Kylemore Abbey

A historic garden on Ireland’s wild Atlantic way

By Fionnuala Fallon


deep herbacous borders brim with perennials chosen to be period appropriateThe walled garden’s double herbaceous border, which forms the main axis of the garden and is ablaze with color in midsummer, uses perennials popular in the Victorian era, such as asters, geums, potentillas, and lilies, which Gohlke propagates from division as required. Even the restored vinery grows only Victorian grape varieties, including the flavorsome ‘Black Hamburg’ and early ‘Buckland Sweetwater’.

As for the success of this remarkable restoration project, it can be measured by the vast numbers of visitors, from Ireland and abroad, who have flocked to the gardens since Kylemore reopened its freshly painted doors to the public in 2000. But one visitor in particular—Sister Benedict, the nun who fought so hard for its restoration, now in her 80s and still as fit as a fiddle—comes faithfully every day. Proof, if it were needed, of how the relationship between a garden and those who care for it can be unique and enduring.


When you visit

Renvyle House HotelWe recommend historic and romantic Renvyle House Hotel in Connemara. Overlooking the Atlantic (next stop, New York!), it offers a warm Irish welcome and delicious fare, as well as comfortable, cozy rooms.


Seed Saving at Kylemore

Seed Saving at Kylemore AbbeyGiven Kylemore’s mild but damp climate and the relatively short growing season, the process of seed saving can be challenging; some plants don’t set seed in time for it to ripen properly before the onset of autumn. Head gardener Anja Gohlke and her team have had success saving the seeds of nasturtiums (‘Tom Thumb’ and ‘Empress of India’), calendulas (‘Orange King’), snapdragons (‘Brighton Rock’, ‘Defiance’, and ‘Night & Day’), and Calceolaria mexicana. They also harvest seeds of heritage varieties of sweet pea, such as ‘Senator’, ‘America’, ‘Painted Lady’, ‘Black Knight’, and ‘Dorothy Eckford’. “We grow each variety on its own separate wigwam, about 15 meters away from any others, to avoid possible cross-pollination,” Gohlke says. “So far, it seems to have worked.” Heritage vegetable varieties that Gohlke has found particularly suitable for seed saving include the red-and-white-flowered runner bean ‘Painted Lady’ and the climbing, purple-podded French bean known as ‘Cosse Violette’.

Renvyle House Hotel photograph by Ethne Clarke; All others by Richard Johnston
Originally published in Organic Gardening magazine, April/May 2014