Friday 20 April 2018

Stunning Colclough gardens developed

With a new vinery and diamond design, the gardens are expected to attract record numbers in 2017

Head gardener Alan Ryan
Head gardener Alan Ryan
An aerial shot of the gardens by Páid Bates of Skypix.
The vinery and orangerie.

David Looby

The newly designed Colclough walled gardens at Tintern Abbey attracted 18,000 visitors in 2016, a 34 per cent increase on its 2015 numbers.

One kilometre of reddish brown brick walls frame the magnificently restored Colclough Walled Gardens which are open 365 days a year.

The gardens, which are set on two and a half acres, were fully restored to their former glory with over 250 people contributing their time and energy into the project. Dating back to the early 1800s, when brothers, Caesar and John Colclough designed and built the walls using estuarine mud, the gardens reopened in 2012 and are a must visit destination on the Hook peninsula.

Throughout the gardens, the emphasis has been on using methods adapted by the Colclough family who were inspired by the work of gardening author JC Loucdon.

Head Gardener Alan Ryan said geometric diamond designs have been reinstated after earthsound archaeological geophysics discovered this Geometric design with diamond flowerbeds.

Soil analysis by Dr Patrick Forrestal, Research Scientist in Johnstown, uncovered this diamond design of flowerbeds running along the gardens, while pollen analysis by Dr Karen Molloy, of the Palaeoenvironmental Research Unit, National University of Ireland Galway, has given insights into how the diamonds were originally planted.

Mr Ryan said two large gardens were restored and vegetation was cleared making the ivy walls visible once more. The gardens are traversed by a stream crossed by five small bridges.

Towering over the kitchen garden is a giant scarecrow designed by Barbara Kelly who worked with a team of volunteers using willow and wicker.

Mr Ryan said visitor numbers are growing year by year, with most visitors to Tintern Abbey, also visiting them.

'We had 18,161 visitors in 2016, up 31 per cent on 2015. 76 per cent were Irish, 11 per cent were from the U.K. and 13 per cent hailed from over 50 other countries.'

A Victorian vinery and orangery has been restored by the Colclough gardeners with the help of Wexford County Council. A 'Sponsor a Timber' fundraising scheme raised all the money needed for the restoration of the glasshouse which originally grew grapes and was where citrus plants were over-wintered to protect them from frost. Conservation Architect Michael Tierney drew up plans based on surviving features. Baltic Redwood from Seacroft Infirmary in Leeds was reclaimed by Clare O'Morchoe from Kiltra Timber Company Ltd and machined by Alan Bennett from Oakman Ltd. Stainless steel fittings were supplied by Kent Stainless. Metal work was made by Jim Furlong and glass was sponsored by Wexford Viking Glass Limited.

The gardens were the dream of Caesar Colclough who died in August 1842 aged 76 in Botelers Hall, Cheltenham. His body was brought back to Tintern for burial in the old church. Caesar left his estate to his wife Jane Stratford Kirwin whom he married in 1818.

Caesar's fifth will made in 1842 was disputed by members of the Colclough family who preferred the first will made in 1824 which left the estate to the Colclough's with Mary Grey Wentworth Colclough (Caesar's first cousin once removed) declaring herself, heiress at law. The family claimed: 'The alleged will of August 6, 1842, should be set aside and declared null and void, and be delivered up to be cancelled as have been obtained from said Caesar Colclough the alleged testator by undue influence and misrepresentation, as having been executed by him when not capable of exercising his judgement in such matters, and therefore as not being his genuine last Will and testament.'

Jane subsequently married Thomas Boyce of Bannow House in 1846 and Mary married Thomas Rossborough from Co Fermanagh in 1848.

A protracted and expensive litigation ensued which provided the inspiration for Charles Dickens Jarndice vs Jarndice in his novel Bleak House. Caesar's fifth will was set aside by a special jury at Wexford in July 1852, giving Tintern Abbey to Mary.

Mr Rossborough, the husband of the heiress at law, took formal possession of the property.

Jane received £20,000 and Mary received Tintern Abbey with a rental income of £8,000 a year. The discovery of a bundle of dusty old letters behind a press in Tintern Abbey written by Caesar to his Wexford relatives describing a warm and friendly relationship brought the case to a conclusion but also bankruptcy to the Colclough's. A failure to pay debts would lead to Tintern Abbey being put up for sale in 1892, only to be saved by the Colclough's Catholic tenantry who raised £1,000 preventing banks from foreclosing.

Marie B. Colclough inherited the estate in 1912 from her mother Louisa who was Mary's daughter. Marie B. never married and lived in Tintern Abbey with her two aunts Bella (d. 1929) and May (d. 1936). After 400 years of continuous occupancy she can be described as the Last of the Tintern Colclough's. Among the admirers of the gardens has been journalists from highly regarded publications including the Sunday Times and the Toronto Sun. A review in the Sunday Times gushed: 'Colclough Walled Garden is as much about community as it is about horticulture, and it excels in both areas. I've seen many expensive, professional garden restorations and this is as good as any of them.'

It was hailed as the sightseeing highlight of Wexford's south western corner. Writing in the Toronto Sun, Paul Knowles said: 'Leave time for the unexpected: That's a very important rule for travellers. Too tight a travel schedule will leave you hostage to the clock, and unable to explore wonderful things. Like, for instance, Colclough Gardens in County Wexford. It would be easy to miss Colclough, as you rush to visit the many other worthwhile sites in Wexford - but don't.'

Colclough Walled Garden is a founding member of the Wexford Garden Trial. It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and last admission is at 5.30 p.m.

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