Published 28/07/2015 | 00:00
ONE kilometre of reddish brown brick walls frame the magnificently restored Colclough Walled Gardens, beside Tintern Abbey, which are open 365 days a year.
Accessed through a serpentine wooded walk, leading down from Tintern Abbey Demesne where the imposing Cistercian monastery stands, visitors enter the curved walled gardens through a narrow archway. A babbling stream, crossed by five bridges, flows through the twin gardens. Peach, apple, cherry, plum and pear trees, and rows of vegetables in the kitchen garden make the gardens a feast for the senses.
The gardens, which are set on two and a half acres, have been fully restored to their former glory with over 250 people contributing their time and energy into the project over recent years. Dating back to the early 1800s, when brothers, Caesar and John Colclough designed and built the walls using estuarine mud as there were no working quarries operating in the area at the time, the gardens are a must see deestination on the Hook peninsula.
The Colclough family were known to be excellent landlords who provided their tenants with fine houses, with front and back gardens, an apple tree and access to turf, all for two 'lives', enabling parents to pass on their home to their children.
Their generosity was repaid when - having been ordered to come up with £1,000 during the Land War or face eviction - the tenants clubbed together and gave the financially ruined family the money.
A €300,000 plan to transform Colclough Gardens is well under way with new facilities and forest walking trails already opened. In the forest there are red and grey squirrels and there are five different protected species.
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 50 Sitka spruce trees had to be cleared when the restoration works began five years ago.
The former gardens were completely overgrown. Hook Tourism got involved in the project and due to continuous lobbying of national bodies, funding was sourced. Following this a five year licence was obtained from Coillte who own the land.
'When we dug down we found previous paths so the map was already there. A laurel hedge blanketed the whole area and there was a turf like substance.'
Today there is no boundary with the flower beds in the ornamental garden and the path itself is a French draining system.
Mr Ryan and his team sourced information on the flowers and plants the Colclough's were likely to have used through a gardening catalogue from the 1830s and a decision was made to go for cut flowers.
'The key is the right planting in the right locations and heights. The colour scheme is also important. The Colclough colours are blue and yellow so we have a lot of that.'
The Colclough Gardens were among the best in the area in the early 1800s, but there was strong competition in Bannow and from the Tottenham and Loftus families.
The gardens had 11,500 visitors in 2014 and with an entrance fee of only €3 for families, they are becoming an increasingly popular destination for day trippers.
The Tintern Abbey centre has been wonderfully restored after a fire gutted the reception area and tea rooms in January, 2012 and the history of both the abbey - where the Colclough family lived - and the gardens - located less than 500 metres away - is indelibly intertwined.
Mr Ryan said the walled garden at Colclough was built in 1814. At around this time the entire village of Tintern was moved in the early 19th century. 'There were 200 people living in Tintern and they were all moved 1 km south.'
Originally 9,000 acres were owned by the Colclough family but today the land adjoining the gardens is owned by Coillte as the final member of the Colclough family to reside at Tintern, Lucey Marie Biddulph Colclough, donated the abbey to the nation.
By the late 1880s the gardens were no longer maintained and the Land Commission broke up the estate, reducing the Colclough's holding to 1,000 acres.
'The whole place went quiet. We found a very valuable boiler in the overgrowth.'
Mr Ryan said the gardens received €32,000 in funding which went a long way. Hook Tourism's restoration was funded by Wexford Local Development, Clann Credo Social Finance, the Department of Social Protection, Pobal CSP, FAS CE, TUS programme and numerous sponsors.
Wexford County Council provided an architect and conservation engineer for the gardens.
Mr Ryan said two large gardens were restored and vegetation was cleared making the ivy walls visible once more. Towering over the kitchen garden is a giant scarecrow designed by Barbara Kelly who worked with a team of volunteers using willow and wicker.
'We got funding from Wexford County Council's Artists in the Community scheme and everyone learned to weave. These scarecrows were very popular in the 1800s so it is in keeping with the times. It's a tall life-size structure and a lot of people think it's based on me, as it has a hat!'
He said an old cottage formerly occupied by the head gardener, Mr Rose, is the next project, along with a stunning glasshouse opposite the kitchen garden featuring an orangerie and a vinery.
'We are telling the story of what they used to grow here. We hope we are historically accurate on all fronts.'
He said the seasonal garden requires a lot of work.
'The new potatoes have been dug and we're growing pumpkins now in time for Hallowe'en. We have increased our depth of topsoil to last so we don't have to water it.'
He believes the restored gardens will draw more people back to visit Tintern Abbey - which was built in the year 1200 and which was restored and is managed by the Office of Public Works. He hopes that together, the attractions will continue to grow in popularity over the coming century.
Colclough Walled Garden, which is a founding member of the Wexford Garden Trial supported by Fáilte Ireland, is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (last admission 5.30 p.m.)