in the family garden at Lordship when she got home from school.

'I always wanted to be a gardener,' she says. 'Since I was 9 or 10, it's all I wanted to do.'

She trained in horticulture at An Grainán and has spent almost all of her career in Ardgillan, working with a team of gardeners and labourers who maintain the 194 acres of rolling open grassland, mixed woodland and six acres of gardens, including the formal rose garden, the ornamental gardens, the walled garden with its sections of herbs, vegetables, fruits, and the national collection of potentilla in association with the RHS.

While Ardgillan is a wonderful amenity for the surrounding population, a huge amount of work has gone into making it the jewel in north Dublin's crown that it is today.

Very little of the gardens remained when it was bought by Dublin County Council in 1982.

'It had to be mostly restored from scratch,' recalls Dominica. Three years later it was opened as a regional park. Since then the rose garden has been laid out from the Ordnance Survey Map of 1865 and the replanting of the walled garden, which is based on a Victorian kitchen garden, began in 1992.

The Garden Museum, built in 2000 with funding from the Great Gardens of Ireland Restoration Fund, houses a collection of gardening tools and implements in a re-constructed range of garden buildings in the walled garden.

Dominica and her team begin the working day at 7.45a.m. before visitors arrive and finish at 4.30p.m.

There is always work to be done, even if it's raining. 'If the weather is really bad, we don't work outside but will do jobs like labelling.'

All the vegetables are grown from seed and are used for the kitchens of the restaurant and Paws dog-friendly cafe, explains Dominica, who gives talks on vegetable growing and leads tours of the gardens once a month.

She has noticed a resurgence of interest in vegetable gardening since the recession, with many people anxious to get tips on how to grow your own.

Gardening is a real passion for Dominica, who has recently returned from visiting the Chelsea Garden Show with the Balbriggan and District Horticultural Society, of which she is chairperson. 'The Society is holding its annual rose and sweet pea show here on Sunday July 2.'

She is also involved with Naul Gardening Club, Skerries Photographic Society and Balrothery History Association.

'Ardgillan is a real hidden gem,' she says. 'It's not as well known as it should be and the great thing is there's free admission, as most gardens charge people to visit.'

Among the famous visitors to Ardgillan were President Micheal D Higgens who attended the 25th anniversary celebrations last month.

The Argus